Great, just great, Kathrine thought to herself, here we go again!, as the screams and the yelling came from the kitchen. Please, please help my family. It was a prayer, one that never seemed to leave her lips these days. She picked herself up from the bedroom floor and quickly wiped away the tears that had been streaming down her face. This was no unusual occurrence; it was rather a cycle, a cycle that had been going on now for what seemed like months. She forced herself to walk into the kitchen and silently braced herself for what was about to come…
Times weren’t always this hard and unbearable. There were times when laughter, happiness, and joy actually filled her home, times when the enemy wasn’t a member of her own household. Every once in a while she could recall these memories, but only when she closed her eyes, because having your eyes open meant that reality, the present, was unmistakably staring you cold in the face. Slowly closing your eyes, however, meant you could, without doubt, go back in time, in the past, in the world full of yesterdays. For Kathrine, closing her eyes simply meant seeing Jacob as he used to be. A bittersweet smile often came to her face when she recalled how close they used to be as siblings. As brother and sister, they had shared a communication and closeness that no one fully understood. Kathrine, being the oldest, looked out for her brother, but her responsibility in itself was altogether unique and different. Jacob, only two years younger than herself, had been born with a mild case of cerebral palsy. As a result when Jacob was only three years old, he was diagnosed as being mentally handicapped. Their mother had been told that he would barely have the mindset of a five year old. Kathrine, however, had hardly noticed. In fact, the only thing she had caught on to at the time was the poor quality of speech in Jacob’s voice and his apparent lack of communication between him and the rest of the family. She would try and teach him a couple of words, such as “hot” by saying the word and let him touch a lamp in order to grasp the concept and meaning of the word itself. She didn’t always succeed in this area; however, in her book, it was the few and rare occasions that she did succeed that made it worthwhile. Looking back, she remembered those times and the times where they were normal kids as well, pushing each other in the backyard swing, chasing each other, wrestling, and the list went on. If only a time machine existed, or if only they had lived back in the Biblical days where miracles occurred, or better yet, if only there was a doctor who could actually help him… These were the only thoughts that existed to Kathrine now.
It was back in the eighth grade when it all began. Jacob was now twelve years old. It was during this time that his behavior began to change drastically. As a child Jacob had always been a little bit on the rambunctious side and kept everyone on their toes with his boundless energy. Whenever Jacob couldn’t get his way, he resorted to biting, hitting, banging his head on the floor. He did this from a combination of being not able to even remotely understand why he was being told no and plus, from all the various combinations of medications that the doctors had put him on. This was different however. Jacob’s energy was now full-blown as he ran through the bedroom hall hollering and screaming. This occurred during the night as well; in fact, Jacob hardly slept anymore. Some nights he wouldn’t go to bed till twelve, one, two, or three in the morning, and then he would raise out of bed no more than four to seven hours later. Her parents hardly got a good night’s rest of sleep anymore. Matters only became worse when Jacob began to go through puberty. Jacob grew taller and became stronger. His anger and frustration also escalated making him all the more violent. Whenever they took Jacob to the doctor, the question of his violence was always brought up. With his head in his hands and a distraught look on his face, her dad would voice the question that was running through everyone’s mind.
“My family…my family…how are we suppose to live like this?” his voice would trail.
The answers were always the same and always left Kathrine with a sense of anger and frustration of the acutest kind; I don’t know, he’s just going through puberty right now; try to wait it out, have you looked into a group home yet? Obviously, her parents didn’t know what they needed to do either. Of course, they knew he was going through puberty, and waiting for it to end spelled out years of misery to her and her family. Jacob was already on the waiting list to be put in a group home; the only problem was that it would probably be up to at least a year before he could be placed in one. Jacob’s violence had now grown to the extent that it took both of her parents and sometimes her as well included to hold Jacob down. The majority of the times, however, she wasn’t allowed to help. Kathrine and her younger brother, Jason, more than once, had to run to their bedrooms and lock the door. There were even occasions when Jacob’s violence got so out of hand that her parents, too, had to go to their room. They would all sit in their rooms, listening to Jacob yell, bang his hand on the floor, slam doors, and throw objects in frustration, and waiting for it all to end. Sometimes, though, it didn’t end, and her parents were forced to go outside of the safety of their room and hold him down until he could no longer hurt anyone and was calm. Tonight was one of those nights…
Kathrine walked into the kitchen. The sight that would normally horrify a person no longer affected her. This was her life. She just stared at the scene through red swollen, glazed eyes. Her brother was lying on the floor screaming and twisting to get out of her parents’ grasp while they tried to hold him down.
Her mom turned around and looked at her, “Hold his legs.”
As soon as Kathrine got into a position where she could effectively hold his legs down, her mother let go. Her mother would usually then hold either Jacob’s head or one of his arms down. This was done for two reasons. The first, so that Jacob would not cause himself as nearly as much damage when slamming his head on the floor; the second, so that Jacob would not try to pull up and bite her dad, and from the bruises and bite marks on her dad’s arm, one could tell that this had happened numerous times. This time she held Jacob’s arm down with her knees and used her hands to hold his head down. While all of this was going on, Jacob was still, of course, screaming.
It was only until Jacob’s anger turned into crying that her dad asked, “Jacob, are you calm? Now if we let you go, you can’t hit. Are you calm?”
Jacob, knowing the meaning of the question, responded, “Yeah.”
She and her parents slowly let Jacob out of the hold. Jacob got up and wiped away the tears, but they all knew it was only a matter of time before the cycle started all over again.
“What are we going to do?” “If we don’t do something, somebody’s going to get hurt.” “We can’t keep going on like this.” “Call the doctor.” “Maybe they can change his medicine.” These were the phrases and conversation that could be heard from the kitchen as her parents debated and tried to decide about what was to be done. Finally, a verdict was reached. They would drop Jason over at their aunt’s house, and from there, they would drive Jacob to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, which was an hour and a half away. After a few minutes, they all piled in the van. In less than ten minutes, Jason was dropped off, and then the long night began. The long drive was relatively quite and safe. Once they arrived at the hospital, however, things abruptly changed. Jacob knew a hospital when he saw one. After all, he had visited these places several times in the past as a child. Jacob fussed a little, but fortunately for her and her parents, he went in anyway. Once they were called into the back room, the outburst began all over again. A nurse who was walking by, witnessing the incident, asked her parents if they needed help. Her parents gladly accepted the assistance. Within a few minutes, Jacob was calmed.
After describing Jacob’s problem to the doctor, Jacob was admitted to the hospital for observation. Kathrine and her parents led Jacob up to his room that night. Even though they all knew that it was for the best for Jacob to be there, it still did not take away their anguish and grief over the situation. Jacob himself, once he saw he was there to stay, was not too pleased with the circumstances either. He threw yet another fit. Only this time, in this particular instance, Kathrine witnessed not only anger, but also sadness, a certain grief, that consumed them all. Tears began to pour from Jacob’s eyes, and a deep cry came from his voice. Her dad gently rubbed his hand across Jacob’s forehead. Her mom’s eyes slowly began to fill with tears. The scene tore and nagged at Kathrine’s heart. Why? Just why couldn’t he understand? I don’t get it, Lord. Why can’t he see what he’s doing to us? Why does he have to be like this? These were only a few of the questions that Kathrine pondered as she, too, began to cry deep inside her heart. It was a soft mourning over the brother whom she felt so estranged to, over the brother whom she feared she would fear forever, over the brother whom she felt she had somewhat lost forever…
After about a week, Jacob was released from the hospital. This, however, would not be the only time Jacob was to be put under observation, or in “lockdown.” Jacob, eventually, was moved to a group home in Albertville, Alabama. It wasn’t long, though, before he was transferred to another group home. Jacob now resides at this group home, known as The Learning Tree, located in Hoke’s Bluff, Alabama, just outside of Gadsden. While there, Jacob’s behavior changed drastically for the better, an answer to his family’s long-awaited prayers.
No one can fully account for the hardship, the heartache, the stress (I spent most days, one summer, sitting by the side of a toilet), and the misery we went through with Jacob. Yet no one can thoroughly account for the blessedness, peace, and happiness Jacob brought to our lives either. Jacob’s laughter was infectious. He loved to dance, making many of us smile and laugh. I am thankful for the lessons Jacob taught us, the meaning of loving someone unconditionally. Jacob taught our family to let go of the small things in life and to embrace life itself. Jacob helped bring me to the field of social work because as I experienced life with him, through the good times and definitely through the bad, it made me realize how much I wanted to help others who were in dire and desperate need as my family once was. The story of our lives with Jacob are intertwined, deeply twisted, and ingrained in a narrative that now plays back to us on a record that produces the voices of angels singing a beautiful, pure melody echoing clearly in the hollow room.
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