It was dark outside and warm summer air rushed through the car windows. My dad and I always drove with them down. The wind was something we both enjoyed. He looked at me as I took it in, obviously giddy with it being summer. Our conversation turned serious that night. He told me that my brothers eventually strayed away as they made new friends and got older. I scoffed, not ever believing that I would choose friends over time with my dad. I scoffed, fully intending to always put family first.
As time would have it, I did as my dad warned. I eventually focused on friends, parties, and getting out of the house. I thrived in my new feeling of independence. My brothers were basking in their freedom. I wanted to do the same, but of course, this suddenly halted in 2008.
I received an invitation to one of my best friend’s birthday parties. I wanted to go. She was turning 14 and up to that point, we had been best friends since we began attending school. The anxiety, however, convinced me to leave. I stood in her basement with all of our friends and called someone to pick me up.
I was terrified that Dylan, my brother currently in a coma, would die overnight. Where would I be? Certainly not next to his side, but at a birthday party forgetting that he was hooked up in a hospital. My family pushed me go, hoping that I would get out and have some type of positive summer memories to look back on, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t anxious, wasn’t nervous, and wasn’t constantly thinking about the state of my brother’s health. And so, I went back to the hospital and awaited fate.
After twenty-four days of being in a coma, my brother began to regain consciousness. Little by little, he was making progress. When he finally spoke, I was shocked by the sound of voice. To this day, I remember the emotion that suddenly filled the room. His voice, at 16, sounded deeper. It was a mild change that still hit me square in the chest.
For the month of July, Dylan was in a rehab facility where he had physical and speech therapy. I didn’t go home then either, but instead went with him to rehab, sleeping on the bed next to him. My dad was staying too, so I eventually moved to the floor. Our summer night drives had changed into stale coffee and snacks. The medical staff was kind and patient with us until one nurse decided that it was time for me to leave. Forced out, I had no other choice but to begin sleeping in my own bed again. The same bed, of course, where I initially discovered him. My mind was resistant, but my body (having forgotten the comfort of a mattress) was thankful.
I went back to rehab everyday. We began our mornings when I pushed him in his wheelchair to breakfast, then for a walk around the building. We would move along with our day watching television and attending therapy. Slowly, he began to speak and walk. Little by little, the pieces were coming back together. We had to work at it, but we were making progress.
Dylan was discharged from rehab and went back home. We drove back into the driveway with open arms as our extended family swallowed Dylan up in support and relief. At 15, I was expectant that life would go back to normal, but it never really did. Anoxic brain injuries are something that even time isn’t really able to heal. All we can do is learn how to cope and overcome.
Recently, someone came into work and shared their story about their personal brain injury. It is not the same as what my family experienced, but I had an emotional response that I attempted to keep at bay. This person had experienced trauma and adversity, and here he was in front of me sharing his testimony. While those around me were amazed at his success, I was touched by his ability to do just as I was attempting: to overcome.
We often don’t know what others are going through or what they have experienced. On the outside, we may see someone intelligent, put together, or successful. Perhaps, we just see someone who is lighthearted and cheerful. In the end, we will never know everyone’s stories or the trauma they’ve endured. The rest of this story is not mine to tell, but if there was a lesson for me in any of this, it was to always show kindness to everyone we cross paths with.
Kindness is how I cope and at the end of the day, it is all I have.