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  • I remember when my youngest sister was born. Or perhaps only my parents telling us of her pending arrival, their successful conception resulting in an addition to our family; a new one of us, another with whom we could share inside jokes, impressions, games, and endless summers spent in aimless pursuit of wonder, adventure and the mysteries of youth.
    We were seated around the dining room table in our two-story blue colonial house situated in the middle of a dead-end street, its cul-de-sac serving as our makeshift baseball diamond in the summer months, its mountains of soiled parking lot snow our sledding destination in winter.

    The three of us children sat and listened as our parents explained what was to happen. I don’t recall the explanation nor the nuances of the moment: their secret smiles, knowing glances and hands clasped lovingly beneath our oaken table, only that, to break the silence and apprehension that had suddenly descended upon the three to become four, I enacted a pratfall out of my chair, feigning over-exaggerated surprise in a manner I had perhaps once seen on television.

    I often fantasized that my life was a television series and that I was the lead actor, descending our staircase, pause and smile winningly at the camera as my name was briefly displayed on my chest, the audience applauding and laughing knowingly at the hijinks that were most certainly to ensue. I don’t recall if this behavior and the pratfall itself were viewed as amusing or troublesome. It simply was.

    The ensuing months passed as they had in all my six years prior: the summer heat causing the sweat to glisten on our bodies as we would trek to the beach several blocks away, our ancient wooden Radio Flyer clattering in tow over the scorched pavement, carrying our bundled beach blanket, garishly decorated towels, and condensation-drenched jug of sickly-sweet lemonade, all in hopes of staving off the unpleasant air about us and finding fleeting relief beneath the frigid waters of the great lake.

    The greatest sadness may be not the loss of innocence, but the loss of summer; the loss of days without care, worry and obligation. To be young is to be blissfully unaware of the world around you and the sadness to come.

    When she arrived, it was not immediately apparent something was amiss. I hesitate to say wrong because there was nothing really wrong; she simply was not like the rest of us and that was how it was going to be. Was and is are not always related.

    She was very small and quiet. I can recall the birth of my other sister three years prior much more vividly: shades of blackish-blue darkness, descending the staircase of our home to find our neighbor waiting to carry us away to the hospital, plying us with a toy space shuttle and tractor in a weak attempt to stave off irrational jealousy at the arrival of our newest member to the club. The moments leading up to and years following are a haze of possible recollections, haunted memories and photographic remembrances; the mind recalls only what it wants to without regard or concern for accuracy.

    The seizures, a new word, the meaning of which I had no idea, naively associating it with homonymic Roman ruler, started when she was only several months old. I cannot recall the exact circumstances of their arrival, nor where we were or perhaps what we were doing at the time. The details become irrelevant in a life suddenly full of uncertainties. What I do remember is that, in the months following, I spent much of my time alone. She was among others. But she too was alone.

    She, too, is alone.

    Being the oldest of now four, I was the only one in school full-time and therefore not allowed to accompany my mother, brother and two sisters downstate to the hospital where they were to stay for some time, far from where I was and could ever hope to be. Catholic school does not approve of delinquency in any form.

    All of this transpired in autumn; rather fitting and overly-dramatic, perhaps pathetically poetic in hindsight. But at the time I was simply left wondering why I was having to spend so much time with people I hardly knew; people from our church who attended my school, yet were years older than I. We’d nothing in common and I was left to play with their cast-off toys in the damp basement of their cavernous home, miles from my own until my father was through with work and able to come collect me. He did so each and every evening as the last traces of daylight slowly left the sky, pale blue turning to purple then red before fading to black, swallowed by the ever-encroaching darkness and confusion. I was never sure what was happening.

    No one seemed to be sure. No one is sure. Questions still linger. Was there someone to blame? Could this have been prevented? What could have caused this to happen? Why her?

    I wondered myself what I had missed: surely I had missed something, failing in my watch as the diligent older brother there to protect siblings younger and inherently more vulnerable; perhaps something small along the way that could have been prevented, could have bettered the course of our collective lives. I had failed. Far more moral responsibility than any six-year-old should ever have to bear.

    In our weakest moments we are reverted to our inner-most selves. I still find myself there sometimes, lost and afraid; alone and wondering what would happen, what would become of us. What will become of us?

    She returned home from the hospital. It may have been the dead of winter, it may have been the early days of summer. I cannot recall. It is no longer important. No one could explain what was wrong; no amount of testing and needles and drugs and observation could provide an answer to a question only we were asking. The hardest answers are to the questions we ask ourselves. There are still moments where we wonder what was rather than accept what is. This is no good for anyone.

    My youngest sister was born. I remember this. I am thankful for this. She cannot speak, walk or function on her own. She has never been able to. She will never be able to. She relies entirely on those around her for her every need: trivial, intimate, essential.

    I wonder what she thinks when she looks at me. There is an awareness of which I am terribly afraid. It saddens me immensely but this is simply how it is, was and always will be. We cannot change who we are meant to be.
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