The Ungiven Gift

By: Rick Beneteau

He was pencil thin and walked with a limp. A thirteen year-old boy
with huge yearning eyes who was always an unlucky patient on the
children's floor of the hospital where my youngest daughter was all
too often incarcerated.

Curtis had sickle cell anemia, an incurable, painful and terminal
disease that plagues young people of African descent.

I would meander into his room to spend a little time with the
rebellious loner and would often end up refereeing a screaming
match between him and one of the nurses. The street-wise Curtis
would usually win.

Over the course of a few years (the hospital was always my home-
away-from-home), I eventually learned of the horror of his
upbringing, the sad reality of his current life and the apparent
dimness of his future.

My experience as a volunteer in the Big Brother-like program in our
local Children's Aid Society was that a small dose of interest and
some one-on-one attention could go a long way to helping a kid
who was in trouble with the law, failing school and in Curtis' case, a
social outcast.

So, when my time was over with the last boy I was involved with, I
asked the CAS if I could hook up with Curtis, albeit 'unofficially' this
time. Problem was, I was in the process of selling my drycleaning
business while building a music production studio (for my next
career) and my time was too much at a premium to commit to a
structured arrangement. They agreed, and I began to hang with
Curtis.

I learned in very short order that among his survival skills was the
tendency to cajole, cleverly manipulate and even outright steal.
Although always kind, I had to have a second set of eyes when in
his presence and was forced at times to be, well, curt with Curt.

Also during this time, I was involved in a major lawsuit after having
had a song of mine "lifted" by a one-time friend and co-writing
partner in Los Angeles, who had become a 'hot' producer of major
recording acts. On one of his multi-million selling records was the
core of a song of mine he had heard and we discussed in my
presence during one of my frequent music trips in the 1980's. I was
a little more than hurt and felt I deserved not only the royalties for
my creation, but also the credibility that went along with a "cut" of
that magnitude by a name recording artist.

I retained a highly regarded entertainment attorney in Detroit (he
represented many of the athletes on the professional sports teams
in Detroit as well as one of the all time greatest boxers and even
some famous civil rights icons) who just happened to also be a
truly wonderful and giving human being.

It was in a meeting with this man that I casually mentioned Curtis
and my desire to do something very special for him. See, in my
heart, I had a feeling Curtis would not live for too many more years.
Sickle cell sufferers often died in their early twenties, or even
before, a decade ago.

I wasn't expecting anything from my lawyer
in this regard, but the next day the phone rang and I was instructed
to have Curtis "dressed up" and at the Palace of Auburn Hills at a
specific gate number one hour prior to a Detroit Pistons game later
that week.

He was a huge basketball fan. His hero of heroes was Isaiah
Thomas, captain of the Motor City NBA Champs the prior two
years. But I didn't let on to Curtis where we were going that night.
Just that we were hanging out. I just asked his foster mother (and I
use the term “mother" very lightly) to have him dressed nicely with
his birth certificate in hand by a certain time.

Curtis was on time, eagerly waiting on his rickety porch when I
pulled up. But to my utter dismay, he looked as disheveled as he
always did in his overbaggy, tattered clothes. And of course, good
ol' foster mom couldn't find his birth certificate. Now, can you
imagine the fancy dancin' I had to do at U.S. Customs having this
'gang looking' teenager with no identification trying to cross the
border in my new BMW? Well, fate and some silver tongued talkin'
prevailed and we were soon racing up I-75 to The Game.

I tried to make idle conversation with the excited but slouching
teenager. All Curtis could do was hound me. "Is it a ballgame? Is it
a concert?" "Rick, where are we going?" I love to tease. Finally, he
glimpsed the landmark dome of the arena from the freeway and
knew he was going to get to see his favorite team play.

We found the specified gate, parked and walked to the entrance.
Walking with Curtis was always a little frustrating for me (he would
do the 'slow, cool stroll' and I am a brisk walker) but this time I
knew there was something special awaiting that we should almost
race to.

We were met by a well-dressed, executive-looking middle-aged
man, who just happened to be the Vice-President of Public
Relations for the Detroit Pistons. Talk about first class! He escorted
Curtis not to his seat, but directly to the Pistons bench, where
Curtis' eyes grew almost as big as the basketballs the giant
athletes had just started tossing around in their pre-game warm-up.

I was led to our primest of seats directly behind the bench. A
waitress visited only seconds after that, taking my order for
refreshments. Everything was "on the house". I saw one of the
assistant coaches introduce himself to Curtis, and next thing I
know, well, guess who's center court tossing the ball around with
his hero, Isaiah? Soon, he was running the court and shooting
hoops with Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars and the
rest of the elite players!

At this point, I couldn't even imagine the exhilaration that this young
man who life never seemed to smile upon was experiencing at this
very moment! I mean, how could anyone's wildest imagination even
envision this ravaged spirit and body trying to "deek the Bad Boys
of basketball?" I just sat quietly in utter amazement, misty eyed
and SO grateful to my legal friend and the 'human' management of
this professional sports team who arranged all of this for one
person. A Canadian kid who was close to my heart

When the warm-up was done, Curtis climbed up with me. The first
half of the game was great. The Pistons were pounding their
opponents. A few of the players even glanced back and motioned at
their new teammate! By the time the half-time buzzer sounded I
was certain Curtis' dream day was complete.

But hold on, this was only half time! The same assistant coach who
invited Curtis onto the hardwood floor pre-game, called for him to
hang with the team in the sanctuary of the dressing room during
their much-needed break. Give ME a break!

I'll never forget what I think was the widest smile I have ever seen as
the team emerged onto the floor afterwards and my little guy 'cool
strolling' as proudly as I've ever seen anyone. And much quicker
than I ever recalled. What a night!!

The ride home was quiet. Opposite of the ride there. Curtis slept
most of long way home. I could only imagine his dreams. Canada
Customs was kind and allowed him to sleep through their few brief
questions for me. It was sad to see him sleepily stagger up the
sidewalk to his stark reality, after having just left a world where I'd
bet no one would believe he had been.

Somehow I thought I would receive a phonecall from Curtis the next
day. But it never came. Two days later I had a very good reason to
call him. My attorney and the team had arranged to have every
player on the NBA Champion Detroit Pistons sign the game ball
from that night, and Federal Express it to my home address, to give
to Curtis. An autographed yearbook was included too.

I couldn't wait to tell him. I mean, I was flabbergasted at this
unexpected and over-the-top gesture! I recall excitedly dialing his
number and the deflation after hearing that "Curtis took off to
Toronto yesterday." She went on to explain that she didn't know
where he was or how to contact him. And neither did the Children's
Aid Society.

Little did I know that evening would be the last time I would ever see
Curtis. My instincts tell me that he is not with us anymore. But if
he isComputer Technology Articles, he has one great gift still waiting for him - The Ungiven Gift.

? Rick Beneteau

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