My mum says, ‘Do you want a brother or a sister?’ And I say ‘a sister’. Not long after that my mum brings a baby home and it’s you… a brother. Not the sister I wanted. I’m not happy and I resent you – I’m five.
My dad leaves our family when you’re two and I’m seven. You don’t understand, you’re just a baby. But me? I know what’s going on and I’m heartbroken.
My daddy is my life and now all I have is you and my mummy, and I would rather have daddy. You don’t really have a relationship with him after this.
It’s kind of like you never had a dad. When he comes to visit, it’s clear I am his favourite and I feel guilty and kind of smug at the same time.
When you’re three and I’m eight, you get really cute and I kind of start to like you. I remember mum yelling at you, ‘Hey! Get down from there’ and you turning around and being caught with your hand in the biscuit tin. I think that’s cheeky and that you are super fun, and I begin to think maybe a brother isn’t so bad after all.
As you grow, it becomes clear that you’re different. You’re gentle and my mum tucks your shirt into your pants and pulls your socks up to your knees. It makes me angry and I yell at her to ‘stop treating him like a girl’.
All of a sudden I like having a brother – a boy. Someone to boss around. Someone younger than me. All of a sudden, I like you. All of a sudden I want to protect you and I start acting more like a parent – not a sister.
You’re so little and I’m so tall, I can fit you exactly between my legs and pretend you’re giving me a shoulder ride. Everyone thinks that’s funny, even you, and you cackle like a magpie until tears squirt from your eyes and we both fall on the ground in a heap of giggles.
You have beautiful hair: it’s golden and streaked with white. I love it and am kind of obsessed. I’m 10 and you’re five and I like to play with it, pulling the hairdryer out and teasing it and styling it with gel and hairspray. Sometimes I dress you like a girl, you hate this, but love me so much that you’d let me paint crocodiles on your face if I wanted to.
One day when you’re seven and I’m 12, we’re at mum’s friend’s house. I’m playing chasey with the kids and you’re in the loungeroom watching TV. All of a sudden, one of the kids runs in and sits on your head and farts!
You immediately vomit onto the floor in front of you. We all laugh so hard we can’t stand up. You’re in tears and I feel bad for laughing. But I still laugh and kind of wish you were stronger and didn’t care so much.
You wet the bed chronically until age nine and at some point my mum decides this isn’t right and so off you go to the kids psychiatrist who does a bunch of tests. They come back and say you’re special – ‘Xtra special’. That’s what the pamphlet says that I find in mum’s top drawer.
It says you have Klinefelters Syndrome, an extra X with your XY, making you an XXY. It means you’ll be dyslexic, will grow super tall and might never have kids, which is confirmed later by another test. I’m shocked and scared, because by now – I love you. With all my heart. But it doesn’t make me a better sister, it just makes me wonder what you having this thing means for me.
When I go to high school, I get weird and mean and addicted to being popular. I’m pretty and becoming a woman and I don’t want you anywhere near me. If you see me after school and try to walk home with me, I make you walk at least 5 paces behind me and order you not to speak to me. You still wet your pants and it embarrasses me. The kids pick on you and I do nothing. I’m afraid they will pick on me too.
Mum and I decide you should go to a different primary school, one where you can start again and leave the bullies behind. Finally, you make friends and you have them at home as well, kids who live in our neighbourhood. You’re 10 and I’m 15 and you and your buddies think it’s funny to torment me as I go through puberty.
Our house is being renovated and you can stand on the washing machine and look into the shower. One day when I’m bathing, I hear giggling, look up and see three monkey faces – one of them yours peering into mine. I scream ‘Muuuuuuuum’ and the three of you scramble and run before mum can get her hands on you.
When you go to high school, life gets hard again. The kids from primary school are back and they remember you. Now they are even meaner and you suffer at the hands of their extreme bullying. You’re picked on for having acne, you’re picked on for being taller than everyone else, you’re picked on because you don’t play sport, you’re picked on because you’re artistic, you’re picked on because you are you and it breaks my heart.
I find my voice and it’s now that I begin to stick up for you. I say, ‘you tell those kids they touch you and I’ll break their f*cking face’. I say, ‘what are you looking at f*cktard’. I say, ‘leave my brother alone or you’ll have me to deal with’. When I’m there, they stay away. But when I’m not, they creep back in like hyenas for the kill.
We’re walking in the city one day – I’m 18 and you’re 13 – and a girl stares at your acne making you blush. When she gets close, she puts her face into yours and says, ‘oh my god, that’s so ugly’.
I turn and I scream at her, ‘you want to see what ugly looks like – go look in the f*cking mirror’. I fume and wonder why your life is so hard when mine seems easy in comparison.
Mum and I make another decision around this time, to change your school again. And so, you go off to boarding school in Year 10 to get away from the bullies.
You make a good friend – Dave – and the two of you are inseparable. It seems that this school is a time of peace and even happiness for you. You don’t finish Year 12, and eventually Dave comes to live with you and mum while he goes to Uni. One big happy family.
While he succeeds and scores at school, you continue to struggle. He never judges you, for he is your twin: gentle, compassionate, empathetic. You struggle daily – to find a job, to study, to do anything, so you bury yourself in computer games. I guess a fantasy life is better than the real thing.
You’re depressed. I see it, mum sees it, but you don’t admit it. You’re tough now. A bit burdened by this thing called life and so you struggle on. Your depression allows you to let your teeth rot, to get fat and unfit, to lay in bed all day, to eat too much, to not exercise, to not participate in life. Your depression owns you. You’re only 24. The depression comes and goes – sometimes it’s worse, sometimes it’s better.
As you grow from a boy into a man, you’re gentle nature shines. You are kind, thoughtful, compassionate. You could teach any man a thing or two about what it means to be a man.
You’ve had shit dumped on you from day one, abandoned by your dad, tormented at school, born genetically different, long term unemployed, bad health – but still you try. You get up, you try, you’re knocked down, you get up and you try again. You treat any woman in your life with absolutely compassion and respect.
You treat your first girlfriend at 28 with love and respect – it’s more than she deserves but you can only be you and so she gets the best of you. She moves in with you and mum and participates in your depressive life. It’s all I can do to stop myself from smashing her in the face. She’s only 18. She knows no better. I’m 33 and I do know better.
You’re beautiful, kind hearted and generous and when your girlfriend dumps you, you still look after her. Even when you are living together in your own apartment and she brings boys home. Even when she steals from you. Even when she leaves you with bills to pay. Even when she yells at your family and abuses you.
You never complain, you never scream at her – you just accept it – like it’s your lot to live with. You feel sorry for her and only want what’s best for her – even if it means being miserable yourself.
You never have money but you’d give any bum your last cent. You’re the kind of person I wish I could be – but I can’t penetrate your shell. I try to get close, but it’s hard, you and I are so different that we find it hard to relate.
I say, ‘come live with me and get a job in Melbourne,’ but you don’t want to leave the comfort of the country. I understand and so I try not to push – but rather try to support. I realise, you are you and I love you for who you are. I realise you will come to me when you need me and are ready.
When I’m 35 and you’re 30, I get in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned, alone.You say to me, ‘you don’t deserve this’. You say, ‘you’re beautiful and should be looked after’.
You say, ‘don’t ever think you’re not good enough’. You become my shoulder to cry on. You’re not sure how to help me, but you try and I love you for trying. Because try is all you can do, and I’m failing and alone and sinking.
Around this time you start doing volunteer work with kids. They love you of course, because you are so gentle and fun and really still a kid at heart. They call you Hagrid from Harry Potter and you like that because you love the fantastical in life. You decide you want to go back to uni – to finish school and to become a teacher.
We are all thrilled and so excited for you and your future. By now, I’m 37 and you’re 32. I’m out the other side of my black period and happy with life. You seem inspired. You go to the doctor and get antidepressants, to make sure you are fully capable of doing your degree. We are so proud.
And so, the day after my 38th birthday, when you are a power number 33… it happens.
The phone call I have been dreading, that you have collapsed, that your health has finally given in. This time it’s your heart. That big, beautiful heart of yours. It just stopped, failed you, conked out, zippo – heart attack right in the middle of a class at uni. You collapse, your 6ft4 frame crashes from the chair you are sitting in, you hit your head, cut yourself badly.
People rush to you, they start CPR, call 000, the ambulance arrives quickly and they work on you. They get your heart going but you’re so big and so it takes time to get you from the small classroom, down the stairs and through the school to the ambulance.
By the time you get to hospital, it’s been an hour and your poor brain has been starved of oxygen. You’re put on life support, and tubes are put into every part of your body. They stick a big tube down your throat to help you breathe and they put you into a medically induced coma. We are notified and rush to your side.
We can’t believe this is the same boy that we laughed and had fun with two days ago on Mother’s Day. We cry and cling to each other. We pray and beg the universe for a second chance for you.
You’re so beautiful and it’s so unfair. All you ever wanted was a job, to be loved, accepted, understood. But even these simple things didn’t come easily. And so now I wait, for you to wake up, for the future together, I lean in close and I whisper in your ear, ‘I love you little brother. Don’t leave me yet. I need you.’
I massage your hands and feet and stroke your face. I run my hands through your hair and notice how it is still so pretty.
And in this way I learn the lesson that was mine all along to learn. You see, I thought it was you that needed me… But actually it is me that needs you.
My brother; my yin to my yang; my DNA; my blood; my companion; my friend; my confidante. If I could be in that hospital bed and not you – I would do it. I want to scream, ‘it’s not fair – I am the strong one!’ I want to scream, ‘make it me, I’ll take the pain – I can handle it’.
I want everything good in this world for you. And I pray – I pray with every ounce of my being – I pray that you will be healed and that the universe will return you to me once more. I accept you. I love you.
Come back. Please. Come back.
* My brother passed away on Sunday morning May 23, 2010, as I whispered in his ear ‘go to the light – go into the beautiful light’. He was brave and fought for 11 days. We love him and will never forget him. So proud to have been given him for 33 years. So proud to call him brother.
Bronny Fallens: Writer, DJ, classically trained pianist, musicologist, marketing consultant, super single mum and author of the children’s books series My Super Family. I write to cleanse my soul. I sing to free my heart. I laugh to fill the hours. I live in all the moments of the universe. You can find me on Twitter here.