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I had been missing for three days and knew that the police were once again looking for me, just as they did every other time I ran away from the orphanage.

It was early November and it was starting to turn cold during the evening hours. Generally, when we boys ran away we would head to one of the local parks to hide. While in the park, men would approach us, the kind of men who like to take young boys to their house. I was 11 years old and I had known about these ‘queer’ men for almost three years now. Being with them was the only way orphan boys could survive out on the streets of Jacksonville, Florida.

This particular time, I had run away all by myself and I have to admit, I was very scared, especially when darkness fell. I did not know anyone and I did not know what to do or where to turn for help. It was about eight o'clock in the evening when I finally made my way over to the Springfield area. Most of the people now walking the streets were bums, drunks and prostitutes.

I made my way down a small alley and found a large cardboard box next to a dumpster. I took off my flannel shirt and made a pillow out of it. I put my coat over my T-shirt and climbed inside the box, trying to hide and get some sleep.

"You come out here. Get out of that box, boy!" someone yelled as they hit the top of the box with something hard.

I stuck my head out of the end of the box and looked around.

"What you got there, boy?" asked an old man.

I could tell he had been drinking, because I could smell it all over him.

"I ain't got anything. Really, I don't," I replied.

"You got something there, boy. I seen it in your hand when you climbed in that box," he said as he moved closer to me.

"It's just a letter and a picture. I ain't got any money. Honest I don't.”

I began pushing myself backwards away from him, until my back was against the brick wall of the building.

"I ain't going to hurt you, boy. Just want to look at what you got there," said the scary old man.

Slowly, I climbed out of the somewhat collapsed cardboard box and held the letter out to the man. He took it from my hand. I followed him as he walked over to the large fire, which he and several other men had made in a large metal drum. I stood watching his face as he read the contents of the letter. After he finished, he opened the envelope and took out the small picture of my mother.

"Nice looking woman. Is this your mother?" he asked.

"That's what Henry R. Trusty said in the letter," I replied.

"Who's this Trusty fellow and where do you live?" he asked.

"He's my grandpa and he lives in Alaska," I replied. "When I ain't running away. I live at the Children's Home Orphanage on San Diego Road. That's over by Spring Park School."

"If you know what's good for you kid, you will tear up that damn picture. Just throw it in the fire can and go back to the orphanage where you belong. If your momma really wanted you, then she would not have put you in the orphanage in the first place. You’re going to see that one day, boy."

"How do you know what's good? You’re just drunk all the time. I can smell it."

"Look here, kid. I was raised in a rat hole orphanage up in Chicago. I have to admit that those nuns were some terrible bitches, but at least we got fed every day and they taught us some learning," said the man as he poked his finger in my face.

"You were an orphan one time too?" I asked.

He shook his head back and forth, and then took a long drink from the bottle he had wrapped in a brown paper sack.

"Damn, that bites hard," he said as he began choking and coughing.

"Leave the kid alone and stop trying to scare the hell out of him," said a woman as she walked up to the barrel and began warming her hands.

I watched the woman as she placed her hands directly into the flames. As she talked, she constantly turned her hands back and forth so they would not burn in the fire.

"Just telling the kid the damn truth of it all. This is no place for his kind," he told the woman.

"How come your hands don't burn?" I asked the woman.

"It's magic sonny," she said laughing aloud. "Get up here and warm yourself.”

Then she wrapped her arm around my neck.

"I got a kid that's about your age. Don't know where he is anymore," she said as she hugged me.

I watched her face in the firelight as she swallowed and wiped her face on her skirt tail.

"This is not a place for you, boy. Really it ain’t,” she said in a broken voice. "Give me a shot of that poke," she ordered the old man as she punched him in the arm.

"You want to snort?" asked the short, bald man.

"Don't be giving none of that damn shit to that boy!" screamed the lady.

"I was going to buy him a Coca Cola."

"Would you like a coke, young man?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," I replied.

"Did you hear that? The boy called me a ‘yes sir.’"

Off walked the man, heading to the store located down the block.

"I love all children," said the woman as she hugged me even tighter. "You warm enough?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Here boy, eat some of this jerky. It's good for ya," said the man who had remained very quiet.

For the next hour or two, I stood around the fire eating beef jerky and drinking Coca Colas. The five of us talked, laughed and sang a few songs. The more they drank, the more they hugged on me. Occasionally, the old drunk woman would kiss me on the cheek. Sometimes when she hugged me, it hurt my neck very badly. However, that was okay with me. It felt very good to be around people who treated me as if I was somebody special. It was good to be around someone who did not make me work all the time, as the orphanage did. In addition, it was very good to be around grown-up people who did not want me to take my clothes off for them.

"You had best get back in that box and get some sleep. Morning comes early round here," said the lady.

I warmed my backside and then headed back over to the box. I placed my flannel shirt beneath my head and within minutes, I was fast asleep.

"OKAY, BOY!" yelled someone as they kicked my feet.

I quickly sat up and tried to figure out where I was, but nothing made any sense to me.

"Come on, boy. Crawl it out here," said a man's voice.

When I looked up, there were two police officers standing at my feet. One of them kept hitting me on the bottom of my shoes.

"Hurry it up," said the officer.

As I stood up, the two men grabbed me by my arms and headed me toward their patrol car.

"Sorry, kid. I had to call them. It's for the best," said the woman as we walked by her.

I sat in the back of the police car for about 30 minutes while the police officers took a report from the woman. Occasionally, she looked over and wave at me. I was not very happy about having to go back to the orphanage. However, I was not worried about that right now. All that I could think about was that it felt good for someone to like me, even if it was only for an hour or two.

Those few memories have stayed with me throughout the years. Those memories taught me that there are good, kind people everywhere in the world. Even in the back alleys of America.

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