My little brother is graduating high school.
And yes, if you’re doing the math in your head, let me just stop you right there. There is a 17 year gap in our ages. I joke that my mom needed that long to recover from my birth and let’s just leave it at that instead of getting into the whole “she was a single mom for a long time and then finally found love” story.
Besides, this is his story I want to tell. Because his story is extraordinary and one I never thought I’d tell with this happy of an ending.
And his story starts on a warm July day when suddenly my mom’s water broke in the middle of the living room. It was three months ahead of schedule. It was a ghastly shade of pale red. It was a real life nightmare.
My stepfather raced her to the hospital. I stayed behind. Just me and this awful giant red stain in an empty house. I have a distinct memory of sobbing while trying to clean it up. I then have an even more distinct memory of my grandma telling me to kindly suck it up, buttercup, and go to the hospital because my mom needed me.
So I did.
One pound, three ounces. That’s what he weighed. One pound, three ounces. He could fit into the palm of my hand if he wasn’t in an incubator, barely visible underneath all the medical equipment being used to keep him alive. He stayed in that incubator for months. You had to scrub your hands, and wear a hospital gown and medical mask, just to even stare down at him inside this tiny glass case that, in my opinion, looked much too similar to a tiny coffin.
And he did almost die. A lot. At one point, the doctors were so sure he was going to die that they let his parents hold his frail, tiny body because they may not have gotten another chance.
And yet, he defied the odds. He was our tiny Han Solo, declaring “never tell me the odds” with each breath he kept defiantly taking.
He wasn’t out of the woods, of course. And for a long time, it felt like we should all just build a log cabin and set up permanent residence in those woods because he was never getting out.
But he defied those odds too. No matter what long, impossible-to-pronounce, medical terminology they threw at him, he beat them all.
And before I could fully comprehend the miracle I had just witnessed, he was healthy enough to run around and annoy me just like any old little brother.
But even then those pesky damn odds wouldn’t leave him alone. He struggled to catch up with his peers. He struggled in school. Speech problems, lung problems, hormone issues. It was exhausting to watch. I can’t imagine the Herculean strength it took him and our parents to actually live it. Doctors, specialists, tutors. It was a never-ending revolving door.
It would be easy to turn bitter under circumstances like these. Or to give up. Or to feel the perpetual victim.
But not him.
He struggled with all his tiny willpower right from the beginning just to stay alive and he’s never stopped living since. He has traveled the world. He writes. He cooks. He takes beautiful photos.
And he loves.
That’s what always gets me the most. His capacity to love. Everything that he has been through and what does he do? He makes me feel like the most beloved person on the planet. He has shined a beacon of unconditional love directly onto my face for as long as I can remember. No matter what I did or how well I played the role of annoyed (much) older sister, he gave me affection and admiration that I’m still not sure I’ve earned.
And because of that, I have always, and will always, try to be the person my brother thinks I am.
I don’t know if I ever told him that. But what better time than upon this unbelievably beautiful day, when I get to see him in a cap and gown after watching him knock down every single last obstacle that stood in his way? Because while it’s tradition upon a graduation to tell the graduate about, oh, the places he’ll go, today, I felt it was important to remind him of all the places he’s been.
I love you, Brandon. You are an amazing human and your fight to get to this point illustrates the best parts of humanity.
Congratulations, little brother.