This is the third blog in this 4-part series. Honestly, anyone who knows about our boys and what they went through probably knows how difficult it is to condense the past ten years into four pieces. How do you even begin to write about the lives of two fantastic boys who went through so much?
I ended my last blog, Part Two, by sharing the impact of the rejection that Victor and Martin felt as they transitioned to us. We were their third set of parents and they weren’t quite 16 yet. You know something? We fell in love with these boys and became their instant cheerleading squad - Jay, Andrew, and me. We were ready to move forward past all the pain and hurt that others had layered over their lives. Looking back, I don’t think any of us understood the impact of the abuse and rejection that had been heaped upon their hearts. However, as 2012 came to a close, we were ready to embark on 2013, viewing it as an opportunity like no other. Jay, Martin, Victor, Andrew, and I truly had a remarkable first year together. The boys had never been to the beach, so we went. They had never been to the mountains, or gone fishing, so we went. They had never gone four-wheeling, so we went. They had never had family photos…not only did we schedule a session on the beach with matching outfits, but I bought the biggest portrait I could and hung it in our home. The twins were in awe that we would actually want a photo of them decorating our walls. They never had anyone want a photo of them. When I look back at 2013, I can say it was a year that most families just dream of, and we had the chance to live it with our precious boys. And you know what? It was fun! Watching 16-year-old boys do things for the first time, with the glee and excitement of three-year-old little boys, well, it was a beautiful thing. Martin and Victor seized each opportunity to do something new not only with vigor, but with precision. And Andrew loved being right up in the middle of it all. It’s not often that we are afforded a chance to watch two people live life to the fullest - a life that had been punitively taken from them for so many years.
Between the two of them, Martin appeared to be handling his new life quite well. He was always happy, always laughing, and always joking. He was bright and quick-witted, but his temper would flare the moment Victor didn’t “act” quite right. You see, for the first several months of 2013, Victor would step back into that dark place where the rejection and pain ran deep. It became quite clear that Martin was afraid that Victor would blow it. That maybe we wouldn’t care enough to see him through it…that we would send them away. The spirit of rejection ran deep. And the spirit of rejection housed another problem, fear.
Jay took the boys to counseling on and off, which did not seem to help them much. What we did notice though was that the more we were just “there” for the boys, the brighter they seemed to shine. School plays, concerts, even chaperoning Martin’s choral banquet…we had a united front, and it was strong and layered with love, attention, and dedication. That part was the easy part.
But what wasn’t easy was hearing the stories that Martin and Victor would sometimes share around the dinner table in the evening. They spoke so candidly of “what used to be done,” and would randomly include stories in their everyday sharing, making abuse and rejection seem normal. But I guess for them, it was. I remember one night at the dinner table, as Victor took a bite of broccoli, he said, “Martin, remember when she would stomp us?”
I hesitated, pausing my fork at my lips. “Stomp you?” I asked. “Like, stomp? With feet?”
“Oh yes,” Victor answered. Martin became animated and told the story of how when they were younger, and something wasn’t done correctly, they were ordered to lie down on the floor for their stomping. Tears stung my eyes as I listened to them talk about this punishment as if it were the most normal thing. And then there were the stories of wet, bleached mops being put in their faces, or the cuts that needed stitches but never were met with medical attention. They had the scars to prove it…I’m not sure how anyone can ever process these things. As each story surfaced, we continued to understand just a little more of what our boys had gone through. Although it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Autumn brought not only the beauty of the season, but the beginning of the boys’ junior year in high school. As I mentioned earlier in the first blog, both boys were academically gifted and took honors’ and AP classes. On the first day of school, they were asked to write in their AP Language Class a journal entry that would tell the teacher something unusual about themselves. I didn’t know it at the time, but Victor wrote a rather profound piece. I’m thankful to have found this journal, which I now hold near and dear to my heart.
“I have been adopted twice in my life; first as a baby, and secondly nearly a year ago. My first adopted mom was verbally and physically abusive. I remember the countless nights of chaos, and the feeling of no escape from where I was. I couldn’t see anything changing for me in the future, so instead of always retaliating to my mom’s absurd behavior, I would bite my tongue and wait for the moment to end. I would opt against returning her vulgar insults with even worse ones, or her pointless slaps across the face with a shove to the ground. I wouldn’t let my anger force me to behave in a way that I would eventually regret. The one time I do regret not saying anything was the last night before everything would change. I wish I would’ve been able to get off my chest the pain I held inside, not even necessarily with vulgarity or fierceness, but simply with enough emphasis to make her aware of how much damage she had done.”
As I read this, even today, and as I contemplate what my boys must have gone through, I am in awe of Victor’s words, “I wouldn’t let my anger force me to behave in a way that I would eventually regret.” Both Martin and Victor stoically withstood wrath and rage that they did not deserve, and they held their dignity, knowing that they did not want to become like the very one who abused them. How they knew to hang onto such decency and honor is beyond me. But knowing them, I can tell you that they both behaved in a way that not only grace, but greatness radiated from their souls.
Who were these boys? And how did we get the privilege of inviting them into our family?
As the fall inched towards winter, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving on a cruise. It was perfectly beautiful. Victor seemed to become stronger in his mindset and was beginning to enjoy life more and more. He had quickly become the star of the wrestling team and was in perfect physical shape. Martin began to develop his incredible musical talent, teaching himself to play the piano, writing his own music, and deepening his ability to sing. It wasn’t uncommon for him to burst into song, and to even harmonize against his own melody, at any given moment. What a joy…pure joy.
And then things changed. A few weeks before Christmas, Victor began to not feel so well. One doctor’s appointment led to another, until all of a sudden we found ourselves admitted into the hospital, trying to understand his quick decline.
On December 19th, 2013, Jay and I were sitting on the edge of Victor’s hospital bed. He had become light and sound sensitive, and his right side would begin to randomly tremor. Slowly, the door to his hospital room opened, and several medical personnel, all dressed in white coats, solemnly entered his room. I felt like we were in the middle of a bad scene from a movie, yet it was us as the main characters.
And then the news came…Victor had a 3 cm brain tumor attached to his brain stem, and his body had reached its threshold for keeping it hidden. He had to have it removed immediately, if it could be.
I remember standing up when the doctors came in. I stood near the foot of the bed, with my back to Victor. I tried to listen intently to the team as they explained the difficulty of the position of the tumor, the urgency in this particular case, and the need to immediately transfer him to Duke. But all while they spoke, all I could do was wonder what my sweet Victor was thinking. How could this child, who had had such an unbelievable childhood handed to him through the abuse of not one, but two sets of parents…how could this child process this next diagnosis over his life?
As the doctors finished, I turned my head back towards Victor. Jay was standing next to him, white as a ghost. Victor, sitting up in bed, stared at the computer screen which hatefully shared the image of his damaged brain. He was silent, and one tear slowly slid down his left cheek. It was almost too much for me to bear.
The silence of the room was deafening, and then Victor spoke. “I want Martin.”
I nodded my head and somehow squeaked out the words, “Let me go make some phone calls. I’ll be right back.”
And with that, I slipped into the hallway, falling backwards, allowing the stark hospital wall to catch me as I slid down to the floor. I grabbed my phone from my pocket, and began dialing. I had to find a way to utter the words “brain tumor” to his twin.
Stay tuned for part four, the final blog, next week.