By Mohammad Samra
It’s been nearly eight months since we almost lost Musa, and no matter how many days pass, the pain and memories of what almost became reality never seem to completely fade away. Some nights, I stare at the ceiling, wondering what would’ve happened if the ambulance had arrived five minutes later. A thousand alternate versions of that morning play in my mind often, with devastating results every single time.
When I catch myself living within these realities, I make my way over to the room both Musa and Omar share, and peek into his crib. The feeling of relief always returns when I see his pulpy body sprawled across the tiny mattress. I lean my head close to his body until my ear sits just above his heart. Once I hear the sound of his gentle heartbeat, I smile, slowly turn around, and tip-toe back into my room.
My life is riddled with paranoia. I have a tendency to overthink even the simplest of situations I’m placed in, creating problems that most times don’t exist. I’ve never been put in a life-or-death situation the way I was with Musa’s scare, and initially, I thought it would destroy me, but as life carried on, it did the exact opposite.
My relationship with Musa forever changed the moment he woke me up that Sunday morning in March after returning from the hospital. A majority of our relationship was built while the rest of the Samra household was in deep slumber. I sometimes wait hours in my room next door for him to bang his meaty little palm against the headrest of his crib to signal he is awake. I then sneak my way into the shadowy room over to Musa, who is almost always leaning against the headrest. I pick him up and align his feet onto the thin rail of the crib before suddenly letting go, causing him to quickly fall into my arms. Musa squeals, digging his nails into my biceps, as I perch him back up onto the rail to repeat the process.
I’ve sacrificed countless hours of sleep to build the bond I have with my brother. We’ve watched videos of him and I until as late as 5 a.m., even though my alarm clock was set to wake me up for school two hours later. I always paid for the decision to stay up with Musa, but I’ll always trade eight hours of sleep in my bed for a 20-minute nap on the stairs of a Metra train if it means making the most of the extra time I’ve been given with him.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to watch my two brothers bond. Three-year-old Omar understands the world around him much more than he used to, and watching him interact with his baby brother always leaves me feeling warm inside. He loves when I carry him and Musa at the same time, often demanding me to unbuckle both of them from their car seats. “Mooduck take Omar and Musa!” he screams gleefully as I exit the passenger side of my mother’s van after a grueling day of school and work.
I carry Omar and make my way to Musa, whose arms are already extended forward in excitement. My mother hands him over to me as I tighten my grip on both of them to ensure that neither fall from my arms. Omar repeatedly taps Musa on the head until he swings his right hand towards Omar in an act of self-defense. Omar then wraps his arms around Musa to give him a hug, while Musa remains fascinated with the light bulb hanging from the ceiling of the garage.
I make my way into the house, balancing a brother in each arm, and walk towards the same mirror where I carried Musa the night he came home. I studied the reflection of the two boys bonding within my arms. It was symbolic to me. I relished in the fact that the two will likely spend a majority of their time together, while still having a strong connection with their brother, who’s old enough to be their father.
For 13 years, all I’ve wanted was a brother. Year by year, I slowly watched that dream distance itself from me. My naïve hope turned into solemn acceptance that I’d never get what I wanted, until November of 2015, when my wildest dreams were fulfilled in the form of Omar. Having Omar around changed my life, and my mission from the moment he was born was to be the best brother I can possibly be for him.
Two years later, Musa was born, and I now had double what I wanted. Granted, Musa and I didn’t get off to the strongest start, but what he has been through in his short life has taught me to balance the infinite amount of love I have for both him and Omar. Seeing his wide smile after a long day provides me with the drive I need to labor through such a rigorous schedule.
I live for the moments where he bangs his hands against the walls, or slams the kitchen cabinet shut because he likes the sound it makes. I love when he kicks his feet in excitement as I approach his crib at 2 a.m. to play. I admire the personality he’s developed since coming home – he is the toughest toddler I’ve ever seen in my life. While I dislike the bite marks he leaves on my face, I’m grateful for them, because I know that’s his way of showing he loves me.
Musa turns two today, and I can’t help but think about how different his birthday would’ve been had he died that morning. I pick him up from his crib and sway him back and forth in my arms, as his innocent brown eyes meet mine. He can’t comprehend what he means to me, but because of the second chance we received, I know exactly what I mean to him.