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Evolution of the Young
Mikey would have gotten such a kick out me right now. My brother always exploited my two biggest faults. I'm terrible at dealing with other people, and I hate to be rude. Whenever the two of us went out for a beer, he'd introduce me to every bar tramp he could find. I don't need to imagine how much pleasure he took in watching me shift around in my seat, while looking for a way out of the conversation. This is why I'm sure he'd get a huge laugh watching me try to deal with all these well wishers.
It's been two weeks since the car wreck. I've already managed to lose count of all the people who have approached me to offer a shoulder, or some vague words of comfort. It's been bothering me to no end. I just don't want to be reminded every five minutes that he's dead. What really bothers me though, is how they seem to be hung up only with how I feel right now. Most are either friends I haven't heard from in years, or relatives so vague, I would have never met them had it not been for a death in the family. It's like this bizarre instinct they have to make sure everything's secure. I don't see why anyone feels this urge. Besides calling my Mom, and the only cousin I keep in touch with, I haven't gone out of my way to talk to anybody. Whether it's more of those terrible people skills, or my way of dealing with Mikey's death, I really don't know. In the end, they're not interested in anything beyond "Yeah, I'm dealing. Don't worry about me."
Lately though, my feelings have begun to change. With the funeral said and done, I've become interested in more. What I want is the chance to reflect with someone about Mikey. Off the top of my head, I have at least a dozen stories about him. None of them fail to make me laugh out loud. I want to share them with someone. Maybe hear something I wouldn't have been able to recall on my own. No one seems to be interested in that. Of the few friends I have, none of them knew my brother. Mom is too sick for anything like catching up. That one cousin gets embarrassed every time I bring up some anecdote about Mikey, then he tries to change the subject. When I asked him why, he told me he didn't want to "dwell on the past." I'm left with no one willing to sit down and listen to me. So, I bought a diary, recalling years ago a teacher who said that writing is the best therapy.
I don't know if I'll get what I'm looking for here. Maybe this is my way of making sure that everything is intact.
When I was fourteen, and Mikey had just hit seven, Mom moved us from Calgary to Vancouver Island. It wouldn't have been so bad living in the actual city of Vancouver. We weren't afforded that opportunity. Apparently, she thought it would be better if we resided in a miniscule, horrible tourist town called Ucluelet. My dad had just left us, which in turn, left Mom with an intense desire for a "fresh new start" (that phrase is forever imprinted in my mind as she was fond of saying it roughly every five minutes). Moving to a completely different province is fine if you're not a kid whose safely entered his teens. Since I was one of these kids, leaving the place I grew up was the worst possible thing that could happen. In short, I was miserable. Mikey was in the same boat, though on a much lesser scale. At his age, it's a lot easier to reestablish friends. He was also sated by the fact that he was a lot smarter than most kids his age were. Every family has that one child who assumes the role of philosopher by age three--Mikey took that role with ease. Within a month, he had more than enough houses to play at after school. Perfectly content until he made the mistake of emotionally jumping four years ahead of everyone else in first grade. He fell in love with a girl. To his credit, it wasn't a babysitter, or a friend of my Mom's. The object of his affection was a girl named Shannon Moritz--Who sat next to him in class. It was obvious the whole thing threw him completely off guard. When he came to me for advice, his questions were incomprehensible at best.
I was sitting in my room, acting like any angst-ridden youth, alienated from the world. Mikey knocked, walking in before I could tell him to bug off.
"Ever heard of knocking brat?" I tried to sound incredibly annoyed.
His eyes fell to the floor, looking guilty as hell. "Sorry Tom." With perfect child manipulation skills, he began to close my door. Slow enough to make sure I saw how bad he felt for daring to bother me.
Of course, it worked like a charm. Mikey and I got along well enough for this sort of thing to be so effective. "No, no, come in. What's on your mind?"
"Well," he closed the door and I was surprised his expression didn't brighten from the all-too-easy victory over his big brother. "I gotta problem, a problem like, with a kid in my school, class, a problem."
I understood there was a problem at hand, and very little else. "What do you mean? Is someone picking on you?" if that had been the case, I would have simply directed him to Mom. The last time I helped him out with a bully, I ended up taking a three-day suspension from school.
He shook his head, "No, no...it's a different kind of problem."
The way he put it was so useful, I couldn't help but stare at him, saying nothing. Finally, I sighed. Realizing this was going to take longer than I wanted. I wanted to help him out, though I also wanted to go back to my sulking. I was getting pretty good at it. "Can you tell me what the problem is? Details make it easier for me to help you Mikey. You know that right?"
Mikey nodded, still quiet.
I waited about two minutes for him to start talking. "Damn it Mikey, are you going to tell me or not?"
"Yeah." He fell silent again.
Frustration was running high enough to the point I was getting a headache. "Mikey."
"What?" He looked surprised that I was talking to him.
"Tell me or get the hell out!"
"Tell you what?"
Convinced he was being this stupid on purpose, I got up to face him. Gripping his shoulder, I pushed him towards the door. "Come back when you actually need my-"
"It's a girl."
At last there was clarity. I let him go, a smile already breaking across my face. "A girl."
Mikey rubbed his shoulder, as if I had really hurt him. "Yeah. There's a girl...I...." He paused, and I could tell he genuinely didn't know what to say next.
However, by this point, I knew exactly what he was getting at. "You like her?" That was probably the word which carried the highest level of taboo status in his grade. The evil that dare not speak it name or something. He certainly didn't want to use it himself. I was looking to get this settled, so I used it for him.
"I guess that's it." I noticed he was constantly tugging at the pockets of his jeans.
I realized I would have to move through this with a slight degree of caution. To say the wrong thing would ruin him with girls forever. "That doesn't sound like such a bad thing."
Wrong move. Telling him this caused his legs to break out into a little dance. He didn't really go anywhere, only moving them up and down. Giving off the impression he desperately needed to use the bathroom. To him, this was a 'bad thing' of the highest caliber. "It really isn't." I was stalling--I didn't want to screw this up. Undoubtedly, I was his only hope. "Really." We were starting to sound the same.
"What should I do?"
He was taking the conversational initiative, which was good. "Well, did you tell her how you feel?"
"No," he replied, his eyes fixed on my floor. "How do you do that?"
I almost laughed. No matter how intelligent and self-aware a little kid becomes, there are always going to be those incredible mysteries they're completely clueless about. For Mikey, this was his. "Tell her that you like her I guess."
"Like, say it?" He was now looking at me. I don't think he knew his face had been overcome by a wane, crimson mask.
"How do I do that?"
Mysteries of childhood aside, this was starting to get stupid. "You say, 'I like you.'"
Though he nodded, it was obvious I still had not presented him with an ideal solution. "Is there another way to do that?"
A thought suddenly occurred to me, "Does this girl even know your name?"
"Oh yeah, I sat with her at lunch today."
"Okay, good. That's a good start. Did you talk to her?"
"Then start talking to her. Get to know her."
"What if," Mikey took a deep breath, restoring some color to his face. "What if, I'm afraid to?"
"Then you gotta break the ice somehow. Do something that'll let her know who you are." I couldn't believe this had been so difficult only seconds ago.
"Anything, but whatever you do, make sure it's surprising. If you want her to know who you are, you have to do something that will make sure she won't forget you." I kept going, aware he would continuously ask for suggestions. "Something you normally would never, ever, do. It can be whatever you want." I turned away from him, returning to my bed, "Understand?"
"I guess." That meant he grasped enough of what I was saying to make it useful.
"Good, let me know how it works out." An idea came to mind, a perfect way to end this on a note that was sure to grant me bargaining powers sometime in the future. "And come by anytime you need some more advice."
Mikey opened his mouth, ready to take up the offer right now. I stopped him before he could say a word.
"But not right now. I'm tired as hell." Which was true. I had become exhausted from this whole sibling heart-to-heart.
"Thanks." He muttered, making a slow retreat from my room.
"Not a problem." Once he left, I laid down. My eyes closed themselves. I felt my confidence running at it's very highest. At that Moment, I was the greatest big brother who ever lived. I had swallowed my own problems long enough to help out Mikey in grand style. Years from that day, he would most certainly credit me when people remarked what a ladies man he was.
Going to sleep in the early evening proved to be a mistake. I woke up in the middle of the night with one of my world famous migraines. I couldn't fall asleep again.
By the time Mom came in to get me up for school, I was in fairly bad shape. She allowed me to stay home. Under the condition I go to the school, and walk Mikey home. With this freedom of responsibility, I slept with ease through the morning, feeling alive again by one. I got out of bed, roaming the house for something to do. Preferably, something that I normally wouldn't get away with. I wanted to take advantage of being alone until 3:30.
Nothing came to mind. As it turned out, that was just as well. I was standing before the fridge in my underwear, considering the possibilities of what I could have for a late lunch, when I heard our front door fly open. The surprise of someone opening our door in the middle of the afternoon overran the knowledge that I was only wearing briefs. I ran downstairs, discovering Mikey and Mom, who had that look in her eyes. The one suggesting potential infanticide is in the air.
"What the hell are you doing in your underwear?"
I was still at the age in which your Mom swearing created cause for great alarm. I decided to change the subject. "What's wrong? Why are you guys home so early?"
Mom kicked her shoes off with enough force to send them flying down another set of stairs to the basement. "Your brother was sent home early and I had to go pick him up."
The idea of Mikey getting sent home for anything was even more exceptional than Mom swearing. "What did he do?" I assumed it was a misunderstanding on the part of those who ran the elementary school.
"He kicked a classmate in the shins. What's worse, he won't tell anyone why he did it." She was trying to wrestle off her overcoat, when she stopped to glance at her watch. "Shit, (Two in one day, this was terrifying) I have to go back to work." She looked me up and down, studying my face, reaching out to put a hand on my forehead. "You seem better."
"Yeah, I feel fine."
She relinquished her palm. "Good," she made her way down to the basement, grabbing her shoes. "You can watch him until I get home." She turned her attention to Mikey. "And you..." she shook her head. Without question, this was first time she had ever needed to deal with him. "I will deal with you when I get home. We're going to have a long, long, talk about your behavior. You better be ready to tell me exactly what's going through your head." She left, and the two of us were alone.
We made our way to the kitchen. It dawned on me at last to consider pants. I came back into the kitchen, fully clothed, where Mikey was waiting. If I had been sent home in the first grade, I would have been hopeless in keeping myself from tears. Mikey on the other hand, seemed oblivious.
I made us some chocolate milk, then sat down with him at the table. He took the glass, sipping with an eerie air of casualness. "You gonna tell me what happened?"
"Do I have to?"
He had probably used that line several times already. I drank some of my milk, "I wouldn't mind. Though I suppose if you've managed to get away with not telling anyone so far, you aren't going to say a word to me."
"I'll tell you if you want." He emphasized on 'you'. I guess I was in a pretty good place with him.
"I'm all ears."
"I did what you suggested."
"Yesterday. I did what you told me."
Yesterday, I told my brother a number of things. As far as I could remember, they didn't include kicking someone. I still figured out what happened. "Is this about that girl?"
"You kicked her?"
"Yeah." There was no serious indication he felt one way or the other.
"Why did you do that?" I had already made the connection, but I still wanted to hear it from him.
"Because you told me to."
"No. I told you to do something that would let her know who you are. I didn't say you should kick her."
"It was all I could think of."
I pinched the bridge of my nose, "Mikey, you shouldn't have done that." What else could I say? I felt horribly responsible. I had just given Mikey his first brush with the disciplinary end of school, when all he did was follow my suggestion.
"What should I have done then?"
Wishing I still had the momentum from yesterday, I dug into my own experiences, searching for anything that would have favored better results. I threw my arms in the air. "I don't know. I do know, that you shouldn't have done that."
"Do you think she'll like me now?" His optimism was dead serious, which depressed me even more.
"Drink your milk." This was going to be the extent of my usefulness for the rest of the day.
"I have no idea."
Mikey decided to accept this. He said nothing more to me, returning to his milk.
Neither of us found anything to say over the next hour or so. We both drifted towards the TV and occupied ourselves with that.
"Should I say that I'm sorry?"
Looking away from the TV, I couldn't believe he was still coming to me. "Mikey, why do you keep asking me? I mean, it should be pretty obvious by this point that I don't have a clue of what I'm talking about."
"You're the only one who cares." His reply was somber. The Mikey who knew more than most adults returned.
I was feeling tired again. "Then, yeah, you should apologize. Don't do anything else. Just apologize, mean it, and leave it that."
Mikey nodded, seemingly satisfied with the topic enough to drop it.
The last I heard on the matter was a week later. We were rounding the final corner to our street. Mikey, who usually related his day to me, had not said a word.
"Girls are trouble," he announced. There was a tone in his voice suggesting a man of great wisdom. One who had seen love many times before.
"So you apologized?" I tried my best not to smile.
"I don't wanna talk about it anymore."
It struck me this was Mikey's first experience with girls, whereas mine hadn't occurred until age twelve. I knew that this was only the start. I was the older one to be sure, though slowly but surely, he would move through life faster than me without even realizing it.
I guess the normal reaction would have been to start a process of lashing out. Pick on him at every opportunity. Savor every last minute I had on top.
I dismissed the idea. Mikey was my brother, and I loved him. He was going to be a close friend one day, and I didn't want to ruin that.
I also wanted to be in a position in which I could borrow money from him one day.
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