“It’s not going to kill you to throw the ball with your sister for an hour,” my mom said, pushing my dad’s custard orange mitt into my brother’s stomach and nodding toward the door. I was hopeful, but also upset that my big brother had to be forced to play with me. He looked at my mom, then at me, daggers for days, and walked out the door, accepting his fate.
The things we’ve thrown at each other over the years. Insults. Snowballs. Paper airplanes. Prickly Pear pads—spines and all. A bullet.
I think of this now, hands idly turning a pen around in fingers that have lost dexterity and intent as the years tick by. It was fun, the act of hurtling words and objects at my brother. They always landed, but never hit him. Maybe that’s why, on a cold Saturday night in January, he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, absolutely certain of his aim.
I wonder what it would be like, to be so slick. I wonder who I’d be if all the scars I wear were smoothed out and the memories of those projectiles were reduced to near misses. What would a lover lick, if not the scar that runs through the upper right corner of my lip, my body quivering with want and vulnerability and confusion, that someone could pour themselves so intently into my flaws? Maybe that’s what Dustin needed to survive himself. More scars.
I gave him a few, over the years. A three-inch gash in his thigh when we were in grade school. We had been feeding the horses through the barbed wire fence that separated our back yard from a neighbor’s pasture. Dustin climbed up the fence and perched himself precariously on the top of the skinny pole, like a cat, his hand full of hay stalks, waving their tempting golden kernels through the air above the horse’s head. I was in awe of him, this nimble, fearless creature that was my brother. He didn’t seem human in the moment, but an extension of the fence, the field, the horse. Maybe that’s why I reached up and pushed him—to test his humanness. When he fell, his leg got tangled in the fence, the teeth of the barbed wire ripping through his Wrangler jeans and tearing the flesh below. I stood there, watching him bleed, shocked at the fact of his mortality. He didn’t cry out. He just looked at me.
“Go get dad.” he’d said. “It’s bad.”
The memory flashes after that. Dustin with the surgeon in the ER, crying without making a sound as the man pulled the stitches out for a third time and tried again, not liking the way his first two attempts looked. My brain today processes this memory by comparing what the doctor did to my brother’s leg to what a taxidermist does to the flesh of a trophy kill, breath and flesh and humanity stripped away for the sake of art. The things people will do to keep something pretty.
He never told my parents that I pushed him. I marvel at that, even thirty years later. Was it a sign? “It was my story, my memory,” he told me the only time I ever asked him about it. “It’s enough that we both know the truth.” I can’t get those words out of my head now. What did he mean? How could a few seconds of one day in our childhood shape so many things to come?
He stopped wearing jeans after his leg healed. I thought maybe he wanted to show off the jagged ugly scar, a sign of his bravery and toughness, but the board shorts he favored for the rest of his life came down past his knee, hiding the truth from the world. I wanted him to share it, the weight of it, so that I wouldn’t have to carry my half for the rest of my life. Even now, I feel the heaviness of that truth. Especially now that I carry his half, too.
When I close my eyes, I try with all I am to will my mom back from the grave, to make her push that worn leather glove into Dustin’s stomach and make him go outside to catch whatever I throw at him. A softball. My anger. The truth.
Bree Pye is a former U.S. Army photojournalist who holds an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in the Barely South Review, Southeast Missouri State University Press’ "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors", Volume 7, Volume 8, and Volume 9, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Waxing & Waning: A Literary Journal, and Center of the American West. Originally from Utah, she currently lives in Trinidad, CO with her two dogs and six cats.