Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mortality Check

Most of my life, I have looked up to Matthew as a protector and care-taker, so one of the most difficult challenges I have come to face over the past few months has been the drastic flip-flop of roles between my older brother and myself. Of course, I love spending time with Matthew, but that doesn't mean it's easy having to be the responsible sibling.

Yes, as we both grew older and closer, I came to view my brother as an equal, but I still felt like a little sister in many ways. No matter how many times Matthew asked me for advice about girls or complained to me about our parents, I always regarded him as inherently slightly wiser, stronger, and more prepared to handle the world. When I look at him now, and I see the progress he has made over the past four months, I know I was right to regard him in this way. However, I am also hit over the head with the reality of my brother's natural, human vulnerability. Being an older brother, fighter of ex-boyfriends, master of secret keeping, did not make Matthew the superhero I so wanted him to be.

The first time I realized being an older brother did not endow Matthew with super-human powers, he was probably around twelve. This was about the time that Matthew really hated being around me. I wanted to be his little tag-along, tomboy sister, but he just wanted me to go away.

I remember one day, for some reason, Matthew decided to initiate a tickle fight with me. Well, I don't know if we can call this a fight because I was no match for the power of my brother's tickles. I writhed on the couch, both hating my brother for the torture through which he put me and loving that he was actually spending time with me. The only way I knew to protect myself was to attempt to fling my body in every which direction until I could free myself from his grasp. I flopped and I flailed, and eventually, one of my feet flew right into my brother's crotch.

The tickling ceased immediately. My brother doubled over like one of those guys on America's Funniest Home Videos who comes into contact with a tee-baller's haphazard swing. Only, this wasn't funny to either of us.

I apologized and pleaded for forgiveness, but Matthew could catch his breath only long enough to scold me and tell me to get away.

Matthew, apparently, doesn't even remember this happening. But to me, this will always stick out as the exact moment I realized my older brother does not, in fact, have balls of steel.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inside Jokes

I realize most of these posts reference Matthew and myself when we were much younger, but that's when we made most of the memories that have stuck with me. When Matthew was in middle and high school, I was the uncool, pre-adolescent little sister. We didn't start to get closer until Matthew went to college, but then he lived 250 miles away, so even though we talked and connected more, we didn't do much together. After I went to college we grew closer still, but, again, we were separated by distance.

That's not to say we haven't bonded or done anything noteworthy with each other since we both matured. If I'm to be honest, though, most of the more recent times I have hung out with Matthew have been booze fueled nights. While I remember laughing a lot and enjoying myself, I can hardly seem to remember what was ever so funny. In short, the latter years' stories are more of the "you had to be there" variety.

There was the night we ordered pizza to my apartment at 2:30am, and when the delivery guy called to say he was outside, Matthew answered the phone with a curt, "Is this the pizza?" This sent my cousin Christopher and me into hysterics, but it's difficult to relay why. That same night marks the birth of "E-clon, the vacuum for your vacuum. From the makers of e-phone, the electronic phone. Rent it, or buy one from one of our local retailers; use it when YOU need it. E-e-e-clon!"

To this day, Matthew smiles every time I mention e-clon or ask, "Is this the pizza?," but I could never explain to an outsider what's so funny about either of these "jokes." You just kind of had to be there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pilgrim, Freglyn, and Feline Affection

While Matthew is, undeniably, loved by hundreds upon hundreds of people, he has always been somewhat hesitant to open himself up to others. He is friendly and kind, but I would venture to say that few people, if any, are fully aware of the inner workings of my brother's mind. I believe this is why Matthew has always been so happy around animals. There need be no worry, with animals, about what they are thinking or, more specifically, what they really think of you. Either they like you and are friendly towards you, or they don't and are not.

Growing up, we had a cat named Pilgrim. Matt had had a cat previously-- Romeo-- a mean spirited tabby who was not missed when he ran away from and never returned to our old house in South River. Aside from numerous scratches and bite marks, Romeo didn't leave much of a mark on the Collura family, so I would call Pilgrim our first real family pet. She was an adorable, loving, long-haired, black and white stray that my family adopted when she was hardly more than a kitten. She came into our home around the time of Thanksgiving '95 or '96, hence the name "Pilgrim."

Matthew and I could spend hours playing with Pilgrim, and she was so laid back, she didn't seem to care what we did with her. One of our favorite things to do with Pilgrim was to pretend she was Simba from The Lion King. We would hold her high up in front of us and sing, "Ahh, savennnya, ba-da-beee-sa-ba-doohh!" I'm sure she hated this, but she took it like a champ.

My senior year of high school and Matt's senior year at Boston College, Pilgrim developed a tumor in her mouth which prevented her from eating or cleaning herself. She grew irreversibly ill and was put to sleep on March 1, 2006.

Though we had adopted a second cat, Earl, a few months before Pilgrim fell ill, no cat could ever fill the gap which Pilgrim's death left in our hearts.

This past October, my roommate and one of my best friends, Kaitlin, and I adopted a calico. Her previous owner had called her Muffins, but we found that name terribly unfit and renamed her Franki. Franki took to being a member of our small family right away. As soon as we set her loose in the apartment, she hopped atop the kitchen cabinets and, purring, gazed lovingly down upon her two new mommies. This immediately reminded me of Pilgrim. She used to love curling up in the baskets on top of our kitchen cabinets. From there, she would stare down at my family who always stared back in awe of her cuteness.

Despite my efforts to explain to Matthew and my parents just how much Franki reminded me of Pilgrim in her affectionate and playful ways, Matthew was still stunned by Franki when he first met her.

"Alicia, why didn't you tell me how cute your cat is?!"
"I thought I did."

Matthew quickly became one of Franki's biggest fans. He never passed up an opportunity to pick her up or play with her.

A few months after meeting Franki, Matt, along with some of our other close friends, came up to Boston for New Year's. Again, he spent as much time as he could with Franki. He made up a multitude of nicknames for her. I believe the evolution of her nicknames went something like this: He initially started calling her Franklin, Franklin developed into Freglyn which was eventually shortened to Freggs. I hardly ever call Franki by her given name any more. Freggs, Freglyn, Freggers, Freggy. Even the other day, my mother asked Matt to spell out the name of my cat (he's answering questions by pointing to letters on a letter board, now), and he wrote "F-R-E-G-L-Y-N."

Anyway, one morning during the visit, while we were all attempting to get showered and dressed for the day, I let Matt change in my room for some privacy. After a few minutes, I noticed the door was ajar, so I figured I could go back into my room without compromising my brother's modesty.

Well, modesty has never been one of Matthew's finer qualities. When I opened the door, I found my brother standing shirtless in the corner of my room, staring out my window, holding Franki against his naked chest. This sent me directly into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Matthew claims to have planned the whole thing for a laugh, but I don't know. He really does love that cat.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Stuffy Noses and Salty Treats

This is a story I've never told anyone, not because it's some deep secret but because, honestly, it's not much of a story. I've just been remembering it lately.

Now is the time of year when everyone's allergies flare up. I can't stop sneezing, and the Sand Man seems to have set up camp in my eyeballs. I've noticed, also, that Matthew has taken to rubbing his eyes regularly. In addition, he has been using his index finger to excavate his nostrils. (Somehow I figured that would sound less crude than, "He has been picking his nose," but a rose by any other name can't be smelt with a stuffy nose, right?)

Anyway, Matthew's olfactory treasure hunts have brought back memories, from when we were little, of my father teasing him for picking his nose.

Matthew used to get nose bleeds all the time. Like, easily once a week. My father would joke that he got them from picking his nose, and, naturally, Matthew denied these allegations.

The teasing went on though.

"I bet you eat your boogers, too!"
"Ew, Dad, that's gross! I don't eat my boogers!"

This was a pretty regular conversation in our household, and one day, something occurred to me.

"Wait... people eat their own boogers?" So, I tried it.

And that's why I ever ate a booger. Honestly, it wasn't too bad, as far as I remember. A bit salty.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tender Moment (there's a pun in there)

While many of my early childhood memories of Matthew display perhaps a tinge of older to younger sibling resentment, I can recall a few distinct preadolescent moments in which he decided to don the wise, protective, older brother hat. One such moment takes place at our old house in South River, during a yardsale held before we were meant to move out.

I was only four when we moved from our first house and was, therefore, unable to help out much with the yardsale. I was dying to do something to contribute, so my mother suggested I set up a lemonade stand. She, of course, made the lemonade (though, I'm sure she let me stir, so I felt I earned my profits). I knew nothing of money or the proper value of a glass of lemonade, but my mom suggested I price each glass at ¢25. I was four years old; the lemonade was powdered; it was 1992. Sounds about right.

I set up a folding table with a pitcher and some plastic cups. The shoebox in which I was to place my quarters sat neatly behind my display. Now, I just needed to make a sign to grab the costumers' attention. On a peice of posterboard, I drew a circle with a presidential silhouette in the middle. At least, in my mind, this is what I drew, though I'm sure my artistic skills at that age did not allow me to render much more than a somewhat circular blob.

Sales were fine, but I couldn't help feeling like I was doing an awful lot of work for very little pay. When I aired this grievance to my brother, he asked how much I was charging.

"Mom said to charge a quarter."
"That's nothing!"

He took the posterboard down from the front of my stand and drew a rectangle around my presidential blob. Above this he wrote, "Lemonade $1." That's when the money started coming in. I guess people have a difficult time resisting an entrepreneurial preschooler, even if she's upcharging 400% for 8oz of powdered lemonade.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guinea Pigs and Sibling Rivalry

Those of you who know me well enough probably already know this story, but it's one of my favorites.

I've been told that Matthew loved me quite a bit when I was a baby, but in my first memories of him he was not my biggest fan, as can be seen in what I've come to refer to as "The Guinea Pig Incident."

When I was about four and Matt was eightish, he had two guinea pigs. He named them Tony and Linda, after our parents. These names proved appropriate because Tony and Linda developed a rodent romance and eventually became proud piggy parents.

My parents let Matthew keep two of the babies, and with that, their family became a little, stinky, furry version of ours. He named one of the babies Matt-- makes sense. The other? Fluffy.

Tony, Linda, Matt, and Fluffy. One happy family.

March 9, 2011

I was in Blanchard's liquor store in Allston, MA when my father called me. "I don't want you to worry too much because I'm not sure about the details, but Matt's been in a skiing accident." Why would I worry? What? Did he break his wrist or something?

Well, he did break his wrist, but that was the least of our worries. Nobody is sure the fine details of how Matthew crashed, but that hardly seemed important once I realized what serious condition my brother was in. All I know is he was snowboarding (not skiing as my father originally told me), and he didn't make it to the bottom of the mountain. He was found by our friend Tyler, two hours later, lying unconscious in the snow.

I didn't sleep that night. I was on a train to New Jersey before the sun came up the next day.

Matthew was in a coma and hardly recognizable when I first got to the hospital. He had a fractured skull, broken wrist and finger, a few broken ribs, two collapsed lungs, and hypothermia. The doctors couldn't tell us much. All brain injuries are different. Despite the lack of information we were given, I knew things weren't looking good.

He made it through the hardest days, though.

It's hard for me to remember now just how hopeless things seemed those first few weeks. He just lay in the hospital bed. The twitch of a finger or toe made my parents and me happier than I imagined a moving digit ever could.

Matthew's emergence from his coma didn't happen quite how I figured it would. I pictured one day his eyes would open, and he would simply wake up. It was a much slower process, though. One afternoon his left eye opened, but his gaze seemed vacant. Day by day, though, he became more aware, started moving his arms and legs, responding to simple requests.

Matthew is out of the hospital now and has been moved to Kessler Rehabilitation center. He still hasn't opened his right eye, but we have been assured that he will soon enough. He responds to yes or no questions, laughs at inside jokes, gives nice big hugs. He's becoming himself again.

That's what this blog is all about. Matthew, himself. Since it's from my perspective, it will be mainly about Matthew as a brother. Sometimes it's difficult to remember the brother I grew up with. These past three months have been the longest of my life, and it's hard to imagine any time before the accident. The person I was on March 8, 2011 is a phantom.

People need to remember, though, that Matthew isn't just a brain trauma patient. He is an amazing big brother and friend. He may not be himself at the moment, but he's coming back, and the stories I'm going to share with you do not represent the last of the memories Matthew and I will create as our true selves.