On rainy days, they stayed inside.
They stayed inside when it rained. Or when it snowed. Or when it was too cold to go outside.
It has taken me a year to grasp the horror of those words. It has taken me a year to understand the depths of Aaron's agony whenever the dark clouds roll in. It wasn't that I didn't know what happened when it rained: I was aware that they stayed inside. But I refused to consider the reality of those words. The truth was too hard for me to face. I didn't connect the dots.
Aaron tried to tell us.
From the beginning, even before he knew any English, he tried to tell us.
Our little weatherman. Always watching. Forever vigilant. Constantly pointing, worrying, waiting with his haunted eyes. Concerned each time the dark clouds formed in the distance.
I used to think that his anxiety over storm clouds was cultural. I believed that his culture had passed its overpowering fear of germs, sickness and cold on to my son. I thought that he didn't like getting wet because his caretakers had taught him that rain would make him sick.
I thought that he watched the clouds with such intensity because he had learned to do so from his caretakers. I didn't understand his fear, his obsession, with rain and cold.
I didn't see why rain should send a small boy into such sorrow. I didn't grasp why he woke up each morning worrying over what the weather would be that day.
But on rainy days, they stayed inside.
We always focused on the outdoor sheds where we saw the boys so often. We thought that the boredom of life in the sheds was the worst thing about living at Aaron's institution.
But on rainy days, they stayed inside.
Inside, where the smells were strong and the walls were bare and the halls were empty. Inside, where the boys' bedrooms were off-limits except during sleeping hours. Inside, where the 20-plus boys who lived on Aaron's floor were all crammed into one room.
20-plus troubled, challenged boys, ranging in age between 5-18, all crammed into one room.
A room that was entirely empty except for the benches that lined the walls. A room with no shelves, no books, no toys.
A room with closed windows that were set too high for little boys to reach.
A room where a bench blocked the doorway to keep little boys inside.
A room in which there was absolutely nothing to do. All day. Every rainy day.
That room was where the Lost Boys lived when it rained. Or snowed. Or when the bitter cold prevented them from sitting in the shed.
It was a room completely devoid of color, of toys, of books, of television, of radio. One room for a huge mass of unhappy, noisy boys. One room full of chaos and foul smells. One room with nothing to see but the other boys sitting, standing, rocking; one room with nothing to hear but the other boys' moans, their shouts.
Nothing to do.
Can you imagine it?
Boys banging their heads against the walls. Boys biting themselves, tearing at their own skin. Forever scratching the sores on their bodies. Hitting, smacking each other out of boredom.
Do you see?
One caretaker, or sometimes two, trying to maintain order inside a room that is crammed with 20-plus troubled, Lost Boys.
And our own little Lost Boy-- our five-year-old Aaron-- stuck in that room. Struggling with the shock of the transition from his beloved baby house to this institution, which is more like a concentration camp than an orphanage. The agony. The despair for him. Jostled, poked, pushed around by the other boys. Looking out the window-- hour after hour, day after day, month after month. Watching the clouds. Looking for the sun. Rocking back and forth, back and forth on his toes. Looking for the sun. Praying for the sun. Willing the dark clouds to go away. Trying to tune out the chaos around him. Unhappy. Fearful. Worried. Rocking. Praying. Rocking some more.
Longing for the shed.
Longing for the blessed shed.
At least there, he can see the birds. At least there, he can hear the cars. At least there, he can watch the planes fly over. At least there, the boys are calmer. Still moaning, still groaning, still hitting-- but calmer.
In the shed, the air is easier to breathe. In the shed, the cacophony of sounds is muted by the open space.
And if he is good and if the caretaker is nice, then maybe, maybe he can sit outside the shed on a bench and draw in the dirt with a stick held between his toes.
And sometimes, sometimes when things are really going well, they may bring out a ball or two for the higher functioning boys to kick. Sometimes.
But only when it isn't raining.
When the sun is shining in the sky.
When the dark clouds are far off in the distance.
"Mama, do you see? Do you see? Do you see that sun? Look, Mama! No rain today. The sun is good, Mama. It is good. The sun makes Aaron happy. Aaron is so happy, Mama. Aaron doesn't like clouds. Clouds are bad. Rain is bad. Rain is stinky. Stinky. Do you see, Mama? Do you see?"
On rainy days, we stayed inside. Mama, we stayed inside.
Aaron doesn't like the rain.