This One’s for Peter Anna Allen
This One’s for Peter
A baby boy, nine pounds, thirteen and a half inches, red complexion, a full head of dark hair, beady, cold, black eyes. Just a baby boy, born perfectly healthy. Mother and Father named him Theodore, after my Uncle Ted. I was five when he was born and instantly hated him, or hated the attention he received from Mother and Father. When they arrived home, he stared at me quizzically. He did not blink or smile or cry. The way he looked at me, it was different; he was studying me. Mother asked me, "Peter, would you like to hold baby Theodore?" I shook my head and went upstairs. I spent the rest of the day sitting in tension. Mother’s voice echoing through the halls "Who’s my baby boy?" again and again. I muffled my head into the pillow, hot, angry tears dripping onto the crisp white bed linens. I heard the front door open and close, looked out my window to see Father walking to the car, probably headed to the store or work. I guess our family just kept going.
Time passed and Theodore retained his hollow expression, didn’t show any signs of emotion. Even when Mother got close to his face and used the fuzzy part of her throat to say "ugga bugga ugga" or other nonsense words, Theodore was stone cold. His black eyes would blink, like a little girl’s doll does when you lie it down, both at once with a clicky noise, robotically. Mother would cross her eyes and stick out her tongue, but nothing. A flat red line, where a smile should have been. Though Theodore was born perfectly healthy, ten fingers, ten toes, functioning muscles, and a completely capable brain, we could all see it: Theodore was not normal. Therefore, I kept my distance. When Theodore needed something, instead of crying, he screamed gut-wrenching screams, his voice would scratch and crack. His face turned purple and it sounded like his lungs might pop. Mother would immediately bring him what he wanted to make the torturous noise end. This noise, along with airy inaudible whispers to himself, were the only times he used his voice. No attempts at words or imitating familiar sounds. He would just crawl around the house, staring at objects. He would stare at books or art or windows or fabric for hours on end. Making the same little whispers to himself, crawling away if anyone came near him. Mother and Father watched over him like hawks. I could see their spirits melting; they were always worried.
Mother’s honey blonde hair was now always tied back in a greasy knot, shoved in a bandanna. Her used-to-be chestnut eyes were now a dull brown, and always glassy. Her overweight body looked as though any moment she might collapse and break into hysterics. Father was worried too, but convinced it was simply a phase. Besides, father and I both had other things to worry about: him, his work, and me, myself. After all, no one else would worry about me. So mother continued to take care of Theodore, basically alone.
More months passed and it was cold again. The day came when Theodore would turn one. Still he had not smiled. On his first birthday, Father took him out for ice cream and then with him to his office. Mother woke up early. She had decided to make a fantastic cake for Theodore. It contained cinnamon, honey, and applesauce. She frosted it with white creamy frosting, and wrote, "Happy Birthday Theodore" with blue letters. Around four in the afternoon, when she was just finishing up, I walked downstairs. She was wearing high-wasted jeans and a red T-shirt with a little hole in the sleeve, her hair tied back as usual. She had white frosting on her nose and bags under her eyes. When I looked closely I saw she was crying. I had never seen her cry before, my body tightened. She looked up at me, startled, "Peter, I didn’t see you there." Her face was gray and pink. She looked old. "Will you empty the dishwasher for me?" I looked at her, looked at my feet, and went back upstairs.
About an hour later I was called down for dinner and then cake and presents. Theodore was placed at the head of the table, with a little birthday balloon tied to his chair. When Father turned off the lights and Mother came out with the little round cake, we all began to sing. Theodore looked exactly the same, not curious or excited. When the cake was placed in front of him, he just stared at it. Most babies would begin to tear it apart. There is a picture of mother and me on my first birthday, framed in the front hallway. I had stuck my entire face in the cake and was covered in frosting, Mother was next to me a toothy smile plastered on her face. She looked radiant. But right now, when I looked at I her, all I saw was deep sadness as we waited for Theodore to stop staring and do something. Minutes passed and Father began chuckling, pretending this was what was supposed to happen. Mother joined him, and together they laughed like they were completely unbothered that their child was too damn stupid to figure out how to act like a kid or make basic interactions. So mother went to get the serving knife. At that moment Theodore let out a scream- purple face, opened mouth, bulging veins, no tears. He made his fat, pale, little hand into a fist and sent it flying into the cake. It fell to the floor along with mother’s glass dish. Shards of glass bounced everywhere, breaking into tiny pieces. Mother came back into the room. She exhaled loudly. Father lifted him out of his seat and that’s when Theodore attempted to run into the living room, something he had never done before. He had his hands on the floor as he quickly moved his tiny feet. I slowly followed after him. Father shook his head and went to get paper towels. Mother breathed deeply and stared at the splattered cake. I looked into the living room to see Theodore crawling onto the couch and trying to half way stand on the edge. The couch faced our brick fireplace. That was when Theodore began to wave his arms frantically and his body started to lean forward. He began his deathly scream again. And it could have been too late, but I saw what was about to happen. I had already begun to run into the room. I stepped onto the couch, grabbed under his armpits, and swished him down and onto my lap. He was breathing hard and his pulse quickened. Then with his eyes watery, his face pale, and his mouth opened and curved slightly upward, he said, "Peee-Ter." My name, Peter. At that moment I saw something in him. A fragment of light hit his black eyes, making them look mahogany. I saw beauty buried in his apple-white skin and shadowy features. I saw my entire family’s anxiety rooted in him, yet in that same small frame he held every bit of our hope. He looked up at me, blinking innocence and curiosity. I looked to the doorway to see my parents, Father’s arm around Mother, both of them speechless and smiling. "Peter!" laughed Theodore. He giggled again, a gurgley small laugh. Then we all laughed and hope spread like tree branches throughout the room. Theodore was here and aware and my brother. From that point on our relationship had changed forever.