A few weeks ago, in the midst of a divination (a reading of my spiritual status, based on objects I spread around on a cloth inscribed with nature symbols) by my friend Glenn, he said, out of nowhere, “There’s something about a child who did not get to develop, who got cut off.”
I thought of Eddie, my father’s younger brother, who was born with brain damage, started having epileptic seizures at seven months, and had developmental issues. When he died at the age of 30, he could barely talk or walk, but as a child, he was active, sometimes excessively so.
Recently I interviewed my Aunt Ginny about family history, and I asked her about Eddie. She was five years old when he was born.
GINNY: Because I was the closest in age, I kind of took him under my wing, or I had to, I forget which, but I spent a lot of time with him. One day we went across the bridge to the Grand Central Railroad that passed through our neighborhood. …He and I and some other kids had walked down to this park area and were just doing what kids do, I don’t know. All of a sudden this urge he had to run, to go, explore, came up, and he ran up this embankment towards the railroad tracks. I was running after him, and he started crawling under the third rail onto the tracks. And I ran up there to try to get him, so I put my hands like this to push him towards me and with this hand to pull him out from under the tracks, and this arm hit the third rail. And we were frozen because the voltage was going right through us. But I didn’t know there was a third rail, I was eight, nine, ten, eleven years old. I was just worried about Eddie, thinking a train was going to come and kill him, I’ve got to get him out of there. That’s what I thought was happening, everything shook, this tremendous vibration, I thought, oh my God we’re going to get our heads chopped off. And suddenly it stopped and we were released, and so I pulled him out and we looked at each other, and I had some burns right here [on her forearm] and he had on his fingers because he was on the tracks. So we were walking home and I said, “Oh, I can’t tell anyone about this, I’ll get in trouble.” I forget, it came out, my Dad must have seen the burns…And Dad talked to somebody, he knew somebody who worked on the railroad, and he explained what happened, and he said “I don’t know why they survived.”
My father-in-law worked for years as program director at the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. He pioneered services for siblings of people with developmental disabilities, recognizing the pain that siblings go through. If only he had come along when Ginny was a child. And who knows how a group like that could have helped my father, although he was 15 years older than Eddie.
These days I live for connection. An excitement happens when I connect events distant in space and time but linked by a deep emotion, a subterranean meaning: one event–Ginny and Eddie frozen on the railroad track; another event–Jack Gorelick starting a sibling support group; the link–Sparrow marrying me; the catalyst for finding it–a flash in the mind of a diviner.