“What is it like to be Samuel’s brother?” she asks me. “Do you get along with your brother?” “Do you look up to your brother?” These questions have been asked of me on many occasions. Even before my brother or I knew what sulfuric acid was, I was asked what my life was like in relation to my older brother. These questions are asked of every younger sibling. It is the burden we must bear – always being measured against our older counterparts. My brother and I have always been best friends, so these questions were never hard to answer. “He plays with me a lot!” I would say, or “Being his brother is so much fun!” As a child, when we prayed as a family every night, I would pray, “Thank you God that Samuel played with me today.” As we grew up, I might complain that he talked too much, or stole too much of the spotlight; but ultimately, my complaints didn’t matter. I loved him too much to care.
However, nine years ago, this simple question became harder to answer. “You’re Samuel’s brother? Oh, that’s the boy who got burned. What’s it like being related to him anyhow?” Since then, I don’t know if I have ever fully answered that question. You see, it’s more complicated than that. If you want to know what I thought when my eyes first reached his newly scarred, puffy, grayed, and distorted face: I didn’t. I couldn’t think. There were too many thoughts and questions and emotions; and yet, none at all. All I know is a part of me died that day. A part of my entire family did. If you want to know what it was like to watch my brother not only suffer physically, but emotionally and mentally, as each day he careened off the road of pleasant dreams ever deeper into a dark ditch full of horrible nightmares - it was a horror movie without a killer. You see, the killer was invisible. The antagonist was reality.
I paint a bleak picture because it was bleak. I cannot erase nor forget where I have been. On the one hand, Samuel’s accident forced me to cling to God and my family ever more tightly. On the other, it took out the floor beneath me and I retreated into myself more and more each day. I struggled through bouts of depression early on in high school, and tried my hardest to numb the pain I was feeling by further emotionally withdrawing into oblivion. Samuel’s story is all the more amazing in light of my own struggles. Everything that I experienced mentally and emotionally, I know he suffered through even more intensely. Yet here we are, still the best of friends and closer than ever before. We both survived, and are thriving, completely comfortable with ourselves and others. Without God and my family, I don’t know where I would be.
Even as I write this, I realize that after all these years I still do not possess an answer to that inescapable question of what it is like to be Samuel's brother. While the question does not truly capture our relationship, there may not be a response to fit into a sentence or two. Or perhaps I don’t have an answer that can
adequately describe the experience. My brother is an incredibly unique, energetic, and focused individual, but so are a lot of people. There is something indescribable about him, even after knowing him for over two decades. If you haven’t already done so, meet him yourself. Then, after listening to his story, put yourself in my shoes. What is it like being the best friend of someone so inspiring, determined, and full of love? It has been nothing short of an adventure, a roller coaster ride filled with twists, turns and more than a few surprises.
Ultimately, it is a journey I hope will never end.
Even if I never find an answer to that question - no matter how many times people ask.