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When I was a kid my parents would always ask me if I looked up to my brother and I would say no but they would insist that I did. I would look down at my feet and not be able to assert myself because I knew they were right and I knew I was wrong and I knew that my brother was sitting on the couch a few feet away trying not to care. And I knew that I wanted to be like him.
One time during a trip to Chicago my brother got to go to a concert. I was in 5th grade and he was a year older. My mom came in and woke him up and told him to get his pants on because he's going to a concert. I got up too because I was excited but my mom looked at me and told me that they were pretending he was older because we weren't old enough to get in. I told her that I could pretend too and that I was good at it and I'm a tiger see? But I couldn't be sixteen and he could and I envied him and I even pretended to cry a little bit and my mom believed me and I knew I was good at pretending but apparently it wasn't the same.
I'm sitting in my basement trying to concentrate on reading a book for school and my brother is fiddling around with his guitar, and then his sitar, and then his keyboard. The words I try to read are lost in a sea of chords and twangs and do-dos. Words dissolve into sounds dissolve into thoughts.
People mention my brother as a joke to me. It hurts yet it doesn't. I'm numb to the pain but I want to feel it. He's my brother. He's spiraling out of control and he's doing drugs and he has a detention and he missed the detention and my mom's crying and my dad is yelling obscenities and I'm reading words that dissolve into sounds that dissolve into thoughts.
One time my brother asked me if I wanted to see something cool. I said yes and then he went and got a cigar and went on the back porch and smoked it. He came inside and smiled and I wished his teeth were yellow for evidence. I knew I really just wanted to protect him so I told him that it smelled like cigar smoke so he told me to turn on the fan while he went and showered. I turned the fan on but the smell lingered. It was failure and apathy and Febreeze and cigars and white teeth that I wished were yellow.
They took his car away again. He got caught rolling a joint in the basement and they took his car and he laughed and told them that they were a joke. I'm sitting in the basement peeking around the corner of the staircase like a toddler does on Christmas morning only there's no magic except for my parents making the car disappear and I've seen that trick before and it's a joke.
He hides it in an old amplifier in the basement. One time he showed me it and looked at me with a sense of pride that made me want to cry. But instead I smiled and laughed out of pity. What hurt the most was that he expected me to be happy for him; happy for him like he had just bought a new house or happy for him because he got an A on his test or happy for him because he hid his marijuana in an old amplifier in the basement.
My brother once told me that he had a feeling he was going to die young. He said that when he was 8 he knew he was only going to live to be 25. I told him that he's crazy but something in my heart told me that he was right. He's microwaving something right now and I fear that the microwaves are giving him cancer that is going to lie dormant until he is 25.
He talks to me about why God is stupid and why evolution isn't. I tell him that dogs become dogs and he gets belligerent and walks away. I try to do my homework but instead I think about everything. I cry tears of anger and of sadness and of remorse for losing a brother at the age of 25 who is really upstairs watching TV. The tears are hot and nonexistent but I wish they were real.
In my mind I call him a joke but I am still waiting for a punchline. All that comes is bitterness and remorse and I try to look past the drugs but all I see is the cigars. I think of something he does right and the first thing that comes to mind is his guitar. I try to envy his musical talents but I don't like the guitar. The guitar in my mind reeks of failure and marijuana.
People ask me what it's like living with my brother. I laugh out of pity and out of longing. I tell them that I don't think of him as a brother, which is true even though I don't want it to be. I want him to be my brother. I want running routes in the yard and hitting homers over the fence and pretending that I don't care when I do. All I want is a brother to look up to.