The Worst Fourth Pirate in History

Birth and Death

Mrs. Hotchner hated doing laundry. She hated having to find a neighbor who was willing to watch Sean, she hated looking for missing socks, and she hated going through Aaron’s clothes. Most of the shirts he wore used to be his father’s, but they had been shrunk down many times to almost Aaron’s size. He didn’t take good care of them. They were in terrible shape now, most torn, some stained with reddish-brown smears. Worst of all, they no longer smelled like her husband when Mrs. Hotchner held them to her face. Now they smelled of sweat and blood.

Normally she got through two bottles by the time she finished unloading the dryer. Today she had drunk only half a bottle, all that remained. She needed to buy more, and soon, but she was about six dollars short. The ceaseless presence of hard liquor in her life really put the Absolut in Vodka. It was her decisive anchor to guilt-free sanity and control. However, whenever she finished drinking, the heavy bottle always seemed to end up shattering over Aaron’s back. Speaking of which, were those glass shards embedded in her husband’s blue Cape Henry T-shirt? Aaron!

She relied on him now to bring her the six dollars she needed, just like he did everyday, but she might not be able to wait that long. She was getting more and more irritated by the minute. All day she had felt antsy and uncomfortable. Now she feared she might burst from the intense discomfort that kept building in her heart.

Her bad mood wasn’t just the side effect of her craving for a drink. She felt especially frustrated and angry today, just like she always did on this day when it came around every year.

Today was Aaron’s birthday. She didn’t even know which one.

Did the thought of Aaron’s birth always make her feel so miserable? Mrs. Hotchner strained to remember a time when Aaron brought her more joy than sorrow. She could still faintly remember one beautiful moment when all her happy thoughts were with him.

She sat cross-legged on the bed with an open book in front of her. She kept one hand on her round belly, massaging it gently. The baby must be sleeping now. Usually he spent the better part of his waking hours kickboxing with his mother’s insides. He was a feisty one alright. Mrs. Hotchner was grateful for the brief respite.

She turned a page in the book. “How about Caden? It means ‘fighter.’”

Her husband smiled as he finished screwing in the last beam on the white crib. “Let’s call him... Moses.”

“Please tell me you’re kidding.”


Mrs. Hotchner shook her head. “How about Jack?”


Mrs. Hotchner turned more pages. Somewhere in there, she knew she’d find the perfect name. Her husband seemed to like the biblical names, so she found one that agreed with her and cut off his next suggestion: “No, wait, wait. I’ve got it. Gideon.”

Mr. Hotchner made a face. “Not a chance.” He walked over to the bed and sat beside his wife.

But Mrs. Hotchner was sold. She pointed to the page, excited. “It’s Hebrew for ‘mighty warrior,’ and it’s perfect. Just think: Gideon Hotchner.”

“No.” Mr. Hotchner chuckled and leaned in to kiss his wife.

“Yes.” She kissed him back.

“I still like Moses.”

Mrs. Hotchner let out a short laugh and rolled her eyes. “I can’t say that name without seeing a big, white beard. But didn’t Moses have a brother?”

“Aaron. The first priest of Israel.”

“Aaron. That’s much better.”

Mr. Hotchner wrapped her in his warm embrace and they kissed again. They couldn’t wait for the addition of Aaron to their perfect little family. As if in agreement, baby Aaron gave his mother a spirited kick from the inside. She clutched her belly again.

But when Aaron did come along, Mrs. Hotchner’s joy was gradually dampened with irrational feelings of jealousy. She didn’t notice these feelings at first, but as the years went by, she realized her husband spent more time with their son than he did with her. The married couple used to do everything together. Now Mr. Hotchner took Aaron fishing or spent hours driving him around town in the eternal search for “something new.” Now Mr. Hotchner took Aaron to the office to learn about law, to D.C. to learn about government, and to Arlington to learn about the military. Mr. Hotchner taught Aaron about everything from filleting fish to saying “ma’am” and “sir” when addressing others. Mrs. Hotchner mostly just watched.

The two were as close as brothers, though Mr. Hotchner demanded respect and Aaron adoringly looked up to him. Mrs. Hotchner always had some task to finish at home, and she bid the boys goodbye whenever they adventured together. She wanted to come with them everywhere, but there was always some meal to cook or some load to wash. So she stayed home, burdened with the chores of a mother with hardly anybody to be a mother to.

Mrs. Hotchner was used to being by her husband’s side day and night, watching over him obsessively ever since he got out of the Army. She used to even hang out with a magazine at his law firm all day. Throughout Aaron’s childhood, she saw less and less of her husband, and sometimes she panicked, not knowing exactly where he was or if he was okay. She knew he was sometimes troubled with memories of the war, and the conflict had left him with some sort of heart condition. Mrs. Hotchner often told Aaron that his father wasn’t invincible — he needed time to himself to rest. In reality, she just wanted Aaron out of the way long enough to spend some quality time with her man.

She still remembered the morning when Aaron came downstairs and immediately packed up all his books and papers.

Mrs. Hotchner stopped him. “You need to finish your homework before you go to school.”

Aaron smiled. “I did! Dad stayed up with me last night, and he helped me through the last page.”

“Did he?” Mrs. Hotchner crossed her arms. “Good for him.”

What about staying up late to help her with the mortgage payments? If only she had gotten to him first. Regrettably, she and Aaron were engaged in a sort of tug-of-war for Mr. Hotchner’s attention, and the poor overworked man didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Aaron.

Mrs. Hotchner went back to darning the upholstery on the couch. “I made you a lunch. It’s on the counter.”

Aaron finished stuffing his bag and retreated to the kitchen. “Thanks.”

“Did you comb your hair? Brush your teeth?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Where’s my kiss?”

He returned and gave her a peck on the cheek. She set down her needle long enough to squeeze his hand. “Love you.”

Aaron hesitated a second before giving the obligatory “love you too” reply. He was barely a teenager, and apparently the attitude was really kicking in. He still went through all their daily sentimental rituals, but Mrs. Hotchner feared that someday soon, for whatever unfathomable adolescent reason, he wouldn’t so readily kiss his mother.

Aaron was about to leave the house when the phone rang. His mother picked it up.

“Mrs. Hotchner? I’m an attorney at your husband’s firm, and I’m afraid I have some very bad news. Your husband suffered a heart attack in his office this morning. He’s on his way to the hospital right now, but sadly there’s nothing they can do.”

Mrs. Hotchner’s own heart might have stopped. The phone slipped right out of her hand and thunked on the linoleum, stretching the cord from the counter. Mrs. Hotchner put a hand to her chest and tried to breathe. Aaron set his bag down.

“Mom? Mom!”

The room became tipsy. Mrs. Hotchner reached for a handhold, and Aaron rushed to catch her. She fell against him, nearly knocking him over, but he grabbed the counter with one hand and put his other arm around her. Then he slowly knelt, lowering her to the ground with him.

“Mom! What’s wrong? Tell me!”

She closed her eyes. Her husband was alive. Opened her eyes. Her husband was dead. Closed her eyes. Where was he? She clawed at her eyes. Wake up!

She closed her eyes so tight she felt dizzy. The world swam away and she could clearly see that this was all a dream. What a terrible fright! She would wake up, and everything would be alright.

Someone touched her face, spoke rapidly to her. She grabbed the hand and held it close. She opened her eyes and saw a familiar, blurry face. She smiled faintly, and then said her husband’s name. “You’re here at last.”

Aaron’s frown tightly creased the skin above his eyes. His mouth hung open, and he glanced at the dangling receiver, then back at his mother.

“How I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

A clock ticked steadily above the couch. Mrs. Hotchner closed the basement door behind her and moved slowly to the kitchen. She didn’t know how many days she had been in denial, so long ago, but she clearly remembered the shock of finally realizing nothing would ever bring her husband back. Aaron’s face was similar, but he was not the same man. If not for Aaron, that man might still be here.

Mrs. Hotchner hated Aaron’s birthday more than any other day of the year. This was the day she felt most miserable and most angry. She wished from sun-up to sun-down that she had done something to keep Aaron from being born. It was the only thing she could think of that might have spared her such grief now.

Mrs. Hotchner picked up a long, sharp knife and finished dicing carrots and potatoes on the kitchen counter. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and scraped the vegetables from the cutting board into the bubbling pot on the stove. Her husband always liked this soup, even though it was bland and simple.

She placed the board back on the counter, right beside her husband’s work belt. It was the same black leather belt her husband used to wear to the law firm along with his pressed suit and red tie. It now lay coiled on the counter, always within reach. In this light, Mrs. Hotchner noticed specks of dried blood on the corner of the steel buckle. She regarded this with grim composure.

Although the idea scared her, she was consumed by this notion that her son’s blood could somehow pay for all the damage caused by her husband’s departure. It was a tragic reality, but it was the only one she knew. One day Aaron might understand why she was driven to handle him the way she did. The only way he could understand her pain now was to take it from her.

It didn’t have to be this way. She could stop this cycle if only she could go back in time and take all her husband’s attention for herself. Or if she could go back even further and keep Aaron from entering this cruel world in the first place. She wished she had prevented his birth not only to keep him from stealing her husband away, but also to keep him safe from her unforgiving wrath. As justified as she believed her actions were, she wished she could stop. But after a couple years of making Aaron suffer for what had happened, she seemed to have lost the ability to stop. And in all that time, she hadn’t made herself feel any better.

Mrs. Hotchner still didn’t have enough money for the drink she desperately needed, having spent yesterday's earnings so quickly. She needed Aaron to bring home his daily salary, and then she could numb these feelings. But she also knew she wouldn’t be able to control herself, and the minute Aaron appeared, she might strangle him.

She would suffer without her drink, but she couldn’t kill Aaron on this day. Not this time.

She looked out the window. Aaron, whatever you do, please do not come home today.

It all depended on him now.

When Aaron said goodbye to Haley for the day, he wanted to tell her, “I’m sixteen today.”

She would overreact. She would probably make a fuss. It might be kind of fun to have somebody else know this secret, but ultimately it would be pointless.

Aaron’s birthday was not a day to be happy. His birth had turned out to be such a negative thing, and he didn’t see any point in celebrating. Today was just another day to get through. Even though Haley had encouraged him to see the positive side of life, Aaron often struggled with feelings of depression that centered around his seemingly useless existence. His talk with the oblivious teachers the day before only made everything so much worse.

So Aaron said goodbye to Haley and started his walk toward home. Once he was out of sight, he turned off the sidewalk and headed between buildings. Glancing behind him, Aaron hurried onto another street and kept walking in a direction very different than the one leading home.

All he wanted for his birthday was to not be afraid, just for a day. He didn’t care if the beatings were twice as bad tomorrow; he had made up his mind not to go home today.

Aaron wondered what things were like when he was born. Did his mother love him then? He was sure she had loved him at some point. Or was the time of his birth anything like Sean’s, surrounded by negative stigma? Sean’s birth marked the most painful time of Aaron’s life, and it made him realize what Aaron meant to his mother.

Aaron remembered when his mother was pregnant with Sean. She became increasingly temperamental and kept sending Aaron to the store for strange things like pickles and mayonnaise. She didn’t seem excited about the new baby, but she did seem to focus on its coming more than anything else.

One day she sat reading a fashion magazine and slowly massaging her enlarged belly. Aaron wanted to stem foul moods before they happened, so he came up to his mother and asked, “Can I get you anything?”

“Quiet!” she snapped. Her hand tensed over her abdomen. “I don’t want him to hear your voice.”

Aaron gave her a questioning look. She sighed and rolled back her head as if to show she was already tired of the conversation. “If he can’t hear your father’s voice, he shouldn’t hear yours. You’ll become some kind of replacement, and no one can replace the man I married.”

Aaron didn’t fully understand, but he nodded. He didn’t want to make her angry.

He lived the next few months in near total silence, at least when he was at home, and his natural impulse to suddenly burst out in conversation or share humorous comments gradually died away. Whenever he forgot and accidentally said something in front of his mother, she hit him. Aaron became more withdrawn and more unable to express himself or his feelings. He felt so alone with nobody to talk to.

Another day, Mother came back from a doctor check-up and called Aaron to guide her inside. She had been feeling woozy lately. As she leaned on his arm and staggered into the living room, she sighed. “It seems a shame the baby will have to see your face after he’s born. Yours is a weak imitation of a worthier man.”

Aaron kept his lips sealed. Mother never used to talk about him this way. It suddenly seemed as if he could do nothing right, and everything was his fault.

Aaron was frustrated and confused during this time. He was struggling with his early teenage years, he wasn’t allowed to speak at home, his family had changed drastically, and he was being blamed for all of it. For a long period, he acted up more when he got the chance. While at home, he was an obedient, silent shadow. Anywhere else, and especially at school, he was a wild, uncaring and reckless youth. He tripped other students and called them names. He stole pencils and bits of chalk. He failed all his classes, and he didn’t care what anybody thought of him.

A few times he went hanging with the lawless crowd at the school and once ended up in the park after curfew scribbling his feelings on a wooden bench. His stomach was in fidgets and he was doped up with nervous adrenaline, thinking he might someday be a career criminal. But when the rowdier kids started handing out pilfered joints and beer cans, Aaron realized he’d reached a line and he needed to back out before crossing it. At the risk of being shunned as cowardly and uncool, Aaron hurried home and faced himself in the bathroom mirror.

He wondered what he had become. He didn’t understand why he was behaving this way or why he felt so strange. Was this normal for a teenager who lost one parent and no longer knew the other one?

That didn’t matter. He had to clean up his act, or his mother would lose hope in him completely. Besides, what would his father say if he saw what Aaron had become? He would say the two words that hurt more than any punishment, the words that made him feel deeply ashamed and repentant: “I’m disappointed.”

The very thought of disappointing his father like that, hurting him with his actions, brought Aaron to his senses at last. He had been acting selfishly, and as his father used to say, selfishness left no room for love. Aaron needed to live his life lovingly, putting others first, like his father did.

Aaron was going through these revelations right when that unexpected moment came and Charles had to drive his mother to the hospital. Aaron cleaned himself up, went to school, and apologized to everybody he had wronged in the past couple months. Most of them didn’t think he was sincere, so Aaron knew he would have to let his actions speak from there on.

He came home to see his stepfather pacing in front of the couch where Mother sat feeding a brand-new baby with a bottle.

He paused. The baby was smaller than he imagined it would be. He ventured nearer and decided to test his limits. “What is his name?” he asked. It may have been the first time in several straight weeks that his mother heard him speak.

She didn’t even look up. Her eyes were filled with tears. “Sean,” she said.

Aaron felt so relieved to be able to talk again. “Mom, I want to tell you something.”

“I can’t stop you, can I.”

“I just want you to know, I’m sorry for my behavior over the last few months. I’ve been acting badly and breaking rules, and I’m sorry.”

“You can never change that. You’re a bad seed.”

Her matter-of-fact statement startled Aaron. “Well... I’m going to try to do better.”

“You can’t, Aaron. You can’t ever fix yourself.”

Aaron fell silent. Her words hurt him, but he wondered if perhaps she was too distracted by the baby to clearly engage him in discussion. He stepped back and faced Charles. Scrambling to change the subject, he asked, “So... did you name him?”

Charles grunted. “I didn’t even want him. I told her to flush the useless thing away.”

Now Mother spoke up: “This baby is my second chance after everything went wrong with the first one.”

All of Aaron’s frustrations were ready to explode, but he kept himself carefully composed. “What are you talking about? What is so wrong with me?”

Mother looked up, glaring. “What isn’t wrong with you? You make me suffer every day. You disgrace me by still living.” Sniffling, she looked down again at the innocent baby. “I wish you had been conceived after ’73, Aaron.”

He paled. “Why?”

She gave him a scornful gaze. “Because I could have killed you legally while you were still inside me.”

Aaron staggered backward a step or two. He needed to sit down but couldn't find a seat. He could hardly believe what his mother was saying, but he knew that it hurt him straight through the heart. He felt devastated, wounded beyond repair. He leaned back on the wall to keep from collapsing.

“Don’t you wish you had never been born?” Mother asked, putting aside the bottle and lifting the baby to her shoulder. “I could have saved you from becoming the disappointment you are. You’ll never amount to anything, and I can’t bear to look at you.”

Aaron wiped his eyes. Tears were silly. Maybe his mother didn’t mean it, or maybe he was just a hopeless case. Either way, there was next to nothing he could do about it.

“The law says I could have killed you before you were born, so there’s nothing wrong with us trying now.” Mother turned to Charles. “Take care of him for me.”

Aaron was about to say something, but after that moment, he could no longer remember what.

Charles punched him right in the face, caught him as he started to topple, and punched him again. Heat and pressure welled up in Aaron’s nose and around his eye while blood streamed down over his lips and to his chin. He tried to struggle for a few seconds, but the man brutally beat him to the floor. Aaron raised his head and tried to get back up, but he was kicked in the face and chest until he lay still, curled up on his side in a helpless fetal position.

He held his breath, daring himself not to move even by breathing. The man walked away after landing a final kick and spitting on the crumpled-up boy. Aaron groaned, rolled onto his back, and gazed up at the fuzzy ceiling in total disbelief. Mother muttered something about the spots of blood on the carpet. Then she, too, got up and left the room with the infant wailing in her arms. Happy birthday, Sean.

They had both slapped Aaron a number of times before, but this was different. This was meaningless, merciless violence. This was agony like he’d never known before. What had he done to deserve this? Why did his parents loathe him?

His anger and bewilderment at this injustice tempted him to go back to being a rebellious jerk. They didn’t hurt him when he was breaking all the rules, and now that he had come to make things right, they wounded him cruelly. Why not give in to living angrily and recklessly if it didn’t make any difference to his guardians?

If he gave up that easily, his new parents would win. They would make him something he wasn’t, something with so little value it didn’t deserve to live. So Aaron resolved to make his birth worthwhile. So far that hadn’t turned out especially well.

Since today was laundry day, Mother had taken all of his warm shirts. Aaron wore his spare jeans and a thin olive green shirt that let in every draft. His bones ached from the cold air that buffeted him at every turn. He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t know how he would make it through the night with nothing to eat and nothing to keep him warm. At least he wouldn’t be sitting at home being told how worthless he was.

The sun sank behind the tops of buildings, and shadows drenched the thin street behind a series of small businesses. Aaron had been half-heartedly planning to find his father’s old law firm to visit, but he forgot the way. Now he was too cold and hungry to think clearly.

He smelled the warm greasiness of Chinese food spilling out the back door of a restaurant kitchen. He walked slowly closer, entranced by the aroma, pained by its distance. He could hear the clatter of dishes, the splash of frying foods, and the foreign dialogue of the kitchen staff just inside the ajar door. He stopped beside an open dumpster and scanned the scene for any bystanders.

Right away, Aaron pressed his chest against the top edge of the green dumpster and bent forward with both arms stretched down into the dark container. In the evening shadows, he didn’t have enough light to make out the contents of the metal tub, so he opened his hands and felt around through layers of cold, wet garbage. His left hand closed around the corner of a thin paperboard container with a squishy lump inside. After pulling his find out into the orangish lamplight, he opened the partially crushed oyster pail and sniffed the limp, slimy handful of rubbish inside. It smelled like rotting broccoli. Famished, Aaron nibbled the dark greens. The next second, he was scraping his tongue with his fingernails.

He reached again into the dumpster and felt for something dryer. His stomach twisted into knots as he felt every strange shape and texture. He thought of climbing into the dumpster so he could reach farther, but the idea unnerved him. It wasn’t the thought of immersing himself in trash that disturbed him so much; instead another thought hung over him. Everything in this metal bin was unwanted and worthless. If his mother had her way, Aaron wondered if he would have ended up in a dumpster instead of a cradle. He wondered if she really wanted to kill him. Maybe she was right. If he had never been born, he wouldn’t be spending his sixteenth birthday running from home and eating out of the trash.


Aaron’s head shot up. A petite woman wearing a simple black dress and a red apron stood in the doorway to the kitchen with hands on her hips. Aaron quickly backed away from the dumpster.

The woman advanced, almond-shaped eyes flashing, finger wagging. She yelled a rapid stream of mixed Chinese and English and gestured wildly to illustrate her annoyance.

Aaron raised his hands defensively. “Alright. I’m leaving.”

“You’re what? Who are you?”

“I’m just looking for food. But I’ll go someplace else.”

“Stop walking away!”

Aaron froze. His hands sunk into his pockets and he hung his head. Caught.

The woman reached for his arm. “Come back here. What are you doing in my trash?”

Aaron dragged himself back into the light of the half-open doorway, but he avoided eye contact. “Just looking for food, ma’am.”

“You don’t have a mama cooking dinner? You don’t have food at home?”

Aaron just shook his head.

The woman’s face softened. “You wait.” Then she headed back into the kitchen.

Aaron waited, listening to the sound of her fast, demanding voice. His heart pounded and he breathed in the mouth-watering scents, but he knew he shouldn’t expect anything to eat here. The woman was probably getting the manager, and soon he would be reported. Aaron started to move slowly away, sidestepping into the shadows.

The woman emerged through the back door again. “Come here,” she called.

Aaron had no choice but to obey. He stood in front of the woman.

To his surprise, the woman held out a warm oyster pail. Aaron hesitated, wondering if this was a trap.

“Take it.” The woman gave the container a small shake.

Aaron took it and opened the flap. Steam fountained out, carrying with it the clean smell of plain fried rice. His hands tightened on the container, afraid to let go.

“Can I really have it?” he whispered.

The woman gave a quick nod of the head and shrugged it off. “We had extra today. This one time.”

Aaron didn’t know how to thank her.

The woman glanced around slyly, then pulled an eggroll from her apron pocket. “And something special for you, to make your day happy.”

Aaron was moved by the gift, and he held it close. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

The woman smiled for the flash of a second. Then she nodded her head away from the restaurant. “Now go. And get off the streets.”

Aaron nodded, thanked her again, and walked swiftly down the block until he was out of sight. Then he settled on the front steps of a bank and an enjoyed the unexpected but satisfying birthday gift. He had not tasted something so wonderful in months.

By the time Aaron was on his way again, dusk had deeply overshadowed the streets. More streetlamps flickered on, more businesses closed, and more police sirens could be heard. Aaron wandered, fully alert, looking for shelter. The evening’s chill had grown into a bone-shaking wave of coldness. Aaron couldn’t feel his toes or fingers anymore, and he rubbed his arms constantly to relieve some of the numbing frigidity. He breathed on his hands, rubbed his arms, breathed on his hands, rubbed his arms. His teeth chattered and everything hurt.

He passed a homeless man on the sidewalk who sat clutching a brown-and-yellow checkered blanket around his shoulders. The man had tangled gray hair hanging in knots that reached his collar, and a fly hovered drunkenly around his unwashed beard. He smelled like a week-old unflushed toilet, and discolored grime coated his long hair, beard, and face. He smiled, showing yellow-to-black crooked teeth. Aaron tried not to cringe. He just wanted to hurry past unbothered.

“You look cold,” said the man in a crusty voice that came out halfway between a squeak and a growl.

“I’m alright,” lied Aaron. He dropped his hands to his sides, but he shivered so hard he had to start rubbing his arms again.

“Got a home?”

Aaron said nothing. He started walking again.

“Wait.” The man staggered to his feet like an ungainly marionette, leaning heavily on the brick wall behind him. “It’s a hard life on the streets,” he said, shrugging the well-worn wool blanket from his shoulders. “You need all the warmth you can get.” With that, he draped the blanket around Aaron’s torso.

Aaron’s icy fingers naturally pulled the blanket tighter. “I can’t take this from you, sir...”

“Sir?” The man laughed, exhaling a nauseous odor of undigested cheese and beer. “Nobody’s ever called me sir.”

Aaron feared that the man wanted something from him in return. As cold as he was, he started unwrapping the ragged blanket. “You keep it, sir. I’ll be fine.”

The man shook his head and sat down again, picking his teeth all the way. He gave a dismissive wave with his hand. “You’re so small you’d freeze in minutes, sonny. Now get.”

Again, Aaron didn’t know what to say. He suddenly felt guilty. He would have passed by this dirty, smelly man without a second glance if he could help it. But this man stopped him to give what he had, one forgotten soul to another. Aaron had nothing to give in return, so he simply reached out his hand to shake. The man hesitated, then shook it awkwardly.

“Thank you, sir,” said Aaron.

The man smiled.

“Can I do anything for you?”

The man studied him. “Yeah. I wanna see you smile.”

Aaron hadn’t realized how frozen his facial muscles had become. Standing in the dim light of a nearby streetlamp, seeing snowflakes float lazily to the ground, Aaron saw the beauty of the moment. He was loved by the unloved, he was alive, full, and warmed. In destitution, he was blessed. He really had so much to be thankful for. Touched by the man’s kindness, Aaron smiled warmly.

The man gave a soft laugh. “You’re special, kid. Don’t become like me, okay?”

Him, special? Aaron had spent the day wishing he had never been born.

“God loves you and looks out for you,” said the man. “You know that?”

Aaron nodded. He smiled again.

The man relaxed against the wall with his arms around his knees. “Now let me get my sleep. Stay warm, okay?”

Aaron agreed. He moved on and soon found a doorway to an insurance office that had a slight awning. There he lay down on the short concrete steps, and the wool blanket warmly shielded him the whole night.

The next day, he returned the blanket and found his way back home, unafraid. Mother’s threats didn’t hurt him now. She had the power to kill him, today, tomorrow, and every yesterday since before he was born, but Aaron knew that even if she did, he was not worthless. His value was not defined by anybody’s opinion, but by the love of a mighty God who set him apart even in the womb. And even if he died tomorrow, Aaron was very glad to have been born sixteen years ago.

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