I remember when I met him. As he stepped out of his home, he seemed to find delight in breathing in the fresh air. His eyes brightly shone and when he made eye contact with us, he flashed a dazzling smile. He slid into the backseat of our car, and we made our way to youth group. My husband, Jay, and I helped out with our youth program on Sunday nights. We always loved being with the kids and were more than delighted to give a ride to Martin on his first night as a guest at our church. He had an identical twin, Victor, but he didn’t come with us that evening.
Everything seemed rather normal. It was obvious that Martin was an exceptional young man. He was bright, eager, pleasant, well-mannered, and he spoke in a way that revealed his hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We exchanged phone numbers when we took him back home, and offered to give him a ride to youth group whenever he’d like. Within a day or so, he had called both Jay and me, just wanting to talk. Truth is, this incredibly sharp young man seemed to be starving for attention. Not only did he continue to ask for rides to youth group, but within two weeks, his identical twin, Victor, joined us. It was then that we found out they were adopted. Their biological parents had abused them and their siblings, and the 4 young children were separated. Martin and Victor were 22 months old at the time, and were put up for adoption together. They had both been hospitalized from the trauma their bodies had endured from not being fed. Apparently on their medical records, it stated that they had developmental delays to include cognitive concerns from the neglect. But here they were - beautiful, talented, and academically gifted 15 year-old young men. We were fascinated by them.
I think many of us believe that neglect and abuse must have a certain look or feel. We envision dirty, starved children locked in closets or maybe we think there will be unsightly physical wounds and scars. And while there are patterns that rear their ugly heads, I think we all would be quite surprised if we could wear glasses that would filter out the facade that so many children walk around in each day. Truth is, as a teacher, I can tell you that neglect and abuse run rampant. But each day, the children of our world get up, get dressed, go to school, and find a way to survive. I think that’s what was so surprising with Martin and Victor. It wasn’t too long after meeting them that Jay and I realized some things weren’t quite right. Their clothing didn’t fit too well, they talked about only being allowed to purchase a new outfit one or two times a year. They shared concerns about not having the correct school supplies for their AP or Honors classes, and they were hungry every time we saw them. We then realized that no one was ever home when we got them for youth - it was as if they were living alone. They got themselves up for school every day, rode the bus there, completed their studies, and came home. They literally had no one in their lives to help them, but more importantly to encourage them or love them. One parent had moved out and the other parent would drop off biscuits or a few groceries once and awhile. The twins were 15, and later we learned that their school social workers had been following these concerns for years, but legally there wasn’t too much that could be done…but so much of the damage had been hidden below the surface. No one really knew all that the twins had suffered through. Afterall, both Martin and Victor smiled, laughed, were excelling in school, and seemed to be making it through the difficult teen years. I mean, don’t we all expect for those years to be precarious anyway?
As the fall of 2012 moseyed along, Jay and I enjoyed spending more time with the boys. We bought them a few things for school and would let them come to our home to use our computer and printer for school work. I remember Victor would sometimes call me, asking “Ms. Laura? Um, would it be okay, I mean if it’s not I understand…but…um…well, you see, I have a huge project due and I just want to make a good grade. I have this idea, but I don’t have what I need. I don’t want to bother you, but…well, can I please use your printer? But if not, it’s okay.” In speaking, Victor always offered apologies, so many that it was hard to even understand what he wanted or needed. He was always afraid…
The twins were well spoken and respectful, and were quite careful to not speak poorly of their parents. However, as I mentioned above, it was obvious that there were some things that were amiss. As November came to a close, the twins spent Thanksgiving Day in their home, alone, with no food. They were both beginning to resent their situation more and more. They were a month away from turning 16, and it was clear that whatever was going on, was putting too much strain and stress on them. And then, through a series of events, everything came to head. On a cold and rainy December night, Victor walked his way through the dark, damp evening, and found his way to our home. He stood in the doorway, with Christmas lights brightly shining their message of hope into the night sky behind him. He then staggered into the house, almost numb from life. He had decided he could no longer go on. He was ready to end it all. In a robotic form, he repeated his broken words over and over. His eyes were glazed and he had already checked out. The years of hatred, abuse, and being told he was unworthy had taken its toll. He was done.
Multiple phone calls to our youth pastor, his high school’s social worker, child protective services, and even eventually the sheriff’s department led us down a winding road that evening and even the following two days. By the end of that week, the parents had been given an ultimatum - get these boys help or you will be held accountable.
Most of us would think that this might bring a reality check to most. However, wanting to escape from responsibility, the parents decided they did not wish to follow through with their commitment to these boys that they had adopted at age two. On December 7, 2012, the father called my husband and asked if we wanted them. He made it clear that they no longer wanted the twins, these two precious children. That afternoon, we brought them home from school. They were given strict orders by the mother to go to their home, get their things, because anything that was left behind would be destroyed. They were told to turn in their keys, almost as if this were nothing more than a terminated renter’s agreement. I remember sitting in the driveway of their home, waiting for them to come out. Slowly, they appeared, carrying all their belongings in a blue laundry hamper, a few boxes, and a broken suitcase. Like refugees, they held their precious belongings close to them. I noticed they each had a worn stuffed puppy dog - they were identical, just like the boys. These were the stuffed animals they had been given when they were rescued at age two. And here they were, almost 16 years old, carrying these same stuffed toys with them again. I was speechless as these boys, now my boys, silently placed their few possessions into the trunk of the car and slid into the backseat.
It was time to go home…to start over again after years of abuse. How is this possible? Was it even going to be possible?
Stay tuned for part two, next week.