36 pages 1 hour read

Laura Schroff, Alex Tresniowski

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2010

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Author Laura Schroff’s 2012 New York Times bestseller An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny recounts a fateful meeting between two vastly different individuals: Maurice, a young boy living in poverty and a broken home, and Schroff, a successful ad executive enjoying a fast-paced career. In the memoir, the author posits that an invisible thread joins their lives. It is beyond her at first why she doubles back to talk to the 11-year-old panhandler. She listens to the voice inside her that tells her to ask him to lunch. This first lunch is the start of over 150 more meals shared together. Over time, the pair share more than meals: they share holidays, the loss of parents, and their individual triumphs and disappointments.

Maurice spends his time divided between living alone on the streets and residing at a welfare motel with his mother and grandmother, both of whom have a drug problem. His drug-dealing uncles and various junkies also come and go as squatters. In Maurice’s experience, adults are often dangerous and always undependable. His mother disappears, sometimes to score drugs and sometimes to serve a stint in jail. His father, for whom Maurice is named, left when he was younger and left behind only memories of violence against his mother, Darcella. Schroff is the exception to the rule for Maurice; she is the only dependable adult who displays true care for him. She displays affection in her actions: including him in her family holidays; teaching him to bake and set a table; attending his back-to-school conferences; and packing him lunches in a brown paper bag with his name on it. These gestures are quite meaningful to Maurice, as he has never had a chance to enjoy such individualized care.

Although Schroff’s life at present is far more comfortable than Maurice’s and far safer, her childhood and his share some similarities. Like Maurice, Schroff spent her youth witnessing erratic and dangerous adult behavior. Her father could be kind and jovial, yet he became violent toward her mother and brother when he drank. He was also emotionally abusive to her and her sisters. Her experiences watching her own mother suffer gave her insight and compassion for Maurice’s mother, who seems to love her son but can’t escape her addiction and identity as an “unfit mother.”

As the years pass, Maurice and Schroff have to navigate the terms and complexities of their relationship. Changes ensue when both Schroff and Maurice meet romantic partners. After her first marriage ends in a miserable divorce, Schroff doesn’t expect to find love but can’t shake the dream of having her own family. When she meets Michael, she hopes that she will realize this dream. However, he has other plans that don’t included children or Maurice. Maurice ends up having children with two women, and Schroff believes he has become a father too young. Yet Schroff is proven wrong when Maurice marries the second woman, Michelle, and they have additional children, a home of their own, and the big table that Maurice always dreamed his very own family would sit around and share meals and life together. Schroff doesn’t have children of her own, yet she is happy to join Maurice and his children around his table. The circle is complete when Maurice welcomes her into his own family, as Schroff had first made him a part of hers.