The Unfixable

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He was fifteen when he came to me.  And even on the first day I knew he couldn’t stay. I knew it wasn’t the right fit… he was broken beyond repair and a danger to the other children. I could see it in his eyes…he was ruined. I know that sounds callous…but it’s the reality. He was a throw away…lost in a system that seemed determined to destroy the child he’d once been.

What’s his story, I asked the caseworker who dropped him off.  His story, said the man, is he’s been abused by every adult he’s ever come into contact with.  There was no child left…just a shell of a victim.

So I took him into my home with seven other kids and gave him a bed, some good food and a short glimpse of what a family looks like.  He settled in, smiled a lot, and was friendly enough.  The girls put tiny ponytails in his long curly hair, the boys played video games with him side by side, he jumped on the trampoline, ate cookies like he’d never had one, and…that’s all I really remember.  Sometimes, after they leave…I block them out.  It’s the only way.

I remember his brown eyes. I remember his crooked smile.  And I remember the moment he broke my heart.

We stood on the porch side by side, him taller than me by several inches, a shadow of the man he would become.  A man with no model of what a man should be.  A man with no footsteps to follow.  He stood at my arm as the caseworker walked up the drive.  He clutched his brown paper sack, everything he owned in the world crammed inside.

The worker stepped onto the porch and the boy turned to me.  I looked at him and no words came.

“I know I can’t stay,” he said quietly.  “But I wanted to.”

The worker took the bag from the boy and he turned to give me a hug.  I wrapped my arms around the lanky boy who’d shared our home for just four days and I began to cry.

He held me. And he comforted me.

“It’s okay,” he said.  “I’ve done this a lot.”

And then he left me there, standing alone in my shame.

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12 Responses to "The Unfixable"
  1. Surfdoc says:

    This story has so touched me – we had to send a very damaged 16 3/4 year old boy who I will call J back to his equally damaged mom last week – he was in our lives for close on a year and he left last Tuesday morning with my husband to go to the airport without so much as a goodbye.

    His mom had him in the UK when she was 16 and they moved here to Cape Town when he was a toddler.  He has never met his father who lives in the UK.  She had another son at 20 and the father of this boy physically abused J often.  J has had so many shocking adults in his life – he was allowed to start smoking at 9, spend weekends with girlfriends in his room aged 13, regularly smoked pot and got totally wasted on alcohol from the same age.  A case of being allowed to do too much too soon.  His mother doesn’t want him and has had very little to do with him this past year.  She moved provinces in October to go and work on a farm and our agreement with her was to look after him until the end of the school year in November and then she would have to either get him back into the school boarding house (he was expelled from boarding end of Feb last year) and we would have him weekends or she would have to find him a boarding school in Kwa-Zulu Natal.  She did nothing.  The school wouldn’t take him back as a boarder and I could no longer have him here 24/7 – his behaviour at times goes beyond the pale.  We have two boys of our own – Cameron is almost 14 and Devon is 10.  They miss J alot but they do understand that we had to let him go.

    His mother has put him into a little flat in this rural town and as soon as his British passport is renewed she’s sending him to her father in the UK.  He has contacted us recently to apologise for his behaviour and not saying goodbye to me – he says that he will never forget what we did for him and that he’s truly sorry for messing up a great opportunity.  He is now stuck in a tiny farming community far away from the ocean which must be hell for him – he’s used to surfing every day.  His mother says that she will not be grateful to us because he’s in a worse position today than he was a year ago and that we should just have left him to live on the streets.  We have according to her taken away a very valuable life lesson from him.  Some people I tell ya!! 

    My heart breaks for this boy – his mother abandoned him as have we.

    BTW I’m the person who emailed you pics recently of where we live – Long Beach, Kommetjie.  The small fishing / surfing village just outside of Cape Town.    


    • You make me want to strangle that mother…and I feel for you. It’s so hard, isn’t it? To let go? To know there is nothing more you can do? I hate that feeling. Like you, I am a fixer. If I can’t fix…I feel useless.
      Keep this in mind: “Some day, he will look back and know what a family is supposed to look like.”
      You have done your job.

  2. Shari says:

    This is a sad, sad story. But my first reaction is to tell you thank you for taking care of your other children. My mom took in a couple of teenaged foster boys when my brother and I were in elementary school. They only stayed with us a couple of months before my dad said “they have to go back.” My mom would have liked to have kept them, no matter what their issues, because she didn’t want to give up on them. I doubt if their problems were anything as serious as this young man’s, but I can remember being kind of scared of them as a young child.  I am glad my dad was able to watch out for our interests first. I know it’s a hard thing to not be able to save everybody, but what an amazing thing you are doing with your life! I wanted to take in foster kids at one time, but we lived on a ranch in Colorado, and when the “people in charge” told us we would have to test a few hundred head of cattle for [whatever disease a cow would have??] we told them, sorry, but never mind. There was absolutely nothing that a range cow was going to pass on to any human. Here in AZ, there are so many kids and so few foster parents, that they will let almost anyone take these kids. I know quite a few great foster parents and a few that are pretty unstable themselves, but they all have kids as soon as they get through the training. I also know a family who had a past foster daughter who put them through hell with false accusations. It’s such a hard thing. It’s sad that some kids are born to adults who actually make them “unfixable.”

  3. Deon Bucher says:

    That is probably the saddest thing I have ever heard, and precisely the reason I won’t foster. I don’t think I could handle that. Your a stronger person and thats a good thing or there would be no one for the unfixable. And Maybe you made enough of an impression on him to change something in his life. You gave him four happy days, four more than he would have had. And thats why your here on this earth. You have already earned your wings.

  4. Burchill says:

    very moving story….wonder what ever happened to that young man?

  5. Cyndey says:

    Do ‘children like this’ ever come back & say ‘thank you’ or something that says, because of you … ? Tears in my eyes once again, because I’ve been on both ends to some extent.

  6. Wendy L. Riddle says:

    I am a Family Advocate and Professional Parent Coach and reading your stories has been amazing.  If more parents could see the world through your eyes, the world would be a much different place.  I work day in and day out with broken, damaged and torn families and understand how hard it is to make the tough choices.  If you knew in your heart that it was not the right place for this soul, then you made the right choice, even though it broke your heart to do so.  That takes grit, determination and a heart of gold.  Many blessings to you and your family, which include the family members to come!

  7. Amy Keffer says:

    I’ve kept it together reading these.  Until now.

    I felt it… the moment my heart broke.

  8. mary_j_j says:

    Thank you for sharing so much of your life – I have tears at the thought of this poor lad hugging you on his departure 

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