As If

Me as younger, younger brother

Those of you who follow my blog are aware that my older brother Michael is autistic, low functioning (formerly known as retarded) and has never spoken. I don’t know how I came up with the notion that I needed him to tell me who he was. Maybe since I was the younger brother, I had no pre-formed ideas about what he should be and was waiting for him to tell. This idea is hard for me to put in to words… An example might shed some light on my thinking: Suppose that Mike was pacing back and forth (an activity he used to do quite frequently) with his hand up to his ear (one of his usual postures) with a half-smile on his face. Where others would say, “See, Mike is happy,” I would not make that assumption. With no access to his inner self, it could just as well be gas as opposed to an emotion, like when an infant smiles one of those, it’s-just-gas smiles, or it could be something totally different. Perhaps my inclination, to refrain from making assumptions was precipitated by some other incident of which I am not aware. Maybe I was born in Missouri instead of New York, but I think I rely quite a bit on literalness. I, myself never learned social cues. I know I was extremely self-conscious and tended to avoid social situations. Since I feel I must be straightforward with people, I assume they will be with me. I learned this is far from the case, socially. At any rate, perhaps it started with my brother, who was alien to me.

Me as an older younger brother

Mike getting ready to hit himself

The Wind-up

When I got older, I found that I could assume some authority with Mike. I still don’t know if he knows that I am his brother, but he does know the role of an authority figure. He knows that the person in charge could unlock a refrigerator door or pantry to give him food, and has no problem taking that person by the hand and leading him or her there, if he’s hungry.


I remember times with my brother Michael when I treated him as if he could understand me. I would sometimes say, “Hey, Mikey, how’s it going?” and pat and rub his chest. The physical human contact was a rare treat for me, and Mike seemed to like it – as if I would know. I thought I felt a callus on his chest when I rubbed. I wouldn’t be surprised, since he would always lift up his arm and haul off and whack himself in the chest with a chicken-wing kind of action. He would hit himself hard. One of his docs said once, he had a touch of Tourette Syndrome. His self-slamming could have been a tic.

A long, long time ago, my younger brother, Mike and I were playing ring-around-the-rosie on a camping trip. I practically had to jump on Mike to make him fall down.

In the 8mm movie Dad took, I can almost make out a smile on Mike’s face – as if he was having a good time.

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