But first there is a story inside me that needs to be told. Its setting is a hospice ward, and it does not have a happy ending so if those things are a trigger for you, quietly step away. I won't be offended; I have been there too. It won't allow itself to be told in one sitting, and it won't unpack itself in tidy, even rows. It will pop up like the faded Polaroids you find in the back of the desk drawer. It will more resemble an angry ball of tangled, gnarled yarn, because sometimes life happens that way. I'll preface these entries with the title "November 2013" for people who can't go there with me If you do join me there, I thank you in advance. I didn't know I needed you, but I did. I still do; and needing people is perhaps the hardest thing for me to admit.
There were three of them: A girl of about 14; her slightly older brother, who was about 16 or 17; and their younger brother, who was about 5. They didn't appear to have any adult supervision, and we assumed they were there for an older, distant relative, maybe a grandparent or great uncle. As the day passed in entire lifetimes, they did the best they could to entertain themselves, but they had clearly come, as we all had, in a hurried flurry of sadness, unprepared for whatever would follow. The youngest one was a tornado. The girl tried contain him, and the oldest floated between the two worlds of the hospital room and the family room, wanting to be a responsible man but with no clue about how to do it.
As the sun went down, we realized that no one was feeding these children, whose family was consumed by loss. We invited them to eat our leftover Boston Market takeout; it wasn't much, but it was all we could offer. We did explain that the hospital delivered family meals at the end of the hallway, but I think they felt awkward searching them out. They made a feast of our leftovers and thanked us profusely.
As the long, dark night settled around us, and our husbands had gone away to quietly pick up the pieces behind the scenes, in the way that they do, my sister and I sat on the floor working on a puzzle. The children crept closer and closer to us until they were helping us build the border. "We're sorry about our brother," the girl told us. "There's something wrong with his brain. He's pretty normal, but he has a lot of energy. He runs around a lot. He used to get in a lot of trouble in school, but now he takes medicine for it." In their rush to get to the hospital, their grandmother forgot his medicine, and now there is no one to go get it. We reassured her that we understood. My sister and I, both teachers of children with learning differences, blessed with AD/HD ourselves, also struggle to parent boys with AD/HD. It can be very hard, we commiserated.
Their life unfolded before us as we continued the slow and tedious process of putting the pieces back together. Their mother, like ours, had been sick, and although they had thought she was getting better, she really wasn't. Their grandmother was taking care of them, but it was a lot for her to handle, especially with the youngest one being so difficult, and with her trying to take care of them too. They had an older brother too, and they were waiting for him to come on the bus from New Orleans (Baltimore? Washington?) to take care of them, but they were all mostly worried he wouldn't get there in time, you know..And while the words to describe their mother's dying still hung in the air (no one can say the D word in a place so comfortably dedicated to waiting for it), she told us that they all have different fathers. They would probably not be able to stay together...you know, After...her older brother, the 17 year old, had no idea what he would do after he graduated. He was smart, you know, and could probably go to college, but there was no money and no one to help him. The oldest brother couldn't take them, and their grandmother was just too old. They just didn't know.
Eventually that night we all drifted apart, as the older brother became bored and faded into the glow of the television. The little one crashed in a heap somewhere in that way that little boys with AD/HD go from zero to sixty and then back again. And somewhere, a 14 year old girl rehearsed what would become her new role of trying to pin together the fabric of her family. My sister and I shook our heads in wonder that fate might have brought us here, in this exact place and time, to be here for these lost children. We all sat in the blue light of the dark room, waiting for the After.