I think I took this picture of Mike. Pretty good for a kid, although not the traditional type found in a family album. It surprised me when I came across it among the family snaps. Looking at it with today’s eyes, it captures the essence of my relationship with my older brother. There was this barrier between us. I could see him and touch him if he would let me, but that was all. In real life, it was an invisible barrier, an impermeable membrane. No matter what I tried, there was no way through. Infants have barriers as well, although a baby is involved with his or her environment. All stimuli command the same attention. So even though the barrier is there, it is mushy: one can make one’s self known to the infant, and the infant can make his or her desires known by grabbing, and all different kinds of crying. But the baby is capable of bridging the barrier. Mike never bridged that gap. I know now that it was not possible for him to break through, but then, I couldn’t help thinking that he didn’t want to. God it was frustrating. I think Mike was frustrated too. Since he never spoke, he could not make himself understood except with the tools of an infant. Well beyond the age that toddlers know how to interact, my brother was still grabbing things, crying, and screaming. He would hit himself in the head and bite his hand so hard that he developed calluses. But every now and then he would show his ‘sly smile’ as my mother put it. Was he having a joke on us? Was he enjoying something? Without a connection through the barrier, it was anybody’s guess. It was unknowable. I did like the times when he would laugh when I tried to tickle him. Moments like that should have been incidental in growing up but they are the high points of my good times with him.
Each of us is inherently isolated. For most, interaction is a choice. Communication can often be difficult. Some of us are better at it than others. “We don’t speak the same language,” is a phrase that encapsulates the meaning of a missed connection. We can only get glimpses of another person’s heart and soul, and only when they allow access. I believe now that Michael is not capable of allowing access. He doesn’t have the biological equipment. Luckily, Michael is taken care of by dedicated caregivers. Perhaps he does have some way of communicating that I missed. Nearly everyone who takes care of him told me “Michael is a nice guy.” I probably knew that. I guess I wanted something from him that he just couldn’t give.