Mentee: Maxine Armstrong
Mentor: Kristen Demaline
This piece came from fragments written in response to some of the prompts given at the family memoir workshop.
Last night, I hadn’t been the one to tuck him in.
My grandmother had been the one to make sure that he was in bed, pulling the covers tight under his chin. He’d pull them down the minute the door was closed, hop out of bed with the typical energy of a five year old, and turn on his Thomas the Tank Engine nightlight. Then, he’d race back into bed because if he ran fast enough, the monsters wouldn’t catch him.
At least, that had been what I’d once told him in reassurance.
That’s when I walked in, when he was getting all snuggled back into bed. I’d make sure that the nightlight was on just the right setting — not bright enough to keep him awake, not dim enough so he couldn’t see it — and then climb on top of the covers next to him. I’d sing him a rendition of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, because even though I could read, I couldn’t reach the books that had once upon a time been designated for bedtime stories.
When he was asleep, I’d slink off to my room to hop on my laptop until I was tired enough to try to get rest for another day of being in the third grade.
In the light of day, this very important routine didn’t seem so important.
“Connor Marini, Connor Marini, if you are in the building, report to the office immediately.”
I didn’t ask my teacher for permission to leave. Wooden pass in hand, I flew down to the main office for information.
I was his sister. That had to mean something, right? Wrong. They wouldn’t tell me a word. They told me to go back to class.
Their words had fallen on deaf ears. I was racing down to the gym before I knew it.
My brother had been in and out of doctor’s offices since birth, therapists’ offices since age five, diagnosed with severe ADHD at age seven, and on medication at age eight. Special schools, special routines, special habits, special foods, special everything.
Special, special, special. The one thing I wasn’t was special. That makes me sound jealous, but there was never any jealousy there. An overwhelming need to make sure that Connor was okay: yes. Not jealousy.
My mother worked long hours, so we were babysat by our grandmother. My father worked upstate, and we saw him once a month, twice if he could swing it. We didn’t have any friends over, and we didn’t go over to our friends’ houses. We were never around cousins our own age, or our neighbor’s kids. Connor and I were all that each of us had, and we stuck together because of it.
I was the one who woke him up in the morning. I was the one who put his pills next to his orange juice in the morning and made sure that there was enough milk in his cereal, because my grandmother never poured enough. I was the one who held his hand as we crossed the street on the way to school, I was the one who helped him do his homework when we got home, and sent him to take a shower after dinner.
He might’ve been my mother and father’s son, my grandmother’s grandson, but he was mine when all was said and done.
So it would be my fault if he was hurt today.
No one would understand how it was my fault. No one would understand that he was my responsibility. Most people thought that I was too young to get what responsibility really meant. Real adult parents had responsibilities, not kids.
I didn’t understand why they didn’t understand. It was plain as day to me.
I searched every nook and cranny of the gym, then the first floor, then the second. I opened supply closets and checked the elevator every time it stopped on a floor. He couldn’t have left the building, right?
His kindergarten teacher would never hear the end of this. How had she sent a five year old to sit outside of her classroom without supervision as punishment for being a disruption? She said he’d been Hurricane Connor — loud and jumpy and ignoring class rules, rolling around like a bowling ball, taking Legos and crayons and playing with them for seconds before bouncing off to do something else. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
It justified nothing.
Finding Connor in the fourth floor girls’ bathroom was probably the most terrifying, and, in retrospect, hysterical moment of my life. He was smearing soap on one of the mirrors, using the sink for leverage, and I didn’t think I’d ever been as relieved to see him.
I pulled him off the sink, dropped to my knees and pulled him in for the tightest hug I’d ever given him. He was giggling and getting soap all over me — in my hair, on my clothes, on my hall pass which I still had clutched in my left fist — but it didn’t matter.
“Never do that again, do you hear me,” I got out before planting a big kiss on his cheek and swiping at the tears that dared to fall. “We’re going down to the office now, okay? To let them know you’re okay.”
“Okay, B’anna,” he said. “But can I wash my hands first?”