We had lived in our Texas home for three years when Finn arrived. Several families had come and gone during those dry, hot summers. So when another moving truck rattled onto our street, I thought little of it.
Our brick home was situated on a dead-end street, which was perfect for the children to ride bikes, play baseball, pull wagons, and chase each other. One summer morning our children and several neighbors were doing these things while I weeded the flower beds. I thought I heard a new voice and as I looked up, there stood a young boy, perhaps ten years of age. I remember thinking, “My goodness, he looks like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.”
The boy was much too thin with large hazel eyes and dirty blond hair that was tangled. A slight overbite became obvious when he quietly spoke, and dark circles lay under his eyes. His shoes were completely worn out and far too tight….I made a mental note of the fact that it was over 100 degrees yet he wore a long-sleeved shirt.
I had a sudden urge to take him inside, scrub his hands and face with a warm washcloth, and feed him a triple decker sandwich washed down by cold lemonade.
“Would anyone like some water?” I asked instead.
A resounding yes was the answer, but I noticed the new boy hung back while looking down the street.
So I stepped inside, and upon returning with the pitcher and cups, he was gone.
“His name is Finn,” Caleb informed me. “And he’s frightened.”
Over the course of that summer we got to know more about Finn, albeit by piecemeal. He gathered with the boys and other neighborhood kids after supper (the only time the temperature seemed to fall below 95 degrees) for games of kickball, football, and baseball. I watched carefully…discreetly. Soon I discovered that he would have small conversations with me as long as I was preoccupied with other activities such as walking the dog, picking weeds or helping Lauren Olivia on her tricycle.
Finn’s father remained mostly in the house that summer with the blinds closed tight. I saw Finn’s mother only when she pulled in from work each evening and collected her mail. Occasionally she would wave. Finn usually greeted her, but without much enthusiasm. And she called him Dalton….not Finn!
“Your name is Dalton?” I inquired one evening as I brushed our dog in our driveway. He shrugged. “I’d rather be called Finn.”
He kicked a few stones and kept his gaze low.
“Finn suits you…I like that name.” He smiled briefly.
The Texas heat was brutal that summer, and I wondered why Finn rarely sought the coolness of his air-conditioned home. The boys asked him why he was always outside and he shrugged, glancing back at his house.
“I have more fun out here,” was the reply.
While the neighborhood children played with abandon and freedom and joy, Finn remained anxious, having spurts of fun followed by quiet. He never acted depressed, just preoccupied and nervous. Finn’s twin sister occasionally emerged from their home as well. She and Finn were a study in opposites. She was pudgy with short chestnut hair, thick coke-bottle glasses, and fair skin. For all of his quietness and reluctance to speak, she was a chatter-bug with a lisp.
“Dalton doethn’t like to be at home,” she spoke freely to me, as was her custom.
“He doesn’t?” I answered, noting the use of Dalton again.
“No……me neither.”I nodded, waiting for her to continue.
At that moment, Velma, our next door neighbor, hollered my name in order to discuss an upcoming garage sale. I watched as Finn’s sister waved a cheerful goodbye to me, absentmindedly pushing her thick glasses up towards the bridge of her nose before skipping home. She was pleasant, simple, and unremarkable for as long as I knew her.
Her twin brother, Finn, remained elusive. He did engage our sons in whatever they played outdoors. Occasionally, the boys would come home with tall tales woven by Finn. I was pretty sure that he escaped reality by devising a fictional life that he needed to believe. Once the summer began to wane and school started, we didn’t see him as often.
As with any shared story, details are never complete. The story must be pulled from ongoing lives that have their own twists and turns, beginnings and endings. I do not recall every event from that fall. Our family life was full with school, sports, ministry, extended family visits and the like.
I do, however, recall snapshots:
Finn outdoors , on school nights, until ten pm. The evenings gradually growing colder and Finn without a sweatshirt or jacket, riding a skateboard.
His older, teen aged brother, adorned in black, with dyed hair hanging over his eyes shouting for “Dalton” to get his rear end home.
Finn’s father, an imposing and intimidating man, always in a trench coat, never acknowledging his son, but walking straight inside the house after work.
Finn’s mother, waving over the mailbox, friendly yet detached. As elusive as Finn, and as forgettable as her daughter.
Finn’s grandmother, babysitting most afternoons…a chain-smoking woman, snapping at her grandchildren, and ignoring everyone else. I was told that she shooed her grandchildren outdoors while she caught up on her soaps and cigarettes.
Other neighborhood kids rang the doorbell most afternoons, beckoning our children to please come out and play. Not Finn. He would simply wait in our driveway, kicking pebbles in the street, head hung low.
One day I stood by our dining room window and watched as my Caleb and Jacob ambled outdoors with a football in hand. Caleb called out a hello to Finn. Finn’s shoulders relaxed and he smiled wide. The moment was so unrehearsed and so unusual and so very real that it took my breath away. Such rich and abandoned happiness on his small face. I knew at that moment he felt safe. I wondered right then if his mother ever gave him a tight hug just because.
It would be a few months later that Finn rang our doorbell and stepped into our home. An unforgettable day.