The following free-writing session is loosely inspired by real events.
She met me at the rusted fence that ran around the weed-infested track. She was my half-brother’s friend from junior high. They hadn’t spoken to each other in ten years, but when my brother became sick a few years ago, she came back to help. Help with buying groceries and cleaning the house. My brother was a neat-freak ; I’m not. I was thrilled when I discovered she liked to organize clutter. After spending a weekend vacuuming and re-arranging things, the den and the library looked a lot cleaner, even though she didn’t throw anything away or dust.
Her hair was a lot longer than it was right before my brother couldn’t hold on any longer.
“You weren’t waiting here too long, were you?” She asked as she shielded her eyes from the sun.
I shook my head. “Why don’t you get sunglasses?”
“Haven’t gotten around to it.”
I wanted her to meet me because of all the boxes in the garage that I still haven’t–still cannot open. I wasn’t all that close with my half-brother…not just because he was eight years younger. I just always got the feeling that my parents liked him more. He could be a pain in the ass, he didn’t get better grades, and by the time he graduated from high school (with a C average), he had been at the center of four pregnancy scares–with four different girls. He even had a juvenile record the length of a fold-out brochure.
But, he could do no wrong. Apparently.
I wasn’t a genius either, but I graduated with a B average. While my half-brother was off living with goat herders in Mongolia and then cobblers in Venice, I joined the Army, spent seven years as a Green Beret, and then did some consulting work with MI5 before “retiring.” Don’t misread me here; my brother was a decent guy. He was a good guy…everyone liked him. He didn’t deserve to live out the last two years of his life unable to do anything for or by himself except give you that look. The one that made you want to confess to something you didn’t do.
My accountant keeps telling me that it’s not about loving and hating my brother. It’s really about wishing my parents paid more attention to me. All the lives I’ve saved and all the healing I’ve had to do (physically and mentally–I’ve been stabbed about eleven times, shot twelve, and a blind kid once stuck a Perrier bottle into my thigh) never amounted to much in their eyes.
“We never have to worry about Keith–he’s got everything under control,” they would say.
Attention. Starved for attention. Fair enough.
When we got back to my brother’s house, I led her to the garage.
“You know,” she remarked after I grabbed a Sam Adams from the refrigerator. “The reason you can’t open these boxes yourself isn’t because you were jealous of the attention he got that you didn’t.”
“It’s because you’re afraid of what you’ll find…and that if you go through enough of his stuff, you’ll start to understand him in ways you’d prefer not to …or such that you can no longer harbor any–”
“I know what you’re going to say.” I did. I knew she was going to tell me that I secretly resent my brother. She was right, though. I resented the way he made people feel. Sometimes I think he would’ve made a fantastic spy or conman. He could get anyone to do anything, seemingly without effort.
Before I went back to the fridge for another bottle, I felt her hand on my left forearm.
“Keith,” she said. “I knew him for seven years, but it was only in the last few months of senior year that I felt I knew him.”
Her hand was still on my arm. I shifted my eyes to meet hers.
“He never said it out loud and never to me, but he admired you. Any time he heard someone speaking unfavorably about you, he’d fire right back.”
“He learned how to stand up for himself by watching you, ” she said, finally letting go of me. “There was an incident that I remember vividly.”
“Your parents were worried that you wouldn’t be able to make it back home in one piece, so your brother and I, um, followed you to that warehouse lounge place. Some guy with cliched tattoos all over his arms said something to you or about you…you tried to just ignore him but then he threw a plate of hummus at you. One of the carrots ricocheted off your eye and then the guy punched you in the cheek.”
“Oh, yes. I remember.”
Her eyes lit up, her voice grew louder, and she was grinning from ear to ear as she continued. “Yeah and I wanted to go in closer to get you but your brother wouldn’t let me. So we just watched you incapacitate that guy. Didn’t you dislocate his jaw and break one of his hands?”
“That I did.”
She was still smiling as she peeled back the lid of the first box. The first item she pulled out was a bag of marshmallows.