one day i parade about the house, four years old, a bossy, imperious child. full of strong will and tantrums that i've almost outgrown. i'm wearing a blue and white sailor outfit. the sun is shining in through my parents bedroom. august summer, the windows are open and the room is bright. my mom's favorite mary cassatt painting above the bed. my parents come in and tell me to put my legs in front of me. they place in my arms a tiny baby. a six pound, small faced boy. my baby brother. my best friend.
i'm dramatic with him. i pretend he is my baby doll. i hold him in a pink rocking chair with my name painted on the back and pretend to play house while talking on a fake telephone. he's my real life figurine. he's growing and we sit in his crib together. he takes his first steps across our living room floor to me. i'm wearing a pink nightgown when i catch him and take him in both my arms.
one day he comes into my room in middle school and sits on my bed and tells me everything. what is going on in school. who his best friend is. which girl he has a crush on. it becomes a nightly ritual, he comes in my room and talks to me. he opens up to me. years later he comes into my room crying. his best friend is on the phone telling him about his father who just had a heart attack and died. my brother goes into my bathroom and cries. i feel the breath leave my lungs. i want to grab him and run so that we miss everything that is aimed, but i don't, and i let him break the way he needs to.
one day i wake in the middle of a sweltering summer night. i grab my brother and we drag pillow beds into my parents room and sleep on the floor in front of their bed with the window air conditioner blowing on us. we sleep like that the next few nights and when we go back to our rooms days later i still sneak in his room and sleep next to him.
one day i'm sitting at the sunday dinner table and i tell my family i'm pregnant. everybody is shocked. stunned yet thrilled. my brother hugs me in the kitchen and tells me he's so happy. he tells me it's "so awesome" and i feel his sincerity.
i give birth to my son on a hot summer day. my brother is at the hospital with a balloon. he holds my baby and they stare each other in the eyes. years later i'll give birth to my daughter who stares at my baby brother with the same fascination. like she sees more. like she already knows him.
one day my mom comes over. both of my kids are sick with the flu and she's shaking. she tells me my brother is hurt. alcohol and more and how couldn't we have known. i walk into my kitchen and throw a glass. my husband grabs my arm. i'm angry. but i'm mostly sad. he was lying. but now we all know the truth. now we can help. now we can get him back. the way he was before the job at the bar, before his sleep schedule had him in bed all day. before he moves to a bigger, wilder city and my kids only notice him from pictures.
there's debris everywhere. there's a trail of deceit and dishonesty, but there is also peace in the way we prop him up, especially just by being together.
i'm reminded of my son falling and cutting both of his knees on the pavement months before. a week later i'm bathing him in the tub and he notices the cuts have gotten smaller. "i'm healing" he says, "but its not easy, mama".