Photos are supposed to bring a since of nostalgia. A smile to ones face. A glimpse into a childhood left behind. But I can't say there was a "childhood." Did we ride bikes? Yes. I taught this boy to ride a bike. Did we fly kites? Most definitely. Did we spend hours in the woods pretending we lived in a far away land? Many times. But we always had to go home. We always had to go back to a house filled with yelling and cussing and hitting. That little boy in these pictures saw more before he was three than most people care to imagine.
That smiling face is a facade, hiding fears and angers and heartaches that would fester into adulthood and likely beyond. That little boy lost self-esteem and confidence and was told he would amount to nothing. That he would be nothing. That he wasn't smart enough, wasn't good enough, wasn't strong enough.
I can't share the secrets of his adult life because 1) it's not my place and 2) I'm not involved enough in his life. A divide occurred between us likely when I moved to California when I was 12. Nevermind that I was gone less than a year. I left again when I was 17. I left for good and rarely came back home. Holidays. That's when I would appear and even then, I would spend hours reading in a room to my self. I spent little time with my siblings, so it's no wonder he doesn't turn to me. I wish we were closer. I wish I could help him. I wish he could share his childhood battles with me. Not because I think I could cure it all for him. He has to want that. But because I know all too well many of those feelings and have been forced to come to grips with a childhood that was less than childlike in order to move forward toward a happy adulthood.
I understand how parents can indulge their children, especially if they carry these feelings and the fear that they'll repeat these mistakes. It's likely my biggest battle. I don't want my children to ever feel unloved, abandoned, alone, fearful before there is anything to fear. That's what we felt. My brother has gone in the opposite direction. While I don't doubt his children know he loves them, I do know they are exposed to things I hope my children never experience.
Children, while resilient, are fragile. Yes, they have an uncanny ability to shake it off and come back for more. But as they grow into adults, those things don't disappear. They stay with them and haunt them as they try to navigate an already unstable world. In these cases, poverty takes another, separate toll, as climbing out of that ditch becomes a fight against all one knows and all one hopes to be. Leaving behind the people who knew you best to forge a new path isn't easy. It takes strength and conviction and willingness to say goodbye, even if you still talk on the phone or visit over the holidays. That relationship is rarely the same.
Why would he turn to me? What do I know? I can see why he would turn away. Why it would make sense that I wouldn't understand. We're in two extremely different places. The only thing that binds us is our past, and he once told me I left him. I left. And I didn't come back. I have added to the pain I know he deals with, and I hate that. I wish I would've been stronger. I wish I would've come around more often. I wish I would've put my own anger aside during that time to be there for my siblings. But I didn't, and I know I couldn't. Not then. My own emotions were eating me alive and I was in a state of self-preservation.
Parents, I think, should realize the impact they have on a child. It's not just during childhood that their actions affect their children. It imprints upon them for a lifetime. A lifetime of love and joy and self-worth. Or a lifetime of doubts, fears, abandonment, and pain. Yes, with enough counseling, one can move past many of these things, but that doesn't make the memory of them disappear. And it doesn't stop those feelings from creeping in every now and then. The experiences a parent gives a child last a lifetime. A lifetime. My memories still haunt me. The things I've lived through still haunt me. Thankfully, there were moments when I saw true love from my mother. Moments that I cherish and try to hold on to tightly when all those other moments creep in.
When I look at my children, I know how damaging my choices could be for them. And that is why I struggle so hard as a parent. The child in these pictures had potential. He had every right to be where I am. He had every right to be loved. To be told he could make it. To be encourage to overcome obstacles and succeed. But no one did that for him.
My youngest on the right at his kindergarten graduation
My oldest brother, who is currently serving his second term in prison