Friday, December 14, 2012


My new friend Susie walks over to my house after ballet class and I introduce her to my mom and dad.  We wear pink tights with slits cut in the bottom of the feet so we can peel them up after class, freeing our red squished toes.

I’m a few months older than Susie, even though we’re both in the 7th grade so I try to show her COOL and MYSTERIOUS.  I’m detached when they ask how class went, slumping onto the couch, putting one foot up on the coffee table… until my mom gives me ‘that look’ and I remove it as quickly as possible.

Susie shakes hands with my parents and I watch anxiously for any inkling of surprise.  We get to my bedroom and our homework is spread out all over the floor before Susie asks, “So what’s the deal with your mom and dad?”  Bingo.  I pause, arch my eye-brow dramatically, use my big sister’s voice, and say, “Didn’t I tell you… the milkman was Asian.”  Susie laughs at my joke – most likely because it’s about sex – and I know we are going to be best friends. 

When Susie’s mom pulls into the driveway she stuffs her books into her dance bag and slips me FOUR pieces of bazooka.  “I have tons,” she says.  Tons? I imagine a torrent of pink chewy rectangles cascading down a snowy mountain sparkling like jewels with me and Susie frolicking waist high in a sea of comic stripped wrappers.  I want to offer something in return, something to seal our future… what do I have, what do I have... “My dad delivers 7UP.  I have tons of 7UP.  I’ll bring it to school, all the time, as much as you want, tons of it…” Before I have to take back my offer and admit that my dad actually got laid off from 7UP and now works for a propane company and comes home smelling like gas, Susie says that her mom won’t let her drink soda because of her braces.  Thank you GOD.  I promise I will be good forever.

We walk through the living room and through the kitchen to the front door where my brother Kerry nearly smashes into us.  “Man, watch it…” he starts and then notices Susie.  “Hey…” he says. Susie says “Hey…” back and I grab her arm and drag her away.  “He is such a dork,” I say as we step outside.  Please God, don’t let Susie get googly-eyed, don’t let her start scribbling my brother’s initials on her notebook or start calling to see if he’ll answer the phone, I promise I’ll…  I stop myself knowing, even at 13, that God’s not gonna keep Susie from liking my brother, anymore than God’s gonna make that 9th grader with the leather jacket like me.

On the way back to my room I pass my brother’s door.  I can hear him playing his guitar.  He is in a crunchy granola phase and hates my guts more than usual. The walls of his room are covered in “forest” wallpaper and he keeps the overhead light off.  A low-lit lamp sits on the floor next to his beanbag. It’s crazy, as much as I wish he’d hurry up and graduate and move across THE PLANET, I still sleep better when I know he’s home, tucked in bed on the other side of the wall.  I prize the purple and blue tie-dyed t-shirt he gave me for Christmas, and try desperately to learn lyrics to songs he likes so I can coolly sing them when he’s passing by my bedroom.

Kerry’s door is open just a crack and I know if I can get him to look up he might invite me in. This has happened on rare occasions like when my parent’s are glued to the TV and go from Love Boat right into Fantasy Island and Kerry has smoked enough pot to believe that “everyone can live in peace, dude”.  I really can listen to him play for hours.  Not because he is especially good but because he is so dedicated to his music and so pained. 

But, other than those rare occasions my brother and I are at odds.  He is always throwing things at me.  A croquette ball at my back, dirt clods or green apples at my legs to “make me dance” a Rubix Cube, matchbox cars, pens, pencils, a Nerf football that ‘couldn’t hurt a wus’ as he says.

And, to be fair, I am always throwing things at him.  Words.  Horrible, hateful, ugly words.  Of course my words are deserved.  I am certain of it. But somehow I always end up the loser, feeling polluted by my attempt to retaliate, shell shocked at seeing my words cut into him – and then, sure enough, the unlucky recipient of some object being hurled.  The worst – a block of wood to my forehead.  Yep.  I slathered Vasoline from hairline to brow line for a good two weeks.  But even after the crimson scabbed over and the deep purple turned greenish-yellow I still couldn’t remember what I had said.

Only once does my brother throw something that actually surprises me.

It happens my first year of Junior high, that same year Susie and I make it half way through the year as BEST FRIENDS before she starts doodling my brother’s name on her notebooks. 

Kerry is in eighth.  And now I am a Seventh grader and I get to ride the big kid’s bus, with all the high schoolers.  It is a hot afternoon for Oregon.  We’ve dropped off all the ‘in town’ kids and are toppling across the swervy country roads.  Rita lets us put the windows halfway down.  She is the coolest bus driver ever, always calling me ‘Sunshine’ and turning a blind eye when I change seats while the bus is in motion.

It is wild and squally and loud and all of us kids are going absolutely nutty. I wrap my hair around my neck to keep it from flying up and whipping me in the eyeballs.

Kerry is riding in the back of the bus with his buddies and they start “rough housing”, as my dad would describe it.  Denny (whose dad owns the auto body shop – whatever image you’ve just conjured is almost accurate, just add another 80 pounds.) Denny, who use to cry when my brother wouldn’t sit by him at church, Denny who finally found his future in football, has my brother’s arm twisted behind his back, pinning him up against the emergency door.  Kerry is laughing in this tight, pinched laugh that I recognize as the one he uses when my older sisters gang up on him and want to lock him in the closet or put make up on him.  It’s the laugh he uses when he is actually a bit scared.

I tear out of my seat and scramble to the back of the bus, my hair flying, blood boiling. I’m screaming, “You let him go! You let him go!  LET HIM GO!!!!” I am channeling Medusa, snake hair and all.

Now, this part of the story is really short.  There’s no surprise turn of events, no crazy squabble that breaks bones or bus windows.  No one faints or pees their pants.  His buddies are so startled at my outburst – they let him go.  And then Rita taps the breaks to jostle us to attention and the entire bus turns back to stare.  “Knock it off and sit your fannies down little Mr.’s!”  The bus laughs, Kerry and his buddies laugh loudest and the spectacle is over. 

I am halfway to my seat when Kerry must have said something funny to his friends.  I turn but only see the back of his head and his pals sneering at me.  And there is Susie sitting one seat up from Kerry, where she’s planted herself for the last three weeks, ever since he broke up with his girlfriend, and whatever Kerry says actually makes her turn away.  I’ve been hit in the chest.  Hard.

Kerry and I are all the way up the gravel driveway almost to the front screen door, the bus a distant rumble, when he whispers under his breath, ‘Thanks.’  My heart skyrockets and then he says, “Don’t do it again.”

The next day I go to my locker and a note has been slipped inside.  I recognize the stationary immediately even though Susie has signed it “from a friend.”  She writes in her cheery bubble letters, with little hearts dotting the ‘i’s…

Kerry told them
that HIS mom
baby-sits you
until YOUR mom
gets off work.”

For the rest of the morning I conceal my puffy eyes behind my hair, letting the long strands slide forward across my cheekbones.  In between classes when I see a tie-dyed t-shirt heading my way, I change direction and slip into the bathroom.  I wait for the first bell to ring and then dart to my class.  After lunch I go to the nurse’s office and they call my mom and she comes to take me home.

I hear Kerry later that afternoon when he gets home from school ‘cause I’ve left the door slightly open.  I hear him drop his backpack in a heap at the front door, I hear the frigdge jangle open and closed.  And I hear him come down the hall and stop outside my door. 

“You okay?” he asks. 

“Yeah.  Stomach ache.” I say.

“Well, listen up, dude, I’ll play you a tune.”  He goes into his room and in a little while I hear through the wall…

I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment’s gone 
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes like curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

He knows that one is my favorite.  And I know that he knows that I know.


I went back home to Oregon for Christmas the year I wrote this story. My brother flew down from Kodiak, Alaska where he lived in a cabin, next to a lake, surrounded by forest.

We never talked much when we were home. Probably because we were pretty much caught up. We’d spent the years apart getting closer, becoming people to each other.

My favorite memory that Christmas.  I am sitting next to Kerry.  He is strumming a guitar and teaching me a Dave Carter tune from the CD he sent me a few months back.  I don’t love the tune but I wish badly that I knew it better, wish I could impress him with the lyrics.  His voice still wavers with passion and purpose as he holds out the long notes and I am 13 again, sitting on the edge of a beanbag chair, hoping that if I just sit still, he will play for hours. 

Today would have been his 42nd birthday.
Chicago lakefront, April 24, 2009

KERRY was first published by 2nd Story's 2D Magazine


  1. How is it you can break my heart and mend it all in the same breath? Please don't ever stop writing.
    Love you, my friend xx

  2. QuinnMama, love you, miss you, want to share tea and talk...

  3. All my love my dear, sweet friend.

  4. Hip Hop Hippie, gratefully received beautiful one

  5. This is so wonderful, tears in my eyes for your astonishing work dear Kimberlee.

  6. Alex@AMR, so appreciate your support, thank you for how you show up for me