A Ninth Grade Boy Who Does Well In School

April 14, 2012
By Elsa Seterdahl BRONZE, Amherst, Massachusetts
Elsa Seterdahl BRONZE, Amherst, Massachusetts
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We rolled into the church driveway in our old, grey minivan. I could not believe that my parents were making me spend my Saturday night like this. It was dark; a single streetlight illuminated the entrance to the homeless shelter. I was nervous; I had never done this before. My sister said there was nothing to worry about, but I wasn’t so sure.

Feeding the homeless seemed like a good idea when I signed up, but now that I was approaching the back of St. James Church, I began to question my judgment. We rang the doorbell and a middle-aged man wearing khakis and an orange tee shirt introduced himself of Finn. As he led us down a dark hallway, he told us that we had to prepare quickly because they would allow the “guests” to enter in fifteen minutes. I thought it was funny how they called them guests. Guests are friend who stay in the spare room on the weekends. Not penurious people who sleep on old cots scattered around a church basement and eat hurriedly made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.

It was m job to cook the sandwiches. I entered the dingy little kitchen where a crowd of adults greeted me, “Hi, my name’s Kristy,” smiled a tall blonde woman, handing me bread that was ready to be grilled.

“I’m Breck,” I replied tenderly taking the bread off her hands.

“The guests love newcomers.”

We didn’t speak again. We stood there in the bustling kitchen as people prepared soup, snacks, and toiletries for the guests.

When they arrived, some volunteers left the kitchen to greet them. But I stayed, listening to the array of conversations on the other side of the wall. A drunken man yelled about someone who stole his leg, and a woman shouted at him to shut up. Someone complained about a bad back, and another person spoke slowly about Bob Dylan. I heard a voice I recognized, and it wasn’t the voice of my father or sister. It was the shaky voice of an adolescent boy, someone my age.

I watched as Bryan Keith- a boy from my school- was seated at one of the tables with his mother and younger brother. He went to school. I had known him since I was in kindergarten. I thought his family was fine. I knew that his dad wasn’t around, but I never would have guessed he didn’t have a roof over his head. I lived in a family town with “good” people and “nice” schools. The homeless are the stoners and the rejects, not ninth grade boys who do well in school and have their entire lives in front of them.

I swallowed hard and tried to concentrate on not burning the latest batch of grilled cheese. How could something like this happen? All I knew was that I needed to avoid him. I didn’t think I could stand the awkwardness of seeing him here. Me, the girl with a warm house, and him with nothing.

I was all out of sandwiches so I went to help out at the window. For the next twenty minutes or so, I handed the guests forks and refilled the sugar several times. They were all so grateful. I even talked to the angry man missing his leg. Then, the inevitable happened. Bryan came to the window, staring at the ground, and asked for a spoon. I handed it to him slowly without saying a word, and he looked up to thank me. Heartbreaking shock and embarrassment covered his face. I quietly replied, “You’re welcome,” walked back into the kitchen and clung to the edge of the Formica counter.

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