By TJ Larkey
My brother was two years old when my parents adopted him.
My Mom couldn’t have any more kids, but I told my parents I needed a little brother.
I couldn’t be stuck with just them.
I needed a friend for life.
Someone younger who I could mentor.
Someone I could impress upon all the valuable life lessons I’d learned in my four years on earth.
Before my brother came to live with my family, he had been living with an aunt, and the aunt didn’t want him anymore.
And in the home he’d been in before his aunt’s, there was a much older boy and this boy wasn’t kind to my brother.
“Awful things,” my parents told me. “Terrible things to do to a baby.”
I was told this was why my brother was so quiet.
He lived in his own world.
He’d just run around with this little toy bus my parents bought him, holding his hands tightly on top and guiding the bus into trees and making it do all kids of tricks like ramping off the curb and skidding out like cars did in the movies.
My brother was clumsy and would fall constantly while doing this.
He had bumps and bruises all over his little body.
In my four year old brain, I thought, this one is no good.
“Can we take him back?” I said.
My Dad just laughed.
Apparently it didn’t work like that.
So I gave my new brother a hard time, picked on him constantly.
He was so small and when he did speak he couldn’t say his R’s and he had little rolls of fat on his arms and this crazy white-blonde hair that stuck straight up and I thought all this was another prime example of why we should take him back to the brother store and exchange him.
I was told that my brother’s birth Mom was very small too and she was very sad and had done bad drugs when my brother was in her stomach.
But my brother got bigger and bigger and bigger.
Big enough to not put up with my bullying any longer.
My Dad had warned me about this happening in hopes that I’d stop pestering him and I understood that, but I never thought my little brother would end up looking like an NFL linebacker.
We started fighting constantly, wrestling and screaming, and getting more and more violent as we got older.
My first black eye was from my brother.
He threw a right hook and I stumbled backwards and held back the tears.
I looked in the mirror at my inflated red eye and felt a rush of adrenaline.
It was the punishment I deserved, and without those exact words I understood in that moment.
I was no better than that older boy that had hurt my brother.
Things changed after that.
We’d ride our bikes together after school and ding-dong ditch the neighbors we didn’t like and steal little things from the gas station convenience store and we thought we had it all figured out.
We’d assembled a little group made up of the kids in our neighborhood who started joining in on me and my brother’s after school routines.
There were the Bandini brothers and the Wilson brothers and the little Jones’ twins that lived two houses down from us.
Most of the kids living around us would hang with our group except Jackass John.
We called him Jackass John because he was a jackass and we thought that was the only suitable nickname for him.
He was older and bigger than us and because of that he thought he could tell us what to do.
When we didn’t do what he wanted us to do he’d threaten us with his BB gun.
He’d ride around on his moped with that BB gun slung around his shoulder and he thought he was the toughest meanest kid around.
“I’ll shoot you in the fucking head!” he’d scream.
He was always talking about shooting things in the head.
There was also the now infamous story of Jackass John stealing Tommy Bandini’s skateboard and the rumor going around that the reason Kylie Novak, the little girl that lived next door to John, would never walk near his house was because he pulled his pants down in front of her one morning and shook his thing at her in a threatening way.
With the exception of John, the whole neighborhood liked being around my brother and I, and we liked being around them.
The Bandini brother’s had an uncle who always smelled like gasoline and would say funny things, crazy things, things that most adults wouldn’t say around kids.
The Wilson brother’s had big dogs that would run around with us and bark at cars if they were driving too fast, warning us if we were riding our bikes in the street and oblivious of the surroundings.
And the little Jones’ twins had a cat named Stinker who was always roaming the neighborhood.
He was our favorite, a crazy little guy with a mind of his own, full of life.
My brother and I, being lovers of wild beasts, would always pet Stinker or give him a little bowl of milk when we’d see him running around or lounging near our house.
He’d come up to us and jab his little head into our legs and purr.
But one day after school we found Stinker laying very still— looking not like Stinker at all really— in the middle our street.
He’d been shot in the eye with a BB gun, a puddle of blood beneath him that had soaked into his fur.
“What do we do?” my brother asked.
The Jones’ twins, being a mere nine years old and not yet hardened as the rest of us, started to cry and ran home after seeing Stinker’s corpse.
“We’ll give him a proper burial,” I said, “Then we will avenge him.”
We put Stinker in a big black trash bag and buried him in a park close by, the park we would often see him running around chasing pigeons in.
I said a few words on his behalf.
“Stinker was a good cat that never hurt anybody,” I said. “He was one of us.”
The rest of the group remained silent.
I looked at my brother and could sense something was wrong.
He was in his own world again.
A few days later my brother and I saw Jackass John riding his moped on our street.
He was going back and forth, back and forth with the murder weapon strapped to his back.
“I’ve got a great idea,” I said.
I grabbed a metal baseball bat from our backyard and told him to follow me.
We walked out to our front yard when Jackass John was out of sight and hid between a large bush and the neighbor’s wall.
I held the bat tightly and listened closely for the approaching hum of John’s moped.
As the moped got close, my brother, who had been silent throughout my grand scheme, grabbed the bat from my hand and ran out into the street.
He ran brilliantly, focused, holding the bat like a spear, like a Grecian soldier.
Then he fell, just as brilliantly, desperately jabbing the bat at his target.
All Jackass John could do was yell out, “What!?” before my brother stuck the metal bat into the moped’s tire spokes.
The moped went up on it’s front tire and sent John hurtling through the air.
When he hit the street he slid on his belly and stretched out hands for a long time.
John started bawling immediately but my brother wasn’t finished.
He dusted himself off and ran towards John, who was wiggling and shaking and holding his hands in front of him like they were on fire.
My brother started wildly kicking him.
John looked like he was in shock, but was still whimpering, begging my brother to stop.
I couldn’t help but think, he’s killing them all, every bully, even me.
As the leader of this operation, I felt it was my duty to finish John off, perform one last expertly executed move to sum up everything and avenge our fallen friend.
“This for Stinker,” I said.
Then I spit on him.
But my brother just kept kicking, angry tears streaming down his face.
I got behind him and picked him up, his limbs flapping all over trying to get loose.
I squeezed him tightly and told him, “you got him, you got him.”
He finally calmed down.
When we got to our front door, we turned around and watched as Jackass John– the neighborhood bully, the murderer of cats and embodiment of every one who had harmed my brother before he was big enough to harm them back– got on his feet and limped off in the direction of his house, defeated.