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My brother’s lips were turning an odd shade of blue. And I had no idea how to help him.
2nd grade. 8 years old. The morning of my first dance recital. The performance would be in front of my whole school, from kindergarten kids to fifth graders. I smoothed the long, flowy black skirt on my costume and made sure that all of the red sequins were completely secure. I had a solo part in the piece we were performing that day. I remember hoping that the older boys wouldn’t make fun of the huge gap in my mouth where I’d lost both of my front teeth on the same day just a week earlier. My dad had said that it was a cute look for a redhead with freckles, but I had my doubts.
My family was living in a double-wide trailer at the time. The space was hardly accommodating for a family of six, which meant that I shared a room with two of my younger siblings. At the time, Brexton was two and Averie was six. The baby had a room all to himself, which was totally unfair in my mind.
Suddenly, Brexton woke up, gasping for breath. I screamed for my parents. They desperately tried to aid his struggle, but it was of no use. My dad was on his way to the hospital with my brother before I left for school.
Did I mention that it was Friday, May 13th? I’m not the suspicious type, but I couldn’t help but question the odd circumstances. Of course, my parents didn’t show up to my performance. This was only the first of many that they would miss, but it was still a damper on my elementary experience. The doctors ran tests and determined that my brother had developed asthma. If he was close to anything that triggered his allergies, his lungs would start to close off. He was sent to a huge hospital in Salt Lake where more testing was done.
My parents later bought me a large ice cream cone in efforts to make up for their momentary forgetfulness. It was a nice gesture, but still wasn't enough to completely ease my bitterness at the time.
Senior year. 17 years old. My brother walked slowly out to my car, shoulders hunched. His face was pale, eyes sunken as if he hadn't slept in days. He jumped in and I hurried home, trying to ask him about his day at school. He would only respond in single words, too short of breath to make complete sentences. As we walked into the house, I hooked him up to his breathing machine, hoping that the medicine in it would somehow help his lungs take in oxygen. I put my ear to his back, shuddering at the deep wheezing I heard while he inhaled. I ran upstairs and grabbed the humidifier out of his room and took it to the living room. By the time I plugged it in, he was done with his breathing treatment and still gasping for air.
I should point out that my parents were gone on a date. Making dinner while my parents were out? I could live with that. Handling a full-scale asthma attack on my own? Not so much.
My panic levels rose sharply as Brexton's fingernails turned the same color as his lips. I ran to his room and threw a pair of clothes and pajamas into his backpack, along with a few books and his iPod. Hopefully it would be enough to keep a 12-year-old entertained for a while. I sent Averie out to my car to make sure that there was enough gas to get us to the hospital.
I called my dad, fighting to calm my ridiculous sobs and the hot tears that streamed endlessly down my face. I felt totally embarrassed that I couldn't hold myself together, but I’d had it. Never in my life had I felt as vulnerable as I did in that moment.
“Dad,” I managed through quivering lips when he answered his end of the line. My voice sounded like a little girl's, forlorn and helpless. “What can I do for him?”