My Puzzle Piece

Brendan flushed it. That was the only explanation. I had it in my Gameboy before he went to the bathroom. He came out way too fast. “Mommmmmm he flushed my gaaaaaammmeee.” I’m mad.

There is no good way to explain to a 6 year old why he can’t yell at his younger brother for flushing Pokemon Yellow down the toilet. In the end, he yells at his younger brother for flushing Pokemon Yellow down the toilet. “Why? Why, would you do that? It Doesn’t GO THERE?” Growing up there were a lot of why’s. There aren’t a lot of answers.

For the first few years of my brother’s life things were progressing normally. Then they weren’t. The Doctors said it was just a phase, then the Doctors said it was concerning. Then it was Autism. I don’t know what that felt like to hear. To battle for a year, with everyone calling you a quack, or overly sensitive, only to hear what you dreaded all along. That’s what happened to my parents. But I wasn’t in the room. I just grew up. I don’t remember being told Breny was Autistic. I grew up knowing that if I teased my brother, he’d get frustrated. I grew up knowing he really couldn’t read or write very well. Unless he felt like it. I grew up knowing that Breny liked to talk in movie quotes, whole paragraphs of excerpts streaming from his mouth, but maybe he just wanted to be an actor. Actors are weird right? And I also grew up knowing he was the best biscuit stealer in the UK. No O’Leary has never been born to stay out of trouble, and no O’Leary doesn’t love biscuits, and no O’Leary was ever a dummy. So I had myself a partner in crime.

Until I was in High School, I think I probably spent an average of 5 hours a day with Breny. Easy. Once or twice a week my parents made the herculean effort to drag my ass to the football to get away from it all. I loved sports. I was the runt of the liter, never passed 5' 7", always a klutz, and always playing sports. Always. I went to a Primary School where there was an hour of sports a day, but every day at break we’d grab the football out the shed and kick about for another hour on top of that. I was crap. I had no team skills either, I was selfish, and pig headed. I got in fist fights. I knocked a kid’s baby tooth out once. I didn’t know it at the time but I loved it so much, and got in so much trouble because of what was going on at home.

I did try to get Breny to play sports. One big part of autism is that motor skills are usually crap. my brother can write now but the effort that took by all parties was mind boggling. He never really liked sports and got frustrated after ten minutes. Yet another part of Autism is the brain just works different. One day he saw me shoot a 3 and just learned it on the spot. I used to make him beat me to go inside, and of course I kept it tied all the way to then end. However, if he really wanted to go inside… WOOOOP there it is. Bang in, every time.When he does it you can say do it again, and again and he’ll hit it, before he says “Cameron, I want to go inside now” and stomps through the garage. Enigmatic and frustrating.

Autism is hard to describe with anything but the actions of those who have it. Breny couldn’t hold a conversation with you about anything YOU wanted to talk about, I couldn’t make him like sports, but he can go on for days about Lego Disney Batman 3: The Movie. He’s not dumb, he knows how to call everyone in the family in a certain order to play us off against each other if he wants something. Christmas lists are made in September in case he forgets. His birthday is in October but that doesn’t get in the way. Yet at the same time he reads at an 8th grade level and can’t be trusted to live on his own. One time he was supposed to be studying the vacuum of space and we asked him “Why can’t you hear in space?”, “Ughhhh, cuz you got a helmet on?”.That’s critical thinking skills if I ever saw them. There is just no cut and fast rule. Autism definitely makes him worse at so many things. Yet it also just works different than you and I do.

Autism is always there. You stand on the train platform, scared shitless he’ll jump, even though he would never. You know the kids tease him and there’s nothing you can do. For year’s I was his security blanket, his only friend. I love my Brother, but everything with him was so tough. You can’t encapsulate it. Part of it is you just get so lost in his world you forget reality. You learn to mimic Autism in your head, to predict what he’ll do next. You lose connection with other people, No I don’t know what it’s like for your brother to get into a better college than you, I don’t care either, mine can’t go to college.

On top of it all though is the fight for help. Even those who want to help you, don’t know how, and you spend all day fighting with the School district over everything. I remember once they took my Brother’s bus monitor away, and about a month later we got a call.

Caller:“Mrs. O’Leary this is the Principal, your son has been playing up on the bus again”

Mom: “Ah good you’ll give me my bus monitor back then”

Some silences really are golden.

We won a lot of battles. But in the end we lost the war. I don’t think we got Brendan the best help in the world. Too many naysayers, too much feet dragging and budget considerations. He’s in a school in New Hampshire now. When I was 15 Nana died, Breny was 13. Him and Nana were real close. She’d sit there and read or knit and he’d just sit there playing his game or eat his ice cream (DONT YOU GET THAT ON MY RUG BRENDAN!) while the hands on the clock turned around. I’d watch the Sox in with Papa as a kid. Breny didn’t like the baseball, but he liked the ice cream in the 7th Inning Stretch. Most of the time he’d slink off after dinner, and go sit with Nana. I gotta say as I watched Ortiz stroke one over the fence tonight, I couldn’t stop thinking about mint ice cream. Breny used to take his shirt off so he wouldn’t get any ice cream on his shirt. Was more efficient that way you see. I remember sometimes Nana would get the ice cream cones down the drug store too, oh boy did he love those.

When she died he just lost it. He was never violent before then. But not a year later we traded him for the kitchen knife he’d grabbed for a snickers bar. He ended up in a half-way house. It wasn’t a nice place. They held him down and sometimes he still talks about it. It’s one of my saddest memories to know we couldn’t keep him out of there. There was nothing we could do though.

What you realize with Autism is there are battles you just can’t win. I know that every day my brother wakes up and tries to connect with people. He tries to do a job, he wants to go to college. But more often than not he fails. He is faced with the failure of trying to connect with people on the most basic level 10 times a day. And I had to watch that. And I fail to.

I guess what I want out of Autism Awareness isn’t acknowledgment of the disease, or the disorder or whatever it is now. Its Awareness of trying. Autistic people are always trying. Autistic families are always trying. If you can donate a dollar great, if you can donate time fantastic. But if you can donate patience as well, god does that go far. Autistic kids are weird, their families probably weirder. There are good days and bad days, and theres just no safety net there on the bad days. Everyone knows what Autism is and will give you distance, but the best people move closer.

I’ll end on the good stuff though. A fortnight ago we took Breny off his harshest medication. The medication had dulled him, and made him lethargic. So far no problems, fingers crossed, and he seems perkier than ever. He called me the other day. “What’s up scooby duffus?” That’s what I want to hear.

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