The day this photo was taken. A faded photograph of my mum and dad with my older brother.
Well, he was my older brother.
In a coma.
He had been hit by a car and had gone into a coma. Seven years later, after tedious waiting and anxiously staying up late thinking the worst possible things, he woke up.
Once, for thirty minutes. He died after that. His eyes fluttering away, and his mind ascending to the place of dreams. Heaven.
Tears have been shed, memories have been thought about that could have been made, but it will never be the same. This photo was taken hours before the accident.
I turn it around in my hands, studying the faces of my parents. If only they had known. Zachariah was his name. His face was always happy and his messy dark blonde hair was never neat. His eyes were always glinting with a sense of excitement.
He was two years older than me. I only knew him for six years before the accident. He was eight at the time of the accident.
My brother wasn't normal. Not stereotypically. He had a specific case of down syndrome. He loved to talk, to himself, to strangers, to plants, to everyone. But, it got him in trouble sometimes. He had no deformities, it was just his mind.
The coma he went into fixed his brain. The doctors saw an increase in a lot of things, including his mental stability and health. If only he had been awake during that time. But, he got half an hour with a normal brain. He learnt how to spell his name, he learnt my name, my parents' names. Then, he faded, just like the photograph I hold in my hands.
Micah, that's my name. I had taken the photo. It's 1985 now. My father lives on the same land as my mother and me, but we barely see him. Zach's death killed us all internally. Even though I took this photo, I feel like I don't know it at all. I turn the photo over. Writing is on the back of it. I frown. It’s in Greek. My brother was the best at Greek. I was never the best, it is my native language, but I don’t know it that well. He however, was fluent in it. I read the writing.
αντίο κόσμε. Για να ζήσετε ή όχι για να ζήσετε. Αυτη ειναι Η ερωτηση.
I translate the bits I know in my mind.
Goodbye world. To live or not to live. This is the question.
I frown. It is definitely my brother's handwriting. But why would he write such a thing? I look at a date he wrote beneath the writing.
He would have to have been in the middle of his coma then. How could he have written this? I frown further. This is weird. He would have been five years and a few months into his coma. The doctors spoke of some waking hours, well, semi-conscious more like. He would wake up, eyes wide open. But, he could see nothing. He would scream and scream, about something.
His face was always sickly pale, his hands gripping the bed sheets until his knuckles were white. Sweat drenched him after those sessions. But, he never fully woke up. He could see no one, but his eyes were open.
The rest of the world is like that sometimes. Our eyes are wide open, and yet we fail to see all the injustices before us.
Zach couldn't have written this. It isn't possible. I place the photograph down and write the words on a separate piece of paper. Maybe the hospital knows something we don't. I head out the door. I need answers.
Upon reaching the hospital, I notice a dusty wind hitting the roads around me. A heatwave. I pull my hat closer to my head and walk through the doors. People are milling about and the sickly scent of hospitals lingers in my nostrils. I head straight to the front desk.
"Yes?" A nurse answers, she has wide brown eyes, but I suspect that even she can see nothing through their lens'
"I'm here to look for information on my brother. Zachariah Napolitano."
"Ah, you must be Micah," She pulls out a file
"Yes. Do you have any specific details from October 1983?"
"We recorded all of his brain statistics and mental health and stability for each month. This should be what you need."
She hands me a beige folder. On it, it has four words.
Napolitano, Zachariah. 1983, October.
I take it from her and sit down at a bench. Flipping through the whole of October. I reach the 18th. My birthday. I pull out the report. His brain levels had peaked that day. Three screaming sessions were recorded, each one intensifying his pain.
I watched him go through one once. It had been the 6th of August. 1984. I had been sitting by him, reading to him.
He loved when I read to him. Moby Dick was one he said he had wanted to read before he died. I was making his wish come true for him. I had reached page 45 when he woke up. Eyes bursting open. I had yelped in fright. After my initial shock, I gripped his hands, holding him down, shouting at him to come back to us.
To come back, to me.
He had done nothing, his screams had grown quiet, tears coming from his eyes. He had looked at me, seeing things through his eyes for the first time in a long while, before the coma took over him again, and we lost him to the world of darkness.
I sigh, putting the folder back into the larger one. His brain had been really active, but even he couldn't have written the message. That photograph had sat next to his bed every day of his illness. It remains a mystery. Just like many other things in this world. Despite his illness though, he knew how to make people happy, how to help them.
He always got the best gifts. I remember, he bought me a book for my birthday once.
Oh the places you’ll go by Dr Seuss. He had written a message in it. I can recite it word for word.
Because you, Adelfi (sister), will go so far.
My pet name for him. With his condition, his brain worked differently, choosing when to work. Sometimes he was so intelligent, other times, he could only count to three. Tears drip down my cheeks. I miss him so much.
Time is meant to heal.
But all it does is make it worse.
I sink down into a sand dune.
He was my purpose,
I have no reason to stay.
It's a pretty good reason to go.
I feel so small right now.
It hurts so bad, and it kills me every day that I can't be with him.
I can feel myself breaking apart.
This cruel world has broken many things.
Including my heart.
I fling my hands out before me. I need answers, I need help.
I need Zach.
I fiddle with my flip-out phone. Scrawling a message to my mum.
I'm going to visit Zachie
Her reply pops through.
I read it once before sending something back.
He's in heaven, Micah
I type my response out and hit send
I know, love you, Micah xx