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The Day My Brother Died

It all started on the playground at Pizza Hut.

I was seven years old, and my brother’s soccer team, Explosion, had just won … a game. Did we need another reason to celebrate?

The group of 10-year-old soccer players was still in their sweat-stained uniforms. Bellies full of carbs, dairy, and soda (we called it “pop” growing up), they were burning off the calories by climbing on the equipment, jumping, running, and owning the monkey bars (something I never quite accomplished!).

My brother slid down the plastic slide for the third time since winning the game, but this time some random kid thought it was a good idea to climb up the slide instead of sliding down it. We’ve all seen this kid … or been this kid …

The way I remember it, the intruder was blocking his exit, so my brother stood up to jump off the side of the slide, right as the next kid came sliding down.

Sandwiched between the two, my brother went flying and caught himself with his left arm, which didn’t successfully break his fall, just his bone.

(I have since been told that the kid who was climbing up the slide actually pushed my brother off the slide. While we may have all seen this kid, I hope we haven’t all been him.)

My brother came back into the Pizza Hut, where I sat with my parents, flailing his arm.

“I think I dislocated my elbow!”

My mother, a nurse, jumped into action, assessing the damage, and we set off for the hospital.

I remember sitting in the front seat, while my dad drove, so my mom could sit in the backseat with my brother.

I usually sat in the back. With my brother.

Day turned into evening, and the next fuzzy image in my memory is a sterile white hospital room. My brother was on a bed or gurney of some kind. Because of the pizza and pop, he had to wait until 2 am to have surgery on his arm. They didn’t want him to aspirate. Neither did I, even though I had no clue what that was.

I didn’t want to be away from him. I was so scared. I remember falling asleep on the floor next to his bed/gurney. I think I was crying. Inside for sure, likely outside too.

Next thing I know, I wake up at the Barton’s.

The Bartons were family friends and went to church with us.

My brother is dead. First thought in my mind.

I just knew he was dead. Why else would I be there? How did I get there? I had no memory of it. I fell asleep on the hospital floor … and woke up at the Barton’s. If my brother was fine, I would be with him. Not here.

Where were my parents?

I think it’s worth noting that when my brother was born, his lungs collapsed, and he was “clinically dead” for about 10 minutes, as the doctors worked to bring him back. He had been life-flighted to another hospital, in another city, and for 45 minutes, my parents didn’t know if he was dead or alive. I grew up hearing this story. I knew it was possible for my brother to die. I had always known. He’d done it once already, before I was even born.

And now he’d done it again. And I had been taken to the Barton’s so my parents could … do whatever people do when my brother dies …

I have no memory of going home, but when I did, I found my brother with a cast on his arm. He was fully alive. He had two pins in his left arm, near his elbow.

Not dead.

While the reality is that he hadn’t died, for 8-year-old me, in my perceived reality, he had. At least for a time. I felt every emotion and the full weight of what I believed to be true.

Sometimes, perception is everything.

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