Melodramatic meanderings on me and my Little brother

25 Aug

It was two winters ago, late 2006, that I decided to join the Big Brother Big Sister program. I’d been toying with the idea for months, but kept telling myself I was too busy, too strapped for cash, had too many priorities…all the lame excuses you convince yourself to believe in when you don’t feel like taking any initiative. It wasn’t until a co-worker decided to sign up and returned from his orientation reporting that some kids were on the waiting list for over two years – two years – that I decided to take the plunge. There was an undeniable need, all the sudden eating at me, and my hollow excuses faded away. I signed up in the early spring of ’07 and waited to be matched with a Little.

During my interview with the match coordinator, I was asked about my preferences in a Little. Age, personality, upbringing, location, etc. I told her I’d prefer an inner city kid, at least ten years old and as outgoing as possible. My match coordinator called about a week later to tell me she found someone. We scheduled a time to meet at the Little’s house. He was 12, his family lived in North Minneapolis and his name was, oddly, Brandon.

My first time meeting Brandon was memorably stereotypical. My match coordinator and I knocked on the door of the shabby house and were loudly yelled at to come in. We stepped in and were greeted by two diapered toddlers with unmaintained afros crawling around the house. Brandon’s mother Barbara, an overweight lady dressed in a robe and a bandanna adorned with skull artwork, and sporting a glass eye (yes, seriously), was sitting on the raggedly brown couch putting corn rows in the hair of Brandon, who was sitting between her legs. We made quick introductions and Barbara told us to sit down. An old, large TV playing BET was perched upon a cheap plastic stand. Piles of papers were stacked on the nearby kitchen table. A couple cats roamed around.

As I cautiously sat on the corner of the other couch, Brandon picked himself up off the floor and shook my hand. Brandon was (still is, actually) a little runt of a kid, under 5 feet tall, with a crazy set of teeth and a perma-grin. He’s got a thick ghetto accent but is smart as hell, especially with numbers. He tries to be a badass, but is clearly still a kid. As we talked, a seemingly endless line of kids – ranging in age from probably 5-20 – streamed in and out of the house. Everyone was yelling. No one seemed to care.

Brandon (“Baldy,” as his mother called him) was outgoing from the start, asking me questions about my job and listing all the things he wanted to do while reviewing the checklist of suggested activities being discussed between the match coordinator and an obviously uninterested Barbara. Brandon and I left a few minutes later to hang out for the first time. When I asked Barbara what time she wanted Brandon home, she laughed and said whenever. Which isn’t to say she’s an uncaring mother or a bad person; she’s not. She’s just got a different philosophy on parenting, which is probably natural when you’ve got about ten kids to look after. It was clear Brandon was trusted to take care of himself.

We ended up at Arby’s (which he’d never heard of), where he told me his favorite classes and animatedly explained the details of one of his favorite movies, “Chucky.” He spoke loudly, and I saw people from other tables stealing looks at us. I took him home a while later, and when we got in front of his house I hopped out of the car to walk him to the door. “You leaving your car running?” he asked me. When I said sure, why not, he laughed and said, “You leave that car alone, man, it’s gon’ be gone.”

—–

We started hanging out pretty regularly, nearly once a week. We got along easily from the get-go, mostly ragging on each other after we got the catch-up questions out of the way. He thought (still thinks, actually) he was the shit, in an endearing sort of way. He’d say hello to a waitress and then brag that she liked him, that he can get any woman he wants, that he’s more of a player than me. We’d go to the arcades and he’d tease me about the one game he won, forgetting about the ten he lost. He’d tell me how great he was at judo, how we won all kinds of tournaments, and I barely believed him until he pulled up results on the computer and, sure enough, the kid is a stud. I’d grill him on math questions, and he’s answer with ease before telling me about a new cheat code he’d found on the internet. I learned about his family – mother, almost a dozen siblings and father long gone – and have to convince myself to not try to be a father figure, that’s not what this was about, to treat him like a kid brother, and that is exactly how our friendship felt from the beginning.

I’ve taken him to Uptown and the science museum, to movies and bowling, but many times we just hang at my apartment, him on the computer, complaining about the boring the baseball game on TV. He met my girlfriend and told me later he was going to steal her from me. He met my buds and was joking around with them from the start. I took him to my parents’ house and within a half hour he was watching Spongebob Squarepants with my three-year-old niece and nephew, the niece perched on his lap. My mom gave him a plastic bag of candy to bring home and he thanked her while clutching the bag like it was going to be taken from him at any moment (choice quote from my nephew when we were leaving “Goodbye, two Brandons.”). You take a chance when you sign up for this program – your kid might be a bad apple or maybe just not fun to be around – but I’d been matched with a good, decent kid.

—–

While I’ve made a concerted effort to never act like his dad, I realized from the beginning I need to provide guidance in my own way. In the ‘older brother’ way of telling him being that dropout on the corner is the least cool thing in the world, that the kids in his neighborhood selling drugs are going to quickly turn into the homeless old men ignored by everyone, and you’ve seen those homeless guys, they’re nothing to up to, they’re getting no girls. I’ve told him that I know he’s had it tough, but his upbringing can’t be an excuse for not making it; a lot of people have had it even worse. I stood behind him as he logged on to his MySpace account and made him delete the naked lady friend requests (he was pretty pissed about that, actually). Tried to make it known his neighborhood should not be the place he ends up, that there are better places to be. Told him how many women are on college campuses, how much money he could make with a degree, how he won’t have to stress out about a cramped house and people stealing his stuff when he gets a nice place of his own someday.

He got it. I mean, he is in no way a perfect angel – he gets in trouble in school, still thinks dating as many girls at once is the way to go, and can’t get enough of videos on the net of street fights– but it’s clear he has a chance. Coming from his neighborhood, where police are trolling the streets 24/7 and a girl his age got shot just two blocks down, in a chockfull household full of one-parent babies and unemployed older siblings, having a chance is the best you can hope for. He’s passing his classes and took 8th grade math this past year. Accomplishments like this continue to amaze me.

—–

For a year and a half, we have gotten together 2-4 times per month. I used to call him from work every Wednesday after school and ask what he wanted to do that night. His house phone got shut off one week, so he would call me from school and tell me when to pick him up. A few months after that, he reported he was going to be moving a few blocks away. He gave me a tour of the new home – his mother was at the stove, cooking dinner of fried chicken and macaroni & cheese, and no, I’m not kidding – which he deemed a vast improvement. We continued hanging out regularly until the beginning of this summer, when his phone was again shut off.

Since school was out, he had to call me from a friend’s phone, which proved difficult to connect since I don’t have my cell phone on me at work and he hates leaving voicemails. We have still gotten together, though it’s been much less frequently, maybe once every few weeks. Which has been fine, really; we’re both busy, and I know he’s keeping himself out of trouble. Last time we hung out, he told me his judo coach had arranged a news station to film a segment about him. He didn’t know all the details, but he asked me to be there. I told him I’d be happy to.

—–

That was about a month ago. I’d been waiting for him to call, but he never did. His house phone was still shut off, and the friend’s house he had called from just rang and rang. I waited a week or so longer, tried calling again, and again got no answer. Sunday I tried again, and Brandon’s old house phone finally rang. A woman picked up on the second ring. I asked for Brandon. “Wrong number.” Can’t be. “Baldy? Is Baldy there?” She assured me there was no one there with that name. The number must have switched over. When I tried calling his friend’s house again, that phone had now been disconnected. I was running out of options.

—–

I’m writing this now because I stopped by Brandon’s house today. I always feel like such a heel coming into his neighborhood wearing my shirt-and-tie threads, so I walked to the door quickly and knocked, trying to ignore the stares of every person who passed the house while I waited. No answer. I walked around to the side of the porch and looked inside.

Completely empty. The bedroom window I was peering into, the kitchen through the door opening: nothing. Brandon and his family are gone.

—–

I’m not sure how to feel right now. I’m bummed out and nervous I might not see him anymore, but I’m reminding myself there’s a chance he’ll call me tomorrow. Families like his move all the time; he’s lived in a number of places already in his 13 years, all in Minneapolis, so it’s likely the same has happened again. He knows my number by heart. I doubt I’ve seen Brandon for the last time.

On the other hand: you never know. That’s what scares me. I have no idea where he’s at right now, and have no idea why he hasn’t called me for a full month; this coming from a kid who used to call me once a week at the very least. I have no idea where Brandon is going to enroll in school in the fall, I have no idea if he’s still within driving distance, I have no idea if his mother has family in another state and decided to haul them out there. Don’t know. It’s shit like this that kills me. Brandon is a smart, engaging, friendly kid with the odds stacked against him. He’s mostly ignored inside a cramped house in the heart of the ghetto, but the kid has a chance. I’m not claiming to be a miracle worker or even the best influence possible, but I think I was helping, and I’m scared that might all be coming to a sudden, unexplained end. I hope I’m wrong.

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9 Responses to “Melodramatic meanderings on me and my Little brother”

  1. AdamBez August 25, 2008 at 11:15 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that story, I hope he’s OK. I’ve been toying with that program for a while too. I think your story is going to push me in the right direction.

  2. Cool Rut August 25, 2008 at 11:40 pm #

    I hope you get that call. What is this salty discharge coming from my eyes?

  3. Keith August 26, 2008 at 9:27 am #

    Thanks for sharing your heart B. I will be praying that you and Little B connect shortly.

  4. Numero 6 August 26, 2008 at 9:53 am #

    Thanks B- You really put my day into perspective. It makes it harder to complain when one realizes that they could have been brought up in Little Brandon’s environment.

  5. roughkat August 26, 2008 at 10:44 am #

    I’m meeting with the match coordinator on Thursday to find a Little. I suggest that everyone else look into it or something similar. Why not???

  6. BreAnne August 26, 2008 at 11:31 am #

    What a sad situation, I really hope it all works out for you.

  7. A.B. August 27, 2008 at 6:39 pm #

    B, I am so sorry. I know a few people who have done the Big Brother, Big Sister program over the years, and it wasn’t until I read your whole story that I remembered the exact same thing happened to a woman I know. She wasn’t as close with her Little as the Two Brandons are, but she saw her regularly. Then, suddenly, the Little and her mother essentially evaporated. Disconnected phone, empty apartment. Several months later the girl called her Big Sister.

    Like you, I believe you haven’t heard the last of Brandon. Be sure you post when he gets in touch.

  8. redsockguy August 28, 2008 at 9:13 am #

    B, I am sorry to hear about this. I thought your “meanderings” were just going to be about how rewarding it was to have a LB. I had no idea about this. I hope you and Little B will get together soon.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. An update on Little B. - World of B - September 3, 2008

    […] those interested in the saga with my “little brother,” I am happy to report he has resurfaced. He and his family moved out of their home a few weeks back, […]

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