Whats-her-face was a god the first time I saw her, perched on the top step in the dim morning light. I loved her immediately. She was not like anyone I had ever met. When it was dark, she bit my lower lip and called me beautiful in a raspy whisper. She knew a lot about boys, but girls were different, didn’t I think so too? She pinched my nipple and said I was a woman and I nodded with reverence. I got to know little things about her and my brother knew nothing. We would drive to nowhere. I liked our little chats in the car, the hand placed on my knee, the streetlights through yellow orbs across the windshield like it was searching us out. I wanted to be far away with her. I flung galaxies around–andromeda, circinus, butterfly, tasting them on my tongue. I would watch my brother pull her closer, one hand gripping the back of her neck, and kiss her on the lips. The glint in her eye was mocking, inviting, a promise for later. The thing about being a self-stifling lesbian is how much you don’t give yourself credit for. Really, I was a sort of god among closeted homosexuals.
My brother and I had a basic acknowledgment that we had something in common, genes and such, and that was it. I never knew as much about my brother as I did about the women who helplessly gravitated towards him. They would seek a sort of communion with me, baring their souls, and in return I would offer the same polemics– “He has never been this serious with anyone else.”
One early Saturday morning, when my brother had stuck his head so far into the refrigerator that he looked decapitated, I pounced on him with the sort of gracefulness you could only find on the National Geographic channel, swift as a gazelle without any of the beauty. He heard me come up and ignored me, as he usually did. On his list of priorities, the thrill of the fridge and its alluring promise of food ranked several spots ahead of me.
“Long night?” I asked. I lowered myself onto a stool, elbows propped on the kitchen island. The clear hard maple countertop smelled of disinfectant. Mom had been up again on her midnight cleaning ritual. She said it was because she didn’t want to be disturbed but I think she just liked having the place to herself, not having to see any of her prickly children, prompting yet another awkwardly patchy conversation.
He slowly pulled his head out, the dull glow of the refrigerator just another dying star as he slammed the door shut.
“What do you want?”
“Your mother gets worried when you don’t come home”
He tried to open the jar of peanut butter he held in his hand. “She’s your mother too.”
“She’s worried about you.”
“She’ll be fine.”
“Who was it this time?”
When he said nothing, I kept pushing. “Claire, Maeve, whats-her-face?”
“Leave me alone.” My brother grabbed a spoon off the drying rack and headed up the stairs to his room. He clearly did not want me around so I followed him upstairs. He held the jar of peanut butter in one hand, and the spoon in the other. They had broken up. Whatever thread wound them together had unraveled and my brother had not felt anything till he was completely loose in a chasm of uncertainty. I felt the closest I had to him, eating peanut butter straight out of the jar in the blue flickering light.
I often looked at him the way you would the shattered pieces of a vase that you placed a little too close to the edge of the table, eyes wide with horror as it came crashing down. Like all broken things, I was resolute in my belief that I would be the one to fix him. Later, my therapist would say my brother was a proxy for myself. I would laugh at that, clutching my sides as if I were in pain–and in many ways I was–and cancel all my appointments with her that same night. There is a certain scientific satisfaction in having your insecurities picked apart, placed under a microscope and spit back at you with clinical precision. I don’t miss it.
My brother finally replies to my text. Lungs full of the sweetest air, I reach for the interminable sky.