One: Dirty white cardboard box with silver edges covered in old duct tape. I clawed away the feeling of spider webs on my arms with my fingernails and didn’t stop until four long raw lines of red were all that remained. How has this box survived all of these years? I compared my height to the box. I must have been no taller than five feet when it happened—frantically covering the top of your light blonde head with old puffy winter jackets that mom picked out at garage sales. Shhh don’t cry or he’ll hear you, it’s going to be okay I promise. How many times have I made promises I could never keep no matter how hard I tried to you? I don’t remember weeping after. I do remember moaning with a thin stream of clear drool leaking out of the corner of my mouth that must have been no older than twelve. I moaned because my bones ached and my ribs felt cracked and for a moment I had half expected an angel to fly down from heaven and take me away, far away from the mold-filled house where the rainfall would leak through cracks above our second-hand beds. I dumped out the old clothes in the box onto the cement basement floor. Do you remember when you found one of my essays about dad? You shoved me so hard that I broke mom’s bedroom door and you knelt down next to my face and grabbed two fist-fulls of my hair so that my eyes met yours. I watched two huge tears fall from your bright green eyes as you said with your teeth clenched that there isn’t a single day where you don’t struggle to find forgiveness for staying in that box while it happened. I put both of my hands around your cheeks and our foreheads touched and we sobbed together in the splinters of mom’s bedroom door….sobbing because we made it—and sobbing because in so many ways, we didn’t. I used the sharp edge of our new house key to slice through the duct tape and I flattened it out. I put it on the street curb under our green recycling tub. It sat there for three August days and eventually was picked up and thrown into the back of an eco-friendly dump truck. Mom asked me why I threw out the box at dinner, I shrugged and said that this was a new house and that some things didn’t belong.
Two: Korean mink blankets sitting a top a pile of winter clothes I neatly folded for you. Do you remember when mom presented these blankets to us? It was because dad was stealing what little money she was making from her three serving positions to feed his drug habits and she couldn’t afford to pay the heating bill in December. It was so fucking cold but you and I knew better than to complain. We couldn’t afford a Christmas tree that year so you and I decorated a green plastic fern with green and red ribbon—we didn’t mean to make mom cry the most cathartic tears when she saw what we had done. I guess we were too young. Somehow we were still excited for Christmas even though the days leading up to the great holiday were spent huddled together under our mink blankets. We played monopoly and fantasized about what we would buy at the toy store if our gold five hundred dollar bills were real currency. I still have the blankets; I brought them to college with me. I use the extra one for my drunken friends when they pass out on the living room futon. I use the red one every single night in the winter because it keeps me warm even though my bed is stupidly placed next to my bedroom window. I use the red one during the summer because without it against my skin, I feel unsafe, unprotected, and I miss mom even though I’m twenty-one and it’s the most profound feeling that I choose to ignore by sleeping with a giant mink blanket in the dead of July. Four weeks ago a girl who still holds a significant amount of meaning to me stumbled into my bedroom shivering from the freezing rain. We had spent the evening with friends and alcohol and it was now four in the morning and she was shivering so I grabbed the mink blanket and threw it around her body. She froze and said “you just put something really fucking warm around me” and I laughed and she laughed and I told her it was a Korean mink and she crawled into bed. Drunker than drunk, I held her in my arms under the same blanket that I had used to protect me from the bitterness of the winter and the bitterness of poverty. I asked myself if she would ever grow close enough to me to hear the stories that are woven in the fabric of the very blanket that covered us. And then, I asked myself what kind of stories she had intertwined into her own mink blankets. I dropped off two of your old mink blankets at the house you’re staying at, hoping you would take them to help you through this difficult time. Maybe one day when you’re older, you’ll look at these blankets the same way I look at mine. Homeless or not, you will always be my baby brother and at least now I can rest easy knowing that no matter what shitty run-down bedroom you’re sleeping in—you won’t be cold on the inside. Don’t you see that these are just blankets? It’s what you make of them that matters–make them count.
Three: Times I knocked on the front door of the house that dad’s staying at before I received an answer. I don’t mean that I knocked one-two-three times and stood patiently in the rain. I mean I knocked on three separate occasions on three separate days that all took place coincidentally on a damp fall morning. A man hooked to an oxygen tank had managed to open the door a crack before I explained who I was. He said, “Kirk doesn’t have a daughter” with a suspicious tone. I pulled my license from my wallet and showed him the last name. He was unconvinced. I told him that our mother is Korean and that I very much take after her looks and I began listing off dad’s birthday, former address, the name of his current girlfriend, how I found his current residence, how old I was, the fact that dad had served in the military (and that was how he had met our mother), and other seemingly insignificant facts such as dad’s habit to read voraciously (which is how I had developed my own passion for literature as much as I hate to admit it). I don’t know why I didn’t mention dad’s cancer but when it suddenly dawned upon me that I had completely forgotten about that huge fact, I blurted it out and the man turned an even paler shade than he already was. “Good graces my girl, you’re beautiful!” was what he replied with. I felt my left eyebrow rise slightly before clearing my throat. I mean, with the way dad’s looking these days I guess it is a huge shocker that he would have a perfectly healthy twenty-one-year-old daughter. I explained that I’m his former daughter—I was estranged from the family and I kindly admitted that I was on a time constraint. He invited me in. I had mom’s lawyer open in my contacts ready for an insta-call should this scene turn ugly and involve the police. Dad didn’t bother looking up from the book that he was reading on the old green recliner chair that reeked of old tobacco.
“Brandon’s homeless—mom kicked him out” I practically shouted him since he’s legally deaf or whatever shit they’re labeling it as.
He grunted. “Whatta’ wantin’ me to do ‘bout it?”
I inhaled deeply but quickly deflated my lungs and reminded myself that a conflict was going to win us absolutely nothing. “He needs financial help and you haven’t offered anything since the divorce.”
“I ain’t gonna pay and you nearly had my minimum wage paychecks garnished with your fucking financial aid pull in 2010.”
“Dad, the court ordered child support—not me.”
“Then why are you here?”
“He needs a father!”
“Why? He was never a son to me.”
I couldn’t help but think about how easy it would be to kill our father. How simple it would be to grab one of the tubes in his arms and wrap it around his neck until every blood vessel in his eyeballs popped and bled and maybe he would clench his jaw so tightly his teeth would chip in those last minutes of gasping for life. I thought about it over and over again. I could grab a kitchen knife and puncture his neck until the stench of blood and probably his own shit from realizing the daughter that never loved him is finally getting that revenge she swore upon him all of those years ago. He would be so helpless. He would be as helpless as the twelve-year-old-girl he left on the bedroom floor nine years ago. How light and easy to strike I was back then! I bet if dad saw the woman I would grow to be, he would’ve made sure that I stopped breathing that day. I wanted to hurt him. I thought about the softball bats in my trunk. How easy it would be to step outside, grab one and take it to the back of dad’s head while he read. Again and again and again I pictured myself swinging the bat, bringing it down on dad’s head and watching it open like a smashed pumpkin on the pavement of Halloween night. Have you ever felt such a hatred flowing through your veins? It’s because in a sick and fucked up method of thinking, I feel as if I can win back everything that he stole from us.
White-knuckled and on the verge of pathetic tears, I nodded in agreement to myself and a second voice interjected with “what did you expect? Did you expect him to rise like a prophet and decide that today, October 22nd 2013, I will be the father that I could never ever be for my kids because they deserve that?” Wanting something from someone isn’t enough for that someone to give it up. Years and years have been spent mourning the death of the father I never had. Lovers would play with strands of my hair as I spilled stories of the most harrowing disappointments. They would wrap me up in their arms and kiss the top of my head and soothe my sorrow but they could never understand and in that way, I knew I would always be alone. You fucker, how dare you scar me so irrevocably? How could you teach me abandonment and solitude and fear and hatred and all of those devastatingly permanent emotions at such a young age?
There’s a fork in the road, and I know baby brother that you’re staring down it right now. I stared at it too when I was your age. One is much easier than the other, there’s no disagreement there. On the left, you can pin our childhood as justification for your behavior. You can slap your lovers across the face and push them into drywall and you can scream the most passionate wild screams and explain that you can’t help it because your father poisoned your blood with hatred and violence. You can fall short of every dream and you can blame dad for every single one—and nobody will call you out for it! Your lovers will stay despite the abuse and they will accept your violent tendencies the way that mom had accepted dad’s for all of those years. They will grow to hold the same hatred towards you that you spew towards them–it is inevitable. You will live a life that falls short of meaning. Your kids will seldom have positive memories and you will be a role model to no one. You will be a liability for everyone around you. Friends will dissipate with time, family will hold on for as long as you allow us to. You will drown pathetically in the shallow puddle of addiction. You will self-destruct. You will live and you will die and your life will be as insignificant as the average passing cloud. Love will always be something that you subconsciously yearn for, and love will be your greatest failure.
On the right side of this fork, you can use your childhood as justification for the good and noble deeds that with time become formed out of habit. You will use our roots as a source of empathy for others. Friends will gravitate towards your side and you will be a sturdy rock for them to lean against when they’re in need. You will of course, feel great agitation at times and there will be moments where you will want to slap your lover across the face or push him/her into drywall but you will use every ounce of your being to refuse that shallow and cowardly action. Being struck is humiliating, why would you ever want to humiliate another if you know how terrible it is? You will find yourself confronted at dim bars under the influence of alcohol by individuals who you will want to strike, but refuse to do so. They will call you a coward and you will laugh a victorious laugh while smiling at how utterly pathetic they all are. It will be noble. It will be good. You will wake up on a couch in a living room with four loyal and loving friends passed out beside you and they will boast a roaring laughter at the diner that you get your hungover breakfast at while reconstructing the events of the prior night. Your lovers will not only love you, they will admire you. You will have the respect of so many people that it will be absolutely overwhelming at times. You will be the kind of person that people will want to greet or recognize while going through mundane chores such as grocery shopping. You will rarely face issues sleeping at night. You will be confident in everything that you do and that confidence will always attract only the best people to your side. You will never apologize for who you are—but you will apologize for when you are not. People will find inspiration from your words. You start to notice that when you talk, people actually listen. Your friends will never betray you. Your lovers will disappoint you but even then, a friendship will be formed from the puddles of the failed romance. You will have to fight every demon, every justification for failure. When failure is expected, you forget what it means to strive for success. Don’t lose sight of your dreams. Be strong for yourself and others. Somebody has to be the hero. Why not let it be you?
When you read through these two ultimatums, it becomes obvious which one is preferred! But don’t let these words confuse you, the latter is a fight—a fight that I endure each morning I wake and each night I hit the lights before bed. It’s an internal conflict and there isn’t a moment where you can throw down your sword. It’s exhausting. It’s worthwhile. It’s life or death.
I have made every attempt to be the best older sister to you that I could be. I have sacrificed and I have wailed and I have fought and fought and fought and now I see that in order to continue the fight, I have to let go. You are eighteen now! It’s your turn to be tested. You stare down the same choices that I stared down and I have to admit, I have my doubts about which choice you’re going to make. I love you with every ounce of my being and I will continue to love you no matter what. Mom says that we would never know strength if we never danced with weakness. We would never bear arms with courage if we did not shamefully wear cowardice first. I have found peace with our childhood. It took years of self-reflection. Years. It is something that you and I will have to live with until the day we die. These stories are our greatest burden and also our kindest blessing. They make us who we are—we just get to choose how.