April 18th, 2005

I went to Catholic schools in my youth. One of the boys in seventh grade was a homely guy named Charlie. He was the perfect target for the cruelty of seventh-graders: a little slow, with big ugly glasses, and not very fashionable clothes. My schoolmates hectored poor Charlie all the time. This violated my sense of what was right. So I befriended Charlie. We’d eat lunch together and I’d ride over to his house on my bicycle. I was shocked at how poor Charlie’s family was. I was comfortably middle class, but this was a large Catholic family with a very low-paid father, and they obviously struggled to make ends meet. Charlie wore his clothes until they were completely worn out. He had one pair of shoes. His brothers and sisters all wore hand-me-down clothes; some didn’t fit very well.

Because Charlie was the oldest, he had his very own room -- in the garage. It was a little cubbyhole of a room with an electric space heater that he refrained from using except when it was really cold. But he did have a few toys: some model airplanes that he’d built from kits. I liked model airplanes, too, and we’d share.

Although Charlie wasn’t very bright, he was a genuinely nice person and I enjoyed his friendship. Indeed, he was the nicest kid I knew in that school; despite all the viciousness directed at him by others, he never showed any malice. He impressed me as a human being.

After eighth grade, I went on to the Jesuit school, which Charlie’s family couldn’t afford. I lost touch with Charlie when my family moved away the next year. But four or five years later, I came back one day on my motorcycle, puttering down the little dirt road that led to Charlie’s house. There was just an empty field; some developer must have bought the land, evicted his family, and obliterated their house. That was many years ago. Now I’m sure there’s a nice subdivision in that area and Charlie’s house is just a memory, as is Charlie himself.