The story of Peeta

Last week, Noodle turned the exact age Peeta was when we met him. It was kind of a bittersweet moment–on the one hand, Peeta has been living with us longer than with anyone else, but on the other, it reminded me exactly how much life he lived without us. Three years and 23 days, to be exact.

And so I decided to tell the story of Peeta. Get excited–it’s my first blog post in months (I know, I suck as a regular blogger) and it’s a nice story.

It was 2007, and Bucket and I were living in Australia (where we went out to eat all the time and saw a new movie every week and slept late and took regular NAPS. God, it was glorious). We had decided to move back to America because Australia was Just Too Far Away, and we had a six-month window between Bucket having his green card interview and having to enter the country. Normal people would have just flown home, but oh, no. Not us. I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to travel around the world for six months. So we saved up a bunch of money and made it happen. We planned to go to New Zealand and then back to Sydney and then to Bali and China and Thailand and Laos and Cambodia and Malaysia and India and then, Africa. Africa was the wild card. Neither of us had ever been there, and for some reason, it seemed a lot scarier than India. We were wary of traveling around, so I decided we would volunteer. I already sponsored a kid at an orphanage in Ethiopia, so we could go there! I had raised money as a child for famine victims in Ethiopia, and I had always wanted to go!  They didn’t charge volunteers to go, so it would be free except for accommodation! We already knew we would adopt at some point, and this would be good research! Problem solved!

Bucket said no. Bucket was wary of children and Bucket is an engineer, so he wanted to do something like bridge construction. I love children and am not an engineer, so I was afraid of being trapped under a bridge. We compromised: we would sign up to do a one-week bridge building thing in Cambodia, and then we would do six weeks in Ethiopia. Then, the bridge thing was cancelled. I won again!

In order to get him to agree to going to Ethiopia, I had to make a promise: I wouldn’t try to trick him into adopting any of the kids at the orphanage. We were not child shopping. Psh, easy! That would be ridiculous. He had a job in Boston, but we didn’t even have a place to live! We had no idea about health insurance! We didn’t even have any money left to pay for an adoption! Adopting a child would be foolhardy and irresponsible.

And so we went. Had an amazing trip, a few bouts of food poisoning, but no robberies or serious illnesses. We were bumped up to business class on our flight from Dubai to Addis, and as I looked out the window on the flight, I started to cry, looking at the Ethiopian landscape. I should have known then that I was in big trouble.

We arrived, and Addis was sunny and bright and dusty. There was a lot of construction, and our van driver told us that in five years, it would just like a European city (note: it isn’t). We got to the guest house and met the other women staying there and had a coffee ceremony and went out for dinner and the food was delicious (which had been our main concern, having eaten a great deal of mediocre Ethiopian food prior to the trip).

And the orphanage. Oh, the orphanage. We walked in and were like rock stars. The kids climbed all over us, hugging us and showing us all their treasures. The little ones were adorable, and the older ones were hilarious. I fell in love with them all, but not with any particular children (although our friend Marissa and I would occasionally suggest adopting specific kids to Bucket, who did not find us amusing).

Cut to April 1, 2008. Bucket was working in the office when an old woman came in with a small child, and they were talking to the staff. He didn’t think anything of it until he came back after lunch and the boy was still there, wearing different clothes and sobbing. Later that afternoon, he was brought into the room where Marissa and I were singing songs with the kids. He sat weeping in the corner until Marissa tried to pick him up, at which point the weeping turned into screaming terror at the indignity of being picked up by this creepy white-faced creature. She had to put him down and run away.

If you haven’t figured it out yet (really?), that boy was Peeta. He had just turned three. He had just been left at an orphanage by the only family he had left in the world. He clearly had no idea it was going to happen. He spoke no Amharic. He had never seen white people before. He was devastated.

For about a week, he sat on a cement block in the yard, staring into space, speaking to no one. I thought I should try to befriend him, so I would try to talk to him or get him to play. After a few days, he would take my hand, and after a few more, he would let me pick him up. About a week after he arrived, he was sitting in my lap in the classroom, and he was making silly faces at me. Oh, fuck, I thought. I want to adopt him.

I told Bucket. He said no. REMEMBER THE PROMISE? he asked me. Yes, I argued, but I made that promise before I saw this little boy and he broke my heart with his broken heart and then he fixed it with his goofy grin and I HAVE TO ADOPT HIM. Bucket remained firm. Marissa and our friend Kate and I started a full-on assault. He started to weaken.

And then Peeta got sick. To be fair, a bunch of kids got sick. Very sick. Deathly sick. Bucket, Marissa, Kate and I were about to leave to take a trip up north. Before we left, I lay on the floor next to Peeta. I held his hand and told him I loved him. He repeated it back. (I don’t think he had any idea what either of us was saying.) And we went up north and I prayed that he wouldn’t die.

We came back five days later. Peeta was still alive. The kids we thought would die didn’t. Another one did. Marissa and I weren’t allowed into the quarantine room because we’d never had measles. Bucket had, so he went in and played with the kids. And it happened. He started to weaken. Peeta sucked him in and Bucket allowed that we could consider adopting him once we left Ethiopia and it wasn’t all so emotional. (Fact: I knew we would adopt him before we ever left Addis. The weakening on the promise was all the proof I needed.)

After eight weeks in Ethiopia, we left. The place we had been so scared of going had been so amazing that we extended our stay by two weeks. I had to say goodbye to Peeta and the other kids. It was brutal, and I was brokenhearted to leave them. Funnily enough, I was okay about saying goodbye to Peeta because I knew we’d be back.

And we were. Eight months later, after we went to Uganda for two weeks and England for two weeks and I had a massive crisis about whether we really should adopt him. By that point, Bucket was sure we should do it, but I was wavering. And so we spent one last night in Dublin, and I had a pint of cider and it all became clear. We would adopt him. It would be fine. We would love him and he would love us and we would be a family.

And we are. Best broken promise ever.