Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Out With My Brother

Soaring Light

Today's post was going to be about my future career plans, an issue that I think, given I am entering my Junior Year of college, is quite pertinent.

Something, however, intervened: my thirteen-year-old brother, Thomas.

He and I were never close at all when he was younger. In fact, we fought terribly from the time of his late toddlerhood until about several years ago, when we simply became distant occupants of the same house. Of late, though, Powell has been out more and more often, scarcely ever staying the night at home, and in his absence Thomas and I have drifted closer together than I would have ever thought possible even two years ago.

I wouldn't quite say that he looks up to me, but rather would call the attitude he has toward his eldest brother one of affectionate deprecation. He makes goodhearted jokes at my expense (my physical appearance is an endless source of these), and, due to a tradition of ours that outsiders find mystifying, refers to me as "Sally" while I call him "Lucy."

Powell was born in 1989, only a year and a half after I was, and for a long time he and I probably knew each other better than did anyone else in the entire world. That's not true, not anymore.

Powell is selfish, petty, immature, and insensitive. He spares nothing in speaking to me, a habit that has resulted in our conversing less and less.

After an explosive argument we had several days ago (which had started because he called me a "fucking idiot" when I suggested he try carpooling to community college next year instead of buying his own car), I finally spat out at him, "You barely even count anymore."

"As what?" he asked.

"As a brother," I responded. "You barely even count."

"What are you talking about?" he replied.

"We never talk anymore, Powell. I used to know more about you than anyone, but now I don't know anything."

"Yeah, that's 'cause you snithced," he said. "So I don't tell you anything anymore."

The incident he referred to happened last December, when, during the week of his semester finals for high school, he got drunk every night. I didn't let slip a word to anyone, despite my growing concerns, until finally he blacked out and threw up all over my bathroom at three in the morning.

The purple-black vomit was so laden with alcohol that the rum on it gave off an odor almost as powerful as the sick itself.

That was what pushed me over the edge and motivated me to confide in our father, a former alcoholic, what Powell was doing.

He never forgave me.

He insisted that he didn't have a problem, even as the drinking progressed, and, six months later, he was arrested for hosting a drunken party in our house while our parents were in Country Music State.

He was so inebriated that upon the police officers' arrival he physically struck out at them, spitting on their car at one point.

Still, he had it all under control.

Now, believe it or not, I do not think that Powell is an alcoholic. He doesn't need a beer to get up in the morning and a beer to go to bed at night, but he has two alcoholic parents, demonstrates alcoholic tendencies, and has been known to drink far too much on occasion.

For me, that's enough of an indication that he should slow down. But whenever I bring this up, he tells me that I'm being a "fucking idiot" or a "fucking retard" and that I don't "know what the fuck I'm talking about."

This is his way of throwing in my face that he has more friends and has, in certain ways, had more life experience than me despite being nearly two years younger. He never seems to tire of it.

So, yes, he really does "barely count" anymore. I reached the point a short while ago where I could no longer deal with him. Today, he is family in the obligatory sense that those to whom we are biologically related receive our dutiful love. There is no real connection anymore, yet we must smile and hug when we meet and think vaguely fond thoughts of each other.

This is what it's come to with the person who used to be my best friend, and it makes me so sad. He did it, though. He's just not worth the effort.

So, as I said before, Thomas and I have supplanted one another for the middle brother in Powell's absence.

It's actually a pretty good arrangement, and in the process we've found that we really do enjoy each other's company.

Today was another example of that.

Thomas had been on me for some time to come with him and see a mulch pile that he and his friends play on, something he assured me was incredible to behold and that he petitioned me all day to visit.

I consented at last this afternoon, and around three o'clock we left the house.

We considered taking bicycles, but then he remembered that his was broken and that there wasn't really any safe place to deposit the vehicles once we'd gotten to our destination, so we decided to just go on foot.

I'm glad we took this approach, as I enjoy the exercise and prefer anyway walking to riding. Bicycling is fun every now and again, but you see much more making your way through trails and along roads at a walker's pace. You run into people, run into trees, catch butterflies and bugs out of the corner of your eye.

There's just a great deal to be experienced walking that you don't get on a bike.

We left our house, trodded to the end of Flowering Street, and then made a left onto the road that leads out of our development. We made a right to exit our neighborhood, leaving behind the expensive new homes that Mountain Town's more affluent residents have acquired, and entered Mountain Town proper, the part that's been here for more than five years.

To our left as we strode down the road was a railroad track and an old factory that looked like it might cave in any minute, to our right the modest homes of Mountain Town's working class. It was to one of these, constructed of red bricks, that we walked. It was the type of home built perhaps forty to sixty years ago, one where the mortar has gone from white to gray and little pieces of cinder break off if you rub your hand across the outside wall.

Thomas's friend Pink-Skinned Boy lives here. Pink-Skinned Boy is one of the few people who know the location of the Mulch Pile. According to Thomas, only Bisexual Boy, Untrustworthy Boy, Pink-Skinned Boy, two female friends of the group, and, of course, Thomas himself, are aware of how to reach the coveted spot.

Bisexual Boy has just recently turned sixteen, making me the oldest person to have ever been taken into the confidences of this band of children.

I actually felt quite flattered.

Thomas Entering the Entrance

We treaded through the small stretch of grass in between Pink-Skinned Boy's house and the neighbor's, then cut through the neighbor's backyard. Before long, we'd reached a sheltered clearing on land behind both houses that was shielded from outside view by dense overhanging branches and leaves. In the early afternoon day, the golden sunlight shone and glittered through the emerald vegetation, lighting mine and my brother's blonde hair at different points where sunlight entered through a gap in the canopy above.

Entrance to the Entrance

I'd barely seen anything, and already I loved it.

"Thomas, this is so cool," I said, looking down at the muddy dirt and soiled grass beneath our feet. It seemed like something out of a fairytale, like the entrance to a mythical realm.

Places like that are what both summer and childhood are made of, and I felt honored that Thomas was sharing something so precious and intimate with me. Even if he didn't realize it, his decision to expose this realm of children to someone who wasn't a child was a significant one. It warmed my heart to see the thicket, and made me feel as if I were traveling back in time.

Several years ago, I would have found the place enchanting--today, I found it so as well.

The space was bounded to the left with trees, to the right with trees and a sturdy old metal shed of some sort, and on the right and back by a rusty metal fence that time had worn badly from disuse.

The only unenclosed side was the one from which we had entered.

Thomas took me back to the corner made by the fence, where the plants grew even more thickly, obstructing the barrier over which we'd have to climb to reach the Mulch Pile.

First I, then my brother, hauled ourselves up by a tree to the top of the fence and jumped with trepidation to the small gap on the other side, a strip of land perhaps two feet wide that was the only thing separating us from the hard alloy of the shed.

Once this had been accomplished, we had a second fence to get past. There would be no scaling involved in this one, though, since the more modern chainlink featured a small space between it and the shed, a one-foot passage that allowed us entry to the Mulch Pit.

It was a tight squeeze, one that the vast majority of fully-grown adults could not have managed. Perhaps that was why this was a children's haunt. It was perfectly designed for that purpose (though of course the builders could hardly have intended the result of their construction).

Even Powell, I mused, would likely be incapable of making it through, and here there was no option of simply going over; barbed wire lined the whole enclosure, a measure designed no doubt to keep out hoodlums that had merely assured their larger pursuers would be unable to capture them.

There's a kind of ironic genius to that that I love.

View From the Mulch Pile

The field was a great open place of marshy grass, much of it impassable, and several large mulch piles. The Pile to which Thomas had referred was obvious, however, towering above all the others. From its peak, the field, several of the smaller homes, and a portion of our own neighborhood were visible.

Thomas Atop the Mulch Pile

Thomas told me of how he and his friends liked to jump from that high point and into the mulch below, sometimes attempting to reach smaller hills in the same Pile.

Thomas Jumping

The next thing we explored was a vast and empty warehouse whose floorboards creaked ominously as we hoisted ourselves into the building. Wooden support beams, some of them noticeably bending, held up the vaulted roof.

"This is so ridiculously dangerous," I commented, as much to myself as to Thomas. I was torn between two halves of my personality, one that wished to admonish my younger brother for being so irresponsible and the other that thought the whole thing was mind-blowingly cool.

The latter won out, and soon I was as awestruck and fascinated as any twelve-year-old who'd been introduced to the hideout for the first time by more seasoned friends.

Green-tinged sunlight entered the chamber through the covered windows that graced each side near the ceiling.

Thomas and I ambled around within the great beast, my brother occasionally warning me not to step on a certain plank lest it should cave in and take my foot through the floor.

"Thomas, this is amazing!" I said, ecstatic. "Have you showed this to Powell?"

"No," he said firmly. "And I'm not going to. He'd wreck everything. He'd tell everyone he knows, and then it wouldn't be ours anymore."

"Okay," I said in agreement. I fully understood. It's very important for people to have their own place, and places like the one that Thomas and his friends enjoy are a rare treasure.

"I knew I could trust you," he said. "You're like a kid anyway."

I laughed at what I figured he'd intended as a compliment.

"Thomas, I'm not sure whether to take that as a good thing or not," I said.

The truth is, the same things that made me happy as a thirteen-year-old boy are the things that make me happiest now. Charting through the unknown terrain of a local forest, exploring an old building, being generally out-of-bounds, still deeply excites and sustains me. I would still like to believe in magic in the world, am still at my most content wandering carefree through an unknown valley or field with my long hair hanging about my shoulders and my eyes alight in wonder.

At times, this greatly disturbs me.

What makes you happy is what makes you happy, though, and it's days like today, simple yet so rich, that force me to realize how deeply unhappy I've been for a very long time.

How sad is that? A seventh-grader, wholly inadvertently, opened up my eyes to the longings of my own soul. I'm a kid at heart.

I'm a bit ashamed of that, particularly when I see people my own age who are so very content with car insurance, keggers, and student loans.

When did the price of gas become the most important thing in the world? When did the most thrilling prospect of our week become the day off to do errands and meet up with friends to hit a restaurant? When did we stop going outside? When did we do that?

It's all just so foreign to me.

I do know, though, that I enjoyed myself today more than I have in a very long time. My desires have stayed fairly basic throughout the years, no matter what happened.

I occasionally wonder what's wrong with me.

On our way home, we made to cut through a churchyard. We hadn't gotten even halfway across the lawn when an elderly woman leapt from the meeting hall, flew at least a foot off the ground, and cried out, "Hey!"

At first we thought we'd had it, but then she called out enthusiastically, "Long Hair Boy!"

She had advanced a bit closer when she covered her hands over her mouth in embarrassment.

"Oh, my God, I thought you were Long Hair Boy!"

She rushed now at Thomas and I, apologizing profusely. "I must have scared you to death! I'm sorry, you like just like Long Hair Boy!"

"Him?" I asked, gesturing at Thomas.

"No," she said. "You! There's a boy who lives down the street who looks just like you. But, of course, he's in college."

"He's taller, too," compounded her husband, who'd walked out behind her. "He's about 6'2", 6'3"."

"He's going to be a Junior at Well-Known Southern State University," the wife continued.

"Right," I said patiently, fighting the tick of indignation that was threatening to rise. "I'm a Junior, too."

"Right," she said. "But he's a Junior in college."

Thomas crowed triumphantly in the background; my youthful appearance is something he constantly taunts me with.

"No, that's what I mean," I said. "I'm a Junior in college, too."

"Oh," she said in a high voice, allowing only a mild look of surprise to creep onto her face. "And where do you go?"

"I go to Major University," I said.

"Oh, okay," she replied.

I looked up at their house of worship, painted white.

"What kind of church is this?" I asked.

"Episcopal," her husband answered. "We're the pastors."

They took us inside, where they showed us a stained glass window that featured likenesses of their two dogs among many other animals.

They also introduced themselves as Church Man and Eccentric Church Woman and talked a bit about the young man who apparently resembled me so much.

"We thought you were him," Church Man said. "He always has his hair in a ponytail or in a big frizzy ball."

Church Man laughed before continuing.

"He grew it out to donate it to Locks of Love, but then he loved having long hair so much that he didn't cut it."

I was laughing, too, once I heard the story.

"That's the worst thing I've ever heard!" I exclaimed.

When we left five minutes later with smiles and waves, I vowed to the couple that I would meet my twin. Hopefully it will happen.

I think I might like to go back there.

For the record, I'm sorry for the lack of pictures, but my camera's battery died before I could take any photographs of the Mulch Pile.

Thomas and I plan to go back early tomorrow morning before I work, and hopefully I'll be able to add in images tomorrow night.

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