Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Happy Sad

T was home for a visit for a long weekend. The visit was pre-arranged, and it was just going to be a fun one. But five days before he was to arrive, I got a call. He was sobbing and couldn't speak. Eventually, it emerged that his younger brother (we'll call him "E") who is disabled, and has been on probation for two years now, had gotten into a fight, and was headed back to court and had cut himself in an agony of frustration. This is the latest chapter in a gut-wrenchingly tragic childhood for E. T managed to reach his brother's case worker and arranged a visit. So that's what we did on his weekend at home.

It was a happy/sad day of a sort of which we've had several over the years. The circumstances could not have been more distressing. The probation facility where E lives is harsh: a county facility (known as a "camp" though it's in a far-from-idyll industrial inner-city neighborhood) where children come and go in orange jumpsuits, with their ankles and wrists in shackles. It is, in short, a prison. E is obviously disabled, with a long, long history of special education and intensive mental health services, and yet his "crimes" (all of them panicked acts of self-defense as he's made his way through various foster, and then probation, group homes) have led him to spend nearly two years now in probation department custody. He is easily led, a frequent target of bullies. He is trapped in a downward spiral, as his weak capacity for self-control mitigates against "working his program" to the satisfaction of the authorities. He is also a clown, and he has the most beautiful singing voice I've ever heard in person. You could go crazy thinking about it.

T and I went in together, and the visit was supervised by E's therapist. T, who is "parentified" to use the clinical term, launched into his usual bossy lecture, posturing as an expert advisor to his brother, his nervousness and sadness adding to his agitated energy. But E loves T so dearly, and he is protected by a supreme sense of humor. At one point, he got restless from being lectured and rolled his eyes. "I think what T is trying to say is that he loves you," I offered. His laugh of recognition lit up the room.

The boys visited for over an hour, until the therapist said she had to sign off. E asked if he could sing us a song before we left. At first, he was shy, and T was embarrassed. We stumbled through a Temptations song. Then E stood up, in order to sing better. He asked us to give him some rhythm by snapping our fingers. Then he sang a version of "Lean on Me" so beautiful, the self-consciousness of both boys evaporated on the spot. T dropped the pretense of adulthood and rocked to the rhythm and sang along softly.

E is one of those unusual people whose physical and social awkwardness disappears completely in the grip of his gift. It was like watching an amphibian that lurches on land slip into the water to reveal a fluid, graceful second self. That was how we ended the visit. T squirmed and chattered with relief all the way home. He saw and heard E's soul, intact and it made him whole again.
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