I wrapped T-sqaure in my lap, both arms held in place, one leg looped over his, my chin tight to his shoulder as he raged, his body convulsing violently. Bruises were already forming on my legs where he’d caught me with the heels of his shoes. The bite on my arm was bleeding. My head pounded from the screams and the multiple head butts he managed to inflict before I placed him in the “hold” we’d been taught.
So much rage and power in an eight year old boy.
Four days earlier he’d joined our family. His nine word vocabulary baffled all five of us. How could anyone with perfect hearing only have a nine word vocabulary at eight years of age?
Two and a half hours later, him still wrapped in my arms, tears staining both our faces, hearts pounding wildly, we fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. The first time of many to come. When I woke some miracle had happened. The rage was gone and a sweet little boy sat in my lap wiping the tears from my eyes, dabbing at the dried blood on my arm with a wet paper towel. And then he used a word we’d never heard him say before.
I knew before I brought him into our home that he was broken. Abused in the most heinous of ways. Neglected … in ways I didn’t know were possible. He’d been left in the yard to live with the dogs, sheltering from tornadoes in a small plywood lean-to, eating dog feces and dead mice. He’d never been taught how to dress, use silverware, talk … interact with other humans in a loving way.
But somehow in his mind he knew what it meant to be sorry. To feel guilt. To take responsibility for his actions.
I didn’t blame him. I knew what he’d lived through. I knew the strength it took for him to even exist let alone exist in a way others could accept him. The rages, the fights, the screaming, the kicking and hitting and biting and endless head butts … I understood them all as a cry for the help he so desperately needed but couldn’t ask for any other way.
And so I took it. The physical abuse was daunting to say the least. The bruises never seemed to heal before I had more. The overwhelming emotions ate me alive as much as the physical bites to my flesh.
And always the “sorry”, the tender kiss, the gentle pat on my hand, the ice pack for the bruise.
I loved that little boy the only way I knew how. I gave him a home where he could just be a child. Where he was taken care of, fed, taught how to be human, encouraged, read to, held through the horrible moments life brought him, and loved unconditionally day-in and day-out. I couldn’t do anything less.
I was given the option to put him in a mental home, to have him placed in custody, in the care of physicians and nurses and psychologists where he’d be evaluated and given counseling and live with a group of other children all with problems they couldn’t manage.
But that’s not what he needed. He just needed to be loved.
So I loved him.
And he raged … and said “sorry”.
And over time, the space between the awful bits got longer and longer. The rages diminished in length and frequency. The bruises began to heal. The pain, the anger, the exhaustion of coping with him gave way to teaching him to tell stories about his imaginary dog and cat on long and winding walks around the neighborhood and, then, by another miracle, teaching him how to read.
When they sent him back home, he’d learned enough to function … to cut his meat with a knife and fork, to pour a bowl of cereal and glass of juice, to play with a younger sibling, to take turns, to bath, to use the toilet, to walk through a store, to sit in a classroom, … to use words … with meaning.
If I live to write a hundred books, none of the words I ever use will ever be as important as the ones I taught that little boy to speak, though.
And if I read a million words or share endless nights in conversation with a friend, no word will ever mean as much to me as that “sorry” he managed to mumble every single time. Because despite the insane abuse he was subjected to for the first eight years of his life, he knew what it meant without anyone ever telling him and he wasn’t afraid to say it.
I’ve known grown men and women who aren’t that brave.
I still wake up sometimes with that rush of emotions, the sheer will to survive tensing every muscle in my body, hearing his raging screams. My heart pounds, my head aches, I jump at the slightest touch. Tears flood my eyes. I know it’s not real. I know I’m just licking the past, tasting ghosts of what was … but now there’s no one saying sorry. There’s no one wiping away my tears, tending to my wounds.
It’s just me.
One day maybe I’ll be brave enough to tell myself “sorry” …