''Convulsions or something like that''
Eric’s hands shivered like they had been on regular, subway-rushed school days. I would always yell at him to hurry the fuck up, and I had assumed his hands would shake because he was sleepy. That morning, I wasn’t screaming at him because it was a Sunday, and we had nowhere to be. He sat on our couch wrapped in a blanket, watching the opening credits of *Argo*. His hands shook violently, and he dropped the glass of seltzer he had been nursing. I brought him another seltzer glass from the kitchen, where I had been making myself a bowl of cereal. He dropped the glass again, and it shattered on the strip of wood floor between the couch and the carpet. Then he tumbled off of the couch with unfamiliar leg spasms too. I woke up my parents. He was jerking, tripping, and shuffling backwards with the broom as he tried to sweep up the broken glass. My dad said, “You’re not controlling that movement?” Or something like that. Eric was mumbling and had trouble responding. I ran off down the narrow hallway, the spine of our home, back to my parent’s room and played with the little marble box of cufflinks and loose, single earrings leftover from their lost pair.
I came back out to the front of the house when my somehow calm Mom told me he was having a fullblown seizure, and I should have but could not but did not want to stay in the kitchen to call an ambulance on the landline. Mom called 911 there as I should have. From the kitchen, I could see Eric on the brown armchair. Little back shakes, and hopefully not the blue lips. Was he foaming like some medical TV show patient? I couldn’t see. Dad holding, crying. Mom talking, holding. I went to my bedroom where my dog and I could bark and scream, and I watched myself cry in the mirror. Of course, the mirror. I tried to piece the scene together on a note on my phone, aspiring towards some sort of sense, artful angst, or accuracy, in what ended up being weak words:
*you bark and punch and drink and stop drinking and eating and sleeping but you bark and punch and you don’t know what’s good for you and you won’t listen to me even though this is about you and I’m hiding in my room and looking at cuff links and thinking about how to phrase this instead of being outside.*
I hope I wrote that after the paramedics came.
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Eric was belligerent, confused, yelling, swinging at these buff EMT men who took control of the situation. Then I began screaming like I would have on a subway-rushed weekday, though it was a Sunday, and he had just had a seizure. “Eric shut up! Eric you don’t know what’s good for you, they’re trying to help you! Eric you don’t take care of yourself!” Or something like that. Apparently the seizure makes you aggressive and confused. I just am aggressive and confused without the epilepsy, especially towards my brother.
While my parents and brother went to the hospital, I went to my cousin’s house, still blubbering. The last time I went over crying was when I was afraid of a rat I saw in our cupboard.
My cousin Andrés asked, “More mice?”
“No," I said, "Eric had a seizure.”
“Oh, shit,” he said.
His sister Danielle ran in later, “What happened? Is he okay?”
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I am bad at telling or knowing how to tell. How are we supposed to recount these true, worst things that did not even directly happen to me? At the cousins', I texted one friend about Eric's seizure while asking after her sister who had drank too much Four Loko the night before. I told another who had asked about my night that I did not really want to talk. On Monday, I explained to Eric’s friend "what the fuck happened." I mentioned it casually, an uncharacteristically quiet martyr, to a few of mine on the subway home when our little brothers’ sloppy, drunken behavior at the schoolwide party came up in conversation. I told my English teacher that I did not even watch the seizure happen but still asked for an extension. But it’s not about me.
Eric was fine. I called him at the hospital, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, why?” he asked. Typical. It was okay, a nice out Sunday, saturated by the swollen eye pain and salty energy after a big cry. I came home, and *Argo* was on, far past the cartoon opening credits that were playing when he had dropped his seltzer that morning. While the Americans were leaving the plane triumphantly, he slept with my parents on the couch, wearing the thin paper hospital bracelet.
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*Argo* won an Oscar. I finally watched most of it. He’s had two more seizures. The second one was after track practice, I think it was small, I think he missed a dose of his epilepsy medication. The third seizure happened at his favorite restaurant, Shake Shack, maybe also because of dehydration or forgetting to take his meds. His friends got him an ambulance. When I called him after he went to the hospital to see if he was okay, he joked that he was just visiting his nurse friend.
Since then, he has only gone back to the Columbia Presbyterian Children's Hospital for testing where they attach what looks like a big sock to his whole head, and it’s full of primary colored wires and cables, red and blue and green and yellow. He lies like that in the hospital bed for 24 hours watching SportsCenter or one of all the crime series he somehow has time to watch. I love how you can watch his head pulse on screen. I hate how tragic he looks as an overgrown child in a children's hospital whose walls are covered in picture book paintings. The hospital is in a very pretty part of Washington Heights, and we take the B train uptown and bring him Dominican food from the neighborhood.
If you pry, all he really says is that he feels weird before the seizures happen, wishes he could say that he is okay just unconscious during, and tired after. His “seizure disorder,” as he calls it, is not a big part of his life. He still drinks and smokes, while my Mom, Dad, and I watch over his shoulder, confused about how his response to adolescence is self-medication whereas mine was anxious masochism.
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It’s not about me, but I was scared to see him watching TV like normal, even though he still lies down in the obnoxious way where he takes up the entire couch with his spindly legs. I hate when he drops anything. He mimics the seizure tremors to mess with me after he sees my eyes widen in these moments. I hated when my friend said, “No offense, but aren’t the seizures like not that big of a deal if he has epilepsy? Like he’ll just be fine after?” I hated when his friends blamed him and his dehydration for his first seizure, “Classic Eric, too lazy to get himself a glass of water.”
Am I no kinder? As if crying in the mirror, trying to construct some scary piece, could pardon my moments of self-interested, extractive fear. I made vague reference to his first seizure with the word “convulsions” in a poem I was attempting to write my senior year in High School, and my teacher told me the phrase was too secret, not telling a full story. I hate that it felt good to write down, purge, and preserve nearly every bedroom secret of remembered, rambling details, maybe a story.
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I only saw my little brother have a seizure that one time. The three not-times I missed out on a proper granmal as opposed to hand trembles were because of chance and geography. I was not lingering, pre-reflecting, or pre-recording what was happening while crying in my bedroom mirror instead of just making the 911 call. So, I have only seen him have a seizure once four Februaries ago. How do you even count so chronologically when you’re older? Now that we are older, our familial configurations have changed. I realize how much I depend on my parents and look up to them in their generous normalcy or abnormal level of involvement in my life. There is more distance between Eric and my parents, but he and I still bicker like children.
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We have created the argument that our arguments make us closer because at least we are comfortable enough with one another to fight. Yet, we can reach each other in our improbable taste for rap or action movies or smoking or complaining about Mom and Dad. I remember when they visited me while I was studying in Argentina and read my texts with Eric about how our parents, eagerly checking that he was not throwing a party, have no chill and how he and I would move to California, just the two of us.
This is how I ingratiate myself with him, get him to listen to my music recommendations, or make him take my diatribes seriously. I felt so unwanted then, drinking the/our Argentinean wine with Mom and Dad, while worrying that some now irrelevant boy didn’t love me anymore. I suppose it felt good to reject some of their smothering love, reject the pride I felt showing my mother how much better my Spanish had become (even better than hers?). I could scoff at my gringo daddy’s endearing belief that “basura” is too pretty, too sensual a word for garbage, scoff at the anxiety I aroused in them because life and love seemed to have remained exhausting for me in the few months we were apart.
I ended up playing the good girl again and texting Eric, "They’re good parents though and they love us." These messages made Dad hurt, which he expresses as anger, so hurt that he was up in the middle of the night on the couch. He alternated between silently fuming into darkness and reading what we had written back to me as the streetlights outlined the old Facultad de Medicina (the medical school where my abuelos met) across the street from where we were staying. Anyway, I wonder if it was even okay that he was reading my texts to begin with, and I wonder if it is even okay that we don’t have locks on any doors at home. Eric thinks the unlocked-ness, “is a Jew thing.” That March, I told my dad I was actually moving to California just for the summer over FaceTime, and he pouted his face like a little boy. Mom said, “There are earthquakes!”
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Eric did not have a seizure when I visited him for his school’s Spring Concert, but he wasn’t doing well. It was April, and abuela was dying. The causation—her growing up next to a potentially neurotoxic dumpster in Chacarita, Buenos Aires to her Parkinson’s to the pneumonia to her near-death or maybe some genetics that mess us up that made Eric have epilepsy — isn’t so clear. The communication of the whole affair wasn’t too clear either. They told me she went to the hospital for something minor, and circumstances changed overnight. Dad called me to say things had “worsened,” and then Eric called, and he told me, most frankly, that these were the last days of her life.
He told me he had cried that morning, “But it’s okay, she had a good life. She did good things in her life. I’m sad I didn’t get to know her better when she was healthy,” he said. Honestly, I was sad to miss it—the healthy times in her life and Eric’s tears. I love when boys cry. When I stopped by his room before the concert, his desk surface and dusty floor was a glimpse at wrinkled tissues and ash and unidentifiable, days-old orange drink— mannish muck that I had not encountered since I had been dating an infuriatingly neat boy with messy friends.
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It wasn’t a particularly nice day out for the campus concert, and we missed the performer we had actually wanted to see. Eric and I wandered around the quad in a groggy daze, and I compared the people on his campus to those on my own. I was lying with my head in the grass, and I watched a very thin and likely fake-blonde sorority girl cry with a sadistic inward smile and a cruel curiousity for what someone so Barbie pretty could be crying about. I sensed how Eric must have felt lost as he stared around and sat with his sleepy sister to the side of the crowd that was so excited to know the lyrics to that one-hit-wonder’s one hit song.
We ran into his best friend Fredo who gathered us in a group hug and had that familiar tone of Spanish speakers with impeccable English, “Ay, family! It’s my fah-mily! I’m so happy to meet you! You guys look exactly alike. Fah-mily!” If Eric loves our real family, then I knew Eric loved Fredo because he disapproved of him for so much affection, for such performative (Latin?) smothering. Although, Fredo is Puerto Rican and Mom is Argentinean, so who knows what they share across miles and continents and history and colonies? That's another story. Maybe Eric’s just a nineteen-year-old boy who buries his head in his arms when we act like too much.
We went out on the town for dinner, to an Indian place called Diva, and something felt very sad. It was an abuela-induced sad, but abuela’s almost dying did not surprise me like seeing Eric out of sorts socially speaking. Improbably, abuela survived and has remained stubbornly alive through each draft of this story.
I still wonder why my brother’s newfound encounter with a near uncoolness bothered me during abuela’s then-imminent death. I think about that place—the town, the quad, our parents’ alma mater! They met the last month of my father’s senior year! Their love is infuriatingly charmed! And I think about dimly fluorescent dorm room lights and being stoned and eating leftover Indian food while my brother was off smoking some more. The small pastel houses around Medford are also very lovely.
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That next morning, Eric and I talked on the phone with our parents about how little had changed with abuela since the day before. Then I told him about all the small and large betrayals I felt spinning around me back at school, me, me! I went outside to smoke a cigarette. Mom would tell me that I love myself for even getting help during that time—for finding a campus job, for hiding from those who hurt me in my room far from campus. She doesn't know about the emergency cigarettes. She had to bribe Eric to go to therapy. He was supposed to be the okay one. I haven’t had an eating disorder relapse in two years.
It’s been refreshing to have him need to lean on me though. He called me one of the Saturday nights that semester when I was crying, and he just wanted advice on his major. I get a sick satisfaction when someone I love is in a crisis, and I can be there for them for a change. Somehow, I find something sweetly tragic in my brother, someone I maybe wouldn’t like all too much if I knew him at random, and maybe that misguided pity comes from being his older sister or from how he handles his life with more grace than I do.
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Eric got Minor Duodenitis, a stomach inflammation, because of drinking and/or the epilepsy medication, which he was due to go off of that summer. I called him from the library and was saying how I was worried about him, and he said, “Some people just aren’t as close to their families! I tell my friends shit.”
“But I care about you! I want you to be okay,” I yelled. I could see why the expressive, argumentative closeness suffocates him when Mom texts us comments like, "Glad we are such a supportive and functional family." We kind of are a supportive and functional family, and we could be less okay though we aren’t the most supportive and functional people.
“I’m just a person with feelings. Like sometimes I feel bad, and sometimes I wish I were more emotional, but I don’t know,” he said. I had lost all qualms about raising my voice and crying in public as I sat in the little glass hall between my campus library and the steps that lead up to it. My former friend walked by and never asked what the problem was because she was tired of my unrefined emotions. My other friend who overheard me understood Eric, she’s not so close with her parents either.
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He says sometimes before the seizures happen, he feels like he’s taken a big hit of nicotine. That may be one of the most descriptive sensations he's ever shared with me. In late June, he called me from Colombia, where he was studying public health. He had his first seizure in four years the night before on a bus taking him from Bogotá to Medellín. I had just sat down on a bus that was taking me from Berkeley to Monterey. I told Mom, and she summoned the motherly restraint she only has with medical issues and played it cool in her text to the family groupchat, "Hey bud, Jules told me. Are you okay?"
I went to the aquarium and got distracted from it all very easily under the crowded purple and blue halls, the simulated Open Sea. Elaborate Cuttlefish and jellyfish and other fish moved hauntingly with some alien, non-mechanical, gestural motors. I felt like an alien too. The peaks of little voices on family vacations echoed all around me and the fish.
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I suppose the distance between California, Colombia, and New York was helpful then. It gave us space from one another. Eric had another seizure after coming home, while he was playing video games with his friends. I had forgotten about that sad lisp he gets from biting his tongue during the seizures, and Mom reminded us, “Eric had a seizure on Monday. We need to stop normalizing this,” which is funny cause we normalize everything.
I was talking to my grandmother on the phone the other day. She, unlike most people in my family, can sum up feelings in a memorable sentence or two, “I used to tell your father, ‘You can’t get everywhere in life because you have pretty blue eyes.' I’d say Eric has more green eyes, but the same goes for him. It’s good things are harder for him. I can’t tell you how *healthy* this is for him.”
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