BY ANDY NALEWSKI
I have a picture of myself holding my brother, Peter, when he was finally out of surgery. He was a blue baby, unable to get oxygen to his body, due to a mix up of the arteries connecting to his heart. The surgery that saved him was established just months before his conception. I asked my mother “Where’s my baby?” and she only said that he was still in the hospital, sleeping. I had no idea what was going on as a toddler, but as I look at the pictures taken of my parents, I see only false, horrified smiles that reflected the fear everyone else suffered from. I don’t remember the moment first I held him, but I was clearly excited, judging by my smile in the picture.
Unfortunately, things didn’t stay that rosy or happy. Soon after, when I learned he was autistic, we didn’t get along so well. He was awkward, and I didn’t know how to speak to him. I needed to connect with him, but it was beyond me: I grew distant from my brother over the years, trying to ignore him while I toiled with things I thought more important. They were so trivial, and only now do I regret not spending more time with him.
I really could have used his love and support back then. I was a mess growing up; bullying, depression, loneliness—they all hurt me terribly. He was always there for me, but I never took ad- vantage of his love. I don’t know, maybe I was jealous of all the attention he got, or how he was always smiling, but I just couldn’t do it.
When he entered middle school, he was less jovial than usual. He seemed sad, stressed, and lonely, much like me, yet I was too wrapped up in my own problems to care. Even through my callous treatment of my brother, his lion’s heart never depreciated. He was loving, caring, and sensitive, and never lost his devotion to me, despite everything I did—and didn’t do—for him.
Looking back, I can’t believe I treated my brother the way I did. Peter’s heart is the biggest one I’ve ever encountered, and he never did anything to warrant my actions. He’s a gentle lion loyal beyond measure, and his kindness can melt the ice around the coldest of people. Luckily, it broke through the shell I built around myself and allowed me to grow into a better person. I finally spend regular time with him, and I’m a significantly better person for it. We’re total nerds together now, and I love it; we play XBox a lot now, and we also edit videos together, making odd and funny remixes of commercials and TV shows. Despite the autism limiting what he can understand, we still enjoy wrestling and beating the snot out of each other in Mortal Kombat. Where he simply sees the love from interaction, I take away how much he impacts my life and helps me develop into a stronger and better man, one capable of seeing life for the bigger picture. It’s clear to me now how great a person he is and how critical a figure he is in my life. Despite being born with a crippled heart, his beats stronger and with more passion than anyone I have ever—or will ever—meet. He has the passion and love of a lion, and I hope to someday share that same passion with everyone that means anything to me in my life, just as he does every day.