An extraordinary college essay written by Gabrielle Schneiderman about the day of her brother’s car accident and the emotional response their family had to it.
One could not avoid the playful yellow words hanging encouragingly on the classroom wall even if he or she tried. They reminded me that “today is a great day to learn something new.” Routinely, my math teacher wrote her notes in multiple colors, supposedly helpful in stimulating our desire to learn. Beneath my notebook, which was so stark white it appeared to crave my pen’s ink, was my tenth grade Algebra 2 textbook, carefully written to prepare me for any problem I would face on the final exam. Everything was in its proper place, just awaiting its signal to help me succeed.
Later that day, the night before Halloween, I followed my dad out the door to buy wings for my angel costume. Though, I suppose Halloween decided to arrive early that year. I saw, from the corner of my eye, an inconspicuous, yet somehow threatening red light blinking incessantly from the answering machine. Although my dad told me to hurry up, I felt the urge to listen to the voicemail. I curiously grabbed the phone and subsequently heard a woman’s austere voice. She was a social worker calling from Denver Health, a hospital roughly 30 miles from my brother’s college. The ominous voice requested that we call her immediately. Setting down the phone, I felt a growing angst rising into my chest and filling up my lungs. I walked outside, immediately blinded by overwhelming sunlight, momentarily seeing nothing but red light. After I struggled to find the car and sat silently, the words somehow escaped my quivering lips. I then heard the social worker’s same grave voice asking my father to pull the car over if he was driving. My dad’s hand, shaking as much as the charm dangling from the bracelet my brother had given me, struggled toward the key to remove it from the ignition.
Sitting stiffly on our couch, I watched my mother’s face become the same color as the green walls, while her crackling voice asked the social worker, “you mean he’ll be a vegetable?” Though my brother’s brain damage was, thankfully, not this severe, he awoke months later from his coma, remembering nothing beyond high school and with a portion of his spine containing damaged, functionless nerves. After watching the doctor laboriously convey the improbability that my brother would walk again, the image of my blithe brother putting on his skis and buckling my helmet immediately triggered a seemingly ceaseless flow of tears. I remembered my brother comforting me, telling me to put down my phone, with which I hid my face, because he had seen me cry before. My algebra 2 textbook did not, however, teach me that one brain injury plus one tracheostomy would equal three months of not being able to hear his voice. After spending tenth grade forcing my focus on school and golf, in-between flying back and forth to visit my brother in his rehabilitation hospital, I was thrilled when he finally came home. Helping my mother move the last remains from his room upstairs to the guestroom downstairs, I rushed to meet him at the door. I paused to shove out of my mind the memories of my smiling brother walking through the door with arms extended in front of him; took a deep breath; and opened the door to see my brother, still smiling, but now struggling up the newly installed ramp with his arms preoccupied by the wheels beside him.
My brother and I grew up in a loving, secure home and attended private schools that fully prepared us for college and our future careers. However, the smart boards, encouraging posters, and specially designed classrooms failed to groom either of us for having to rediscover the past 4 years of our lives or for living in a wheelchair. I have watched my brother go from someone whose worst complaint was about the oppressive Florida heat to someone who, although still rarely has worse complaints, now lacks a basic human ability. I now understand there is no textbook or study guide that will prepare me for life’s tragedies; however, just as my brother had every educational opportunity, I want him to have equal opportunity to live a fulfilling life. My brother’s experience inspires in me a passion for neuroscience and a dream to research the cure for paralysis.
By Gabrielle Schneiderman; about her brother Derek Schneiderman