THERE ONCE WAS A BOY named Trey. Actually he was named Antonio, as were his father and grandfather.
“Tu eres el tercer Antonio – el numero tres,” his grandmother said to him. “You are the third Antonio. Number three.”
So everyone called him Trey, regardless of whether they were speaking English or Spanish to him.
He was a quiet, soft-spoken child who loved to read, to listen to stories his grandmother and the women told when they met at her home on Sundays, and to be with his mother who was young and beautiful but very sickly.
Trey’s mother suffered from a rare blood condition that made it difficult for her blood to clot whenever she bled.
When Trey was three years old, a broken glass in the kitchen shattered shards into his mother’s legs. Blood quickly covered the kitchen floor, and soon all color disappeared from his mother’s face.
She fainted, frightening little Trey. But the child was quick-witted, and he ran next door for help.
“Please call for an ambulance!” he begged Doña Merced, the elderly neighbor. But instead the old woman took his hand and hurried with him back to check on his mother.
There, kneeling next to Trey’s mom, Doña Merced reached into an apron pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a thick wad of dirty old lint.
Trey’s eyes widened as the old woman gently separated the lint into strips of thin gauze that she used to cover each of the dozen or so wounds that the shattered glass had gashed on his mother’s legs.
To Trey’s amazement the dirty old lint immediately stopped the blood flow.
The old woman then lifted Trey’s mother’s head into her arms and began rubbing her temples. She reached into her apron pocket again and brought out a small bottle that she opened and placed for just a moment under his mother’s nose.
Trey’s mom quickly regained consciousness, and the old woman told her to rest, assuring her she would be all right and that her son was nearby.
“It’s not just any kind of lint,” Doña Merced told Trey as she cleaned blood off his mother’s legs.
“It is telas de araña – spider webs,” the old woman said, handing him a small wad from her apron. They can save your mother’s life.”
From that day on, little Trey was rarely without a wad of telas de araña. Whenever he found a spider web, he saw it as a source of the special lint that could possibly save his mother’s life.
Soon there was no room in their home where Trey didn’t have wads of telas de araña stashed away secretly. But he often had to replace the wads because they would disappear whenever his mother cleaned the house and found them.
No one understood why Trey was obsessed with those wads, which everyone mistook for lint because it looked like lint.
“He loves lint,” his mother would explain to friends who would ask why Trey was almost always rolling what appeared to be tiny balls of lint around in the fingertips of his small hands.
Then came the day when little Trey started pre-school. It was known as the best pre-school in the entire city, some would say in the entire nation. The children of presidents of the United States had attended this pre-school, and people joked that it was the first step on the road to the Ivy League.
Trey was the first Hispanic child to ever attend this school. He wasn’t aware of that. He had been simply told by his mother and father to be on his best behavior, to share with the other children, to participate in activities, and to do everything his teachers asked.
It did not take long, however, for his parents to get a call from the school.
He was the model child, they were told, but he seemed to refuse to stop doing one important thing that bothered everyone, especially the head teacher.
Trey collected lint, the teachers complained, and they feared that it was a sign of uncleanliness and poor hygiene. They showed Trey’s parents a box with pieces of the lint they had found on him.
“We tried to make a deal with him,” one of the teachers said.
“A deal?” Trey’s father asked.
“Yes, but it hasn’t worked out. We asked Trey to park the lint in a box at the door when he comes back inside from playing and that it will be returned to him when he goes back outside. He does park some of his lint in the box at the door, but he we’ve found that he also stashes some of it in his personal box.”
The head teacher said Trey’s behavior was unacceptable in the school.
“We’ve even found his lint in the kitchen near the food,” she said.
Trey’s parents began to wonder if maybe this pre-school might not be the right one for their son. The other children seemed to love Trey. Everyone who met him had always taken to him. But the teachers appeared to see him differently – and to have made a big deal out of what seemed like such a small thing.
As the Christmas season approached, Trey’s mother and father talked to their son about taking a vacation from pre-school. They also told him about other pre-schools that they might explore together after the holidays.
Trey’s parents soon talked to his teachers, and they all determined that his last day at that pre-school would be the Friday before the Christmas holidays
On what was to have been his last day of pre-school, Trey made sure he collected all his wads of telas de araña from the hiding places where even his teachers hadn’t bothered to look. It was also a day when the teachers hadn’t checked his pockets, and he hadn’t had to park his lint at the door after playing outside.
Trey was saddened about leaving the school and his friends, but he was excited that it was Christmas time and that he would soon be spending Christmas Eve with his grandmother, watching her and her friends making tamales, listening to their stories and waiting for Santa.
Then, as the children were preparing for their afternoon naps, they heard a woman’s screams and other loud noises and cries for help coming from the kitchen.
The children all ran to see what all the commotion was about. There, in the kitchen, they saw a sight that frightened all of them. All, that is, except Trey.
The head teacher stood frozen like a statue in the middle of the kitchen floor, her face writhing with pain and fear as she looked down at her legs. Bright red blood was squirting out of one of her shins as if from an open faucet.
Two other teachers stood by, frightened and petrified as well.
“Please someone help me,” the head teacher cried as she shivered, holding on to a kitchen counter top. “I accidently clipped a corner of a cabinet and gashed a vein in my leg. I’m a hemophiliac, and the bleeding won’t stop.”
The floor was all covered in blood, and the other teachers looked on horrified, not knowing what to do and cautious because of all the splattered blood.
“Someone call 911!” one of the teachers ordered, as several of them nervously fumbled for their cell phones.
Trey, though, knew what to do. He reached into his pocket. He pulled out a piece of his lint, though it was hardly lint. It was among the telas de araña that he had been collecting from any cobweb he found around the schoolyard.
He quickly walked over to the head teacher, knelt down in front of her and, without saying a word, carefully covered the vein from which blood was still shooting out, with the lint, just as the teacher fainted and fell to the floor.
“Oh, my God,” she’s going to die!” one of the children screamed.
A few minutes later, paramedics arrived. By then, the head teacher had regained consciousness and was resting on a day bed in the teachers lounge. Other teachers had cleaned up the kitchen and taken the children out to the playground. All except Trey.
Trey’s parents arrived at about the same time the paramedics were leaving. They were picking up their son early, since it was his last day at the school. But they were surprised to find him sitting on the day bed where the head teacher was holding his hand.
“Your son saved my life,” she said to Trey’s parents as she told them what had happened. “When no one knew how to help me, he alone did.
“I am so sorry. I was so wrong about him. Your special son has been God’s Christmas gift to me. Please, I pray that you will allow him to stay. Grace me with the opportunity to return his gift with my own every day of the year.”
It was an unexpected gift to everyone.
Trey stayed at the pre-schoo, much to the delight of his friends. As did his lint. And in the years to come, he returned to visit, especially at Christmas time to exchange gifts with the teacher who always told everyone her special student had saved her life.