He’s a bit odd they say. Not unkindly. Then, they are grown-ups with the tolerance and political correctness that comes with having walked the planet for a few years. Everybody knows him. The dogs and cats in his neighbourhood love him. The children sometimes tease him and call him names. He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s been around a long time. He is 62 years old now.When he was born, into a bitterly cold February morning in the Ireland of the early 50’s, he was in a hurry. Two months early and a difficult birth left him and his mother struggling. There is nothing to be done, they said, shaking their heads. We would advise placing him in a home where he can be cared for with the best possible care. End of story.
His mother wasn’t listening. He came home.
Home to a family where he was loved unconditionally.
He suffered and grew. He developed at a slower pace than other people’s children. He eventually walked and ran with an exuberance that was enhanced by the inevitable delay. He had a larger than life experience of being a little person. Wandering away all the time. Frightening the heart and soul from his mother’s existence. Only to be discovered down the field by the stream watching for tadpoles for hours on end or sitting on the footpath near the main road waiting for the bus that would bring his daddy home from work every day at six o’clock.
I used to watch him when he was about 12 and went out into our back garden. My mother loved the garden. She planted the flowers, roses and lilies were her favourites but every growing thing was welcome as long as it threw colour into her patch. We had a long garden with a flower bed all the way up the left side. There was a vegetable patch at the end and a beautiful cherry blossom tree on the right. It was the flower bed that pulled him inexorably away from us into a world beyond our reach. He would stand stock still in front of a flowering peony or a glorious full-blossomed rose, staring intently. His hands would come out in front of him and a force beyond our comprehension would suffuse his body, stiffening his every fibre, making his arms and body tremble slightly, taking him away from us to a world where differences didn’t matter. The tremor would pass and his hands would come together again and he would move on up the garden path to the next promise of relief. He would spend hours out there. I soon lost interest. I was too young to understand. I used to look at my mother, she would just nod and tell me to go out and play.He had a young, fierce temper. Speech difficulties made it hard for him be understood. Frustration made him bold and strong. Made him cry and break things. Made him tear his clothes. Again and again. We had a sewing machine in our house which sat permanently on the dining room table. I would hear the soft clicking sound of the needle going up and down in the evenings as I lay in my bed in the room overhead.
At night, when he went to bed, I would hear the brother rocking himself to sleep in the old iron bed. The interminable rhythm seeping into my being, lulling me into a primeval safety of unchanging patterns. I didn’t know he was different then. I even tried the rocking myself but it didn’t seem to fit me. So I used to just listen and watch the four corners of the ceiling descend until my nose was touching them, rolling my head away when it got too frightening.
The brother grew into a young man with the blinding expanse of approaching adulthood and limited possibilities. One of his many obsessions growing up was the construction toy known as Meccano. He loved to build and make things. Hours would go by constructing various projects, losing himself in the art of creation. At 15, having exhausted the tolerance of the local secondary school run by the local branch of the J’s, he went to the tech. The school for the not so bright. After 3 years there his mother decided an apprenticeship with a local cabinet making factory would be the making of him. He served countless years as an apprentice and eventually became a master craftsman.You would be well advised to put him in a home where he can be well cared for, they said.
He still went into the garden to look at the flowers.As a young man his mother also decided he needed an outlet for the physical frustrations and encouraged him to join the local athletics club. He excelled, training and running to exhaustion, winning medals and being part of a team. He didn’t hear the unkind talk of the ignorant few. He never fully fitted in but was accepted because it was a kinder time. He made a name for himself making cabinets and running races. He lived in the house he had spent all his life in with the woman who should have put him in a home but didn’t. A simple, glorious life.
In 1984 my mother died. His world became dangerous again.Careening wildly through the next few years, he changed. He was never a fool. Negotiating his way through the maelstrom of seemingly well intentioned people trying to help, he developed an irrational distrust of all things official. He trusted people he should have avoided because they were nice to him and ignored the ones who really did care. He lost a precious innocence. He discovered loneliness. Loneliness on a scale that is incomprehensible.
He is 62 now and spending his days creating beautiful woodwork. He is healthy. He race-walks instead of running races now. Still winning medals. Still kindly accepted for who he is.A human being walking the planet for a little while.
Occasionally stopping to look at the flowers.