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Every sweet tooth’s greatest debate; dark chocolate or milk chocolate? To me, the has never been a question to my favorite treat. Dark chocolate.

“You are insane. Dark chocolate is disgustingly bitter and that taste just lingers in your mouth.”

The thing is, I know. The bitterness is the part I love the most. The rich taste of cocoa with that hint of sugar is comforting and refreshing. Intense, but relaxing. Bitter and sweet all at the same time, much like my life.

Growing up with two older brothers in a single-parent household was no easy feat. My mom struggled to find time for all us and support us financially at the same time. My dad left when I was three, so growing up without a father figure was a confusing concept for me. The diagnosis of Autism in one of my brothers, Joe, was not easy either, but we managed and loved him just the same.

Being the youngest and the only girl, my early childhood revolved around me. I was cute and angelic, not to mention super blonde and semi-bald. I was the girl my mom had always wanted. I was the victim when my brother, John, taunted me, though most of the time, I deserved it. Poor-little-angelic-toe headed-Lisa. No one could ever find me guilty.

My oldest brother, John, and I, didn’t get along well when we were younger, but Joe and I were best buddies early on. He was my closest and favorite friend. His health became a big question mark starting early on as he lost his language when he was five. That never stopped the communication between us. As the years went on, Joe health began deteriorating and it was clear to everyone that autism was no longer the diagnosis. Through a period of fifteen years, he went from being the charismatic, energetic older brother to a person who was almost unrecognizable. Constantly having to watch him as he developed epilepsy, scoliosis, and a laundry list of other ailments, I became more like the older sister and care-taker. Being able to watch myself grow physically and emotionally, it was tough to grasp that my brother wasn’t ever going to come with me. The realization that doctors could never give our family a diagnosis past ‘brain deterioration’ was difficult to deal with. Still, Joe remained my brother and friend; nothing could and would change that.

“But did it ever feel as though your childhood was being taken away from you?”

A question I heard frequently from parents, therapists and other family members. Never. I still have extremely fond memories of frolicking in the park, playing tic-tac-toe with sidewalk chalk and hot-lava-monster on the playground, and catching fireflies on hot summer nights. My nurse-like role in my brother’s life, if anything, taught me the valuable lesson early on that the world did not and never would revolve around me. I couldn’t always think of myself and there were many times that I had to take care of my brother instead of going to the park or taking a bike ride with friends. Sometimes I became annoyed when my mom asked me to watch him, but now I am a teenager who can think of others, and not many teenagers can say that.

The years went by and I grew up as Joe became weaker. His whole body started failing. His liver, bladder, and urinary tract began deteriorating. Still, there were no answers. Doctors put him on a constant dose of antibiotics to attempt to prevent infections. The anger and frustration grew inside of me. Why me? Why my brother? Why my life? The happiness in Joe’s gorgeous blue eyes was being displaced with misery. His smile was no longer existent. He became a full-time prisoner to his own body.

Joe’s scoliosis became so bad that it started to crush his organs so a surgery date was set to straighten his spine. His surgery went smoothly and his recovery appeared to be going along nicely. While at a rehabilitation center that he was staying in for weeks, he asphyxiated. On what? No body’s totally sure. Code blue. His heart stopped. He turned blue, and after twelve long minutes of no life inside of him, the doctors resuscitated him. Though Joe was physically alive and his heart was beating, he wasn’t really ever there again. After two and a half weeks of life support, Joe slipped away. Two and half weeks of pain for him and the family. Two and a half weeks of false hope. Two and a half weeks of worry and anxiety. Two and a half weeks of tears and anger and confusion and frustration. He died peacefully. My buddy was gone. Someone who I hadn’t known life without was not a physical part of my life anymore.

Two and half years of shock and disbelief later, I still stand strong. I’ve realized the positive of the situation. He was only seventeen and he should have had so much more life to live, but he is no longer suffering as a constant prisoner to himself. It made me appreciative for my health and the life I live. Appreciative for my mom who had to watch her child die. Appreciative for my other brother who I have grown closer to. Appreciative for the way I would not change a single moment in my bitter-sweet life.

The grief and sadness in my life has made me more aware of the good times I have. Which is why I love dark chocolate so much. There has to be a perfect balance of bitterness and sugar to create the perfect dark chocolate candy bar. If the candy bar is 90-100% cocoa, the taste become unbearable and the chocolate bar goes straight into the trash can. If there is only 20% cocoa, the sugary excuse for a chocolate bar will make my stomach churn. The ideal dark chocolate candy bar is 65% cocoa and 35% sugar. The bitter taste is not overpowering, but it is prevalent enough so you can still taste the sweet. The bitterness makes you thankful for sweet, sugary moments in the candy bar of life.





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Lauryn said...
Oct. 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm
This is a beautiful essay. I was blown away--it's absolutely fantastic. You share such a sweet story with grace and charisma, and also tie it in with a well-executed extended metaphor. I love it! Great, great work!
 
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