The Orbital Force of my Autistic Brother

Evaluate a significant figure in your life, and describe how they have shaped your ideals and values.

I am holding my brother’s hand.”Hi, Will,” I say.”Hi,” he mutters curtly, a trained reply.

It’s better than the less favorable option of “Goodbye, please” or “I want goodbye.”

His palm feels like a living creature itself, warm and squirming. When he looks past the line of trees, I’m watching his face for signs of recognition, peering into the reflection in his pupils. I want to know what he sees, but his gaze is smooth asphalt roads to nowhere, black tar poured inside brilliant green irises. I wonder if he is floating inside that blackness, endlessly disconnected. I squeeze his palm, and he says nothing.

It is an unseasonably warm day in autumn. On the way to the park, he stares out the window at the mess of color: red burning into orange, orange flirting with smears of yellow, deep brown branches forking into patches of sky. He laughs at absolutely nothing. I am happy to give this to moment to him, even if it does not really belong to me.

My mother parks the car outside the park, a small little plot of land encased in a chain link fence. This is a departure from Will’s normal routine when we visit him, which is unreasonably nerve-racking. He is a wild card, a train drifting and trembling on the edge of the tracks; it is impossible to say how this trip will affect him. I risk a glance to the backseat, and he stares back at me, for once ungrudging.

Blissfully, the park is nearly empty. A handful of kids play basketball on a court several hundred yards away. They watch us for a moment, perhaps pondering the strange sight of a fourteen year old playing in a park. My brother runs across the grass, flapping his arms. I wonder if he feels the wind caught between his fingertips; I wonder if he can taste his euphoria in his throat.

I watch him from the swings, my feet grazing the wood chips as I sway back and forth. He stands at the edge of the fence, tossing sticks over the top. I watch as he methodically picks up each twig, inspecting it as if one is more worthy of being thrown than any other. I glance at my mother, wondering if I should intervene. “He’s okay,” she assures me, but our eyes don’t leave him.

About an hour later, we’re about to leave when he stops in his tracks. His eyes catch the light tumbling through the branches of an old oak tree.”What is it?” I ask.”Help,” he replies.

I shake my head.

“Help.”

I’m about to object, but it doesn’t matter because he is already reaching, pulling himself onto the lowest branch. He leaves me no choice but to place my hands under his legs and support him as he scrambles up, grasping at fistfuls of leaves. This proves to be significantly more difficult than when he was six years old.

“Come on, Will,” I groan, and when he laughs, it’s almost in spite of me, in spite of this entire scenario.

Will shifts so that his back is against the trunk, and his gangly legs curl around a thick branch. He turns his face into the sun, singing a tuneless song.”What do you say?” I prompt, poking his belly. He swats my hand away, but replies: “Thank you.”

I roll my eyes. “You’re welcome.”

When we drive back to his residential home, I watch him with his eyes on the world.

And there I am, and there I will always be, caught in Willie’s impossible orbit. I realize, then, that my brother is not a puzzle, nor does he miss any pieces of himself.

He is the sum of his parts. He is a mystery, a story with a million endings. And he is complete.

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