By Lane Durkin
My family is generally what you would consider a normal family. We occasionally have family meals together, we spend time with each other, and we all support each other. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, there has always been something that has made my family different than those of most of my friends. I’m the youngest in my family, and the second youngest is my brother James. Although he’s overall a happy kid, his life is very difficult. Ever since he was born, James was blind and mute, meaning that he can’t see and he can’t talk. Because of this, he has a tendency to be very loud at times. He cries, screams, laughs, and uses sign language on a daily basis. Because of his circumstances, if things aren’t going his way, such as a song comes on in his headphones that he doesn’t like, he throws a fit until someone comes and helps him. If something hurts or he feels sick, all he can do is scream until we guess what’s wrong, because he can’t tell us how he feels.
My sister Andie, who also happens to be James’s twin, did her eighth grade speech on James last year, and my older brother Drew, who is now at his first year of college at Westpoint, also did his eighth grade speech on James five years ago. However, the way I’ve always seen James is quite a bit different from the way they do. Since Andie and Drew are both older than him, they felt growing up that it was their responsibility to protect and support him. It was different for me. James is older than me, and when I was younger, I felt that it was unfair that I should have to protect and support him: I though James should be someone I looked up to and aspired to be like and that he should be a role model to me because he was older than me. This was next to impossible, because all I could think of when I thought of James was his embarrassing tantrums in public, and I couldn’t think of anything to look up to in him.
Instead of being proud, I was ashamed of him. I was constantly frustrated that I had to be in the family with the “weird” brother. I never wanted my friends to come over to my house, because then they would have to see James, and I was worried that they would think it was strange and not want to come over again. I didn’t want them to see James and associate him with me and think less of me. And the thing I hated most was having to go out in public as a family with him. I vividly remember going in to my favorite restaurant four or five years ago with my family, and sitting in the waiting area with one or two other families. Out of the blue, James started screaming and crying, and making other strange noises with his croaking voice that couldn’t form real words. Other families and kids starting giving us weird looks, and I remember wanting to cover my face and stand somewhere else so the people wouldn’t think I was related to him. I yelled at James to be quiet and then complained to my parents when they weren’t able to calm him down. I was embarrassed to be his sister, and I couldn’t help but wish he was just a normal kid.
These feelings of embarrassment over James faded away over time. Although I would get annoyed whenever he got loud and caused a scene, I was no longer ashamed to be his sister. As I got older, I began to simply wonder what his life and my life would be like if he could see and talk like any other kid. All I wanted was for him to have a normal life. I would go on the family Ipad and search up ways to cure someone who is blind, thinking that some surgery would be able to fix him. On Christmas Eve every year for two or three years in a row when I was around 7 or 8, I would sit in bed and think about how all I really wanted for Christmas was for James to wake up the next morning with his sight and speech restored. Each year I was disappointed with the harsh reality that James would never get to live a normal life like me, and that there was no way to change him. And all this time, throughout all these years, I was still struggling to find something to look up to in James, as I still felt that emptiness in me without being able to connect and look up to him.
This changed one night about a year ago. I woke up in the middle of the night to the loud sound of my parents screaming at my older brother Drew to call 911. I could hear that they were in James’s room, which is right across the hall from mine. My sister and I shared a room at the time, and she sat up in her bed and started panicking. I asked her what happened, and she turned to me and said “Are you stupid? James just had a seizure,”, and ran out of the room.
It was like I wanted to move, but I couldn’t. I felt like I was in a dream, the kind where you are trying to run but your legs just won’t work. I was lying in bed, and I didn’t budge. I just listened to my parents, Andie, and Drew scream at each other to do this and do that. I stayed in my bed, staring up at the ceiling. I couldn’t think. I felt numb and empty. I closed my eyes to try and go back to sleep but couldn’t. I grabbed my phone and texted one of my closest friends because I simply didn’t know what to do. Finally, an ambulance arrived in our driveway, and all of a sudden, my room lit up with red light coming from the vehicle outside. Still, I just sat there, watching the red lights flicker across the walls and ceiling of my room, not able to move. It felt like I was paralyzed, and surprisingly, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I wasn’t thinking about James, Drew, Andie, or my parents. I was just hollow, with nothing inside of me. Eventually, I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I fell back asleep.
The next day at school, I couldn’t focus. I didn’t take any notes in class, and it was like I couldn’t hear the teachers talking. Everything in my head was fuzzy, and I was tired and wanted to go home. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened the night before, and I was worried about James, thinking that maybe he wouldn’t be okay. To my surprise, the next day, James was back at home sitting in the same chair he always sat in. He was just the same old self as he was a few days before the incident, smiling and laughing along to his favorite TV shows. I knew he couldn’t see me, but I was just sitting on the couch, watching him smile and be happy. And that’s when it hit me, the thing I had spent my life looking for in James.
Despite his disabilities and hardships, James is genuinely the most happy person I know. He somehow has found something to laugh and smile about everyday, even after painful and horrible experiences. So I started to try to think like him. On days when I felt like I had nothing to be happy about, I would think about him and how if he could manage to smile on a daily basis, even under his circumstances, then so could I. So if any of you are ever having a bad day, I encourage you to try your best to look for anything, big or small, to be happy about, because I can assure you, somewhere and somehow, there is always a reason to smile. Being happy doesn’t have to mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections. Thank you.