This morning, rather out of the blue, Abel asked for a copy of RAISING ABEL. From the beginning, despite my urging him to read the manuscript, he has refused saying that he didn't need to. I was a bit surprised, therefore, when he asked for a copy, but I didn't hesitate to give him one. It is his story.
"Are you going to read the whole thing?" I asked.
"Nah, I'll probably just skim through."
That sent up red flags. "Honey, that would be a mistake. You might pick something out of context and not realize why I wrote it the way I did."
"No, it'll be fine."
"Ok, then, do me a favor. Read the prologue first and tell me what you think."
He leafed through quickly, found it, started to read and then looked up at me, startled. "I never said that."
"Yes, you did," I said gently.
"No, I didn't," he insisted.
"Honey, I took notes at the time. It's what you said."
He went back to reading, but I could tell he didn't believe me. "I didn't have blond hair."
"Yes, you did. I've got the pictures. Don't you remember me calling you my little golden-haired boy?" (I did call him that. I was pretty sentimental... Still am.)
He shook his head and kept reading, and laughed at the last line.
Ok, that wasn't so bad.
We chatted a bit longer about the book, and I encouraged him to call me at work if anything started to come up. It started to become clear to me that he was afraid the book was a listing of all that he had done wrong growing up. Oh, so far from the truth. To me it is the story of an truly extraordinary young man who had the strength, courage, and heart to survive all that was done to him with his soul intact. So, to demonstrate this, I asked him to listen while I read one very short chapter.
The chapter is the one where I first saw him cry, when he told me that even if his birth parents came and took him away, that he would come back and find me. We didn't get past the first few lines.
“My Daddy took me to the park.”
We were in my room. Abel was sitting on the floor near my bed playing with a Superman figure while I folded clothes and stacked them in piles on the patchwork quilt.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
He shook his head as Superman came down with a crash on the floor. “He left me there. That wasn’t very nice.”
I folded a pair of jeans,
And that's when he cut me off. "He left me there?"
"Yes, sweetheart." And I tried to keep reading.
"He left me at the park."
"Yes." I tried again to continue.
He stood. "I'm out of here," he said and walked out of the room, up the stairs, and I heard his door slam shut.
"What's wrong with Abel?" Jacob asked. And here is introduced one of the biggest problems I face when dealing with Abel's past and his behavior: How do you explain it to a 6-year-old? We all live together. It's obvious that Jacob's picked up a lot from Abel's and my interactions. I can't in any way pretend that we have a "normal" life, yet how much can you or should you disclose to a little boy about the horror that his beloved big brother went through? In choosing to read that one chapter out loud, I thought I had chosen a fairly gentle excerpt showing a relatively less horrific event in Abel's childhood. I deliberately did not ask Jacob to leave the room when I started to read. And yet, it effected Abel so strongly he couldn't bear to stay in the room. And Jacob's first statement after, "What's wrong with Abel," was, "I'm sorry Abel didn't like your book."
"Oh honey," I said, "it wasn't that. It was that Abel's birth mommy and daddy weren't... They were... They didn't take very good care of him when he was little."
"Why did his daddy leave him in the park?"
"I don't know, honey."
"Ok," he said. "I'm hungry." So for him, it was a little blip in the day that I'm sure he will file away in that brain of his. But I thought after, why did I choose to let him hear a section that would be one of the biggest fears in a little boy's life, being left behind? Am I doing the right thing even trying to let him know this little bit? Where is the blasted instruction manual that tells you what to do and what to say and when to do and say it?
I went upstairs and Abel came out of his room. "That really made me mad," he said.
"I know it did."
"I didn't remember that. I wanted to break everything, but I didn't."
"See, this is one of the reasons I don't get my driver's license. I get so mad that I'm afraid I'd get in the car and go find him and I'd tear him apart."
"Me too," I said. "No, really. Even people who have read the book and don't even know you have commented that they'd like to find him and Justine..."
"Yes, really! Honey, don't you see that I wrote this book to... to honor your experience, to keep the memory of it so that everyone could know how incredible you are to have survived what you did. You are incredibly strong to have made it through and to be the person you are today..."
"Yeah, 21 and no job and living in my room..."
"With friends and a mother and brother who adore you and to have made the progress you have! Do you know how many people that went through even a tenth of what you did end up in prison or worse? Picture this: picture me taking Jacob to the park and I get pissed off, or whatever happened, and I leave him there. I never do anything else wrong to him except that. How would that ONE event effect his life? And you had multiple stuff done to you every single day of your life?"
We were standing in the upper hallway and he was facing the window looking out up into the huge oak that grows on the south side of our house. The morning sun reflected through and showed me what he didn't want me to see, I'm sure: the tears standing in his eyes.
"I guess I can sort of see why I've done some of the stuff I've done..."
"...I'm still not proud of some stuff but I never hurt anyone."
I gave him a big hug and a kiss as he squirmed away.
I'm so proud of that boy...man.
Little steps. Everyday it's just little steps.