His older brother sang to him. Every night before bed. That might sound strange to you. But it was what they did before bed. Singing.
They lived in a foster home. His brother was more than a brother. He was mother, father, friend, guardian, bunkmate.
His brother helped him dress for school, tied his shoes, and taught him to stand up for himself on a playground.
And it was his brother who kept the memories of their mother alive. He talked about the way she used to read stories, make sugar cookies, eat too much ketchup on fries.
His brother was hit by a car while walking home from school. The funeral was small. Only a few social workers, and friends.
The boy was in shock. He quit speaking altogether. He quit caring. His foster parents didn’t know how to reach him, so they sent him to another facility.
He was the youngest in the new place, and found it hard to fit in with the others. He spent time alone.
He looked out his window, remembering the sound of his brother’s singing voice.
One day, a maintenance man arrived to fix a damaged, leaky ceiling in the boy’s bedroom. He was an older man. The kind of man who couldn’t be quiet even if his life depended on it. A happy fella who talked too much and laughed at his own jokes.
The boy liked him. They made fast friends.
For a full day, the man stood on a ladder replacing sections of damaged drywall, chatting up a blue streak.
The boy started talking, too. And once the child started, he didn’t stop. He talked about football heroes, favorite movies, monsters, dinosaurs, fast cars, fire trucks.
About his late brother.
The old man just listened. He listened so intently that his one-day ceiling repair job took three days.
He let the boy help him work. The kid tossed him hammers, drills, and buckets of drywall mud. The boy even helped sand the ceiling. It was the first time anyone had seen the kid so alive.
When the ceiling was finished, the man bid the boy goodbye. He shook the boy’s hand and rubbed the boy’s hair.
He folded his ladder and gathered his tools. The boy watched the truck leave the driveway, and it was loneliness again.
The following week brought long, sad days in his room. Meals without speaking. Recesses without playing. Late nights, humming himself to sleep.
The boy missed his mother. His brother. He missed belonging to someone.
One morning, there was a knock on the boy’s bedroom door. It was the maintenance man again.
Only he wasn’t there to work. He was wearing a necktie and jacket, he had his wife with him.
They discussed things. Important things. The man asked the boy to come live with him. The boy agreed.
Then, the man signed a stack of paperwork.
It took ten minutes for the boy to collect his things into a suitcase. It took one week for the boy to settle into his new life.
It took two weeks to start calling the old man “Daddy.”