A sister struggles with her brother’s autism while growing up and seeking personal fulfillment.
Award-winning journalist Combs details her tomboyish childhood in the late 1950s, first in Kansas, when her brother was born, and then in Denver, when things began to shift and sour. The author was 5, her brother just an infant, when their mother began fretting over the way Roddy “rocked in his crib, banging his head against the bars, not seeming to mind the pain, not crying as she hurried to him.” A misdiagnosis of cerebral palsy was corrected to Asperger’s years later. Meanwhile, Combs witnessed the discord of her parents’ relationship after a rushed move to Hazard, Kentucky. As she grew up, her sheer exasperation at her brother’s quizzical behavior quickly turned to fierce protectiveness when the schoolyard bullies tormented him. Eventually, the author’s vibrant life began buckling beneath the weight of Roddy’s rages and the family’s growing impatience with an impairment they could not fully understood, manage, or treat at the time. “My brother’s response to any request was like a tangled almanac,” she writes, “a set of warnings that might or might not advance to a full-blown tornado.” All of this took a toll on Combs, who realized that she had spent a good portion of her youth sheltering her brother yet not fully cultivating her own dreams and desires since she “always tried to be the son that Roddy couldn’t be.” Through the years, the author would “escape the undertow of my brother’s tantrums” to pursue collegiate gymnastics and, later, marriage and children. Once reunited a decade later, the intricate, complex familial bond with Roddy showed signs of deterioration but remained unbroken, despite distance and maturity. Though swift-moving, the narrative is richly textured, layered with colorfully outlined imagery and descriptive prose, perfectly suiting this bittersweet chronicle of love, pain, and fierce devotion.
A touching, highly poignant portrait of how family dynamics can survive despite disability and seemingly insurmountable challenges.