CHAPTER 2 (Part 1)
Our car traveled along dark empty roads. Through the few flashes of light provided by the fast moving street lights outside, I could get a glimpse of my brother Pedro on the back seat. I searched in vain for positive attributes in that body, almost dead, anguishing by my side, as Pedro seemed to be trying to express a pain that was beyond my capacity of sympathizing.
At the front seat, I imagine now that my parents' thoughts spoke a speechless dialogue to each other. They were probably astonished, filled with doubts and negative perspectives. Were they wondering if they had taken the right path? Maybe now the burden seemed to be much heavier than when they first took that decision. Maybe the challenge now looked clearly beyond their scope.
At that time, I didn’t understand exactly the full meaning of everything that was happening. I was a small six years old child, just starting first grade. I probably thought it was just one more of my parents' many adventures, like all the others they went through when they were younger. A mix of hippie organic way of life, idealistic ideals and magical beliefs. They had done so many wild things!
I was still confused about this whole new situation. I knew my new brother wasn’t just one more doll bought at the toy store, a modern version of it, capable of real crying and peeing. He wasn't either one more baby born to my mom at the hospital, that arrived to be added to our family. The only explanation that my mind could conceive was of a stranger, with an unknown name, that came inside a huge bird shape machine called airplane.
All I could feel for him in that first moment was pity. Nothing else. No flame of love or deep felling popped inside my chest. I didn’t see the event as a gift or the beginning of a new life experience for my family. Such complexity was too far from my vocabulary. The best comparison in my view was with the rescue of a street dog: hungry, sick and abandoned. How different could this be?
I probably imagined the future that awaited us as something like that first night: dark, cold and scary, totally uncertain. It was like traveling on a road blocked by dense fog where it is impossible to know what lays one foot ahead. I might have felt unable to visualize the future welcoming my family, but I knew that at least we were all together. Actually, we were quite squeezed inside the small car in movement. Thankfully, the trip came to an end.
We crossed the gates to enter the apartment development where we lived, separating it from the violence of the streets in the big city. Inside, you could see a few modest apartment buildings and in one of them was the little apartment we called home. A few square feet where I spent two years of my life, and from where I got the first memories that weren't washed away from my mind as time went by. Those were the first visual images my brain kept.
The apartment had a kitchen which was just big enough to accommodate a stove, a sink and a refrigerator, besides a small table placed against the wall. At the end of this corridor we called kitchen there was a washing machine fitted in a few square feet space we called laundry.
My daily routine after arriving from school included snacking a raw carrot from a bowl in the kitchen and walking towards the living room, which was the coziest place in our apartment. A center rug warmed our feet and the cross stitch pictures hanging on the walls were samples of my mom’s bread winning. She helped my father pay the bills at the end of the month cross stitching baby patterns for a store. That way, she could take care of us, keep up with the house and still make some money.
After crossing the living room, I would walk into one of the two bedrooms that opened to the corridor. I would leave my backpack on top of one of the two beds, as I shared the bedroom with my younger brother Lucas. He was too young to go to school, so he played alone when I was out, because we had no video games at that time. We had to imagine out our plays. One of them was playing school. We imagined to be in a classroom and I was the teacher, and Lucas the student. Everything I would learn at school in the morning, I would teach him when I got home.
I was a tough teacher! If he didn’t obey me, I would hit him. After all, I was still bigger than him at that time; I was six and he was only four. Even though I didn’t followed pedagogic tactics, the method worked and he learned how to read by the time he was four years old. He was the best student that I ever had, my first student. The second would be the new brother we picked up that night at the airport.
Walking towards the apartment building, we were approaching our first hands on experience, after so many days spent dreaming, imagining and worrying. Hanging in the air there was still an idealistic illusion, a special blend of love, courage and braveness. It was much like in the old movies, where everything smells like fresh baked bread, brewed coffee and newly mowed lawn, where stories have no insuperable difficulties, but capable heroes, no fear, just courage. How convenient if everything's coming up roses! But with the roses came also the thorns.
Thorns look harmless and unable to cause pain, as long as we keep a distance from them. However, when we touch its extremities with our fingertips, we feel the potential they have to hurt and expose the blood that once traveled secure inside its compartments. And so it was as the first thorns were touched that night.
The first touch resulted in great pain. The second, a little bit less. From then on, my parents got used to the painful sensation for their own sake. The first ones came in the form of endless coughing and constant vomiting. Their hands, ears and noses became calloused. Those were quite thick thorns to handle!
My new brother was the gift we received that night. My parents asked Maria to bring him, and she did just that. He didn’t come with an instruction manual, six months of warranty, or technical assistance. He was brought to us because if he stayed where he was, he would have died. Not that he wasn't already looking like half dead, but he was chosen to live, to have the chance to belong to someone, to be part of a family.
The character that entered our lives that night, touching all of us, had as his last given name: “of Angels”. And who could deny that? Certainly, this was the only explanation for his survival until that moment. The underworld which he came from was flooded with violence, disease, hunger, prostitution, robbery, drugs and words alike. He came from a reality that was common place in the news channel, but not in our daily lives.
The elevator arrived and all of us got inside the elevator trying to squeeze in it the best we could. Pedro's coughing episodes sounded louder in the confinement of the tiny elevator. I kept my head up as I wanted to observe my new brother Pedro laying on my dad’s arms. But my dad was so tall! I wondered if I would ever grow up as much as him. Maybe someday when my feet stopped hanging from the chair and were able to reach the floor. The elevator door opened.
As we got inside the apartment I realized how tired I was, even though to sleep was at the bottom of my list. My desire was to analyze forever my new brother as everything was new about him. I wanted to watch how my parents were going to take care, change and feed his skinny and debilitated body and see how I could participate in at least one of their adventures.
I felt that Lucas was much more tired than I was, especially after so many emotional events. Being younger, he was assimilating less about what was going on. It wasn’t going to be easy for him to share or even leave his kingdom as the youngest child on behalf of another boy, who didn’t have any biological rights to the throne. The deal included sharing his bedroom, his closet, his toys, his parents, his sister, all their attention and who knows what else.
Maria helped my parents giving them a few tips for Pedro's first care. There wasn’t a whole lot to do be done in one night as the treatment would be long. At that moment, the most important thing was to get him fed, changed and snuggled in a comfortable bed.
Finally, there he was, inside my bedroom, my reality and my life. I thought that covered by the blanked he didn’t look threatening. On a quick glance, he could have passed for a healthy, docile and captivating child. However, lifting the covers and looking carefully, anyone would conclude that he needed a lot of different specialized professionals to solve all his problems.
At the beginning, I would just stare as I didn’t feel comfortable touching his body. He seemed to be very unpredictable as he shouted, violently agitated his arms and used the entire body to express his distress. Maria told us that a lot of people didn’t think twice about confining children like him into psychiatric institutions. In some institutions, when they became agitated, they would tie them with thick ropes, administer tranquilizers and lock them behind heavy doors to restrict their movements. I felt a cold wave sending a chill down my spine.
Even though my parents were being moved by a great deal of illusion, inexperience and stubbornness, they were full of compassion. Even I, still frightened, felt sorry for facing the meaning of the word rejection expressed in a child. I didn’t know rejection as my family always meant love, acceptance and security. I didn’t suspect, at that time in my life, the existence of children rejected like that, like him. Rejected by his own parents.
The first question that popped in my parents' mind was how to better help him. They were not health professionals. On the contrary, they didn’t have any connection with the health care field, unless when taking us to the doctor when we got sick. So the solution they found was to use their common sense, the one that works together with intuition and exists inside everyone. You might question its effectiveness but I don’t have doubts about its functionality as I testified its results on a daily basis.
I also found out that Pedro lacked some unnoticed capacities, trivial to my daily life, as I didn’t find any difficulty in executing them. And as I got more and more acquainted with my brother’s difficulties, I began to value the small aspects of my own life that were insignificant before. I realized that until then I had been taking all the privileges I had for granted.
The celebration of a birth should be more than a tribute to existence. It should be an honoring moment to the functionality of each detail that we are blessed with, when we are born with a perfect or perfectly functioning body.
Pedro didn't get the privilege of celebrating anything else besides existence, as he was not contemplated with a perfect or perfectly functioning body. He had to adapt to a deflected course and fight for his own existence. Survival also involves to be loved and cared for, but that did not happen for him either. During his first four years of life, care was a rare treat. Without care, his limitations imposed by birth became even more accentuated.
I learned from Pedro that dealing with difficulties transforms people into creative, hopeful and stronger human beings. These are powerful ingredients to reach any goal. I learned that just staring at the circumstances is usually a waste of time as it does not change one atom of its status. With Pedro my family had to close the eyes to the visible and see the invisible, and then build an invisible dream to find the solution to the visible.
Maria went back to her family after having accomplished her part of the mission. She knew that because my brother was so special, my family would certainly be infused with enough strength, discernment and wisdom along the way. She didn’t have to worry anymore as the worst part of Pedro's life had ended. From now on, it would be a new beginning. He was born again to life.
I learned that first night that real compassion doesn’t mean dropping an ocean of tears or shouts of desperation, but to stretch my hands and make a difference. Even a small difference will bring tears of happiness and shouts of victory. And the beginning of this story happened because someone literally stretched his hand, at first just to reach for a magazine.