Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Steph Kenific
When I was twelve, I knew everything. I knew that the long-touted cliché, “blood is thicker than water,” was just that- a cliché. Words that sounded pretty strung together but when released into the real world wouldn’t hold up. While everyone else spewed their witless proverbs, I alone knew. I knew the pain of no familial ties whatsoever. I knew how the relationships could wilt away, family no more than a cornfield during a ruinous drought, the “thick” blood all run dry.
Stalks began to sway late in the year, a bitterly dry wind whipping through the household. My oldest brother, Michael, the one person I considered worth knowing, was arrested for the sixth time. Not undeservedly, perhaps, he was threatened with eviction soon after. Hoping to leave on his own terms, Michael hastily made plans to move to Florida with his best friend.
The day before he left, he decided to supplement his meager funds by cashing in bottle redemptions and doing odd jobs for our grandparents. In a rare burst of sibling love, he invited me and the other sibling along. Surrounded in curious fumes, Michael, Dan, and I cruised through town in Michael’s Taurus. I was allowed to ride shotgun with no seatbelt, the boldest thing I’d ever done.
“Are you gonna come back and visit?” I asked gravely. From the backseat, Dan snorted.
Michael shot him a disparaging look, but answered, “Not a chance, child. If I had the cash to afford a trip back, I would spend it all on”-
“Pot.” Dan leaned forward. “Or acid. Can we go home? I had plans.”
I glanced at the dashboard. It was three in the afternoon. Michael, Dan, and I had been out for two and a half hours, hitting up the dollar store, the seedy bottle center, all the back streets.
“Can you shut up?” I sneered. “Why’d we bring him, anyway? He doesn’t even know anything.”
“Don’t wave knowledge in others’ faces if you only picked it up seconds before,” Michael cautioned. “And he’s your brother, too, angry and intolerant though he is.”
“Brother,” I sneered again. “So?”
“I’m your brother,” Michael said, meeting my eyes.
“You’re more a friend than a brother,” I said, casting my gaze downward.
He sighed, and flicked his turn signal on, heading for home.
“Oh no,” he said once we reached the brick-red house. “Stephanie, as you grow up, you’ll realize how you don’t want me for a friend. But I’ll always be your brother.”
“But you’re leaving,” I mumbled, so low he could not hear me. I swept into my room.
The next day dawned brittle and cold, the last of our family energy spent. Michael was leaving. His plans had not fallen through. Our goodbye was fleeting, that familiar wind buffeting us, blowing us apart. Why was he leaving? Did he even know? I did not cry, though I sat outside for some time, staring emptily down the road.
When the Taurus pulled back into the driveway, half an hour later, my heart leapt out of my chest.
Angrily, he burst out of the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind him. We ran to each other, and we wept freely, his arms enveloping me in a scarlet-faced hug. The winds died down and the warmth of his neck brushed against my face.
“I came all the way from Cortland to give this back to you; you left it in my car!” he snapped suddenly, cramming a CD into my trembling hands.
His eyes met mine, and I can attest, they’ve never truly left.