I want to talk about this subject, because I know there are others who have gone through it in silence like I had to. I also know there will be other parents who have, or may have a child exhibiting signs. It’s important for me to speak out because those parents may have no idea where to start. After talking it over with my son, he agreed to let me go public and tell our story.
A little disclaimer before we get into it: This story is still very real, and raw, for both of us. I will try not to jump around in sequence, but understand; this is the first time we’ve told this story publicly. Treat it more like a diary of thoughts, emotions, and pain. Life has not been easy for us, and we’re in a constant state of healing and learning. If you are here to judge, that’s fine. I’m used to it and have a thick skin…but I will not allow anyone to speak ill toward my son, or my family. If you have an opinion of me, that’s your right. If you think you’ll start any negativity in the direction of my son, your comment will die in the pile of discarded comments under my sole control.
The real victim in this story is Brandon. I think he’s one of the bravest people I’ve ever met for having to fight this battle every single day of his life. He’s fought to stay alive, despite voices and depression calling him to the cold darkness.
For as long as I can remember, I knew Brandon was suffering from a pain I couldn’t see. As a mother, this was heartbreaking. You never want to be helpless when your child is suffering. I didn’t know what to do, how to fix him, or how to make him feel better. When he smiled, his eyes always looked as if they’d seen war in another life.
In the upcoming posts, I’ll have quotes from Brandon himself, but for this one, I’d like to talk about how we got to where we are now. I need to start at the beginning.
It started at a young age for Brandon. I think, if I recall correctly, I can remember there being problems as far back as first grade. I knew there was something off. He’d make comments in passing that could stop an entire conversation at the dinner table, or sitting around in the living room. Going back further, I also recall that he didn’t articulate words as early as other children his age, but that didn’t throw up red flags. I thought it might be something linked to development, or speech. The truth is, Brandon is highly intelligent. So what was keeping him from talking?
As a baby, Brandon never cried when he got his vaccinations. Ever. He was the talk of all the nurses whenever we went into the doctor’s office. They’d say things like, “He’s so brave!” Or “He’s so good!” I remember thinking it was a little odd, but even as an infant, Brandon’s eyes seemed to see things no one else did.
We had him in a bouncy chair when he was 6 months old and I noticed him watching the ceiling or the walls and giggling at whatever he saw. We joked and said it was “Grandma Betty” (my grandmother who passed a couple of years before) watching over him.
In second grade, I remember speaking to the school and asking if they noticed anything in Brandon’s behavior. There minor things I picked up on at home and wondered if it was happening at school, too. The teachers all told me he was well behaved but was always drawing and not paying attention. Then, the school counselor called me and told me she was sorry to hear about Brandon’s father passing. I asked if she had the right parent because Brandon’s father was very much alive. She told me it was Brandon who told her. She added that she was going to ask me to come in and chat with her because he was drawing strange cartoons that were very “concerning.”
I hung up and went to the school to speak with her. It was clear to me something was obviously wrong, and this was Brandon’s way of looking for help. The pictures she showed me weren’t normal. Other kids were drawing ponies and rainbows. Brandon’s pictures were dark and colorless. He drew depressing skies filled with dark clouds. One thing I did notice was the skill of his drawings. They were good, even if they were dark. The puzzle pieces were there, but too many were missing.
It’s important to note: There was no trauma inflicted on him from his father. We raised the boys like normal parents. There was no drinking, no drugs, and no violence.
What was was my son reacting to? I couldn’t figure it out. I still don’t know if there was a trigger. If there was, Brandon isn’t ready to reveal it, yet.
If I threw away shoe boxes, if I threw away old screws, washers, or “trinkets,” Brandon would dig in the garbage, find them, and store them in his dresser drawers. Each box was neatly organized with all the treasures he would find. Things would go missing: batteries, toys, coins, etc.. His room was cleaner than any other child’s room I’d ever seen. Once, I went in and moved a toy, no more than an inch from the spot on his shelf. I did it as a joke to see if he’d notice. Later, when he got home, Brandon walked in from school and went to his room to change. As I walked past his door, I watched him bee-line for the toy. Without missing a beat, he moved it back into place.
I thought, “OK, this goes deeper than I thought.”
I tried to talk to Brandon’s pediatrician. He made recommendations to have him tested for Autism-or more likely, in his opinion-Aspergers. The extensive testing would cost $5,000. There was no way I could afford that with 4 young kids. I was at another brick wall.
That’s when things got worse.
I no longer trusted Brandon alone with his younger brother. He was acting strange toward him in a way that didn’t set well with me.
I was a stay-at-home mom. The kids were always around me. At the age of 5 or 6, you expect them to go play in their rooms. That’s pretty normal, right? When they’re “too quiet” you go check on them. When I would do my checks, something didn’t seem right. The boys would hear me and the whispers would stop. I would peek my head through the doorway and question them like a detective (if you’re a parent, you get this). Watching their faces, I could feel there was so much tension in the air. Not the normal “guilt” tension. This was more. I really couldn’t pinpoint it. (Again, if you’re a parent, you understand what I’m talking about). The entire room would crackle with the unanswered question hanging between us, “What is going on? What were you guys up to?” My youngest son looked scared, and Brandon’s eyes went “away” (avoidance).
I made the decision to separate them. Brandon was alone in his room, the other three boys were stacked in the next room. Until I had answers, I didn’t want anything bad to happen. My youngest didn’t feel comfortable telling me what was wrong, and that wasn’t normal. (All younger kids tattle. Ask the older two!) This was the only way I could think of for everyone to feel safe. Even the older boys felt a little hesitancy around Brandon. Though I wanted to be there for Brandon, to support him with whatever he was going through, I had the other three to consider. I didn’t Brandon to feel excommunicated from his family, but I though it was best for him to be in a different room. Not only for the other boys, but for him, too.
The washer and dryer was in the back of the house. While I was occupied with cooking dinner, Brandon coaxed his brother to sneak back there with him. He told his brother to “hide” in the dryer. When his brother was inside, Brandon pushed the “start” button. From all the way in the kitchen, I heard a huge thump, followed by a yell. I dropped the food I was preparing into the sink, and ran. When I found Brandon, he was standing next to the dryer. I opened it and let his brother out then turned and scolded Brandon. I told him how dangerous it was to do what he did. Once again, Brandon’s eyes went far away. He just wasn’t there anymore. I had no idea what do, or what to think.
It’s easy for other parents to be thinking how they’d react. Trust me, I’ve been there. Some would say I needed to spank him, some would say I should’ve admitted him to the hospital. Whatever you’re thinking, believe me. We’ve tried it all.
Kids play. Boys, especially, do crazy shit. I have four boys, and they were like a pack of rambunctious wolves. Each one learning to stand their ground, and establish their “rank” among siblings. They wrestled, they horsed around, they fought; It was a snow globe of testosterone in my house.
When I was finally able to take Brandon to counseling, it was when I found one I could afford who also happened to be close to my house. I had no idea what to expect. This was all new territory to me. Would they admit him to a hospital? Would they tell me he had a mental disorder? Will he be OK? What I could never imagine was a counselor who’d pull me into her office and tell me she “felt very uncomfortable and unsettled” by my son.
I couldn’t process what she was saying. He’s a kid. What did she mean? Did he threaten her in some way?
I asked her if I should be concerned. She said, “Yes. I’d continue to not let him be alone around his younger brother.”
And that was it. I was left with that. She didn’t want to work with him. She left me with no tools, no direction, no help… My son wanted help and I couldn’t find anyone to give it to us.
The story gets worse after we moved. I enrolled Brandon in a new school which meant he had to ride the bus to, and from, school. The result was, for 30 min there, and 30 min back, my son endured horrible bullying.
Now, I want you to think about this for a second. These kids on the bus were bullying my son mentally, emotionally, physically. They hit him, kicked him, slapped him around, and stole his lunch money so he couldn’t eat during the day. While Brandon may have acted out against his younger brother, the conundrum was, he was extremely passive and gentle everywhere else. Keep that thought in your back pocket for a bit. I’ll come back to it.
How I found out was, the school called and informed me they would send CPS over because I wasn’t sending him to school with money, or a lunch.
Excuse me, what?
I explained to the woman on the phone, that he did receive money every day. To get to the bottom of this, I went up to the school and asked them to pull Brandon into the office. He burst into tears and said he didn’t want them to get in trouble. He didn’t want the boys who were kicking, slapping, and stealing from him, to get in trouble!
The school said they would investigate. Nothing was ever done. Only one of the kids was removed and placed on another bus route. I didn’t have a way to drive my son to school every day, so I rose hell. The school said it was the bus company’s issue, the bus company said it was the school’s problem. I did not let up until I thought the situation was taken care of. (I found out later, it wasn’t)
Stay tuned for part 2 ….
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