Five Birthdays Since

My brother was born on December 5, 1993.  I was three-going-on-four.  The earliest memory I have is going to the hospital for his birth.  I remember wearing my pink Minnie Mouse PJs and lining up my Aladdin Barbie dolls on the windowsill facing my mother.  When nurses asked me what I was doing I would say, “They’re waiting for my baby brother.”  I remember it being much later than I am usually allowed to be awake.  Saturday Night Live was on, and my dad was laughing at the tiny TV screen instead of feeding my mom ice chips.  I remember my uncle being with me to keep me company while Mom and Dad were doing their thing.  I remember suddenly being so tired that I passed out on the hospital bed next to my mom’s.

And when I woke up, I was a big sister.

We fought a lot.  And when we fought, we fought with words.  We would cut each other down using the biggest insecurity we knew the other person had.  My grandma used to stop the car on the side of the road whenever we were arguing and scream, “GET OUT!  If you’re going to fight, get out of my car and walk home!”  Being siblings, we would fight about the stupidest, most inconsequential things.  How a line in a movie went, what we were going to watch on TV, whether or not we were sitting too close to one another.  But when we got along, we were just as annoying.  Sometimes my parents would yell over their shoulders in the car for us to stop goofing around.  Our chatter and giggling was pointless to them, but for us, it was the most hilarious thing in the world.  The bond we shared was special.  We could tell each other how we wanted to kill the other in one moment, and then sit down and quote every word from Zoolander the next.

We did everything together.  Just like brothers and sisters should.

In June of 2009, my 15-year-old brother was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a liver cancer that has an incidence of 0.7 per 1 million children in the United States.  By the middle of July 2009, he had died from it.

The loss of a family member is always difficult.  But the loss of a sibling is detrimental.  Nothing shook me harder than that drive home from the hospital after he passed.  I was in shock.  I was numb.  I sat in the backseat of our car clutching two things: his stuffed hippo and his pillow.  I didn’t care about anything else.  I didn’t want to think about anything.  When I did, I knew it was real.  I didn’t speak for the entire drive home.  When we got home, I silently walked upstairs and fell into a dreamless sleep, still clutching those two things.  I couldn’t let them go.  You suddenly begin realizing things you never thought about before.  It hit me that I would never be called “Aunt Allex,” by anyone related to me.  I went from always having someone around with me to being alone.  I was suddenly an only child.

Today is the 5th birthday our family will be celebrating without him.  He would be 20 years old today.  He would be older than I was when I first found out he was sick.  He would be in college.  I love playing this game called, What Would He Be Doing Now?  I think about where he would have chosen to go to school, what he would be studying, whether or not he would have a girlfriend, or if he would have gone Greek like our dad and me.  And when I play it, I am never sad.  I don’t know why, maybe to some people it is a morbid game to play.  But it’s nice to wonder.  If I was able to control how the world works, what would I have him be doing?  But knowing him, he could have skipped going to college and decided to get into flower arranging or party planning.  And it would have worked for him.

The thing about my brother was that he was the hugest pain in the ass.  He would always whine and complain when he didn’t get his way.  He had to be correct, and would fight you tooth and nail to prove how you are wrong.  He was condescending at times, reminding me how terrible I was at Spanish while he rrrrrolled his rrrrr’s with a smug little smile.  But he was also amazing at everything.  There was nothing that he couldn’t do.  School, sports, games, music, everything he touched he excelled at.  He was caring, grounded, and sensitive.  For a 15-year-old, he was just brilliant.

He was funny, charming, and everyone loved being around him.  Some people just radiate goodness, and that was my brother.  He shined.  He was a magnet.  It was impossible for someone to not like him.  He was goofy.  He was alive.  Everything he did was with passion.  I always admired that about him.  His ability to just put his heart and soul into everything he did.

I love my brother with every part of my being.  And I am not the only one.  After he died, his friends put together a memorial at his high school where over 100 friends and classmates came together.  His graduating class created a badminton tournament to raise funds for the foundation my family created for him.  His two best friends are still close with my family, even coming with us on family vacations.

My brother is the last person who deserved what happened to him.  But he taught me how to live.  How every moment — no matter how small — is precious.  He taught me to go after what you want.  He taught me that no matter how far away you are from your loved ones, they are still always with you.  He taught me to embrace life.

It only seems fair that the first memory I have of my brother is his birth and the last being his death.  I was rushing to the hospital while being briefed by my aunt.  His surgery had caused complications.  His cancer had spread to his small intestine.  His kidneys were failing.  But the doctors weren’t going to do anything until I made it to the hospital.

My aunt warned me that he was on a lot of pain medicine and might be loopy.  But when I walked into the ICU and saw him, he was still my baby brother.  The nurses were trying to put his oxygen mask on him, but he kept pulling it off.  “Allex is here,” he kept saying.  “I have to give Allex a kiss.”  When I looked down at him, tears were running down my cheeks.  “Why are you crying?” he asked me.

“I’m not,” I wiped the tears away quickly.

“Hey,” he said.  “Come here.”  He waved his hand to me, and I leaned in.  He gently kissed me on the cheek and then suddenly slapped me on that same cheek.  “I hate you,” he smiled.  We both laughed and the nurse then told us his breathing tube would be going in now.  He said okay, and told me goodbye.

That was the last conversation I had with my baby brother.  And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. […] I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.
-John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


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