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My Brother's Keeper

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You would think I see him all the time, wouldn’t you? It’s an easy assumption to make, given that we share a face. Technically true, but not really. When I look in the mirror, I do not see him . There is no kindness in the eyes that stare back, and no softness hidden in the corners of the mouth. If a smile dares to grace the lips it’s cold, derisive, not understanding and warm.

He is not there, hasn’t been for years and maybe never was.

Sure, people got us confused, but only those that didn’t know him, that didn’t understand that he was better, that couldn’t discern the cheap fake from the original. 

I’ve spent years now making it easier for them, making sure that the mirror can never lie to me, piercings, tattoos, and scars, so many scars.

Despite what Gram might think, I’m not a masochist. I don’t have a death wish, I don’t do the things I do hoping to not come out the other side. Although, I’ll admit, I’ve wondered if he would feel it? Would he know I’m gone?

I’m not sure if I actually want to know the answer to that.

Since we were born, the only thing that mattered was keeping him safe and sound, and gentle. It was the reason why, when given the choice, I decided to stay with mom and let him go with dad. He would have never survived her sharpness, her demands, and her gaze, more often than not dripping with disappointment. It’s not that I was immune to all that, but I knew I could survive it, I could make do until I was old enough to make it on my own. If he had stayed with her, she’d have him married to some soft, malleable airhead straight out of high school, all for her own profit. 

It’s not like dad is much better, but he is soft, like him, more wont to spoil him, to give him everything and anything as long as he behaves. 

So, it was an easy choice to make.

With him gone, though, it was harder to reign in my tongue around mom, to not show disgust at the sort of scum she kept for company. By the time I was sixteen, I practically lived at Todd’s; his dad was never home and his wife-of-the-month couldn’t give less of a shit about what Todd and I got up to; as long as we didn’t bleed on her pristine new furniture.

It took years for me to be sure that the distance between me and White was enough to keep him safe, but once I was, there was no going back.

Each hit, cut and bruise came with a grim sense of satisfaction, they were earned, and they were mine. Each step that took me further from what my mother wanted me to be felt like a victory, felt like making amends for what she was, for the people she continued to step on, it felt like they carved out a place in the world just for me. Todd managed to keep pace with me, hated his father as much as I hated mom, that is until the geezer died and left absolutely everything to him - it was then that I learned the path I had chosen was one I was meant to walk alone. Our plans of revolution, of compensation, of change were no longer viable once Todd was the one holding the reins, once the money at stake was actually his own. 

I can still recall the feel of his nose breaking under my fist when he threatened to use White against me, the hot fury in his eyes as he spat blood in my face, as he called me delusional and mediocre. If I let myself think too much about it, the heartbreak sets in, the bitter tang of betrayal covering the back of my throat as a heavy knot threatened to lodge itself in it. 

Meeting Gumpa was nothing but sheer dumb luck. My bike dying out on me in the middle of the Rama VIII and him the only one, either kind enough or stupid enough, to stop and help a scrawny looking vagabond riding a motorcycle too expensive to actually be his. It didn’t take long for him to figure me out - an overprivileged runaway trying to distance himself from shitty parents, trying to make a difference but having no clue how to do anything other than bleed. Once he realized I actually had no money to pay him, he offered me a job and a room. The offer made me weary; it felt like a spring trap ready to snap shut around me at any second, but it’s not like I was swimming in options, so I took it. 

It took months for me to lower my guard around him, not knowing how to respond to genuine kindness - the only one to have ever treated me like I was worth the space I took up had been White. With time, it became easier; he never tried to play the role of a father figure, not to me or any of his other strays. I shared a room with Sean for a while - he was boorish and walked through life with a permanent chip on his shoulder, not that I cared as long as he didn’t mess with me - Yok was ridiculous, unable to take anything seriously and eternally covered in paint or charcoal - then there was his friend, Gram, insufferably optimistic and inexplicably keen on trailing after me once he realized we were in the same faculty. For months, he begged me to teach him how to ride a bike. I refused, unwilling to give anyone the chance to betray me again, but, eventually, I found myself relenting, there was something in the way his eyes lit up when he smiled that resembled White more than my own face ever could. I found a place among them - not the perfect fit, but good enough. 

Gumpa stoked the fire in each of us, he seemed to feed off of our anger, giving us everything we needed to channel it into action. He taught me how to shoot a gun, how to subdue someone without killing them, how to make a smoke bomb, and how to deal with the pain of getting pepper sprayed. I never asked how he knew all of that, and he never offered the information; it’s not like I was open about my own past. No one in the gang knew about White, not even Gram, he remained my secret to keep, untouched by the shit pile that had become my life, tucked away and safe like the bloodied handkerchief hidden in the back of my wardrobe. He could be married and be busy with kids for all I knew; he could have built a life, devoid of me, as the perfect son with the perfect wife - living our parents' ideal of the perfect life. At this point, my absence is the best I can offer him. 

I knew it was coming. For all the years we were friends, I knew Todd was not the gracious loser type, so when our interceptions started to affect his own business he found me. A staged friendly encounter, an attempt at negotiation, somehow he truly believed the bullshit he was spewing.  However, me throwing that second punch seemed to dry out the last of his patience and break through his façade, and the friendly, unassuming boy that had once insisted on sticking by my side when White was taken away, who had offered me his home when mine became unbearable, disappeared. His handsome face twisted with spite, and his eyes lost that glimmer of hope that still wished for me to stand at his side, believing that by doing what the rest of the human rubbish that now kissed his ass did, but with good intentions, we could actually make a change. I’m still not sure if he’s actually an idealist or just a moron, but either way, the time for us to part ways has come. 

It’s just a matter of time before Todd’s people come after me, so it’s for the best that I stay away from the garage and the gang. If I’m going down, it'll be best to do so alone - they’ll continue the fight without me, that’s for sure. Even Gram.

In the end, I knew he wouldn’t have the balls to do anything himself, which is how I ended up running from his lackeys. Six against one. Fucking cowards. The pain from their fists, boots and baseball bats still feels righteous, but as the world begins to darken around me, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll know, if he’ll feel me leaving, if he’ll realize I’m dead.