Sometimes, he will ask for a kiss. His voice will sound small and childlike — shallow in comparison with the depths I have heard him reach. As I press my lips to his forehead, he places the backs of his hands over my eyes. He comprehends through his senses, specifically touch. I know that he is feeling my love for him.
I remember the months leading up to the birth of my brother. I desperately wished that he would be a girl. I wanted the same position that my older sisters had. To be a big sister seemed so special. My father had three daughters, but not the son that he so desperately wanted. Our elder brother, my mother’s eldest child, did not share our paternity. Eventually, I warmed to the idea of a little brother.
I remember the day he was born. Mom was bleeding. Panic and urgency was palpable on the air. We were sent to our aunt’s house, and at six years-old I could not fully comprehend the subject matter of the whispers. I was calm, not old enough to know that I should be afraid. At the same time I was really excited. My little brother was going to arrive early, and idea was akin to an early Christmas.
When I finally saw him a few days later, tubes protruding from his mouth and nose, it took only a moment for me to realize that he was too small.
My brother looked a lot like me when he was a baby. We could have been twins if he had been born six years earlier or I six years later. I do not think we look so much alike now.
I remember when he was diagnosed. He was four and I was ten. I used to be upset by the way people stared at him or pointed and laughed. As his big sister, I assumed the role of protector. People looked at him as though he were a spectacle or a conundrum — a problem to be solved or summarily silenced. I wanted to be his sword and shield. It never mattered that he swung his arms around or could not speak like everyone else. I could understand everything he said even when others could not. I still can.
I remember when I left for college — when I left him. Mom told me that he would go to my room and lay on my bed asking for me. When I would video call him, he would kiss the camera dozens of times while saying “hi”, “I love you”, or “cookies”. My guilt produced dozens of the baked goods. He had no qualms about seeing me leave if he knew my return held the promise of more treats.
I do not remember how he so quickly became a 16 year-old boy. He is taller than I am. He giggles at Futurama and vaguely inappropriate Spongebob edits on Youtube. He watches a lot of Harry Potter. He inhales whole pizzas and gets grumpy when we tell him to share. He has an inexplicable hatred towards the number 6. No one knows why. We don’t ask.
He requires a strict routine or else he gets frustrated. He cannot be left home alone. Our inclination to see him as the baby of the family makes us want to coddle him and spoil him. We shower him with all the affection we can because we want to make sure he knows how much we love him.
He can be an annoying younger sibling. He eats my food and moves my things without permission. He plays practical jokes, thinks farting is hilarious, and jumps on my back out of the blue for a piggyback ride. Once I asked him for one. He let me fall to the floor and then laughed. I laughed too.
Sometimes, he makes us take him away, happy to sit in the car for hours and watch the hustle and bustle of the world go by while he takes it all in.
When he does something he is not supposed to, he looks regretful and says “you know better” to himself. I hate scolding him, worried that he will misunderstand the reason for his being reprimanded. He knows what is right and wrong, and is upheld to those standards. We send him to his room to collect himself, not unlike any other parent would do to a teenager. He also needs space from being overstimulated. After a short while, he comes out and we move on.
Sometimes, he gets angry. My family is full of people with tempers, and he is no exception. He yells and raves in a great booming voice much unlike his small, sweet requests for kisses. We talk to him calmly and look him in the eye. His anger is usually sourced in pent up frustration due to a communication barrier. We work through it with him, never once blaming him for the trouble he has with communication. We adapt to him.
He is sweet. When I am upset, he will sit next to me and hold my hand for a brief moment, or embrace me as I struggle to not think about how tall he is getting. His patience seems infinite. He is especially gentle when spending time with his niece and nephews. They are known to him under the monolith “babies” and will remain so no matter how they grow. He is never cross with them.
Autism is part of who my brother is. In loving him, we also love it because they are one. We do not want him to change.
He is not broken or incomplete. He is everything.
The water loves him, and he loves the water. I used to call him a fish when we were younger. He would fill up the bathtub with water and lay back, somehow managing to float. I would help him clean the flooded bathroom floor before mom noticed. Most times, she noticed.
Sometimes, he and I will go to the beach and stand in the water up to our ankles. He can swim though I cannot. He helps me dig in the shallow water for shells. He loves the way the sand runs through his fingers.
Eventually, we go deeper into the ocean, letting the waves bat against our hips. I always leave the water first, calling him back onto the land as we both stumble back to the car with clasped hands.
Sometimes, I catch of glimpse of him in the rearview mirror on those rides home from the beach. The serene expression on his face mirrors my own, and I find myself thinking maybe we do still look alike after all.
(Cross posted from my Medium account.)