Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Little Brother Grows Up

I was at the breakfast counter eating a bowl of Kashi cereal with blueberries before work last week. Kurt was sitting on a barstool next to me watching SpongeBob. He tipped his full pill cup of meds into his mouth and took a big swig of water before turning to me.

"Where's Kelly?" he said.

On a normal Monday this summer, I would be driving to work and Kelly would be making sure his big brother took his anti-seizure medications and ate breakfast before they drove to Hudson for Kurt's day program.

Instead, Kelly left early that morning with two friends for a road trip to Colorado. They were taking a week-long adventure before the three of them went off to separate colleges.

"He left with Calvin and Mark, remember?" I said.

Kurt frowned, "What was Kelly thinking?"

He likes having his brother around. "Come on, Bud," Kelly would say and Kurt would saunter out to the Blazer in the morning, lunch box and water bottle in hand, ready for work. When Kelly picks him up, Kurt introduces him to his friends. He likes to go through McDonald's drive-thru and order burgers. Or stop at Walmart to get a new DVD. I think he must feel like one of the guys, something I can't give him.

Knowing college is a month away, I decided to gently warn Kurt of the future. "Remember Kelly is going to move away and go to school pretty soon? Then he won't be helping you anymore."

Kurt finished his spoonful of cereal, then paused. "I don't want Kelly to go to school far away. Doesn't he know I need him?"

We ate in silence while I thought about Kurt's words. Over the years, I often wondered if the two of them would ever get along. While Kurt was regressing because of his seizures, Kelly, three years younger, was growing and learning. Their rivalries knew no bounds. Kurt, strong and angry, could wrench a toy out of Kelly's hands and knock him down before I could blink. Kelly, no slouch when it came to being strong-willed, never gave in. Ever.

It wasn't until Kelly matured enough to reason with Kurt  that the fights and rivalry finally ended.

When Kelly was 14, he started helping me with Kurt so I could run an errand or when I was going to be late from work and Kurt's aide needed to leave. Kelly found his way with his big brother. "Come on Bud,"  he would say with a steady calmness that Kurt trusted. He could coax him outside to play Frisbee or get him to clean up his movies.

Kurt's words reminded me of how hard it must be for Kurt when his brothers move away from home and leave him behind. It's different for a parent. It's our job to send our sons out in the world, even when we know they'll be missed. But for a sibling to watch his little brother grow up and leave...

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Kurt at 19