Out of the corner of my eye, I see the 8-year-old’s face contort. This is not a good sign. A few years ago, this would’ve meant the appearance of tears within five minutes. Now, he just makes a face and squints his eyes and I know there’s something wrong.
“What’s up?” I ask, trying not to sound alarmed, but my voice cracks at the end of the question like some pre-pube and he notices.
“Nothing. Nevermind,” he says and waves me away. He doesn’t want to burden me. He doesn’t want to burden anyone. He inhales deeply, but his shoulders slump and he looks defeated. “I think I forgot something at school.”
“It’s okay, man. It’s okay.” I try my best to make him feel better, tell him that stuff like this happens to everyone, but he shakes his head and says, “Not the 10-year-old. It never happens to her.” I bite down on my lip and steady myself on the table so I don’t cry in front of him.
After two hours of working on his homework, he fixates on the stuff he thinks he forgot at school again. He can’t leave it alone.
He raps his fist to his head and says “Stupid brain! Why don’t you work right!” I tell him to stop talking like that, but he walks to his room, closes the door and he goes into his world for awhile.
Later on, he emerges and I ask him how he feels. He says, “Sometimes, I just have bad days and want to be alone.”
I stare at him and wish I could hug all his pain away.
The 8-year-old has ADHD. He’s sensitive, brooding, always compares himself to his older sister and strives for a perfection that is unrealistic.
I sometimes wonder if I’ve passed on my own brain instabilities on to him: depression, anxiety, OCD.
As a child, I was extremely depressed. I was never diagnosed, never went to doctors. Shit, I don’t even think my parents even noticed, but I knew at a young age that there was something different about me.
I saw the world in different colors that no one else could see or perhaps I was living in a different dimension altogether. A haziness always existed and just outside of my reach was a dark edge that tempted me constantly.
School was tough and it didn’t help that I didn’t have very many friends. I was shy to the point that it affected my school performance. When called on to answer a question, even when I knew it, I would bury my head in a textbook and mumble “I don’t know” and just wish everyone would just leave me alone.
I was bullied in school. Maybe it was because of my size or my inability to speak up for myself, but I became a constant target for ridicule and it wore me down on a daily basis. I hated the majority of my classmates and would plot out ways in my head how I would escape to places I read in my books.
So I endured days and years of being ignored or laughed at or being talked about. I wanted to give up.
I always hear people say how they want to go back and relive their childhood. Not me. No fucking way. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t survive it a second time. It was too terrible and my brain would just splinter into little pieces that would scatter when the wind would blow.
But for him, for my son – I would do it if I had to .
Laughter snaps me out of these nightmares of old.
I stick my head into the 8-year-old’s room and he’s laughing so hard he has to hold his stomach. He’s acting out an episode of Adventure Time in front of his sisters, but he gets it confused with an episode of Spongebob Squarepants and their happiness lifts this room. The 8-year-old cannot stop laughing. He looks up at me and waves and breathlessly updates me on what’s been going on.
I realize, he is so very much his own person. There are no shadows of my childhood lurking in his. And if they even try to wrap their scaly fingers around him, I’ll be there next to him to fight them off.