“I remember when he walked out of his house. It was a humid, Sunday afternoon in August, and the steam from a fast moving Southern thunderstorm drifted towards the sky. His smile was as bright as the reflection of the sun off the lingering raindrops. ‘Hi, I’m Martin! Thank you for taking me to church with y’all!’
My husband, Jay, and I both smiled, welcoming him as he slid into the back seat with Andrew. Andrew was 12 at the time, and was my son from a previous marriage. We all happily chattered together on the short drive to our church’s Sunday night youth group program which Jay and I supported. A mutual friend had invited Martin to attend, but he needed a ride to and from church.
Martin and his identical twin, Victor, were 15. Victor decided not to join us that evening, so that first time it was just Martin. Upon returning him home after our youth event, we shared our phone numbers with him, letting him know if he needed anything, to just text or call. He warmly smiled, thanked us, climbed the steps to his home, and disappeared behind the door. ‘What a sweetheart,’ I said as we backed out of the driveway. It was evident no adults were home, although Martin never disclosed the truth hidden behind the very front door he slipped through as we drove away.
As the week progressed, Martin did indeed contact both Jay and me. He texted and called a few times and asked if we could take him back to youth group again. Another week came and went, and Victor finally emerged from the home, also wishing for us to take him to our youth group. It didn’t take long for us to not only completely adore them but also to realize some things weren’t quite right in their home. However, they were bright, well-spoken, courteous, and exceptionally mannered. We could see shadows of sadness and even despair every once and a while over them, especially in Victor.
Weeks turned to months, and the boys became regulars at church on Sunday nights. They both also never hesitated to call us several times a week, asking for support with their school work. They didn’t have a printer to use, and they never seemed to have adequate school supplies. They both were enrolled in Honors, AIG, and AP classes and programs and needed extra assistance they seemed to be lacking. Again, they didn’t exactly complain, but it was obvious that there was a deficit of supervision, support, and most of all, love.
Here is an ugly little truth in our society though: millions of children are in crisis, but our social support programs are lacking. As a teacher, I see it every day. There is almost nothing that can be done. A child has to be in an extreme situation for the slightest attention to be given, and so often, by that time, it’s too late. So, what can you do? Report what you can, hope someone from the system does the right thing, give love, and be aware of the legal boundaries that exist. It’s a difficult position to be in as a professional.
As time crept along towards Christmas, things became worse for the twins. The absent mother actually returned, only to threaten them. The father, who was also primarily absent, made it clear he no longer wanted to be inconvenienced with the boys. And what made this worse was that these were the twins’ adoptive parents. They adopted them when they were almost 2 years old.
Martin and Victor had been severely neglected by their biological parents. They were taken out of their home by the State. At 22 months old, Martin and Victor were put up for adoption. They were placed in the hands of a couple who continued to neglect and abuse them for the next almost 14 years. And now, we were at a crossroads.
I could share so many details here, but the story is long with some unbelievable twists and turns. Through a series of painful and unusual events, the adoptive father called my husband on December 7, 2012, which was about 4 months after meeting the twins. We had only met the father on one occasion, and he was rather reserved towards us. However, he and Jay had exchanged numbers, and it was this very day that things changed.
‘Jay, do you want my boys? They seem to like you and your wife, and we don’t want them anymore.’
‘Excuse me? What are you saying?’ Jay could barely utter the words, but the father repeated them back to Jay. There was no mistake, they were giving up the twins. After a short conversation, Jay made it very clear in a simple answer that yes, we wanted them. We could not stand by any longer and watch the agonizing effects of the neglect and abuse on these boys. And with that, I drove straight over to their high school and picked them up from the social worker’s office. I was going to take ‘my boys’ home.
They had strict instructions to drop by their house, to retrieve everything they could get before their belongings would be trashed, and then to leave their keys behind. We spent the weekend buying furniture, basic clothing, and toiletry needs; joyfully watching movies; decorating the Christmas tree; and just finding beautiful family time together. They were humble, thankful, appreciative, and kind. But they were also broken. Especially Victor.
‘I don’t understand. What did I do? Why didn’t she love me?’ Tears would well up in Victor’s eyes as he would reflect on the circumstances and the actions of the woman who had pledged to be his mother. There were no answers. Jay and I just listened and tried to tenderly support such strong emotions of abandonment and fear. Several days later, the Department of Social Services arrived on our doorstep to boldly announce they would be retrieving the twins and placing them in a group home until they could ‘age out’ of the system.
‘Wait a minute, what?’ I held my tongue and refrained saying anything that could damage our chances. We were then told that since we were not in the foster system, we were inadequately prepared to accept these boys into our lives. We hired a lawyer to try to protect Martin and Victor, and she shared with us a very fair way to have the boys’ care transferred over to us from the parents.
After much heartache, fear, and anxiety, a district judge heard our case, reviewed the paperwork, and placed Martin and Victor into our care… and all on December 31st, 2012, only weeks after receiving them, and only days away from the threat of permanently losing them into ‘the system.’ And best part? December 31st was their 16th birthday. It was as if God had given them the birthday gift of arriving in their final home.
Oh, the details of all of this, and everything 2013 brought! Such happiness and fulfillment! Through love, bonding, and even a little therapy, the twins made great strides. Andrew was thrilled to have two big brothers, and the twins were elated to fill those shoes. They had never been fishing, so we went! They had never been to the beach, so we went! They had never been to the mountains, so we went! And for good measure, we even delighted on a cruise for our first Thanksgiving together!
Eleven days after returning from our cruise, and only 4 days after celebrating our first ‘Happy Gotcha Day,’ Victor came home from one of his high school wrestling matches. As always, he had won. He was one of the most disciplined and successful wrestlers, and he was only a junior. ‘Mom, I don’t feel so good. And these things in my neck are bothering me.’ I felt his neck to find several enlarged lymph nodes. Victor was the epitome of health, but seemed to be bothered by sinus infections a little too often. The next day, I took him to the doctor. She ran some bloodwork and completed a quick exam but didn’t find anything other than a little fluid building behind his eardrums. She wrote a prescription for antibiotics to protect his ears from the impending infection, and we went home.
It’s here I have to pause. Not only is the story prior to this moment so incredibly detailed, but the length of its events only dramatically increase from this night. Victor’s condition significantly declined over the weekend, and by the next Tuesday night, we were hospitalized with him in the pediatric unit at Wake Med.
‘Victor,’ the nurse stated as she hurried into our ER bay. ‘You sir have earned a stay here with us this evening. We are admitting you.’ She disappeared as quickly as she arrived. I bit my lip as I pulled my phone out, readying myself to make the calls to my family. We were separated by more than an hour’s drive, and some of our Christmas festivities were beginning this very week.
‘Mom? So, umm…well, if I’m being admitted, that means I have to stay here, right?’ Victor’s voice was soft, and it slightly quivered as he spoke.
‘Yes, Victor, that is correct,’ I gently answered.
‘So, if I have to stay here, then, um….’ His voice trailed off.
‘Then that means I’m staying here too.’ And with that answer, I heard Victor give a sigh of relief as his tense body relaxed into his hospital bed. It was at that moment I was reminded of the years of disappointment, fear, and abandonment these two boys had endured. No more. No. Those days were over.
The days passed as multiple tests were run. Finally, the doctors ordered a brain MRI. It was a crisp and beautiful December morning, only days before Christmas. Within moments of Victor returning from the test, three doctors, all wearing their bleached white coats, solemnly filed into the room, one-by-one.
You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. I knew whatever the news was, it wasn’t good. Victor’s nurse quietly came in and stood by his bed, rubbing his shoulder. Jay was in the hard plastic chair that had been my bed for the past few nights. I stood, and walked to the foot of Victor’s bed, my back facing him.
One doctor turned on the in-room computer. ‘You can see here that this is Victor’s brain. Here is his brain stem…’ I felt my insides go numb as I heard the words, ‘brain stem,’ ‘3 centimeters,’ ‘tumor,’ ‘attached,’ ‘transfer,’ ‘neurosurgeon,’ and ‘immediately.’
My heart began to race, and all I could hear was its rhythmic beat inside my ears. I couldn’t look back. I didn’t want to see Victor’s face. How in the world could a child who had been abused his whole life receive this type of a sentence? How in the world would Jay and I begin to pick up these pieces for Victor? For his twin? For our family? I slightly turned my head back, only to see my sweet and strong Victor sitting up in his bed, almost frozen, tears welling in his eyes while one tear leaked down his left cheek.
‘I want Martin,’ he quietly whispered. I stepped up towards the head of his bed, touched his hand, and pardoned myself from the room with the excuse that I needed to make some phone calls. I slipped out into a private hallway and sunk into the wall. I made the first call, then the second, and then the third. I had to call the high school and find a way to tell Martin. His brother needed him.
The story only lengthens here. We battled the repercussions from the tumor removal for 16 months in the hospital. We were sent to three other hospitals following the diagnosis of the pilocytic astrocytoma, the final of these being over three hours away from our home. My husband lost his job, while Victor lost his sight, ability to swallow, ability to breathe fully on his own, ability to speak, or freely move.
In his last months of hospitalization, the doctors tried to force Jay and me to send Victor to a long-term acute-care facility that was almost 5 hours away from our home. We fought for his rights and brought him home with us. We would not abandon this child who needed us so badly. Since this journey began, my husband has taken on the duties of a full-time nurse (and we are thankful for some precious weekly nursing support) while I work multiple jobs to keep our family going.
In 2015, Victor still graduated from high school with his twin, Martin, by his side. Despite the extreme physical limitations, Victor uses his left hand to spell out his thoughts, and did so to complete his senior year from his bed, and graduated from his AP and Honors courses with a 4.5 GPA.
The story continues, and many details are hidden in the years of pain, but we are still here as a family. Victor has endured approximately 40 surgeries and/or procedures throughout this trauma with some unreal events that have unraveled throughout the years. But when we tell the story of how Martin and Victor came to us, we still smile with tears in our eyes at the extreme joy that we hold close to our hearts. After all, true love endures forever.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura Swope Hottel of Fayetteville, NC. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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