It would have been different if you had been born first. I would have believed pregnancy and childbirth natural and miraculous. You slept for extended periods at night and nursed easily. You never seemed insatiably hungry or vomited after you were fed. I would have believed breast-fed babies didn’t spit up or cry from discomfort. You were calm and alert. I could speak softly and you would quiet. Your little face was shaped like a heart. I imagined it was because I loved you so much. It could have no other shape.
As long as you were held close to me in our baby sling, you gazed up at me with interest. Your enormous green eyes watched me from your delicate heart while Connor screamed. The sound was always part of your environment. You inherited your father’s empathy and put your brother’s needs first. Your infant coos and complaints were met with cries of distress from your autistic brother. You would become silent to please him while I took care of Connor first.
When you were seven months old, you started to speak. Your first word was “cat”, followed quickly by “Mom, Dad, and Connor.” When you were nine months old you said “Oh Dear!” at situations regarded alarming and constantly asked “What’s That?” Strangers thought you were unusually tiny, assuming you were older. You walked in the typical time-frame, but I remember you crawling to me saying, “Connor’s crying. You need to help him.” You became my most trusted friend. Much of the time it was you, me, and Connor. Your green eyes, gazing calmly from the delicate heart kept me sane.
Connor was diagnosed with autism when you were eighteen months old. You were statistically at greatly increased risk of having the same diagnosis so we had your development evaluated. The psychologist tested you until she ran out of materials. You were socially engaged and intelligent. It was suggested we look into programs for the gifted when you became old enough to attend school.
One day when you were in first grade. I forgot to send you to school with your lunch money. When I dropped it off I saw you, standing in line in the hallway. You were looking at the floor, staring at your Star Wars sneakers. You were one of six children in your grade leaving your classmates to spend the rest of the morning in the program for gifted students. You were the only boy. For the six hours you spent at school, you wanted to be like everyone else. Indistinguishable. Unnoticed. Without extra responsibility or attention.
You needed a break from being Connor’s brother.