Posted by: chlost | November 9, 2014

He will haunt me and I don’t even know his name

As I pushed my red plastic shopping cart filled with the variety of stuff that tends to fill those carts, I noticed that a young man was looking at me. It is a small town, but I didn’t recognize him. He caught my eye as he stopped at a right angle in front of me as I turned out of the towel aisle.

“You look familiar”, he said as he looked at me, “I think I know you from somewhere”.

“Well”, I told him, “I meet a lot of people in my work.”

I pulled out my stock reply when I don’t recognize folks who may have been a client. “I may know you, but I can’t put a name with your face”.

He shifted his position a bit, seeming to think about how he may know me. “I’m  Alex”.

My mind riffled through a mental rolodex, trying to match his face to the hundreds of young clients named Alex I have represented.  It’s a pretty common name around here, and he seemed to be in his early twenties. I quickly did the math in my head….if he was a client, it would have been within the past 6 or 7 years. My clients can look very different from the time I represent them to the time I run into them later. They change a lot as they grow up.

I still came up blank.

“Well” I told him, “I may have met you through my work. I work in -(town)-.”

He was obviously trying to place me in his mind. He smiled just a bit as he replied ” Oh, I am from there. Where do you work?”

” I work at the courthouse”, I told him. It is always a bit tricky when I talk to people in this type of situation. I don’t want to break confidentiality, and it is not my place to publicly discuss my representation of a client.

At the mention of court, his face cleared. “Oh, that’s it! Court”. His voice then almost immediately lowered in disappointment. “Court”.

It was at this point that I realized that the cart that he was pushing had a little boy seated in it. The boy was maybe two years old. He had not made a sound during the entire exchange between Alex and me.

When I noticed the boy, the normal admiring comments that strangers make to little children came to me automatically.. “Oh! Who is this little guy?” I said to Alex, and, as I turned to the baby “Hi there sweetie”.

At this point, I looked at the baby.

And the baby looked back at me from a face that will haunt me for a very long time.

His face was noticeably dirty. His cheeks had a light coating of gray. There were scratches on his face, one at the top of his eye, a smaller one on his cheek.

Alex reached over and rubbed his hand on the baby’s face “This is my boy”. His touch was not gentle or caressing. No name. No baby talk to him, No eye contact. There was no pride or caring in his voice. It was a simple statement of fact.

The baby reached one hand toward Alex as he continued to look me straight in the eye with piercing blue eyes. He did  not make a sound. His hand and wrist had a dark coating of dirt. There was an overwhelming sense of dullness to him.

“I have a question for you”, Alex turned my attention back to him. He held a gift card in his hands, and slowly turned a crumpled cash register receipt over the edges of the card. I noticed that the gift card was still inside its decorative cardboard holder. The holder bent each time his fingers ran between the cardboard and the edges of the plastic card.

As he continued to slide the receipt over the edges of the card, he asked me if I would buy the gift card from him. “I have this gift card to use for winter stuff for the baby, but they don’t have the winter things out yet in this store. Would you buy the card from me so I could go to WalMart and buy the winter stuff for him there? The card has $65 on it.”

I have to say that I was stunned. I had not seen that coming. “They don’t have winter stuff yet?” I asked. He shook his head no.

“No, I’m sorry” I told him. as I started to push my cart past him in order to turn into into the bath accessory aisle. “I can’t. I don’t even have $65 on me”.

That was true.  I didn’t have that much cash. I never do. I rarely have more than $20 in cash. I use my debit card for almost everything. But the debit card did have more than $65 available.

He looked at me with disappointment. “Oh” was his only reply.

I continued to walk away as Alex turned from me. As I moved my cart into the next aisle I saw him hesitatingly move toward another woman shopper behind me.

I didn’t see them again as i finished my shopping and loaded my stuff into my car. The conversation replayed in my head all day.

I never looked to see if the babies’ winter clothes were actually in the store. There is a huge storm forecast for tonight.  I find it difficult to believe that they were not.

Was he lying to me? It’s certainly possible. Maybe probable. If he was a client of mine (obviously that means he was in legal trouble in the past) does that mean it is more likely that he was lying?

There are so many possible scams that he could have been involved with..a stolen gift card, a gift card with no money on it at all, it may not have been his baby.

He may or may not have intended to buy winter clothes for that baby even if it was a legitimate gift card. Maybe he would take the cash to buy cigarettes, or food, or drugs, or put gas in his car, or….who knows what.

Those blue eyes. That dirty face. The absence of emotion.

I should have helped that baby some way or another no matter what the situation.

Alex, I am sorry I did not help your baby.



  1. I can understand why you are haunted, why you are second-guessing yourself. From your descriptive story, my guess would be that the man was lying to you, that he had no intention of purchasing winter gear for his child. You were right in not buying that card from him.

    What do you wish now, looking back, that you had done?

    This story takes me back several weeks ago to my observing a young man screaming at and pushing a woman, and then preventing her from crossing the street, near my home. I watched and then phoned the police. To this day I wonder if I should have walked across the street, spoken to the couple, done more to deal with this case of domestic abuse.

  2. Lying or not, we hate to see an innocent baby suffer at someone’s uncaring hands. Unfortunately we cannot change the fact that the world is not perfect., nor can we fix all her problems singlehandedly. Even for those of us who try to help, some slip through our grasp….and we wonder.

  3. I want to say something, but I just don’t know what to say.

  4. I hate it when we realize after-the-fact we would’ve done something differently. But this is kind of a helpless situation – I wouldn’t have known what to do for the baby. Dirt doesn’t necessarily mean neglect, however, Alex’s behavior did seem cold, and that breaks my heart… but still… is that enough to call an agency to step in? I really don’t know.

    I believe he wasn’t being truthful about the winter clothes. In Arizona, they rolled out winter clothes by the end of September. I seriously doubt they presented them here before Minnesota. As I read this, I suspected he wanted the cash to buy drugs. I hope I’m just cynical.

  5. Having worked with children and bad parents, I can tell you, this guy was lying and the child is abused. I don’t know your position in the courts, but it seems that something needs to be done in that situation.

  6. You know, that’s a tough one. What could you even report – that you had a “feeling” that the child was abused or neglected? I’ve had much more to report than that and still not gotten any results. Some situations just seem impossible to me.

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