i pressed against my brothers and sisters eagerly, wedging my face into the gap created by their heads and shoulders as we all clustered around the computer screen. from her seat in the big, black padded swiveling computer chair, my mom scrolled down the web page. little orphan faces stared back at us, each image staged to capture our attention by communicating an intensity of need. one by one the pictures fleetingly occupied the middle of the screen, then were eaten up in turn by its immovable black frame.
we were online shopping for boys.
the first time a documentary really touched me, it was about girls whose bodies were so wasted by anorexia that all they could physically handle eating was one frozen apple sauce container per day. for my mom, though, it was a television special about foreign adoptions. as though her beloved himself had stepped out of a chariot of clouds and given her the orders, she felt called to adopt. because my mom's womb had shown itself to be a hostile environment for male fetuses, the new addition to our family of five sisters and one brother would have to be a boy. the one we already had needed a fellow to play with.
after hours of poring over photos, it was with much excitement that my mom selected our candidate. she started making phone calls. online to be stonewalled by bulgarian adoption agencies making the outrageous accusation that, since my mom already had six children, she must be trying to get an orphan in order to harvest organs for one of her offspring who was sick. so it was back to the internet and a new search for a boy protected by less suspicious guardians.
and then my mom found them, three brothers aged four, six, and seven in an orphanage in russia who were in danger of being split up if a home couldn't be found for all three together soon. the imminent danger of their potential separation lent a new urgency to my mom's mission. she and my dad packed up suitcases of peanut butter, crackers, toys, and bottled water, and left their brood to the care of our grandparents while they traversed the globe to russia.
while my parents were away the brother i already had made his presence known by acting up. he refused to come to dinner and had to be carried upside down under my grandfather's arm to the table. there was kicking and screaming, and as was my habit when someone else was being publicly reprimanded, i hovered on the fringes of the scene, trying to render myself invisible by refusing to look at anything. i anticipated, fearfully, a long and serious talk between my parents and grandparents when the former returned home about my brother's heinous behavior and the best way to discipline him into a state of submission, but it turned out that when my mom and dad did come home, they had far too much to worry about to be troubled by anything that happened in their absence.
introducing the boys is a difficult task, because we never really allowed them to have their own identities while they lived in our household. one of them was my age, his birthday only six days before mine, and i was thrilled that at least while we were both seven he was shorter than i was. i had delusions at this time of growing up to be six foot eleven inches tall and starring in the wnba, even though i couldn't play basketball or any other sport, for that matter, to save my life. my almost twin brother was pretty delusional as well, so maybe we were both breathing in the same toxin or getting heavy metals in our drinking water. he had dark brown hair and round glasses and was told by so many people that he resembled harry potter that he carved a lightning bolt scar into the skin of his own forehead with a fingernail. he also sucked his thumb so prolifically that he managed to jam his two front teeth completely up into his gums, and ended up needing braces in order to drag them back out again. during the fall when the leaves were crimson he named a tree in the backyard "nana" and he christened his backpack "trevor" and he introduced us all to the book series "the secrets of droon." once he could speak english his favorite sayings were "it's bad for your teeth," and "let's not and say we did." he quickly befriended a boy at school with whom he could blow spit wads at all the girls during recess. these are the kinds of things i remember about the boys, which separate them into individual human beings instead of what they appeared to be the first day they stepped off the plane from russia: a boisterous pack of rabid animals.
since they spoke no english, i couldn't exactly go up and introduce myself. so i just watched as they ran wild, playing with my baby sister's toys, her light up talking telephone and other bright, heavy plastic gadgets with the edges rounded for safety, as though they were the most fascinating things on earth, climbing up the outside of the stair railing, shooting each other with my biological brother's nerf guns and bows and arrows and getting these play weapons confiscated. meanwhile my mom told us about her time in russia. about having to squat over a hole in the floor because there were no toilets. about ordering pizza and being horrified when it came with thick, sickening white goat cheese. about a man named igor and giardia and drinking untreated rain water collected in giant vats and traffic lights that nobody paid the slightest attention to and four year olds passed out drunk in the streets. about a little girl at the orphanage who was sure my parents had come to rescue her, my mom's voice tinged with regret as she spoke, because who wouldn't want to trade these human tornadoes for a cute, quiet, and sweet little girl?
but my parents had gone to russia for boys, and boys were what they were going to get.
it became apparent very quickly after their arrival that my new brothers had very little interest in me, and wouldn't allow me to join in on their games. because i was a girl and therefore couldn't play right. my biological brother showed only the vaguest, condescending interest in them, but they accepted him immediately even though he never let anyone forget by his mannerisms that he was infinitely above and beyond these hooligans.