Family is elusive. It isn't something that comes into being and stays forever, it's something that must be sought, wanted and worked at for a long time. Sharing the same blood isn't what makes you a family, what makes you a family is the way you interact, how you care for and love each other. Family requires work, it requires patience, and it requires a whole lot of humor. When you grow up like I did, you start to realize that. When you spend your whole life living on the streets, not knowing love or friendship, or comfort, not knowing what it's like to be kept warm in the winter and well fed all year round, family becomes the ideal thing, the thing that includes a mother, a father, maybe siblings, and warmth and comfort and a full belly. It becomes something you let yourself hope you'll get one day. My family now isn't like that at all; I don't have a real father, or any sort of mother, but what I do have is enough. I have many, many brothers.

They found me cold, naked and bleeding in an alley in the winter, and took me in. They didn't see the burden everybody else had seen, they didn't see a problem child running wild on the streets, they saw the helpless little kid I was, in need of help. At first, I thought they were angels. I thought that maybe God had finally sent his angels to fetch my shivering, sick, eight-year-old body from the hell I was living in. I was seeing in blurred lines, in vague shapes and unclear colors, and all I could really make out were the caps and bags of the people who saved me. They picked me up, they carried me down the street and all I remember is the feeling of my injuries being jolted and bleeding, of scabs cracking and of tiny, mewling sounds escaping my mouth. I remember quiet, reassuring words, and the sound of an old door creaking open and then sudden warmth. I remember being laid down on a cot, and then I don't remember anything until waking up under a blanket, the wind whistling past the old building I was in, snow creating a blinding light. I remember coughing, and my throat being dry and sore, and then a boy coming in, the squeak of rusty hinges.

"Are you my angel?" I remember asking as he supported my head and tilted water into my mouth.

"Nah." He said. "Jist tryin' ta help." I remember his small smile, and trying to sit up, and gasping as pain overwhelmed me, the boy's face becoming blurred from my tears. I remember him shouting, calling until older boys came in, older boys who rolled me over and looked at me and unwrapped the bandages I hadn't even noticed, later rewrapping them and telling me to lie still. They all smiled at me before they left, leaving only the first boy behind, who looked like he was a few years older than me, maybe ten or eleven. I remember that boy always being there as I recovered, and I remember him standing next to me as I tried to walk for the first time in days.

"I kin do this!" I remember telling him, shaking off the hand on my arm as I tried to step forward. I remember him holding me when I fell from the searing pain in my leg, him crying with me when I kept trying, kept shaking off the pain and standing again and falling again and again. When we realized together that it might not get better. I remember him sitting with me when the older boys came in again and looked, and when we gave up thinking my leg would get better. I remember him finding me the crutch, and the pure joy on his face when I took my first step forward in weeks and weeks, as I walked on my own to the bathroom and used it without somebody else in there with me, and him laughing at me when I dropped the crutch and almost fell under the table trying to reach it. I had learned that being a brother, being a family, meant being patient from watching my angel, Jack, take care of me so steadily, and that to be a family you really needed to love the ones you called your brothers. It was that day that taught me how to use humor, how to joke about things that I wouldn't have when I was alone.

"Guess I finally got a name." I remember grinning at the confusion on Jack's face.

"Who gave ya a name?"

"I did."

"Well...what is it, den?"

"Crutchie. 'Cause I'se got a crutch, see?" I giggled at my rhyme, and full out laughed at the look on Jack's face as he processed.

"You ain't jist ya crutch, ya know."

"I know. But I'se got one, an' I might as well use it ta name myself 'fore somebody else calls me 'Gimp' or 'Crip.' Crutchie is better den those." Jack laughed a little at that, and tousled my hair, and that was when I understood that jokes didn't only make hard things easier to bear, they brought us closer together.

"All right, den, Crutchie. I guess ya do got a name now!" I remember deciding that day, the first day that I was who I am today, that even though these boys who were only one step up from living on the streets were not the perfect family I had imagined, they were my family. I remember realizing that even though they weren't a father and a mother, they were brothers, and I was their brother, and they had accepted me and cared for me and loved me for who I was, even when I wasn't whole, even though I had a gimp leg and a crutch. That was the day I remember realizing that I had found my family, my perfect, incomplete, loving, flawed family. But the thing I remember most from those days, those hard months living without walking, living solely on the care of my new brothers, are the lessons I learned about what family is. About how family may not always look like family, how family may not share blood, but how family is always loving and caring. And how family needs humor to keep going, to last. And it is those memories that keep me going as I sit on this dirty bed that I share with another boy, as I fiddle with a pencil and try to not upset the candle and I try to decide what to put into my letter to Jack. I know he's going to need humor more than anything, and I manage a small smile when I think of what to say. Just like old times, joking off the pain.

Dear Jack, I begin. Greetings from the Refuge! How are you? I'm okay. Guess I wasn't much help yesterday. Rhymes. Rhymes without reason to cheer him up. Snyder soaked me real good with my crutch. Oh yeah, Jack! This is Crutchie by the way! He would already know that, but it would help him to have reassurance. I know that. These here guards, they is rude. They say, "Jump, boy! You jump, or you're screwed!" The truth, yet the set up to another joke and another rhyme. But the food ain't so bad, least so far, cause so far they ain't brung us no food! Good old Crutchie. Always willing to joke. I miss the rooftop. I find myself writing. Sleeping right out in the open, in your penthouse. In the sky! There's a cool breeze blowing, even in July. All right, Crutchie, don't make him feel bad. Jokes! More rhymes! Jack likes rhymes! Anyway, so guess what? There's a secret escape plan I got! Tie a sheet to the bed, toss the end out the window, climb down, and take off like a shot! I haven't been able to do that since I was eight. Maybe though, not tonight. I ain't slept yet, and my leg still ain't right. Not that it has been since I've known you. But hey, Pulitzer, he's going down! Without a crip in your way, it'll happen faster. And, Jack? I was thinking we might just go, like you was saying. Where it's clean and green and pretty, with no buildings in your way, and you're riding palominos every day! Just like he told me. We would make it there one day. Till that train makes-

"SHHH!" The boy next to me hits my leg. Santa Fe. I finish, trying to not even whisper. But I need to stay positive, keep making my jokes. Jack will need that. I'll be fine. Good as new. I'll never be good as new. But there's something I need you to do. On the rooftop you told me a family looks out for each other. And I've seen you live it, too. So tell all the fellas from me to protect one another. It might be too late to save me, but you can protect them. The end. Your friend. Not strong enough for what might be my last goodbye to Jack. Your best friend. Still not enough to show him what he means to me, how much he's done and how much I love him. Your brother. Perfect. Crutchie. The name I gave myself, the humor I've used for all those years, everything I am, is in that name. I may not even make it through to the morning, but I will live the lessons I learned from my family to the very end. If this is my last goodbye, at least I've shown him how much I care, how much he is to me. That is enough to make me believe my family was perfect. That I had a mighty fine life, while it lasted, carrying the banner tough and tall, through it all.

This started as a newsie defining family as a way to defeat writer's block, morphed into a Crutchie backstory, and somehow ended up reflecting a post I read about how "Letter From the Refuge" makes it sound like Crutchie thinks he isn't going to survive his time there. I don't know exactly how, but it did, and I'm proud of it. Reviews are welcome!