I sat on the grey bench against the brick exterior of the house, pretending I was not crying. I tugged dead leaves off a nearby geranium. He came out the front door and sat next to me, that lanky baby brother of mine. We spent several minutes silently pretending not to cry. I couldn’t look at him. I hadn’t been able to look at him—not really—for weeks. Finally he spoke and I was wowed by his poise.
“Darn those little moments of courage.”
A few moments later he was hugging me goodbye, tight. I was telling him I would come up there and squash him like a bug if I didn’t hear from him. His smile was tight too, holding back emotion, as he waved to me, signing “I love you” and ducked into the car. Letting my youngest brother move away this summer was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
As a matter of fact, never have I cried about the same thing so many consecutive times. I still can hardly speak of it without welling up. I don’t fully know what it is to be a mother, but I feel something for that fifteen-year old that can only be described as maternal. Maternal love, maternal protection, maternal fear I cannot get through to him. When he was a baby, I rocked him to sleep (and he was not a good sleeper!) I fed him with a spoon and gave him his bath. I brushed his teeth and sang him songs and tucked him in. I carried him around and taught him to read and made him eat when he was sick and let him pester me. Oh how he pestered me.
As time passed, I lent him books and we’d have long chats about superheroes and what he wanted to be when he grew up. He teased me and I teased him back and when I couldn’t give him piggyback rides anymore, I’d lean on his scratchy head and when I couldn’t reach his head anymore he’d give me the piggyback rides. And I watched him. I watched him like a mother deer watches her fawns in the wild. My ears were perked for danger; my legs were ready to run us to safety. I never stopped watching him. I was going to make sure he didn’t toddle into an ant bed. I was going to make sure he didn’t encounter a bully. I was going to make sure he ate vegetables and didn’t have any more sugar today. I was going to make sure he was wearing the rubber bands the orthodontist gave him and reading good books and meeting his smile quota for the day. But I was also watching him to protect everyone else.
Trauma, abandonment, brain damage. Those things don’t go away. Attachment is not easy after you’ve been dropped off at an orphanage, hungry for food and affection. Love conquers all…in the end, but don’t expect immediate results. I watched him to cool the outbursts, to redirect the anger, to mediate and buffer and to be a witness. And God knows I tried to get him to attach. And God knows this isn’t my fault or my brother’s fault. And God will restore all things one day, but we’re not there yet. The world is off its axis, yet somehow it keeps spinning.
And he kept getting worse. And I kept trying. And things became scarier. His future looked dimmer. Our best-laid plants never took root. No one knew how to help. Most people never knew what was up and those who asked often failed to comprehend the situation. He was not thriving and we were barely surviving. The love, the affection, the inside jokes, the good conversations, the good intentions, even the good days—weren’t going to foot the bill in the end. Little boys with attachment issues turn into teenage boys with attachment issues who turn into men with attachment issues. And they don’t mellow out because you ignore the problem and they don’t get over it because you care about them and they don’t get less violent and more stable because you wait, wait, wait for the right time to do something.
So we did something. My parents made a phone call and got some information. And in a darned little moment of courage, he said he wanted to try it. And so now he doesn’t live at Eyrie Park anymore. I only talk to him on the phone, on occasion. I don’t hug him, I don’t hang out with him, I don’t watch him…I miss him. Day in, and day out and in the middle of the night through tearful prayer. I wake up in the wee hours and grab my phone and search for cheap airfare to get to him. I sign up for an inner city ministry and throw the frisbee and goof off with lanky boys who remind me of him. When one of them is out of my sights, I could go frantic looking for them. Nothing makes me happier than returning them to their mamas at the end of the day, in one piece and better for their time with us. Nothing makes me happier than seeing attachment. Nothing makes me sadder, either.
The place where he lives is amazing. We are so thankful. But it isn’t a cure. And he’s not turning over new leaves left and right. And I don’t know what he’s watching on tv or if he’s getting enough vitamins or if anyone there has a clue as to how hilarious and brilliant and wonderful he can be. How wonderful he is, inside, despite the brain damage.
I am twenty-five, living at home, never married or had a baby and I never prepared to go through this pain, to not know what to do with myself all the sudden. Today my other younger brother moved out (who knew the baby brother would beat us both to gate?) and he’s doing great and starting college and staying nearby. We’re going to be down to six in the house for the first time since we adopted. For the first time since I walked through the doorway at that orphanage and saw a beautiful baby in a high chair who would become my burden, my blessing, my brother.
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads to who knows where
Who knows where?
But I’m strong—
Strong enough to carry him.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
So on we go.