There are five kids in my family. I am the middle child. My older brother Jack has autism.
All my life I waited for a chance to stand up for Jack, to fight for him. It wasn’t until he moved out, I realized I never needed to protect him. Instead, I will always learn from him. I will always want to be like him.
Ever since we were little, I remember Jack having trouble at school. Whether it was not obeying teachers, doing homework, or most importantly trouble with his peers, school was always hard for him. Being two years younger, there was nothing I could do despite my urge to stand up for my brother without getting into trouble myself. School was Jack’s battle to fight.
No matter where we were, Jack stood out. He was different, 6 ‘4, and curious. There was never a dull moment and people were always staring. I specifically remember when Jack was using the bathroom at our local pool and an older teenager accidentally walked in on him. Jack screamed and cursed. The teenager stepped out and began to make fun of my brother to all his buddies. “What the hell is wrong with that kid?” “Did you see his glasses?” “Why does he talk like that?” My blood boiled. There was nothing I could say to make these much older boys understand. At seven years old, I was no match. I noticed that my anger festered in me longer than it did Jack. By the time we reached the pool Jack had forgotten all about it, but to this day I am still bothered.
As life went on, Jack faced numerous conflicts and obstacles, but none of them seemed to affect his overall path. Jack was told he doesn’t belong in public areas, now he belongs to his local YMCA. He was told he couldn’t handle working a job, now he works 20 hours a week and makes more money than me. Jack was told school isn’t for him, and now, through all the meltdowns and arguments, all the tears and screams, the broken pencils and torn papers, my big brother is in college. Jack is living his life, in his world, with his rules.
Despite our obvious differences, Jack and I have very similar paths. Jack has always had his goal, to go to college, and there were many times where that seemed impossible. He bounced from school to school, he was forced to go to summer school while I was home enjoying vacation. I saw him struggle, I saw him hurt. But not once did he stop. In 9th grade I convinced myself to try out for the school baseball team. I had always dreamed of playing in college, but I was never good enough for any team. I showed up to tryouts in sweatpants, where my coach told me I was a hazard to myself on the field. But I didn’t care, I was just thrilled to make the freshman team due to a no-cuts rule. Around this time the door for college had cracked for Jack and hopes were high.
Simultaneously, as the season went on, I noticed something, something I was good at, something I could pursue. Pitching. It was the door to a longer career. Into the summer Jack didn’t stop. He worked on his grades, he worked on himself, he worked on his future. Just like Jack, I grinded. I worked out every day, I researched, and I pitched. Simultaneously, wildly different paths, separate but together. Because we wanted it, we wanted it more than anything else. And now, I sit here as captain of my team, and I text Jack from my room while he texts me from his very own apartment. He tells me of his life and his endeavors as I tell him all that’s new at home. I share stories about recent games, while Jack tells me about new friends and his college classes. Jack unintentionally reminds me to keep working for my goals every day, just like him.
I will always wonder if he wanted me to look out for him all those times when we were little. I think I know the answer. Jack was never about making a point; he was always about walking his path. Not because someone said he couldn’t but because he wanted to. I now know it isn’t my job to fight for my big brother, it’s my job to make him proud the way he makes me proud. By pushing through and not stopping for anything. Just like Jack.