Mom dies, dad’s absent. Boy turns to family friend. | WBEZ
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StoryCorps: Adoptive mom encourages teenage boy

“My mom was the only one there, but she was a good mom,” Matt Fitzsimmons says in this week’s StoryCorps. “She loved us very much. But she didn’t have much to work with, because she was a single mom. And she passed on from cancer when I was 14. My dad came back like two months before my mom passed, and he was going to take care of us. But my dad had enough troubles of his own, with alcohol. So my sister and I had to deal with a single alcoholic parent in the house and basically he was perpetually mad at us for no good reason.”

Fitzsimmons came to StoryCorps with Shirley Paulson, a woman who’d known him since before he was born. She had just moved back to Chicago around the time of Fitzsimmons’ mother’s funeral.

“I found you then after your younger sister had gone off to school and you were living alone then with your dad…That was bad. If I remember correctly you were living with your dad in the house with a dog and a couple cats and it seemed like they had more care than you did.”

Paulson explains how Fitzsimmons worked one summer at a camp alongside their son, Tim.

“When we went to the airport to pick up Tim from camp, Tim said, ‘Matt needs a ride home. Can we bring him home?’ Sure. So we just jumped you in the car and when we dropped you off at your house, I was stunned to realize that here you’d been away all summer, you got your luggage out of the car, went up to the house, and there was nobody there to even say hello."

“Oh he was there,” Fitzsimmons says. “He was just asleep on the couch, with the five cars in the driveway and the lawn really long."

“Exactly,” Paulson says. “Well, the next day was Labor Day and I thought: Why don’t we invite Matt over? We thought maybe you’d like to come and join us. So I was a little bit nervous calling you ‘cause I didn’t know you that well. So we invited you and you said so quickly: ‘Yes! Sure!’”

“And I noticed that you ate and ate and ate and ate. You were hungry. And so I said to my husband afterwards: ‘Do you think Matt would like to come over for some more food tomorrow?’”

“Then it became obvious that you were joining us more than the typical teenager coming over to have food with a family.”

“I think I talked your head off,” Fitzsimmons says. “We talked a lot.”

“Yeah, we did talk a lot,” Paulson says, “and I loved that. I felt honored that you would – as a teenager - take the time to talk to me. And share your life, and it meant so much to me. It really did. But I don’t think you realized for a while what it meant to be in the family. It took you a while to register. And it was hard to do because you had to deal with the fact that you had a family. And yet you also were being part of us. And you had loyalty to your family, which was right to do.”

“It was frustrating to me to have to drive you home every day across Glenview and drop you off into that nothing of a house. And then come back and pick you up the next day and bring you home and have some nice time with you and drive you back home again. And I thought: ‘Why won’t he just move in?’ But there was some stuff you had to deal with.”

Fitzsimmons says, “So, you were the nice person helping me. Then you converted into parental person, which is a huge shift, because you went from nice to ‘You have to do this to get to the next stage of your life.’…When I think about all those twists and turns throughout life. And if I didn’t do this turn or that turn where would I be…That was probably the biggest turn for you to say, ‘We’re going to save him from devastation.’”

“Of course we didn’t think of saving you. We thought of we needed you. You’ll get that through your head one of these days.”

“I’ll say it officially: I love you.”

“Oh, Matt! Can I say ‘I love you’ too?”

“You do all the time!”

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