The Boy Who Gave Up
By J. L. Thurston
The story of my stepson is long and complicated. He’s 16 now and has lived his entire life with a broken family. My husband was very young when he got some girl pregnant. The relationship ended quickly and not too long after high school, she and her entire family moved to Oklahoma.
The boy, Noah, has stayed with us during summer break every year since they moved. My husband drives to stay with him for every birthday and every Christmas. This is how things have been with very few exceptions, and much more hassle than I’m giving credit, but that’s another story.
The older Noah got, the more he claimed he wished he could stay with us. I warned him that at our house there are rules, structure, and expectations. He has none of those things in Oklahoma. I warned him he might hate living here during school, but it would be good for him and we’d only be doing it out of love.
This past Christmas break, he decided to stay. It was a struggle to get him started. Education is treated like a low priority back home, so getting him registered in school had multiple obstacles. He’d been held back numerous times and lately he’d been doing an online-only school that he was steadily flunking.
Well, we eventually got him all settled in with school and his routine. Then we made a deal with him. If he got good grades and perfect attendance, we’d get him an iPhone on my plan and we’d buy him a car for his birthday. My husband was Cadillac shopping. I was about to be very envious of Noah’s new car.
But a switch flipped in my stepson’s head. His birthday came and his grades were good enough to get the grand prize. I had him invite his Oklahoma family up to celebrate his sweet 16 with a huge party. They arrived on a Thursday, signed him out of school, and he went to stay with them at the hotel. We decided not to freak out for his birthday, but on Monday he’d be grounded for a week. Missing school is not acceptable, and his family could have waited a few more hours to pick him up.
His party was Saturday. Noah and his family arrived two hours late and barely stayed two hours before they left. None of them ate or had any birthday cake. Then they took Noah with them for spring break. So much for him being grounded for missing school, but oh well. We’d talk to him when he came back.
He was a completely different person when he returned. He came back — missing two more days of school in the process — with an attitude. He told us not to buy him an iPhone or a car. He told us this would be his last year of school, too. He’s done. He’s finishing the year and then going to Oklahoma for good. He’d only been with us for three months when he decided this.
I understand the factors that may lead a teen to want to quit. Homesickness, sure. Being forced to go to school every day, getting homework done, undergoing consequences for bad grades and missing assignments. He’s never had any of that before, so I can understand the stress we were putting him under. If those were the reasons he wanted to quit, I’d be able to make him feel better. I’d reward him for his hard work, encourage him to keep going. I’d remind him of his goal. He wanted to go to college (which we’d pay for), study computer coding, be a game designer. We were proud to help him with his dream.
That would have been easy. But that’s not the problem.
The real reasons he’s giving up is because of girls and laziness. That’s all. Apparently, he came to stay with us this school year because no girls would give him the time of day back home. Up here, ever since January, he’s spent his every waking moment chasing every girl in his school to a disastrous social outcome. Now, the only girls who even allow him to talk to them are his cousin and her best friend (who already had to tell him she’s not interested). But now there’s a girl in his hometown who sends him semi-naked pictures and has requested a dick pick from him.
Side note: did you know this is completely normal for kids age 14 and up? They’ve all seen each other naked on Snapchat. The fuck is wrong with kids?
Noah thinks he can score with this girl, so he’s going back to Oklahoma. This means he’s dropping out of our traditional school and going back to flunking his online classes until he’s 18 and doesn’t have to take them anymore. He’s going back to his grandma’s house where he can sit in front of a television with a Playstation controller in his hands and junk food all around him all day, every day. He’ll be fed constantly, no need to move except to go to the bathroom, and showering only when he needs to be alone.
He’s encouraged to live this way. He’s been told by his family that he has a heart condition and exercise could kill him. Even though they buy him energy drinks daily. But if he’s home constantly, all the family can leave their kids with him.
He told us recently that he’s decided he prefers that life. All he’ll do is eat and game and maybe get lucky with that girl. He’ll never get a car, or a job or a GED, let alone a diploma. There’s no need to have any of those things because his grandma will feed him and keep a roof over his head. The other family members will support this because they can leave their kids with him.
He’s only just turned 16 and already he’s just saying “Ah, fuck it.” It’s tragic. It’s a waste. It’s breaking my husband’s heart. He feels like a failure. He’s angry. He’s disappointed, he’s depressed. Noah was once an energetic boy. He wanted to be a chef, he wanted to travel, he thought of nothing but going out and tasting the flavors of life.
As he’s grown, he’s been taught to be afraid of water, of having his head covered with anything, and of playing too hard or his heart will burst. As he’s grown, he’s been made to be sedentary in mind and body to benefit his family’s needs. Over time, he’s learned to love that way of life. So much so we’ve stopped playing sports with him because the stress causes him to lash out irrationally. The last time we played at the park he screamed at us that he wanted “to go home to his real family.” Age 12.
These last few months have been difficult. He goes outside, even in the snow, to talk on the phone with his family. He says he does that so he can hear. It’s not like our house is loud. I can only think he does this so we don’t hear what he’s saying to them. Is he lying? Is he telling them he hates it here? Is he begging them to come get him?
Why can’t he just be honest with us?
I never expected greatness from the boy, with his family’s morals and educational standards, but I really thought that he’d made the choice to do something with his life. I thought when he chose to live here he was choosing an education. At minimum, I expected him to graduate high school.
He’s 16, a freshman and quitting.
We can’t stop him. We can’t force him. We can talk until we’re blue in the face but his mind is made. And we don’t say anything negative about his family, though we think it all the time. It’s like verbal gymnastics to try to make him see things the way we see them without trash-talk. The whole situation is beyond exhausting.
We still love him and we’re still here if he changes his mind again. I’m just afraid that he won’t. Will he be truly happy living this way? Or will this lifestyle eventually throw him into depression? What if he hates himself later for this choice when it’s far too late to make it right?
He thinks he’s making his life easier, but I know in my heart it’s only going to be harder. I’ve known this kid since he was three and still think of him as this little guy who’s still figuring it all out. But soon he’ll be considered an adult. He’s choosing his path in life. It’s a path I’m failing to be optimistic about. So, I guess, all we can do is sit in the background with white knuckles and clenched jaws and wait.
He may be quitting, but we’ll never really quit on him. Even though it feels like it.