Back when Irv first welcomed me into his home 14 years ago, the story of Gordon and his two sisters had "happy ending" written all over it.
Taken by the state from their biological parents back in 1992, they'd spent five years bouncing from one foster home to another -- their hopes for a normal, happy childhood growing slimmer with each passing birthday.
Irv and his wife, Jan Collins, lived in Kennebunkport at the time. Married in 1995 -- he was 53, she was 41 -- they wanted a family but weren't able to have children.
So they decided to adopt. And rather than go through the time and expense of a private agency, they registered as "adoptive foster parents" with what was then the Maine Department of Human Services.
Enter Kathy, 10, Gordon, 9, and Sasha, 8.
They'd recently been entered on Maine's registry of foster children in need of permanent homes. And like so many abused and neglected kids who end up wards of the state, these three came with considerable baggage.
"There were some pretty graphic tales," Irv quietly told me that day. "Pretty awful stuff." . . .
There would, of course, be aftershocks from all that had come before.
Kathy's hands involuntarily trembled when she spoke of "the abuse." Gordon, whenever he participated in play-acting games, always cast himself in the role of an orphan.
One night early on, Jan cuddled with the three kids on the couch to read them "Ann of Green Gables" -- the story of an orphan girl who becomes a foster child. By the time the story was over, Jan recalled, "all four of us were sitting on the couch, sobbing." . . .
And over time, as the child therapists eventually told Irv and Jan that regular counseling was no longer necessary, the kids' dark past mercifully faded into the background. . . .
"He didn't get in fights. He didn't beat people up. He wasn't a bully. He wasn't physically aggressive," Irv said.
But then, around the time Gordon turned 18, things changed. Without telling Irv and Jan, Gordon and Kathy reconnected with their biological mother, who lived in Cornish.
And suddenly, Irv said, Gordon wanted out.
"Part of it was, 'I'm 18. I can make my own decisions.' That kind of puffery," Irv recalled.
Gordon went to live with his birth mother and finished his senior year of high school at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram. He then enlisted in the Army, but received a general discharge after going absent without leave while training for deployment overseas.
Returning to Maine, Gordon moved in with his girlfriend, Christina Henderson, in Farmington. Late last winter, just after Christina gave birth to twin boys Ethan and Lucas, the young parents, two infants and Christina's 3-year-old daughter from a previous relationship moved into a small home in Arundel owned by Gordon's biological father.
Through it all, Irv said, he and Jan heard occasional reports of "anger outbursts" by Gordon as he tried to carve out a life for himself. They saw little of their son, but did their best to stay tethered to him by telephone.