I spent hours with Brian yesterday. I'm not trying to influence him to come stay with us, but I really did want to check in on him regardless of where he chooses to go. He's doing well. I don't mean he's putting a brave face on. I really don't think that's the case. I mean he actually seems to be coping with the death of his mother much better than a kid his age should be.
It isn't preternatural or weird if that's what you're thinking. Brian is, in my estimation, simply a product of his environment and genetics. I've mentioned before how long it seems we've been living in this new world, and it struck me yesterday that to a child, the time since The Fall has to seem like forever. Lifetimes. For adults the change from a world ordered by law and government, regulated by a structured society and an abundance of resources, was stark but understandable. For Brian and many of the younger kids, the world that was has to seem like a distant dream barely remembered upon waking.
Some of this is directly lifted from a discussion he and I had that spanned nearly an hour. He misses his mom, but he went to great lengths to explain that he really was dealing with it. His eyes were not the eyes of a little boy, but the weary (and wary) gaze of a young man who has no childish illusions about the world.
Chalk it up to education--where else but here and when else but now to kids learn long division and how to disable an adult opponent with a pocketknife?--and a lot of time spent watching bad things happen. Brian isn't far off the peak of the bell curve for New Haven kids. He's an outstanding boy in that he is cautious and realistic, but I don't think it's some special quality that gives him his resilience. The grief is there, and real, but it isn't crippling.
I think back to my days at the nursing home, on those occasions when family had the rare chance to sit the deathwatch for one of our residents. Hell, I sat it myself more times than I can recall, waiting calmly for the person in front of me to reach the clearing at the end of the path, as Stephen King would say. We all get there in the end, and while the transition is sad and painful for us, we intellectualize it. We can wrap our minds around it. Adults, anyway.
But Brian is showing us that our perception of what makes a child in the world today is probably wrong in most ways. He saw his family die except for Brianna. He has seen the attacks we've endured just as clearly as anyone. He's not fearless or numb. Brianna made sure to explain to him that in her job as a guard, she was in a position of danger more than most people. Having had the experiences all of us have dealt with over the last few years, her words were no empty lesson to her son.
In fact, the only time I saw him visibly upset was when the alarm bells went off near the end of our chat. He had cried a little when he spoke of his mother, but mostly they were good tears. Memories of all the little ways she loved him, the thousand small kindnesses and whims she catered to. The most vivid, he said, was the day his dad and brothers were killed. Brianna snatched him up and fought through a group of eleven zombies to save her last remaining child.
He remembered how brave she was, and if there was any guilt to be found it was that he became frightened when the bells rang. It was an attack, and the trauma of losing his mother to a zombie made him a little more sensitive than normal to the sound of the bells. He actually said he felt ashamed to not be as brave as she was. I told him that real bravery isn't being fearless, but to feel great fear and to overcome it anyway in order to do the right thing.
He smiled at me and said that Brianna used to tell him the same thing.
Brian is hurting and will be for a long time, but he's not despondent or lost. My heart ached for him, so small and alone for the first time in his life, but I told him how proud I was that he could give his mother such a fitting memorial; to live for her and as she would have wanted him to live. He didn't want pity or to hear how sad we all were for him, and who can blame the kid? No matter how his situation may pluck at our heartstrings, it isn't even in the same universe as the pain he's going through.
He's strong, and made of sterner stuff than any adult I know. If Brian is an example of what the next generation has to offer New Haven and the world, then I'm pretty sure we can't be screwing up completely. I think we'll be in good hands a few short years from now. I hadn't realized how dim my hope for the future had become until Brian shined his light on me.