I was 11 years old when my little brother died.
I was living with my grandparents at the time. My grandfather called me in from playing outside and told me that we were going to Las Vegas in an hour to be with my family. He instructed me to go upstairs and take a bath and put on my pajamas because it would be dark by the time we arrived at my parents house. I remember asking him why the sudden trip.
With tears in his eyes he said to me,
“Your brother just had a heart attack. He died.”
At 11 years old, I had never known anyone who had died before. All my grandparents and great-grandparents were still living. I’d flushed a fish or two but that was an entirely different thing.
I remember floating up the stairs and into the bathroom. I shut the door, fell back against it and slid down to the floor.
Then came the river of tears.
*My brother and me before the heart attack*
It’s amazing how shocking news like this can be. Especially when you have been waiting for it your entire life. You see, my brother was born ill. He had a terminal heart disease called Tetrology of Fallot. He had his first of many open heart surgeries when he was only a week old. He was never expected to live to begin with.
No body could say for sure why he was born this way. It could have been bad luck, genetics or perhaps my mothers recreational drug use.
My mom dispelled that little secret to me like she did most everything. After drinking way too much wine when was I was far too young to understand.
I still remember “the birds and the bees” talk at age five. I was just starting Kindergarten,
“The boy puts his weenie inside you. It gets big and hard! It feels good to boys. You are a girl so you probably won’t like it.” My mom told me while laughing.
“You are lucky I am telling you this stuff! My mother never told me, I had to find out from my classmates when I was in high school. That was embarrassing!”
I remember going to kindergarten the next day and having to sit next to a male student. I was terrified of him and all boys for that matter. They needed to keep their things in their pants and far way from me!
You know, pretty much the opposite of how I am now.
If you ask my mother about this, she will tell you I’m lying. She too suffers from an ongoing medical condition.
Alcohol-induced memory loss.
I don’t remember much of the drive. I just remember walking into The hospital room for the first time.
My brother was in a coma. He was lying in bed with his chest bloodied and stitched closed. The stitches were over the numerous scars he already had on his chest from his uncountable previous surgeries. Tubes were coming out of his mouth and nose. They were connected to beeping machines. He was bone thin and ghost white.
The paramedics had miraculously revived my brother. Between my dads CPR and the medical defibrillation my brothers body was brought back to life after being dead for over five minutes.
He was breathing, on a machine. Emergency surgery had mended his heart for now but would his brain ever be able to recover?
We waited the entire summer to find out.
After spending some time in the hospital with my little brother, my grandparents took me and my baby brother (I had two brothers) back to my parents house for some rest.
I was still awake in bed when my dad came home from the hospital that night.
We sat in the kitchen alone while the rest of the house slept. My dad make turkey sandwiches, we ate them together. While eating, he told me the story of what had happened.
Sunday morning my parents woke up and my dad made his usual Sunday brunch of potatoes, eggs and toast. While they were cooking, my brothers played in the front of the apartment, on the lawn. Also, as usual, my parents enjoyed a few Bloody Marys. Once they finished those they moved on to Mimosas. After a few bottles of Champagne they became trashed and sleepy and decided to take a nap or more likely, pass the fuck out.
My brothers, ages 7 and almost 2, continued to play outside alone, unsupervised.
My mom woke up after an hour or so completely dehydrated. She needed water! She got up and drug her still-drunk ass up to the kitchen. On her way to the kitchen she heard a strange moaning sound by the front door.
Curious, and needing to check on the kids anyway, she opened the door.
That’s when she saw it.
My little brother was lying on the porch, dead.
Frantic, my mom screamed for my dad to wake up while running for the phone. My dad got up and immediately started performing CPR on my little brother. My 2 year old, baby brother stood there helplessly not understanding what was going on.
Within minutes, the paramedics arrived and shocked my brother with paddles from the portable defibrillating machine. After several attempts they were able to recover a heart beat.
Swarms of nosey neighbors gathered around to watch the show.
My mother got in the ambulance with my brother and they were rushed to the hospital.
It was a horrible feeling waking up in that apartment the next morning not knowing the fate of my brother.
I tried to focus my attention on my baby brother instead. I took the baby outside with me to get some air and play a little bit before returning to the hospital.
That’s when it happened. I was greeted by nosey neighbor number one.
“Is your brother OK?” He wanted to know.
“I’m not sure yet.” I answered.
“Why not? It’s not like it’s a big deal!” He stammered.
“Excuse me?!” I asked in shock. “My brother is in a coma! The doctors think he may be brain dead!”
“Wow! Just from choking on a chicken bone? That’s crazy! I think your brother may have been brain dead to start with.”
What the fuck?
Nosey neighbor number two and three walk up.
Number two starts talking,
“Hey, *****! What’s going on with your brother? I heard he hit his head pretty good falling out of that old tree.” She pointed to the tree in front of my apartment.
“He didn’t fall out of a tree!” I corrected her.
Nosey neighbor one chimed in,
“Where did you hear that he fell? He didnt fall! He choked on a chicken bone!”
More people were joining us. I was quickly becoming a ghetto celebrity.
I did not like this!
I was trying to deal with the situation the best I could at 11 years old while comforting my baby brother and these people were acting like the fucking paparazzi!
“Listen!” I shouted. “My brother had a heart attack. He’s in a coma. The doctors don’t know if he will ever recover.”
Another neighbor walked up,
“A heart attack? No, that’s not what I heard! I heard he choked on a chicken bone and then fell out of that tree.”
I had been standing there long enough. I grabbed the baby and went inside.
My brother eventually made it out of the coma. His brain function returned to normal. However, he has no memory of the incident or any part of his life before it happened. He also doesn’t remember that entire summer of recovery.
I told him that alcohol-induced memory loss must be genetic.
He told me to fuck off.