Joey was his name. He lived in my block when we were kids, and at neighborhood get-togethers, the mothers would all oooh and ahhh over what a pretty child Joey was. His mom was so proud.
But later on, Joey got to be a pest. He always wanted to follow us girls around and play—even when we played dolls or dress-up. We understood only enough to realize that Joey was different.
When we started school, Joey was ostracized because he was "not like the other boys." He was often the butt of our cruel jokes. He did well as a student, though, and when the teacher drew a big star on his papers with her red pencil, he would hold it up for all to see, and cry, "See my star!"
Though he seemed not to mind how we treated him, I now realize he must have been burying his hurt down deep where it didn't show—burying it even from his parents, whose lack of understanding only compounded his pain. Black children have black parents. Asian kids have Asian parents. Gay children are alone, frightened and confused.
But Joey's stars on his papers got our attention, so stars became an important symbol in his life.
Thinking back, I feel ashamed for us all, and I'd like to tell him. Unfortunately, his dad got transferred and the family moved away. I'd like to tell him I regret the demands society places on those who are not born into its rigid conformities.
My last recollection of Joey was at Christmastime just before he left. Each of us had brought an ornament to school for the Christmas tree in our room. When it came time to "top" the tree, Bobby Warren produced a beautiful angel with gossamer wings and a flowing robe. But from the back of the room Joey ran forward with his gift for the treetop—a crudely cut star made of cardboard, covered with silver paper, and a loop of string pasted to the back. Of course we all derided him for thinking such a thing was worthy of gracing our beautiful tree.
"I have an idea," Miss Wilson suggested wisely. "Let's hang the angel from the ceiling and put Joey's star on top of the tree." We all snickered as Joey climbed the ladder and placed his ornament at the very top.
As Miss Wilson reached for the cord to plug in the lights, we all gathered close for the magic moment, and gasped with delight as the tree suddenly glowed.
Joey stood next to me, transfixed by the beauty he had helped create. The lights reflected on his upturned face, so full of joy. I saw him squeeze his eyes as tears welled up, overflowed and moistened his soft cheeks. Like tiny, shiny stars.
Lorraine Remington is a member of Community Congregational UCC in Columbus, Mont.