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" Caste Party | 2009 | Bits of Broken Hearts "

01.28.09 1:59 p.m.

Let us not underestimate the privileges of the mediocre. As one climbs higher, life becomes ever harder; the coldness increases, responsibility increases.  

-Friedrich Nietzsche


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It is frighteningly easy to underestimate someone, to assume that a first impression (or even a thousandth impression) is all that is there. To assume that people are more or less static. I am especially victim of this ease, allowing my immediate inclination dictate everything that comes afterward. This is not to say it should be wholly discounted or that the past should not inform the present - it absolutely should - but it should never dictate the present.

In my family, we all had our roles to play. Dan was the bad boy turned good father. I was the brainy/freaky one with a carousel of girlfriends until I discovered the joys of adulthood. And Bryan? He was the other one. He was the one who could never quite find his place, trapped in Dan's and my combined shadows through the entirety of his schooling until college. He wouldn't ever be as right-brained technical at Dan, nor as left-brained literary as me, so what did that leave him?

As long as I can remember, my parents were waiting for Bryan to find his place, when he went to middle school, then high school, then when he got a girlfriend, then college, but it never seemed to happen so it was almost easier to believe that he never would. We gave him the option of any number of excuses, from Asperger's to homosexuality, but he disproved every one. There wasn't anything actually wrong with him (aside from an inability to keep a living space clean or pursue a healthy romantic relationship), there just wasn't anything completely right.

He got a Bachelor's in Speech Language Pathology from a pricey Catholic university, which he put to use only so far as he moved back in with my parents and bemoaned how much he had just spent on a degree he would never use (and, while I occasionally growl at my $40,000 in student loan debt, I got a Master's for the money and still spent half what he did). We were nearly ready to give up hope and consign him to the role of the adult child who never moves out of his parents' home, something I truly wouldn't care to wish on anyone. We understood that he had potential - by virtue of his genes, he almost had to - but it remained perennially unfulfilled.

He started working at hospitals and as an EMT, because he didn't mind bodily fluids, catheters, or hypodermics - all concepts that make me cringe. At least he was earning money doing honest and skilled work, even if it did not justify his degree, even if it was nowhere near enough to move out of his tiny and obscenely cluttered room. There were glintings of possibility and we paid attention.

We let our hope grow slowly, as it had wilted for too long and was unused to being nurtured. Even if he had yet to find the proper niche, he was still our Bryan and we had to believe in his aptitude to find his purpose. Even when he was fired from being an EMT for an accident (which honestly does not seem to be his fault, since a woman sideswiped his ambulance), he persisted and was at worst underemployed for a bit. He even began taking nursing courses at Dutchess Community College, which showed a degree of latter day initiative. Had he wanted to be a nurse, there were far quicker, easier, and cheaper ways to accomplish this goal than bouncing between majors of things he felt he should be good at (computer programming, audiology, and so on).

He told me that he wanted to apply to Pace University for nursing and I was tentatively hopeful, worrying that I was setting him up for a fall. My parents, as they felt he was several years past where he should be living with them, were more encouraging, particularly if it meant he would be moving out. He seemed to barely be hitting application deadlines and some of the essays he had me proofread made me wince until they were reformatted and revised. Additionally, I knew Pace was not easy to get into and much harder to graduate from, having dealt with this when Emily had aspirations of nursing that were dashed by her tearing her ACL.

As such, I was politely flummoxed when they accepted him for the spring semester. I turned to my mother and asked how good of an idea this was. For books and his nursing kit alone, the charge was $1400. That was not the cost of a class, that was just for the preliminary accoutrements and he had to pay it out of pocket. Financial aid has almost no interest in helping him, so he is relying on more loans. My mother assured me that he is confident that this is a great idea and she was backing him, if only emotionally and not financially. I felt oddly proud of him, going into this endeavor totally and without doubts (even if with debts that will be triple mine by the end).

His edges are smoothing and I have told my friends, long since used to the format of Bryan stories, that he really is maturing and growing as a person. He is no longer the boy who earned their eye-rolls with exaggerations, but is becoming a man who can back up his stories and be confident in his actual skills. He is not at the end of this road yet, but the familial teasing about his eccentricities is now more affectionate than worried (how else are we to show affection?). We believe that he is going to follow this through and his awareness of his purpose has begun to refine him into a complex man.

Finally, it seems, my younger brother is finding his place in the world and I am thrilled to have been proved wrong for ever doubting him.

Soon in Xenology: Moving pieces.

last watched: Death at a Funeral
reading: A.S. Byatt
listening: Jonathan Coultan

" Caste Party | 2009 | Bits of Broken Hearts "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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