When I scoop my sleeping 3-year-old brother Max from the car seat after a long drive and carefully use my shoulder as a pillow for his limp head, I succumb to an urge to whisper the three words into his ear, as if the three syllables can reverberate into the open sky—a soft ripple in a still pond that dissipates but never fully fades out before touching the shore. I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you when you chomp through the skin on my leg because I denied your request for Kool-Aid, and I love you when I have to fake an apology to the infuriated mother of the boy you just threw a handful of pebbles at. The three words do not feel ambiguous because they simply are. Tomorrow is Wednesday, the temperature outside is currently three degrees Fahrenheit, and I love you.
Sibling love is in my opinion, the permanent love. It’s the love that Faulkner illustrated in his characters: Quentin Compton willing to fake a confession to his family that he is the father of his sister’s unborn child in a desperate attempt to rescue her—a love for his sister so strong that he would march into hell beside her. The love lingers despite the empty bottles of cough syrup that I continuously find in my nineteen-year-old brother’s bedroom or the prescription pills that I poured into the garbage disposer, saving my shaking breaths for when the loud grinding noise filled the kitchen and hid my grief. The multi-colored Christmas lights wrapped around the staircase blinked in mockery as I buried my damp eyes into my sweaty palms and cried until my heart rate leapt off the charts. Sibling love is dry acrylic paint that can be damaged and faded—but never fully removed. It is a love that survives the harshest afflictions, and even when one wants to pull away, there is a conflict, and this conflict causes grief to visit.
Winter is not my favorite season for the bitter sub-zero temperatures or the piles of snow that burn at my exposed skin. I do not adore winter for pond hockey or snowball fights under the reddish-orange sky. Winter is my favorite season because I am given the quiet hours of the night under the same roof as my brothers. I make an excuse for myself—a glass of water from the kitchen even though I already have one on my nightstand. I quietly tiptoe throughout the house and open each bedroom door slowly, standing in the doorway holding my unnecessary glass of water watching my baby brothers sleep peacefully in their respective beds. I think to myself that this world is a dichotomy between cruelty and kindness.
You can trace the scars on my skin with your fingertips—scars from my father’s belt buckle. You can also trace the tears of happiness that stream along the bumpy contours of my cheeks as I smile in the doorway watching little Max’s chest rise and fall with each steady breath taken in the midst of the night—tears of relief that such a wholehearted and pure love exists, the only line in love without an end.