Family Room Snake Hunts This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 23, 2013
So blinding was the snow that Jeffrey could hardly see the Alps that ran across the horizon. After what seemed like miles – all the while debating whether to take another step – Jeffrey came upon a brightly lit cabin. Smoke billowed from the chimney with snow piled on the roof. He stumbled in, embracing the warmth. Then he noticed that this cabin was, in fact, a pawn shop.

Although he had not intended to buy anything, one object caught his eye. Well, not an object – a person. A chubby baby sat in a display case. He was so perfectly fat, Jeffrey just had to make an offer for him. After rummaging through his sack and bargaining with the shop owner, the two men settled on a price: one cheese stick.

This story was what my 4-year-old self believed was my origin. It came from the eccentric mind of my older brother, Jeffrey. No one calls him that – even typing it feels weird. He goes by Jeff, JR, and, more recently, Carmelo (don't ask). Given that I've always been the gullible type, while “Melo” has always been the let's-mess-with-people type, it's not surprising that I grew up believing more than a few bold-faced lies, starting with this pawn shop story.

I'm not adopted, but I believed I was for the first half of my life. At the time, the story made sense. Of course I was found in a Swiss pawn shop. Isn't that where all babies come from? Not to mention that Jeff convinced my developing mind that I was worth just one cheese stick. I'm sure that helped my young psyche.

This story was just one of the made-up tales I believed during my childhood, some more elaborate than others. I soon learned from my parents that no, I was not pawned from a Swiss mountain man in exchange for a cheese stick. To compensate for this, Jeff then attempted to convince me I was a “figment” of my own imagination. There's a good chance I didn't know what a figment was at eight, nor was I familiar with René Descartes to support my claim. Yet we would have regular arguments debating whether or not I truly existed … which I never won.

Eventually, the existence dispute got old for Jeff. Maybe I was starting to win the arguments. His next ploy was a recurring character: Sebastian, the Spanish foreign exchange student, who would appear every few months, usually when Jeff was bored or the White Sox hadn't made the playoffs. Surprisingly, Sebastian resembled my brother, who he had supposedly swapped countries with. He came complete with a shoddy accent and a craving for Spanish rice.

I often had to explain to Sebastian how America worked. I would show him how to use the microwave, help him read his English textbooks, even teach him to play baseball so he could “fill in” for Jeff on the high school team. In turn, he would teach me Spanish words like “burrito” and “correctamundo.” Of course Sebastian didn't understand much English, making me his personal translator. I was usually called into service when our parents wanted to talk to him.

These and many other zany childhood memories blur together to form a single image of my brother. I remember a poker-playing shark who came to live in our pool. And then Jeff saw the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” and all the electrical cords in our house became vicious serpents. Safari-style snake hunts became the norm in our house.

Yes, most of Jeff's stories were made-up. Yes, he messed with my head more than a little bit. In the end, however, I loved his stories. I loved everything about them. My young mind somehow understood that Jeff was lying, yet wholeheartedly believed the lies at the same time.

I knew that Jeff was Sebastian, while still reacting as though they were different people. I loved learning his fake Spanish words. I loved teaching him to throw a baseball. I loved those family room snake hunts.

Jeff's childhood antics brought us closer together, not to mention making for great stories now that I'm older. Like most things in life, I appreciate them more as I've gotten older. My brother is unique; it's easy to dislike him but impossible not to love him. I've definitely felt both intense feelings, often in the same day. At the end of that day, however, Jeff's stories represent the parts of him that force you to genuinely love him.

I think one of Jeff's tweets sums it up best: “I love my family … that's one of the only things I know at this point.” Jeff may be eccentric at times, but his heart is in the right place. Through his stories, he brought us closer. He knew that, and somehow, I think I even knew that. I'll always love Jeff's stories. Just like I'll always love my brother.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Fairmare said...
Jul. 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm
I know I may be bias,being his aunt and all, however what a great essay from an awesome young man.
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