Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Language of the Universe

We drove up to my brother's foster home in Mom's old Ford. She wore a black outfit, mini-skirt and high heels, and big round movie star sunglasses. I sipped from the can of Mountain Dew I clutched in my lap letting the cold, sweet soda slosh around in my cheeks like a bullfrog. Mom was happy. She sang Me and Bobby McGee with Janis Joplin on the radio. She asked me for about the fortieth time what I thought about moving out to Arizona. My uncle lived out there and he said we could stay with him for awhile. She didn't know what she was going to do but she had the vague idea that things would be better somehow. It would be warm there all year round and no snow.

The foster home was a house that belonged to a Mr. and Mrs. O'Connell. They lived on the second floor of their bungalow style house with their two teenaged children. The house was green. I remember that for some reason. It was so green it glows in my memory. We got out of the car in the driveway. I skipped the flag stone steps to the back door. It opened to a nice kitchen.

Mom talked to Mrs. O'Connell about Lane. I wandered through the house. The house had been gutted except for the wall that intersected the room. The noise of the retarded children hit me as I walked through what had once been the dining room, living room, and bedrooms. Every few feet there was a crib or a bed with a kid lying or standing nearby making whining or hollering noises. I wasn't sure where Nick would be. We hadn't seen him in months. I came to a crib and peered over the side expecting to see a tiny baby what I saw instead was a head as big as the baby's entire body. I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl. It seemed to smile at me. I knew then that the world was not a fair or just place. The face of a young mother popped into my mind. She was trying to hold this baby, tears streaming down her cheeks, and then she handed the baby over to Mrs. O'Connell. I wonder if the baby felt loved.

"Hi Laney-bird," I said.

My brother was stretched on the floor slobbering on his knuckles and making a sound like he was terrified. This was normal for him. He sat up when he saw me although I don't believe he recognized me. He would get these expressions on his face like a compassionate saint or buddha until the spell would be broken and he might hit himself repeatedly in the temple like a flagellent. For now he was calm. He put an arm around my shoulder to pull me close. He called "Mmm-Ma, Mmm-Ma, Mmm-Ma but it could just as easily have been "Om." At Church some people spoke in tongues. My brother chanted in the language of the universe.

I laid down on the rug next to him. I stared into his eyes thinking what it would be like to have a brother. A brother who lived with me. Maybe even shared the same room. His eyes were a very light blue. His lips were chapped as were the fingers on one hand. He had never spoken a word in his entire life and never would. He made a noise part chant and part song. I imitated it. He fell silent. There was a secret behind those eyes. I thought about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Somehow I knew this story would not end like that. I waited for the mystery to reveal itself. I did not ask questions or think of answers. I looked into his eyes and he looked back at me. I wanted to tell him that this, all this, was not fair but somehow I believed he knew it already.

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