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When you move into a new building, every face is a new face. When you see a face again, you assume they live there, as opposed to being a guest. You make snap judgments about people, cause you only see them for a second. Oh, this person is cranky, this guy talks too much, that girl is always covered in cat hair, this dude never leaves the building…. etc. Struggling families. Single guys. Ambitious corporate types. Lonely old people. Every building has them. I began to notice this young man that lived on my floor. I normally saw him taking out trash or fetching mail. I never saw him with a school bag, but grocery bags, or baskets of laundry. What I found to be odd though is that he never looked at me. He always looked down, away, as if he couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see him. When we got stuck in an elevator together, he would always move far away as possible.

I didn’t know much about this guy, not even his name. I could see he was young, in his late teens maybe. I knew he lived with an older man, a real stern guy about ten years older. Maybe in his 40s. Ramrod straight posture, ice grey eyes. He was well on the path to be the quintessential old-white-guy stereotype: loud, angry, and racist. And his voice – he had a big, booming voice he used to scare anyone who didn’t agree with him into submission. It was also the voice he used to yell at Obama on the TV. At least, that’s what I thought he was yelling at, until I started listening. Then, I realized it wasn’t the TV the old guy was screaming at – it was the young man.

The more I began to pay attention, the more I saw things I don’t think I was meant to see. Or maybe I was. I assumed the kid was kind of a klutz, but I slowly realized that I never saw him without a mark. He always seemed to have a bruise on him. Once it healed, it’d be replaced by a split lip, then later with another bruise. A cut on his hand. A limp to his walk.

About seven months after I moved in, I came home one night and found him sitting outside their apartment door, naked, all crouched up into a ball. I begged the kid to tell me what was going on, but he refused and insisted I leave. My noise caused commotion, and the old guy came out and threatened to call the cops on me. He dragged the kid back into the apartment and slammed the door.

I didn’t see the kid for like a week, and when I saw him in the elevator that next Saturday, he had white bandages under his shirt, all up his neck.

It was a strange situation, because you know something bad is happening, and you know you should say something. But you also know reality, and you know the cops will come, the old guy will say nothing is a matter. He was fighting with his grandson or something, trying put his “mouthy” troublesome grandson in place. Without a complaining witness, the cops would leave…and that kid would probably get hurt more.

I began to dread seeing that kid around the building, because it was just a reminder that I couldn’t stop what was happening to him. I finally hit my breaking point after the kid got the bandages off. I spotted him in the laundry room in the basement in this old white T-shirt. Where the bandages had been now revealed fresh, pink skin. He’d been burned. White heat coursed through me. We were alone, I had to say something. So, I did. I said, “If you need me, I’m in apartment 10J. Don’t let anyone hurt you again.”

The kid furrowed his brow at me, then looked away, his face a mask of shame. He gathered his things and left the laundry room without saying a word.

I hadn’t expected him to take my advice to heart. I expected to come home one day and find cops in front of the door, the door blocked off with yellow crime scene tape. I learned to not hear the screaming or the fights.

One spring night, about a year or so after I moved into the building, there was a knock on my door. It was just after dinner time, and I was headed to the kitchen for ice cream when the knock came. I figured it was the lady in apartment 10K telling me she had my mail again. I was surprised to find the kid standing there, white as paper. Blood was pouring out of his nose, marring his handsome face, and pooling in his hand.

“Jesus, shit,” I gasped. The kid was too frightened to say a word. We both heard the old guy turn the knob and come out of his apartment. I grabbed the kid’s sleeve and pulled him into my apartment, then slammed and locked the door. The old guy began to beat on my door, accusing me of “kidnapping his houseboy” and that I should “give him back so he could take his punishment”.

Instead, I called the cops. The rest of the evening melted together. The old guy was arrested, the kid had to be taken to the hospital. He told the EMTs his name was Trevor.

I made sure Trevor got a good lawyer. I later found out that I was the only one that visited him in the hospital. On one of these visits, Trevor told me everything one night. He grew up in foster care. His last foster family used to “loan” out the kids as maids, essentially, for money. When Trevor turned 18, he was turned out of the foster care system with no GED (missed too much school), no money (not allowed to work), and no family. So, when his family offered him an opportunity to be a live-in houseboy for Mr. Erickson, Trevor felt he had no other choice.

Trevor broke my heart when he told me he didn’t leave at first because he assumed the abuse was normal. It was only seeing an article in the newspaper about a Filipino woman kept as a sex slave did he realize what was happening to him, but he was completely trapped.

I told Trevor he was not going to be alone anymore. I stood by his side the whole time. When my lease in the building came up, I declined it, and Trevor and I moved into a new building together.

I was worried though that Trevor would think of me just another man wanting to monopolize and abuse him, so the first thing I did was give him a promise gift. Inside the box was the key to the front door on a chain and a new cell phone. He would always be a free boy now, but I was offering him a home if he wanted one. Someone needed to love and take care of Trevor. If he trusted me, I
promised myself I would do that and more. I would never let him feel
unwanted again. 

Text is fictional.


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