How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Love My Brother

ZachandMeI will admit that there was a time in my life when I hated my brothers.

Especially, my older brother. Zach.

Zach was 13 months older than me. As an elementary school kid, he had a thick bowl cut with a cowlick that made it look crooked. His teeth were all spread out, awaiting braces. He loved gearing up in heavy padding, skates, and a caged helmet and playing street hockey with all the neighborhood kids. And he loved poking and prodding and teasing his little sister; me.

While Zach and I got along sometimes, we more often fought. Zach would constantly try to arise some kind of reaction out of me, and I’m sure I did the same to him. As many kids, we took pleasure in the simple idea of just bothering each other. At times I would get so upset I would run at him full-force and scratch him.

Yep, before my nail-biting days I was a scratcher. I would jump on Zach and try to scratch him, and he would laugh and push me away, calling me a cat. And I hated being called a cat.

“You’re a cat! You’re a cat!” he would laugh at me while I clenched my baby molars in rage.

“NO I’M NOT! I’M NOT A CAT!!!” I would screech back, eyes full of tears.

The fighting only stopped after my parents threatened bedtime, or taking away some kind of tangible privilege. But this never solved anything long term, and even though it stopped the yelling for the moment, the repressed anger grew in my chest.

My outlet for this anger was spent passively trying to avenge Zach. I would hold sprinting contests in our backyard, inviting all the neighborhood kids, because I knew I was faster than him, and I knew how he hated it. I would try to outshine and outperform him in everything, begging my parents to pay more attention to me than him. Anything he was better at I would brush off as “stupid anyways.”

Towards the end of middle school, we both began collecting Pokemon cards. We saw Pokemon cards as a sort of status symbol– whoever had better cards in their binder was the stronger, better, cooler person. It became a collecting competition, and every weekend the neighborhood kids and Zach and I would gather for a trading/ show-off our cards session.

As I remember it, Pokemon cards came in packs of 5 or 10 called Booster packs. It was impossible to know what cards you would get in your Booster pack; it was luck of the draw. So, it was to my great dismay and envy when Zach got a holographic Charizard in his Booster pack one weekend.

Charizard was the last evolution of the Flame Pokemon, and one of the most rare. The way I saw it, if you got a Charizard card you were basically the king of the world, and if you got a holographic Charizard card, you were the king of the universe. Zach had just won the ultimate Jackpot.

For months I drooled over that Charizard card, pangs of jealousy clenching my stomach whenever he showed it off to our neighborhood gang- kids constantly battling to trade their slightly-above-average cards for it. He dangled the card in front of me as a “reward” for doing his dirty work- cleaning his room, setting the table, vacuuming (each time tricking me- “I said you could have it *for a little bit*, I never said you could keep it”). That card was like Samson’s hair– it seemed to give my brother supernatural strength. He would leave it out on his nightstand every night to make sure no one stole it.

Then, one night, Zach wasn’t feeling well. He went to bed with a stomachache and a warm towel over his eyes. In the middle of the night he awoke, crying from being in so much pain. I went over to see what was happening, and Zach was sitting on his bed, white as a ghost. My parents came rushing over and seconds later, Zach puked all over his room; onto the carpet, himself, and… the magical Charizard card!

My parents immediately took him into the bathroom to get him cleaned up and near a toilet in case he had to vomit any more. I was left in his room, my heart pounding wildly and my brain spinning furiously– what about the card??

I knew what I had to do. I closed my eyes shut and picked up the card, my fingertips scraping through the regurgitated goop. I ran it into the bathroom, and while Zach weakly hung around the toilet bowl, I vigorously cleaned the card of it’s disgusting mess. It didn’t take much, but it was brutal. I dried the sopping wet card on a hand towel and laid it out to air-dry on my vanity. I washed my hands, plopped on my bed, and took a deep breath of relief… I had saved the card.

By the following night the card had dried completely; a bit cockled and warped, but “clean.” I told Zach what I did, probably hoping for some kind of award ceremony or royal treatment. Zach did thank me, but was clearly traumatized by the condition of his card. It was as if he were Samson, and his hair had been cut off. His shoulder were slumped over; defeated.

Time slowly mended the wounds, and as the years passed the Pokemon cards began collecting dust in our basement. Zach went off to high school, and we became closer friends than we ever were. Maybe we were just getting older, maybe we had more in common, maybe we were angsty and united against our parents. But I have a feeling that because of that night, our sibling rivalry softened a bit. I didn’t have to give Zach a kidney to show him how much I was willing to do for him. I just had to reflexively and selflessly wash barf off his Charizard card. I can’t think of a better way to say, ‘hey bro, I got your back.’

(To read more about Emily, click here.)