With Sympathy

I have a nickname for my older brother, “Big Brother”, in reference to the novel 1984 by George Orwell. This came about when my brother and I, after we had became friends, compared the book and its symbols, motifs and theology to present day America. I looked at him and stated abruptly, but not without intention, “I love Big Brother” to express my adamant belief in what we were agreeing on, and to subliminally tell him that despite his belief that I am a brainwashed capitalist sheep, I had high expectations to be freed from it, with my big brothers help. The pet-name “Big Brother” became then, a symbol of my brother and I finally allowing ourselves enough emotional room to become intimate, to become one another’s confidant. There are few mementos between C and I; a movie ticket stub, an incense burner purchased together and a broken pen. There is something, however, that I cherish more than anything, because my brother touched its surface with his hand, and put his words onto paper for me.

Between two books, neatly stacked on my bookshelf, lies a crisp white envelope. Inside, is a bereavement card, white with a tasteful silver ink border. The front reads “With Sympathy”, delicately scrolled beneath a metallic flower, rising towards the head of the card. This is the card my older brother gave to me the day I graduated high school. If I could, I would cryogenically freeze the card so I could have it forever. But I hear that it’s a little pricey to dip a piece of paper in nitrous oxide. For now, keeping it pressed between two heavy books will have to do. It is an extension and constant reminder of who my brother is to me, and who I am to him.

During my senior year of high school, my younger sister turned sixteen. My parents took her on a Caribbean cruise with a friend to celebrate. I stayed at home, having to still go to my classes. My brother, who was away at college, came home to stay with me for the week, drive me to school and make sure I didn’t set the house on fire. That week with my brother was unforgettable. It was the week that I bleached my dark brown hair white, I had my first sip of alcohol and it was the turning point of my brother and I’s nonexistent relationship. So, he moved in, taking up the master bedroom as his private fort. While I was at school, my brother would sit on the balcony with a cup of coffee and smoke. I knew this because of the night that J and G came over.

One night, during that week, I was in my sister’s bedroom, lying in her queen sized four-poster bed, talking on the telephone to a friend. This was the night that my brother had two of his friends over, G and J, mates from high school, so I kept upstairs and out of the way. Then all of a sudden, J comes running in and jumps on the bed, G chanting behind him, in the doorway “Come downstairs! Come downstairs! Party with us!” I hung up the phone. I ran to my bedroom. They followed me. I thought I was going to get raped. Worst case scenario when you have two boys come running in on you and jump on top of you while you’re in your pajamas and in bed. I asked them if they were being serious or just messing with me. They explained to me that my brother was too much of a “pussy” to ask me to come downstairs and hang out with them, so they had to do it for him. They went back downstairs and I paced in the bathroom, trying to process if I should go downstairs or not. Finally, I did.

My brother and J were outside on the deck,smoking a cigarette. I nervously got a cup and filled it with water, standing behind the island countertop, watching G pour himself a drink. “Do you drink vodka, K?” he asks me.  I sip my cup awkwardly, trying to fill the spaces where I’d otherwise have to speak, with my slurping. “Is this a trick? This has got to be a trick.” I explain. “No trick, K. C was talking about how shitty it is that you two aren’t friends, and he wanted to do something about it. He wants to hang out with you; he wants to be your friend. He’s too scared to make the first move, have a drink.” I watch the backyard door slide open and my brother and J step into the kitchen, my brother avoiding eye contact with me. I look away, too. It’s too embarrassing, too mortifying, to be witnessing my brother appear human. G explains to them that I won’t make a drink because I think it’s a trick. My brother looks at me, a deer in headlights, as he searches for his words. “It isn’t a trick, K. I’m not going to tell mom and dad. I want you to hang out with us.” My brother takes a seat, trying to show me how honest he is being by submissively posing his body in a chair at the table. I avoid the bottle of vodka for a while and just pour myself a bit of the mixer, cranberry juice. The friendly banter carries on for a bit, while I stand away from them, behind the island.

“Do you smoke cigarettes, K?” J asks me. Again, I look to my brother, searching for the clue that this is all a big set-up and I am going to be severely grounded when my parents get back into town. My brother nods, knowingly. I manage to cough out under my breath,“Yeah, Camel 99’s.” G and J look to each other in surprise, coy smiles smearing their faces. My brother begins laughing nervously. “You guys both smoke the same cigarette! That’s fucking crazy!” G and J insist that my brother and I have to have a cigarette together, for the sake of the hilarity that we both smoke the same brand and same flavor of cigarette. So we do. My older brother and I step out into the night, on our back deck, and he lights my cigarette for me. It feels bizarrely romantic, but it is the only way to describe it. My brother and I are now friends, sharing a ‘smoke’ and the quiet comfort of knowing there are no secrets between us anymore.

My brother and I shared one or two hazy afternoons, splitting a joint between the two of us, sitting in the living room, talking about popsicles or the way that cats peruse windows. We tossed back and forth about our feelings of society, of academic institutions, of our parents and everything else that we felt was constructed unfairly to sabotage our freedom of self. My brother cried one night, confessing his frustrations with my sister and the overwhelming anxiety of feeling responsible as the oldest child, to care for my parents when they become aged and incompetent. I comforted him, the one thing I could offer to him as the tenderest of gestures that two relatives who never spoke before could do. I also listened. This was, and still is, extremely important to my brother. He feels people look at him like he is insane, spouting conspiracy theories or objections with all plastic packaging and he cannot speak or become close to anyone. I fulfill this with my brother, mostly because I want to be close to him, and I would do anything to get that. The days when my brother was at home and he was open to company were amazing. Nearly every single day that week we spent together, in our sweatpants and dark living room, talking until late in the night.

During the rest of the week, my brother and I ended the painful separation that we had grown accustomed to. My brother and I are 3 years apart, chronologically speaking, but in all honesty, we were light years from understanding one another before that week with just the two of us. Now we enjoy the feeling of knowing we are not alone in our misery, not alone in the battle to leave the house, to be free from the “crazies.”

But finally the day came when my parents returned with my sister and my brother left the house again. I worried a little about if it would last, if it was as a genuine connection for him as it was for me. I wondered if he would want to hang out with me again sometime, before I left for college, or if the week had just been a giant drunken mistake. I was unnerved by the way my brother avoided the house a little more after that week, but I tried to understand that if our family knew we were friends, too many questions would be asked.  Then, on my graduation day, my brother gave me a card, along with a book, Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson, which my brother signed inside, “K: Quest for Fire. With love, C.” I can still feel the way my heart swelled when he pulled me aside to give me the book, in my brother’s quiet, shy way. I keep the book in a plastic sleeve, so it doesn’t get ruined. The card is kept close at hand, so that I can read it whenever I need a pick-me-up. It is a delicate artifact, documenting that my brother loves and cares for me.

I hold the card now, stroking the corners of it with the pad of my thumb, flicking it open, reading over and over again what he wrote inside. I feel at ease. I feel like I have turned on a fan in my skull and it’s blowing the fog from my mind. There is tremendous comfort in the memory of that week when my brother and I became friends. The card he gave me on my graduation day is so meaningful and symbolic of the intimacy my brother and I share, hidden away even from our own family. I love my brother, I really do. I know he loves me too and that is the great ability we have, sharing a love that doesn’t need to be spoken. The few tender moments when I call him “Big Brother”, my way of expressing to him that I care about him and am concerned. Delicate exchanges when he drunkenly confesses how lucky he is that I am in his life, and that we are friends now. My brother means so much to me, and I to him. This card was the manifestation of his honesty and feelings and I treasure it with all the passion I can possibly exude.

I love my Big Brother.


I’m not proud of you. Anyone can graduate high school. High school is a joke. You may think you “know” this now, but you will really “know” it in time. Anyway, I envy you right now. You’re about to start life proper, away from all these crazies in the family (myself included). Jesus has truly blessed me with your presence in my life. In return I pledge to be your rock, your source of inspiration in these coming years. As you walk the path of you life’s Hero Journey, and you feel like talking to someone who has managed to totally fuck up much of his life, Big Brother is here for you. You love Big Brother. In all seriousness, sister, you’re one of the dearest friends that I have on this planet. I sincerely hope that this friendship will grow ever closer and stronger. Don’t take any guff from these swine. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” I know you’ll do fucking great.

Love, C


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