I’ve Learned to Stop Being My Brother’s Keeper

I wasn’t respecting his truth

Amber Fraley
4 min readMar 6, 2022


Image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

My brother stopped by our house a couple of days ago. He didn’t call because his phone is turned off. He didn’t Facebook message me because he hasn’t paid his internet bill.

I was surprised to see him. My brother isn’t big on socializing. He prefers to stay at home with his two cats he adores. As soon as I let him in, he was apologetic, because he needed to borrow money to catch up on his bills.

It’s not his fault. My brother is high-functioning, but on the autism spectrum. Our self-absorbed parents have done nothing to assist him in this world. Nothing. Our dad is sitting on a pile of money he holds over us like ransom, with the caveat that we have to put up with his verbal and emotional abuse. My brother and I have chosen to walk away.

Our mother has always been in denial about my brother’s difficulties in navigating life, since he was born.

“Oh, your brother is just spacy,” she’d always say, waving her hand with dismissal, as though his issues weren’t real. “I was the exact same way.”

She wasn’t the same way. Our mother certainly has her own issues, but being on the spectrum isn’t one of them.

So on the one side was my mother pretending my brother was just like other kids when he clearly wasn’t. On the other was our dad, who liked to tell my brother he was “brain damaged” or “retarded” and that he was “thinking backwards.”

My brother languished in the middle. In public school, the teachers knew something was off, but no one could quite put their finger on what was wrong. This was the 1980s when autism was just beginning to be identified and understood, and high-functioning kids were pretty much on their own.

When my brother turned eighteen, he left home to get away from our mother who was ignoring him at that point. She couldn’t help him financially because by then she had stopped working, as she was too mentally ill to hold down a job. Dad largely refused to help my brother financially, choosing to employ the “tough love” tactic. Dad has also always behaved as though my brother’s issues aren’t real, that my brother just needs to pull himself together, get a better paying job and stop being…



Amber Fraley

Writing about abortion rights, mental illness, trauma, narcissistic abuse & survival, politics. Journalist, novelist, wife, mom, Kansan, repro rights activist.