Bobby Kingsley

(See yesterday’s post for an explanation.)

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had always loved children. It was not the love of the idea of children. Theirs was not the case of a couple who wanted to have children, but were prevented from doing so. No, they loved children through experience. Two years after the wedding their first child, a daughter, was born. Two boys followed within the next three years.

While having children by natural birth was very fulfilling to the Kingsleys, they knew they were made for more. They eagerly pursued the avenue of adoption. A girl from South America was first, followed by another from the Pacific Rim. From the outset there was no distinction within the Kingsley household between “natural” and “adopted” children. All were loved, disciplined, nourished, appreciated, and respected. It was understood and unquestioned – they were a family.

A family that grew even larger when Mrs. Kingsley delivered yet another daughter and, shortly afterwards, the paperwork was finalized for the adoption of a boy from Eastern Europe.

Four girls, three boys, two very proud, and very satisfied parents. Of course, it takes more than love to pay the bills, but Mr. Kingsley had succeeded in business, so finances were never a concern. And even with all the demands of young and growing children, time had never been much of a factor either. Mr. Kingsley was fond of saying, “There’s always time to do what’s important,” and the strength and attitude that was evident in their home seemed to prove him right.

That strength and attitude would be tested most severely.

Of all the Kingsley children, Wally, the eleven-year-old, and third of the Kingsley clan, was the one who could brighten any mood. Perpetually sunny in disposition, quick in thought, compassionate in relationships, Wally was not only the peacemaker in sibling squabbles, his ability to bring a smile and his lack of self-preoccupation invited the admiration of his younger brothers and sisters, and the protection of his older ones.

Unfortunately, their watchful eyes didn’t see the car that crushed Wally’s bicycle as he rode to a friend’s house. The driver never stopped and the Kingsleys would never know precisely what happened. They only knew the result.

Even in their courtship, both Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had decided that, when their time came, they would be life-givers. It was on each of their driver’s licenses. A real discussion , then, wasn’t even necessary in Wally’s case, only signatures on a form. As hard as losing a child was, the Kingsleys’ grief was lessened, if only slightly, by knowing that other children would live as a result. The strong and kind heart of their child would power the life of another.

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley met Bobby several months before Wally’s accident. Orphaned at birth, left at the front door of the local firehouse without a note, Bobby was without any clue to his background or his lineage.

The system had cared for Bobby in the twelve years since. Cared is probably overstating what Bobby had experienced. “Tolerated” or “kept” might describe it better. Bobby had never caught the eye or the heart of any prospective parents. He had been carried along by the bureaucracy, existing, but not belonging.

Despite the lack of warmth and affection that nourishes and sustains any young child, Bobby was relatively well-adjusted, even hopeful. He had experienced more than his share of disappointment and rejection, pain and loneliness. He lacked any real knowledge of what a loving family could be like. Not knowing what he was missing, it was said, Bobby missed it less.

It was shortly after the Kingsleys met him for the first time that Bobby’s kidneys began to fail. The medical professionals disagreed on the cause, but were certain of the prognosis. Bobby needed new kidneys. He was put on the list.

Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley normally sought to adopt a child as an infant or toddler, but felt inexplicably drawn to the case of this pre-teen with daunting medical needs. They had a vision to meet the great need of children from other countries, but felt compelled to touch this child from their own community.

They hesitated. Then came Wally’s accident, and suddenly tragedy and opportunity intersected to make their decision for them.

Bobby could be taken off two lists at the same time, gaining two titles – organ recipient and son.

Only hours after losing one son, the Kingsleys would participate in the possible gain of another.

They never thought of Bobby as Wally’s replacement. Just as they had loved each of their children specifically and independently, they saw Bobby through an exclusive lens. This was simply making the very best out of the very worst.

The surgery went better than any of the medical team had hoped. The unusual step of replacing both of Bobby’s kidneys was an unqualified success. Rather than rejecting the transplanted organs, Bobby’s system responded vigorously. It seemed that he was almost instantly cured of whatever had caused his original condition. Recovery would be brief.

The grief of the Kingsley family was more prolonged. The loss of Wally was profound, piercing. Those feelings of emptiness were mixed with the hope of gaining Bobby. In time, the children were introduced to their potential sibling, and Bobby and the Kingsleys became acquainted.

In the next twelve months, the Kingsley clan gradually regained their footing, and the addition of Bobby to the group was another step to healing. Even the youngest Kingsley sensed a bigger purpose, as if it was all calculated in advance.

From Bobby’s perspective, it was nothing short of overwhelming. Having never known the benefits of belonging, he was given a wonderful taste of what it would be like to be a brother, a son. He liked it. He couldn’t wait to be known, not just as Bobby, but Bobby Kingsley. It was all miraculous, too good to be true. But if Bobby ever doubted the reality, he only had to touch the scar that signified the sacrifice and provision he had received.

It was exactly a year to the day of Wally’s accident – coincidentally – that papers were signed, and it was official – Bobby Kingsley, the newest , if not the youngest, Kingsley child. A bittersweet day, to be sure.

Mealtimes were always the best times at the Kingsleys, No better food could be served than what was prepared by Mrs. Kingsley, but it was more than food that made mealtimes special. Mealtimes were a time to laugh at the stories of the day, a time to look in each other’s eyes, a time when connection became the most real.

In the years following, as the family grew yet again, those family dinners bonded them ever closer. There was one more baby, a boy, to close out Mrs. Kingsley’s child-bearing years, followed by twin – yes, twin – girls, orphaned by a terrible east African civil war, now adopted into positive American civil bliss. Then the grandchildren began to arrive.

It was the empty place at the table that created the difficulty.

Of course, there was never any physically empty place at the Kingsley table. Space was too precious for that. The emptiness was felt, if not seen. No matter how many other Kingsley children and grandchildren made their place at the table, the emptiness was real and tangible. It was the place their brother should have occupied.

No one could explain why he rarely did.

In the days after his adoption, Bobby had quickly meshed into the fabric of Kingsley life. He enjoyed everything about it. Even discipline was administered with genuine compassion and charity. That’s what he loved most. They really cared.

That’s why it was only a little unusual when he started asking if he could spend the night back at the orphanage. Surely he just wanted to share the new attitude and sense of belonging he had discovered with some of the kids he left behind.

It wasn’t long before everyone realized that there must be more to it. Nights became weekends, that quickly became weeks. And each time he returned, Bobby acted less like a son, more like an orphan.

How could a twelve, now thirteen, then fourteen year old boy decide where he was going to live, who he would listen to? And why, having experienced the love, belonging and close-knit unity of a family, would he choose the cold loneliness of the orphanage?

The excuses were varied, if not predictable, until at last the excuses stopped being offered. Instead, there was silence. And the empty place at the table.

Every once in a while, their paths would cross, Bobby and one of the other Kingsleys, though the younger ones didn’t recognize him, and couldn’t know that the man with the prematurely graying hair and slight limp was one of their own. They might make the connection if they caught sight of him on the fringes of the annual family reunions, held – not by coincidence – on the anniversary of a very special day. Even Bobby wouldn’t miss that day.

But he would miss most everything else about being a Kingsley.

Married for over sixty years, sharing life, love, tragedy, loss, and great joy, it surprised few people who really knew them when Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley passed away within a few hours of each other.

At the reading of the will, the room was abounding with Kingsleys. Their family had grown quite large, and Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had planned on generously blessing each family member at their passing.

Their testament mentioned each by name, from the youngest to the oldest. In most cases, there was included a favorite story about the family member, along with the qualities Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had most admired. There were many tears, but many laughs as well. It was as if Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley were still there, with the rest of the family gathered at the old mealtime table.

It was almost incidental when the endowment of material possessions was finally mentioned. Almost. For nothing that they had known of the Kingsley patriarch’s generosity and financial acumen prepared them for what was to come.

They were rich. Each and every last one of them. From the youngest great-great-grandchild – for the record, Emma, born only three weeks before and, actually, the only great-great grandchild – to the oldest daughter, they had all become instant millionaires. Multi-millionaires, to be more precise, who, if they followed the advice handed down to them as well, would eventually approach billionaire status.

One name was conspicuously absent, a fact not lost on anyone that were present.
He stood near the back of the room, moving little, saying nothing. At the beginning of the evening he was hopeful, but not expectant. He hadn’t seen any family member, much less the parents, in the few months preceding their deaths, but the scar was still there, the one that reminded him of the first gift they had ever given him. He was hopeful for one more.

But as the night wore on, and the names were read, and everyone swam in the rich sea of family memories, it occurred to Bobby that perhaps he had already missed the real inheritance. When he finally heard his name, he couldn’t help but hold his breath.

“…and to Bobby. We still love you. You heard us say, there is always time to do what’s important. We were wrong, because now there is no time for us to know you as our son. We wish you had joined us for dinner. It was more than a meal.”