Today is your birthday. You are 26 years old and I remember the day you were born.
There was a brief phase where I masqueraded as a ballerina. I'm not sure who's idea it was: Dad's or my Mom's or your Mom's. Either way, it was ill-advised and I was seriously no good at it. On the night of my big recital, as our sister put on my sparkly make-up and worked her magic with the curling iron, Dad was rushing your mom to the hospital. Sometime in the night you were born, happily drowning out whatever clumsy mishap may have occurred at my ballet recital. For months I kept a crinkly hospital photo of you with me, showing it off to my friends and teachers. Proof I had been gifted a brother.
I'm ashamed to say I don't know you better. We've never really lived together, unless you count the summer where Laura and I drank Dr Pepper by the litre, trading babysitting and VBS duties (I got stuck with VBS). I remember more about her Poison poster than I do about about your habits, your toys or the books you liked to read. But I know you loved a good dance party, and at Christmas in that first small house, as they were trying to fit in this new mosaic of four children, I would hold your small arms and dance. You were blonde as could be, beautiful and mostly, I think, happy.
I know you haven't always been. Happy, that is. I know grade school was horrible for you. Teachers were cruel and children didn't understand. I know you couldn't see well. I know we would sit by your side after your first surgery (I was in college, but came home for you), when you were only beginning to see the world how it should be, and cleaned out your puke bowl. I know when you were first diagnosed with Asperger's and it was scary and confusing, but a small light in a long, dark tunnel.
Who you were until then was like a jigsaw puzzle without straight edges. But the diagnosis gave us all a horizon from which to see you. Your puzzle pieces slowly started to fit together and we would test you with flashcards:
A smile = happy
A frown = sad
It can't have been easy, having three highly emotive, loud, domineering big sisters. I speak as much for me as I speak for us all, and I'm sure they wouldn't argue. Well, they would argue, which I guess is the point. We could easily drown you out with our fighting and our loving, but you were what we all had in common.
You are the permanent link. You share all of our blood and in you we each see a bit of ourselves, blending so well with the mark of each sister.
You were 11 when I got married, walking tall and proud to light candles, which of course didn't light. Your highly logical mind took that as a challenge and you seemed to stand there for ages, waiting for each wick to burn. I love that memory of you. Of not giving up. Of knowing how things should be, and insisting they come around.
But then I moved away. And you grew up. I had kids, and you became an uncle. Three boys would sit at your knee, and though you wouldn't hold them (afraid of the kissing and the drool), you met them at eye level. Showed them how to play a drum. You muss their hair, still, and you love. Greeting them with a smile.
A smile = happy
You taught them that, like we taught you. And the mirror image of your scruffy face in the roundness of my Jack or Laura's Justin would shine. You are a brilliant uncle and a kind brother. And we love you, even when we're not sure how to say it.
I will try not to overpower you with my voice and hand motions and kiddo insanity. I will try to let you just be you, to watch and to learn and to understand your heart and your mind. Your puzzle is not yet finished, though I think a piece is placed every day, every Christmas around the dinner table. We're still figuring you out, you see. And that's OK, I think. You are so much more than we realize.
Thank you for being patient with us, with me.
Happy birthday. I love you. I miss you.