When I was little, I always wanted a big brother. I think it was something I hoped would give me some kind of protection from the teasing; however, the closest thing I had was a handful of male cousins who were older than me, and only one of whom I was close to. He was a year ahead of me in school, and when my friends went through their bad boy stages, they all had crushes on him. He was nice to me, but he was something of a rebel. He could be scary when he wanted to be, but he wasn’t really protective the way I imagined an older brother would be. The one exception was when I was in 8th grade and mustered up the courage to let my friend tell this boy in band that I liked him. That boy replied by saying that he didn’t care, he didn’t like me, and that I was fat. After that, my cousin could be found staring this guy down, making threats in his general direction, and, one time, “accidentally” causing him to fall down the stairs. Whoops.
In the winter of third grade, my mom told my sister and me that she was going to have a baby in the summer. After two girls, my parents were certain that baby #3 would be a girl too. Girly things were purchased or taken out of storage. A pink dress accompanied them to the hospital. I was promised my own room because the baby would room with my sister. It was one of the perks of being the oldest. I remember waking up ridiculously early in the morning on the day my mother was scheduled to have the baby (I had to be born as a C-section, meaning that my sister and baby #3 were too). I was so excited. They took me to my Grandma’s house where my sister had spent the night and we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. Somewhere just before lunch time, my dad called to tell us that we did not, in fact, have a sister. We had a brother (a brother who would remain nameless for a day or two because they weren’t really prepared with boy names). I started crying immediately. For all these years, I’ve been thinking that I started crying because I wasn’t going to get my own room now, and I’m certain that was part of it. But I think part of me was also just so happy to finally be able to say “I have a brother.” It’s almost 18 years later, and it still sounds somewhat foreign on my tongue. I still get a little kick out of saying “I have a brother.” I knew he would never be the older brother who would stick up for me, but I was still just happy to have him. I spent a lot of time taking care of him when he was little. I didn’t have a choice. My sister was 7 when he was born (I was almost 10) and both of my parents worked. By the time I was 12, I was home alone quite frequently with Mr. Terrible Twos.
I liked rocking him and singing to him. I loved reading to him. As he got older, we used to like to teach him things. I have a very distinct memory of watching him playing with his tractors one day and thinking “He’s so lucky he has two older sisters. He’ll never grow up to be one of those jerks who is mean to girls.”
I spent a number of years walking on egg shells (or trying to) in order to not set off a guy who would flip out about stupid things. That guy used to yell and make me feel stupid and generally bad about myself quite often. That was a long time ago and that’s all I wish to say about it, but the point is that it happened. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself at age 25, right in the thick of my quarter-life crisis (don’t joke about those ahead of time or they will happen to you, possibly lasting for 2 or more years), quitting my job with no real plan and moving back to my home state and back into my parents’ house. Then I found myself a year-long job teaching 10th grade English at my old high school – the one my brother would be starting as a 10th grader that same year. 10th grade is the first year of high school there, and in a stupidly cheesy way, I was really excited. As a senior in high school, I’d taken my sister to her first day of 10th grade, and now as a teacher I was going to be able to take my brother to his.
And so I spent that whole year looking out for him, trying to help him in school, keeping in touch with his teachers, and making sure that he paid for his wrong-doings. I knew my brother was very different from me. Without giving many details, one day, faced with one of the toughest and most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, I had to make a phone call, walk into an office and then walk back out knowing that I could have waited 45 more minutes and nothing would have happened. I was too worried. Something needed to happen. And so not out of the urge to be a disciplinarian or to seek revenge or just to be a jerk, but out of pure love and concern, I had my brother suspended. I still can’t totally get the mascara stain out of the sleeve of my white sweater.
I sat here for a few minutes trying to think about which words to use to describe how I felt sitting at the foot of his hospital bed, but I can’t because I start crying. He’s changed a lot of things about himself over the course of the last year, and for that I am so glad. I’m proud of him and I have tried to make his a smooth ride to success. I try to give him what he needs to do well in school and out. If he needs books, I buy him books. If he needs school supplies, I get those. I discuss college options with him and have already driven 3.5 hours to take him on a college visit. I try to encourage him without sounding contrived. I stop just short of doing criminal background checks on people he hangs out with because I need to trust him and he needs us to trust him. I try not to pressure him for information, but to create instead a comfortable atmosphere so that he feels like he can talk to me if he wants. And sometimes he does. When he needs things, he is always very nice to me. And I keep giving, because that’s what I do.
I know he’s a teenager and that teenagers are some of the most miserable people on Earth. Once upon a time when I was employed, I spent all day with them. I know teenagers. The irony is that while I’ve always felt like I’ve been good at relating to them, I feel anymore like I’m not able to relate to my brother at all. I find myself frequently thinking about the time I thought to myself how he would never grow up to be a jerk. I think about this mostly when he is yelling at me to “stop bitching at” him when I dare to ask him for help or to come out of his room and spend some time with me or help with the dogs. I get really tired of him swearing at me over ridiculous things. Sometimes I have found myself afraid of him and almost always I react similarly to how I did with the aforementioned guy who used to treat me the same way. I get mad, and then I come back, forgiving and ready to give more. Apparently that’s how I operate and I sort of hate it. Is that the same as killing someone with kindness? Is it possible to kill yourself with kindness towards others who frequently make you cry? Tonight I offered to read over my brother’s English paper for him because it’s due tomorrow. He sent it to me, but then got angry as soon as I wanted to discuss it instead of just fixing it for him. Last year he got a bad grade on a paper because he didn’t cite anything. A few weeks ago I was subbing for his English class and I went over MLA documentation with them. I know he has to cite things, so I suggested that he do so. After he screamed and swore at me and, later, at my mother, he asked for money for his field trip.
I’m still trying to figure out if it was an act of love or stupidity welcoming of more bad behavior that I was standing there, silently handing over my last $20. Maybe I refuse to give up on him or maybe I don’t want him to think I don’t care. Or maybe a part of me is still so excited to have a brother and, perhaps more than wanting to help look after him, just really wants him to accept me.