I throw open the two front doors of our house after a tiring walk back from the bus station, and finally plop my backpack down on the living room floor. Yet another awkward, taxing day of school I’d rather forget, and I have an overwhelming urge to sprint upstairs and sleep my worries away. But I force myself to wait a little while longer. My eyes scan across vanilla-scarlet rugs towards the computers in the next room, and find a small hooded figure poking out from behind one.
I swear this time he pauses and blinks at me, but the moment is over quickly, and he continues babbling into a bulky headset that’s far too big for him, while “How Far I’ll Go” blasts from his speakers at full volume. I trudge over and take a seat at my own computer a meter away, puzzling over his cheery expression, and attempt:
“What’re you working on now?”
Even before I finish, he’s doubling over laughing at who knows what. Some friendly joke, an amazing play he made in Rocket League, or perhaps something glitched out in Roblox again. I barely know better than to press on, but I manage to hold my tongue. After I scan through my online messages, I scurry upstairs to my bedroom at last and fall asleep instantly. We don’t see each other for the rest of the day.
Connor is twelve going on thirteen, in the middle of seventh grade. We’re practically mirror images of each other: straight jet black hair that cascades over our forehead, dark pupiless eyes, and a slight natural frown. Other than those surface details, I frankly know little else about his appearance; he never stays still when he knows I’m watching. When I’m not, it seems he can stay still forever, whether it be in his computer chair, on the sofa, or lounging in bed. His perambulations around the house are rare and short-lived; blink and he’ll be lazily sitting down again.
Connor loves airplanes, simulators, and airplane simulators. He knows the controls so well from playing, Connor could probably take over an actual aircraft if the pilots get incapacitated or something and land without a sweat. Looking at him lodged right there at the head of the table with not only his headset, but steering wheel, joystick, and leather chair, he looks just like a pilot. Eyes wide with wonder looking at clouds, cities, stars or whatever he wishes, and yet always in total control.
Well, a few months ago he was, anyways. Nowadays, peek at his monitor and the illusion is gone – Connor plays Roblox, navigating a tiny Lego figure across a finite plane chopping dozens of rectangular trees down just to get first place on a leaderboard. Or running a ripoff Wipeout course, throwing his hands down in frustration whenever his character fails to collide properly with a square platform. Or revisiting the same virtual bowling alleys over and over again, staring at blocks for hours simply trying to understand how the ball return and pin reset work. Every now and then, I ask him if he still likes flying. He says yes, but he doesn’t want to now. I then ask when was the last time he flew. His answer keeps getting longer.
Connor’s rather intelligent, in his own way. I know he’ll never surprise me with some wise remark in the middle of conversation, or elegantly solve a complicated math problem, but that’s not his style. No. His intelligence is systematic: give him a thorough manual and he’ll build anything from a Lego robot to his own computer (yes, the one he’s using). Give him move-order algorithms and in three days’ time and he’ll solve a Rubik’s Cube in twenty seconds. Give him some basic tutorials and some like-minded friends and he’ll teach himself to program. To an outsider, all this would seem quite amazing.
But not to me. There’s nothing Connor can do that will ever amaze me. Stun me. Ever make me feel inferior to him.
He’s sitting on the sofa, breezing through a classic Rubik’s Cube endgame: two rows and one full, unsolved face. I vaguely try to remember the sequences…Right face, Up face, Right counterclockwise, Up, Right, Up twice, Right counter? No, that’s for something different. Front, Up…Back twice…Up? Looking over at his relaxed face and small, nimble, perfect fingers, I feel an unfamiliar twinge of jealousy. Soon, Connor triumphantly slams the cube on the table, flawless faces catching the light, making it seem to glow. Making it seem like something special.
“That was fast.”
“Give me. I’ll mix it up for you.”
I pick it up and inspect it while eyeing Connor out of the corner of my eye. He’s leaning forward, with fidgeting fingers. Then I make one, two, three, four moves. I know he hears every individual turn. I present him with my simple puzzle and walk back to my computer, and seek a 1-on-1 duel in Overwatch.
After a few tentative clicks, I hear him getting restless. I’m halfway through the login process when he tosses the solved cube aside. He clearly took more moves than I did.
Our relationship is rather quiet now, our interactions are somewhat distant, and even when we go on family outings, we barely acknowledge each other. It wasn’t always like this. Back when we lived in a small condominium in Medford, we’d always walk alongside each other after school, exchanging jokes and curious observations. Why the seagulls liked hanging around dumpsters perhaps, or why the moon decided to come out during the day. When we got home, we’d laugh at cartoons or playfully accuse each other of cheating in Pokemon Stadium. Of course we had our fights, but they never lasted long. Whenever I was particularly mad, I’d ask my mother why she bothered to have a second kid. I wanted you to have at least one friend, she’d say.
We moved to Newton six years ago, and it all started slowly going downhill. Connor had adjusted maddeningly well. He made friends rather quickly, friends that he could confide in and sometimes compete with. I’ve seen him laugh with them, playfully make fun of them, and even try to solve their problems in a surprisingly mature manner. And outside of school, he found fellow pilots to fly with, and partners to code with. Some of them were older than even I was, and yet he always talked so naturally when he played. Surrounded by all these people, he always seemed happy.
On the other hand, people avoided me. Assumed I didn’t know English because I rarely talked, or that I was somewhere high on the spectrum because I could never keep still. I had no one, and he’d forgotten to invite me.
My torment reached out to him and wouldn’t let go.
“Don’t look behind you.”
He doesn’t, of course, but I keep the scissors trained on the back of his neck with my other hand. I know basic psychology. And I know Connor psychology better than anyone. In three, two, one.
He turns his head to look, and his eyes widen at the blade. He yells at me to go away, trying to push my arm off, but I don’t move. He looks so cute and helpless, sitting there. If the scissors had been open, they’d have sliced him straight.
Connor’s chatting one of his friends now over Google Hangouts, headphones streaming out of his ears and into his new phone. I’m bored.
I find a rubber band, twist it thrice, and place it between my thumb and forefinger. Then I line a freshly sharpened pencil across my makeshift bow. I take aim at my brother’s phone, and fire.
Of course, I miss. The lead drills through his forehead instead. Soon, blood starts dripping down into his eyes. Still holding his phone and holding back tears, he bolts upstairs. I float around for a bit, still in awe at my own marksmanship, and finally decide to take a peek up the stairwell. I swear I still see him laughing and continuing to talk about his day as if nothing had happened.
“Connor, look up.”
He doesn’t for three minutes. When he does, I fire an empty Nerf gun. The clack echoes off the table and walls. Not even a flinch.
“Put that away.”
I keep my arm outstretched for a few more moments, until Connor turns his attention back to his game. Thoroughly unsatisfied, I drop the gun.
Day after lousy day, he built up that mental fortress to keep my troubles and trouble at bay. My primitive, sadistic needs eased their assault until my mind decided the invasion was over, and drifted into an uneasy complacency. But, like all great monuments, Connor never took down that wall of his. He assumes there’s some hidden insult or innuendo in everything I say to him, and that any answer of his will just be dismissed. So he never replies with his answers. I doubt he even thinks them.
Slowly, we began to lose everything. Our little conversations. Our happiness. Our friendship. Even our brotherhood, perhaps. More and more, he’s become something of a stranger to me. Someone I can’t talk to, someone I’ll never understand. Just a kid that comes over every day just to play his computer games and sleep. And yet, he’s a stranger that I’ve shared a childhood with, and that still looks exactly like me.
There’s one thing we didn’t lose from all this I suppose, and might stay forever. Our memories will fade and there will be a point where I need to pull out a picture to remember his face. Our appearances could diverge as we find our respective places in society, and learn to fit in. None of that.
It’s love. Unspoken love. Shreds, pieces, remnants of a love. Almost, but not quite familial love. Though he feels distant most of the time – an outsider – Connor is still someone I want to spend the rest of my days knowing and keeping in touch with. Someone I can truly call mine. Someday.
So? What do you think?
“‘Tiring walk back’? ‘Small hooded figure’? Ahaha, you’re funny.”
But is my writing any good though? Granted when you read it aloud like that, everything sounds so forced.
“Shh…hey, I flew just yesterday! I still like airplanes – that counts!”
It really doesn’t.
“I can’t solve a Rubik’s cube in twenty seconds, only my friend can. Ugh.”
I don’t think it’s that impor-
“And also, you never…um…”
…What? I’m not being too precise in that second section right?
“Um…and also I did cry that day. Don’t lie.”
I might have just remembered things differently. I always like to think back to how resilient you were that day. But, like, is there anything wrong with the paper as a whole?
“Eh…sure. You made like half of it up though. You have to say that at the end. Don’t want people to get the wrong impression about us, right?”
This is my perspective on things, and my mind subconsciously exaggerates and occasionally makes things up. And I’m not writing this for them. Sure, they can peek into our lives and try to make sense of us, but in the end, none of this matters to people.
This is about you, Connor. I know that you want to prove me wrong. Prove that you really do want to fly. That we do talk together. That you were my friend when I needed one most, and still are. Prove that you’re a good brother. Don’t you?