While we waited for the court’s decision on the appeal that would vacate John Lee’s sentence, he talked to me about his life. Not in any organized way, just a memory here, a memory there, in the patchwork way we all remember our lives.
He told me how he used to take a line of children to the playground holding to a rope, one behind the other with him in the lead. “To keep them safe crossing the roads,” he said. And how they played so hard and got so tired he’d have to bring the little ones back home cradled in his arms.
“What children?” I asked. “From one of the group homes?”
“Nah, nah, that was in ’91, just before I came down here to North Carolina. I was a grown up man when I was doing that. I was living in DC with a girl called Debra. Known that girl all my life. Wanted to marry that girl. If she’d married me I’d have stayed up in DC, never would have got into this predicament.”
“Why wouldn’t she marry you?”
“‘Cos she knew how much I wanted children of my own, make a family, you know, all of that, and she couldn’t have any.”
“It’s quite a responsibility, taking care of other people’s children. The mothers must have really trusted you.”
“O’course. All the mothers loved me. I used to do jobs for them, all sorts of jobs, clean the house, babysit, painted one old lady’s house. The young single mothers were always after me to babysit so they could go off to the clubs.”
“They paid you?”
“What you talking about, paid? They had no money, I just did it.” He shrugged. “I guess I just love little kids. So I took them to the playground. I’d love to have a child of my own,” he says, and then he sighs. “Maybe if I’m lucky with the judge . . .”