Dear Brother: You Can Count On Me
A warm hand rests on my arm. My auntie gently rocks me and whispers my name; “Your Dad’s on the phone, Queen.”
The room is aglow from the yellow and cream curtains. It’s warm; so warm that my tiny frame has kicked off the covers and I lie only in pair of Barbie knickers. I sit up in a sleepy daze and take the phone from her ever tanned hands.
“Darling, it’s Dad. You have a baby brother.”
My heart swelled. It’s all I’d ever wished for. And from that moment, aged five years old, I made a promise to myself: that I would befriend him, protect him and, most of all, love him with all my being.
The door opens, the camp bed creaks as I turn. It’s a nurse back in to check his Obs.
“Are you siblings? You’re too young to be his Mum.” Yet at times like this, I can’t help but fill that motherly role.
He’s fast asleep and stable; she leaves again. How different from the last time we shared a room: him in his Thunderbird pyjamas, me in my Eeyore nightie, together watching Peter Pan with hot chocolate and biscuits.
My gaze is fixated on my fluffy socks as I mess around with a loose strand. The room is dark, the only light coming from the patio doors, and even the dull sky emulates the mood.
We’ve argued before, but never like this.
How can you explain to an 18 year old that you’re only trying to help, not nag? His face is solemn and his eyes portray the stubbornness we both possess, yet underneath they are red, from the tears. Break ups are tough. He’s been there for me when I have sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of a five year relationship, he has brought me countless cups of tea as I’ve tried endlessly to build a career. Why won’t he let me be there for him now?
With memories on repeat, the journey from the airport to hospital feels longer than any of the flights I’ve been on in the last six weeks.
My footsteps echo as I rush down the clinically clean corridor, my boyfriend in tow. Flip flops, yoga pants and a woolly grey scarf with matching bobble hat; people are staring but my mind is elsewhere. My stomach is in knots. I need to see him, I need to get to him. We finally find his ward and I catch sight of his awkward side smile, the one I know so well.
Then I begin to take it all in. His pale skin, gaunt face, slim frame, tubes, drips and tags attached to him. Yet they all act in contrast to his ever bright blue eyes, that prove he hasn’t given up.
He cracks a joke about my attire and we laugh. He pulls me in for a hug. It’s then that I realise, he knows. He knows that despite what happens in our lives, I’ll be there for him. Unconditionally. And in that moment I understand that our relationship is deeper than blood. I’m his mother and best friend, collaborator and co-conspirator, sister and soulmate, all in one.
Image: Vanessa Gainford©