Friday Night with My Brother
Friday nights were supposed to be fun, social events for kids my age, but I had spent the entirety of the evening sitting at the desk my mom had made for me, playing videogames. It was a cheap desk, probably from Walmart. My mom had embellished its surface with an albums worth of photos of my family and I, making it much more than just a shoddy piece of furniture from the seldom recommended "office" section of Walmart. An unnatural light exuded from a large, dusty monitor, resting atop my family vacation to Mexico, covering my face in a fluorescent combination of blue and white. My dad and his girlfriend Janet were asleep, for most adults, really for most anyone with anything productive going on in their life, two in the morning was too late to still be awake, and here I was, eyes wide open.
The abrasive sound of a rusty chain grinding into motion sent waves bouncing from wall to wall through the dimly lit halls of the house, in a defiant echo. This disturbance was enough to break my already waning concentration, as my curiosity lead me like a bloodhound to the source of the sound. I left my secluded den of a room, heading across the darkly finished hardwood floors towards the laundry room, where the door to the garage was located, and where my senses told me the noise originated.
My hand fumbled clumsily as I combed the wall with my fingers in search of a light switch, finding it at last, causing bright light to fill the long room. Two pairs of eyes turned to meet mine, one a bright orange, the other a mossy green. My cats looked at me, almost condescendingly, if cats are capable of such a look, as if to say "yeah, we heard it too, now turn out the light." Suddenly, the garage door swung open, cutting our meeting beside the washing machine short. The cats bolted out of the room, shades of black and grey flowed around my legs in a blur, as they rushed to secure a good vantage point from which to safely view whatever might be entering their home.
My heart was now beating faster than I would like to admit, I was scared. The door to the garage was fairly difficult to open, not something so quickly thrown ajar. Something quite strong must have opened that door, what was it? And what was it waiting for? I looked into the dark void where the door once was, seeing nothing. I leaned in for a closer look, catching myself taking a slow step forward, almost as if I were being sucked towards this newly found anomaly. My imagination was beginning to conjure up various different creatures and beasts capable of such a feat, some with scales, others with horns, a few with both. I was filled with a strange combination of disappointment and relief, as my brother sloppily stumbled out from the abyss of my garage into the small, brightly lit laundry room. He was putting a considerable amount of thought behind each of his steps, as if he were an explorer, disembarking onto new, foreign terrain, unsure of what might lie ahead. "Hey Lee." I said, startling him, causing his head to shoot upright from its downward facing position. For a moment, a look of confusion overtook his face, as if he thought his entrance into the house was silent, and no one would have noticed. This perplexed look did not last long, however, as the fact that I was awake seemed to fill him with a sense of excitement. "Miles is awake!" Lee yelled out, reaching towards me, partly to keep himself from plummeting face-first to the hardwood floor below him, and partly to give me a hug. "Why are you yelling?" I said in an appropriately quieted voice, taking in a whiff of his intrusive scent. Alcohol and sweat, he surely enjoyed his Friday night much more than I did.
I couldn't help but let out a laugh as I watched his difficult journey to the kitchen. It was only a few steps away, but for him it might as well have been a few miles away. Lee let his shoulder support the entire weight of his body as he rested it on the adjacent wall, gliding along until there was no more wall left to support him, before looking for a new piece of furniture to use as a makeshift crutch. My captivation in his seemingly impossible mission was stolen away, when the door again opened, this time in a gentle, situationally aware manner. A long, hair covered leg extended its way into the room, followed shortly by a lanky, equally hairy man. "Miles!" the man let out a cry of joy, I was not sure why they were both so shocked to see me, this was my home after all, but I suppose after enough to drink everything becomes exciting. "Get in here David!" my brother called out from the kitchen, his voice distorted by the processed foods being shoveled into his mouth. David plopped his hand on my shoulder as he slipped by me, following my brother's command to join him in the kitchen, wobbling with each step in a pitiful attempt at movement. I followed them, taking a seat at the cold granite bar top, where I could watch them graze, as if I were at an exotic zoo of some sort. This exhibit was labeled Drunk Grown Men.
Lee was my half-brother, although I always thought of him as nothing less than my brother. He had been living with us for about a year now, out of the home gym in the back of the house. He wasn't sleeping on a bench or pile of weights or anything, a murphy bed fastened crudely to the wall served that purpose. My father convinced him to move in with us, telling him that they would be able to make up for time together they never had, that we would all spend time together. So one day, Lee quit his job bartending, packed up all of his possessions worth packing, and embarked on a road trip all the way from flyover Missouri to sunny, humid Florida.
David had been with us for a few months. He was Lee's childhood friend, probably his best friend. My dad always liked having him around, he was polite, respectful, he even did well in school. Most importantly it gave my dad someone to brag to, someone who hadn't already heard all of the stories, seen the new car, or the remodeled bathroom with the new tile that looks just like wood, but is for some never explained reason much better than wood. He was quite opposite Lee, who was loud, opinionated, and a less than adequate student. Naturally when my dad heard that David was out of work, he told him too to come and stay with us, and so he did. He found his home in the den of our house, here he slept on an old fold out mattress, the kind that makes you wonder if you would have been better off simply sleeping on the couch it originated from.
Both David and Lee were now searching the kitchen for anything remotely edible. Lee had disappeared into the shallow pantry, while David was methodically pulling ingredients from the fridge, as if he were an alchemist preparing his next concoction. "I want something sweet." Lee called out from the pantry as he realized there was nothing worth eating in there, it was full of nuts and crackers used to assemble different sorts of snack platters or cheese trays. My dad had become a bit of a wine enthusiast since my parents got divorced. "Well you're not going to find anything in there." I responded to Lee as he backed out of the pantry, careful not to knock down any of the assorted library of shelved spices. "Is there anything to eat here?" There was never much food in the house.
"There's a pineapple over there, but you probably shouldn't cut it right now." I said to Lee,
"It's just you're a little fucked up, probably a bad idea to try and carve a pineapple right now, right?"
"Well I'll just bite into it without cutting it, problem solved."
"That idea is somehow worse, I can cut it." I said as I walked around the counter and into the kitchen towards my brother, grabbing a knife along the way to cut the pointed fruit with. Before I had a chance to even grab the pineapple, David looked up from the assortment of ingredients he had compiled and gave Lee a mischievous look, "you won't bite into that, it'll fuck your mouth up." he said to Lee, knowing that this would prompt a sense of duty in Lee to do such an absurd task. "You really don't think I'll do it." Lee asked, almost excited to be able to prove someone wrong, "nah." David said with a grin on his face, "I'm sure you can eat it without cutting it, but why would you?" I asked, trying to maintain some sort of order in the kitchen, "Because he said I won't?" Lee said, as if he were unaware that someone telling you you can't do something isn't a valid reason to do it. He was too far gone, now he had to eat the pineapple, to prove that he could eat the pineapple.
I resigned from my negotiating position almost as quickly as I took it up, returning to my front row seat at the bar top. "I told you I'd do it." Lee said as he grabbed the week old pineapple with one hand, shoving it towards his fearless face. David and I both erupted in laughter as he finished extracting a large bite of the rough pineapple and began his attempt to chew. There was an uncomfortable look on his face, the look that slips through your best efforts to camouflage it. A slight amount of blood began to pool at the corners of his lips, his eyes began to water and he winced in pain as we watched him swallow. "What'd I say?" Lee spoke with pride, opening his mouth to show us that he had in fact swallowed the fruit, spikes and all, we only saw his tongue, however, riddled with small holes, oozing reasonable amounts of blood for such a bizarre act. "Congrats." I said as I laughed along with David, "Well you proved me wrong" he said to Lee in a tone that showed that not only did he not care that he was proven wrong, but also that he was happy to have been proven wrong. Our indifference was clearly taking much of the new found sense of accomplishment away from Lee, who at this point appeared to be showing signs of regret, as he was now hovering over the deep copper sink, his jaw hung open allowing the blood to poor out from his tongue straight into the drain in a consistent red drip.
"That didn't taste good at all, I'm still hungry." Lee said as he scanned the room again for something edible that perhaps his first probe had missed. David, and what he was working on, caught his eye. "Well that sucks," David said, "I'll be eating soon." Lee was intrigued, it was obvious that he wanted whatever his friend was making, maybe he felt like he'd earned it after the task he had just completed, "well what are you making?" Lee asked as he took two large, sloppy steps towards David, who appeared to be piecing together a ham sandwich, or the closest thing to a ham sandwich he could muster given his heavily impaired motor skills. "A sandwich." David said as he finished adding the final touches to his sandwich, a look of determined concentration sculpted onto his face, "and no, you can't have any." David added, shooting down Lee's question before he could even ask it. For a brief moment, Lee looked hurt, like a dog when it realizes it won't be receiving any food from the dinner table, despite its saddest, most convincing whines. But that didn't last long. "Why not? I just ate that pineapple for you." Lee said as he slowly extended his tattoo covered canvas of an arm towards David's newly completed masterpiece. "Fuck off, no one made you eat that." David spoke, jerking the sandwich away, holding it close to his chest as if he were protecting his child. I watched for some time in amusement as Lee would slowly encroach upon his prey, only to have David, and the sandwich, quickly evade him. Lee would step right, David would step left, it was a stalemate caused by the unwillingness of both parties to exert any real energy in attacking or escaping. After a few tense minutes of this predatory stalking, Lee stopped his lackluster pursuit, "fine I'll make my own." he said, as he made his way begrudgingly towards the fridge. David's eyes began to widen as he looked at his precious creation that he could at last safely eat, he pulled the now eroded sandwich towards his face, opening his mouth far wider than necessary, as if the sandwich were triple its actual size. The food was entering David's expanded mouth, he was eager for his taste buds to make the long awaited contact, when Lee turned around to face David, giving him a sinister look before charging at him as fast as he could. I watched the spectacle in amusement, David was faster than Lee as they ran out of the kitchen and into the living room, maybe because he was taller and longer, maybe because he had something to protect.
The majority of the real estate within the living room was occupied by a large, dark brown, right-angle shaped couch, positioned diagonally in the center of the room so that it formed a sort of obtuse V. This was the focus of the action, the cats glided silently into the room, taking up positions on the top of the couch so that they could watch, and occasionally swat at, Lee and David as they completed circles around the sofa. I was amazed that they could run so fluidly and efficiently, when moments ago merely walking ten steps seemed a daunting task, they really wanted that sandwich. It was now in shambles, the sandwich, each time the pair completed a lap David passed me and I would notice another newly acquired sign of attrition, but they either didn't notice or simply didn't care.
"You can't catch me." David called out to his rear, managing to laugh, pant, and talk all at the same time, as Lee followed closely behind, gaining an inch on his friend with each completed loop. This chase that you wouldn't even expect out of men half their age went on for some time, five, maybe ten minutes. I was less amused at this point, more surprised at the fact that they had been running for such a long time without falling or vomiting. Really, it was just a matter of who got exhausted first. They were both slowing down, but David was now the slower of the two. He was passing the left end of the couch, when Lee's hand reached for him, missing by less than an inch. David had a look of fear in his eyes, he knew that my brother was now right on his tail. In a last ditch attempt to win a pyric victory of some sort, David forced the sandwich towards his face, preparing to eat as much of it as possible given the conditions. He figured his plan fool proof, as he again rounded the left of the couch, his mouth began to close around the sandwich, his teeth coming down towards it, ready to shred it to edible pieces. Lee's tightly balled right hand came soaring in, thwarting his plan, and wedging itself into David's side, probably hitting something important, causing him to plummet to the ground in pain and a loss of breath. "Got em!" Lee yelled out, looking over at me with a proud grin on his face as he shadowboxed the air in front of him, repeating the perfect form right hook he had used to bring down David, I smiled back and laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Lee grabbed the sandwich from beside his incapacitated friend, standing over him in a position of dominance. He took a large, unnecessarily large, bite out of it, as if to make sure David knew that he was currently eating the sandwich, he said "it's my sandwich now, bitch."
Lee was sitting on the couch now as he finished the sandwich, the couches leather showing all of its cracks thanks to the addition of his weight. On the floor nearby, David began to get up, he had been there for some time lying prone, exactly as Lee left him. I figured he was trying not to throw up, getting hit in the gut is enough to make most people want to vomit let alone getting hit in a gut full of cheap alcohol, but maybe he was comfortable, at peace sprawled out on the floor. He wouldn't have to see his friend eat the food he had just made, or listen to his comments meant to add insult to injury. But, he did get up, and there Lee was, licking his fingers clean. "That hit the spot." Lee said, letting out a snicker, far too amused by his own joke. "You're a dick." David said, as he made his way towards the doors to his room. "Hey man, don't rub your sandwich in my face if you aren't ready to have it taken." Lee responded, still laughing to David's unamused face. I had known David for just about as long as I could remember knowing my brother, never had I seen them argue. "There's no excuse dude, you're an ass." David said as he opened the flimsy unlockable door to his bedroom, heading towards his unmade, back pain inducing fold out bed, recusing himself of the situation. However, before he could fully shut the door and end the long night, Lee blocked it with his hand.
Lee loved to argue. Most of my family did, but Lee especially had a passion for it. As such, he always had to get the last word in in just about any scenario. This was no exception. David looked at Lee, and his hand, which was now holding the door open, with a look of exhaustion, both mental and physical. "Just let me go to bed, Lee." David said, almost letting out a sigh as he spoke. "Don't be so butthurt about a sandwich." Lee said.
"And why should I not be?"
"Because! It's just a sandwich."
"Well, you hit me, and took my sandwich."
"We were joking around, I mean you were laughing the whole time"
"I didn't think you would hit me, I didn't even think you'd take the sandwich once you caught me."
"I'm not going to apologize for that."
"Of course you aren't."
"Oh don't be a baby, I didn't even hit you that hard."
"That's not the point, you're just inconsiderate."
"How am I inconsiderate? You're living here with me aren't you?"
"Uh because you hit people and take their food? Also, don't try and hold that over my head, I'm here because your dad was nice enough to offer."
"Don't start praising my dad again, you don't know him."
"I do know him, he's one of the coolest guys I've ever met" David said, the reaction on Lee's face telling him that he had found a button to push.
"And you don't appreciate him." David added.
"You don't fucking know him man, you don't." Lee said, all amusement gone from his face as he turned around and left David and the argument behind him, heading down the light deprived hallway towards his own room, David pursued.
I turned my head to watch them walk down the hallway towards Lee's room, "He's only ever been nice to me, and to be honest he's always been nice to you too" David said, they had clearly forgotten about my presence, and the fact that there were other people besides them in the house, as they were now yelling at each other without any restraint. "Oh yeah he's nice alright, such a nice guy that on my eighteenth birthday he let my stepmom kick me out of the house. Couldn't even wait until the next day, right on eighteen I had to go. He didn't even tell me himself, he had her do it." Lee yelled, his voice was trembling, his face wrinkled around his now frowning lips, he was trying not to cry. I had never seen him cry. "What'd you get when you graduated? Huh David? Because I got kicked out." Lee said, looking up at David with tears filling his eyes. "That's not fair to ask" David said, shaking his head as he spoke.
"What'd you get?" Lee persisted
"I got a car"
"And you had your college paid for. In full."
"My dad always made sure he had enough to leave for that"
"Well I got nothing, I've always gotten nothing. He's never done anything for me. So don't tell me he's nice when your dad did everything he could for you."
"You don't think I would trade all that back? Do you think I really care about a stupid car and some money? My dad died Lee, and you still have yours."
"Well at least he loved you. At least he gave a shit about you."
"Come on, your dad loves you Lee, of course he does."
"No he doesn't. He's only ever had enough energy for one person at a time, and it's never been me. Never. When I was eighteen it was Kristin, now that I'm here ten years later to spend time with him its Janet. It's never been me, and it probably never will be me."
"Calm down Lee" David said, extending a consoling arm towards him.
"No, Fuck him" Lee yelled, breaking into an uncontrollable sob. He swatted David's hand away, before turning to punch the black IKEA mirror hanging from his door. It shattered into thousands of uneven, serrated pieces. "I gave up everything I had to come live here because he told me it would be different. Everything." I lost sight of Lee as he stormed into his room, tearing apart what little possessions he had scattered about in the home gym he had been living out of. "It's okay Lee" David said, as he followed Lee, shutting the door behind him as he entered. I can only assume that David comforted my brother, the sounds of destruction stopped moments after he entered. I didn't go and put a glass up against the door or press my ear to close to the cold floor to listen to what they were talking about, I felt like I had already seen too much. Before I retired to my neglected bed, I sat on the cracked couch with the cats positioned next to my head, their fur working its way into my ear canal, we all laughed to ourselves as we replayed the night's events.
A few months later it was just my dad, Janet, the cats, and myself living in the house. David got a job at that somehow profitable company Groupon. Their headquarters was in Chicago, so he was able to move out and get back on his feet. From what I saw he was doing well. Lee left a few months later to live with David in Chicago after he got kicked out of the house. He never got along real well with Janet, he had an unfortunate passion for arguing, and when the nightly arguments became too much for her she told my dad that he had to go. I'm not sure if my dad was the one who broke the news to him. I hope he was. Years later, everyone in my family seems to have forgotten about this strange, confrontational time in our lives, or maybe they just pretend to have forgotten.