“Scott sent a photo.” Weird. He never sends me photos. I just see his adventures on my Facebook news feed with everyone else on his friends list. I touch the screen. Two young boys stare back at me through my iPhone. I don’t immediately recognize these kids, but I quickly realize these boys are my nephews. They look exactly like our brother, Jack. Andrew is standing behind Josh, holding his shoulders protectively. They are both wearing black and red, but I assume that their matching garments are unintentional. They are standing in front of a metal fence in an obviously public place. They were probably happy to see each other, although their obviously posed smiles would suggest anything but joy. I can guess why. I know what separation feels like, unfamiliarity in the place of what should be familiar, like a visiting a childhood home after it’s been sold to another family. And guilt, because your new life might be better than the one they got stuck with. What else bonds siblings together if not shared experiences? So you hold onto the traumatic experiences because that’s all you’ve ever shared before you were rescued and separated.
I heard that after Jack and Mandy broke up that she had taken them to one of the southern states, like Oklahoma, Texas or Kentucky, or someplace where her thick southern accent would make sense. I then heard that she went on some kind of bender resulting in the boys placement in the foster care system. Years went by before I heard anything else. Scott told me a couple summers ago when I was sneaking a cigarette in my sisters garage that the boys were both still in foster care and that Andrew was having some behavior issues. That conversation in my sister’s garage was the last I heard about Andrew and Josh until today. Andrew and Josh have both been adopted by separate families, but they are able to visit each other. Andrew is doing better and is on the archery team at school. While I’m studying this photo of my nephews I look for traces of my own features, but I only see Jack and Mandy. I associate two unfortunate memories with the nephews that I saw last more than a decade ago.
It was winter when Jack brought his new girlfriend over to meet my family for the first time. I was seated on the floor in the dining room in front of the wood burner trying to get a little fire started while we talked. Mandy was a young, pretty, tiny, blonde and she spoke with a thick southern drawl. While we were talking Jack reached over and picked up the hatchet I had been using to chop kindling. Without thinking I said “Don’t you think we’ve had enough accidents with hatchets in our family.” I was referring to the time he cut off two of Scott’s fingers when they were 9 and 12. Jack had been chasing a frog with a hatchet and Scott sacrificed his fingers in an attempt to rescue the frog from the mutilation that Jack had intended for the poor amphibian. I realized my mistake the moment I said it. I mean, what kind of jerk throws that in his face when he’s there with his new girlfriend? Naked baby pictures would have been more appropriate. Before I could apologize or change the subject Mandy turned to Jack and said in a sweet southern drawl “But, Babeh! I thought you said that was a machete?” Oh. My. God. I couldn’t even help myself. I turned to Jack and asked “Did you really think you needed to embellish and already unbelievable story with a better weapon?” So, Jack is a liar and Mandy is naive as hell. Naturally, they ended up as guests on a talk show.
I have distinct memories of watching Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer while thinking “these people have nothing on our family.” Mandy and Jack had been living in Brooke’s apartment with Andrew and Josh for about a month while they saved money for their own place. In retrospect it seems likely that eight individuals living in a two bedroom apartment would lead to an appearance on the Jerry Springer show. One day Brooke came over to my apartment screaming mad about how she had come home from work to find Mandy asleep on the couch while the baby was grinding pizza into the carpeted floor at her feet. She explained that Mandy had developed a pill problem that caused her to nod out all day while her kids were left unattended. A week later Brooke came in to find the same scene. That day she lost her temper and threw a computer desk chair across the room. Mandy woke up and went outside and cried for the rest of the day on the back patio. Emotions were still raw when they appeared on the show weeks later. After they had filmed their saga for half the show they were supposed to bring on other guests, but they asked them to leave and continued to film Brooke, Jack, and Mandy. By the end of the show Brooke and Mandy had each others skin under their fingernails, clothes were torn, and Brooke had interrupted Jack’s public, faux marriage proposal to Mandy several times. It was supposed to be fake, but it became real. They didn’t sit next to each other on the plane ride home. I never watched the episode, but my friends never missed an opportunity to let me know when they aired it on HBO, which they did over and over. I’ve seen a clip on Facebook that my friend, Wendy shares about once a year. I hope Andrew and Josh have better memories of their biological mom and dad than this unfortunate, well documented example.