This picture is from a home movie. I took it from a TV set after the 8mm was transferred to videotape. The movie was made before 1961, since Mike went to Willowbrook about then. My brother Mike is autistic, low functioning and has never spoken.
I am pushing Mike on the Irish Mail. The Irish Mail was a kid’s tricycle-like conveyance. There was a T-shaped lever that you would push and pull in order to go forward. Michael seemed to like it. I had fun pushing him (the handle would go back and forth by itself if someone pushed).
I always wanted to be acknowledged by my big brother. I wanted to be attended to in a way that was obvious. I am prone to mulling things over quite a bit, and as I look back on the old family snaps, I think, maybe my brother noticed me in an occasional sidelong glance that I couldn’t really be sure of. That wasn’t nearly enough for me, even if I was aware of it at the time. I still long for direct, overt attention even today.
You may notice a bicycle in the background of this picture. If it’s the one I think it is, my parents got it for me. It was a 20 incher. They painted it especially for me, together, as a surprise. It was red. In the middle of each thick, red fender was a fat metallic silver stripe running down the center. I’ll never forget that. They did it just for me.
Some people think I’m insatiable. That is probably true to some degree. I have a sad-sack attitude, which like pre-sour-grapes. I want to gird myself from disappointment, so I think of the most disappointing thing that can happen, and if it doesn’t, I’m ahead of the game. The only problem is, I hardly would know what to do if things did go my way. Mom told me once that her mother told her, “Don’t laugh too much, you’ll only end up crying.” I guess that kind of mishugas (poor transliteration of the Yiddish for ‘craziness’) runs in my family.
Everyone says, “If you think positively, positive things will happen.” I say, “Yeah, sure,” and dismiss this platitude. However, I recently saw something on TV that said the prefrontal cortex is involved in lifting depression if one thinks positive thoughts. I respect neuroscience quite a bit, and I could be mistaken about what I heard. I would appreciate any feedback from neuroscientists out there about the truth of this matter. If that is the case however, it would be devastating. How am I going to change my whole way of being; my approach to life? Well, studies have been wrong before…
Actually, a lot of what I just said was for attention, ha, ha, ha. But I really do think there is an element of truth in it. I would really have to practice every day, until thinking positively becomes a habit… until the first setback.
Enough about me…
The picture below is probably from the late 1990s. I went to visit Mike at his group home with Mom and Dad. I brought my camera equipment as usual, but with an external shutter release. I was trying to show Mike how to take his own picture. The picture shows that he is going along with what I was doing. There was no way he knew that I was helping him take our picture, since I was using a film camera. There was no picture to show him after we snapped the shutter.
It is still sad to me that I have to make up stories about what Mike was thinking in the snapshots and home movies, decades after they were taken. Mom said recently, thinking back about Mike, that he was a lost cause. All we can do is be happy that he is cared for and grieve his loss.
I hope that my blog is helpful to others and that I can cultivate some good through my experiences being with Mike. I want to be able to go past looking and re-looking at the old pictures and mourning the missed communications. I’m probably mourning the person I could have been had my brother noticed me, more than anything.