One Thousand and One
When we'd lie in our bunk beds, he, the older, on top, he'd tell me stories about his classroom, a ridiculous place with a frustrated teacher and a roster full of cut-ups, and he'd do all the voices and parts like a stage show, which it was, in a manner, since he was simply aping Cheech and Chong routines and no, there was never anybody in his grade who never washed his neck. Sometimes, I'd keep him awake with chatter and he'd challenge me to count to one-thousand, to myself. I would, triumphantly finish, announce my success, and hear only his snores in reply. Once, he told me the best way to make sure my punishment was short was to tell Dad that his whippings didn't hurt. We'd wrap dish towels around our hands with rubber bands and box each other; the more he hit me the angrier and bloodier I got and I'd flail away at him, tears mixing with my gushing nose and he'd grab me and pin my arms to my chest and laugh, which infuriated me even more, that the game was over and that I had no chance to win. He was in charge of me and my sister most times when my parents went out and he had as little use for the rules as we did, so we played baseball with a wadded-up sock or built walls in our doorways across the hall from behind which we threw tennis balls at each other. He's six years older than me but when my parents brought me home from the hospital, wailing into his only child world, he wanted to play with me. He couldn't pronounce my name, so he gave me a new one that everybody still uses. I tagged along with him everywhere after we bought the house and if my mom forced him to take me, he never let me know that, and he made sure I didn't get picked last for his baseball games, he'd always choose me before one of his friends 'cause he knew how sad it would make me to be last, though a case could also be made that I was better than at least one of his peers. He put his arms on my shoulders that day I told him I was sick of all the white bread kids at my white bread school teasing me about my dark skin and he said his friend with the dark skin got all the girls. He got in big trouble the night I got the scar on my forehead from playing blind man's bluff in his room, when I gashed myself open on the bed frame and sat sniffling with the dog in my lap on the sofa while Mom yelled at him and my forehead didn't hurt so much as the thought he wouldn't play with me any more because he got grounded even though it wasn't his fault. And I don't know what I can do to repay him all these things, though I'm really fucking trying.