The Protector

3 years ago

I was riding the ferry with my younger brother, on our way to see our Mom who lived on an island.  A boy, one with a reputation of being a tough-guy bully kept poking fun at my brother.

I was a shy, little thing.  I never spoke to anyone unless they spoke to me first.  I was meek and anxious.  I sat there, pretending I didn’t hear the bully’s words.

But inside I was seeing red.  My blood was boiling.  My brother struggled most of his childhood with a learning disability and he was always the target of the crueler kids.  The anger and hatred was growing and growing… Until I snapped.

I stood up and pushed him and told him to leave my brother alone.  I think I even swore and called him a few names.  He quickly left us alone.

I was left shaking.  And tears were forming in my eyes.  It was against my very nature to raise my voice and use mean words.  But if there was anything that could make me go outside of that bubble, it was my fierce need to protect my younger siblings.

Last night, that memory from over 20 years ago popped up.

Apparently Corbin was playing outside with his aunt, brother, and cousins yesterday afternoon when a neighborhood child asked, “What is wrong with him?”.

My sister and my niece quickly answered with the correct answer, “Nothing is wrong with him.  He just has something called autism.”

The child replied, “What is that?  Some kind of stupid disease?”.

Corbin has definitely had children ask him about his brother on many occasions and he usually does a wonderful job using it as a teaching experience.  But we all have those days where our limits are already maxed.

Corbin immediately went into defensive mode telling the child to go away and asking his brother to go inside so he wouldn’t hear what the child was saying.  He was in near tears and was convinced the child was being mean to Brian and that Brian would hear it and feel bad about himself.

By the time I had arrived home from work, everyone was calm and my sister had applied all the right words and hugs to subside the hurt feelings.

Corbin and I had a heart-to-heart later in the evening.  His head in my lap, his hands covering his eyes, he told me that he felt angry and sad and that he worries a lot about his brother.  I told him his feelings were okay to have.  That I, too, on different occasions felt sad and angry.  Other times I felt proud, excited, and happy.

He rubbed my cheek and said, “Mom you are never sad about autism.”

This, in itself, made me want to cry as I told him that every day I worried about autism and whether I was making all the right choices for his brother.  I told him that there were days when we had to miss out on things or if I felt like I couldn’t give the boys equal attention that I felt angry.  I told him there were accomplishments that made me want to  burst with how proud I was.  I told him that I wasn’t a superhuman, and that it was okay to feel all of those feelings.

He then told me that he always wanted to protect his brother.

I’ve struggled with this notion over the years.  I want Corbin to live his own life.  I want him to chase his dreams.  I don’t want him to always feel like he needs to be another set of eyes on Brian.  I don’t want him to have to feel responsible for Brian.  I don’t want his childhood to be dictated by his brother’s disability.

But I thought of myself 20 years ago, protecting my own siblings, and I just told him how proud I was of him.  I want him to stick up for his brother.  I want him to stick up for everyone in this world that gets judged simply because of the way they were born.  I want him to stick up against the injustices of the world.  If his innate response is to protect, then I think he’s on the right path.  I couldn’t be more proud.

This was originally posted on The A-Word on The Bangor Daily News.

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