The Kid Bounces Back

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Missy and Warren immediately thought of the newspaper article they'd read on their flight to Denver about the teenager killed by a friend. Warren wondered aloud if a thirteen-year-old's liver wasn't too small. But Goldberg assured them that a developing liver would adapt to a new body even better than an organ from an adult.

Goldberg left, then returned a few minutes later. There was a complication that might delay the surgery. Apparently, there was a problem finding a proper recipient for the donor's heart; they thought they had one, but the match was no good. And they couldn't take the liver until they were ready to take the heart.

Chris and Missy walked to a small hallway with a row of windows that faced the setting sun, which was painting a brilliant display over the mountains. Several stationary bikes were lined up, and Chris started pedaling one.

Now that the initial excitement had died down, he was feeling guilty about being so happy that his wait was over. He was going to be saved, but only because a boy had been killed. He thought about how his family would now be going on with their lives -- to the Olympics, if all went well -- but somewhere in the city a mother was grieving for her son. Her life would never be the same.

The pedals on the bike spun faster and faster as the sun dipped behind the silhouette of the mountains. Chris's face and eyes reflected the oranges and reds of the dying day. He wished he were in Hawaii, sitting on a surfboard as waves gently lifted him up and cradled him back down. Out there, he felt closer to God.

The thought evaporated when Goldberg rounded the corner. The surgery was postponed until morning, by which time they'd have a recipient for the heart, he said. Chris could check out of the hospital if he wanted, get some dinner and spend the night in a hotel.

In a perfect world, the paths of Chris and his donor would have never crossed. The shooting victim was born in 1987, the year fifteen-year-old Chris told a reporter he'd be in the Olympics, racing in an event that didn't yet exist. The boy's parents had split up, and by the time he was thirteen, he lived most of the year with his father in California. But fate brought him to Colorado in July 2000 to visit his mother.

His mother and grandmother lived in a north Denver trailer park, where a banner near the entrance hailed the benefits of owning a mobile home. "Stop Dreaming and Start Living," it read. It was an older park, shaded by large cottonwood trees. The vintage homes were single-wides, many in need of paint and repairs. Some tenants were retirees on fixed incomes who tended to keep their homes and the tiny lawns well maintained. Others were young working couples with toys in the yard and hopes for the future. But the park also had a reputation with county deputies as "transitional" housing for certain elements just out of jail -- or heading there.

The boy's mother was 33, tall and blond with tattoos, and she'd had her own run-ins with the law. Back in 1982, when she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, she'd told police her nickname was "Beauty." She was arrested again for driving under the influence in January 1998; two months later, she was arrested for larceny and interfering with police officers. A year later, she was apprehended again, this time for carrying a concealed weapon, which she topped off with several "failure to appear" and "contempt of court" citations.

The boy was a pretty typical adolescent. He liked radio-controlled toy cars, riding his bicycle and playing video games. The neighbors in the trailer park considered him a good kid, a quiet follower who'd been tagging after a fourteen-year-old who lived nearby with his parents. Although neighbors sometimes called the sheriff's office complaining about the two boys trespassing and smoking on their property, the visiting thirteen-year-old seemed likable enough.

On the night of July 25, the mother went out, leaving her son playing video games. A short time later, there was a knock on the trailer door. It was the fourteen-year-old neighbor, a different kind of kid altogether. His parents had trouble controlling him. He came and went as he pleased and refused to go to school most days. He'd been smoking pot, drinking alcohol and running with an older crowd for years.

Then again, the fourteen-year-old's parents had experienced their own difficulties. The mother had been arrested on domestic-violence charges of disturbing the peace and assault back in 1992 and for "possession of dangerous drugs" in 1993 and 1995, as well as being cited in several "failure to appear" warrants. The father had a 1994 arrest for driving under the influence. The son had his own record: minor scrapes with the law, juvenile stuff such as trespassing and criminal mischief. That was about to change.

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Steve Jackson