Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Two Brothers

I have two brothers, one older and one younger.

My younger brother is one of my favorite people in the world. I mean, I disliked him with all the intensity a sister can muster when we were growing up. But when I left for college, suddenly, we became much closer and we've stayed that way since. He and the mister get along incredibly well. He's basically a fixture at my house. Anytime I cook a meal, I invite him over. Once, I bought a box of ice cream sandwiches while the mister was on vacation, and little brother came over and helped me devour the entire box. We were both sick but incredibly content. He's the person we have check on our house when we're out of town, the person I call if I feel like complaining about something, and the person who can find an inappropriate joke for every occasion.

I adore my older brother, but in a very different way. He has cerebral palsy and is, to borrow the government's hideous term, "moderately mentally retarded." He also has some physical limitations, but over the years he has learned to walk without any assistance and he is pretty mobile. And he is amazing.

When I was very young I didn't know that he was disabled. He was just my goofy older brother and we played and pounded on each other just like my younger brother and I did. Sure, he crawled or used a walker while I ran around, but I thought that was normal. It wasn't until school began that I understood that he was different. He wore a helmet on the school bus and around school but none of the other kids did. He talked funny compared to everyone else. And, I'm ashamed to admit it, I was embarrassed.

The good news is that the embarrassment quickly gave way to a fierce protectiveness. No one messed with my brother. I was sent to the principal's office once. I was in the third grade. I punched a boy on the school bus and made his nose bleed profusely. I didn't tell the principal why I punched the kid, and my father, when he came to the office, said all the right words: hitting isn't okay, use your words, it's best just to walk away. When he walked me into the hallway he crouched down and looked me in the eye.

"Why did you hit that boy?"

"He was making fun of T and was whacking his helmet."

I think it took graduating law school for my dad to ever be that proud of me again.

I have to say that the worst time for my entire family was when my younger brother and I began growing up: we got driver's licenses and jobs and began leaving the nest for short flights. And T was at home. Not leaving. Not growing up. Not spreading his wings. He was virtually trapped at home. There were no sleepovers, or pickup baseball games, or heading to the mall with friends No impromtu parties. No girlfriends. He was stuck. He finally understood that he was different and that he was missing out on pieces of life.

And he lashed out. The yelling, the screaming, the "I hate my life and want to die" statements. Oh, my God, it broke my heart. I cannot even imagine what it did to my parents. He was mature enough to realize he was getting the shaft, but not mature enough to express himself clearly, to say that he wanted friends and prom and Friday nights at the movies.

My parents fought the state to get T help. Eventually a personal care assistant ("PCA ") came into our family and he helped T so much. He functioned as a friend, mentor, chauffeur, and another brother in our house. He helped T achieve a great deal of freedom. I think my family owes this PCA our sanity. The PCA has moved on, but not before helping T settle into a group home a few miles from my parent's house. T will never be fully independent, but he is content. He has a job, he has roommates, and he still has his whole family wrapped around his little finger.

When I was dating, T ended up being an asshole-detector. Some of my dates treated T like his disability was contagious. Some treated him like a baby. Some just ignored him. Those boys never lasted long. The ones that treated him like a friend, the same way they treated my younger brother, they stayed. I married the one man that hung out with T in the garage the same way he hung out with my younger brother and my father; the one that calls T just to see how he's doing; the one that invites T to go see movies or get a burger.

And I adore T. While a part of me will always grieve for what could have been, for the great man he could have been, most of me just enjoys him for what he is. A perpetual semi-child with a great sense of humor, a kind heart, a generous nature, and a serious love for cars.

And I have learned more from him than I have learned from almost any other person. I have learned about courage and faith and honesty, about strength and joy and perspective, and about love.


MOLLY said...

What a great blog entry. I've only met T a few times, but I really, really like him. His energy is so wonderful. He made me smile so many times. He's just awesome.

Devin said...

Awesome post. I worked as a PCA while I was in college, for a girl with CP. She taught me so much about appreciating the small things. Now I'm working in a classroom of kids with severe disabilities. They teach me so much everyday. And, I've been really impressed with the other "normal" kids at the high school- they will say "Hi" or "What's Up", ask the kid what their name is. I thinking having your life touch by someone with a disability is, in some ways, a blessing.