the last time I saw my brother was. Although we are only eighteen months apart, we had been living separate lives for a long time now. When I was only ten, he moved in with our father and our time together went from weekends and holidays to every other weekend, to the occasional holiday to once and a while throughout the year. We were two people interwoven by love and shared experiences but our alarming differences disconnected us. Or at least, I allowed them disconnect us. He smelled of cigarettes and dirty laundry and skin that needed to be washed. He was a handsome boy hidden behind a mask of tattered clothing and homemade tattoos. But his blue eyes mirrored my own. He was different now then he had been before. Blake was a boy whose spirit always seemed lost in a haze of sadness, wrapped in self destruction. A boy endlessly searching for a place to belong in this world. It seemed like he may have found it. Maybe it was confidence I saw, or peace, or happiness, I don't know, I didn't look at him long enough. Instead, I immediately thought of a million things about himself he needed to change. I thought of all the things he was doing wrong with his life. The pungent smell of him stung my nostrils and I was embarrassed to be seen with him.
He shared his hand-rolled cigarette with me and as he passed it from his lips to mine he warned that I won't like it. Our saliva mixed on the tip as I inhaled slow and deep. Standing there in the parking lot of that restaurant, we were a depiction of contradictions. Here I was, this former cheerleading captain and current sorority girl standing next to a boy who describes himself as punk and enjoys mosh pits and dumpster diving. In this moment, it wasn't just the tobacco in between my fingers I disfavored, it was his clothes, his hair, his tattoos, his friendships, his ambitions. It was all of him. I love my brother, I always have, but I wanted him to fit into my perception of how the world should be. Instead, he was his own unique depiction of society. My judgement was so loud, it drowned out the sound of his truth. Although I thought I did, I honestly didn't really know my brother at this point in my life. It had been months since I last saw him and even longer since I asked him about his life and quieted the voice in my head long enough to listen. I wanted a relationship with him, I always had, but I wanted it to fit into my conceived description of how a relationship between a brother and sister should be. And because he refused to fit into the box I forcefully tried to put him into, I resented him.
Once inside the restaurant, shortly after ordering, my mom went to the bathroom and left Blake and I alone at the table. We sat in silence with only the clattering of silverware on plates to distract us. I had nothing to say to him. And so we said nothing. I should have taken that time to notice the faded blue color of his eyes. To trace the crooked pattern of his teeth. To feel the texture of his skin. I didn’t do any of that. Instead I looked down and memorized the pattern on the table. I wish I had memorized the sound of his voice. Or studied the details of his face. Or asked him all the things about himself I didn't know. But I didn't. Because at that moment I didn't care. I don't remember the conversation woven throughout that meal. It's the random, insignificant things about that day that I remember. Like that he ordered a deep-dish personal pizza. And that he was rolling his own cigarettes. And that he asked to be seated at a table away from all the TVs.
After we had eaten and shared superficial conversation, Blake and I got into a fight. He had a complex relationship with our father and I was pleading with him to mend things between them. I've always had this idea that it was my responsibility to protect our father and so I often, with only good intentions, put myself in the middle of their conflict. And so we yelled at each other. The words were loud and filled with years of anger and misery. He couldn't see my point of view and I wouldn't listen to his. He told me his friends were his family, and I didn't understand that. Sentences formed on his tongue and create jagged scratches in my heart. The tears flowed freely now, leaking from my eyes and staining my cheeks. I hurt him just the same, but his eyes stayed dry. The sadness spilling from my eyes was enough for him. The anger left his voice and he told me he hates to see me sad. With the corners of his lips turned up he apologized and told me that he loves me. He said he wants a relationship. I want one too. And we're at a new beginning.
We parted with a smile, but once again our arms hung cold by our sides. He pulled open the creaking door of his Chrysler, crumbling inside heavy and drained. Tugging at his tattered t-shirt he let his flesh melt onto the leather seats. And that was it. My mom and I got back into her car and pulled out of the parking lot. I turned around in my seat and watched him drive behind us. We stayed like that for a moment, the two of us just looking at each other. Then the stillness was broken by a reassuring wave of his hand. I waved back because he wouldn't be able to hear me say "I love you". Then he turned his wheel and drove down a different road. And that is the story of the last time I saw my brother. Now he only exists in photographs and memories and in the impact he left on the people who loved him. Though the details have faded with time, drunken mistakes have forced me to hold onto a day when my judgment blinded his truth. And I will forever wish I could do our last day over again.