Beating the Odds: Why I Survived and My Brother Did Not

Written by on November 21, 2020 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Inspirational with 0 Comments

depressed sad woman

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

By Lise Deguire | Tiny Buddha

My brother, Marc-Emile, sparkled brilliantly. At sixteen years old, he could expound on physics or Plato, calculus, or car mechanics, Stravinsky or Steppenwolf. At seventeen, he began reading the Great Books series, starting with Homer and Aeschylus and moving forward through the Greeks. I don’t know how many of those Great Books he read. He didn’t have that long.

My brother had everything going for him. He was kind, ethical, and handsome. He graduated high school a year early, at the top of his class, with virtually perfect SATs. He started at MIT as a physics major. He ended at MIT too, one year later. At the age of nineteen, he flung himself to his death from the tallest campus building.

Then there was me, Marc’s little sister. Everyone knew me too, but not because I was brilliant. I was exceptional in a less appealing way, having been severely burned in a fire when I was four years old. I barely survived this injury, which left me with no lower lip, no chin, no neck and my upper arms fused to my torso. Bright purple raised scars traveled the length of my small body.

I spent month after month in the hospital alone, undergoing one terrifying reconstructive surgery after the next. When I was home, I was bullied and taunted, kids running past me, screaming “Yuck!” as they fled, laughing. The children’s hospital ward was my playground. Wheelchair races were my soccer. I couldn’t take ballet because I couldn’t lift my arms above my head.

So why is it that I am now living a contented, fulfilling life, happily married and surrounded by friends? And why is it that my exceptional, gifted brother took his own life forty years ago? No one would have bet on this outcome.

Perhaps a clue lay in our baby photos. As toddlers, each of us had been brought to a professional photographer’s studio. In his photos, my brother sits cooperatively on a wooden stool, holding a ball with stars on it. He looks at the camera with pensive eyes, half-smiling. In another photo, he gamely holds a toy train. Again, he peers into the camera, observing and reticent.

The page turns in the photo album and there I am. I laugh, mouth stretched as wide as possible. I point, tiny eyebrows comically raised. I hold my head coquettishly. I am probably nine months old and clearly having the time of my life. I don’t even need a toy. I’m a party all by myself.

My basic temperament was different from Marc’s. I was friendly; he was introverted. I was optimistic; he tended toward depression. I was gleeful; he was sad. From the start, we displayed these differences, differences, which turn out to be vital factors in our survival.

I have spent my lifetime trying to figure out why I am still here when my brother is not. It feels wrong, even four decades later. I feel his absence as an ache in my chest, a slight stabbing on the left side, like a slender silver knife slipping into my heart. His absence has been present within me, every day of my life.

A day I have grown to loather is National Siblings Day, a reoccurring nightmare of a day, which happens every April 10. My friends post loving photos of themselves, arms around their brother or sister. Sometimes they share old photos taken decades ago and pose cleverly in new photos to recreate the original picture. They stand, embracing each other in an identical pose, but now with gray hair and glasses. They smile, grinning at the years that have passed, sharing the joke together.


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