I walk by there nearly every day. The house isn’t far, perched on a small hill on the next street over from mine. It’s on the way to my daughter’s school, with a cheerful parade of children meandering their way past it, bowed awkwardly under brightly-hued backpacks.
It’s the house where Jeffrey Baldwin died in 2002. He was just shy of his sixth birthday, emaciated and starving, semi-comatose from months of abuse and neglect at the hands of his grandparents. It was a true house of horrors. Now, it blends in with the rest of the street, nondescript in every way. A simple east-end semi with a hockey net dangling from the soffits; you’d never know that anything — good or bad — had happened here.
But I know it, from reading, by number. And so I walk there to visit, to pay my respects, and to remind myself to keep my eyes open and my questions sharp.
So many people failed this little boy. His own parents, his aunts and uncles, the CCAS, even the neighbours. The safety net of community had a massive hole in it, and Jeffrey toppled through it from a great height. How many backs turned on him before his death? How many shoulder shrugs does it take to kill a child?
A. moves in morse code toward it, blips of energy followed by long, leisurely ellipses to examine a crack in the pavement, a fallen maple key, a bug. She’s almost two years younger than Jeffrey would have been when he died, and her robustness makes my heart swell in sadness. She is loved. All children should be loved.
"Where are we going?" she asks me, holding a pilfered morning glory in her hand. I’m not sure why I’m taking her there. I know there’s no way of explaining what happened to her in a digestible way. Even my adult brain can’t make sense of it — how can I possibly explain it to her?
"We are going. To a little boy’s house." I say. The words barely make it out.
"What kind of little boy?"
I pause and look and the tree tops bending against the sky. “A little boy who lived here a long time ago.”
A. processes this slowly. “Is he grown up now?”
"No. He’s not grown up." He didn’t get that chance.
"Is he a little boy forever? Like Peter Pan."
"Sort of. I guess you could call him a Lost Boy."
We make it to the house. There’s nothing to see, and I know it. Why have I taken her here? Did I expect that a place could wordlessly convey its own meaning, its own past? Could the mute brick and mortar be more eloquent than my own feckless mouth?
Selfish me. Somehow, I wanted to knit everything back into place by remembering, by teaching my daughter to be kind to others, and to watch for suffering. But now the task at hand seems insurmountable. I’d like to grab her little hand and run home and forget the whole thing. What am I doing here?
She scrambles up onto the front lawn and hops down the stairs, one at a time — fearless, oblivious. “This is the lost boy’s house?”
"Yes," I say. "But new people live here now."
She pauses for a minute to consider the idea, looking long at the front door. “So the boy can’t come back?”
"No. He can’t."
The wind picks up. A. turns in the breeze, her dress billowing in the cool autumn air. Her red hair catches the light for a moment and gives off a fiery, copper glint. She places the morning glory at the bottom of the porch stairs and turns her face to me, with a half smile breaking at the corner of her mouth.
"I think that’s a good thing." she says. "Because, now, he can fly."