Nearly 20 years ago, I tried to steal my sister's son. Well, steal isn't quite the word. More accurately, I tried to save my sister's son, my nephew.
Nearly 20 years ago, my youngest sister was young, divorced, and had two sons—the youngest lived with her; the oldest, with his dad in the Pacific Northwest. Her life was, to put it mildly, a mess. She was in a drug-fueled relationship with an abusive maniac who thought nothing of beating the hell out of her, of shooting a gun right next to her head as he held her against a wall and threatened to kill her if she considered leaving him.
Which she didn't consider because, as such stories go, she loved him.
She loved her son, too, though, and knew the situation was a dangerous one for the little boy to be in, to witness. So she often asked me to babysit him. Which I did. Often. Little J stayed many a night at my house, ate many a meal with my family, was a welcome part of my family.
One particularly bad time, my sister asked me to have J stay at my house for the night, as Wacko Boyfriend was wackier than ever. She also asked that if she didn't call me at regular intervals through the night, that I come check on her. She wouldn't not go home for fear her boyfriend would come after her, so I had no choice but to agree.
My sister called once, then twice, as she was supposed to. Then no more calls. As my fear and panic became unbearable, I asked Jim to stay with the kids while I went to see if my sister was still alive.
When I arrived, the door of her apartment was slightly ajar. I knocked, I called out, I begged for my sister to answer. Which she didn't. I was scared to go inside, just in case her boyfriend was there with a gun to her head. I was scared to not go inside, just in case her boyfriend was there with a gun to her head. Or worse.
I couldn't bring myself to go in alone, though. So I knocked on the door of a neighboring apartment. An enormous black man who looked much like the linebackers I'd seen on TV answered. Inside were a few of his friends, also similarly large and scary-looking to this silly white girl begging for help in rescuing her sister. After a few fearful glances at one another, the big burly guys agreed to accompany me to my sister's apartment.
It was the scariest experience of my life. I was scared for my sister. Scared of the strangers I asked for help. Scared we'd all be ambushed by a freaking maniac if we went into the apartment.
We knocked. We slowly entered. We tentatively searched the apartment. We found no one.
Then, out the patio door, I saw my sister take off running and jump into a car with her boyfriend. I quickly thanked the linebackers, raced to my car, and took chase after my sister, believing she was being taken against her will.
When I finally caught up with them, my drugged-up sister pointed at me through the window and laughed as the car sped away. The joke was on me. A horrible, heartbreaking horror of a joke.
I returned home devastated, worried about what was happening to my sister. Most of all I was worried about what might eventually happen to my nephew. So when my sister called the next day, acting as if nothing had happened, as if she could just drop by and pick up her son, I told her I wasn't letting him go with her, that I was keeping him until she straightened her life out.
Surprisingly, there was no resistance from her.
Then, as Jim, my daughters, and I—along with my nephew—got ready for church, my sister pulled up in front of my house. With a cop. A cop who told me I had to give J to his mother. My sister wouldn't look at me, just stood by her car. The cop told me he understood how insane this was, but that legally I had to hand over my nephew. That his mother, as crazy as her situation—as she—apparently was, the boy was hers and I had no right to keep him. He knew it was wrong, the cop said, but it was the law.
I surrendered J to his mother. To my sister. Who had seemingly lost her mind.
Not long after that heartbreaking weekend, J's dad came to town to take custody of J. I honestly don't recall exactly how it all transpired, who had contacted him—such holes in my memory being the reason I could never write a memoir—but he came to save his son. Something I couldn't do. He had J's brother with him, kindly brought both boys to our house to tell us goodbye. Then he took them away.
We never saw either of the boys again.
My sister had thankfully pulled her life together several years after losing her boys. She got rid of the maniac boyfriend—after having three children with him. Three incredible children, all pretty much adults now, who are better off because their mom ran and hid and healed. Better off because, harsh as this sounds, their father died in a car accident before they knew the horrors of him.
My sister's contact with her two boys in the Pacific Northwest was sporadic and strained over the years, the pain and lies and misunderstandings too hard to overcome. Not long ago, though, they did overcome them. My sister finally visited, hugged, talked earnestly and honestly, offered apologies and explanations.
That was this past spring. This past weekend, the two boys came to visit their mom and half siblings. A party was held yesterday so as much extended family as could make it would also reconnect with the two boys. Two boys we hadn't seen in nearly twenty years. Two boys who had grown into bright, delightful, funny, interesting, and admirable young men.
I've not yet found the words to describe it. I won't even try.
I will, though, give thanks. Because although time—regardless of what anyone says—does not heal all wounds, it does lead to some level of forgiveness, some degree of grace, some appreciation for the time that is left.
I give thanks that forgiveness was offered. I give thanks for such grace. And, especially, I give thanks for the time that is left.
Who would you like to reconnect with in your extended (or immediate, even) family?