Stevie

Stevie

By Paul Teodo & Tom Myers  

In that moment I went from trying to save my marriage to trying to be the best single father I could be.

Saturday afternoon. August 1992. Like it was yesterday. Ninety-five fucking degrees. Humidity over the top. Just got done cutting the grass. In our bedroom. Dripping with sweat. Grass clippings stuck to my back making me itch like I had a disease.

Her back to me lying in a bed not shared for the past five years. My breath short, scared, my heart slamming like a hammer. Staring at her, tears pooled in my eyes, wanting to say the right thing.  Shattered by what was happening.

“We can do this.” She didn’t turn. “The kids.” Nothing. “I don’t get it,” I was choking, trying to breathe some life into us, “I just don’t get it… unless there is another…” She turned looking wounded through her tears. “Guy.” Silence made my ears ache. I grabbed the dresser to hold myself up.

After months of useless counseling she moved out leaving the two boys with me.

I told myself I could do this. Reality told me I was full of shit.

My boys lying in bed the night she left. I’d just finished reading them a story. “Why did Mommy leave?” Peter’s soft voice oddly stark in the dark quiet room.

I paused trying to take the pain of that August afternoon out of my answer. “Mommy and Daddy both love you and your brother very much, but sometimes it’s better for people to not live together.” Enough for now, I hoped. I kissed them goodnight.

I stood to leave.

Peter again, voice trembling, “Are you going to leave?”

I turned back and knelt down. “I swear to God, I will never leave you guys. I will always, always be here for you.” My breath short, chest tightened like a fist. I coughed over my sadness and tears.  “Always.”

I yelled upstairs figuring he got caught doing what we’ve all done in a bathroom with a flashlight.

In two years it became abundantly clear that I was living with wild fucking animals. My previously clean, sweet smelling house now stunk like a locker room and looked liked a pig sty. Farts and belches were practiced as works of art. A dry towel was unlocatable. Bathroom, bedroom, basement or garage lights were never turned off and doors were always left open. Wind, rain, snow and sleet blew through the house unimpeded. Grotesquely contorted stray boys lay most weekend mornings on my family room floor. I wondered who they were, how they got there, and when the hell were they leaving.

After supper one night I could tell my son Paul needed to take a dump. He backfired like a truck and smelled like roadkill. Plus he’d downed four kielbasa sent by my Slovenian friend, a big glob of sauerkraut and a scoop of pickled kidney beans. He scampered upstairs to the bathroom gurgling all the way.

The shifting shadows from what appeared to be a flashlight drew me to the stairwell.

The bathroom light flipped on. “You mental retard!”

“I’m sorry Paul I didn’t know you were in there!”

“Knock it off, Paul” I yelled upstairs figuring he got caught doing what we’ve all done in a bathroom with a flashlight.

Relentless: “Ignorant. Fag, homo, retard.”

“Knock it off.”

“Ass wipe.”

“Knock it off!”

I heard a slap, then Peter’s muffled whimper. He flew from the bathroom propelled by Paul’s shove, cheek flaming red. I bolted up the stairs ready to strike as the door slammed shut. My fist went through with remarkable ease, the wood exploding like a rifle shot. In what eventually became folklore in my family, my hand went through the door and wrapped precisely and tightly around my son’s throat. He gurgled, choking, wriggling in my death grip.

“You’re going to kill him!” Peter screamed trying to contain my out of control one hundred pound dog.

Paul still gurgling. Me admiring the comic book action of the moment, grounded only by the splinters buried in my wrist.

Finally relaxing, I loosened my grip and ripped my bloody arm from the jagged hole. I flung the door open. Paul stood in the bathroom, flashlight in hand, pants around his knees, finger prints marking his neck, tears streaming from his wildly defiant eyes.

I glared back.

“You have a temper!”

I did, and at that moment I was fucking proud of it! “You’re gonna pay for that door!”

“I don’t have any money!”

He didn’t. “You’re gonna get a job!”

“I’m a kid! Who’s gonna hire me!”

He had me. “Pull up your pants and keep your mouth shut. I’m going downstairs to think.”

“You need to calm down.”

I already had. I trudged down the stairs, cracked some ice, packed it on my bloody arm and sat at the kitchen table.

A triple Dewar’s woulda been nice, but I quit that shit in '78.

After careful calculation I lumbered back upstairs, ice pack on my mangled arm. “That door is gonna cost about three hundred bucks to fix.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“I got an idea.”

“What?” He was trying to be tough but looked like a bird stuck in a cat’s mouth.

“It’ll help my income taxes.”

“What are income taxes?”

“Shut up.”

“What are income taxes?”

“We are gonna volunteer. And it’ll be an income tax deduction for me.”

His eyes curious, lips quivering, “Volunteer? Income tax?”

My fingerprints on his neck were starting to fade.

 I called one of my coworkers, “Joanne.”

Paul still gurgling. Me admiring the comic book action of the moment, grounded only by the splinters buried in my wrist.

“Yes?” She had her nice voice on. I was her boss.

“I got a favor to ask.”

“Anything. What can I do?”

“It’s different.”

“Anything.”

“I need to volunteer.”

“You?” Her voice curious, cautious.

“Yeah… and my son.” Silence, I could see her standing in her office thoughtful. She always stood. A good looking youngish woman. Both a nurse and an attorney.

“Isn’t he…” she was deliberate.

I helped her, “Yeah, young twelve.”

She cleared her throat.

“Joanne, don’t break rules for me. Maybe a stretch but nothing unsafe. We can come at an off time. You name a time, we’ll be there.”

I hated doing this. I rarely played this card. But my kid needed something different. We both did.

“Okay. Let me get back to you.”

“Thanks.”

Three days later my phone rang. Her name popped up on the screen. “Joanne.”

“Sunday nights. Seven to nine.”

“Thanks I appreciate this.”

“You’ll have to stay with him the entire time.”

“I will. Start date?”

“This Sunday.”

Fuck. Super Bowl. “We’ll be there.”

Silence, I could see her standing in her office thoughtful. She always stood. A good looking youngish woman. Both a nurse and an attorney.

I had the game on the car radio.

“We’re missing it.”

I didn’t look at him. The 49’ers were kicking the shit outa the Chargers and I didn’t care. “It’s twenty-eight to seven.”

“They can come back.”

“They ain’t coming back.”

“We’re missing halftime entertainment.”

“Tony Bennet? The Miami Sound Machine?” He was like a fish flopping on the beach.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Where I am taking you?”

“You’re supposed to tell me where we’re going to volunteer.”

 I gave him nothing to work with. “We’ll be there soon.”

“This isn’t fair.”

“You’re right. Bullying isn’t either. Deal with it.”

We pulled up to the front of the building. The Christopher Forte Children’s Home.

“Who‘s this Christopher Fort?”

“You don’t need to know.” He squirmed in the seat. “You scared?”

His eyes flashed. “No.”

“Good.”

I rang the bell. He kicked a rock, shaky hands stuffed in his pockets. Finally, a large woman opened the door. Her name tag read “Hollie.”

“Mr. Paul!” She engulfed me in her meaty arms. I’d met her once. “And this must be little Paul.” She smothered my son and I lost him for a moment in her abundant flesh.

She released him and I saw fear inch across his face. He didn’t know what to expect, but knew lashing out was not okay.

“I’ll get Consuela. She’s gonna show you around and introduce you to your student.”

His eyebrows raised at the word “student.”

“What is this place?” he whispered to me as Hollie waddled briskly down the hall.

“The Forte Children’s Home.”

“I know. But what happens here?”

“It’s for kids who have physical and mental problems.”

“You shouldn’t a brought me here.”

“You shouldn’t be an asshole to your brother.”

Hollie returned with another chunky woman at her side. Consuela displayed on her name tag. “Mr. Paul.” Thick melodic accent. “Little Paul. Mucho gusto.”

“Gracias.” His response prompted Consuela to rattle off a string of conversational Spanish. His month of middle school Espanol wasn’t gonna cut it. He responded sheepishly, “Si.”

“I will take you to Stevie.”

“Stevie?” My son whispered.

I wouldn’t look at him.

Consuela led us to the hall padding silently past the nurse’s station. The door opened to a corridor lined with children of all ages in wheel chairs. Noisy, bent over, twisted arms flailing in the air.

Happy? Sad? Impossible to tell.

My son Paul was starting to come through. His cocky smugness began to vanish. The good kid I knew that was deep down inside him was starting to peek out from behind his veneer of twelve-year-old arrogance.

Consuela opened a door to a cool quiet room. In the middle sitting on a large padded mat was a small boy. “This is Stevie.” She smiled and took Paul’s hand leading him towards the boy whose head was waving side to side, making guttural noises. I saw my son’s shoulders tighten. He glanced back at me with an uneasy look.

“This is Stevie. You play with him. These are his toys. He likes squeaky the best.” She grabbed a green frog from a toy box, squeaked it a few times and she shoved into my sons face. “You do.”

Paul took it reluctantly and squeezed. The frog squawked weakly. Stevie smiled and made what might have been a happy noise. Paul looked at me again. His nervous smile genuine. I almost felt some empathy.

“Good. You play. I come back two hours. If you need me call phone.” She pointed to the wall. “Uno, tres, cinco. Si?”

I heard him respond humbly, “Si.”

Consuela turned to leave. “Consuela?” Paul's voice respectful, kind.

She turned back. “Si?” dark eyes radiant in the dim light.

“What’s wrong with Stevie?”

Consuela’s eyes dimmed as she grew serious. “Very sad, cystic fibrosis.”

“Oh.” Paul said even quieter. “Will he get better?”

Consuela looked at me, her face softened, she looked back at Paul. “Is in God’s hands.”

That first night crept in slow motion. As the Sundays past each other on the calendar things got better. By week seven there was some smiling. A few laughs. Paul no longer looked at the clock every few minutes. Every time we walked in Stevie squealed and grabbed for his frog waving it at my son.

When our eight weeks were up, Paul hugged Hollie, Consuela, and Stevie and said goodbye.


I never fixed the door. People would look at it and wonder what happened. I’d tell them to ask Paul. He’d squirm but eventually spit out the truth.

My boys left and went to college. When they graduated I decided to sell my house and finally fix my door. By then Paul was a real estate agent, and was handling the sale. Even made some dough off the deal. After the closing he approached me when it was just the two of us.

“This is for you.” He handed me a check.

“Me?”

“Yeah.”

Three hundred dollars. In the notation line. It read “For damage repair to door.”

Later that week I was unpacking in my new place. I came across a box marked KIDS SCHOOL SHIT. I opened it and thumbed through some papers. I came upon a handwritten assignment.

Mr. Haufman 7th Grade. Memorable Moments From 1993

Stevie died today. He was 9. He was my friend. He had a disease called cystic fibrosis. It can kill little kids. It killed him. I met him after my dad went nuts. He broke a door and got me around the neck. He has a short temper. But I was bullying my brother after he walked in on me in the bathroom. He told me to stop. But I didn’t. so I sort of deserved it. He put his fist right through the door. Then I had to help pay for the door with income tax deductions. Stevie lived in a place with other kids who had all sorts of diseases. It was sad, but sometimes it was happy too.

At first when I met Stevie I was nervous because he was so sick and little and hardly could do things like sit up or talk. He rocked a lot and made noises. He hardly smiled at all. He had a tube sticking out of his stomach to give his nutrition. Sometimes Consuela had me help her clean it. Consuela was a really nice Mexican lady who worked at the Forte Home where Stevie lived.

I was never sure how much Stevie knew what was going on around him. He loved a green frog that squeaked and when I made it make a noise Stevie would shriek louder than the frog.

The people who worked there were almost all women. They were from everywhere and spoke lots of different languages. My favorite was Consuela. She talked to me in Spanish and I got better at talking Spanish from her.

My mom and dad are divorced. I remember the night my mom left my dad knelt down on the floor next to our bed. It was dark and quiet. He told me and my brother a story. He was crying low. But I could tell. He told me and my brother he would never leave us. Then he hugged me and Peter really hard, almost like he thought we were going to leave. Stevie’s mom and dad never came to visit him. When I first met him he never smiled. But the last time I went to see him he did.

Wherever he is now, I hope he is still smiling.

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