Oh, brother

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“Throw that out or I’ll throw you out,” said the stern, disgruntled person next to me. Even though it was so early that our car’s headlights would not meet another’s for at least an hour, my brother was still adamant about enforcing the rules on our short journey to swim practice. I took in the aroma of the dry, crunchy Honey Nut Cheerios, mixed with the faint scent of vanilla left over from the car’s weekly wash, and reviewed my options: Throw the Cheerios out the window and go hungry or continue to devour them and risk getting dropped off on the cold, deserted street of East Saddle River Road at six o’clock in the morning. As I begrudgingly poured my breakfast out the non-streaked window, I realized I had provoked this incident. After all, this was not the first time I faced the threat of ejection from my brother’s pristine vehicle. I was well aware of his obsessive need for organization.

My brother, Mike, is like a bomb-sniffing dog. He can detect if someone has been in “his territory” or moved anything, even if it is as little as the ten-year-old Lego battleship in his room. He has the ability to notice the tiny grains of salt in the thin creases of the seats in his car and see the small, sticky drop of coffee left behind in the cup holder. Mike can even tell if I borrowed his iPod since he remembers what song he listened to last.
Although it seems that everything in Mike’s life is orderly, he really is not organized at all. If I were to ask him where he put his iPod, he wouldn’t have any trouble answering, “In my dresser, the third drawer down, in the second compartment on the left.” But if I were to ask him about what movie he bought, for example, he would say the “The Pacific-er” as opposed to pronouncing it “The Pacifier.” Not only does he have a problem with reading, he has terrible study habits. I watch Mike sit down, struggle to open up his books, stare nervously at the page for a while and then get distracted. A phone ringing in a distant part of the house is an excuse to get up and walk around. He eventually sits down and tries again. The vicious cycle repeats itself throughout the evening.
Perhaps all of his attention to the miniscule details is his way to compensate for the mental clutter that he has to wage through every day. My brother controls his environment as much as he can because he has the ability to do so. But he lacks the control needed to focus on homework. Memorizing a list of ten Spanish verbs is much more difficult than remembering the exact location of every baseball trophy on his bookshelf. His ironed and neatly folded golf shirts, perfectly hung on hangers whenever they are transported, are a stark contrast to his messy notes and notebooks. To a person with a learning disability, numbers and letters are real obstacles, met every day with frustration and worry. In the time that it takes me to complete a homework assignment, Mike has started and stopped his own numerous times. His challenges are far greater than mine. I know the satisfaction of managing my time, concentrating on a particular problem until it is done and then moving on. My day is a straight line, with a plan, a beginning and an end. Mike’s day is like a circle; he goes round and round, sometimes backtracking, sometimes stopping, and often feeling like he’s not getting anywhere.

It would be easy for a person with Mike’s issues to quit or to take a less rigorous path. But he does neither. He takes a demanding course load and fights his way through it. He knows his limitations and is prepared to put in the extra effort required. When he needs help, he asks for it, even from his cheerio-eating sister. I admire him for what he does and for who he is. And I respect him for succeeding despite the odds. But I don’t always believe him. I know deep down that he’d never throw me out of his car, even if I dropped an entire box of cereal in it.

Someday, when I am feeling brave, I just might test that theory.





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sunislovely said...
Apr. 6, 2009 at 1:03 pm
Very well written. Love the descriptions!
 
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