I knew twins sometimes switched places and went to each other’s classes, waiting to see who’d notice the difference. With his severe cerebral palsy and bone-thin frame, no one would ever mistake Danny for me, though it would’ve been fun to try. I at least wanted my twin to be in the same building instead of an absence I always had to explain. But Danny — who in addition to CP had intellectual disabilities, was legally blind, and could only say 12 words — was deemed too disabled to be accommodated at my school, and was bused to a larger special ed program 30 minutes away.
Robbie was one of the few physically diverse students at our school. In our grade of 130, there was one Egyptian, one Asian, and two Hispanics. Our only Black kid was adopted and swore he was Sicilian. Otherwise, it was an able-bodied white-out. Did I like thinking that the only visibly disabled kid in my school was insufferable? No. I wanted him to be as charming and funny as my brother but with all the words, to be one of the cool and witty crips you see on television nowadays: Speechless’ J.J., Special’s Ryan, or even that wheezy best friend from Malcolm in the Middle. But back then, they were not on television, and every time Robbie opened his mouth, I gritted my teeth.
“Stop,” I said. “Don’t.” I defended Robbie from the worst of the bullying, but I would not beat up Jim for a thrown eraser or punch Phil for saying “you fucking Baka” every other sentence. I would not fight for him. Because even I found him annoying. If he were my brother, I reasoned, I would make them stop. If he were my brother, I would kill these kids. But he was not my brother.
Most Sundays my parents and I sat down to a family dinner. It was a ritual we performed when I moved back home to pay off my student loans. One...