Backstory – Visit to Mike’s School

When I found my journals and other writings, I promised that I would try to see how my memories of today track with what I wrote at the time (more than 20 years ago). I wrote the following after my first visit to Mike at his day school. My recollections prior to finding this story were recorded in the blog entry: Name This Photograph.

The Trip

It was morning. I had to go. The train trip would be no problem. The E Train was familiar, since I had taken it before to go to Mike’s residence. I got off at the stop that the people from the school told me. Normally, I’m nervous about traveling where I haven’t been but I felt pretty good about my chances of getting to Mike’s school, although I had to take a bus too. I made my way from the subway out into the cold. I was looking for some kind of “Q” bus. Things got a little tense, since I did not see one. I walked up one block and back down the other side of the street looking for bus stop signs. At long last, I found a bus with the correct designation. I asked the driver if it was really the one I wanted and he said yes, but that I had to wait halfway up the block. It wasn’t time yet.

I felt the early signs of having to go to the bathroom nagging at the back of my bladder. It was cold, but I waited where he said, shifting from one foot to the other. It seemed like forever before he decided to pull the bus up. When he did, I sat in the seat right across from him, where friends of the bus drivers usually sit to chat. I asked him about my stop and did not really understand his answer. I didn’t want to get him mad, so I just kept quiet and decided that I had to be ever more vigilant. The only problem with that was, with the heightened awareness, my bladder problem was accentuated. It was a long time before my stop came. Then I had to walk. When one doesn’t know where one is or where one is going, even a short walk can seem long. Such was this one. I even had one eye out for a tree. I was in a low-level panic state. There was that nowhere-to-go-and-nowhere-to-hide feeling. I finally arrived at the brand new facility. The electronic eye whooshed the door open for me. I wiped the cold sweat off my face and stepped up to the drive-up style window in the alcove between the outer and inner doors. The receptionist greeted me. When I hurriedly told her who I was, she smiled and said she knew my brother. I quickly signed in and, with a weak smile asked where the men’s room was. Mercifully, it was a short distance away and even with all my camera baggage, it wasn’t long before I was normal again. I appreciated the modern building on my way back to the reception area to ask where Mike was. I was told that I was not expected for another hour.

BV nee Queens

Mike’s Classroom

M___ was the chief counselor. I had spoken to her on the phone before. But when I met her face-to-face she told me, “You look just like Michael. If I hadn’t known you were brothers, I would have guessed.”  I managed a polite smile. I didn’t believe her. She spoke very quickly and I had to walk fast to keep up with her to hear what she was saying. I tried to reduce the flopping of my cameras and camera bag, as I hurried along. She asked me questions about Michael in rapid succession; odd questions such as, “What did Mike like to do when he was at home?” and “Does Mike like you to visit?” I had to admit that I didn’t know many answers. I could just as well have been a stranger.

I got a running tour of the spotless facility on the way up to Mike’s classroom. I looked inside through the open door and saw clients engaged in various tasks, each in his or her space. One question answered: it wasn’t a classroom where the students had to sit facing front with their hands folded on their desks. Mike hadn’t noticed me. He was in the far corner. M___  called to him and he looked up. “Your brother’s here,” she said. When turned in my direction, I saw a kind of chemical change in him. His face twisted in a position that I had never seen, or that I had seen and forgotten. He started to cry. I thought that I had spoiled his routine or made him angry, but then M___ looked at me with her mouth slightly agape and said, “He’s never done that before with anyone.” I was dumbfounded and one of my first thoughts was that she probably thought that Mike was afraid of me and that he was crying because the sight of me brought back memories of childhood abuse. I told her that I really didn’t hit him as a child.  Maybe he was crying because he felt bad for trying to scratch me when I was a baby. (Mom told me that once.). Or maybe he was crying out of happiness.

Evidence – Finally


No matter the reason he cried, after 38 years I had the first evidence that my older brother knew who I was. Actually, all I could really say for certain was that Michael’s behavior towards me did not seem to be a random event. I didn’t want to be guilty of guessing what Michael thought. I didn’t know if he thought at all. I had to agree with M___ though, when she said that there was something else going on inside Michael. She said Michael’s crying showed that he has feelings. I wasn’t up to that point yet. During my later review of all the contact sheets I made from the film I took of Michael, I realized that my initial reaction to seeing Michael after a long period of time was an outburst of a kind as well. I want to draw a parallel between Mike and me, so I can build up a fiction about what goes on in his head, but I just can’t.

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