it's getting harder to continue. and i know there's still so much i haven't even begun to cover. i hope that i can find the strength to relate these next stories well. if i could do so from the perspective of one of the russian boys, i know this would be much more poignant. but i only really know what i saw and heard. i was not brought here from a foreign country on the opposite side of the globe, only to be denied compassion and treated by people who professed undying love for me worse than most humans would a dog. i was born to this insanity. it is my birthright. but that still doesn't mean i chose it. which, perhaps, is part of what drove me to the bald stupidity of thinking i could get away with drinking on prom night. my spirit ached from the burden of the creed that had been thrust upon me, and i needed to know if there existed any option out there that was better.
if this were a novel, i could serve it up to you in context, beginning, middle and end, a complete saga. but this is my life, and i did not have a camera crew following me around to help me playback the scenes one after another. memory is selective. there are, inescapably, mistakes and distortions, lies i'm telling myself that i haven't yet routed out.
so, first off, why? why were the boys punished? were they exceptionally naughty? did they lie, cheat, and steal? probably. as i've already shown you, i did all of those things as a child and as a teenager. once, very solemnly, i told my mom that i thought i'd heard the eldest of my adopted brothers "say a bad word." when she asked me for the first letter of this profanity i'd witnessed, i was utterly at a loss. this was a story sprung entirely from my imagination, told because it made me feel closer to my mom, as though we were united in a team against our cussing foe. i didn't know even a single obscenity at this time, so how could i have possibly have recognized one if i'd actually heard it? i wracked my brain for a half second and then just spurted out, "i think it was 'sh'." and ok boy, did i ever get lucky.
but the boys were immoral. they had no consciences. they ruined what had been, before their arrival an idyllic paradise of innocence and virtue, justly comparable only to the holy family. like most staunch roman catholic conservatives, my mother has never believed in psychology, which is nothing more than a bunch of excuses and coddling pathetic people who need to get over themselves. (but no, i'm sorry, that's me projecting my interpretation where words were not actually said. it was more in line with my mother's philosophies to say society is falling apart, people are confusing the nice thing to do for the right thing, and nowadays people have parades so they can all get together and try to make each other feel better despite the guilt of knowing their sinfulness that is eating them up inside.) nevertheless, with her source of information undoubtedly being either a television special or the internet, my mother diagnosed my russian brothers with reactive attachment disorder. if she gave one of them a knife, she once informed a unknown entity on the receiving end of her phone call, she was sure they would stab her.
i'm standing by the enormous floor to ceiling windows that run from the dining area dominated by a collosal, ornately columned table complete with heavy granite countertop which is bolted to the floor, to the living room that features a television so massive it could have served as a twin mattress turned on its side. at intervals my mother and siblings are all poised on the wood floors, bodies turned in unison to the farce playing out just beyond the window. this time, it is the second youngest of my russian brothers who is being punished, possibly for raiding the piggy banks located in the cabinet above the fridge, possible for fiddling around with a highchair until it broke, maybe because he didn't finish a grammar exercise quickly enough or did something incorrectly for the twelfth time in a row, perhaps because he was caught feeding pages of particularly hated textbooks to bailey the dog again, or possibly for locking himself in the bathroom for so long that my mom began to expect he was pleasuring himself in there. whatever the reason, my brother is now on display, running laps around the one seventeenth of a mile path in the backyard. with every step he is nearly doubled over sobbing. suddenly, a ripple of shock passed through the crowd of bystanders, and my mom makes a sound of disgust in her throat. every time he faces away from us, now, we can see a brown stain spreading at the seat of his shorts. but he hasn't been told to stop, so he keeps running.
on another day, when it is brighter and sunnier and the light is gleaming the french doors between the kitchen and the patio through hatefully, the two youngest of my russian brothers make a theatrical entrance. they are both sniveling pitifully, in the process of being punished, and are clad in nothing but socks and diapers. since we are in the new house, they are guaranteed to be at least six and eight years old. if i had to guess, however, i'd put their ages somewhere around eight and ten. their little boy lets are white and spindly for miles between what scanty garments they are wearing.
it is dinner time, back in the days when we all sat at table together, before my mom got fed up with trying to please fourteen plus people who all had individual likes and dislikes that they weren't afraid to express through loud complaining. and we are sitting around the huge, solid wood table that looks like something out of the "beauty and the beast" castle, only we aren't all there. if everyone was seated around that table, as expansive as it was, we would have had to squish, some people barely hanging onto a corner or practically seated on their neighbor's lap. we would have had a few mix matched chairs, because the set that we laboriously sanded them stained to match the table only include twelve seats. the russian boys are not at table with us, because they are in disgrace, eating at barstools at the island in the kitchen. though this is only about ten feet away, with no wall between the two sections of the house, a heavy weight of otherness hangs in the interim. theirs is an isolation that my mom would have everyone believe is self imposed; misbehavior is a choice, choosing to live in punishment verses being a part of the family. what's more, whatever loved or hated dish we are having tonight, the russian brothers are not partaking of it. as part of their punishment, for days on end they are allowed to eat lunches and dinners of nothing but cold beaf stew out of cans. their breakfast consists of a congealed lump of cream of wheat that my mom cooked up in a giant vat in order to make it last as long as necessary, which is now sitting dumbly where it was plopped in the fridge.
the running and the beef stew were parts of a ritual my mom called bootcamp, which also included jumping jacks that had to be completed in proper form, or else she would perform mocking parodies of whatever wimpy attempt was given, and jeer at the child who couldn't face the consequences of his actions, making him keep at it indefinitely until he performed in satisfactory manner whatever number of repetitions was assign in penance.
we all took our turns standing in the corner. this was the bootcamp version of a time out. it was monotonous, painful, and publicly humiliating, and thereby accomplished the goal of a punishment with little to no effort on my mother's part. a child could be placed in a corner and then forgotten about, as though they had become nothing more than a piece of furniture. an hour felt like an eternity, your knees turning to water, and you were almost never released after only one hour. i know that the youngest two of the russian boys got sentences that lasted for many days. we got so used to seeing them in the corner that it felt awkward and strange when they'd occasionally have a break from bootcamp. sometimes they'd snivel or whimper, and then my mom would throw a dish rag over the offending head in order to keep their snot from staining the wall. i would like to ask one of them, "what was the longest time you ever stood in the corner? how many days in a row?" but then again, i don't think i'd feel at all good about hearing the answer.
homeschooling is in session. i am walking up to my mom's desk, to place one of my books with a finished exercise for grading on the ever growing pile atop one of her black filing cabinets. i catch a glimpse of a speckled composition book set on the roll out shelf just under the ebony colored desktop, positioned just so that i'm certain my mom has been using it in the brief intervals between correcting our schoolwork. it seems she is writing a book, and i am afraid of that book. in clear, formidable, permanent marker letters, "child discipline" is scrawled across the cover.
my almost but not quite twin brother is crying and drooling at the same time, two bodily fluids mixing in streams that dribble down his chin. his mouth bulges around the mass of one of his stuffed panda toys. as a punishment, he's being made to carry it around that way. later, i stare down at its soggy heap in the garbage, and i want to rescue it. i want to dry it off and give it back to him, but i don't.
the clanging of a siren jolts me out of my sleep. it's well past midnight, pitch black outside, and it's as if all hell has broken loose in my room. i clutched at my ears desperately, but the noise is too loud to even begin to muffle. it is almost compulsory to roll out of bed and run for the hallway. in my haste, i slip and slide a little on the cold wood panels of the floor, my socks failing to provide me with sufficient traction. i make my way to the living room, where the big screen tv is turned on. as i arrive, i see that other siblings have gotten here faster, and look as groggy and wool headed with sleep as i feel. finally my mom arrives, to bring order to the chaos. she flips open the control panel of our home security system, and punches buttons that relieve the clamor. when we're able to hear again, the sound that next assaults our ears is that of the telephone ringing insistently. my mom picks up, gives the secret passcode, and assures the employee on the other end of the line that it's alright, no need to send the police. somebody just forgot the system was armed, and opened a window. we all know who the somebody, or rather somebodies, are. the reason everyone's first instinct is to head toward the living room, and the reason the television isn't showing black at this ungodly hour of the morning is that my mom has had security cameras rigged up in the room that is shared by the russian boys. these cameras feed a constant stream to the big screen, displaying images of rumpled blue superhero sheets. the adopted boys' bathroom door has been removed, so that just the hinges remain, uselessly jutting out from the empty doorframe. i don't know if it was that night or another one that my mom rigged up bungee chords and jump ropes to attach a motion sensing lock to the door between the boys' room and the rest of the house. not that this does any good, because it's the window they've tried again, obviously. they want out of the house, not further in; they want to go dig cigarettes buttes out of garbage cans or just to taste the freedom of the cold night air. on the tv screen, now, in the aftermath of the alarm, their bodies make innocent mounds tucked beneath those sapphire sheets. my mom is not fooled for an instant.
i am a young child, and i am lying in my top bunk in a room shared with my two younger sisters. i think they are both sleeping soundly, or at least i hope so. this is before the move to the new house, so i am younger than nine years old. i have not received the tennis racket treatment yet. i am not sleeping. my eyes will not shut. my eyes do not see this image, but it fills my mind: i have no reason to believe this was a part of what was happening that night, but for some reason i am picturing my brothers bent over the lip of my mother's white porcelain bathtub. my eyes cannot sleep. instead they are watching through the darkness the carved white wood of my bedroom door, because it's from that directions that i can hear my brothers' screams.