I remember when she came to me. All aglow; from her head to her toes. I remember that clearly.
“Time to go,” she announced. “We’ve finally found a home for you. They’ll be a challenge of course, but you will find all that you need to accomplish your journey.”
I was thrilled, but also afraid.
“Are you sure they will want me?” I asked. “Remember, I’ll become a burden. I’ll bring sorrow. Their patience will wane.
“No doubt.” She told me. “But you as a teacher have nothing to fear.”
“I trust you.” I said.
She laughed softly and compassion softened her face.
“It’s taken us a long time to find a family who’ll be able to use your gifts. They’re compassionate, you’ll discover, but they possess just enough selfishness not to drown in a sea of self pity. They know the sound of laughter, but they’ve never tasted despair.”
“They’re fortunate people then.”
“Perhaps. Now get ready for your journey.” and her image began to fade.
“Wait!” I called. “You’ve forgotten to tell me their names!”
“Oh yes.” Her glow shimmered more strongly for a moment. “Victoria and Tom. They have two other children. They’ll be terribly excited about your birth. Yet they will never imagine how different their lives will become. Now go. The time is near.”
And then she was gone.
June. The sun’s rays were dancing over the puddles left in the street from the heavy downpour last night.
Victoria had just awakened. She rose out of bed and looked out her window. A picturesque day. She wished she could bottle these days and take them out when she desired. Certainly she had been ticking off the days on her calendar. The time was near. In fact the date had come and gone. She wiped the sleep from her eyes, and thought she felt a stabbing pain in her belly. Yes, there it was again.
Tom awoke. From the depths of my mother’s womb, I could see my father gazing at her. I knew his thoughts. He was thinking of how graceful her movements were, even with a swollen belly, and how beautiful she was. He remembered when it was just the two of them and how they had reveled in their passion. She still stirred desire in him. But I was about to change that.
My mother suddenly sat on the bed and rolled over with a small cry. My father reached out and touched her shoulder.
“We’re going to have a baby today, Tom.” she said. With a forceful look, she demanded that my father take care of my brothers. “Tom, you must get Liam and Conor to my parent’s house. They will need to be looked after.”
My journey had begun.
My father left. He was only gone for a few minutes. When he returned he could see the distress I was causing my mother. “Can you walk?” he asked her. “No” was her breathless reply. I felt him pick her up and carry the both of us to the car. I listened as the car sped through the traffic. As he came to a halt, I could hear the tires screeching like a banshee in the night. We had arrived. Not a minute too soon.
Suddenly, the warmth and comfort of the home I was nestled in, opened up and sent me down a long dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. Cold hands seized me and before I knew it I was wrapped in a warm blanket as my mother’s arms held me. I saw my father’s face and quickly recognized his astonishment at the haste of my birth. They were ecstatic. Another baby boy had entered their lives.
From the bassinet next to my mother’s bed, I could hear my parents.
“I want to name him Michael.” My father was saying.
“I thought we were going to name him Sean.” my mother said.
Michael I was. Uncle Michael had been killed in a war in far-off Vietnam. He had been a hero. I was to fulfill the promise he had been denied.
After two days in the hospital, we went home to our apartment. Mother said my brothers Liam and Conor were waiting. She said they were excited and nervous. I heard her say they were happy to have another brother.
I was frightened. My brothers demanded all of my mother’s attention. I think they made her tired. I didn’t mind. I waited patiently. She would see.
Days and months flew by. I laid on the floor upon a fleece blanket. Liam was in school but Conor was home, raging through the house like a wild tornado. The toys were every where. I didn’t need toys. I was unable to play with them. When Liam came home from school, he would play with Conor. Then I would feel the warmth of my mother’s arms. She would lift me from my blanket and coo in my ear.
“Michael, you’re so beautiful and so sweet. You never cry or give me any trouble. I love to hold you and I treasure these moments with you. You are my little angel.
As she spoke, all of the tension of her day drifted away as if she were lazily floating on a river, calm and assured that her family was complete, her love profound, her world perfect.
My father worked at night, bartending in a local pub. My mother wished he were home at night, but once we children were in bed, she lit her candles and luxuriated in the comfort of solitude. I never interfered.
Five months passed. I hardly ever cried, and when I did it was never like Conor. “How do they tolerate him?” I wondered. “Better yet, how are they going to tolerate me?” And then she came to me again. I knew her shimmering light, even though I had been sleeping.
“Michael, have you forgotten?”
“Oh no.” I said. “Just resting.”
“We’ve chosen this family for your help. They take everything for granted. That’s what happiness can do. You must teach them that when a child speaks his first word, or learns to hold his cup, or learns to take a few steps, they are present at a miracle.”
“Just a little longer.” I said.
“Michael.” She looked quite stern. “I’m afraid we’re running out of patience with you. It has been five months and you must stop being lazy. You have a job to do.”
Then she was gone and I felt ashamed.
The next morning at dawn, the fire whistle blew from the station nearby. The shrill noise pierced my poor brain and my body flinched.
“That’s it,” I thought. “That’s the way.”
An hour later my mother entered my room and lifted me from my crib to tend to my needs. Softly she uttered the words I would hear every day.
“Michael, you’re so cute. But why don’t you ever smile at me or look into my eyes?”
She laid me upon my blanket and I stared at my toys. Conor went down for a nap. All was quiet. Then my mother looked at me again and the fire whistle blew again. I jumped. I cried louder than Conor. My mother picked me up. She wasn’t smiling.
“Michael,” she asked me, “Are you blind?”
I did not look at her.
“Something is wrong,” she said softly to herself. “Why do you never smile or look at me? Why do you jump at the sound of the fire whistle? We hear it every day. What should I do?”
No one else—even my father—thought there was something wrong. I was so good. But my mother knew. She took me to see a new doctor.
We entered the new doctor’s place. I was nestled in my mother’s arms. I felt bad for her. My mother’s happiness mattered to me. The doctor called us into his office. His name was Dr. Jones. He was young and somewhat handsome with a boyish grin. He seemed too young to be a professional and I could sense my mother’s skepticism.
Dr. Jones spoke. “Mrs. O’Malley. What seems to be the problem?”
“My son is blind. I would like for you to examine him.”
Dr. Jones smiled. He was calm and seemed self assured. He asked many questions. My mother’s answers were curt. She did not want to answer a bunch of questions. She wanted to know if I was blind. She started to seem angry.
Before I knew it, a thing they call a tape measure came slithering out of its hiding place and was wrapped around my head. Dr. Jones seemed surprised.
“Mrs. O’Malley,” he said. “Michael’s head is undersize for a baby his age. We must do some testing right away.”
My mother’s knees buckled as she searched for a place to sit down. She collapsed into the nearest chair. She covered her face and then looked up. She yelled at Dr. Jones. “What are you talking about? He’s blind! What do you mean his head is small? For months I have been taking him to a pediatrician and no one said his head was small. Who am I supposed to believe?”
She did what Dr. Jones said. I was admitted to the hospital right away. Her yelling stopped. I don’t think she was even aware of my presence. I kept quiet because I knew when all of this was over; I would be in her arms once again. Patience was one of my virtues, not hers. I would teach her.
After four days of testing, she was told that I had microcephally. This meant my brain wasn’t right. I went back to see Dr. Jones with my mother and father. My parents sat down in the chairs next to his desk, and as I began to lay my head upon my mother’s shoulder, I turned to look at the doctor. He looked at me with sadness in his eyes. I knew he wasn’t familiar with people like me. But he quickly regained his composure and began to report the devastating news.
“Mr. and Mrs. O’Malley,” he said. He looked down. “I find this difficult to say, but I recommend that you institutionalize Michael. He will never be able to accomplish anything in his life, and his care would be a tremendous burden for the both of you. I’m sorry. His brain damage is severe.”
I didn’t cry. I waited to hear my mother’s reply. She handed me to my father, who sat in silence. Then she stood.
“Are you actually suggesting that we leave our beautiful baby boy in some cold place for some unfeeling strangers to care for him? Is that what you are suggesting?”
“It’s for the best, Mrs. O’Malley.”
“It’s not for the best! I refuse to listen to any such talk. Let’s go Tom!”
She took me in her arms. I was happy.
“Thank you Dr. Jones,” she said. “Thank you for your time and effort. We appreciate all that you have done.”
We left his office. Behind us I heard Dr. Jones’ voice. It sounded small.
“Good Luck” was all he could say.
September. I turned seventeen in June. The trees are turning their colors as if Nature’s palette has splashed them with her most vibrant red, yellow and orange shades. The days are growing shorter and night descends upon us more quickly.
Something wasn’t quite right in our household.
Conor and Liam had grown and weren’t around much anymore. Their lives were full with sports and girls. I missed them and the laughter that used to ring through our home. Through the years my parents have worked very hard caring for me. They hadn’t been able to do a lot of the things other parents would do, like go away on holidays and see a lot of friends. They continually sacrificed a lot for me. They had to feed me, diaper me, administer various medications, and help me through some very serious seizures. They were very patient. I taught them that. Their resolve never swayed. I helped them to find that resolve. This was what I was here for. To teach them. I felt content knowing that they had learned things other people could not possibly know. Sacrifice, compassion, patience and unconditional love was what I had been sent here for.
But now things were different. I could feel it. My father wasn’t home much anymore. I missed him but my mother didn’t seem concerned. Her love for me never diminished. Then one night I heard some strange talking.
My mother was home alone. I had been fed, bathed, cuddled and laid down to sleep for the night. This was my normal routine.
I awoke to the sounds of an argument escalating right outside of my bedroom door. I rolled over. Without making a sound I inched my way over in my bed so I could see the two of them. I laid perfectly still. The only light was from two candles burning on the shelf. The quarrel began. How could this be happening? I had brought them so much understanding.
“Tom.” My mother said. “How could you? I thought we meant everything to you? The boys will be devastated.”
Tears were streaming down her face. She clenched her fists and slumped into her chair. I could hear the sadness in her voice. She wiped away her tears. My father just stared at her. He kept fidgeting with his hands. His fingers were twisted into a knot.
Finally he spoke.
“Victoria,” I heard him say. “I’m so confused. I’ve committed the stupidest act of my life. I’ve betrayed you and our family. I have no excuse.” He cradled his head in his hands.
My mother rose out of her seat. She gazed at the flickering light from the candle and there was anger in her eyes. She seemed full of a rage which was unfamiliar to me. I had never heard her utter a harsh word during my life, except to the doctor. My father was still. She approached him. He seemed scared and small.
“Why?” she screamed. “What would make you want to be with another woman? Is she prettier than me? Did she make you feel good? I need to know why-why you would betray our love.”
She- with her shimmering light- never told me this would happen. They were so much in love. I taught them so much.
My father finally moved. He got up and walked towards my mother. When he tried to hug her she pushed him away.
“Don’t touch me.” She said. “How dare you touch me after being with her last night.”
The room seemed even darker and quieter now. I could still see their silhouettes by the flickering light. The silence was deafening until my father spoke.
“I never wanted to hurt you or our family. I love you with all of my heart. I don’t have any excuse. All I can do is promise it will never happen again. I hope that someday you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”
He gazed into her eyes as if he was pleading for his life.
That is when I remembered the doctor’s words from so long ago: institution. Was this the plan for me? Was I supposed to teach someone else? Would this be my fate?
My mother turned away from my father.
“Tom, please go to bed. I can’t look at you right now. I need to be alone, your presence angers me.”
He trudged up the stairs. I could hear the thud of his body as he fell into bed. He looked as if he had the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Would my mother forgive him and keep us all together? Was this the reason I am here? She had never warned me. Not at all. I waited for her to appear again, but she didn’t.
My mother sat quietly. I kept listening. I was tired, but also upset and confused. Was I supposed to help? I asked her again, but she did not answer.
I started to drift off to sleep and my mother entered my room. “Michael,” she whispered. “I need to talk to someone.”
I could feel her trembling as she lay down beside me.
“I know you will listen. I love you with all of my heart, but your father has broken that heart. What have I done to lead your father astray? Can I ever trust his words again? What should I do? If I leave him, we’ll be alone.”
I rolled over to hug her. I felt the tears streaming down her face. She hugged me back. After a long time, she spoke.
“Michael, I’ll forgive your father. I forgave a God I thought was cruel for sending me a handicapped child. But that was how I came to know what true love is. Now maybe your father will understand this too.”
We fell fast asleep.
Time has passed by quickly. My parents have repaired what had been broken. Unfortunately, they have been unable to repair me. My body is failing. The pain is becoming unbearable. Most of my days are spent drowning in a sea of morphine. My mother cries as she witnesses my suffering. My father takes her in his arms and tries to console her.
Tonight was like any other night. I held my cup and I drank. My hands were shaking as I waited for my morphine. My mother hesitated before giving it to me. She often did. I think she was afraid. Dad reminded her that my pain is bad and the morphine helps me. She knew that. I drank my drink. I felt the warmth of the drug take effect. It was time for bed.
Mother laid me down gently and hugged me.
“Pleasant dreams Michael.” she said. She always said that. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I was quieter than usual. She left my room. I knew what she was doing. I knew she was lighting her candles in the living room and heading for the kitchen. I knew she would pour herself a glass of her favorite red wine. I knew she would open her favorite book as she awaited my father’s arrival. Their love had blossomed like a rose with its petals in full bloom. I knew I had helped them with that.
I began to fall asleep as I sensed her presence in my room. I asked her where her shimmering light came from.
“From the soul.” she said. “Don’t you remember?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “I forgot. We can’t see that here.”
“Its time.” she said.
“Oh no,” I said. “I’m doing well here. We’re all back together now. I can’t go now. See? If I did it would tear them apart. I’m here to help them.”
She laughed again. I had forgotten her laugh. It was sweeter than my mother’s.
“Your job is done,” she said. “Their grief is your last gift. And the knowledge of what they shared with you. This will keep them together.”
“I think they still need me.” I said. She was confusing me.
“Michael,” she said, not angry, but very firm. “It’s time to come home.”