"Closer than sardines in a tin." Read, review, rate and feel my love :P
I can’t ever remember being separate from my baby brother as long as this. I know that I only saw him yesterday morning, but we’ve always been so close, closer than sardines in a tin as Mom would say, and being apart makes me feel like my heart is vacant from my chest. No, it’s not the separation that hurts the most; it’s knowing that he’s seeking comfort from someone who isn’t me. But it isn’t even that so much, I’m actually relieved that he’s found someone who’ll be his friend, it’s more the reason that he needs comforting and can’t uncover that comfort in my arms that's upsetting me.
My short fuse and his igniting tears. Igniting tears that I spawn like a reproducing hell-demon. Because we aren’t ‘closer than sardines in a tin’ any more, haven’t been for a long time. I just haven’t wanted to admit it; couldn’t admit it because that would mean admitting that I’ve failed him. Failing and dropping out of school; that I can take. My parents calling me a failure because of my addictions; that stung, but I could take it. Failing my driving test five times before I finally succeeded; water off of a duck’s sopping wet back. But failing Mikey, the one person I have to look after and want to save from failure? That is something I can never admit freely to.
But I have to or we’ll never get back to the footing we should be on, footing that’s a million miles away from where we are. I have to tell him that I love him; tell him that I care; tell him that I’ll always be here for him; tell him that I’m nothing to fear. All are things that he should know and believe with all that our tattered relationship is worth, all are things that we used to have and that I took for granted. Actually, it’s only taking for granted if I knew it was there; I didn’t even realise that all of that was gone until I got clean. Even then I didn’t understand it, just thought that he’d grown up and I’d missed it through my oblivion fuelled haze. That idea was bad enough but the reality was so much worse. I pushed him away when all he needed was for me to pull him in close and treat him with all the care that my baby brother deserves. I tried, really I did. Even when I woke up with a hangover, I always asked where his bruises came from. Always held him as he cried to me about getting beaten up. Always put one of my DVDs on to cheer him up. Always promised him not to tell our parents because he didn’t want to worry them. Perhaps I should have told them and done the right thing for once; some mornings he’s wake up unable to see out of one eye where it was so swollen. I never understood how I hadn’t noticed it when he came in from school the day before, but then I remembered that I was probably too out of it for dribbling crimson to drain through my eyes and into my conscious. But the blood-crusted bruises will never leave me because I’d known someone was hurting him and I’d done nothing. Absolutely fuck all. I always cleaned him up as best as my shaky, unreliable fingers could allow so that he wouldn’t have to explain it to Mom and I’d always done so with a lovingly reassuring smile, but he’d never look me in the eyes. Just like he never told me the full story behind those battle scars. I still don’t know the full story and I don’t want to; something about the whole thing sets my stomach churning like the blades of a speeding jumbo-jet. Yet I need to know; I think that whatever he’s hiding about that dark period could be the key to my becoming a good guardian.
A good guardian. Something that I’ll never be because I only ever mess up with him. Mess up because I act like my words are meaningless and to me they are, I never mean a stupid syllable of the horrid things that I say, but to him they must mean the world. Or rather the destruction of it. I don’t want to destroy my brother, I need to fix him. Make him into the person that he should be.
No, that’s not right; I need to help him to be confident in the person that he is. It’s society that needs to change. It’s me that needs to change. Is that what he was trying to tell me on Friday night? Is that what Frank was trying to tell me too? I think that it is. But just what do they want me to change into? I’m only trying to be what Mikey needs and is agonizingly lacking; a parental figure to look after him and make him smile no matter how his day has been. Apart from I’m not that. I can’t even remember the last time I made him smile. In fact, it’s been so long that I’ve almost forgotten what the bright look in his eyes as a genuine smile sprints from his soul to his face feels like to experience. Actually, I wish I couldn’t remember what it looked like, at least then I wouldn’t know what I’m missing.
I wonder if Frankie has made him smile. I hope so.
Who am I kidding? No I don’t, not deep down in the charred snake-pit I have for a soul. Of course I want Mikes to be happy, want it more than I wish that our parents were still here, but not because of my absence. An absence that would have once been the cause for his tears, not my presence. What does that mean though? It means that I’ve fucked up big time, even more than a diver forgetting to refill an empty oxygen tank; more than a groom saying the name of his fiancée’s little sister at the alter instead of hers; more than a recovering alcoholic walking into a bar during happy-hour. It means that I’ve fucked up enough for him to be frightened of me, to doubt my love for him, to think that I hate him.
How did I manage to fuck up enough for him to think any of those things?
He’ll never tell me, he’s too scared of inflicting his own misery upon others to actually point out when something’s wrong with him.
Which is why I only ever find out when he bursts into tears and runs to his room. Just like that, no prompt or trigger; he just spontaneously combusts into flaming pellets of liquid anguish and sprints like a rabbit from a hunter to his room. Leaving me either at the dinner table or on the couch, my shallow shock partially blocking out the sound of his tears and of him throwing things at his bedroom wall. Or maybe he’s punching stuff. I don’t know and doubt that I ever will; we never talk about those little episodes afterwards, I doubt that he wants to. But his eyes always beseech me to ask him what’s wrong, yet I know that he’ll never tell me the truth. The first few times that happened I tried to help, back before I fully realised how not his old self he has become, but he had just shrugged it off and apologized.
Apologized for being unable to cope with all of his pain when I can’t even cope with looking after a near-non-existent kid. He hates it when I worry about him, thinks that he’s done something bad, so I just stopped asking; if he wants help he knows that I’m always here with it. Apart from he doesn’t know it. I’ve made him forget it with my stupidity and now he’d rather be with my velvety-Velcro lipped angel than with me; he feels safer with someone that he barely knows. Maybe Frank is just better for Mikes than I am.
But why? What does Frank Iero have that Gerard Way doesn’t?
The calmness of a gentle tide shimmering like gold-dust in the glow of a setting sun. The patience of a beautiful, inspirational statue built to restore hope to a crushed civilization. The understanding of a Godly saint. The self-restraint of a junkie refusing a free hit. Basically, he has everything that Mikey needs in a friend and guardian.
What do I have? A terrible past, mountains of failures and I manage to strike fear into the kid with every sudden movement that I make. In short; I couldn’t be worse for my nervous, anxious, preciously fragile little brother if I started slamming him around like other people do.
I’m going to change myself to be everything that he needs; I want him back in every way possible and I think, no I know, that to get him back with me I need to change who I am and what I desire to be. I desire to be a good guardian; he desires the useless big brother whose skin I am trying to shed. But Mikey’s the most important person in this, if he wants me to be the person that I’m trying to forget then perhaps I should at least try.
For him, for my little brother.
If I ever manage to gain an audience with him because he’s currently too frightened to come home. Was too frightened and distraught to even be in the same room as me.
I want. No.
I need him back. A need that if left unfulfilled will kill me like the slippery surface of the road killed our parents. The road that ultimately killed my baby brother too. Apart from it didn’t really, did it? I did that all by myself.
I let out a frustrated breath, my hands rubbing my thighs in vivid vexation, and roll my head onto the back of my dad’s old armchair in despair. It stills smells of him, all cigarettes and the minty chewing gum that he used to hide his habit from Mom. He wasn’t fooling anyone, but we all pretended. Well, he bought my silence with a packet of smokes every other day. I wish he were here now, telling me what to do and how to make everything good again. But things can’t ever be good again, because I messed up one time too many. One time too many was the first time, the most recent being making it a million times too many.
Maybe I should go to Frank’s and make sure that Mikey’s okay. No. Frank told me that I shouldn’t see Mikes until he’s calmed down enough. Calmed down? Does that mean that he’s still the burning rubble that my words broke him down to? I sure as hell hope not.
A knock on the door knocks me from my thoughts and I get up to answer grudgingly.
No. Fuck it. I have more important things to deal with than some door-to-door salesman trying to persuade me that my goldfish needs a golden water filter. I need to keep figuring out what to do to hoist myself out of the grave that I dug with my blindness and spite. So I flop back down.
Another, booming knock shatters the haunting silence that is normally filled with the failing signs of life that the ghost of my baby brother can barely even produce anymore. That is all he is now; a ghost. A ghost of the person he used to be. And I as good as killed the kid.
“Fuck off, no one’s home!”
Very smart, Gerard. Your flawless logic astounds me.
“Gee, it’s Frank! I’ve got someone here who needs to talk to you!”
I’m at the door before he can even finish.
Has he forgiven me? I don’t care, I just want to be able to hold my baby bro in my arms and dry his tears like I used to whenever he snuck into my bedroom in the dead of the night, claiming that zombies were going to eat his brain unless I shielded him from all evils. But I didn’t. I became the evils he trusted me to shield his precious body from.
I tear open the door like a pirate clicking open a long-sought-after treasure chest to see the two most beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting; two jewels that make me sigh in a mix of contentment and sorrow. First contentment at seeing Frank’s flawlessly featured face smiling softly at me in a way that tells me everything will work out, everything will be fine just because he’s here and he never lets anything bad happen to the people he cares about. Then the sorrow.
Oh, the sorrow.
Sorrow at seeing Mikes immersed in Frank’s faded out old clothes and shaking from the cold. No, shaking from the uncertainty of how I could possibly react to him showing up on my, no, our doorstep after all he believes that he has done. All that I have done. His eyes are transfixed on his feet, looking at them like they’re some un-put-down-able Shakespearean tragedy, just like normal. But it shouldn’t be normal; he shouldn’t be scared of me. Or if he is, he should at least tell me why so that I can try my best to rectify it. But how can I expect him to just tell me when he hardly speaks anymore anyway? Especially now that he’s started stuttering with me, stuttering with me like he really doesn’t trust me.
Because he doesn’t.
“Go on, Mikes.” Frank’s voice, which sounds to me as attractive as a naked flame is to a light-starved moth, gently urges my brother forward and his eyes do the same silently to me.
I really shouldn’t need encouragement. But neither should Mikes.
“Oh, Mikes.” He looks up with eyes like ice rinks; chilled by fear and with water shining on the surface. I want to hold him close so my body heat can evaporate the beginnings of his tears. And now that he’s here I actually can. “C’mere, bro.”
My arms barely have time to open before they’re full of a sixteen-year-old who’s choking on every emotion imaginable; full of my little brother. Not my son and not my reluctant responsibility; my baby brother. I see that now, I just hope that it isn’t too late. I squeeze him tightly, forcing myself to remember to beware of his wounds from his war with life, our heads leaning over each other’s shaking shoulders. I don’t ever want to let him go because I know that when I do I have to face up to what I’ve down and then I’ll have to listen to him tell me all of the areas in his existence that are killing him. Even if he doesn’t want to share them I know now that I have to inquire until I get an answer or else this hug means nothing; it doesn’t mean the promise of a better future that I’m trying to convey through it. A better future with me looking after him properly, just like the big brother Mom and Dad would want me to be; just like I want me to be but haven’t been through terror of letting him down.
God, when did he get so skinny? Like properly paper-thin, skeletal even. He feels weak, really truly breakable in every possible way; like he’ll just snap in two. I can feel his bones through Frank’s clothes and it makes me sick at how much like his mind his body has become; I should have seen this. Should have realised that he’s wasting away into the nothing that he seems to want to be. I guess I’ll have to ask him about that too. What the hell am I supposed to do if he really hasn’t been eating? What if he’s sick? What if I can’t help him?
I pull away from him and sigh. As much as I’d like to think that him just being here makes everything alright, I know that nothing is ever that blessedly simple; I’ve got a lot of ground to cover to close the endless gap between us. Kind of like he’s an angel in heaven and I’m a sinner in hell, knowing that if I can get the angel’s forgiveness then I too can live it up in heaven with him.
“Let’s go inside, yeah?” He nods and stumbles in, heading straight for our mom’s old rocking chair. He always sits there whenever he’s upset. Wait. He always sits there. Always has tears hanging like diamond pendants in the corners of his eyes; eyes that used to be so full of life that it pains me to see them looking so dead. So longing to be dead. I turn away from the direction which inflicts me with the view of him sat there like the world is ending and face Frank.
“I need to talk to you, Gee. About Mikes.” His tone is so steady that it nearly unnerves me, makes me scream at him to tell me what’s happened. Almost. If Frank’s taught me anything these past few days it’s that losing my nerve only makes things ten times worse. So I just nod. He beckons for me to come closer, so I step out of the house and pull the door carefully shut behind me. The last thing we need is for Mikes to hear us talking about him; he might take it the wrong way.
Besides, I may have to show Frank my appreciation in my favourite way and I don’t want to risk Mikey losing how he views his new friend. Only friend.
“What’s wrong, Frankie?” I reach my hand out to his and they connect like the final piece of an electric circuit. He bites his lip and looks away; dread drowns what joy I had gained from finding my two most precious people on my doorstep. “Frank? C’mon tell me, Babe. You’re scaring me.”
Babe? Yeah, he is. Completely. Especially as he’s helped out my baby brother so much. Much more than I have. And he’s helped me; helped me to realise how I can help Mikes.
“People hit him, Gee, because of his stutter.” I nod, feeling my chest loosen slightly at hearing something that, whilst despicably cruel, I already know. “There was this woman out in town today.” Wait, he took him out? Even I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to do that. The kid got attacked Friday night; taking him out into the crowds of the town is hardly a sensible thing to do. Or maybe it was. Maybe it’s exactly what Mikes needed. I just don’t know anymore. “She thought he was some sort of thug because of the bruises. She yelled at him and I yelled at her.” Hold up. Maybe Frank isn’t as perfect as my brother’s faith in him appears to suggest. Good, I don’t want him to be perfect, to take my brother away from me; I want him to be my boyfriend and Mikey’s best friend. Nothing more. Nothing less. “Mikes freaked and he panicked and he…” He takes a deep breath in, costing me any sort of oxygen intake. “He collapsed, didn’t pass out but I think he suffered a panic attack.”
Oh Mikes. My beautiful baby brother; what’s happened to you, why won’t you let me take all of the panic and pain and fear away?
Because I am what panics you and what pains you and what you fear. I don’t know how I became those things, but I’ll do anything to rid me of those hideous titles. Titles whose owners I seek to destroy.
“Shit. What happened? Do you think it’ll happen again? Was he alright?” The questions fall from lips like tears are fiercely threatening to, and Frank takes my other hand; both thumbs rubbing into my hands.
“I don’t know what happened, not really. I think I scared him, but at the same time it’s like there was so much more than that going on his head.” He pauses to contemplate. “I don’t know a lot about panic attacks, Gee. I don’t know if it’ll happen again but I think that if it does you should get him checked out, just in case. He’s alright now, though. Little shaken, but alright.” He looks down in an almost Mikey-like way and swallows before pulling in close to me, making my heart beat like the wings of a bat flying through the cool night air of a full moon. Our arms fasten and he goes on tip-toes so that his lips are at my ear. “He needs you right now, Gee. The kids at his school have got him believing all sorts of bullshit about him and it’s killing him. Please, Gee, please be the big brother that he needs you to be.”
I don’t reply. I can’t find the words. No, it’s not that I can’t find them; there just aren’t any. It’d be like asking someone to describe how having their soul sucked out through their ears and eyes feels; impossible to answer.
I knew that some little shits gave him trouble about his stutter, but hearing it from Frank somehow makes it an uncountable number of times worse. Perhaps what makes it worse is the fact that he managed to coax the words from Mikey’s lips; lips that are normally sewn shut with Fate’s thread of evil and cruelty. I know that it’s a selfish way for me to think, but I can’t help it; I just don’t like hearing how much I’ve messed up, so much so that my own little brother would rather open up to Frank than to me. Even more so that Frank’s able to tell me how to fix it, a piece of knowledge that should be naturally installed in the back of my useless head.
But I didn’t know that Mikes believes what the bullies force down him like a depressant. I thought that he was smarter than that. That’s not fair; he only believes it because I’ve managed to reinforce it instead of reassuring and comforting it out of his system like I always try to do just as it’s too late.
I remember once, I picked him up from school before I got my job at Starbucks; he’d ran to the car like he was on fire, running from some huge boy that rounded the corner just as he slammed the car door shut. He was on fire; his self-confidence was being burnt to a cinder. The boy was shouting something about filthy attention seekers ruining it for the rest of them; he thought that Mikes faked his stutter. Something that adults have theorised but I don’t believe, not for a nanosecond. I may not be as close to my brother as I used to be, but I can tell that he’d rather be fully mute and have an excuse not to talk than be forced to stutter like he does. I just never really understood why; until now. It’s because he’s been driven to believe all of those nasty cries of untrue spite; that he is just a filthy attention seeker, that he does ruin it for everyone else, that he really is as hated as the words make him feel.
And I as good as let it happen.
I could have gone into the school, told the principle and demanded answers but I never did; because he never asked me to. I thought that he would tell me if it was something as serious as my heart told me it was, but my head told me to let him handle it however he saw fit. And look where that’s got him. Near-silence, constant fear and a panic attack. A panic attack.
Holy fuck, I’ve messed up.
“Gee, Honey; there’s something else too. Something that he won’t tell me.”
I know exactly what he means; he’s referring to how Mikes and I got like this in the first place. I don’t even know that, all I do know is that it happened around the time I became an addict and alcoholic. Two things that have wiped whatever happened from my mind. Maybe that’s what caused it in the first place, my out-of-control-ness? No, I did something. I must have. I just don’t know what. I don’t think that I want to know.
“He’s a frightened little boy who wants his family back, Gee. A family that can’t ever come back apart from you.”
We’re both crying now so I lean down and capture one of his tears on the mattress of my lips. He returns it by licking away a droplet from my chin. His tears should taste like poison but seem to be salty-sweet because I know that just by being here together I’m helping him, just as he is helping me. My lips trail down and his up until we meet halfway, stopping just as they press together like the points of a ballerina’s shoes. Just letting them linger, savouring the feeling of not being alone; of not facing all of Mikey’s hopelessness with nobody to help us help him. His lips are damp from tears, as are mine, and that makes the kiss bittersweet. I love that I can be here for him as he is me, but I’d much rather be feeling his smirk against my lips. But still, this kiss is so full of love that I don’t want it to end. It has to though, like Frankie said; I’ve got a frightened kid in my house looking for his family. For his big brother. Well, here he is.
Despite my thoughts, Frank pulls away first.
“Go in there and be the big brother I know that you are.”
“Thanks, Frankie.” I pause and smile at his own little grin. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Honey.”
A/N: Thank you very much for reading; I hope that it wasn’t boring! I kind of struggled with this one; I’ve had a huge falling out with one of my best friends so I was a little distracted when I wrote this, so I hope it wasn’t too bad. Thank you sooo much for reading and please review! :)