There are some responsibilities that shouldn't lie on shoulders so young...
|His hand was clasped around mine, holding on so tightly it was almost going numb. I could sense his apprehension from the stiffness of his small body, his wide eyes staring, his voiceless little mouth clenched tightly closed. I felt evil- like I was abandoning him, leaving him to this place which he would hate and where he would be alone. I had tried to explain to him that morning what was going to happen, but he just took a tantrum, his usual silence exploding into a rage of screaming and stamping. I just waited until he stopped, and told him he had to go, and that was the end of it. Later, when he was asleep, I cried into my pillow, shaking with a vicious, protective love for this little boy who shouldn’t have been my responsibility.
“Well Lewis,” I said quietly. “Shall we go in?”
He shook his head, looked at me with pleading eyes. I in turn looked at Anne-Marie, our carer, who should have been doing this instead of me. But I was the only one who could persuade him to do anything.
“You’ll have fun here, Lewis,” Anne-Marie said cheerfully. “They do all sorts of things, arts and crafts, music, you can play sports, play on the jungle gym or in the sandbox. And Susie has to go to school too, you know. She can’t be with you all the time.”
My brother was staring straight ahead again, his nostrils flaring, a sign another tantrum was going to come. I prayed that it wouldn’t.
“Right, that’s enough Lew, don’t be a baby. Let’s go in,” I insisted, pulling him forcefully towards the school entrance.
Twenty minutes and one dreadful tantrum later, Anne-Marie and I left to walk together to my new school. In future, I’d have to walk alone with the other kids, but since it was my first time at this school and since it had been an emotional day, Anne-Marie walked with me.
“So, Susie, have you thought any more about what I said yesterday?” She just had to bring it up, the thoughts that had been haunting me every time I looked at Lewis’s face.
“I don’t know,” I replied, sullen. Lewis and I were in a children’s home. We had been for the past year, and before that we lived with our mother. And before that, we lived with our mother and father. Dad left on Lewis’s second birthday, when I was seven. He was unable to cope with mother’s post natal depression and an autistic son who seemed unresponsive and at times uncontrollable. He told me one night as he tucked me in that he was going away but that I would always be the special little Susie in his heart. And so our family was down to three. Mother, who had barely been able to look after us with Dad’s help went into complete breakdown when he was gone. For three years she just about managed to at least feed us and clothe us, but she was like a ghost, drifting through her life as if it was meaningless. I was rarely in school, she often didn’t pay our bills, she couldn’t handle Lewis, and she sometimes spent days on end just sitting in our flat in her pyjamas watching television or just lying in bed. Almost everything was left to me. When she died, everyone said “what a tragedy, such a young woman with two beautiful kids, what could drive her to do such a thing?” Strangely, for me her death was almost a relief. Not at first, when I found her on the sofa with all that while splurgy sick pouring from her mouth, but later when I called the ambulance and people took us away. I was relieved because I knew what drove her to kill herself, and it was us. And now mother was somewhere where she didn’t have to worry about us, and where I didn’t have to worry about her.
Although I still had to worry about Lewis. Mother had found him far too difficult and after Dad left, Lewis basically only dealt with me. In all of his six years he had never spoken and rarely allowed physical contact. After mother’s death things got worse. While he had not been close to her, Lewis still found her absence, and the absence of the flat and his routine, deeply unsettling. Worse still, we were placed in a children’s home with other children who couldn’t understand his behavior. There were a lot of children with dark pasts in the home, but Lewis stood out because he wouldn’t talk and screamed if you touched him. They labeled him weird, made fun of him, and liked trying to touch him to make him scream. So I was everything to him. He followed me like a shadow, knowing that I would protect him, both from the other children and from the frightening adults who were always trying to talk to him. We had always had a special relationship. His no touching rule had never extended to me, although he didn’t like full on hugs. I was allowed to take his hand, and often he wanted me to, to keep him close to me and to safety. He had to sleep in the same room as me, eat beside me at the table, wait outside the door when I went to the toilet. I was the only one who had looked out for him all his life. And now I might be leaving.
“I think it could be good for you Susie. I know you’re worried about your brother, but the people at this special needs school will really help him, they know how to deal with him. It’s a great school, highly educational, they have computers and everything. And we’ve applied to get him a place in a home for children like him, so he can be properly looked after. But a chance like the one you’ve got doesn’t come along that often.” Anne-Marie was so cruel. She knew I wanted this adoption more than anything, to be part of a real family, but why couldn’t I take Lewis with me?
“The couple who want to adopt you are lovely people. And if you don’t accept this now, you might not get another offer.” Anne-Marie smiled at me but I felt she was a monster. And I was a monster too, because I knew what I was going to do. I was going to leave my brother, just like everyone else.