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Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Brothers

Eric is the elder. He enjoyed a few years of undivided attention until Patrick came along. Eric was more introverted than Patrick. Father favored the younger son, while mother gave more attention to the first-born. They fought, but no more than other siblings. Then the family emigrated to the states. Father was a doctor, and mother stayed home. Patrick fit into school right away, despite the language barrier. Eric took longer to adjust, but his grades were acceptable and he never got in trouble. Life was smooth sailing.

At 10, without any previous signs, Patrick had a brain aneurysm the nearly killed him. During a school field trip, he complained of headache and passed out. The teachers took him to a local hospital, where the surgeon drilled a hole in his skull to relieve the intracranial pressure. He was then transported to a large university and had three more brain surgeries to repair the blood vessels that burst, possibly because of congenital defects.

He lived. The aneurysm left him paralyzed on the entire left side. With rehab and physical therapy, he recovered some function in the leg, but the arm remained useless. He was teased at school. He went to a college near home and commuted.

Just when things were looking up, father died suddenly of a heart attack before turning 60, leaving a frightened wife and two sons. Mother clung onto the boys who had just entered adulthood. She never felt truly at home in the country that remained foreign, but there was no way of turning back. She grew up with the belief that women must depend on men to survive the world, and for nearly three decades her husband was as dependent as any man can be. After he was gone she moved next door to her older brother and depended on him.

Patrick graduated from college and found a job and lived at home with mother. With the help of a few added gadgets, he learned to drive. On the weekend he drove mother to supermarkets and bought groceries and had lunch and dinner with her. He earned a paycheck and enjoyed his colleagues' company. His disability made it difficult to drive more than 20 miles each way to the office, but his colleagues offered him carpool. By all appearances, he was a sweet, easygoing, and well adjusted young man no different from other Asian youths of his age.

His able-bodied brother Eric, however, followed a path that baffled everyone. He got into college all right, but barely passed his classes with all-night computer games and videos. Once graduated, he couldn't keep a job and moved back home. It was hard to say whether it was a blessing or a curse that father left enough money for the three of them to live on. Mother had enough to buy a house with three bedrooms. Eric's share was not enough to allow him to move out and live on his own, but enough so that he did not have to find a job. He hid in his room all night and slept through the day, refusing to socialize with anyone, especially his mother's relatives who lived nearby. His relationship with mother had deteriorated to the point that the two of them could not finish a conversation without yelling at each other. Now he talked only to his brother, who had also begun to lose patience with his seething anger and resentment.

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