Special thanks to my friend, Will, whose recent blog post inspired this brief story. He was recalling the time in his childhood at which he discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real. This sparked a memory that I think about every Holiday season — but it’s not about me; it’s about my brother Alex.
As for me, I suppose I first realized that Santa wasn’t real when I was about seven or eight years old; don’t remember how or why, just that I have very little recollection of ever really believing that anyone other than my Dad left our presents under the Christmas tree. At that time in my life, my mom was already in the advanced stages of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and my Dad was always working, so once the idea got into my head that Santa was make-believe, there really wasn’t anyone around to persuade me to the contrary.
However I on my own decided to help my brother Alex, who was four years my junior, to keep the fantasy alive, while leveraging that bit of grown-up knowledge for my own personal enjoyment at the same time.
I convinced him that I was Santa’s personal helper, assigned to our family, and that that St. Nick had asked me to help him out because he was just so very busy. I was assigned to keep an eye out as to whether or not Alex was being good, and to report any behavioral infractions to the North Pole immediately as I witnessed them — via mental telepathy, of course; except it wasn’t your garden-variety mental telepathy — it was vocal mental telepathy; and oh yeah, it was based upon two-way radio communications protocol, too. So in other words, I would ‘talk’ to Santa as if I were a WWII fighter pilot radioing in to base:
“AJ to Santa, AJ to Santa, come in Santa...Sorry to say, but Alex just set the cat’s tail on fire, over...”Yeah, I was sort of a creep to do that, but oh, the power! If Alex ever dared cross me, I’d play the ol’ ‘AJ to Santa’ card, which would send him instantly screaming to my feet, pleading for mercy.
But don’t think I only used my power for evil. I spent a lot of time reassuring my little brother that he was indeed a good boy, which he was...most of the time. Our Mother’s illness was probably rougher on him than it was on me. He had no substantive memory of her at all, given that her AD onset had begun only a year after Alex was born.
It was a strange, almost surreal time. I may have teased him a little more than I should have, but I tried to protect him as much as my limited understanding of what was going on around us would allow. I loved him more than anything; we were each other’s support group and were extremely close the entire time we lived under the same roof.
In later years we’d kid each other about my little Santa rouse; usually someone would bring it up at a family Holiday gathering. We always laughed about it; Alex was never sore over my abuse. It was always understood as a older-versus-younger brother rite of passage; an example of how we tried to cope in our pre-teen years, growing up without a Mother.
But now, instead of smiles, it brings a pang to my heart every time I think about it; not out of guilt, but just in the sadness of realizing that my little brother will likely never remember that story again. Alex is now himself in the advanced throes of Alzheimer’s. He and my late elder brother David inherited the disease from our Mom. David passed away 12 years ago at the age of 46; Alex’s life however, through the new AD drugs Aracept and Namenda, has been extended beyond that of previous members of my family who’d succumbed to the disease.
He’s 48 years old, and is likely with the final 2-3 years of his life. I don’t know if he even realizes it’s Christmastime.
But I know that I love him; I know that I miss him; and regardless of what anyone else believes, I’d do anything within my power to change his fate.
Oh that I really could speak to Santa; I’d ask for my little brother to be whole, once again; not only for me, but for his family on whose lives his illness has taken the greatest toll of all.
I love you, bro. Merry Christmas.