A young boy struggled with the loss of his little brother, forcing him to grow up sooner than he’d wanted. After his brother’s death, he started going home at strange times, causing his mother to follow him one day to get to the bottom of it.
Martin grew up too soon after learning that his little brother Joe had died. It happened two years ago, when Martin was five years old.
His brother Joe had been ill for most of his short life and eventually did not return home from the hospital. His mom, Anna, explained to Martin that Joe had become an angel and was taking care of their family from heaven.
Their family now only consisted of Anna and Martin, as Martin’s dad left them shortly after Joe was diagnosed with his illness. Anna worked tirelessly to provide for her children and raised them bravely as a single mother.
Since he was young, Martin would listen to stories about heaven. He knew that heaven was far away, and while his brother flew there with his angel wings, someone needed to take care of their heartbroken mother.
So, after Joe’s death, Martin helped his mom out as much as he could. At five years old, he washed dishes, took out the trash, swept the floor, and set the table.
Then, after helping with the household chores, he’d lock himself in his room and cry. Everything in his room reminded Martin of his little brother, as they used to share it. The room was filled with Joe’s toys and books, making coping with the loss more difficult for Martin.
Two years had passed, and Martin was already seven years old. He would usually take the school bus and walk himself back home from the nearest stop, but he did not come at the usual time he’d arrive one day.
Anna would usually be cooking dinner when Martin arrived from school. However, the table was set on that particular day, and Martin was nowhere to be found.
“Where have you been?!” Anna scolded him when he arrived an hour and a half later than he usually did. “I was very worried! What took you so long?” she yelled.
“Don’t worry, mom,” Martin replied passively. “I was just reading in the library and lost track of time.”
Anna was suspicious, as Martin didn’t actually enjoy reading books. Martin didn’t think she would check if he were telling the truth, but she did.
She called Martin’s school library to ask if he had been there yesterday. “No, ma’am. Martin Keener didn’t come in yesterday,” the librarian told her.
Anna was ready to reprimand Martin once he got home from school, but again, he was late. She was furious, asking him again: “What’s your excuse this time? Where have you been?” she asked.
“I was at my friend’s house doing a school project. Carl Dickinson’s house,” he replied.
That night, Anna called Carl’s mom, whom she once met at a parent-teacher conference. She wanted to see whether or not Martin was lying to her again.
“No, Anna, Carl’s been sick for a week and hasn’t been to school. I haven’t seen Martin in a while,” Carl’s mom answered.
Martin’s mom was baffled as to why he kept lying to her. The following day, she decided to leave work early so she could follow Martin on his way back from school.
She saw Martin leave the school, but he walked instead of getting on the school bus. Anna followed him from a safe distance, curious where he was going.
Martin walked a couple of blocks before stopping on the town’s outskirts. Anna could not believe what she was seeing. “What is my son doing in these dark and dirty streets?” she thought.
Martin casually walked towards an abandoned house and went inside. Anna turned pale and ran after her son after a couple of seconds.
When she entered the abandoned house, it was filled with empty rooms. She couldn’t see where her son went at first glance, but she suddenly heard his voice.
She followed the voice and finally saw her son, her eyes filled with tears. She had assumed her son was doing something terrible, but she was proven wrong.
She watched Martin sit across a 6-year-old girl, reading a book to her. “What’s going on here, Martin?” Anna said softly, with a smile on her face.
Martin was startled when he saw his mother, thinking she would get angry again. “Mom, I can explain,” he told her.
“This is Lizzy. She ran away from her foster family because they were not treating her well. She’s been staying here in this abandoned house. I met her when my class went to the nature park not too far from here,” Martin explained.
“When I met Lizzy, I felt bad and wanted to help her. She told me she wanted to learn how to read, so I’ve been reading to her after school. That’s why I’ve been going home late sometimes. I lose track of time and go home later than I usually do. I’m sorry, mom,” Martin told Anna.
Anna shook her head. “Thank you for being honest with me, Martin. I wish you would’ve told me sooner so that we could’ve helped Lizzy together.”
At that, Martin smiled at his mom and decided to introduce Lizzy. “Lizzy, this is my mother, Anna. She works as a doctor,” she told the girl. “Mom, Anna wants to be a doctor when she grows up, too!”
Hearing these words, Lizzie ran up to Anna and gave her a tight hug. “Joe says you are the best mom in the world!”.
Anna could feel her body stiffen as she heard her words. “Joe? Who is Joe?” she said, surprised.
“My friend, Joe!” the young girl replied.
Anna looked at Martin, thinking he had been introducing himself as Joe. Instead, he revealed that Lizzy had an imaginary friend.
“Joe, mom. Our Joe. She says she’s been talking to him, and Joe’s been telling her stories about us,” Martin explained.
Lizzy nodded. “Joe told me that you will be my family.”
Anna was in disbelief. She suddenly remembered her sweet boy Joe and wondered whether or not Lizzy’s friend was indeed her late son.
Martin and his mom took Lizzy to their home, where they fed her and gave her clean clothes. Martin and Lizzy remained good friends and eventually became siblings.
After a lengthy process, Anna was able to adopt Lizzy, and they became a happy family of three. Together, they constantly honored Joe’s memory while making new memories of their own.
What can we learn from this story?
Family is not always about blood but love. Martin and Anna opened their hearts and homes to Lizzy, who was yearning for a family that she could love and cherish for the rest of her life.
People cope with losses differently, and that should be respected. Martin grieved the loss of his little brother for years. While his mother thought he was being disobedient, he was trying to shower another person with love and care – Lizzy. Since he could not take care of Joe, he wanted to take care of someone else, who eventually became his sister.