A Letter to Dan

Editor’s Choice

Sam Maxwell

I am three, you are eight. You keep begging me to have a “sleepover,” which is funny because your room is right across the hall from mine. I want to say no because you stay up too late and bring over all your sports magazines and that’s all you like to talk about. But I am three, so of course I don’t know how to properly vocalize this. So, I say yes, and then I’m annoyed at you later on, though you don’t know why. It’s okay, mom will make us breakfast in the morning and we’ll get excited about whatever show is on Nickelodeon, and then argue about something else entirely after that.

I am four, you are nine. You play a video game called “Sly Cooper” about a vigilante fox who runs around a fantasy land completing stealthy operations. We both love things like this, and we create a game where we have to sneak around the house and “secure” random objects of the utmost importance. You pretend your soccer tournament badges are awards for completed missions, and we use dollar store walkie-talkies to communicate. I laugh as I am gifted a badge after successfully bringing you a large cup full of ice cubes.

I am five, you are ten. I am part of the afternoon kindergarten class, so I take the same bus home as you. We are standing in a group waiting for bus #8 to arrive, and you come by and say hi to me. After you walk back to your friends, Devin, the boy I’ve decided is my best friend, tells me how cool it is that you talk to me at school. His older brother ignores him, he says. It is pretty cool, I’m happy that you talk to me.

I am eight, you are thirteen. You are on the football team in eighth grade, hoping to be one of the few freshmen to make junior varsity next year. You and Ellis need to practice plays on your own, and so you recruit Bea and I to play defense. We are pint-sized compared to you, and mom says to take it easy on us, but the second she goes inside you play as though we are your true opponents. It’s okay though, we are tough, and I enjoy that you still include me in your activities even as you get older.

I am eleven, you are sixteen. We are no longer as close. You want to seem cool, and spend most nights out with you friends, most likely smoking weed in some abandoned parking lot. I don’t think about it much. I’m in sixth grade now, and making new friends and experiences in middle school. You get in trouble one day; you’ve thrown a party while we were away and of course the neighbors ratted on you. I think you are an idiot, but you’re just a teenager, what did mom and dad expect?

I am twelve, you are seventeen. You start spending less time with your friends, and more time alone in your room; we start spending more time together as well, though, and I am happy. Sometimes we walk the dog together. We started watching LOST with mom, and late at night we sneak downstairs to get ahead a few episodes, only to pretend to be surprised by the events the next night. This funny ritual started by accident, when we both had the same idea one night, and ran into each other as we tried to slip downstairs without waking up mom and dad. Sometimes it’s like we have the same mind, but other times I can’t tell what’s going on with you. You start having more arguments with our parents, and things like “depression” and “ADHD” start becoming more common topics in our house.

I am thirteen, you are seventeen. It’s the night of my bat mitzvah, and I have dedicated one of my candles to you. But you do not want to go to the party, even though you are supposed to be the one to light the candle. I am mad at you, because I can’t understand why you would miss this big event. You end up being there, but only for the candle ceremony. Mom tells me to take it easy on you, that you are feeling depressed and that makes it hard to show up most days. I think I am starting to understand that feeling personally, but one kid with depression is more than enough for a family to deal with.

I am thirteen, you are eighteen. It is the summer after you graduated high school. Sports are still a major stress reliever for you, so I find myself tagging along as you practice shooting lacrosse goals on the football field behind the school. You have been struggling even more than usual, and I wonder why your friends aren’t there to support you. You spend most of your time alone, researching different possible causes and cures for how you are feeling. I hope you are able to find something, I hate seeing you like this. But I don’t always think about it, because I am still just thirteen, and I have my own issues to deal with.

I am thirteen, you were eighteen.

I am fourteen, you were eighteen.

I am fifteen, you were eighteen.

I am sixteen, you were eighteen.

I am seventeen, you were eighteen.

I am eighteen, you were eighteen. It is my high school graduation. I wear a flowy white dress, to match the white cap and gown. You didn’t go to your graduation ceremony, because you were too depressed to care.

I am twenty-two, you were only eighteen. I miss you. Between eighteen and twenty-two, I have made many changes. I am an entirely different person, and I have experienced so many things I know you would have loved to experience. I make many choices with you in mind. We both shared an intense appreciation for exploring nature, so I became an outdoor instructor. We both drifted from our high school friends, so I became part of a wonderful new group in college; they care about my mental health and never fail to show me love and support. You struggled in silence and never felt like you could be honest about what you were dealing with, so I show others that it isn’t shameful to ask for help. I only wish you had known that.

I am twenty-two, you were eighteen. When I meet new people, and inevitably the question “do you have any siblings?” is asked, I always hesitate for a split second. In the beginning I used to say no, because it simply allowed me to avoid a painful topic. I say yes now, because you are my brother; you will always be my brother.