I wonder how many times autistic siblings have heard this phrase. Was it just me? I have to admit that when I was growing up, I didn’t hear those words. My Mom wanted me to go out and play with the other kids. I’m sure Dad wanted the same things, but he also reinforced the idea that Mike was my brother, and I was my brother’s keeper. My father thought that Michael was the sick one and had to be helped to get well. This scenario was not a winning strategy. It takes two to tango, as they say but it helps to be on the same dance floor. My Mom didn’t see Michael as ‘sick’ per se. She knew that he was brain damaged and could not function on his own and would not get better. She knew that she had to do something to save the rest of her family from an unmanageable situation. I still can’t understand how hard it was to send one’s child off. I’m sure there is a component of this difficulty when parents opt to send their children to prep or military school, but in general, these kids are ready. Mike didn’t have a clue. About anything. He didn’t know what was going on. How terrible it was to leave him with strangers and hear him crying as we left. We visited quite often at Willowbrook and Mike gradually got used to it, I think.
I grew up, went away to school and dealt with my life without Michael. He was in the background, to one extent or another the whole time. He reminded me to think with kindness on others who were troubled. There was a kid in my dorm who started playing one record over and over again constantly. His dad had to come and take him home. I found out later that he became schizophrenic. I must have been the counter-weight to those who said he was crazy. I just thought it was so sad. My school had the dubious distinction of having several bridges over a couple of deep chasms, into which at least one stressed-out student a year would jump. Especially sad. I’ve been stressed before, and can vaguely understand someone wanting to ‘gorge out’, as they called it, but I never got that darkly unreachable.
It would have been great to have a life of figuring out what is wrong with unfortunate people who can’t function, and fix them. I might actually have been able to do it. But my career never quite took that route.
I frequently visited my father when he was in the hospital recuperating from a heart operation. It was easy for me, since I lived only a few blocks from the hospital. We chatted about things, played chess, and so on. I was getting ready to leave him and he said, “What do you have do leave for? You don’t have anything better to do.”
Was he right?