The air whipped in thru the hole in the top of the box. Billy reached up and tried to hold it closed. His thumb was poking thru the mis-matched gloves he had found in the garbage in the alley. The alley was his home and he chose this alley because it was the alley behind a restaurant and a thrift store. He was lucky enough to find a big box one day and took it to the far end of the alley and made a small home for himself. It wasn’t very big, as it was only a box. But Billy wasn’t very big either. He was only 6 years old.
He didn’t always live in a box at the end of the alley. In fact, he used to have a mommy and a daddy and lived in a big house. He had his own bedroom and toys and he even had his very own TV in his bedroom. But that was before. Now he lived in a box. It wasn’t so bad, he told himself; though it was a lie. He was frightened and cold, scared, lonely and hungry. He mostly kept hidden if someone walked by because he was afraid that they would see him and that it wouldn’t be safe.
Tonight was really a rough night for Billy. The cats were scratching at the dumpster again and the wind was really strong. It took all of Billy’s strength to keep the box from getting caught in the wind and blowing away. Billy had found some old newspapers and stuffed them in his dirty clothes to try to keep warm. He didn’t have a blanket or a pillow. But he did have his teddy-bear and he kept him close by, especially at night. He knew his teddy-bear couldn’t really protect him, but it felt much better with teddy than without.
Today had been a good day in terms of food. The restaurant had made hamburgers for their specialty and Billy found some that didn’t sell in the garbage. He also found some stale buns in a bag (thankfully they were clean) and took his find back home to his box. They were cold and really didn’t taste very good at all, having come from the garbage. But Billy closed his eyes and pretended he was eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger instead. He pretended he had eaten all of his French fries first and that his hamburger was actually warm and that he had ketchup on it. Pretending got easier everyday, as Billy didn’t have much else to do.
In fact, Billy didn’t really know what to do. He really needed a bath. He hadn’t brushed his teeth in longer than he could remember. The last time he was able to wash up had been when he snuck into the McDonald’s bathroom a few days ago. He smelled really bad and didn’t have a winter coat, so people stared at him. They really stared when they realized he didn’t have a mommy or a daddy with him. He knew that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be and he knew that everyone else knew that too.
He slipped into the restroom as quickly as he could and hid in the bathroom stall for a while. How long exactly he wasn’t sure because he was just so happy to be somewhere warm for a change. He was really happy that the handicapped stall had a small sink in it. He was able to close the door and have some privacy, as he took all of his clothes off one by one and hung them on the door. He was really cold now, but he really needed to clean himself off. He took some of the brown paper towels down and wet them with some warm water. Then he poured some of the pink, bathroom hand soap onto his wet paper towel and started to wash himself from head to toe. It took a long time as he had to keep getting new paper towels and wetting them and getting soap. And he was freezing. He rinsed himself off the same way. He really wanted to wash his hair but was afraid he would freeze to death if he went back outside with wet hair, especially since he didn’t even have a coat.
He washed his face really good and tried to rinse his mouth out with some water. He pretended his finger was a toothbrush and then he pretended that he had toothpaste. Pretending this wasn’t very easy and Billy was starting to get sad again. He got dressed quickly, after drying himself off with new paper towels and told himself not to think those sad thoughts.
Sometimes he couldn’t help it though. Just a few weeks ago, he had a nice mommy and a nice daddy and a nice house. And now he didn’t. It was very hard to understand and he really missed his mommy a lot. He felt really bad for all the times that he was bad, or didn’t listen. He wished that he could go back in time and make it all better again. He wished so hard everyday that everything would go back to normal again. But it didn’t.
All he really remembers was that he was at home one day and his mommy told him to stop jumping and yelling while she was on the phone. She had some important phone calls to make and needed him to be quiet. He wished now that he would have been quiet. He kept being bad and being bad. He didn’t know why he was being so bad but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. It was like it was almost fun to be bad. He liked watching his mom get mad and yell. Now, he knew it really wasn’t funny at all. He understood that he had upset his mommy and made her very sad and mad. He knew his mommy loved him, but sometimes he really hurt her feelings. He was sorry now. Really, truly sorry. Not just the pretend sorry he used to say to get out of trouble. He was really, genuinely sorry.
He wished he could hug his mommy and hold her tight. He wished he could tell her how much he loved her. And he wished he could thank her for taking such good care of him. Always keeping him clean and safe, buying him the things that he needed, spending time with him and loving him. He knew now how hard it had been for his mommy to always keep the house clean and to take care of him. He had been taking care of himself for weeks now and it was very hard.
He kept thinking how sorry he was that he had wished he could be the boss of himself. It was no fun being the boss of himself. In fact, it was actually quite frightening. He remembered when he made that wish. He was mad at his mom because she made him go to his room for misbehaving. He felt really mad and sad and he started to talk to himself about how he hated being the kid. He remembers he looked out the window and saw something shiny coming toward him. It was almost floating in the air. And then suddenly, there was a tiny green man standing in his bedroom. The man was quite funny looking and called him by name. “Billy”, he said, “my name is Sam. I am your fairy scary God-parent. I only come to bad little boys to offer them a wish.”
Billy couldn’t believe his luck. A real live fairy was in his room giving him a wish. He didn’t hear the part about the fairy being scary, or the part about only coming to bad little boys. All Billy heard was that he got a wish. Billy usually only thought about himself, so it was no surprise to Sam.
Billy remembered how his mom had made him come to his bedroom and he felt mad at her again. He said, “Sam, I wish I didn’t even have to have parents and I could be the boss of myself”. And then it happened. Sam waved his magic wand and Billy couldn’t believe his eyes. The room started to spin and spin. Billy got dizzy and fell down. When he fell, he fell on his teddy bear and grabbed a hold of him.
Just as suddenly as the spinning had started, it stopped. Billy was standing in the middle of a city street, clutching his teddy bear dumbfounded. His house was gone. He was all alone. And Sam was mysteriously gone.
Billy walked around for hours, looking in windows and thinking how much fun it was going to be doing whatever he wanted. But after a little while, he started to get hungry. He went to the hotdog stand and ordered a hotdog with chili on it. The man made him his hotdog and then told him that it would be $1.25. Billy said, “I don’t have any money”. The man said, “hey kid what are you wasting my time for and put the hotdog back and wheeled his buggy away”. Billy was very sad. He really wanted that hotdog.
But now he knew he didn’t have any money and that he wasn’t going to be able to eat, so he started to get a little bit scared. Then, Billy realized it was starting to get dark outside and he didn’t have anywhere to go. He walked and walked until he saw some lights in the backdoor of a restaurant in an alley. He walked closer, smelling such delicious smells it made his mouth water and his stomach growl. He heard some adults talking inside and hid on the side of the door. After a little while a man came out with a bag of garbage and threw it into the dumpster. Billy had been peeking in the door and saw that the man had put some leftover chicken and French fries in the garbage bag.
He knew he had to eat and he had no other choice. He crawled into the dumpster and tried to lift the bag out, but he couldn’t lift it and the garbage smelled horrible. He finally ripped open the bag and found some of the French fries that hadn’t fallen to the bottom. He scooped them up quickly and shoved them in his mouth. They were cold but it didn’t matter. He was starving. He also found two small pieces of chicken and ate them as well. He had a hard time climbing out of the dumpster and was afraid he might get taken with the garbage the next day. Finally, he saw some mis-matched gloves that must have come from the thrift store and put a pair together that were warm and fit his hands. He was able to climb out a little better with the gloves on.
When he climbed out of the dumpster, he realized it was very dark. The alley lights had been shut off when the men closed the back door to the restaurant. Billy was in a panic and didn’t know what to do. And now he smelled really bad. He heard all kinds of strange noises and felt very scared and alone. After a long time, he squeezed himself in between the two dumpsters and found a piece of cardboard to block the wind from the backside. He finally laid his head down on the ground and cried himself to sleep.
When he woke up the next morning to the sound of strange noises, he was cold and sore. He was also very sad that it hadn’t been a dream, that it was real. He didn’t have any parents or a place to live. He didn’t have any money, any food, any toys. He didn’t have anything but his teddy bear.
He spent the whole next day looking for things to bring back to the alley. He found some newspapers in the garbage cans on the streets. He also found a couple of old pop containers. He took them to the McDonald’s bathroom and hid them in his coat. Then he went into the bathroom and washed them with soap and really hot water, five times, to make sure he had killed all the germs. Then, when no one was looking, he ran over and filled up his pop bottles with pop from the soda fountain on the wall with the ketchups. His heart was pounding. He was so afraid that he would get caught stealing and that they would take away his pop and put him in jail. Luckily, no one noticed and he was able to put the lids on the bottles and stuff them in his shirt. He wanted to drink one whole pop as soon as he got outside, but he wasn’t sure when he would be able to get another drink again, so he only took a couple of sips.
And that is how Billy lived. He walked around all day looking for things to eat and drink and to keep warm with. When it started to get dark, he would head back home toward the alley and wait in the shadows until Ben and Mark (the two dishwashers at the restaurant) would take out the garbage. Then he would climb into the dumpster and dig thru the bag for whatever food he could find. Sometimes he was lucky and would be able to get a lot of food and sometimes there would be raw chicken on the top of the bag and that meant he couldn’t eat anything, because he might get food poisoning. The first time that happened, Billy’s stomach hurt all night long. The next time he was prepared. He started to save a little bit of the food from one day to the next, just in case. But he was afraid that might make him sick too, since he didn’t have a refrigerator or stove. And he remembered that his mom always told him not to leave food out on the counter or it would go bad.
Tonight, Billy didn’t find anything to eat in the restaurant bag in the dumpster. They had pizza for the special today and they sold all out. Billy had been smelling that pizza for the past two hours and was really, really looking forward to it. But it wasn’t to be. Instead, his belly hurt from being hungry and the temperature started to drop outside. The moon was only a sliver tonight as well, so it was really dark in the alley.
As the wind whipped thru his box and his thumb poked a hole thru his glove, Billy started to cry. It was so cold that his tears froze on his cheek and that made him cry even harder.
Billy was scared. He was afraid that he would freeze to death in this alley or starve to death in his cardboard box. He didn’t know what to do. The wind was really picking up now and the cardboard box was starting to tear on the one side. Billy tried to be really careful not to move too much, because without that box he would have to sleep in the dumpster to keep out of the cold and the wind.
Suddenly, Billy felt something cold float down and touch his face. It was a big fat snowflake. The beautiful kind that linger for just a special moment so you can see them, before they melt away. Billy remembered playing in the snow with his mom the year before. Building a snowman with his dad and drinking hot chocolate. Billy was wondering where his parents were and if they were ok.
Billy stopped thinking about himself all of a sudden. He started to think about how worried his parents must be. His mom got worried over every little thing, always telling him to be careful. She must really be upset now, since she can’t find me. The tears really came down now. Billy cried for his mommy and his daddy. He cried because he missed them, but he also cried because he couldn’t bear the thought of them sad and lonely without him. All because of his stupid wish. Why on earth would he wish not to have his parents. His parents were the most important people in the world. They were the ones who loved him and took care of him and made him safe.
Billy sobbed into his teddy bear. Tears falling endlessly down his cold and chapped cheeks and onto the cardboard box floor. He started to cry so loud and so hard that he thought he would throw up. His stomach hurt and still he cried. He cried and begged and called, Sam.
“I’m sorry, he yelled out into the night. I am so sorry. I really didn’t understand before. I didn’t know how hard it was to take care of myself. I didn’t know that I was being bad. I didn’t mean to be. I love my mommy. I love my daddy. I miss my house and my bed and my blankets. I miss my porch and my swing set. I miss my toys. I miss eating my mom’s food. I miss looking at my mommy and giving her hugs and kisses. I miss having my mom tuck me in at night and check on me with kisses on my forehead. I miss my family. I know I’ve said sorry before, but I didn’t know what sorry meant. I really didn’t know. Now I know. I am sorry. I am really, really sorry!”
Billy cried and cried until he fell asleep holding his teddy bear in his arms. The next morning, when Billy woke up, he couldn’t believe how warm he felt. And how comfortable and snuggly he was. Then he opened up his eyes and couldn’t believe it. He was under his very own covers, in his very own bed, in his very own bedroom. He was wearing his favorite pajamas and he was clean. He smelled good like soap and toothpaste.
His house smelled so good and clean. He jumped out of bed and started to run toward the door and then Sam appeared in front of him. “No, Sam please, please don’t send me away again.”
“I didn’t send you away the first time, Billy. You wished for it, remember?”. “Yes, but I wished to come home a thousand times after that and you wouldn’t bring me home”. “It’s not that I didn’t want to, Billy”, Sam said kindly. “I watched over you but I wasn’t allowed to bring you home until you had learned your lesson. Until you had really and truly learned your lesson and understood that it was important to be kind to other people and to appreciate what you have.”
“I do, I do”, said Billy. “Maybe you do now, replied Sam but you didn’t before. You really didn’t appreciate all that you had in your life Billy, because you didn’t know what it felt like to go without those things. You were a very, very lucky little boy and you took it for granted and you didn’t appreciate it at all. You acted selfish and spiteful and mean sometimes.”
“I know”, said Billy shamefully. “I did act selfish and mean before, but I wont ever again. I promise you Sam. I will be nice to everyone. I will say thank you and please. I will use my manners. And I will be good. I will be a very good little boy from now on. And I especially will be nice to my mommy. I love her and I am going to start showing her how much I love her by listening to her and being respectful and by doing what she asks me to do, the very first time. I won’t pretend I don’t hear her anymore.”
“I know you will Billy. I know how much you missed your mom and your dad and your house and I hope I never ever see you again”. With that, Sam vanished into thin air.
Billy bounced out of his bedroom and ran down the hall to his parents bedroom. He opened the door and saw them sleeping peacefully. Billy walked over quietly and crawled under the covers. He stared at first his daddy’s and then his mommy’s faces. He touched his mommy’s hair softly and when she opened her eyes to look at him, he threw his arms around her and cried.
“Billy, what is the matter?”, his mom asked with concern. “I have missed you so much and I am so sorry I was bad”. “What do you mean you missed me?”, she asked. I tucked you into bed last night, how could you miss me?” Billy started to tell his mom about Sam and the alley and his cardboard box house, but she told him he must have just had a bad dream.
Billy knew differently.
His mom got up and started to do dinner preparations, because today was a very special day. It was Thanksgiving. Billy was thrilled. He walked around his house all day long, from one end to the other being thankful for all that he had. He hugged his mom about every 15 minutes, found every reason he could to get close to his dad and climb up on his lap and was really, very good. The smells that filled the house were wonderful. It was so nice to be home.
That night, as his family was gathered around the dinner table ready to begin eating their Thanksgiving feast, Billy asked if he might say something. “Sure”, said his dad. “What would you like to say?”
“Thank you!”, said Billy. “I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being my parents. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for taking care of me and keeping me clean and warm and safe. Thank you for making sure my belly is always full and thank you for everything else that I can’t even think of right now”.
When he looked at his parents, they both had a tear in their eyes. “Why Billy”, said his mother. “That was the most beautiful thank you I have ever heard”. “And we thank you for being our little boy”.