A minute ago it was 6am on Sunday morning. We were sitting criss-cross in front the boxy TV at the old house, catching up on Pokemon reruns. A box of slightly stale Cheerios sat between us, our grimy little kid hands pulling it back and forth. And there were no words besides the quick questions during commercials, in which I would ask you who that Pokemon was and who he evolved into and you would calmly correct me each time I said something wrong. Squirtle evolves into Wartortle, not Blastoise. Got it.
And now I’m facetiming with Mom and Dad from my apartment in the city. Mom can’t get the hang of how to use the iPad, so she’ll think she’s showing me you when all I can see is the ceiling. And then she’ll finally get it. You’ll grab it out of her hands and press the button for her. You’ll mumble some sort of greeting and then go back to texting what’s her face.
A minute ago I was holding you in my skinny little arms, careful to hold your head the right way and stay perfectly still because I was so scared you would break. I was small and you were smaller. Maybe it was the way Mom huddled so close to me, watching my every move with you, but two-year-old me was so scared of hurting you. I passed you to Mom every time you squirmed in your blanket, because I knew that meant you were about to cry and I couldn’t handle that.
And now I’m home on a break from school. It’s my first night back and you walk in and we haven’t seen each other in a few months. After we hug you back away, your eyes glazed over and your breath strong as you tell me how stoned you are. You whisper but it’s slightly too loud, and the sound of your own voice in the quiet house makes you laugh. I make us tea and we sit there in the kitchen and you tell me about the girl you’re seeing. You tell me you think you’ll wind up having sex with her. In the moment I panic and try to say something older siblings are supposed to say. Some speech about how you should be sure, about how losing your virginity is special, but we both laugh because you know I’m a hypocrite. And you tell me that you have condoms up in your room just in case and that’ll be the end of that conversation.
A minute ago I was pounding on the bathroom door, demanding you spit out your toothpaste already. And then I’d sit in the driveway, blaring the horn and cursing at you under my breath for making us late. But we know late for me was ten minutes early and late for you was actually late. I let you pick the station because why not. You’d tell me about this new artist and this new album and I’d fall in love with songs on those early morning drives, cruising far too fast for the windy roads.
And now Mom’s calling me to vent about you. Your grades are getting worse and the meds don’t seem to be working and she can’t get through to you. She thinks you don’t want to go to college, thinks you’ve given up. She can’t accept that you and I are very different people. She calls you an asshole, says you’re horrible to her. Her words sound weird over the phone. They aren’t the words a mother should say about her child. Especially not to another child. And how do I respond? Who’s the parent here?
A minute ago I was crawling into your bed after Mom had already tucked us in. Mumbling something about the shadow by my window, I called out to you to make sure you were still awake. You rolled over without a word, pushed your other pillow over to me. You pulled blankie out from under your pillow, the little duckie and football buttons hanging by a thread. I faced you because I hated the window. Somehow you sleeping next to the door was safe, because at night you were brave and I was your scared big sister.
And now you’re calling me from New York City, the rush of traffic and your obvious intoxication blurring your words. And I’m taking shots with my roommates, comparing skimpy outfits and analyzing texts. You saw the concert I just saw last week in Boston, but you were kicked out within the first twenty minutes because the girl you were hooking up with had alcohol and you’re both underage. But you’re not pissed. You’re walking around with your friends, exploring the city you say. There’s an excitement to your voice, your friends call to you from down the block. You’re about to hang up. And then you pause.
“I love you,” you say.
And I know you’ll be just fine. You’ll make it.
And I picture us down the line, my kids playing in the backyard with your kids in whatever suburb you wind up in. And we’ll sit in the kitchen, drinking tea. And we’ll look out at them, chasing each other around like siblings do.
Because that was us. Because no matter how old you get, you’ll always be the little brother who taught me about Pokemon and music and shared your covers when you could have told me no.