My parents were original when they named my older brother Shahriver. They were significantly less original when they named me Shahrier.
My brother is four years older than me. He’s brilliant. We used to go to the library together to get books. We always read fiction books together, the typical Goosebumps and Animorph books. I would sprinkle in a book about animals, cause I loved animals. He would get a book on space or physics, and make me look like an idiot.
He’s tall. Apparently, four years older means four inches taller. He was always much closer to dunking a basketball than I ever was.
He’s a wimp. He has a habit of going into the kitchen late at night without turning on the lights. He saw a weird shadow once, got scared, ran into the living room, and jumped over the couch to where and interrupted my precious television time. He begged me to go into the kitchen and check it out. It was a cockroach. He made me kill it.
He used to be my best friend. When we were younger, we would always play together. I would be on my brother’s team during chess matches against our dad. I was tasked with moving the pieces according to my brother’s command, and I was happy to do so.
We collected things together, the usual ones our generation collected: Pokemon cards, stamps, trouble. But I think what I liked best were his stories.
He would talk about his friend who fell asleep on the 6-train and woke up without his shoes. He showed me the video of his fight that got him suspended from school for a week. He would tell me about his attempt at running away from home to see the world.
It was slow and gradual, but we stopped playing chess. We stopped collecting things. And eventually, the stories stopped as well. As we got older, I became more of a hindrance. I was too young to play with him and his friends. I became his little brother that needed to be taken care of. We got into fights more often. We drifted apart. I don’t think either of us really noticed it, but we stopped being friends. He was just my brother now. I blame the age difference.
Four years is a large gap in my opinion. When he was in middle school, I was in elementary school. And as awkward as it is to think about, my brother was going through puberty. I was too young to understand what that meant. My immigrant parents were the same in the sense that they didn’t understand going through puberty in America. When he was in high school, I was in middle school. I was too young to understand his teenage angst. Why he felt the need to argue with everyone in the family so often. I didn’t understand why he kept cutting classes and what he could possibly be doing with all that free time. My parents were too focused on the American dream to care about it. All they wanted was for him to become a doctor. When he was in college, I was in high school. I was too young to understand his need to experiment. Hasn’t he seen the PSAs? Smoking kills, drugs are bad, alcohol is dangerous. Meanwhile, my parents had their American dream shattered. He was never going to be a perfect student, and he was never going to be a doctor.
I hated him. I hated how his irresponsibility and carelessness always got him in trouble. I hated how that trouble always led to fighting between him and our parents. But I learned from it; I learned to never get caught. When I was in middle school, I made damn sure that no found out about me sneaking out at night to see some girl. When I was in high school, I always signed in for attendance before ducking out of class. If I didn’t want to be home, then “club activities” and “projects” kept me at “school” until 7PM. I definitely wasn’t just cutting school to watch movies, go to billiards, or play video games at a friend’s place. I swear, Mom and Dad, I wasn’t one of those rambunctious teenagers you see in those crazy teenager movies. When I was in college, I made sure to move away. My parents never smelled the lingering scent of a cigarette on my clothes, or heard the slurred speech of a slight intoxicated mouth, or saw the redness in my eyes after a joint.
It wasn’t that hard to get away with everything. All eyes were focused on him. Yes, he got a 2400 on the SATs without a calculator because he forgot to check the batteries. Yes, he failed gym for lack of attendance in his senior year and was banned from walking during graduation until he went to summer school. Yes, he had to take a gap year because he overslept for his LSATs, but got a 178 when he finally managed to take it. It seemed like he just did whatever he wanted with no concern for anyone else. But, then again, I never really understood him.
Despite everything, he always looked out for me. I just never saw it. When I was in elementary, our parents fought a lot. He was the one who made sure I was all right. He told me it’s just something adults do during stressful times. When I was in middle school and didn’t do well in English, he was the one who told me it didn’t matter as long as I did well on the entrance exams for high school. When I was a freshman in high school, he came back to visit his teachers and high school friends. He found me, and introduced me to his favorite Dean, you know, the ones that discipline students. He then proceeded to tell me gossip about teachers, what you can get away with in which classes, which school security to befriend so I could sneak out when I wasn’t not supposed to, and general high school survival tips. Teachers, older students, and general staff knew who I was in my third week of school. I never thanked him for taking care of me. We had grown too apart over the years.
When I came home one year during Thanksgiving, and he was home from law school, we talked. I learned about his going to a raging bonfire in Connecticut, where the cops were there to ensure the safety of the students. The fire ended up being larger than it should have been, and people’s personal items were stolen. Yet, the cops did nothing. He told me about his experiences with chemistry lab. Being notorious for that kid who broke everything. He told me about law school, meeting dual-degree students, how the J.D./M.D. students looked suicidal, while the J.D./MBA students looked hung over. The stories began again, and this time I had some of my own.
I told him about going to my friend’s New Year’s house party. Where we spent a few hours attempting to catch a chinchilla that was accidently released into the living room. I told him about when I was in lab and spilled ethanol. I was too lazy to clean it up, so I lit it on fire and accidently burned my nitrile gloves and sleeve. I told him that I was seriously considering pharmacy school as an alternative to everything else I’ve been doing. It seems like the option that would suck the least.
And I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was advice. He was telling me that it was okay to have crazy adventures in college and not tell Mom and Dad. It was okay to be a giant screw up in a class, but still do well. Finally, he was telling me that if I don’t want to do pre-med, then it was okay to disappoint my parents. I thanked him for his advice.
He was the first-born. He paved the way. He taught my parents what it meant to grow up as an American kid. He showed them that there were other professions than a doctor. He proved to them that it was okay to take a gap year. He showed me the importance of dating, but not to date your best friend’s cousin because it gets weird when you break up. He demonstrated that it’s okay to take a break from life because it can wear you down, to just spend a few days catching up on sleep at a friend’s place instead of being in gym class. He taught me how to tell a story, how to keep your audience’s attention and make them all laugh in the end. But the most important thing that I learned from him is that it’s okay to make mistakes and be a general screw up, as long as you get your shit together in the end when it matters.