I was six years old and sitting at the dinner table with my mother, my father and my two younger brothers. We were having spaghetti. The doorbell rang and my mother got up to answer it. I have no idea who was at the door; it was probably some neighbor or a girl scout selling cookies, but all I do know is that by the time my mother got back to her seat, my father had successfully made at least two out of his three children sick to their stomachs.
He was picking on his favorite child to overtly make fun of – one of my brothers. He laughed at him, taunted him, because how can you not like spaghetti? You’re going to sit there and eat it until it’s done. I don’t care if you’re here until tomorrow morning. I looked at my brother to my right, and I saw this four year old little boy building up this shell, this tough guy i don't give a shit persona, that he still has up to this day. And I was his older sister, and I could not do a goddamn thing to protect him. I could not say a word. I simply began to wash the dishes, as I was supposed to do every night, after choking through the words “can I please get up?”
Maybe that’s why now, over twenty years later, whenever I have the slightest inkling that this brother of mine is in trouble, I drop everything – everything – to try to protect him. I don’t know what I can do; he still is incredibly reticent when it comes to speaking about anything that might be bothering him. But I know. I was told this weekend by my other brother that “some seriously fucked up shit is going on with ____ and we can’t figure it out.” So I put my entire life on hold – the schoolwork I was supposed to complete, my best friend I was supposed to meet – and without even thinking, ran down the few miles to my brother’s apartment and tried, without being assuming, to show some support for whatever the “fucked up shit” is that is going on with him.
Strange things have been happening and I can’t figure them out. His roommate admitted that my brother hasn’t been home in the past week; my brother missed one of his childhood friends’ bachelor parties (hosted by him and his roommate) on Friday night; and my father showed up at their apartment this weekend. My father does not live in New York. And oh, yeah, my brother got in a fistfight that I could not watch but that left him with a bandaged hand and a bloodied arm the next morning. And I can’t put together any of it. There is a running theory out there, but I still haven’t been able to express it in words except to one person.
I watched my little brother get hurt for twenty years and I couldn’t help him. I’m his big sister. I’m supposed to be able to. And that shell that he’s been building ever since he was a little boy has grown ever stronger, so I don’t assume he’ll tell me any time soon. All I can do, I guess, is be there, is be accessible, because I still can’t protect him. I wish I could.