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A story

It's the burden in the past while now It's a gift

When we were kids, my brother felt like a burden to me. Now I realize he's a gift.

By Margaret Carlson

From Reader's Digest

By the time I was born, my parents, high school sweethearts Mary Catherine McCreary and James Francis Xavier Bresnahan, already knew that the charmed life they had dreamed of was over. Two years earlier, after my father returned from the war, they had brought home their first child, my brother Jimmy, who was deprived of oxygen in a difficult delivery at an Army hospital. There was no testing in those days for developmental problems, so only gradually did my parents discover how severe Jimmy's brain damage was.

As a small child, I sensed little of their grief. I did know that Jimmy asked a hundred questions: Can I make Jell-O? Where's my Davy Crockett hat? When's Grandma coming? Unlike other children who know what they don't know and are filled with longing for what they cannot have, Jimmy wasn't self-aware enough to complain. That, in its way, was a gift. It saved us.

My mother wanted our lives to orbit around Jimmy's, which turned her into a manic Martha Stewart and my already sweet-tempered father into a saint. It also made me uncommonly involved in my brother's life -- his protector, my parents' fallback. When I was little, I didn't resist my mother's urgings to "go out and play and take your brother with you." I chose Jimmy for my side ("If you want me, you have to take him"), and I tried to steer the games toward large motor skills that he could manage (hide-and-seek) and away from small ones that he couldn't (marbles, pickup sticks).

Jimmy was never to be left alone, and we never went anywhere he couldn't go -- not to a movie, a museum or a play. So I urged the neighborhood kids to come to my house. They loved visiting us. It wasn't

just the scrumptious food or the home-churned ice cream that drew them; it was the messy, kid-centered chaos.

My parents took care of everything inside the house. In the morning, my mother would try to teach Jimmy practical things: how to brush his teeth (that was successful), tie a tie (that wasn't) or put a belt through his pant loops (a semi-success: back loops no, front loops yes.) I was left to patrol the perimeter, where I administered rough justice. I quickly learned to dislike those who slight the weak or different or unlucky. And I learned that when no one is looking, those who think of themselves as the best people can behave like the worst.

It wasn't the pale kid with asthma who taunted my brother; it was the tall, good-looking one with the Schwinn three-speed and Ted Williams bat. At an early age I kept a list of "People Who Must Be Stopped." Like some tiny, pigtailed Mike Wallace, I tracked down the parents of kids who didn't play fair and squealed on them. Twisting the training wheels on Jimmy's bike was a minor sport among the bullies.

Frustrated, I went to Patrick's house and told his father that his son was the ringleader of the bunch. I was met with a blank stare and the bang of the screen door as he yelled for his wife to come down. She never did. So the next time, I threw a rock and bloodied Pat's nose. Years later, my daughter found my old report cards and was delighted to learn I got an F in deportment -- with a note from Mother Marita Joseph that I was to leave the summary executions to her.

The nuns at Good Shepherd taught as if each of us might win a Nobel Prize. There was no slow track: Each of us had a brain to be honed. But even their expansive idea of who could be taught wasn't enough to encompass Jimmy. What were my parents to do? Their main point of reference was the Kennedy family, whose situation suggested that all the money and experts in the world are not enough. Ashamed of his eldest daughter, Rosemary, who had been deprived of oxygen at birth, Joe Kennedy had her lobotomized and shipped off to a school in Wisconsin for "exceptional children." Our small town in Pennsylvania had no schools for exceptional children, and if it meant living away from home, my brother would not have gone.

Instead, he started going to a "sheltered workshop" nearby, where the production of potholders and lanyards outstripped local demand, but occupied him nonetheless. At first, Jimmy looked around and didn't understand why he was there. "I'm not handicapped," he kept saying. But soon he was engaged in the activities. At dinner, he gave a blow-by-blow of his day, which was exactly like every other day, which was why he came to like it. We were thrilled by every word.

From there, Jimmy went to work at the Navy depot in Mechanicsburg, where my father found him a job unloading color-coded boxes. He was sometimes taken advantage of, and learned words my mother never said in her life. But his boss, Rod Hagy, looked after him very closely, and the 20 years he worked there were better than we could have hoped for when he was weaving place mats. Jimmy won awards, not just the standard kind for never taking a day of sick leave, but also for coming up with ways to move boxes more efficiently. Whenever I hear anyone complain about too many handicapped spaces at Safeway, I want to tell them about Jimmy.

As an adult, Jimmy had become closer to my father than to my mother. They ate breakfast together, packed their lunches and drove off to the depot every morning. So in 1991 when my father keeled over after a golf game and died shortly thereafter, Jimmy was lost. He couldn't see how Dad could walk out of the house with a cooler of beer and his clubs and not come back. In the weeks following Dad's death, Jimmy was dry-eyed until little cracks in his fragile world began to appear.

I hired someone to live with him and drive him to work. But no matter how much I tried to make things stay the same, even Jimmy grasped that the world he'd known was over. I asked, "You miss Dad, don't you?" His chin quivered. "What do you think, Margaret?" he said. "He was my buddy."

My mother died of lung cancer six months later. Every child is sad when a parent dies. I was panicked. I was divorced, my daughter, Courtney, was moving out into her ownlife, and my younger brother, Edmund, had just gotten married. Now I would be the one who had to look after Jimmy.

What I have learned in the years since then is that my work with Jimmy will never be done -- but there was no need for panic. He didn't adjust to going to work without my father right away, so he came to Washington to live with me for an extended stay. At first, Jimmy, who had never once been

left alone, went everywhere I went. One morning he put on his funeral suit and accompanied me to a downtown hotel for a press breakfast with Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. The reporter next to Jimmy asked, "Who are you with?"

"My sister," said Jimmy.

"Who's your sister with?"

"She's with me," Jimmy said quizzically. When the waiter came around with orange juice and coffee, the only things served at these affairs, Jimmy asked for a stack of blueberry pancakes -- and got them.

Eventually I set Jimmy up according to his wishes. He wanted to keep his job at the Navy depot in Mechanicsburg and live in my parents' house. He has done that for 11 years now, with a succession of caretakers. He's become indispensable to the neighborhood. Leaves on your lawn? Jimmy's got the leaf blower. Mail to be picked up, dog needs walking? He's your man.

It took me a long time to realize that my mother was right, of course: that if she didn't make Jimmy a part of our lives, he might have no life at all. And that it was possible to have a household that accommodated both Jimmy's limitations and my ambitions. Jimmy doesn't take away from my household -- he enriches it.

That's what hit home a few days after the disaster at the World Trade Center. Jimmy came to see me in Washington for his 57th birthday on September 16, but because of the chaos after September 11, none of our family could join us. So I called on my friends to help make the day festive, even though most of them were drained and exhausted from working round the clock. Instead of a decorous, "No gifts, please," I shouted, "Gifts! Please!"

Jimmy set the menu: pizza made with Mom's bread dough, German chocolate cake and ice cream. The guests were people he'd met over the years. They brought the ideal presents: microwave popcorn, Turtle Wax, CDs with a mix of country songs, a sweatshirt, and enough cans of pretzels, potato chips and peanuts to give Dr. Atkins a heart attack. Considering the week everyone had just lived through, our crooning "Happy Birthday" felt like singing "America the Beautiful."

At breakfast the next morning, my brother pushed a stack of white envelopes toward me and said, "Why don't you take a look at these?" He'd been so poised the night before that I'd forgotten he didn't know which card went with which gift, except by making conversation with his guests. As I read each card, he nodded, as if the treacly sentiments of Hallmark had been written just for him.

And in a way they were. Jimmy had given my friends an outlet for their best impulses and most generous sentiments after a singularly devastating event. He had reminded all of us that a tightly knit network of family and friends can buoy you, if you ever should need it. Those birthday cards are now lined up on the dresser in his bedroom in the house where we grew up. In a way that I couldn't quite imagine when I was younger, my parents had built a house sturdy enough to shelter us all forever.

昔为负担今成恩赐

孩提时,哥哥对我好像是一个负担。现在我意识到他是上帝给我的恩赐。

------- 玛格利特卡尔森

摘自读者文摘

到我出生时,我的父母亲—玛丽·凯瑟琳·迈克克瑞丽与詹姆士·佛郎西斯·夏威尔勃朗斯南,他们这对中学时代就已相恋的情人,已经意识到他们曾经梦想的无忧无虑的生活已经结束。两年前,我父亲从战场归来后,他们就把他们的第一个孩子-----我的哥哥吉姆带到家里,吉姆是在一家战地医院出生因为缺氧而难产出生的。在那个年代,是没有对发育问题进行早期测试的,所以我父母亲到后来才渐渐地发现吉姆的脑部受伤有多么严重。

作为孩子,我并不能体会到他们的悲伤。只知道吉姆总是没完没了地问问题:我能做果冻吗?我的大卫克罗基特帽子在哪?奶奶什么时候来?他不像其他的孩子,知道自己有许多不了解的东西,并渴望拥有得不到的东西,吉姆对此却自我意识不够,因而也就不会去抱怨什么。所以,这件事,以它自己独特的方式,成为一种馈赠。它拯救了我们大家。

我的母亲想让我们的生活围着吉姆转,这使得她变成了狂躁的玛莎丝蒂沃特,而原本就性情和蔼的父亲成了一名圣人。这一切也让我非同寻常地卷入我哥哥的生活---我成了他的保护人,我父母亲的依靠。小时候,我没有抗拒母亲的一再劝说----“出去玩,带着你哥哥。”我选吉姆跟我一伙(“如果你想跟我一伙,你必须带着他。”),我们尽量玩一些大肢体的运动技巧型的游戏以便吉姆能够玩,如:捉迷藏;而避开玩那些他不能胜任的小型运动如:弹球,捡棍子。

吉姆不能独处,我们也从不去一些他去不了的地方--- 电影院,博物馆或剧院。所以我总是劝说邻居家的孩子们到我家玩。他们也喜欢到我们家,不仅仅是因为美味可口的食物或是自家搅拌的冰激凌;而是喜欢那种凌乱的,以孩子为中心的那种气氛。

父母亲掌管家中一切事物。早晨,母亲会试着教吉姆做一些日常生活中必做的事情:怎么刷牙(这个他学会了)、系领带(没学会),如何将腰带穿进裤环里(这个成功一半:后环系不上,前环会系。)我则站在一边,在那里进行勉强的公正。很快,我就开始讨厌那些瞧不起弱者,自命不凡,或是贬低不幸者的人。并且我还认识到那些自认为最完美无缺的人,在无人监督时,往往会做出最卑鄙的事。

那些嘲笑我哥哥的人并不是面色苍白有着哮喘病的孩子;而是高大英俊骑着斯威倪三速自行车,带着特德威廉斯球拍的孩子。很小的时候,我就列了一个“黑名单”,像梳着小辫子的迈克华莱士那样,我找到那些专爱欺负人的孩子家长向他们告密。这一群小混蛋,扭弯吉姆的训练车轱辘只是一个小游戏而已。而让我感到沮丧的事,却是去帕特里克家,告诉他父亲他的儿子是这伙人的头。在他家里我遭了一顿白眼,当他高声大叫他的妻子下来时,一边又砰地一声关上了纱门。而她妻子根本就没下来。所以下次再看到帕特时,我向他扔了一块石头,把他的鼻子砸出了血。多年后,我的女儿在我儿时的成绩单中,欣喜地发现我的行为课成绩是不及格----上面附有教母玛瑞特约瑟夫的注释,内容就是针对我那次的行为。

我们常听修女说:每个人都可以赢得诺贝尔大奖。世界上没有笨蛋,我们每个人都是天才,只是需要磨练。但是他们却不认为吉姆应该接受教育。我的父母亲做了什么了呢?他们的主要参照对象就是肯尼迪一家。他们的大女儿,罗斯玛丽,因为出生时缺氧,因此乔治肯尼迪让女儿做了脑蛋白切除术,并送她去了威斯康星州一所“异常儿童”学校。而他们家的情况表明即使花光世上所有的钱,请遍所有的专家也于事无补。我们宾夕法尼亚小镇并没有“异常儿童”学校,即使有如果离家远,我哥哥也是不会去的。

相反,他去了附近一家“受保护工厂”,那是一家生产锅垫子和系索的工厂,产量已超过了本地的需要。但不管怎么说吉姆现在有事可做了。起初吉姆并不明白为什么要在那里工作。他一直在说“我不残疾”。但很快他就干起活来。晚餐时,他会详尽地汇报一天的情况,确切地说,每隔一天都会汇报。那也是为什么他渐渐喜欢这份工作的原因。我们也为他的每一句话而感到鼓舞。

在那之后,吉姆去了一家位于米凯尼克斯伯格的海军机械库工作,在那里我父亲给他找了一份卸载色码箱的工作。在那里他会学到母亲从未教过他的东西。他的老板,罗德哈吉,照顾他非常周到,因此他在那工作的二十年间,要比他做编织放置垫时要好多了。吉姆获奖了,并不仅仅是因为遵守工作要求,从不请病假,更主要的原因是他提出了一些搬运箱子更有效的方法。每当我听到有人抱怨,在安全通道设置了太多的残疾人空道时,我就想告诉他们吉姆的事。

作为成年人,吉姆和父亲更亲近一些。他们一起吃早餐,带午餐,每天早晨开车去军械库。1991年,父亲打完高尔夫球后突然晕倒,不久就离开了我们,吉姆感到惊慌失措。他看不到我父亲怎么从房子走出来,拿着啤酒冷却器和高尔夫球棒,也看不到他回来。父亲死后的几个星期里,吉姆并没有哭,但他那脆弱的情感世界,却开始出现了裂缝。

我雇了人陪他一起住,开车送他上班。但无论我多么努力使得一切保持原样,吉姆还是体会到他所了解的世界已经变了。我问:“你想爸爸了,是不是?”他的下巴抖动了。“你说呢,玛格丽特?”他说。“他是我的伙伴。”

六个月后我的母亲死于肺癌。父母去世,每一个孩子都会感到无比悲伤。我感到惊惶失措。我离婚了,我女儿考特尼要搬出去自己过日子了;我弟弟,爱德蒙德刚刚结婚。现在我是唯一能照顾吉姆的人了。

从那以后,我意识到我将永远与吉姆在一起---但这也没必要惊惶。吉姆还没适应没有爸爸陪伴上下班的日子,因此他来到华盛顿,跟我住了很长一段时间。起初,从没独处过的吉姆,整天跟着我。一天早上,他穿上了送葬穿的衣服,陪我去一家市内的旅馆,与校长侯选人帕特布鍥南共进新闻早餐。吉姆旁边的记者问道:“你跟谁一起来的?”“我妹妹”他答道。“你的妹妹跟谁一起来的?”“她跟我”吉姆滑稽地回答。当侍者拿着此类记者招待会提供的唯一东西--- 桔子汁和咖啡走过来时,吉姆却要了许多蓝莓薄煎饼—而他竟然拿到了这些薄煎饼。

最后,依照吉姆的意思,我给他一些钱,足够他生活一段时间。他回到米凯尼克斯伯格的那家海军机械库继续工作,住我父母的房子。现在他已经和管理员们住了11年了。邻居们已经离不开他了。你的草坪上落叶子了吗?吉姆有叶子吹风机。取信、溜狗,都可以找吉姆。

很长一段时间之后,我终于意识到我的母亲是对的,当然,如果她当初没让吉姆成为我们生活的一部份,吉姆也不会有现在的生活。重组家庭也是可行的,既可以照顾到吉姆的不便,又可助我事业一臂之力。吉姆并未妨碍我的家庭,相反,他丰富了我的生活。

世贸中心灾难之后的那几天,那是一件最令我感到痛苦的事。吉姆上华盛顿来看我,庆祝他在9月16号的第57个生日。但由于“911” 之后的混乱,我们的家人都不能过来。因此,我邀请朋友来帮忙庆祝,虽然他们大多数人工作一整天后筋疲力尽,但我并没有彬彬有礼地说:“请不用带什么礼物”,我大声喊道,“送礼物来!”

吉姆设计了菜单:用妈妈的面包生面团配方做比萨饼、德国巧克力蛋糕和冰激凌。客人们都是一些他见过的。他们带来了奇妙的礼物:微波炉爆米花,海龟腊,乡村歌曲组合唱片,T-恤衫,还有很多罐脆饼干,还有让艾特金斯心脏病发作的马铃薯片和花生。考虑到这周每个人都刚刚经历过灾难,我们低声歌唱“生日快乐”歌感觉就像唱“美国,这个美丽的国家”。

第二天早餐的时候,我哥哥推了一堆白信封给我说,“你为什么不看看这些?”前天夜里他看上去一直是非常地泰然自若,我忘了,他不知道哪些礼物应和哪些卡片放在一起,除非是同他谈过话的客人。每当我读一张卡片时,他都会点头,好像这些标志着甜蜜情感的话语只是为他一个人写的。

在某种程度上,他们确实如此。在这次异乎寻常的破坏性事件之后,吉姆给了我的朋友一个发泄机会,他们可以尽情地发泄他们的冲动,同时也可以表达他们最慷慨的情感。他提醒我们大家,一个紧密结合在一起的,由家庭和朋友组成的群体,无论何时都可以在你需要时,鼓励你度过难关。那些生日贺卡现在仍然摆放在他卧室的梳妆台上,那间我们曾一起长大的房子里。在某种程度上,我并没想象到,在我们年轻时,父母亲已经给我们建造了一所房子,它是上帝给我的恩赐,坚固的足以庇护我们大家直到永远。