I was seven years old when he joined our family. I don't know what his name was or how long he had lived in the orphanage in the Phillippine Islands, but my parents decided to call him Cameron and arbitrarily settled on a birthday of February 28th. He was one year older than me and slightly taller. His left eye was cloudy and swamp-green as the result of an accident at the orphanage. He told us that he was with a group of boys playing "firefighter" when he ended up on the wrong end of the stick (firehose) one boy was using.
This boy radiated joy. The miracle of having been chosen to be part of a family at his advanced age was not lost on him and he bore none of the marks one would expect him to after the life he had lived so far. His smile had been drawn on with indelible ink and stretched from the sun to his soul. I was instantly infected with his enthusiasm and eagerness to learn everything there was to know about life in our family.
The first dinner I remember having with him taught us all a little about what life must have been like for him in a third-world orphanage. Mom was a fantastic cook and made everything from scratch in those days. Dinners were always a family affair, with all of us ramrod straight in our chairs, napkins in laps, no elbows on the table, absolute silence while Dad said grace. Speak only when you were spoken to, no slouching, and eat what was put in front of you. That was easy enough to do since Mom could make magic with simple ingredients, but as we all wound down, appetites sated and restless to be excused so we could go play, we realized Cameron had cleaned his plate. Thoroughly. His eyes drifted toward the last piece of french bread on Mom's plate and his smile dimmed a bit. As she handed him her bread, he took it politely and the 75-watt grin came back out. When he had polished that off, his gaze traveled to each of our plates, respectively, and we gladly handed out our few last morsels of food for him to devour. We had never seen anyone so hungry. We had never even contemplated being hungry before, at least not like that.
Cameron became my brother within minutes of his arrival in our house. He shared a bedroom with my older brother, right across the hall from me and Katy, and just knowing he was there settled my heart a bit in it's cage. We were so similar in age and size, I felt as though I had been given a twin. He was not little and frail, like my sister, and not older and cool like Chris. He didn't need to be protected or worshipped - he was my equal. He could just be my friend. I had a companion, a soulmate, a partner in crime although both of us were too eager to please to engage in anything we thought was wrong. I was so proud to accompany him to school and introduce him to everyone as "my brother". As a bit of a stand-out in our clan, I finally had someone to belong with.