My Brother

April 12, 2016


Mary…is not my name. Mariah, Mushu, Alex, Joe, Mashed potatoes… I’ve heard all of them. In fact, I’ve asked people to call me Mary when I first came here. It was amazing - I could start a new life, I could pretend that Masha didn’t even exist, but my old self kept banging on the closed doors inside my head. My best friends helped me find a way to accept myself, but most of all, it was my brother, who made me understand, that the world needs me the way I am.

I became a sister at the age of fifteen. My mother, a cellist just like I am, had a child we had all been waiting for. On May fifth, 2012, she gave birth to a beautiful boy, who was immediately taken from her into the baby reanimation because of some unknown problems. Little did I know, that my stepfather intentionally lied to my Mom about their son’s condition to protect her from stress, while leaving all of us oblivious to the fact that the doctors suspected my little brother to have Down’s Syndrome and a severe heart disease. Across the border between two countries, I was holding a tiny shirt that I bought for him in my numb hands, smiling, because I knew that everything was going to be alright. That afternoon, I received a call from my Mom’s best friend. My brother had passed away.

There are many simple things that seem impossible, after you receive such news. I found it hard to cry, call my mom, or even move my feet across the marble floor of my school’s hallways. I remember living in Minsk, alone, for the entire month. Five days into that summer, my Mom came back home to turn my life upside down, again. She said, that my brother was one month old today; I was not ready to grieve every fifth of the month after Vanya’s death. My Mom looked at me and repeated: “You didn’t understand. Your – Brother - Is –One –Month - Old.” She sighed, and added: “He is alive.”

None of the muscles on my face moved, when I sat down to listen to one of the most unbelievable stories in my life. The doctors took Vanya away when the obstetrician noticed the signs of Down’s Syndrome. That day, she had to face a line of seemingly qualified people who were bluntly convincing her to give up her son. “Having this child is the same as having a dog, but he will die sooner,” were some of the nicest words she heard. At last, when my mother was hysterically shaking on the edge of her bed, still recovering from the C-section, a doctor came and said that Vanya will not last a day due to his heart condition. He advised her to leave the hospital for good. I can understand why she gave up that day without any support of knowledgeable people.

Eventually, my mom realized that she couldn’t live knowing that her son would grow up without her.  He was already up for adoption, when we came back for him. Seeing Vanya’s face in the adoption catalogue made my mom terrified, and she left to gather all the documents in order to bring him back home. I stayed in the clinic for the night, to help the nurses watch over other children that have been abandoned by their parents. I washed, fed, and sang to five perfectly beautiful infants before going to sleep and on the next day I felt like I was more of a mother to Vanya than my Mom actually was.

This made me grow up tremendously in one year. Now, Vanya is three years old. He speaks, runs, laughs and eats more than I do. After a year of pretending to be the person I am not, I let the mask down and came back home to find out that he is happy to see me the way I am. I am the luckiest older sister, because going through those unimaginable obstacles was like I have suddenly learned that millions of people like my brother even exist. It has also shown me that the most despicable traits in people come from the lack of knowledge.

Hi. My name is Mariya; my friends call me Masha. Nice to meet you.

-Mariya Zabara ’16