I don’t know if you remember, little brother. Obviously, you’re dead, so remembering things isn’t in your wheel house, but if you weren’t dead, you’d recall. You’d recall the last time I went downstairs for school and was sent back up to the bathroom to start over on my hair.
It was a normal morning in our outwardly normal house. You had already finished getting ready and had taken your seat at the well worn bench at the bottom of the stairs. Mom and Dad stood in front of you, waiting for me, their firstborn son. Dad tapped his foot and checked his watch. Even up in the bathroom I could hear the rustle of his immaculately pressed and starched shirt as he pulled back his sleeve. You were a couple years shy of being subjected to the primping perfection they required of people over 14.
I struggled everyday to fix my hair, to make it the lacquered perfection Mom and Dad wanted before exiting the house. That day, I was trying a new technique to make my life easier. I used a hair pick to pull individual strands across my part and then matted it down with that purple chemical smelling hair gel. Mom used to say it made Dad smell so good and then ask me if I wanted to smell good too? After 30 minutes of wrestling with nearly every strand of hair on my teenage head, I buttoned up my starchy shirt and presented myself downstairs, the blue shirt and creased pants made me look exactly like our mathematician Father, ready to research some theorem or other.
He inspected my hair while Mom stood quietly behind him, her own silence communicating her inability, or complicity, to change her son’s lot in life. As he looked closely at my part, he made that sucking noise he made by pulling air through his teeth. You know, the one he made when he was disappointed or concentrating. He stood up straight and told me to start over. I had a math test that day and starting over would mean I’d miss the first period at school, which was my Math class. I told him that. He told me I should have done better and motioned upstairs.
I still don’t understand it. Hair over Math. He pushed us hardest on Math and would make us take surprise AP Calculus tests on the weekends from 12 years-old and up. Anything less than perfect and he would force us to to take it again and again and again until we got 100%. Didn’t matter when we finished. He would wait and we would miss out on life.
I weighed my options as I stared at myself in the mirror. The Harvest gold sink reflected the sickness I felt inside. The shag carpet grated on my toes. I took the starched shirt off and hung it on the towel rack. I got out the hair pick again and started arranging my hair, but halfway through, my hands were shaking. I wanted to cry. It had been like that for over a year. 389 days of matting my hair down with gel so I could pass inspection and be more like Dad. I stared hard at my own face and focused on the small deformity in my left Iris. Something inside me broke and I locked the bathroom door silently, took out Dad’s clippers and shaved my hair down to stubble.
I put the starched shirt back on and presented myself again. His reaction was worse than I thought. He didn’t yell. He regarded me for a moment before turning to the Avocado green phone on the foyer console and called our school. He told the secretary that I wouldn’t be in today because I was sick, possibly Mono. I didn’t go to school that day. I didn’t go back until my hair had grown back and Dad could style it to his liking. Took two months. I had to repeat the 9th grade because of it. Took another 3 months before he let me comb it myself again.
Dad died the year I left for college, leaving you and Mom to fend for yourselves. Mom was ill equipped to do so. She got so used to being controlled that she broke down. By the time I was halfway through my winter semester, I was driving the 4 hours back to our house every weekend to be with you. It wasn’t enough. She was driving you to school one day and instead of turning toward the school, she drove you both off the 30th street bridge. The icy water killed both of you and I was alone in the world.
Now, 15 years later, I adjust the hairs on my head before I get on the train everyday, and I use the same gel I did when I was a kid. The smell wraps me up in fear, but it connects me to you because I know he forced you to do the same. I hate the way I look. Perfect.
But I miss you Little Brother and perfect ties us together.
On the Train – Where I envision the inner lives of my fellow commuters, completely unbeknownst to them. Every now and then, they might catch me staring a bit longer than makes them comfortable, but I’m just coming up with their backstory (Although I admit that’s about the same amount of creepy).