Lately I’ve been having a lot of dreams about my younger brother. In one dream, I saw two incarnations of his present 18-year-old self― one of him was mad at me and the other one was mad at my mother. In another dream, I saw my brother as a 9-year-old boy again as he died in my arms because of something I had done. I usually have very intense dreams and even if I can’t recall them the next morning I can feel them linger. The dreams often press against my upper back forcing me to be aware of my posture. I’m not a very spiritual person and I don’t have faith in much but I do believe in my dreams. I can’t see my future and I haven’t seen my past lives or anything but I have had dreams of folks in my life dressed in white before they’ve unexpectedly passed away and I have had several dreams of the end of world and ugly dystopias. My dreams are more often than not about me and my need to figure something out, confront something, or let go of something. Sometimes I can see myself in the dream as if I was following a character in a movie and I can see everything they can’t and sometimes I’m an active participant and I can only see what my eyes see in the dream. The dreams about my brother are different only in that they’ve lingered in my body and in my mind longer than I’d like. And, I haven’t done anything about it.
The morning after the election results I was a hot mess. Actually, I was a losing my shit right before then. I had gone to a bar in Bushwick to watch the live results. I was already anxious because the bar was crowded and my friends weren’t there yet. As an introvert, I think waiting for folks to show up is the absolute worst. I was also already worried about taking the damn bus back to Sunnyside. It was already dark, it was rainy, and it was election night. I didn’t need to be outside. But I went anyway because I’m new to NYC and I need friends. We sat near the entrance and we only had a partial view of the screen. I was worried about what would result that night. But I had convinced myself there was no fucking way this country would elect a racist bigot as president. I left the bar around midnight and the numbers weren’t looking good. I opted for the longer commute on the bus that would drop me off right in front of my house rather than take the train and then have to walk for 15 minutes. I waited 45 fucking minutes for the damn bus as I refreshed the results page on my phone. It was dark and I didn’t know where I was. I was overwhelmed and scared. But mostly I felt alone. For so many fucking reasons.
I still had to go to work the next morning but I couldn’t stop crying. I gave my students a worksheet and let them out early. I couldn’t talk to them. I didn’t know what to say to them. And, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say it without crying. Later that week one of my students told me that I had looked terrible that day and that’s exactly how I felt. I wasn’t necessarily afraid that things were going to change as much as I was terrified that shit was going to get worse. When I did get it together to talk to my students many of them, mostly the students of color, expressed that they were not entirely surprised by the results and that they expected to be treated just as poorly as they had been before and during the election. Later that day, after the election, my sister told me that my brother had been stopped by cops because he looked like someone they were looking for. They pulled him off his bike and searched him. They let him go. I was heartbroken but my brother laughed it off. And then I was pissed. I texted “Yo, this ain’t a fucking joke.” He didn’t even plan to tell my mom because it was “whatever.” I cried again and couldn’t stop.
Later I realized that I had been crying because shit was going down and I wasn’t near my family. Again. And there it was: the fucking annoying revelation that I still feel guilty for leaving and not going back. I left my parents’ home at 17. My brother was going on 10-years-old. At 22 I moved to Southern California. After living there for 5 years I moved back to Chicago and after only 2 years there I moved to NYC. I missed a lot of his life. I visited as often as I could but at some point that’s what I had become—a visitor in his life (and in the life of all of my siblings for that matter). The day after the election I cried because I was afraid for his life. And, I was afraid because there’s lot of shit I don’t know about my brother. Is he the kind of person that will stand up for himself? Does he know when to keep his fucking mouth shut? On any other day would the cops have found something on him? Was this even his first time getting stopped? He didn’t have any intention of telling me he had been stopped. My sister only found out because she had overheard him talking about it. I know that even if I had been walking with him that night there might still be very little I could do. But the idea of anything bad happening to my younger siblings turns me into a wreck. I should be able to protect them. But it’s hard to even try when I’m states away. Even if I did leave for good reasons the guilt lays on my chest and doesn’t let me breathe.
To some end I feel like I have especially failed my brother. There’s about 10-year age difference between the two sets of children my parents had—me (29) and my sister (28) and my brother (18) and my baby sister (16). Our upbringings have been very different. My sister and I were undocumented and my other siblings are citizens. My sister and I witnessed and experienced a lot of domestic violence and drug abuse. My brother and my baby sister have had to deal with the nasty remnants of those experiences. My sister and I grew up poor. My brother and my baby sister aren’t living a lavish life but they’re a little bit more spoiled. The age difference has meant that my younger siblings see me more as a mother-figure rather than a sister. I remember being 11-years-old and putting my brother to sleep and I remember being 13 and needing to hold my brother’s tiny hand while I cradled my baby sister with the other arm. When my mom reminisces about my younger siblings as babies she always comments that they acted more like my children than hers. My brother was super attached to me and I was attached to him. He only slept or ate in my arms. He’d cried for “Waa” (because he couldn’t say “Güera,” which is what my mom called me) and I’d go running. I took him to his first day of school and I cried more than my mother. We would read together. Any time I see anything Diary of a Wimpy Kid I think of him and those days. But then I left. And now I can barely get him to say more than 3 words to me. My leaving has benefitted my younger sisters the most. I’ve been able to pass on to them shit I’ve learned about feminism and empowerment in ways that I haven’t been able to do with my brother. And maybe I haven’t tried hard enough.
My brother dropped out of high school. And he doesn’t have foreseeable plans of going back to school or getting a GED. When he started failing classes his junior year he asked my mother not to tell me and she obliged. I didn’t find out he had failed so many classes until his senior year and again that wasn’t because he told me. I talked to him about it and he cried. I wanted to cry too but I didn’t. He said he felt like he had ruined his life. And he believed it. He hard core believed his life was over. It pained me to see him so hurt but it also surprised me that he believed his life was ruined—for failing classes. We came up with a plan to get him back on track, I talked to counselors, and I paid for shit that needed to be paid. I asked and kept asking about his progress. I offered help. But everything was always “fine.” It turned out that he stopped attending his night classes and eventually stopped attending school all together. And, again, he had asked my mother to not tell me and my mother told my younger sisters to not tell me and so no one told me—until someone did because eventually someone always ends up telling me. I broke a little inside that day.
I asked my mother and my siblings to not talk to me for a while because I just couldn’t deal with them. I wasn’t hurt that my brother dropped out of school instead I was hurt that they all lied to me—that they felt that they needed to lie to me. My family was afraid of me. My mother later said her intention was not to hurt me but rather it was to protect him. But I still didn’t understand. Protect him from what? From me? What the fuck was I going to do? Whoop his ass? I’ve never hit my brother like that. Even if I wanted to I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to because he’s taller and much stronger than me. Much later my mother said it was because I’m too honest and would’ve hurt my brother’s feelings. Much later later it turned out that he was afraid to disappoint me. Even though my sisters won’t say it to my face I know they all lied to me because they feel for him. They are all afraid to disappoint me. On one occasion or another my siblings, and even my parents, have used me having a PhD as an excuse for their own setbacks—because I’ve set the bar too high, because I expect too much from them. That does hurt. I had gotten a PhD for them, because of them, and they felt I had set them up for failure. That’s messed up.
My brother and I haven’t talked about it. Well, he won’t talk to me about it. It’s taken me a while to not take it personally and to process my own hurt. But the guilt lingers. And so I have dreams about him being mad at me and about him dying because I turned my back on him for like a minute. I cry because I fear for his life and I cry because I don’t know him and I cry because I left and so I didn’t even give us a chance to grow up together and I cry because I’m afraid it might be too late even though I know that’s nonsense. My brother’s choices are his and my guilt is mine. I’m not disappointed in him as much as I’m afraid for him. My fear is rooted in one of this country’s biggest fallacies—education will protect us. I’m afraid that without a high school diploma my brother is more vulnerable. And his life will be harder—like that of our parents. But then again my brother could’ve had his own PhD and his ass would have still been stopped by the cops. And, all of that might still happen because that’s how shit is right now.
When my brother was in first grade, or maybe he was older, his school decided to make up “jean day,” a day where students didn’t have to wear their uniform if they paid a dollar. My brother didn’t own jeans so he wore those Adidas athletic pants with the stripes down the sides except they weren’t Addidas but were probably from Wal-Mart. I told him it would be fine. I walked him to school and I put him in line and then one of his friends told him his pants weren’t jeans. My brother looked at me and I saw embarrassment and tears well up in his eyes and I just couldn’t. I picked up my brother in my arms and told the other first grader to shut the hell up and we walked back home. I made my mom buy him jeans. I know my brother’s going through a rough time right now. It’s tough being a teenager. It’s tough figuring out how to be man. I bet it’s mad isolating growing up around super femme sisters. I wish I could pick him up in my arms right now and tell the rest of world to shut the hell up. But I can’t. And that hurts. And because there’s not much I can’t do I push that hurt down and it resurfaces in my dreams. And I dream that he’s mad at me. Or that he died in my arms. Or that I walk away from him and lose him. When I wake up I shake the dreams away and ask my partner to rub my back. When I see my brother I tell him I love him and he says it back except he’s not looking at me but at his screen. And I go sit on my mom’s couch and he stays in his room and then I have to leave again.