"This is what being a big brother is all about." Read, review, rate and feel my love :P
How did this happen to him?
I let him down, that’s how. Every little frown and suspended threat of tears that were screaming at me to ask what was wrong and I ignored them because I thought that’s what he wanted. Thought that he’d come to me if things got that bad. This bad. Bad to the point that Satan looks like Jesus and hell could easily be heaven. I looked up bereavement in teenagers on the internet and it told me that I should be there for him in a quiet sort of way. So I was. But it also said to pay attention, that every kid is different, that I have to make sure things don’t spiral out of control like a broken rollercoaster plummeting from it’s rusted tracks, just like they have. I did what people told me to do, what I thought was the right thing instead of doing what the brother inside of me craved to do and now it’s come to this; a pale, ghostly shadow of a nearly invisible wreak with so little self confidence that he may as well be a snail in it’s shell and so many anxieties that he can’t even talk properly to anyone anymore.
And it really is all my fault; I didn’t try hard enough to help him and he didn’t have the needless courage to ask me for help, so I let him down. Let him down to the point that he can’t get any lower just like the hollows around his eyes couldn’t get any darker and the cuts on his face couldn’t get any more horrific for my eyes to choke on. I can’t even picture Mikes without having at least one bruised blemish on his face; it’s like Fate is constantly tattooing him, constantly reaffirming his belief that he’s worthless. But he’s worth the world to me, more than the world, more than Frank. He’s my baby brother, the one that my heart is bound to protect not just through blood but through pure and unbridled love, and I’ve stood by whilst people hurt him. Whilst I hurt him with my reckless words and mindless attitude; the kind of attitude that I chastise him for if he ever gets the guts to tell me that I’m causing him more pain. Like he did on Friday. Like I all but threw him out for. Apart from I didn’t mean to throw him out and I really didn’t mean to scare him off into the hands of some sick pervert with sharply blunt fists.
But that is what happened and now he’s sat, gently rocking on his precious wooden rocking chair that often housed the radiant form of our mother, with barely a clean piece of porcelain on him. I dread to think what those baggy clothes are hiding; how many bruises and cracks in his skin those soft garments are shielding my eyes from. It could have been worse though, so much worse. It would have been if Frank hadn’t have rescued him, hadn’t been there for him when I neglected him like a mistreated dog.
That’s how I’ve treated him, like a sick little puppy. A sick little unwanted puppy. I tried to force him to be better just because that’s what I wanted to happen, but you can’t give the correct medicine if you don’t even know what’s wrong. I made him feel little every time I yelled at him, something that really hurt him; if he gets as much shit from kids as I’m starting to think he does then my support and encouragement is vital, and my confirmations of the bullies’ taunts critical. I’ve caused him to believe that he’s unwanted.
That I don’t get.
I always apologize when I lose it with him, always try to hug it better even though he flinches away from my contact whenever we have a fight as though he thinks my hug will be a hit and I just don’t understand why he’s so scared of me, how he thinks I could ever not want him.
There are so many things that I don’t understand but should. Like how the fuck he got so skinny, like he’s a blade of grass ready to be torn away from the world by the breeze of time; like what I did to make him fear me with the amount of certain fright that I have never seen paralleled in the eyes of any other creature, metaphorical or literal; like what he needs me to do to make him talk properly again so that we can laugh with each other about the crappy special effects in all of my horror movie collection, something that we haven’t done for years and I miss like a sailor misses the sea; like how badly kids treat him and how he needs my help to cope with it.
Like how I’m failing him and how I can fix it.
“Mikes, I think that we need to talk.” I state firmly into the still, sour air of the living room and fling myself onto the couch.
He winces at the words, a wince that sends a violent chain reaction of guilt strengthening into self-hate around my veins, but nods none the less.
Once upon a time he would have been begging to spend time with me, for me to play with him or do his homework. But that’s just it; once upon a time. A time so long ago that I can’t even fully recall his underdeveloped voice calling my name in a way that I found annoying at the time, but now long for as maddeningly as times like this make me long for a drink. But I’ll never go back to that, back to lonely vodka shots drowning out my non-existent sorrows in my empty basement room. A room that would never have been empty if Mikes had had his way, but I’d told him to go away almost every time he asked so that I could get drunk in peace. The next memory of him after telling him to piss off is normally him cuddling up to me, weeping about the state of his face. A state that I should have noticed the night before but never did. Even after those times he still begged for my attention and care. And I still ignored him, favouring drugs and booze over my baby brother. I can’t pinpoint when the begging stopped exactly, only that it wasn’t there by the time I was off of the shit I should never have been on.
No, he has been begging for my attention and care. But not mine; his big brother’s, a person that I think I killed. A person that I have to resurrect if I want to stand any chance of bringing my brother back to life. It’s not so much as resurrecting my old self as killing the persona I’ve adopted in order to be able to look after Mikes.
Like I’m actually looking after him anyway; I’m not even able to look out for him because every time I see something wrong I leave it until he wants to talk about it. But he never does because he needs me to ask.
So I’m going to ask now, going to sort all of this out like I should have done a very long time ago. I just hope that he can forgive me for all that I’ve dragged the poor kid through like a kitten over a cactus field.
“Sit next to me, bro.” I smile gently at him in an attempt to put his fears to rest.
He shouldn’t fear the person who was created to keep him safe.
He hauls himself upwards as though it’s physically painful. Wait. It is physically painful for him; he has an aching body covered in the marks of Fate’s beatings. Of course movement’s going to hurt, even if it happened on Friday. I think that he’ll be feeling his wounds for a long time. The mental ones too; I can foresee him being twice as jumpy as normal for a fair few weeks, jumping at stares instead of just touches. He even jumps at my touch now, has done for a while. My voice too, like he thinks every word I say will harpoon him through the heart. Not that I blame him; I’ve betrayed his frayed trust too many times, just like everyone else.
Everyone apart from Frankie. I hope that he never does because I think that Mikes really needs a friend like him right now. Besides, I don’t want to have to stop loving my short ebony-haired perfection because he’s upset my brother. I could never love anyone who’s hurt my baby brother; only hate them with the strength of a devastating hurricane ripping up an entire town.
Mikes shuffles across the cream carpet with his head down and hands in the pockets of Frank’s jeans. Jeans that swamp him as though they’re meant for a giant, not for some nineteen year old who isn’t even big, if anything Frank’s slim; this only forces my worries over Mikey’s miniscule weight to the front of my head like it’s being pressed forward on the front of a speeding train. He carefully sits down next to me, regarding me with a look that says he would really like a hug right now, but from someone else. Oh well, he’s got me and I am going to be good enough for him this time. I have no choice.
“I missed you.” I whisper, wrapping my arm over his shoulders like I used to when we watched scary films together. But this is so much scarier than any of those films; this is very real and if I mess up it won’t just go to credits, it’ll go to a coffin. “Mikes, I… I don’t really know where to start with this. What do you want to talk about?”
It’s the first time I’ve openly asked him for help and he looks so taken aback that it’s painful; he really believed that I didn’t care, didn’t he?
“I-I… Do-o you ha-ate-te me-e?”
Those stuttered words shock me with the power of an erupting volcano and melting down nuclear power plant combined; I knew that I’d messed up, made him frightened, made him lost and that was more than too much for me. But to know that he thinks I hate him, actually properly despise him? That’s a wake-up call. Not the nice wake-up call of coffee and soft hands, but of a bucket of boiling water being poured into your eyes at an agonizingly slow speed. But I think it’s just the wake-up call I need. I just have to use it correctly. So I pull him in closer, my chin on the top of his head and his chin digging into my heart like a dagger; lodged in so that it hurts, but to remove it would mean instant death through blood-loss.
“No! Oh, Mikes, I don’t know what… I could never hate you, you’re my little broth-“
“Doe-oesn’t mea-ean that-at you have to-o lik-ke me.” His cold, cynical words cut me off with the precision of a razor blade and strike a vital vein.
Fuck, I’ve messed him up. Jumbled up the fragmented pieces of my baby brother just to make it damn near impossible for me to put him back together again. Near impossible, not impossible. Even if I believed it to be impossible, I would never give up on the kid in the same way that Fate has.
“No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t mean that I hate you either.” I hear a staggered whimper of agonized uncertainty. “Shit, Mikes. How could you even think that?”
“I-I always-ays make you-ou mad-ad.” He cries, clearly mistaking the hurt in my voice for the anger that I never mean to direct towards him. Anger that I hate myself for.
“Michael James Way, you never make me mad. Ever. I just… I don’t know how to manage myself sometimes.” I trail off when he looks up at me with eyes so huge that I can see through them and into his soul. A soul that is so tortured it’s turned grey from the blood-loss that the destruction of all hope has caused. I have to do something. I have to say something. I have to be honest with the kid for once instead of telling him what I want to be true. “I just get scared, Mikes. Scared that I’ll hurt you or lose you. Scared that I’ll mess up with you and not be a good guardian. Guess I messed up anyway, huh?”
What am I doing? This is meant to be about his problems, not mine; not about me being selfish and bundling all of my problems onto his over-loaded mind.
Hang on. Is he… He’s smiling. Smiling up at me in a sad little way, but just how I’ve seen Frank smile at him; all sympathy and encouragement. I think that he’s trying to help me, trying to do whatever the fuck I’m supposed to be doing with him. But still; he’s smiling!
“N-no! You-ou don-on’t mess up-p; I-I do.”
“Mikey, you’re sixteen. I’m meant to look after you, not be mean to you. And for all of the times that I have been foul to you; I really am sorry.” He nods; eyes awestruck and brimming, much like my own. It makes me feel terrible to vocally state my failures, but he has to know that they are my failures, not his, and that I really do regret every single one of them. “I love you, kiddo.”
“I-I lo-ove-ve you-ou to-oo, Ge-ee.”
He snuggles into me without being prompted to and that makes my heart sore like an angel out of hell; I’ve pulled him into me many times, trying to convince myself that he likes it, but this is what being a big brother is all about. The feeling of Mikes listening for my heartbeat like he once did every time he had a nightmare because the pounding of my life drum was enough to scare away any monster; the feeling of him digging his fingers into me as if he doesn’t want me to leave as opposed to the normal, flat hands that try to half-heartedly push me away; the feeling that, just for the moment, everything is alright.
Apart from it isn’t. He’s battered and full of fear of everything that can cast a shadow; that’s far from what I call alright.
“Mikes, tell me about you.”
He freezes mid-shoulder-shake and looks up at me, eyes pleading me to leave him alone. A few days ago I would have dropped it, let him get on with it however he wanted to. Not now. Now I know how deeply things are cutting him, I’ve got to help him to remove the knife.
“Tell me what goes on at school.”
He shakes his head.
Why can’t he just accept that he needs help and that I can give it to him? Because he’s a sixteen year old kid with anxiety issues, not the headstrong nineteen year old that I am.
“Please, bro. People are hurting you and I want to help you.”
He sighs and pulls away from me, a touch of panic dabbing at his eyes like the devil’s paintbrush, and leans over the arm of the chair; far away from any disapproving looks that I could possibly deliver. Damn! I thought that we were getting somewhere, that he was finally trusting me again. Obviously not. Actually, I can’t expect his trust to come back to me as quickly as I sent it packing. I just have to be patient. But I’m not patient and we both know it!
I guess I’ll have to be, for Mikes. That’s what Frank would say to me.
So, doing what I did back when he was ten and I was thirteen the night that his beloved hamster died, I rub the trembling back that is facing towards me, marking the absence of my brother’s face like a bloodstain on an angel’s pure wing. And I start humming. Humming a tune I thought I had forgotten, a tune that I had forgotten but seeing Mikes like this has forced me to remember it; it’s a little lullaby that I composed just for him. It’s sickly sweet having to remember it; sweet because it brings back memories of him asking me, with a smile on his face, to hum it one more time. Sickly because he needs such touching comfort. When the small tune finishes so do his tears and I pat his back like he was patting his hamster when he found it dead; back on the night I had to conjure this tune for the first time.
I want to drop it, just pretend that I think everything is fixed now, but I can’t because I know that it isn’t. Far, far from it.
“C’mon, Mikes, I’m not stupid.” Yes I am. “I know what goes on at that school of yours, I know that people hurt you.” He lets me hoist him back into my side where he hides his face in me once more. But this time it’s like he’s hiding through shame and fear rather than knowing that my embrace can soothe all of his troubles away like I want it to be able to. I guess I’ll have to keep letting my words wash over him until he finds the right ones himself to respond with. “I know that they tease you and pick on you.” I pause and gently kiss the head that often comes home with locker collision-caused bumps swelling on it. “I know it and I hate it. Hate it because I also know that you don’t deserve it.”
“I-I do, thou-though!” He cries, making my heart as broken as his vocal confidence. “I’m a worth-orthless-ess fre-reak, okay-ay!”
His wails pierce me like nothing else ever has and I sincerely hope never will; he really does believe it. It’s not a question looking for an answer that points towards someone loving him, it’s a shaky confession of what those bastards have forced him to believe. I can’t believe that he never told me that it got this bad, that it got to the point where he thinks that those bullies are worth more than he is. Because they aren’t, not by a long shot.
“Oh, kiddo. You are not worthless; you’re worth the world to me, even if I don’t always show it. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Actually, I do know. I’d be throwing my life away, that’s if I wasn’t already dead. Mikes, you gave me worth and for that you couldn’t be worth any more if you tried.” He blinks that cute little blink he does whenever something genuinely confuses him. The last time I saw that blink was when he was twelve and couldn’t get his head around the fact that I didn’t have time to share my comics with him anymore. Cute, but excruciatingly so because it reminds me of things that I should never have done. “And you’re not a freak, either. Don’t ever believe that you are. They’re the freaks for picking on one of the nicest people they could ever meet.” I smile at his watery, cracked grin and wipe away one of his tears like Mom did to me once when I fell off of my bike. I don’t know why, but it made me feel so much better. And judging by the entranced look of semi-happy disbelief on his face, it’s made Mikes feel better too. “You’re not worthless and you’re not a freak. Understand?”
“N-no.” My smile falls so fast that it’s smashed into a frown before Mikes can even finish his sentence. “But-ut I-I like-ike it.”
His little smirk makes me want to cry; he’s telling me that he doesn’t believe me, that he doesn’t understand why I think that he isn’t the worthless freak that society wrongly receives him as, but he likes knowing that I don’t believe it. I guess that in some twisted way this is his idea of a friendly little joke, but he just doesn’t understand how serious this really is. I know for a fact that he believes he is worthlessness, that he is a freak and that he only said that to make me feel better; but underneath it was a deafening cry for help. A cry that he doesn’t even realise he’s sent screaming into my mind.
“Mikes…” I sigh, reigning in my frustration to prevent me from scaring him back to square one. “I really mean it, you aren’t any of the things they call you. You decide who you are, not what they call you.”
“Li-ike I ‘deci-cide’ to stu-utter?”
This isn’t my little brother, this beaten cynic that doubts all good just can’t be the bouncy kid that I remember playing hide and seek with like it were yesterday. But he is. And it’s all my fault.
“People just try to explain things that they don’t get with incorrect explanations, Mikes. Doesn’t make it true. Just like with your stutter.” He nods, looking half-tempted to believe his big brother instead of a group of people who don’t know shit about anything. “I know that you don’t mean to stutter, kiddo. And that’s all that matters.”
But it isn’t, not to him. He needs more people like me, more people to show him a little bit of kindness whenever the poor kid needs it. Frank. He needs Frank.
“Hey. Don’t be, you haven’t done anything wrong. Nothing at all.” I emphasise the point by hugging him tighter and shaking him a little, surprising a soft almost-giggle from his lips. But I can still feel every little bone through his clothes. I have to address this now, or I never will. “Mikes, you know that if anything’s ever bothering you or if something’s wrong you can always talk to me, yeah?” He nods a little unsurely and I wait. Wait and receive nothing. “Like, if something was stopping you from eating-“
“I-I’m no-ot ano-anorexic-ic!”
Nicely done, Gerard. Really, great job on fucking that one up.
His quick reply stuns me into silence. When Mom asked about the missing alcohol I’d snapped back in much in the same way. And it terrifies me. Terrifies me that he could be slowly killing himself and doesn’t even want to tell me what’s wrong. Terrifies me even more that I hadn’t noticed his state before today. I don’t want him to die. Not because then I’ll be all alone on this miserable rock, but because I love him too much to watch him self-destruct.
He loved me, but that didn’t stop me from acting like a dick in front of him, scaring him half to death with all of the shit I did. Maybe he’s just trying to teach me a lesson, let me know how it feels to watch your brother kill himself slowly. No, he thinks he’s worthless; he’s not going to think that the threat of his death will affect me enough to teach me a lesson, is he? No, if he really is sick then it isn’t through attention seeking.
I would rather that it were.
“I-I’m not-ot.” He mutters, trying to convince himself more than me. Poor kid, so lost and confused; just like a lost hedgehog stumbling around in the blinding daylight in search of it’s family only to step out straight under a car tyre. “I jus-ust don’t-t get-et hungry-gry-y.”
So he really doesn’t eat.
And I really didn’t notice.
“Well, you’re eating from now on, okay? I’m not letting you get any skinnier; I need someone to be my teddy-bear.” I try to hide my absolute panic and despair with a light hearted response to such a dead-weight of a revelation.
And it pays off; he nods with a small smile at having someone actually care. Someone who always did care but was too stupid to make it as obvious as it should have been.
I want to ask him more, so much more, but I daren’t. I’ve made so much progress in this conversation that I can’t let it be put at risk by one misplaced word or insensitivity on my part. I’ve gained so much that not even a gambling addict would dare risk it. As much as I desire to believe that I have my brother back, that little spark of dormant fright in the back of his eyes reminds me that, whilst I’m getting there, he’s still about as lost as a nerd on a basketball court. I just have to guide him back to me with all of the patience that Frankie exudes by the bucket load. Frankie. The person that I owe this conversation to. That absolute god who has blessed me with both his love and knowledge. But it still stings that it took someone that Mikes barely knows to bring my brother back to me. It stings, but this conversation has disinfected the wound; now it only needs to be dressed and kissed better. Preferably by Frankie.
I feel Mikes shift around, I think he was leaning on one of his more tender bruises, and he curls up so that his legs are underneath him and on my lap, his head resting in my chest. I cradle him like I used to on those long ago mornings when I’d wake up to his bloody, battered face. I hold him close, liking how much he smells of Frank, and smile down at him to see that he’s almost asleep. So I just hold him, enjoy holding him, enjoy being closer to my little brother than I have been in an eternity.
Just as I’m about to carry him to his room despite the fact it’s only early afternoon, I hear him heave a nearly content sigh and he looks nervously up at me.
“You-ou kno-ow tha-at you’re bi?” I nod, a little confused. “You-ou’ll-ll al-lways lo-ove me-e, ri-ight?”
“Of course, Mikes. Nothing could ever stop me from loving you. We’re brothers; always and forever.”
“Go on, Mikes.”
“I-I thin-ink that I-I’m…”
I beam at him, fully appreciating how hard this is for such a self-conscious kid to say. I nod, indicating to him that he can continue.
A/N: Thank you very much for reading; I hope that it was alright! Thanks for taking the time to read and please review (I’ll love you forever!)! :)