Note: These are bits and pieces of my growing memoir about my relationship with my brother, Chad. I hope you’re dying to read more! It’s slowly trudging along and someday hope to publish it.
© Jennifer Dryden 2010
Somewhere stuffed inside a photo album is a four-by-six photograph of a two-year-old girl in a duck t-shirt. Her fist is up to her mouth with her blistered thumb tucked inside, tongue clicking every second. She’s sitting atop her father’s outstretched legs on the beach in Florida, next to her glowing mother, and smug big brother, Chad, in his red and navy zigzag swim trunks. Chad, seven, is looking to his left at the little pig-tailed toddler – eyes wide with pride.
After the photo is snapped Chad takes that little girl’s hand and they trudge down the beach, the inner tubes around their bellies bumping together like bumper cars. Her steps are unsteady but Chad looks ahead strategically leading her around big rocks and scratchy broken shells so her delicate feet won’t bleed. He’s her silent bodysuit of bubble wrap. He’s in full “big brother mode.” She stumbles to a fall – going too fast – but before she can let out a yelp, Chad crouches down, meeting her eyes.
“Areyouokay, Jennifer?” he asks with rushed words.
Her… my two-year-old teary self connects eyes with Chad, searching for comfort. His eyes calm me. My puckered bottom lip flips into a smile and stretches out to my dimples. He smiles back. With his hands leading, I climb to my feet once again. My thumb reinserts itself. We walk slower.
I’m slinked up against the wall with my hands together and pointer fingers out, waiting. The air is silent. The rain pats at the window as if it wants in. My six-year-old self has wide eyes that pan the room for the robber. OK I’m going to count to five and enter the kitchen. I know he’s in the kitchen. One… two… three… four… Flop. Chad rolls shoulder first out of our old-western-era swinging doors and onto the carpet. He climbs to one knee, his fingers together, pointing at me. I lower my gun from the air to match his height; he lowers his to the floor in defeat.
“I’ve got you now,” I deepen my voice to sound tough. “What do you have to say for yourself, robber?” Chad opens his mouth to speak but I cut him off – “bang.” He slumps in a heap on the floor, dead. As I blow out the smoke coming from my finger gun, Chad, eleven, stands and smiles at me. “Good job, Bud,” he says, declaring his fake death, my victory.
The sun peeks through my flowered curtain panels placing stripes of morning on my daybed. Rubbing my eyes, I realize it’s Christmas. My clock says it’s 6:30 and I’m not positive Santa has left yet. My stomach knots in sudden fear of no presents. Pre-teen Chad is still sleeping in the room at the end of the hallway and to get there it’d take fourteen of my seven-year-old footsteps – on my tippy-toes, of course, just in case Santa was still downstairs.
I crack Chad’s door open, tiptoe another three steps before climbing aboard his huge bed. His curtains don’t stripe sun like mine because they are dark blue with ships and sailboats. The sun resists dark colors. He lay there still, asleep. “Chad… psst… Chad…” Shake shake… “Wake up.” Chad turns over to find me sitting on my knees, arms crossed with my Simba stuffed lion in tow. “Can I sleep in here until Mom and Dad wake up?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he mumbles. No questions are asked. He knows why I’m in here nervous… I’ve done this every year I’ve been out of a crib. He’s my bodyguard from monsters and that includes Santa Claus, even if he did bring me a kitchen set last year.