Forest Hills Eastern High School
I watch him ascend to the top of the rock wall, the faint smell of feet and particles of chalk dust tickling my nose. My mom stands next to me, shouting praise with every thump of my brother’s hand grabbing another colorful stone on his journey to the top. At that moment, I do not remember it. None of us do.
Thump. We do not remember his unfocused, bouncing eyes– the hundreds of daily “simple partial seizures” plaguing his tiny body, leading to a further diagnosis by a pediatrician that he had suffered a stroke before reaching five months of age.
Thump. My mother does not remember holding the limp infant, incoherent with layered drugs and obscured by wires weaved across his head, being told by the neurologist that her baby boy would have to undergo a hemispherectomy: a massive surgery in which a team of neurosurgeons would enter his infant skull, cut through the corpus callosum, and disconnect and remove a portion of the right half of his brain in order to keep the left half from learning its seizure tendencies.
Thump. I cannot remember being pulled from watching Finding Nemo in the waiting room, and being taken into the room to see him, where he lay motionless in a tiny bed, dry blood webbed across his head. I cannot remember being scarred by the sight of such a breach in nature– the sight of something so innocent being tainted by the smell of disinfectants and the unignorable red caking his hair.
Thump. I know he does not remember the hours and weeks and years of speech, physical, and occupational therapy: teaching him how to exceed the ten-word outlook his doctors had predicted, teaching him how to surpass the limitations posed upon a boy who could only use half of his body, teaching him what comes to lucky children so easily– the ability to play, romp, and roam with no avail.
A victorious clanging rings out from over our heads. My brother is high above us, swatting at the bell above the peak of the wall. We all whoop joyously as he is softly belayed down. The length of descent makes the progress of his climb even more evident. He lands on the padded ground, a goofy smile plastered on his face with a twinkling perseverance in his eyes– the same perseverance I see when he talks about one day playing for the NHL, winning American Ninja Warrior, and inventing his own water park.
My little brother is fifteen now, and some things have changed. He has a man-bun, shaves every few days, and no longer likes it when I kiss his cheeks in public. Like every teenager, the horizons of his dreams have narrowed. However, many consistencies prevail. The same persistent glimmer in his eyes emerges when I quiz him for his biology tests, when he fills out his March Madness brackets, and when he suggests that I apply to any university with a sports record meeting his specific criteria. I see it when he cheers on his favorite teams at hockey games, and when he rattles off NHL statistics, leaving me confused as to how one head could store so much information.
Whenever I feel encumbered by the trivial issues of my own teenage life, I breathe and ground myself, allowing my heart to beat in time with the internalized thumping of my hero’s beautiful right hand on the rock wall. I picture his big brown eyes, curtained with lashes I envy, sparkling with the determination of a person who has already overcome more than most people ever will in their whole lives. I know that if I attack my future with the same persistence and willingness as he does his everyday life, success is unavoidable.