Of all the different types of people in the world, 6-year-old-boys might be my favorite - especially when they have missing teeth.
Six is the age when little boys can hold a decent conversation. Because the world hasn’t gotten hold of them, they are funny and honest and pure at heart.
They aren’t yet too cool for stories, Santa, Superman or to snuggle with their mom while watching TV.
Even in the poorest parts of the world, a 6-year-old boy has the ability to make his surroundings a magical place. They have imaginations that would put most writers to shame. All they need is a good stick and a story line, and it’s off to fight Darth Vader, or monsters, or one another.
Six-year-old boys like - no, love - dirt. They would live outdoors if they could, no matter what the season.
When they burst through the door, hungry and joyfully breathless, it is the grinning, grubby embodiment of life itself.
They are curiosity machines. Because their confidence is off the charts, the world is a bottomless treasure trove of discovery and exploration.
75, every day
When adults decide no longer to let them “win,” 6 is the age when they start cheating - especially at air hockey.
It’s all you can do to keep from laughing at the machinations they go through to achieve “victory.”
Knowing all this makes it hard, very hard to look at photos of 6-year-old Stephen Romero, who was caught in the line of fire last week at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.
A garlic festival.
Also dead are Keyla Salazar, 13, of San Jose, California; and Trevor Irby, a newly minted 25-year-old college graduate from Romulus, New York.
Every day, gunfire kills or wounds 75 American kids. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that America has the highest rate of gun-related deaths for youth on the planet; worse than the poorest, most war-torn places you can think of.
American children also are 36.5 times more likely to die or be injured by a gun than children in 21 developed countries.
The American Pediatrics Association states that 2 million children live in homes with an unsecured gun. In 2017, 285 found those guns and shot either themselves or someone else.
In right place
I can hardly look at Stephen’s smiling face and not think of all the 6-year-old boys who have passed through my life, who simply were lucky it didn’t happen to them. It’s impossible to look at his photo, clad in his “Birthday Dude” T-shirt, and not think of others - from kids in Chicago, to Armond Johnson Jr., killed in Cleveland on July 11 alongside his mother and 2-year-old sister, to the Sandy Hook massacre, and so many others who have been indiscriminately murdered by gunfire for no reasons that will ever make sense.
Mass shootings and American kids dying from them have become such the norm, Stephen’s death will become another statistic to those who didn’t know him. Like the others, his story won’t have the shelf life beyond his funeral.
As someone recently noted, Stephen wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in the right place - with his family - in a country which has a wrong and obsessive preoccupation with violence.
Stephen Romero died because he was born brown in a country where people hanging onto the last vestiges of their imagined superiority are lashing out at the demographic shift to come.
He died because guns have become like talismans; too sacred to be broached, though the majority of Americans want to have a common-sense conversation.
He died because our mental health system is broken and our collective attention span is even worse.
Stephen Romero died because he was an American boy.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP.