The Dreaded Question | Teen Ink

The Dreaded Question

September 28, 2019
By sunnybaee BRONZE, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
sunnybaee BRONZE, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

“Do you have any siblings?” they ask me. The dreaded question always comes up whenever I meet someone new. “Yeah. I have a younger brother.” I can feel the anxiety rising inside me as they talk. It’s not their questions I fear. It’s their judgement. I know their demeanor will change if I let the truth slip. I silently pray that the person takes the hint and doesn’t push me further on the subject. I try to steer the topic in another direction. I put on a smile so as to not give away that I am uncomfortable. Too often the person keeps asking questions while my heart sinks, and I struggle to calm my fears.

I am not afraid that people will judge me. I’m afraid people will judge my brother for having a disability. When I was first told that I was going to be a big sister, I never imagined it would be to a brother with a rare disability — William Syndrome, a 1-in-10,000 genetic defect which affects learning ability and causes heart and blood vessel problems. I was 13-years old and my brother was four when he was first diagnosed. I watched him struggle to learn English when other kids his age were completely fluent. I worried about how people would treat him. Knowing disabled kids are often bullied I was extremely protective of him. If he came home with a cut or bruise, I immediately asked: “How was school? Are other students nice to you?” “Yes,” he said. I’m sometimes doubtful. He might be lying. I assure him, “Okay, but you have to tell me if someone is mean to you.” Yes, he is still in elementary school, where children may be more open to accepting and being nice to someone. However, as he gets older, other students might leave him behind. He assures me he’s fine, but the fear of him being left out and my fierce protectiveness of him never goes away.

I know firsthand how awful the treatment of the disabled can be. I witnessed it before my brother was even born. I met the only disabled student in my class, Min Yoo, at the playground swings before class started one year. He didn’t know how to ride the swing, so I helped by pushing him. It was later when kids bullied and abused him, I learned of his disability. After that, I started avoiding him too, scared that kids would make fun of me for hanging out with him. At the time, it seemed like the best way to survive school. And I did survive school, but not my shame. 

In fact, my shame grew as I tried to stay away from Min Yoo. He followed me everywhere because one day on the playground, I was kind. That kindness was the first time he’d experienced someone outside his family being nice to him. I had simply pushed him on the swings. Back then, I didn’t have any experience with disabled people. Now that my own brother, a person whom I love the most, has a disability, I am ashamed of myself for trying to shun Min Yoo out of fear. 

This time when the question came up, something changed. I had the same fears this new person would find out the truth about my brother, but I also realized I was tired of giving into fear. I wanted to live in a world where I wasn’t afraid to be proud of my brother, disability and all. I have discovered a fire and an ambition to change how the world looks at disabled people. 

Now, when I see a disabled person at school, I try to engage and make friends with them. I know that a little bit of kindness means the world to them. They have feelings, dreams, and hopes like the rest of us. I want to be able to understand disabilities better, so I can teach people that anyone with a disability is just as worthy of dignity and compassion as the rest of us. Perceptions of people with disabilities aren’t shifting fast enough for me. I hope that one day when someone asks me if I have siblings, I will not have to hesitate and avoid their question. Instead, I will confidently say, “I have a younger brother. He has a disability, and I love him.”



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on Dec. 12 at 7:10 pm
SheressofPower, Arverne, New York
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Favorite Quote:
Progress, not perfection

I like this article. I think that you highlighted the real fears of being avoided or ostracized if you hang out with someone different. But I think that this article also shows how you have grown over time. TaYour relationship with your brother also seems to be very special. I think this article teaches one to be kind to others and treat disabled people with equality and respect. Good work!


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