I Didn’t Steal a Child on Tuesday

Johnny LaZebnik
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readSep 18, 2020
Little boy on an empty subway platform.
Photo: Orbon Alija/Getty Images

I am 25 and it is 9:42 pm on a Tuesday. I am sitting in a Los Angeles subway station, which exists. I missed the train and the next is in 20 minutes, and I walk to a zig-zag shaped bench that was designed to be artistically interesting, but is mostly just a terrible bench. I sit down in a zig and open a book on my iPad.

A mother and son sit on the bench behind me, in a zag. They have just come from Costco and she is irritated that the basketball they bought doesn’t fit in the box. When the kid tries to lighten her bad mood with a joke, she curses in frustration.

I am 20 and lying in bed with my boyfriend at the time, and I am nestled into his armpit, which is a good place to be. We are sharing a twin bed, and it is hot, and sweaty, and infinitely preferable to being a comfortable temperature alone.

There is a moment of silence, a nice one, and then my boyfriend asks me what my goal is in life. It is not a question I have been asked before, and I think for a moment and then I tell him this: I would like to have a husband who loves me, and children, and a nice house with a backyard that is good for hosting friends of my children, and financial security.

He is upset by my answer — says it’s a selfish goal. My heart is beating fast because within the span of two minutes I have realized what I want most in life, vocalized it, and been judged for it. My heart is beating fast because I think he might be right — it is selfish. I am selfish. I ask him what his goal is, because he thinks he’s so Smart and Good, and he says that he wants to make a medical breakthrough that saves lives. I am annoyed by his answer, not because he is a hypocrite, but because he actually means it, because he actually is Smart and Good. He tells me that he didn’t realize he was dating someone whose dreams were so selfish. I tell him that I also want to write things that make the world a better place. That is apparently a more acceptable answer, and we go back to snuggling. It is still very hot in the bed but now it is also cold.

I am 25 and the mother curses again and stalks away down the station, apparently too angry to stay within five feet of her son.

I am 20 or so when I realize that if I want a child, I will have to plan for a long time, and fill out an application, and maybe still not get a baby. I am 22 when I realize that a lot of my friends were “surprises.”

I am 24 and my basil plant dies and I do not buy a replacement because I am worried that maybe I don’t have what it takes to care for a basil plant.

I am 25 and cannot imagine having a child with big, curious eyes who wants to talk to me, and not always wanting to listen. But I am young and well-rested and well-fed and have not spent the day with an inquisitive 9-year-old with dirt under his fingernails.

I am 23 and none of my gay friends talk about children when they talk about the future. They talk about open relationships and queering hegemony and how monogamy is dumb. I have never imagined the future without having a child.

I am 25 and have read the same sentence of the fantasy novel three times and not absorbed a word of it, because the little boy is now reading over my shoulder. He asks me what I’m reading, and I am flustered, because most kids are scared of me. I think it is because I look like a cartoon villain (large nose, heavy brow, flamboyant). Also, when you are a gay man, you worry about starting up a conversation with a kid at a subway station, because people assume things, or at least I assume that people assume things.

I am 5 and it is 5 am and I can’t sleep because I have a cold. My dad (large nose, heavy brow, not very flamboyant) takes me downstairs and turns on some cartoons. An hour later, I fall asleep, and he picks me up. I wake up when he lifts me but pretend to be asleep, because being carried up to bed is a good thing. A great thing, actually.

I am 25 and my nails are painted dark purple and I gesture with them while explaining what my book is about. The boy says he likes my nails, and I hold them up so he can get a better look. They are a week old so the polish is eroding, but he doesn’t care.

He is genuine when he says he likes them, and his speech is measured, and he is peering at me to gauge my reaction. I tell him it’s fun to paint your nails sometimes, and I am genuine, and my speech is measured, and I am peering at him to gauge his reaction. He tells me that he once painted his nails for a Dodgers game, but that his dad made him take the polish off. I tell him that that’s sad, because painting your nails is fun. He agrees and thankfully can’t see that my blood is boiling.

I am 23 and have a job interview the next day and my dad asks me if I am going to keep my nails painted. I look down at my nails, which are a sparkly blue, and decide that I am, because I am a recent liberal arts college graduate and I think the little things I do matter. He drops the subject because he is a good dad. A great one, actually. He will talk about it to my mother that night, who will say that the nails are fine, and he will forget about it. I will think about it until I die.

I am 25 and ask the boy what he likes to read. He has read all thirteen books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

I am 24 and people interviewing me for jobs ask me what my calling is. I tell them that I want to create television that changes the world for the better. This is absolutely true and absolutely not the answer to the question they asked.

I am 25, and ask the boy how old he is. He is nine. I say he’s very smart, and he asks how old I thought he was. I say “Hmm, probably 37.” He smirks and says “I’ll take it,” as if he’s being heckled at a club in the Borsch Belt. I tell him I think he’s funny and he once again says “I’ll take it,” because he is nine but he knows how to do a bit. I tell him “No, you really are funny” and I mean it. He brushes his hair out of his eyes with his palm and says “Thank you,” and he means it.

I am 24 and on a date with a nice man and he asks me what my greatest fear is, which I guess is the kind of thing people ask on first dates. I think, and realize I know my answer: I’m scared that the children I do not yet have will die while I am still alive.

I tell this to my date. There is a silence. I ask him what he’s afraid of. He says “Probably spiders.” There is another silence. I am starting to think I should make men answer their own questions before I do.

I am 25 and a 9-year-old is asking me if I can check basketball scores online for him. I say no — there’s no reception underground. He frowns at my iPad, but I ask him about the playoffs and he gleefully starts explaining.

I am 13 and do not like PE, because I am bad at it, and because they make us change into flimsy running shorts and shirts in a locker room that smells like Axe and puberty (that’s perhaps redundant). I don’t like being looked at while I change so I start changing in a stall. Smelling an insecurity, a group of mean boys pound on the stall and call me “gay,” which feels like an insult, because, well, society. I’m confused at how not wanting men to see me in my underwear makes me gay.

I am 14 when I realize that bullies rarely partake in logical reasoning.

I am 18 when I start using the word “partake,” because I am a faggot.

I am 25 and it’s 9:54 pm and his train arrives. I’m going the other way, and he is disappointed. He says goodbye, and I say goodbye, and I think about shaking his hand, but it is dirty (because he is nine), and I decide against it. He picks up his comically large backpack full of stuff from Costco and picks up the box with the basketball teetering precariously on top and steps onto the subway with his mom. I wonder if he will look at me as he leaves. He does not.

It is 9:54 pm, which seems too late for a little boy to be hauling a box home on the subway from Costco.

I am 22 and go to Disneyland, where I see two gay dads with their twins. One is dressed as Minnie and one is dressed as Mickey. I think it’s tacky and stupid but my eyes don’t seem to understand that and I find myself crying, which is tacky and stupid.

I am 25 and sitting on a subway platform, contemplating kidnapping a child. But he’s already gone, and I am 25 and single and can barely afford a couch, and it’s too early in my life to be a parent.

25 is, however, a pretty good age to buy a new basil plant.



Johnny LaZebnik
Human Parts

Johnny LaZebnik is a television writer based in Los Angeles, California. Follow him @jlazebnik on socials or visit http://johnnylazebnik.substack.com for more!