Julian was the 'strange one in the family—aside from being the only male sibling, his whole makeup was different. He had long hair when he was born and whenever he was asleep mom would braid it because she was used to having girls. Everyone loved his eyes. Julian and I would play a game sometimes, and all we did was press our foreheads together and stare at each others eyes. His eyes were wide and brown and his lashes enveloped them when they were closed. He would always twist his head so he could see mine at a different angle, and I would stay still and watch the concentration in his sockets.
He cried a lot, but it wasnt because he was hungry or tired—he didnt like his feet. No one liked them. Julians legs were curved awkwardly; when he sat they formed a circle and when he crawled his legs stayed inward. Mom took him to the doctor because she wasnt sure if that was natural or not. They said that he had club feet, a common birth defect, and after he was diagnosed the sight of his feet tormented us. He had to be taken to a foot doctor downtown for his casts. His name was Dr. Elkus and his office was a wide and tall castle. The brown paint was crumbling and crows hung around the towers. I was always afraid to go in because I thought Dr. Elkus was an Evil Vampire. He was an old man who had an odd obsession with feet, after shaking our hands he looked and commented on how well our feet were. He smiled brightly when he saw Julians feet—he couldnt wait to fix them. Once we got in, the Vampire took him away to the end of the hall to his operating room and his pale secretary led us to a nurses office to give us a checkup.
"Whats your name?" she asked, putting on gloves. I was standing in the middle of the room and my parents were sitting on the bench behind me rocking back and forth.
"How old are you?" She took a popsicle stick out of the jar sitting on the desk.
"Five!" It was a few days after my birthday and I was excited to start school in the upcoming weeks.
"Say ‘aah." She placed the popsicle stick on my tongue. "Ooh look at all of your teeth—oh ones missing! Did you give your tooth to the tooth fairy?"
I was about to answer when I heard a loud saw. I turned to dad who was looking out the door and down the hallway where the Vampire had taken my brother. A shrill cry cracked through the sound of the saw and my mom shifted abruptly while the secretary closed the door. I stared at the door, feeling everything in me shake from Julians screams. I stayed in the middle of the room, but I didnt answer anymore of the secretarys questions.
Once the torture was over, Dr.Elkus emerged from his operation room with Julian in casts. The boy he was holding was red-faced and his lip was trembling and his legs were coated with plaster; this was not my brother. Once he was in moms arms he shifted as if he didnt want anyone to see him. My older sisters Ashley and Monique were at school when this happened and they were lucky enough to escape the mental damage that my parents and I experienced, but we were all there to watch Julian become even more helpless than he was before. He was already a baby; he couldnt do much more than be that.
Like most children, my sisters and I started walking at a young age; Julian was forced to crawl as he grew into a toddler, and when he wasnt crawling he would sit on the couch. By this time his casts were covered with ‘Get well soon! in different colored markers and little drawings, but I dont think he looked at them. Whenever she saw him sitting there, mom would come in and play with him. She didnt like to see him that way. Mom wrote about Julian and his recovery whenever she had time. She stayed at home and observed Julian and how he reacted to situations that needed his feet; just like Julian, she was new to Julians legs and was unsure how to help him feel better. Her scribbles talked about how he would crawl awkwardly toward her and when he tried to climb on the couch he fell her and started crying—it was the only way he could let out his anger.
After a month of casts, Dr. Elkus took off the casts engraining another horrifying day in my head. We didnt go to the nurses office this time; we stayed in the lobby and were able to see the Vampires operating room. There was a long hallway that connected us to his door. It had a light colored wood finish and a small window; I was running up and down the hallway—only to a certain point since I was afraid that the Vampire would walk out and snatch me if I got too close—when the sound of the saw rang through my ears. I ran back to my parents and hugged them. I dont remember what they said then, but I know that I was curious as to what was going on in the Vampires room. I was shorter then and I couldnt see what was happening where I was standing. I faced the door and took a step backward trying to find a good vantage point. I was close to the front door when I was able to see the saw and my brothers feet kicking behind it. I ran back to my parents crying and a few moments later Dr. Elkus emerged out of his room like he did before, walking swiftly and carrying my brother lightly in his arms. I was so used to seeing thick and bulky casts and feeling a hard crust on Julians legs that I forgot how small and gentle they were. He seemed whole again. With the casts momentarily off and his legs still unnaturally curved, Julian tried to walk. Dr. Elkus gave him a pair of shoes to help—they were connected by a brace; it was supposed to help straighten his legs as well. Mom would hold his hands as he shifted his feet forward, giggling all the while. As he took each step I could see his mind whirling its gears and trying to implant the function of moving one leg in front of the other.
His thoughts were set back when the casts were put back on. He went back to sitting on the couch, not looking at his marker covered casts—I wasnt sure if he was thinking or not. We took a trip to Florida with my aunt, and he sat in the stroller as we passed by toddlers running around the park. In the grocery store he would cry loudly when he sat in the buggy—his casts fit snug and it bothered him. People stared at us and mom would try to calm him down, but he would continue screaming until he was put back in his booster seat in the car. Back then, I didnt know better and would scowl at him for making a scene. We called him Tarzan since the movie recently came out and he vaguely resembled him because mom was still braiding his hair and when he crawled he balanced himself on his toes and his knuckles. Ashley and I would follow him around walking the same way so he wouldnt feel alone. I remember hearing him laugh then, it was deep and sharp like his casts on the floor as he crawled.
Months passed with the casts and the idea of surgery came to Dr. Elkuss mind. My parents agreed easily—they have been in this situation before; around this time Ashley needed a surgery to help her breathing, and if that helped her then surely this would help Julian. I dont remember much about the surgery, but I knew I didnt like it. Dad told me that they were going to break Julians legs and put them in right place. When I came home from school, he and mom werent there and dad had to take care of me and my sisters worries. I sat on the couch where he used to sit and I could feel my ears ringing with his screams from the Vampires office.
In the middle of my dreams and reality they came back and I never saw Julians legs until he was able to walk. They were proud and sturdy like tree trunks, but his ankles were covered in stitches that melted into scars over the years. Theyre pink and shiny and smooth like flesh and it looked as if those were the only things to keep him standing upright. He had the tendency to back up whenever he was standing still—he still does now—and that further influenced my hopes for his stitches to heal. Once his feet learned how to walk his mouth started forming words and his eyes began reading letters.
A few years later Julian and I got bikes for Christmas and in the following spring dad taught us how to ride them. After a few days of practicing I was able to ride around the yard, but Julian was having trouble getting his balance. Dad would hold the bike as he rode and as I watched him try to pedal forward, one foot in front of the other, I saw a young toddler being held up by his mom walking on the tips of his toes dragging his casts across the floor. The toddler faded when Julian fell off the bike and stormed inside the house never picking up the bike again. His legs were straight as he climbed up the stairs to the room.
Now, he doesnt talk about the legacy that is his feet. I ask him about it and he doesnt answer. Sometimes Ill catch him staring at his feet—his left foot has one toe thats smaller than the rest. I never noticed until a few months ago—and I wonder if he could still hear the screams grinding against the saw like I do whenever I see the scars printed on his ankles.