My brother has a moped.
He doesn’t use it year-round. It would be too cold and also dangerous in the winter, especially here in New England, with our extra servings of ice and snow.
But in milder weather it saves him both gas and trouble finding a parking space on campus. It’s an environmentally-sound choice, a statement here in a community where he dares not be seen wearing his leather jacket.
The weather has just recently turned warm enough for the moped.
A couple of days ago, early in the afternoon, he rode it to work.
Less than an hour later, Bean and I drove into town. There was traffic, unusual traffic, the kind we just don’t see up here in university-town-middle-ish-of-nowhere. After sitting there for a few minutes, fully stopped, I realized that cars ahead of me, several hundred feet further down the road, were turning around. Making illegal u-turns in order to go back the way they came.
That’s when I saw the flashing lights of the ambulance.
My heart seized. My brother would’ve passed down this road, should’ve been just ahead of us. I swallowed my panic, and I’m certain Bean didn’t see anything on my face. I waited for a break in the oncoming cars, turned around and went back towards home. Took an alternate route to Target.
I’m good at swallowing panic. I wasn’t always, but being Bean’s mother requires that skill. If I were to indulge myself in a full-blown freakout every time he disappeared full tilt around a corner, or snuck out of the house to walk down to the bus stop, I’d spend the next few decades stewing in my own cortisol, and that wouldn’t be good for either of us. So I squash it. I make like a yogi and force myself to calm the fuck down, lady.
My brother, of course, is fine, or I wouldn’t be telling the story this way. I did spend the rest of the afternoon with worry tickling the back of my neck. I couldn’t call him, you see, because we’re not really getting along these days. We haven’t really spoken in months and the last time we had a civil conversation we were talking about Tim Burton movies, yet still. It got snippy. Tense.
I waited until Bean was sleeping to cry about it. Maybe it sounds stupid, selfish, to cry about something terrible that didn’t happen, but here’s the thing: My brother has been an insufferable prick to me for more than half a year now, and has said some words that are borderline unforgivable, yes. But he’s my second favorite person in the universe and if anything happened to him I’d be destroyed. I imagined the possibility of him injured, and it hit me forcefully, the realization that if he died today I wouldn’t be able to remember the last time we smiled at each other, or hugged, or laughed. And that’s not right.
I can continue to be angry and tough with him every day for the rest of my life. I’m really good at both of those masks. Good? No. Expert. But it’s bullshit. I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m tired of walking on eggshells. I want to stop. But I don’t know how.