The first Christmas holiday season after my father died, my younger brother stopped talking.
He completely shut down. He did what he had to do, of course. Go to school, do his homework, eat dinner, watch television, say his prayers silently before bed and go to church.
But he did all of these things as mute as can be.
He even stopped talking to me and at the time it really hurt my feelings. We were close siblings back in those early days. I was his elder by 4 years and his big sister, so there were never any secrets between us.
I was worried about him, like I imagine everyone else was. But you can’t squeeze juice out of a turnip and you can’t make a traumatized 8 year-old boy talk if he doesn’t want to.
Once the holidays were finally over and done with, he woke up one morning and started to talk again.
But he wasn’t the same, not at all.
My sweet, sensitive little brother was gone. In his place was a new version of his prior self, extremely stoic and, if I’m being completely honest, a total shithead.
My kid brother went through some sort of metamorphosis during that timeframe, while my mother tried to put together a festive first Christmas without our dad.
We all deal with grief and trauma differently, of course. We had both watched as our father died right in front of us, but my bro was able to somehow mold himself in such a way that he never showed emotion anymore, rendering him safe from the onslaught of mental illness that would swoop down and take me into its ravenous claws.
I like to joke around and say that he’s “emotionally constipated.” It’s not a joke, though. He really is. I think that I’ve seen the guy cry maybe once since my dad passed away and that was now over 30 years ago.
I’m not saying that he’s a total asshole or anything, he’s a wonderful father and husband. Our own father wasn’t the overly emotional type either, but he did love us more than anything. My bro, deep down, is a swell guy.
He’s just not in tune with his emotions and I firmly believe that watching our father die at the tender age of 7 was what made that change occur. Call it a survival instinct or what you will, but nobody will change my mind on the subject.
The little kid who emerged after those 4 weeks of being speechless wasn’t the same kid that I knew like the back of my hand anymore.
And you want to know something? I fucking envy him.