The 33

Three weeks ago I turned 33. A significant number. Not because I’m getting older or because it is the age of Jesus, but because it is the number of children I once loved and lost, siblings that were never mine and yet were more than blood. These children shaped how I love and ultimately how I learned not to love.

It started with a group of three but centered on one. I never talk about him, my baby brother.

He requires so much of an introduction, and an explanation for my in-your-face affection followed by instant distance. I struggle with relationships, friendly, familial, or otherwise. I preach a gospel of story, of sharing your voice and claiming your identity but I fail to follow my own advice, so this post is not about theology or about recent developments. It is a story of an existence that once was, is no longer, and yet is every day.

I’ve only told two people this story, and one of them is my new therapist.

I grew up as a foster brother, in a foster home. My mother (biological) was a foster mom. Our home received 33 children in the span of six years. I would come home from school one day, and there would be new children. I would come home from school one day, and there would be fewer children. I learned to love in small doses, and to forget in large ones. I am not playing the victim, these children had it far worse than me. What I claim, is a broken heart. One that was not prepared for the experience of such rapid and inconsistent change. One that has yet to mend.

A while back I wrote a short “fiction” story about one of these experiences entitled “Once, I had.”

My youngest brother was the first of these children. He came to us at eight days old, a crack baby, along with two siblings. We were not adequately adept at raising a child who suffered such a condition. We did not know the implications it would have on his life. On ours. I was only ten at the time. We never adopted him, living in a state of limbo of him being part of us, but never officially. He, living in a state of duality - belonging to two families; one that could claim him but did not want him and the other which did but could not claim him.

When he was approximately 16, he was diagnosed with a learning disorder and mental illness. He could not read, his sense of consequences was null, and he was spending his first bout in juvenile detention. I was living in London at the time, having left home almost a decade before for my own selfish salvation. His arrest had me on my knees praying every single moment of every single day. My bible study group was instrumental in keeping me sane. They too prayed for him. Everyone else in my life had no idea this was happening, very few even knew I had a brother at all.

The last few years have seen him in jail, in mental care facilities, and homeless. A cycle of crimes committed, sentencing, time served, hospitalization, release and repeat.

I returned to New York for my goddaughter’s baptism this summer, in between leaving San Francisco and arriving in Atlanta to attend seminary. My brother had been living on the streets since last February, and it could have been perceived as a miracle that he made an appearance. I hadn’t seen him in three years. As I looked into his eyes, I did not know who was looking back at me, the devil or a lost child?

What followed was an incident so unholy that I dare not speak its name. An evil that nailed the coffin shut on his life and turned my heart to stone in remembrance of him.

I shouted “I’m done, I can not help you anymore” and whispered under my breath “God, forgive me.”

I’ve learned to share in chapters, my personal and family story being a telenovela that spans continents and generations. I feel too deeply my mother tells me but I’ve had friends call me crazy and boyfriends walk away when I share my history, and so the fear of humiliation is set deeper than the fear of loss from loving. I end this story here.

Three weeks ago I turned 33. I told no one. Some of my new cohorts here at Columbia found out and forced me to spend time with them. Two days later a fellow seminarian, from South Korea, also had a birthday but he did something different. He told people, cooked a feast, and then invited friends to eat. I asked him why he didn’t allow us to buy him dinner, he responded with the story of his family tradition.
To celebrate one’s parents, family, and friends is the way to celebrate your birthday; you had nothing to do with you being here, but they all did and do {heavily paraphrased}.
The 33, I can’t remember all your names, but I remember all your faces. I remember the times you made me laugh and the times you made me mad. The times you broke my toys or laughed at the way I danced. I remember some of your first steps, your birthdays, and your tears. You shaped me, for the better and very much for the worst. You left me, I do not know how to love fully as I do not know how to be loved. This year I dedicate to you, loving in bits, begging for forgiveness for those I never let in, for those I continue to push away.

Lord, help me.


Recommended further reading: The Child I Didn't Adopt

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The 33 The 33 Reviewed by Christ贸pher Abreu Rosario on 06:07 Rating: 5


  1. Thank you for sharing this... it takes courage to open up especially online. I'll pray for your brother. And for you on your path. :) All the best, Teresa

  2. Miss you Mr Abreu. A brave blog post and I really like the sentiment about birthdays from your friend. Hope we can catch up soon x.


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