A Short Lifetime Spent Trying to be a Good Boy

My brother and I were adopted at birth from different mothers. I’m sure we both had opportunities being raised by our adoptive parents that we never would have had with our biological ones, although neither of us would ever know anything other than what we were told about our birth parents to be sure.

Our parents were decent, moral, upstanding people. But they were obsessed with appearances, which made my brother a bigger problem for them than he might have been for other parents. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t be what they expected. This would result in life-altering disappointment for both sides.

I distinctly remember my mother telling me I was adopted around age 6, but I don’t remember when Pat was told. I really didn’t see him enough to have conversations like that. Initially, he was always so busy. He was a hyperactive child, put on Ritalin before he ever made it to first grade. I’m sure it was intended to calm him down for public appearances, but it never worked. Eventually, we just grew up in different places.

My first and faintest memory of my brother is of him pedaling a little yellow and blue plastic scooter down the long hall of our first house in Memphis, Tennessee. Almost daily, he would wait for me to toddle innocently out of my room at one end, and as soon as he saw me, start pedaling from the other end, picking up considerable momentum (it was a long hall and I wasn’t that fast) before hitting me and knocking me down - HARD. As soon as I started to cry, he started to laugh. I also remember my mother reacting when she came to assess the damage:

“Why, Pat, why? Why can’t you be a good boy?”

I can’t count how many times I would hear this over the coming years. I don’t know if I ever learned to look first, but, more than likely, he quickly got bored and moved on to something else before I had time to figure out a workable solution. My mother, already tired at this point, decided to just wait and pick up the inevitable pieces rather than try to predict her son’s behavior.

Pat’s first grade teacher at Sea Isle Elementary School showed real concern for his ability to control himself. At first, she felt sorry for him because he was such a sweet, thoughtful boy. She thought he just needed special attention, but when that ended up with him craving even more and more attention from her, anything good about him soon faded in comparison to his unforgivable behavior. He refused to stay in his seat, wreaking havoc on the classroom and the other kids. He would throw crayons, pencils, books, erasers, anything he could get his hands on. He would use markers to draw on the windows. Lunch and recess were constant struggles. He’d be banished to the outskirts or the teacher’s table or the bench or the sidelines for this reason or that, and even under watchful eyes, he would still seem to slip just out of reach and misbehave.

She also often asked him, “Can’t you just be a good boy and behave like the other children?” But he never had an answer. Nobody knew yet that he didn’t understand the question.