My parents were refugees from Vietnam. And shortly after I was born, my mother got hired as a housekeeper.
She couldn’t bear to leave me with a babysitter. So after only three days, she tried to quit. That’s when her employers insisted that she bring me to work instead.
Their names were Charles and Kathleen Timblin, and for the next seven years I would grow up in their home. They were an elderly couple. Neither of them had kids. And I was an only child—so they became my playmates.
It’s not like they did much. He had a chair, she had a chair. But I would set up a partition in their living room and stage performances. We’d go to the park, we’d read books; I became part of their world.
In the evening we’d eat dinner together and they’d listen to me talk incessantly. But they never yelled at me or put me in my place. I was allowed to play with anything in the house. There was a big rocking chair that I used all the time, and for my fourth birthday they bought a miniature one just for me.
Eventually my mom saved enough money to open her own business. And on her last day of work, The Timblins said to me: ‘You’re always welcome in this home.’ I’d visit them three times every year: his birthday, her birthday, and my birthday.
As a graduation present they gave me a check to help with my college education. Mr. Timblin gave me a hug, and said: ‘I just hope I can dance with you at your wedding.’ But by then his health had already started getting really bad, and it wasn’t long before he passed away.
I started making an extra effort to visit Ms. Timblin. I’d always stop by Blockbuster and pick us out a tape, because she only had a VHS player. But we only had three more years together.
Her memorial service was mainly distant family from out of town. I flew home from grad school, and all of them were so surprised I’d made the trip. Especially when I explained that my mom used to work for the Timblins.
Nobody could understand why they meant so much to me. It was the first time I’d ever felt like an outsider. And only then did I realize how much the Timblins had made me a part of their world. I lived in their home for seven years, and not once had I felt like the helper’s kid.
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This story first appeared on Humans of New York Facebook page and is published here with permission. For more amazing stories and photography buy the book HUMANS by Brandon Stanton.
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