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  • I live with this headache beneath my skin, sludge like the decomposing flesh of a newborn with eyes bigger than its brain and lips slightly parted. It's been this way since May 8, 1998; it's been this way for 14 years to the day.

    He comes home from school all tree-trunk limbs and bottomless stomach and teenage boy-hormones raging something fierce, and the headache -- I've been a sister-mother to this boy for all of the 14 years I've known him and the headache's gotten stronger. I'm a child with fat arms and a bubble stomach that doesn't depress when I hold it all in, and this kid is bigger than me and it's too much.

    He turned 13 with nothing but a smile and a nod but now he's 14 and he's crushed me. He's steam-rolled my frayed ends but they haven't melted back together, no, he makes things hard. He ties knots in the muscles of my shoulders and tells me he's grown up.

    He was the kid I stole from my parent's new bedroom, carefully placed on each step, one at a time, until he was at the top of our new house. At 3 years old I took my newborn brother to his brand new room with a brand new bed that wouldn't fit him for years, and I didn't break him but that was when the headache started.

    He's grown up since then.

    He's 175 lbs of boy-man with all the grace of a blind elephant. He's had approximately 5 girlfriends and he's smoked approximately 1.5 joints and he's done approximately more than I can handle.

    (Can you hear the flesh falling off my bones? My body's breaking down like the mortal I am, skull built too fragile and heart built too strong. I can feel myself losing, but the battle's not done.)

    I remember that noise he used to make, where he'd breathe out his nose but do something with his tongue, and everyone was simply charmed by the whistle it made, he was so clever, such a beautiful child.

    I remember Thanksgiving, 2004, my father breaking his 6 year old teeth, remember the blood and the screams and the cops asking what happened and my dad crying because he didn't mean to.

    I remember telling him to do well in school, remember teaching him to read, remember finding him holed up in his room with my history book, age 7. Half his life ago.

    I remember him insisting emphatically that the slashes in the couch cushions weren't from him, that it was probably the dog's claws, that he never even touched the machete, that he wouldn't do that. He was 11 and a couple weeks later he'd told me it was an accident, but Please, Jess. Don't tell mom and dad, and I didn't.

    I remember us together, playing cards on my bedroom floor, waiting for my parents to stop arguing so loudly.

    He is my best friend.

    He is my diary, my shoulder to cry on; he is my let's-get-up-and-go-do-something and my let's-watch-all-of-Band-of-Brothers-in-one-sitting. He is my brother and my headache and he's 14 now. He tells me he's grown up, and I feel lost because I am a newborn waiting on the stairs, waiting for him to bring me somewhere new. I can remember all of our growing but now I've stopped and he's still going.

    (I hope that when he's reached his destination, he lays my swollen skull and frayed ends in the dirt where we grew up.)
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