I had just gotten out of my car at home Tuesday afternoon. I was in a hurry, but I heard a child’s singsong voice before I could make it into the house.
“Where are you going?”
It was my 5-year-old neighbor, Derrick. He likes to come visit my dog, Lucy, when I have her out. He also likes to come sit on my porch and talk with me. It doesn’t matter much to him what we talk about. He also loves other neighborhood animals, including a calico cat named Bella, whose family moved away a couple of weeks ago. (As you can see in the picture, Bella tolerated him. Just barely.)
“I have some work I have to get done,” I told him. “I have to go inside.”
“Oh,” he said with quiet disappointment.
I looked down at him and he was staring at the ground. He had pushed his bike over to my house and he just stood there next to me for a moment before he suddenly spoke.
“Can you fix my bike?”
I’m not a very mechanical person, so I knew it was very unlikely that I could help. But he seemed to need something. Honestly, it didn’t really seem as though it was about the bike as much as it was about my attention.
Derrick’s parents split up a month or so back. He’s taken it really hard. He’s been crying easily lately. When the smallest thing happens to him — a minor cut or scrape — he screams, “I want my daddy! I want my daddy!”
His dad is in Florida now. I don’t know the details. It’s none of my business. Derrick and his 6-year-old brother might be better off without their father. Maybe. Who can really say for sure? But all Derrick knows is that the man he had relied on as his male parent figure was gone. And it’s been confusing to him.
Derrick is a sweet boy. In addition to his love of animals, I saw it recently in the week after I was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli. He heard from someone — his mom, I assume — that I was sick. So one afternoon, he brought me flowers that he picked from the yard. He heard you’re supposed to give flowers to sick people to help them get well.
“Derrick, I doubt I can fix your bike, but I’ll take a look. What’s wrong with it?”
He showed me that the chain had come off. I asked him how long it had been off. He said it had been several weeks, but you never know how accurate his frame of reference might be for time.
Even though I’m not very mechanical, it was easy to put the chain back on. I just had to put one end in place, then put the other end partly in place, and then move the pedal backward until the chain snapped into the correct position. Then the bike was fixed.
Derrick’s face lit up. He couldn’t believe it.
“You fixed my bike?!”
It was half exclamation and half question, as though he couldn’t believe it had been that easy. I showed him that the pedals turned the wheel now.
He threw his arms around my legs and hugged whatever he could reach around my mid-section. He held on tight for a minute.
“Can you fix my brother’s bike, too?”
We walked across the street to his house. The same thing was wrong with his brother’s bike and I fixed it.
“Let’s race!” Derrick called out to his brother, Eric, and they took off in the street on two functioning bikes.
Their mom was on the porch of their house and she thanked me.
The entire experience didn’t take more than 10 minutes. Probably less than that. But for Derrick, his world was suddenly right. I couldn’t bring his dad back. I couldn’t fix the hole in his heart for something he longed for. But for those few minutes, I was his hero.
There are a lot of things I could have done with my time this afternoon, but nothing I could have done would have mattered as much as giving a loving little boy some affection and help.
Really, though, he’s not the one who will remember this. I figure he’ll forget. But I’ll always remember the way he made me feel.
I’ll always remember the feeling of respect and affection — how those tiny arms gave me that huge hug of appreciation. I’ll never forget the warmth in my heart from having made a little boy happy for a moment.
There are few things better than having a child believe — at least for a few minutes — that you’re the one who can fix his entire world.