COLUMBUS, Ohio. Verrill Barnes is a busy tattoo artist in this bustling Midwestern city, and his calendar is booked solid for the next six weeks. “I’m making money hand over fist,” he says soberly, “but I’m making time this afternoon to give something back.”
Barnes’ client is a fifteen year-old boy who suffers from Osgood Schlatter’s (pronounced “slaughters”) Disease, a knee ailment whose primary victims are adolescent boys. “These guys fall through the cracks,” says Tom Noonan, executive director of the Kinda Wish Foundation, the non-profit that arranged for the session. “They’re not dying, so they don’t qualify for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. We ask them what they ‘Kinda Wish’ they’d like to have, but can’t get, as a way to make their suffering more bearable.”
For A.J. Tomlinson, a 15 year-old who was forced to give up skateboarding because of his ailment, the choice isn’t easy. “I like ‘Born to Raise Hell,’” he says thoughtfully as he examines the choices in Barnes’ sample book. “But I’m leaning towards ‘Live Fast, Die Young,’” a motto Barnes says he borrowed from one of his heroes, actor James Dean. “I’m sick of the kind that wash off after a few days,” the boy says as he makes his selection.
The Kinda Wish Foundation distinguishes itself from other charities by granting “OS” kids any wish, no matter how anti-social, usually without consulting with their parents. “The last thing a teenaged boy wants to do is get permission from his mom and dad,” says Noonan. “We try to honor a kid’s rebellious streak,” he says as he welcomes Evan Pollack, a skinny young boy who has been diagnosed with the disease and is just learning to cope with the stares and whispers that sufferers often encounter.
A few puffs bring peace of mind.
After introductory pleasantries, Noonan pops the question. “Evan–what would make you really, kinda happy?” he asks. “How ’bout a pack of smokes?” the boy asks hesitantly, not sure whether the stories he has heard about the Foundation are too good to be true. “Comin’ right up,” Noonan says as he reaches in his desk, pulls out a pack of Marlboros and a matchbook and tosses them at the surprised young man. “Knock yourself out, kid!” Noonan says with a big smile spread across his face, as the boys scurries out the front door to join other smokers clustered around the building’s entrance.
Noonan suggests a drive to visit one of the Foundation’s most serious cases, Scott Reisdorph, a sixteen year-old who is hospitalized at Ohio State University’s teaching hospital. “C’mon,” he says affably. “I want to introduce you to a kid who’s a real fighter.”
“Did you . . . did you bring the booze?”
As we enter Scott’s room, we see a young man in a hospital bed surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals from well-wishers. The boy’s heavy-lidded eyes brighten considerably when he sees Noonan. “Hey there, Mr. Noonan,” he says weakly. “Don’t talk Scott,” Noonan says. “You need to conserve your strength–for this!” he adds with a flourish as he pulls a half-pint bottle of rum from his pocket and pours it into a Coca-Cola can sitting on the tray next to the bed.
Reisdorph’s eyes fill with tears as he sits up to take a sip from the can. “Gee, Mr. Noonan, thanks a lot,” he manages to get out before lowering himself back onto his pillow. “Is there anything else I can do to bring a little joy into your life today, Scott?” Noonan asks as a nurse appears at the door to say that visiting hours will end shortly.
“Yes,” the boy manages, his voice barely a whisper now. “Can you take all these stupid stuffed animals and throw them away?”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”