BAA, BAA Stanley
Perky wouldn’t be a word used for Stanley as a teen. ‘Surly’, ‘feisty’, ‘combative’, ‘growly’ maybe – but not perky.
I remember him happy at three or four. He’d dance to Elvis and Elton John like a puppet on steroids. His blond bangs bobbed up and down as if he was a bobblehead about to shake loose. We’d laugh and urge him on. He’d stare at us with those big blue eyes and flash his teeth as if this was the greatest thing in the world.
That was before that Friday in July when dad gave each of us three boys a playful punch in the shoulder, walked out the door to work, and never came back.
For the first month Mom told us that dad was doing important work to rescue starving children in Africa. Stanley asked about dad every day and mom would make up elaborate stories about what was happening. Dad was building orphanages for children whose parents died of AIDS. He was running a medical center, teaching kids who couldn’t afford school, running a famine relief program.
I still remember the day two months after dad left when Stanley hugged mom’s leg and said, “but I want dad to come and rescue me.”
Life changed after that. Mom stopped telling stories. Stanley cried a lot.
The first day mom tried to leave him at kindergarten was traumatic. I was four rooms away and I still heard his scream. I acted like I didn’t notice as other heads turned away from our lesson on the pilgrims and the Mayflower.
Mom wanted Bobby and me to walk Stanley to school but he wasn’t ready to leave home. She sat with him for three weeks and then took Stanley out of school. She had to work and so Stanley was left with auntie Sarah every morning.
Somehow, the next year, Stanley finally adjusted to school. I watched him at recess as he sat on the playground swings staring into space. Once in a while I’d walk by and ask him how he was doing. He’d just keep staring.
The teachers pushed Stanley through grade after grade. I never saw him doing homework. He’d sit in front of the television without saying a word. At dinner Bobby and I would compete to talk about what happened at school.
Stanley had one word in response to the question “what happened at school?”
Life seemed easier for me when I moved on past elementary and junior high. Stanley wasn’t around during the day to distract me. I made friends and his haunting blue eyes faded. I started work after school and that kept me busy until I got home. He was already locked in his room for the night.
When he started at the same school as me I overheard one of the students mocking my brother. “Say it again, Stan. I don’t understan’ what you’re trying to say. Are we having a misunderstan- ing?” The group broke off laughing and I saw Stanley ducking his head into his locker. I kept walking by. We never talked about it.
I was in my final year of high school when the police brought Stanley home one evening. Mom was out and I was home alone getting ready to head out for a hot date. The policeman had Stanley tight by the shoulder. “Caught him trying to steel mufflers off of the trucks down at O’Hare’s. We’re holding the two older boys with him. Keep him out of trouble.”
I never told mom. The police were back again a week later. A month later. And then they decided Stanley needed better supervision and he didn’t come back. We tried not to talk about it.
A year ago I got a call from a woman who claimed she had been married to Stanley. She’d found an envelope with our address on it. Somehow mom had found him and kept in touch.
“Stan was the most compassionate man I ever knew,” she said. “I met him after he was released from prison. He’d found Jesus and he met me downtown when I was in a really bad space. He took me for coffee, bought me a meal, and talked about what it was like to be really loved. We met every day for months and then we married. Last week he told me he had to find his dad. He left for Africa. His plane crashed. I thought you should know. He’s home.”
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