A Book for My Brother
This Christmas eve, I found myself in clearing-out mode, going through my closet and letting go of the extraneous. In retrospect, this seems a fitting task for the night before Christmas: Clearing out the unnecessary to make space for the new. I wasn't consciously thinking about it that way, but that's what I was doing.
In the course of my cleaning, I found a small book I'd made when I was six years old, under the tutelage of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Sanosi. I remember her with fondness because she encouraged me in my dreams of writing and authorship. Even at six years old, I knew that I wanted to write.
Fast forward to twenty-one years later, and I've written and published two digital books, and completed two additional manuscripts, one of prose, one of poetry. Most significantly, I am living my childhood dream, working as a full-time, freelance writer as of this November. And this dream began all those years ago, with a little book about Willie. This first book is called “My Brother,” and it is fully illustrated with the best crayon drawings I could manage at the time. The text of the book is as follows:
“My brother's name is Willie. We do things together like jump on the bed and wake up at 6 o'clock and wake mom and dad up.
My brother does things alone like read books and play dinosaurs. He loves to play outside. He likes to be alone most of the time. He hates to do his speech lesson with my mom and dad. He hates to be yelled at. I love to play with him sometimes.
My parents spend most of their time teaching him. I go to my freinds' [sic] house while this is going on. He is used to being alone. He loves to line things up outside.
His favorite book is “The Jungle Book.” His birthday is May 10th. He is 5 years old. He has brown hair and blue eyes. He loves to play his Talking Animal keyboard. His favorite room is his room. He also loves his toy stuffed animals.
I love my brother so much I could run through the wall! My brother is one of the best people I know. My next-door-neighbors have a club house. My brother loves it. My mom and dad love my brother just as much as I do.”
On the final pages, there are a few lines that read, in various states of scrawl, “Willie. Willie. Willie” in orange crayon. Beneath them, my mom wrote, “Willie's Printing.”
Reading this book now, these thoughts arise: first, I admire how my childhood self had a distinctive ability to state the facts (as she perceived them) bluntly, in a free-associative way. Second, I can't help but think: My parents are my heroes. (We woke them at 6 am? For fun?) In light of all I know now, I wish I could re-write the final sentence to read: “My parents love my brother and me more than I will ever know.”
Finally, I notice that I wrote about my brother's likes and dislikes, his preferences and personality, without once referring to autism. Though I'm fairly certain I knew the term, I'm glad that I wrote about Willie as a person, not a diagnosis.
Reading this book reminds me of what has always been true: That I have always wanted to know my brother, and that I've struggled with sibling rivalry since day one (who hasn't?). Yet despite my struggles, at the end of the book, what rings out is love.
The final page of the book is written in Mrs. Sanosi's hand. It says, “This book is dedicated to my family, especially my brother, my friends, and my teacher, because I love them.” And this Christmas eve, with candles in the window and tears in my eyes. I can't say it better than that.