Skye Wattie

Toronto, Ontario 

 

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Over the last 20 years of my life, I have shared a relationship with my brother that very few siblings have experienced. We have never fought. We have never tossed a baseball. We have never jammed together. We share a room, although we're both finished high school. When I want to find out something I ask him mostly questions that can be answered by a 'yes' or a 'no'. 

My brother, Kerr, is six years older than I am. He's taught me more than anyone else in my life, and his lips haven't released a single word. Kerr's cerebral palsy has prevented him from moving the necessary muscles in his mouth which enable speech. To overcome this, my brother blinks for 'yes', and uses a speech generating device. 

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As a young child, I often resented my brother when we went out into public. I hated how people stared. When I walked through a mall or down the street with Kerr, I saw judgmental eyes, despising eyes--at least that's what my young eyes saw. We couldn't go places that weren't accessible. I was internally screaming to know what my brother would say if at any given moment, he acquired speech. I didn't think I knew him well enough. I had these fantasies of what my life would be like if my brother could walk and talk. I was frustrated.

I began to realize that most people staring were just curious--they wanted to learn what the red switch on Kerr's tray did (he touches it to speak with his communication device). I began to realize that I was constantly educating people—friends, strangers, even extended family—on how to interact with Kerr. I taught by example for the most part, without even realizing I was teaching. Sometimes I had to be blunt. I can’t understand why so many times in my life I have met people who don’t know how to interact with my brother. They talk loudly and slowly. One thing that's always been painful is when people talk around my brother, as if he isn't even in the room. "Does Kerr want juice?". I don't know, ask Kerr. People assume my brother doesn’t understand.  But he does. I can’t imagine the emotions my brother feels in these circumstances—treated like a kid (although he’s 26) and excluded. Speech is often taken for granted. We forget how vulnerable we are. We forget how lucky we are to be able to say what we want, when we want, and most importantly, to be heard.

I am very close with Kerr. We have our jokes and memories we'll always share. I understand him. He's got a knack for humour--warm and often sarcastic. Sometimes cynical. He's the most resilient and patient person I know. He's endured countless operations, thousands of sleepless nights due to seizures and pain in his back (from his scoliosis), and boredom while sitting in classes which failed him. I'll always wonder what my childhood would've been like if Kerr were different. I'll always wish that my brother didn't have to endure what he had to, or that he could experience the feeling of skipping a stone on water. However, unlike when I was younger, I don't want a different brother.  

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 I used to yearn for an older brother who would play goalie while I practiced shooting pucks, teach me to play guitar, and pave the way for me. What I did not realize then, was that my brother was paving the way for me. He’s been the best teacher I’ve ever had. I am who I am today, largely due to my brother being who he is.  He’s been the first to teach me so many concepts which are essential to thriving. Patience. Importance of listening. Making an effort to understand. Empathy. Equality. Inclusion. Advocacy. If he wasn’t the first to teach me, he made the lesson more meaningful than anyone else.

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