“Was I Really There?”
(The events in this article happened in August 2004, when Kelley was 13 and Tony was 17.)
It was a few years ago but I remember each dragging moment vividly; it wasn’t just a regular sequence of dog day moments strung together by sweltering heat and careless daydreaming. I remember every beep, every drip; every alcohol drenched aroma which once dispersed would frazzle my nostrils. I remember every compressed hiss from the mechanical lungs that kept him breathing, how he seemed like a wax figure bearing all too familiar features. I was doing my summer assignment for my honors English class that was starting in a few weeks, reading the book The Wave. But that was too far off, too many days to get through. I left my brain at the door, not concentrating on absorbing the words in the text, just living from one moment to the next languidly. I was just an automaton, mindlessly scribbling notes about thoughts I wasn’t consciously thinking. All I could really care about at that moment was him. I remember, as my body was going through the motions which my brain was not, how desperately I longed to see him smile or to hear him talk, I wanted to laugh with him. It’s funny how the more you try to listen for someone’s voice, the more it seems to disappear into time and waves, through muddled memories in your head.
My brother Tony walked into the kitchen erratically, his gait crooked and weak, as if he were the Leaning Tower of Pisa, about to topple over any second. It was even more unsettling when he broke the silence with his speech. The attempts at forming coherent thoughts were sloppily executed as they rolled from the tip of his tongue and dropped dead at the floor. His sounds, meaning to form the words “something’s wrong” made my heart palpitate and my blood burn with fear. As I had teased my brain only seconds before, he did collapse. His head knocked against the counter when his knees buckled and tears and spit drained from his face onto the floor. In no time, he was a rag doll. He could hear us, my parents and I, but his only means of communication got to be guttural spasms and the blaze of distress behind his eyes. He was as much of a child as I have ever seen him then, more vulnerable and helpless than an infant. I wondered if he thought he was dying.
I grabbed his legs, the fabric of his pants attempted to evade my vice grip as they maneuvered wryly against his skin, against my shaking hands. Dad had hold of him under his arms and around his torso; his head held listlessly with his chin pressed to his chest. The ride to the hospital is a blur; the situation was hard to digest through the cries and hysteria of my mind. I do remember that, when he was fighting for consciousness, all I could do was drown in my own disbelief and confusion. His body was shutting down, he was becoming paralyzed, and I couldn’t be brave for him. I don’t think I can forgive myself for that.
The Emergency Room acted with precision. They evaluated him quickly, and then determined that in order to conduct the tests he needed safely, that he was going to be put under sedation to keep him from drowning in his own saliva. It wasn’t until almost a week later that he came out of his drug-induced coma. He still thought it was Thursday. It was Tuesday of the next week. I well remember the hollow feeling I felt thinking that he had disappeared from the world for five days, but I can’t imagine having to take that trepidation upon myself.
I know how living with siblings is. I’ve been around enough to understand how difficult they can be. But I can’t imagine myself ever thinking again “I wish I were an only child,” not after this. I can’t help but think sometimes if it really happened. If I was really there. The memories were my own; my own fears and regrets. Somehow, in this world, my fears could come alive. My reality of those moments often intersected the orbit of my parents’ huddled little world, though I have no doubt that my mother tells a much different story. Because of that I can feel how it was real to them, and to some extent, to myself – their tears pulling at my heartstrings, pulling at my brain. Yet, the surrealism was so overwhelming, so nightmarish; it feels too dreamlike to have ever happened. My appreciation, though, that’s what really lets me know how tangible the danger was. Despite how emotion could have clouded my judgment in recalling every tense moment, it didn’t. Those moments always stood, frozen in time, preserved for moments when I needed to be reminded of the things that really matter.
For a while there, I thought I lost my brother, I almost had his life slip through my fingers. I thought I’d never see the way his eyes brightened when he laughed, or have him hug me in his warm, bear-like embrace. Not any juvenile thought will ever make me take the ones I love for granted, not for a second. It’s too important to hold on to them for as much time as possible, before they’re gone.