Copyright is held by the author.
MY BROTHER, Lloyd, is 53 today, but mentally he’s about 12. When he was a baby and subsequently a toddler he failed to achieve his developmental milestones. He progressed erratically, crawled late, walked, but only well beyond the age he was supposed to talk. In today’s terms, Lloyd’s mental shortcomings might be more accurately diagnosed using a brain scan or an MRI; however, such technologies are far too late. My parents hauled him around to childhood experts and to doctors who advised that my brother was simple-minded. No definitive diagnosis came from their inquiries.
My parents couldn’t cope. They explained that my brother was retarded and that Lloyd would probably do better by residing with Auntie Jenny in Eastern Canada. She was a wealthy woman who owned a large and sprawling property – wanted to be a martyr of some kind, and fortunately she agreed to take on the task of raising Lloyd as her adopted responsibility although nothing was ever arranged legally.
So they shipped my brother far away from me. The rest of my family remained on Vancouver Island. Being the first born child, I took on the role of an only. I was 10 when Lloyd was sent away. He was six. He called me “Dolly” although my name is Laura.
We carried on without him. I suppose my mother and father tried their best, but I never had a chance to know my brother.
Now deep into his adult years (53 to my 58): I’ve visited him a couple of times.
I went out east to see him about six months ago. Came back after three days. His hair is grey. He favours an untidy beard. He’s not very tall — about five foot five and a little. He looks like a mischievous gnome with misty blue eyes. He’s always grinning and usually affable. Lloyd has a style of declaring that black is white and white is blue or pink or green or whatever colour he decrees is available. He’s fun to be around.
Our aunt just died. Only a few days after the death, Lloyd has been shifted around like a volley ball. At first, he was delegated to the care of the housekeeper and then he was left with a volunteer nurse. Also, about this same time, he received a letter from the income tax agency saying he was allowed to invest $1700 into a registered retirement savings scheme. Lloyd, who had the letter read out loud, was jubilant. He decided he owned the magnificent sum of $1700 and the funds were held inside the bank vaults just waiting for him to withdraw the money, his money. He was going to buy a car! Dreamt of taking driver’s education and becoming a “regular dude”.
I had not yet departed for Halifax. I was still in Victoria, hurriedly packing. So it wasn’t me who finally took him to the bank. Apparently, there ensued much discussion that turned into argument with multiple attempts at convincing Lloyd about reality and to eventually set him straight regarding the allowable tax deferment. He barely understood the financial hokey pokey. I received some strange phone calls, including one with the bank manager. Also with my aunt’s housekeeper, and then with Lloyd.
“Dolly, I want to punch the bank people,” he said.
I knew he wouldn’t. The housekeeper admitted that she’d seen smoke coming from his ears, but here’s the truth about my brother. He forgives. Lloyd can be blustering, silly and annoying. He is also generous, sweet, stubborn, harmless, and many other things, but ultimately he’s an innocent. His soul remains untainted by greed and avarice. He holds a grudge for a few seconds before his incomprehension lifts or his anger melts. He drifts onto another subject, another happiness.
Lloyd has always lived in Halifax. He’s grown up there. He’s grown old there, always with our Auntie Jenny. My parents didn’t have much interaction. They died in a car crash 12 years ago. And now, Auntie Jenny has died too. Today, I’m Lloyd’s only living relative.
I arrived in time to attend the funeral, to settle most of Jenny’s estate and to fetch my brother. I’m escorting him back to British Columbia. We took a few days off to recover from the whirlwind of activity, and now we’re headed west. There are many practical considerations. The arrangements circle around me like a swarm of sand fleas. I’ve had to deal with estate lawyers and probate schedules; government offices. I’ve already accomplished much. I’m alone now — so totally alone. Except for Lloyd. My parents made no provisions for their son’s future without his Auntie Jenny. They also didn’t make any plans for me. I guess I’m used to it.
I have not considered looking after Lloyd. I cannot manage such a chore. I’ve negotiated with the Westlake Care home. This has to be his best solution. They’ve offered a placement as soon as one is available in two-weeks’ time. They’ll take him into their residential program. He’ll have a private room. The cost is astronomical, but Aunt Jenny was a wealthy individual. Her estate provides the funds. I don’t think I have means or patience to be anything for Lloyd except a regular visitor at the care home. He would not do well with me; I’m still working.
“Dolly — I go home with you. I loves you,” Lloyd says. “You make good grill cheese. Jus’ perfect, with those dilly pickles too.”
Well, I suppose that’s good for something. For two weeks, or a little more, I’ll make some healthy meals and offer up some treats. “When your with me, Lloyd,” I told him, “we shall feast like royalty.”
There are many logistics to consider. I’m doing what is best for him and for me. Although he’s managed well enough during our journey across the continent and the tedious lineups through more than one airport, we’re both exhausted travellers. We had a two-hour weather delay in Calgary. Stormy nuisance. Lloyd snoozed soundly in one of the airport’s plastic chairs. I was pensive and moody and totally overwhelmed by my new responsibilities. I have only a few resources to oversee my challenged little brother, and I don’t think I’ve got enough. I suppose. I could opt for an early retirement?
Luckily, the well respected and highly recommended Westlake Home has arranged itself to be the perfect and most practical solution for us both. It’s in Sidney, close to me in Victoria. He’ll be good. He’ll go there.
There’s a carousel installation that is a decorative feature near the departure waiting lounges at the Calgary airport. It’s not a real carousel but a sort of a toy display that tourists and waiting passengers may activate as they pass it by. There are three whirling model planes; two of them are biplanes and one is a chubby-looking seaplane. They twirl around a pedestal. After a number of seconds, the rotation stops until a random person passing by it presses a big red button which reactivates the mechanism. That decoration just annoyed me.
At 6:45 pm, we were finally permitted on board the real airplane. Lloyd studied a Batman comic. He likes the Joker. He buckled himself in five times and released the belt mechanism before he settled down with it secured. I closed my eyes, but did not rest.
When we landed in Vancouver, I hustled him outside to a waiting cab. I had to use much cajoling and good humoured patience before we arrived at the terminal and then we walked onto the ferry. It was dramatically windy. Lloyd laughed like a toddler when we went outside to explore; to watch the gulls, to hear the whistle and to gauge our progress as we navigated through Active Pass. He hung over the rail and studied the sea as it roiled behind the stern. Eventually, I coaxed him back inside. I tried to sleep.
When I awoke, Lloyd was shaking my arm.
“Dolly,” he said — for that’s what he insists on calling me. “Dolly. Did you see that man?”
“The one in the blue jacket.”
“What about him?”
“He threw a big, big bag — a real big red bag right into the water.”
“Don’t worry hon, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.”
“But, there was something in the bag. It was moving!”
“Did you see what it was?”
“Well no, not zactly.”
“No worries. I’m sure it’s no concern of ours. Say, when we get into Victoria, you want to go for ice cream?”
“Can I have chocolate?”
“Thanks million, Dolly, you’re the bestest.”
Was I — really?
Here I was, ultimately refining the final arrangements for his housing, and the order of my tasks to put him aside like nothing much, and not telling him — not telling Lloyd that he was going to a care home. He’d not be staying with me for longer than our initial two week period. I wouldn’t be making him grilled cheese sandwiches forever. He’d have to settle for the institutional offerings.
Lloyd has never lived away from a one-to-one care situation before. I began to wonder how he’d get along in the group home?
When we disembarked from the ferry and grabbed a cab into Fairfield we stopped two blocks from my place. We stepped inside at Burger King, ordered a double scoop of chocolate in a takeaway container. He sighed loudly as he stirred the ice cream. I rested my eyes once again. I poked at some flyers lying on the counter at Burger King, and tried to ignore the piped in TV channel which blared announcements and breaking news. The voice-over audio was about a coast guard training vessel that had encountered and picked up an errant piece of flotsam floating in Active Pass. It turned out to be a large red shopping bag, and when it was retrieved and duly investigated, they found it to be full of cats — specifically six — all of them very recently newborn kittens, black, white and grey. Five had drowned. One pitiful, tiny kitten had survived. They took the poor creature into custody and deposited him at an animal hospital. Everyone involved, including the news reporters and the rescuers were highly outraged over such a despicable act of animal mistreatment. “Who could be so sick, so maladjusted and so cruel that they’d dispose of cats by throwing them into the chuck from the deck of a BC ferry?”
Lloyd was the final witness. He’d seen it all go down. He’d watched the man who had tossed the bag, and he’d reported it to me. Of course, I had not given Lloyd’s scenario a second thought.
I was disturbed by the news for quite some time. I stewed. I fretted. Lloyd did not notice any of my concern. He was enjoying his ice cream. He didn’t pay attention to the broadcast.
I didn’t know whether I should escort Lloyd to the police station and have him repeat whatever statement he might be capable of recounting. I doubted Lloyd could produce a description of the man beyond the fact that the perpetrator had a blue jacket, which he might decide was “pink.” And the bag was red which he might decide was “purple”. I didn’t know whether to haul Lloyd to the BC Ferry authorities? Maybe? Yes or no? Or the coast guard? Or exactly what public or news agency I might get in touch with via phone or text. After a few minutes, I began to tremble. I wanted to protect Lloyd from the limelight and from possible interrogation. It would upset him. He just loves cats and kittens.
I decided to leave it be. I would not react nor report any of it. One half-drowned cat. One itty-bitty kitty against the waves? I hoped this particular kitten, now an only survivor, would recover and ultimately be adopted.
“Hey Lloyd,” I said. “We need to finish eating and get going.”
“Would you like to stay with me or go and live with some other folks at a group home?”
“What is group home?”
“You know, other folks, some people you could be friends with — could do puzzles and games with, and someone to always give you good food, and do other stuff with.”
“But I want to be with you Dolly. I don’t know other peoples.”
“Yeah, I know. But I might not be able to be with you all the time.”
“That’s OK. I loves you. I stay with you. I wait good if you have to go somewheres. I watch TV. I watch until you come home.”
“OK.” I’ve decided then. And I told him this: “At least for a week or two — you’re with me. OK Lloyd?”
I wanted to think some more, to contemplate my choices. I wanted to have a clear direction, but I knew in my heart. I felt conflicted. Something seemed to have flipped or tipped over. I was sliding along on an uncharted path. I felt momentum, got a little dizzy.
I’d have to cancel the arrangements with the group home. I might have to offer up some plausible explanations as to why. And my work? I would retire! Completely? Early retirement was looking bright and cherry every minute. I might have to hire a drop-in nurse just to cover the times of any emergency? I could do without my salary. Pensions would suffice. Something was making me rely upon new instinct.
After all, he is my brother. He’s not my bother. I owe him something. I owe myself a chance.
And then I figured out the real reason — I wanted to really know him. He’s wonderful. He’s my brother. And I decided right then and there.
My apartment is probably big enough to suffice for the first few months. We’ll just see how it goes. At least, this time, I have a choice.
Take that to the bank; I will not tell Lloyd all the details yet. Logistics might confuse him.
I’m rich enough, and I’m OK. I smile secretly to myself. I am not alone. Not anymore. I look at Lloyd and he causes me to grin much wider, like I’m some kind of simple-minded innocent, filled with purposeful resolve. Maybe this is my adoption.