I watch him as he lumbers out the doors of his high school. Head phones in, baseball cap tucked down low over his ears, sunglasses hiding his eyes. His walk is slow, deliberate. His shoulders rounded under the weight of his back pack.
When he climbs in I ask, “How was your day?”
I already know the answer. It’s hard for us to have good days.
“It was alright,” he lies. “How was yours? Are you ok?”
“I’m ok,” I answer. He quietly takes my hand and holds it as we drive toward home. My tired, blank eyes give away what he already knows. I am not ok.
On the outside looking in, we are a lucky pair. And we are, in so many ways. No one would guess, perhaps no one would even believe how painful our world is.
You see, he is the youngest of two. The littlest brother. He should be worried about Homecoming and his soccer game, asking a girl to the dance. But he’s not. His days are consumed with worry much as mine are. Worry about his brother.
His brother. His best friend. The keeper of his secrets and the idol of his childhood memories. His brother who has days where he can not get out of bed. His brother who is imprisoned with depression and anxiety. His brother who has PTSD. His brother who has used alcohol, marijuana, violence, lawlessness all in desperate attempts to heal his wounded heart and mind. His brother who wants to do well, who wants more than anything to be happy, to be safe, to feel that he is enough.
His brother who can not face the news or the ache of the blooming fall which reminds him. The crisp air and the crimson leaves that bring back memories that have haunted him into his twentieth year. The stories of injustices done to women on television, in the paper, on the radio all ring loudly in his ears. Echoing trauma from his own past. He suffers quietly, sometimes loudly, but never truthfully. For no one outside the walls of our home knows his story. It is an unbearable secret to keep, and a secret impossible to share.
His brother, my son, who was molested when he was just a boy.
I spend my days tending to my son. The one who needs me the most. The one who I fear for his imminent survival. The one who I somehow, someway, allowed to be abused by a stranger. The guilt and worry surround me like a dark, thick fog. I am absent in my daily life. I am hidden away in my son’s mind, in my own memory trying to unlock the key. The key to his survival.
My youngest, he is the collateral damage this monster has heaved upon my family. He has had his innocence taken away. He has had his young life painted with brush strokes of sadness, grief, pain, shame and horror. He has had his mother’s spirit dampened–if not stolen–and his father’s laughter stewed to anger.
Perhaps the cruelest twist of fate is that what happened in a moment will take years to unfold, unpack and undo.
And while no one knows the truth, they simply believe we have a son who is out of control, entitled, spoiled, I dream of yelling at the top of my lungs: “He is a survivor! He is my hero! He is my champion!” He works every day at letting go of the shame. For it’s the shame that burdens him. He has gone to therapy, and takes his medicine. He has worked on his anger, he has worked on his truth. He has told his secret to a chosen few. He has done the work of men three times his age, and he is not done. It is not enough. Not yet.
But it will be. We will have our not ok days together until the days are brighter. We will walk through this dark hallway beside my son, his brother, until the past is just a shadow. I will never surrender until the day he knows, truly knows, he is worthy of a life of fulfillment.
When you see me, and you see my blank stare. The smile that barely leaves my lips and never reaches my eyes. Please don’t assume. Please be kind. Please know that while I can not share–because it is not my story to tell–I still need your grace.
We still need your grace.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.