Nathaniel had an older brother who liked to play the drums for hours when Nathaniel was in secondary school at the age of fourteen, pretending he wasn’t anything special—still pretending that he was normal. Before the accident, he’d been able to hide into his headphones and ignore the vibrations of the bass drum against his walls. But after the accident, when he was still reeling with trying to overcome his disability and trying to get used to people staring at him behind his back, whispering secrets that he would never be able to hear, he’d close himself in his room for hours and pretend he wasn’t craning for sounds.
He’d sit against the wall and place his palms flat against the tearing wallpaper and feel the bass vibrate against them, against his back, shake his entire body until he could feel nothing of the void that stretched before him, an endless chasm he stood right at the edge of, teetering between oblivion and the world that threatened to swallow him.
When the drumming stopped, when his brothers arms would be too tired to go on, Nathaniel would run his hands through his short, short hair, hit the stitching along his head, and something inside of him would break. Nathaniel would slam the floor like an infant, feeling vibrations and pain course through his veins. He’d do it over and over until his knuckles bruised and bled. Then he’d turn to his desk and throw himself into schoolwork he never cared about before then.
One of these times, he slammed his knuckles so hard against the wall that it cracked, and gave in just a little, and he almost laughed at how cheap their house was. But then he pulled his hand away and saw the broken skin and blood coloring the red and purple knuckles, and he screamed, continuously, until his throat felt like his knuckles and his brother ran in and took him up in his arms and hugged him, long and hard.
Tears blurred his vision and he rested his head in the crook of Matthew’s neck, feeling the vibrations as he spoke. He closed his eyes against the tears and felt them slide down his face, felt his brother’s arms around him as he kept speaking, kept patting him on the back, soothing. Nathaniel could nearly remember him saying “it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” in the same tone he’d used the one time he’d fallen off his bike when he was six and twisted his ankle.
When they pulled away, Nathaniel dried his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt and looked at the way the light from the hallway accented his brothers freckles and the shock of red hair—he had inherited their mothers hair—and then looked down at his hand, knuckles swelling in purple and red blotches.
“I need some ice,” he pushed air out of lungs and had no idea if he’d made a sound or not—he wondered if he made his voice sound like a normal person, or if he sounded like someone who couldn’t control it. It shamed him, his disability, and even though everyone around him pretended he was normal, he was fine, he could tell what they really thought in their body language. His brother would help him up, his arms gentle, and he’d lead him down the stairs as though he were going to break. And he did, a little more inside, every day.