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WebSideStory Pick of the Week! 3/16/98

Do You Like This Internet Resource? Recommend-It (tm) to a Friend!

    By The Men's Editor

    by Gary Sorkin

    Life rewards you for doing an unselfish act. Sometimes, the act happens reluctantly.

    Peter, my friend from high school and into college, and then later roommates in Manhattan, had decided to become a Big Brother. You've certainly heard of the organization; boys without father figures, big brothers so to speak, to help guide them through life, perhaps teach them some male wisdom. He told me of his desire to help a boy from an underprivileged home. I said, "Go for it, pal. You're a better man than I."

    Peter's choice

    I went with Peter to a school auditorium to choose his Little Brother. The room was packed with needy kids and very few candidates as Big Brothers. I forget the exact procedure for selection, but Peter wound up with one, Eric T. Stevens, a ten year old boy from 138th Street in the South Bronx, New York. Why he selected Eric also escapes me, but as I look back at Peter and at Eric, I think it was Peter's good heart that dictated the choice. Eric Tyrone Stevens was from a fatherless, seven-sibling family. He lived in a two-room apartment in a very run-down building in a very bad section of town. Eric was also borderline mentally- challenged. He had one glass eye, weighed almost three hundred pounds, and had trouble breathing. That's a lot of strikes against such a young boy. Eric could break your heart.

    I asked Peter, "Why him? He needs me the most." Then he added, "Besides, there's two of us. We can handle him."

    "Say what?"

    Finally, "If you can do it, pal, I can too." Sigh.

    It was an eventful time. Once a week we would drive up to the Bronx, honk the horn in front of Eric's apartment building, and this very loud large boy with his half-toothless grin would run out of the building, and fill up the back seat of the car. We'd take him out for dinner, to a Yankee game, a Knick game, a movie, or anywhere to pass a few hours.

    No Emily Post was he

    Eric lacked for social skills. His passing of wind in public made him roar with laughter and made Peter and I hide behind our menus. We went on a few Big Brother sponsored events. One in particular stands out in my mind. It was a canoe trip down the rapids of the Delaware Water Gap. Peter and I barely survived. Eric had tipped the canoe over on us dozens of times. The water was shallow that weekend and we wound up with cuts and bruises, a lost watch, a lost gold chain, and ripped clothing. We looked like we were in a war, and lost. Eric had a blast. That night, all the Big and Little Brothers slept in one big tent. Eric, having that breathing problem of his kept everyone up and complaining all night long. He awoke the next morning with a smile on his silly-looking face ready to meet the world. Peter and I were ready for a hospital stay.

    The years passed. Sometimes we'd skip a week only to find a snoring hulk of a boy outside our apartment door. Eric had become pretty sick. His breathing was causing some lung damage and a few stays in the hospital were in the offing. They became more and more frequent, more and more serious.

    Miles from manhood

    Eric T. Stevens died.

    Peter and I went to his funeral at a cemetery in the Bronx. A stick in the ground marked where this poor boy with the silly grin would spend eternity. Only two of his siblings and his mother showed up for the burial. It was over in ten minutes. His mother left to go to work.

    He was sixteen years old, in the middle of his teen-aged years - yet many miles from manhood.

    On the way home, Peter and I sat silent. The rest of our lives were still in front of us.

    Men Editor's Archive Columns

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