Chapter 1 - Remembering
I stretch my legs out as best as I can in the cramped space. My brother paid for a seat upgrade for me, and drinks and meals, but this is still a commercial airline and there isn’t a lot of room.
To help pass the time, he’s also sent through some photos from years ago. To jog my memory, maybe? The photos aren’t great - they’re photos of a photo that he took on his phone and emailed to my social worker to pass onto me - but I run my finger over the blurry images, trying to remember. My memories are hazy. I was so young when we left, and my mother never mentioned them, not ever. So as time passed, I’d almost forgotten they existed. My six older brothers. Damon, Alex, Jack, Nick, Rocco and Logan. I can remember their names now, although I can’t remember their faces or their ages. Maybe the photos will help.
I scroll right, stopping on each photo for several seconds before moving to the next, looking at them over and over again, trying to remember.
There’s me, riding on someone’s shoulders. I’m tiny there, I look about four, maybe five. He looks to be in his early teens. Nick, my 4th brother. It must be Nick, he’s the only one I remember carrying me around like that.
This photo is of us at Christmas time, all seven of us sitting in front of a Christmas tree laden with decorations, surrounded by brightly wrapped presents. That must have been the last Christmas we celebrated. After we left, we never did Christmas. Mom was always working, but we still had no money. She went through boyfriend after boyfriend, and none of them ever had any money either. And none of them ever celebrated Christmas. For me, it was just like any other day.
I wrack my brains, trying to remember my other brothers, to remember something about them, but I come up blank. Except …. Oh yeah! The circus! How could I forget the circus? My oldest brother, Damon, had taken Logan and I. Logan was my youngest big brother, just three years older than me. Damon had been 15 when I was born. That’s what I think, anyway. I can’t quite remember, but it sounds about right. Damon had always been big, tall and strong. Almost as big as daddy.
Another photo, of me in a pool this time, little blue floaties on my arms, and another brother, I think this one’s Jack, helping me swim. Brother number 3. He’s 2 or 3 years older than Nick I think, I can’t quite remember. I try to do the maths in my head. He must be about 25 by now. I can remember Jack the best. He always used to make me feel safe, by holding me tight and whispering stories in my ear when I was frightened of all the shouting. Jack was my favorite brother. I’m pretty sure that’s right. He was always gentle, and I knew he would keep me safe when there were strange men in our house and we were quickly ushered upstairs. I shake my head as memories come flooding back. The last night, right before we left, men had come. Scary men, all dressed in black. There had been shouting downstairs for ages, hours. Jack had covered my ears with his hands but I’d still been able to hear it, and when I finally fell asleep in his arms from exhaustion, the fighting was still going on. I remember hearing my mother screaming. I remember the terror I felt. And I remember Jack holding me tight, whispering stories in my ear. And that’s the last memory of them I have. I never, ever saw them again. We never spoke of them. It was like they didn’t exist.
But apparently, they remember me. Or so my social worker said. Damon told her that they tried to get me back, but Mom made it impossible. She was on the run and had changed our names. How the Police even managed to find my brothers so quickly after she died, especially with our father dead too, is nothing short of a miracle. I’d been thinking I’d have to go into foster care, until my social worker told me about my brothers. Although, I had to admit, foster care, or *any* care, would be better than the life I’d been living with my mother and her boyfriends.
The plane came into land and I put my phone away. My heart started beating rapidly, and I wasn’t sure if it was anxiety from the impending landing, or if I was nervous about meeting my brothers again. Only now they wouldn’t just be my brothers; now they would be my guardians. And they probably wouldn’t be anything like the brothers I could barely remember. They were grown men, now.
I wiped my clammy palms on the front of my jeans, and tried to convince myself to relax. I replayed my social worker’s words over and over in my head: it will be fine. Your brothers are looking forward to bringing you home. You’ll be fine.