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When my younger brother, James, was five years old, Jack Nierman bit him while they were playing in our favorite playground. I was sitting atop the monkey bars when I saw it happen. I swung down and pushed Jack away, then dragged my screaming brother over to our babysitter, Lethia. James didn’t want to tell anyone what happened, so I did it for him. Even at the age of eight, I wasn’t about to let Jack get away with what he’d done; it wasn’t fair.
We spent a lot of time together in the playground. James developed a habit of collecting anything that resembled a weapon; sticks (“swords”) were his favorite. I had to employ a great deal of negotiation to convince him to leave his sticks on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building. But I did what I had to, and I was the only one able to persuade him to part with his weapons. I started my distraction even before we rounded the corner. I always promised James that our doorman, Frank, would protect his sticks until we came back outside.
As we got older, and the park was no longer cool enough, James and I spent increasing time together indoors. Though he could be grouchy and shy around other people, James was an entertainer at home. Whenever he was sullen, I’d beg him to imitate Austin Powers or his Australian camp counselor, Rusty. Nothing could keep me from doubling over with laughter whenever he put on a show.
I went to sleep away camp for three years before James joined me. When he first came, I paraded around, introducing him to my favorite kids and counselors, and made sure that he was having fun. Though at first he resented my social meddling, soon he was waving me away from a circle of girls crowded around him. I didn’t stop checking on him to make sure that everything was going okay, but I felt happy that he didn’t need me anymore to have a good time. I still indulge his shyness every once in a while, especially at Starbucks. James hates ordering his own coffee, and I don’t mind doing it for him.
James and I share a room that is divided by a partition. As a result, our homework is done in close quarters, and we can always hear each other. We are very different; James is fidgety and needs a little Jimi Hendrix to settle down, but I like to work without distraction. He also tends to easily become overly-stressed when he doesn’t understand something, whereas I try to be methodical when approaching things that are unclear. I love the struggle of learning – I am more successful when things are difficult, and challenge has been the most valuable part of my education. Some nights, it felt like I spent more time helping James with his homework than doing my own. I can’t stand seeing him struggle when I know that I can help. Even when my parents try to get me to do my own work, I know that his is more pressing, and I don’t mind staying up late.
By far, my favorite place to accompany James is to any clothing store. James absolutely detests shopping, and it is the thing that I am most worried he won’t be able to handle when I leave home. The idea of looking in a store for things he likes, then trying them on, and ultimately making decisions about what he needs is intolerable to him. But when he’s in the dressing room, furious as I pass more things over the door, I laugh at his silliness, and he laughs at himself, too.
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