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Dylan

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At two, I was allowed to wear his batman underwear if I promised not to wreck them. When he was in kindergarten and I was in preschool he learned to read so I did too. He walked me to the nurse’s office when I fell off of the bicycle at recess, both times, in one day. We hid together in clothes racks at the mall until my mom realized we were missing. We wrote and acted out our own plays about sorcerers and missing princesses, then performed them in our basement. We knew each other’s favorite movies; he knew I loved his Sonic the Hedgehog videogames but not Mario Cart, and I knew he was tired of watching Matilda, my all time favorite. We rolled down the hill in front of my grandmother’s house until we were too dizzy to walk back up. And in two months, my only brother, Dylan, leaves for Villanova under an ROTC scholarship. After he graduates, he will be in the army for four years.
Dylan and I rarely talked in middle school because at different schools we had very little to talk about. But freshman year I came to the high school Dylan was a sophomore at, and I loved that we now could come home and share stories about the same teachers and students. Walking to class I would hear a familiar voice rolling off the walls. I could recognize his loud, infectious, and bouncy laugh - swollen with a rolling energy that molded a big, wet smile on my face. He wore loose jeans that drowned his legs and baggy white T-shirts. His head was almost bare with a fuzzy layer of dark shaven prickles. People usually fell for his desired image – scary and tough – until they heard him laugh.
But even though I witnessed his bubbling personality everyday at school, I quickly realized how little I knew about Dylan’s life at that time. He perfected hiding his problems at school, but at home he so often kept to himself and lathered his sadness with anger. His friends came to me and emphasized how serious his depression had become; sophomores whose names I was still learning resorted to asking Dylan’s little sister to help solve their friend’s problem. I saw such an intense, desperate worry in all of them – something I wasn’t feeling yet. But he was my brother. What was I missing?
“Cara, we need to help Dylan,” they all told me. “Did you know he drinks at home on school nights? He isn’t doing well.” My sheltered state of ignorance gradually faded as my freshman year continued.

I went to a sweet sixteen with Dylan that March of my freshman year. I knew he was drunk as soon as I got there because his eyes didn’t look like his eyes and his pupils were big and earnestly sad. I tried to have fun but couldn’t help watching him to make sure he was okay. Other guys made fun of him when he started crying, and Dylan’s embarrassment erupted into an antagonistic fury that I had never seen from him before. His friends took him outside but Dylan insisted on talking to me alone. We sat in iron-grated chairs on a patio that overlooked a busy road. The upbeat music from inside thud in my ears and seemed so out of place right then. The moon hung behind me and draped his face and teary cobalt eyes in a muted, tallow glow. My bare feet were tucked under me and were the only sources of warmth. I couldn’t stop shivering.
He told me he cared about me more than anyone. “I won’t let you end up like me.” His words were thick on his tongue and rolled off all wrong and slurred.
In that moment his sadness was so heavy and real I could have physically touched it. He was still my big brother who walked me to the nurse in preschool and who wanted to beat up my first boyfriend, but he really needed my help more than I had ever needed his. Dylan explained that he wanted to leave to fight in the army because the army was clean and he wouldn’t be tempted with drugs there. I cried. This made him cry harder and he said over and over that he was the worst brother for putting me through this. He lied when he said I was braver than him. We talked for a long time even though my icy fingers ached, and even though people were staring at us through windows inside.

I couldn’t talk to anyone but Dylan’s friends about that night. For weeks I dreamt that Dylan died because he was so unhappy, and in the dreams it was my fault entirely since I hadn’t told my parents anything yet. I talked to a substance abuse counselor first, and Dylan didn’t want me to tell my mom or dad. But I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t as scary or serious as it really was, so I finally told them. That summer he went to rehab.

With Dylan gone next year, I won’t be able to disrupt his naps with my piano practicing, or stealthily sneak upstairs with him when we arrive home past our curfew. I won’t have reminders everyday of why I envy his hilariously entertaining personality unless I look in his yearbook under the “Most-Likely-to-Be-Remembered” superlative and see his name. The bedroom across the hall will be empty. I could go on forever about what I will miss about him or how he has changed me. Instead I’ll focus on the future when I can continue to be proud of Dylan. And I can focus on the past, when being able to wear my brother’s batman underwear meant the world to me.





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