I was told that when he first found out he was going to be a big brother he was ecstatic. So ecstatic that he had already mapped out our lives to the point where he even knew what my name would be. I was supposed to be Lollipop, as sweet as my name and the best friend he could keep through, all of his ups and downs. I would play all of his crazy games when he was in his highs and comfort and love him in his lows even when he didn’t know why his heart hurt. And for the first period of our lives, that’s exactly what I did.
I’m four years old, twirling and twirling and I can feel the world and myself spinning in perfect tempo around the vast universe. The scent of Sunday morning omelets drifts into my nose and old-school rock-and-roll plays throughout the house like an intimate and familiar concert. I am teaching my brother how to dance like a prince, who reluctantly plays into my princess fantasy. We twist, turn, dip, and laugh until Dad announces breakfast is ready and I’m not in the Castle’s ballroom anymore but back to reality where luxury was blueberry pancakes and Hello Kitty pajamas.
We are playing in the backyard. My brother is “it” and he’s chasing after me. I can hear his boyish laughter tinkling in my ears like wind chimes as the air rushes around me. He’s four years older than me and he runs like hurricanes and lightning storms while I am just a slow drizzle on a Sunday morning. I can feel him gaining on me and I shriek with excitement and anticipation. Suddenly I am being thrown on the ground and all I feel is crushing pain. I start to cry. He sees what he has done and his face drops. My brother begins to cry, chanting over and over again, “I’m sorry.” He tells me I can hurt him in a voice that shows me he’s just a little boy trying to fix things the only way he knows how. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. In the background I can hear my mother rushing us inside, scolding my brother as she holds my hand.
“No more playing together, Jaiden. This is what happens every time.” said my mother.
Looking back I know now that this wasn’t the last time we played tag or wrestled in the backyard but it also wasn’t the last time I got hurt. I never understood at the time that it wasn’t his excitement that caused me a skinned knee or a bruised heart but his ADHD which blurred the right from the wrong in a way that made him different. There is nothing I am more grateful for then the fact that I never saw his faults when we would play back then. He was just my brother.
It’s the night before the first day of fourth grade and I am having a sleepover at my friend's house talking about childish things like what we’re going to wear to school tomorrow and if we “like, like” the same boy. I don’t really understand why I am staying at my friend's house and the rest of my family is gone. However, I do know that I am not supposed to talk about it with my classmates at school.
That week my parents pick me up so I can go see where my family has been disappearing to. My head resting against the window, staring through the sky as we zoom down the 101, I can feel my body vibrate from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.
Finally, we arrive and a slow burn of dread fills the pit of my stomach. Instead of a bright, pink castle or a magical tree house, I find myself in a hospital with stark white walls and a sterile smell. My parents and I are being led to a large door with a lock and code fit for a prison. As I wander through the halls holding my father’s hand I see a teenager distraught and crying hysterically rolled in a ball in the corner being comforted by a nurse. I hold my dad’s hand tighter with the naive belief that my father can protect me from the dark, ugly, and unknown truths of the world. My dad nudges me inside another room as white as the light you follow after death. I’m scared. I see my brother.
“This is where your brother has been staying. Aren’t you glad to see him? I know he’s happy to see you.” my mom says with a smile that doesn’t hide her sad and tired eyes.
My brother mirrors my mother’s smile and it makes me want to cry. He looks as pale as the walls closing in on me and has bags under his eyes fit for an old man, not a twelve-year-old boy. I hug him as tight and as long as I can. I ask if he wants to play a game but he declines. I’m terrified of how much the boy in front of me contrasts with the beautiful, full of life brother who I had grown up with. He want’s to be left alone, so slowly I am urged out.
“It’s not your fault, Jaiden. He just doesn’t feel well,” my dad assures me. However, this explanation does nothing for me.
A few days later he returns home and is welcomed with treats and “Welcome Home” signs. I am given a t-shirt that says UCLA on it and am instructed not to tell anyone where I got it. My stomach hurts.
My brother has started high school and I don’t see him anymore. When he’s not at school, he is in his room. He is always tired. I can tell he’s lonely at school, which leaves me heartbroken but I don’t know how to reach out to him. It terrifies me that I don’t know him anymore, that the depressed person in front of me has no trace of the boy who I played tag with and waltzed through the kitchen, the young adventurer with a light in his eyes like no other, who always had my back through broken vases, hurt feelings, and parent’s scoldings. So I leave him alone.
He’s in college now and I haven’t spoken to him for weeks. This is mostly because I am ashamed of what our relationship has become. What I have let it become. When we do talk, it is superficial, asking benign questions about our classes or whether his roommates clean their dishes. Some days, I know he’s in a bad place, but I can’t bring myself to ask him if he’s okay. Partly because I really hate the answer, but mostly because when I hear his voice or look into his eyes it all comes back. I am back in the hospital surrounded by a bright white light, a fragile little girl who doesn’t understand what’s happening, who doesn’t understand that it is not her fault. But it’s also not his fault or anyone else’s for that matter. At that moment I am a little girl who can’t understand why bad things happen to good people for no apparent reason.
I’d like to say that I will be able to call him today and show him what I am feeling or to see how he is really doing. But I might not. Maybe I’ll get swept up with my friends or will just have too much homework. And in the back of my head, I know that these will just be excuses coming from a scared kid who still haunts my thoughts. I am not perfect. I am only human. The only thing I can hold onto is knowing that one day when I look into the whites of my brother’s eyes, all I will see is a passionate, caring, funny, depressed, strong, anxious, loving and complex human.