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Living With Him, Living Without Him This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I still remember the day Matthew left, although at the time, I didn't know it was forever. I was a timid 11-year-old, and I dreaded coming home from school or soccer practice every evening, because behind the white doors of our seemingly perfect home was my severely autistic brother, and in my eyes, he existed just to ruin my life.

My brother was diagnosed at four. At the time, little was known about autism. Some condemned the environment, others vaccines, and still others placed the blame on mothers, saying they had not loved their children enough. I grew up amidst his antics, crazy outbursts, and completely abnormal behavior, all of which were normal to me.

As a child, I loved having him as my brother. Matthew never teased, played with me all the time, and truly loved me. As I grew up, my feelings about him turned into embarrassment. He would scream in public, make a scene at the store, and strip down naked any time we went near a body of water. He put the class guinea pig in the toilet, jumped from our roof into the neighbor's pool and always ran away on the Fourth of July. Countless shoes were thrown out of bus windows, legs broken and rebroken, rooms trashed, school projects smashed, and innumerable teachers bitten. But he never once hurt me. I like to think he cared about me, even if the best way he could show it was by simply not harming me.

As Matthew aged, he developed muscles without ever hitting the gym, and he got taller. His outbursts became less vocal and more physical. I couldn't have friends over; it was too risky. He broke windows, threw TVs, and even broke his bed in half jumping on it.

Living with him was emotionally draining for my parents, who always had to take him somewhere – whether to school, an afterschool program, or a fast-food restaurant at 4 a.m. – to satisfy his need to get out of the house. Matthew rarely slept through the night. He would creep out of his room, so it had to be locked from the outside.

The day Matthew left for his extended stay in the hospital was not his first time there. He had spent weeks there while his medicine was being adjusted and he was too violent to be at home, but this time was different. The days soon turned to weeks and then months. Five months to be exact. Five long months of my brother living in a locked hospital room, his door guarded day and night.

Sure, they were kind to him, but there's nothing worse than imagining your brother alone every night while you are home with your family. I know I had nothing to do with it, but somehow, being the “normal” sibling made me feel guilty. My life is so much easier than his and so much more rewarding.

Unlike him, I can share my emotions with ease, express myself correctly, and show others how I feel. We will never really know what's going on in his mind, whether he's happy. I have never had a real conversation with him, don't know his favorite food, what he wants to do with his life, or how it feels to be autistic. He'll never take me for a ride in his first car, watch a movie with me, or help me survive high school. Even though Matthew will always be my older brother, I have grown up with him as my younger brother, always making sure he stayed out of trouble, being his helper and protector.

Matthew now lives in a group home with other autistic teens. He's been there for three years. I know this is best for him, and most of the time I'm fine, but there are days when I miss him so much I cry and cry.

Sometimes Matthew comes for a visit, but my friends are dubious that I actually have a brother. It's as though his life has taken a separate path and we're growing further apart. It hurts. Not a day passes that I don't think about him and what life would have been like if he had been “normal.”

I don't regret that Matthew is my brother. I used to think it was unfair, but that was selfish of me. I know that the only person it is unfair to is Matthew, and I am grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful brother. He may not have taught me how to get through high school or where to hang out on weekends, but he taught me patience, unconditional love and trust. Living with my brother was a challenge that strengthened me as a person, and living without him has become a test of my love. Matthew, I love you so much.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

Jack said...
Dec. 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm
I can tell you really love him,
 
tkent said...
Dec. 13, 2010 at 7:49 pm
Your honesty and depth of emotion is incredible!Your reality with the full spectrum of feelings truly touched my heart!
 
schlage said...
Dec. 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm
You're a great writer and you obvo=iosly put a lot into this.
 
Rose said...
Dec. 11, 2010 at 5:43 pm
This is a wonderful piece, with a lot of heart!
 
Gina said...
Nov. 28, 2010 at 12:02 am
This was great! I love the emotion and I can really tell you love your brother. I also like how you've shown more of the side of a sibing of an autistic child.
 
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