Never Leave a Brother Behind

December 13, 2010
By , San Jose, CA
“William!” I roared as I pelted down the alley, and as he turned in amazement I tackled my younger brother with all of my strength.

Will had been becoming more and more distant, and I had been increasingly bothered by it. He was never home, his grades were declining faster than I could imagine, and he had quit the baseball team, which up to that point had been a point of pride for him. Finally I had decided enough was enough and that I would get to the bottom of this surprising turn of events.

Asking him about it had proven fruitless. He had simply shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Nothin’ t’worry about, Tony Tony. ‘Sall good,” to my questions, despite my pleas for him to let me in. I was also foiled in my attempts to get him alone. I offered to play Madden with him, a long-standing competition which my younger brother by a year used to always propose we settle “once and for all!”

“Nah, not today. Gotta be somewhere today,” Will had declined. I had turned to his baseball buddies for help, and they had informed me that Will had had nothing to do with them for quite some time. This had puzzled me further, for they had been a pretty close group of friends.

“He runs with Chase Duwark now,” they had explained with grave expressions and shakes of their heads.

Chase Duwark was a junior in Will’s class, but his reputation extended far beyond what class he was in. Known as the Red-Maned Ogre, he was our school’s infamous blot on the record, a hefty, ominous dark cloud over the school’s reputation. He wore tight black leather pants and black tank tops, with studded belts that bore enormous silver belt buckles of guns or skulls. He had dyed his hair scarlet and wore it short; not quite a buzz cut but too short for much of any other description. He had three separate wallet chains on one hip, and a tattoo of a horned jack-o-lantern in a ball of flames on his right bicep. His lip, eyebrows, and ears were pierced; his lower lip just once on the right side of his mouth, his eyebrows each three times with small silver rings clustered on the outer corners, and his ears in numerous places with various styles. But what he was most known for was his criminal record.

A month in juvenile hall for grand theft auto was his biggest crime, or at least the biggest he had been caught for. But on his school record, he had skipped one class short of expulsion and was basically in detention for life. He was a drug dealer, a rapist (he was eighteen with a seventeen-year-old girlfriend), a bully, a gambler, and a thief. He had been held back two years prior to high school, and while remarkably had not been held back since, it was unlikely he would graduate at his current pace.

I couldn’t imagine what my brother Will would want with someone like Chase Duwark. Further, I felt it was dangerous for him to hang out with someone who had Chase’s tendency for trouble. Will was a quiet, honest sort of person. He wore jeans and t-shirts like the rest of the student body, and only stood out through his exceptional performance on the baseball field and in the classroom. He was polite to everyone, if not nice, and was quite friendly. Will was highly respected and his opinion highly valued. The biggest flaw I could see was his procrastination on projects, but even with such a handicap he always seemed to pull it out in the end.

I decided that the only way to get to the bottom of Will’s mysterious transformation was to follow him. On Friday I had stuck to him like glue, rushing out of my classes the second the bell rang to find and resume my tailing of him. On the first break all he did was sit on the bleachers overlooking the baseball field, alone and quiet. From my vantage point, I could not see his face, but his body language displayed either deep thought or sorrow (I could not tell which without seeing his facial expression, but that would have required me to leave my hidden vantage point a couple of rows above him). Second break passed in a similar fashion.

Lunch proved slightly more interesting. He ate alone on a bench beneath one of the numerous trees on our school’s front lawn. Then, when he had finished, he went and found Chase. Chase greeted him with a derogatory remark about Will’s looks and was met with a submissive silence, which shocked me. They were in an alley between two school buildings, and I scooted along the front of one of the buildings so as to edge up close to the opening of the alley and listen to them.

“You get with that h* yet?” Chase sniggered.

“For the last time, I don’t even like her,” Will replied.

“Better get on that. Have you even talked to her yet?” Chase asked, the sneer on his face apparent in his speech.

“Shut up,” Will answered. “I don’t even like her.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Chase laughed contemptuously. “Maybe you don’t, but maybe you do. Maybe you should try stalking her. That’d help you decide. See the side of her you don’t get to at school, if you know what I mean.”

“Where’s your girl, huh?” Will challenged.

“She’s eating lunch with her friends like she always does!” Chase shouted, suddenly riled.

“Oh? Just ‘cause, I’m pretty sure I saw her eating with that Josh Gratton again. I’m just tryin’ to look out for you, man,” Will said.

“I know she does that. I swear to God, I’m-a have to beat that h* back in line. An’ Josh too, don’t think he’ll get away unscathed,” Chase fumed. Suddenly there was the sound of a blow, and I heard Will grunt in surprise and pain. I quickly peeked around the corner into the alley to find Will on the ground and Chase standing over him, his right hand clenched into a fist. “And you shut up, by the way. Nobody mouths off to me, got it?”

Will nodded mutely from his position on the ground, and Chase let him up. I whipped my head back around the corner and leaned against the wall, a sick anger welling up within me. Nobody treats my brother like that.

“Good. Meet me here tomorrow at like six for the stuff, yeah? And make sure you bring my cut, or I swear to God, you’ll regret it,” Chases’ voice sounded again, moving off in the direction away from my end of the alley.

“Got it. Where’re you out to?” Will called.

“I think I’m gonna go get my h* right now, while the idea’s still fresh in my head. Gonna have to get a goddamn leash for her, that freakin-“. The rest of Chase’s words were too far away and too quiet to hear, but I got the gist of his rant. A moment later, I heard Will’s footsteps leaving the alley, and when I took another quick peek around the corner, the alley was empty.

Questions buzzed angrily around in my head. What stuff? Why have a semi-secretive meeting in an alley? Why did Will put up with Chase’s taunts and bullying?

I resolved to be at the meeting the next day, and then once again picked up shadowing Will. He spent the rest of lunch in the library, doodling on a piece of paper in the back corner behind a row of book shelves. When the bell rang for the end of lunch, I moved to the end of the bookshelf and leaned against it, crossing my arms against my chest and watching him stow the paper in his backpack and get up. There was no way he didn’t notice me, for he passed within a foot of me on his way out of the library, but he paid me absolutely no heed as he left, not even glancing in my direction. Neither of us said anything.

Though I tailed him after school was over as well, he did almost nothing. At one point he lost me, but I found him again ten minutes later when he emerged from a bathroom. He was noticeably different, more calm, but also more wild. He spray-pointed the outside of a fast food restaurant with clinical detachment, but when an old lady got in his way as he crossed a crosswalk, he shouted and screamed at her, waving his arms around and often making rude gestures. Soon he went home, went straight to his room, and locked the door behind him.

This new Will was making me deeply depressed, but also thoroughly enraged. Who did he think he was? What had he become? This was not how my younger brother had used to behave. He would never have even dreamed of berating the elderly, especially for something so trivial, and the obscene language he had spray-painted on the fast food restaurant’s wall had never been a part of his vocabulary before. Further, he had been so lively and animated in discussions with his baseball friends, but now he simply sat by himself. His voice, when he did speak, held no joy or interest. Will seemed only vaguely aware of his surroundings.

When at six o’clock on Saturday, I went to the alley to observe the meeting Chase and Will had agreed upon, I came with a video camera for proof. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting proof of, but it seemed like something I should do. By the time I arrived, both of them were already there. I quickly prepared the video camera and began filming.

“-to get this, man,” Chase was saying. He held up a small packet of white powder, and all of a sudden, my heart stopped and my stomach sank.

“Yeah, yeah. Listen, I used my last bit up three days ago. Here’s your money, hurry up and give it to me.” Will raised a wad of cash up in his right hand, extending his left greedily toward the packet.

“Whoah, easy there, my man! Didn’t you hear me? I said I went through hell to get this! That means the price is raised a little, you feel me?” Chase’s eyes glittered with malice. I began sweating, my eyes riveted to the little screen by which I was watching this terrible transaction.

“What? Hell no! Take your money and give me that!” Chase whined, shoving the wad of cash into Chase’s shoulder roughly and swiping at the packet.
“Watch it, Will. You better take it easy,” Chase warned, letting the money flutter to the ground at his feet. “Pick that all up and hand it to me like a gentleman. I was just screwing with you about the price hike, but I swear to God, you try to play rough with me, I’ll beat you down, take your money and give you nothing.”
Will seemed to compose himself, and he bent down and gathered up the cash. He folded it all back into the wad, and offered it to Chase.
“That’s better,” Chase sneered, passing the packet to Will and taking the money. As he counted it, he said, “Besides, what’s this ‘three days’ bull? I know for a fact you had some yesterday.”
“Only like a pinch, you know? Can’t count that. Laid that all on a counter in some bathroom, only got one snort. One freakin’ snort! Not even a full damn line,” Will explained, measuring the packet with his eyes.
“It all counts, a**hole. All your money’s here, you’re clear. I gotta bounce now; gonna screw Haley behind her dad’s pool shed again. Just tell me when you’re runnin’ thin again. I’ll hook you up, no problem. Later!” Chase stuffed the cash into his pocket and left Will alone in the alley. Will sat down, staring at the packet for a while with a look of longing mingled with disgust. He made as though her were going to take some of the powder, then thought better of it and tucked the packet away in his pocket. He climbed to the feet and began to walk away.
I turned off the video camera. My hands were shaking with horror and fury. Will my little brother William, the funny, lovable brother who had my back and was assured that I had his, was now a worthless addict to crack cocaine. Tears coursed down my face, and I rose to my feet from the crouch I had been in to film. I couldn’t think, and my hands clenched and unclenched. What should I do? I staggered around the corner, looking hopelessly at my brother’s back as he walked away. Suddenly, I began to run, charging down the alley after my brother.
“William!!!” I roared, as I pelted down the alley. As he turned in amazement, I tackled my younger brother with all of my strength.
He went down hard, and I pressed my advantage. Pinning his arms to his side with my thighs as he lay on the ground, I proceeded to pummel him in the face, weeping and shouting as I did so. My rain of blows was heavy, and had all the ferocity of my uncontrollable anger, mixed with the desperation of my misery. I felt the skin of my knuckles tear, but I also saw when his nose broke and when his lip split.
As I pummeled Will, he did not fight back. I think that, deep down, he wanted the beating. He knew what he had been doing was wrong and against his very nature. He knew that he had gone astray, and through the blood and bruising, I swear he was looking at me almost gratefully. He just lay there through my barrage, and I admired him for it.
When I finally feel off of him, exhausted from throwing so many punches and crying so much, we lay together on the alley street. He hawked and spat blood numerous times, dabbing at his nose with his sleeve, while I panted heavily and wiped away the tears and snot.
“Why?” I finally managed to choke out.
“Chase,” Will croaked. “He may not look like it, but he’s an amazing salesman. Convinced me to try it against all my morals and principles. Then again. And again. Then, when I needed it, he began charging me. I could see myself slipping, falling into the trap, but was incapable of crawling out.”
He began to cry. I watched him silently as he sobbed, putting his hands over his face.
“I needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. How could anyone look at me with anything but contempt? I thought I could never have overcome the shame.” Will’s words were muffled through his hands. “One goddamn project! I failed one project, and was distraught enough to let Chase in. Any solution is still a solution, you know. And this one’ll be an even better one than any other, he told me. It’ll give you a release. A release! I feel even more trapped than ever before!”
“I’ll help you,” I murmured.
“Nobody can. I’m lost,” he declared softly, his voice full of despair.
“Give me that packet,” I said to him. “We’ll start there. And then we’ll keep going. You’ve got to tell Mom and Dad. Then we can all help you. And we will. I promise I won’t stop ‘til you’re you again.”
Soundlessly, he pulled out the packet of drugs. He looked at it, then at me. I nodded at him, and in his eyes, I saw the struggle going on within him. Then the look in his eyes changed to a steely resolve, and he passed the packet over.
“That’s the first step, Will, already done. I can’t wait to have my brother back. Don’t worry, we’ll all be there for you, you’ll see.”
I rose, and helped him up. We embraced, and I knew that things would turn out all right. It was just a feeling, but I believed it. Dare to dream.

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