Broken

by Reid Maruyama

My older brother Pete was in a car accident.
      It was Halloween night and I was in my bedroom trying to fix one of my model airplanes, a Japanese fighter jet, the Ki-15 bomber plane, the same one the kamikazes used in WWII, that my brother Pete had broken earlier that week when he stepped on it. We had been in an argument about something, I don’t remember what, and Pete knocked the fighter jet off the ceiling and stomped on it—twice. He called me a pussy, a No-No Boy, then told me to go cry about it. I did. When I told on him, my mom promised me that he didn’t do it on purpose and that we would fix it later. But now it was Halloween night, a week later, and it still wasn’t fixed.
      Me and Pete, we shared a room, and on his side were all his posters of rappers, half-naked girls and muscle cars, and on my side were all my model airplanes. Some of them I kept on the shelf, but all my favorites hung from the ceiling.
      It was late now and I was supposed to be in bed, asleep. I had stuffed towels underneath the door so my mom wouldn’t see the light coming from my room. I tried to superglue the fighter jet back together, but the parts were completely destroyed and the glue wouldn’t take. After awhile, I gave up. Sometimes, my mom used to tell me, things are so far beyond fixing that it’s best just to throw them away.
      There were no more trick-or-treaters out; they had all gone home. I had always thought Halloween was stupid and childish, even at the age of ten. My mom hated it, too. During the festivities, she always kept the lights off in the living room, never answered the door, never passed out candy. We must’ve been the only family on the cul-de-sac that didn’t decorate our house and I think that some of the neighbors got to wondering.
      In the kitchen, I could hear my mom moving around, cleaning and washing the dishes, waiting for my brother to get home. It was almost midnight and he was still out there with all his friends, driving around and drinking, going to parties. He was at an age now when all he wanted was to hang out with his friends, and my mom and I rarely ever saw him. We weren’t that close anymore. Sometimes I wished he would just die.
 
I was nearly asleep at my desk when I heard the phone ring. I had started to doze off in the middle of shading the wingtips of my model P-40 Warhawk. The paintbrush was still in my hand, the paint dried and crusted. The phone rang three times before I heard my mom pick it up. I looked over at the clock on my nightstand; it was almost two in the morning. I wondered who would be calling this late at night and I thought that perhaps it was my dad, whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time. The last time was two years ago when Pete and I went and stayed with him at his cabin up in Tahoe for the summer after Pete was caught breaking into a liquor store with some of his friends. That was the summer our dad had us splitting firewood all day and pulling weeds in the driveway and me and Pete got really bad sunburns and I hoped now that I wouldn’t have to see my dad for a very long time. From my bedroom I heard my mom hang up the phone in the kitchen and the house went silent. I turned off the light in my room and got into bed and pretended to be asleep.
      Soon I heard footsteps down the hallway. My mom opened the door and came into my room and I pulled the covers over my head. She turned the lights on and I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. I was a pretty good faker.
      “What’s going on, Mom?”
      She didn’t seem to hear me. Without saying a word, she walked straight across the room to the closet and started pulling out clothes.
      “Mom?”
      She threw some pants at me, a shirt and a jacket. “Get dressed,” she said, “and meet me in the car.”
      “Why, Mom? What happened? Where are we going?”
      “Please,” she said. “No questions. Not right now. Just please do what I say. Meet me in the car.”

On our way to the hospital it started to rain, not hard but drearily. It had been threatening to all week. I sat in the front seat of my mom’s car as she drove. Usually she didn’t let me sit in the front seat because of the airbag, but now, I think, she was too distracted to even care. I had no clue what was going on and it made me scared, but I was also a little excited, too, to be up this late, to be sitting in the front seat, watching the headlights cut through the dark and the windshield wipers going back and forth, back and forth.
      We got to the hospital and my mom parked the car in a spot far away from the front entrance, though the parking lot was almost empty. For five or six minutes, she sat and stared across the street at the Laundromat with all its lights turned off. The steering wheel was still clutched in her fists.
      “Mom, is everything all right?”
      But she didn’t say anything and continued to stare out the window. There was an American flag suspended above the parking lot, flapping in the wind, and the palm trees were swaying like dancers. I don’t know why, but I had brought along one of my model airplanes, the broken one, and I cradled the broken parts in my lap. Without turning her head, she said to me, “Your brother’s been in a car accident.”
      Outside the rain was falling through the streetlamps like tiny beams of silver.

It was almost too hard to believe at first.
      My whole life I had always thought of my brother Pete as someone whom nothing bad could ever happen to. He was tall and big and strong and I had always been scared of him; I was the smallest kid in my class.
      When we were younger, he used to pick on me, used to make fun of my model airplanes, said they were for pussies and faggots. We got into fights all the time, over everything—the TV remote, a bottle of ketchup, whatever—and by the time our mom got home from work, she’d usually be too tired to even care. And whenever I tried to tag along with him and his friends, he would punch me in the stomach and call me a pussy or a faggot, and if I was stupid enough, I’d talk back, and he’d give me an Indian burn and push me on the ground so I’d scrape my knees. I’d run home and cry so hard I’d throw up all over the carpet in our living room, wishing to God he would just die. But, because he was my big brother, I figured this could never happen. In my mind, my brother Pete was impervious to pain and danger.
      I sat in the waiting room while my mom spoke with one of the nurses, her arms frantically waving in the air. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell my mother was upset. The nurse held a clipboard in her hands and every now and then she nodded her head.
      The waiting room was a world beyond laughter, beyond forgiveness, beyond pain and suffering. The sick coughed into their fists and no one made eye contact; every voice in here was a scream. A baby was wailing in its mother’s arms. The woman rocked it back and forth and tried to calm it down, saying, “There there there there there.” Sitting in the seat across from me there was a man hunched over, with his hands grasping his stomach, as if he were trying to keep his guts from falling out. He looked homeless. He groaned. “Oh, God,” he said. “Oh, God.” I held the broken pieces of my model plane close to my chest, as if he were about to jump at me and steal it.
      My mom came back after awhile and sat down next to me. She didn’t smile nor did she frown, but her hands were trembling. She looked down at her hands, then at the pieces of my broken fighter jet.
      “I thought I told you we’d fix that later,” she said.
      “I know,” I said. “I just wanted to bring it.”
      Across the room a tall man in a business suit was feeding the vending machines with a dollar bill.

My mom didn’t tell me anything. Whatever it was that she knew about my brother, she probably thought it was best I didn’t know.
      We sat there and waited for I don’t know how long. Some of these people looked like they could’ve been waiting here forever, their faces lodged among the coffee machines and soda fountains. They were sad faces, empty faces. I tried to fall asleep but I couldn’t; I was having a hard time of it. Occasionally, a name was called off a sheet of paper and someone would stand up and follow the nurse into the ER, just as if they’d been elected to win a prize.
      “Mom?” I said. “Is Pete going to be okay?”
      “I don’t know,” she said.
      “When are we going home?”
      “Not for awhile. Now please.”
      I stared across the room at the vending machines.
      “Mom, can I have money for the vending machines?”
      “No,” she said, “you already ate your dinner.”
      She was watching the second hand move around the clock on the far wall. We’d only been here for less than an hour so far and I didn’t know how much longer we’d have to, which made it worse, made it feel longer. I slumped down in my chair. With my thumbnail, I chipped some of the green paint off the fuselage of my broken jet fighter. Again, I tried to fall asleep.
      My brother hadn’t always been mean to me. There were times when he was nice to me, when he treated me like his younger brother. In the first grade, I remembered, he used to walk me home from school, and sometimes, he would even help me with my math homework. And on the weekends he used to take me fishing for stripers down at the pier. When he was thirteen years old, he caught the biggest one anyone had seen down there since 1987. There is a picture hung up above the bar at the Windjammer of Pete and me holding it up, a record blue-gilled striper, bigger than me. I was six years old at the time. My mom had always said he was very smart, very bright, could’ve been anything he wanted to, if only he put his mind to it and stopped hanging out with those friends of his.
      “You’re fathers on his way here,” my mom said to me. “He’ll be here in a couple of hours.”
      “What if I don’t want to see him?”
      “Then that’s too bad. Because you have to.”

They got divorced just after my seventh birthday party, I remember, a cowboy-themed one, and my mom and Pete and me moved out of our old house on the creek and moved into a new house out here, in the flats, on the West Side. My dad wasn’t a drunk, nor was he abusive. When he was living at home with us, he worked a lot, and I think that’s why my mom hated him so much. He worked for a big construction company that built big corporate malls and airports all over the world and he was gone a lot of the time on business trips to places like China and Russia. There were times when I wouldn’t see his face for months, though I didn’t mind. When he came back from these trips, he would always bring home presents for me and Pete, souvenirs from all over the world—Merlion key chains from Singapore and small golden eggs from Moscow. One time he even brought home berets from Cuba, and the entire day, Pete and I marched around the house like revolutionaries. I must’ve been four then. I’ve seen the pictures.
      Growing up, my dad and I were never all that close, though I never blamed him for that. I used to look forward to these arrivals with much anticipation, but my brother, who was much older than me and knew more than I did, said these presents meant nothing.
      It was four in the morning when my dad arrived. He came through the front entrance and he looked around the waiting room, in a panic. I fought back the urge to wave at him. His face was dripping wet and his jacket was soaked through. The rain was really coming down now, making big puddles in the parking lot, the palm trees bent, doubled over in the wind. My dad’s eyes were viciously scanning the room, looking for me and my mother. Finally, he stopped and he seemed to be looking right at me, then he smiled. He came across the room in several long strides and my mom stood up out of her chair and they hugged each other. My dad was breathing heavily. I didn’t move.
      “Sorry, I made it here as fast as I could,” he said. “How’s he doing? Is he all right?”
      “I don’t know much,” my mom said. “The doctors haven’t told me anything.
      My dad sat down in the waiting room with us and we waited, together, a family. He put his arm around me and assured me that my brother was going to be fine, that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. He was a charmer, my dad, or at least that’s what my mom always said. It was one of the things she hated most about him. She didn’t understand, I don’t think, how he could just abandon us like that, his family, his home, for months at a time. Later when I asked her if she still loved him, she told me that sometimes two people love each other so much that they use up all their love, all at once, instantly. They leave nothing behind. No tears. Nothing left to say. Not a drop left to give.

We waited and waited and waited. We stared at the flat screen TV on the other side of the room, showing sports replays and highlights from the day before. My dad was leaning over his seat and was talking to an old lady with a bald head. “Can you believe those Giants?” he said. “Blowing another one like that. Shit. Ramirez has to have been the worst trade in the history of the franchise. Can you believe it? Breaks my heart every time.”
      My brother was in ICU. The doctors said he had a severe concussion and was suffering from shock. Also, they said, he had a broken collar bone, a broken wrist, and several broken ribs, but these weren’t really a problem. There had been vomiting earlier and his lungs had taken in some fluid, and they had pumped most of it out, they said. Now he was resting, but we still weren’t allowed to see him. He was in critical condition.
      All night long we sat there and watched people coming in and out of the doors—people covered in blood, people with infections, people with babies that wouldn’t stop screaming. I saw a girl, dressed up as a firefighter, being wheeled through the front entrance, on a stretcher, with blood pouring out of her nose. An old man with a cold coughed into a handkerchief. My mom was mindlessly thumbing through a Lifetime magazine, her hands still trembling. Neither my mom nor my dad said a single word to each other for a very long time. I sat in between them and watched the TV, even though I wasn’t at all interested in sports.
      Finally my dad turned to me and said, “Hey, what you got there, sport?” He pointed to the broken parts of my model fighter jet, still resting in my lap.
      “A fighter jet,” I said.
      “What happened to it?”
      “It’s broken.”
      “Why don’t you fix it?”
      “I don’t think I can.”
      “Well, I’ll tell you what. When this is all over, I’ll help you fix it, okay?”
      “Okay.”
      He paused for a moment and stared across the room at the vending machines. “Now what do you say, kiddo? You want something from the vending machines?”
      “Mom said I wasn’t allowed.”
      “Well,” he said, “I’m not your mom, now am I?”
      “No,” I said. “No, you’re not.”
*
My dad went to our house to pick up some things for me and my mom and he came back thirty minutes later with a duffel bag full of stuff, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a change of clothes. He said he wanted to make sure we were both as comfortable as possible. After we changed and brushed our teeth, my mom and dad and me went to the cafeteria and ate some food. “It’ll help take our minds off it,” my dad said. I ate scrambled eggs with ketchup and lasagna, that’s all there was to eat. My parents argued over who was going to pay. For the food or the hospital bill, I wasn’t sure. A priest or something was reading lines from the Bible over the intercom: “Our Lord who art in Heaven,” it went. This was a Catholic hospital.
      My mom and dad didn’t eat anything. They drank coffee. For a long time, they sat there and gazed down into their coffee cups as if from a tenth-floor balcony.

At some point early in the morning, before the sun was up, the doctor came out and told us that he was stable. They said we could come in and see him now, but only one person at a time.
      My mom went in first and came back out ten minutes later, her face covered in tears. I had never seen her like that, in any way regarding my older brother. It had always been yelling between them, always loud and vicious arguments. Next my dad went in and he was gone for a long time. When he finally came back, he wasn’t crying, but he had this scared look on his face, like he’d just seen a monster. I hadn’t felt bad all night, but I figured once I saw Pete, saw how badly broken he was, I would cry. I was sure of it.
      The doctors showed me down a windowless hallway full of cold fluorescent lights and there were children’s water color paintings of flowers that hung on the wall. Nurses ran up and down the hallway, waving pink sheets of paper in the air, their shoes squeaked on the floor. A screaming came from one of the rooms down another hallway. All I wanted then was to go back to the waiting room, to my mom and dad. But it was too late. The doctor had already opened the door to my brother’s room and let me in.
      The room was frightening. It looked like my brother was stuck inside a Chinese finger trap. His head was wrapped in a bandage, his right arm was in a sling and his left arm was in a cast, hooked up to several tubes and wires. He had a big purple bruise on his cheekbone and his whole face was swollen to the size of a melon. His eyes were closed. There was a machine in there that kept beeping and another one that was hissing and pumping air into my brother’s lungs. On the wall above his head was a painting of two horses galloping through a prairie. I was thinking of something I could say to him, but I had nothing to say, nothing at all. I was still very young at the time and I didn’t know how to be sad, didn’t have the temperament to stomach it.
      I left the broken pieces of my fighter jet at the foot of his bed before I turned around and went back to my mom and dad in the waiting room. They hadn’t moved. They were still sitting in the same place. My mom was wiping the tears from her face with a Kleenex.
      “Did you see your brother?” my dad asked me. “Did you tell him something nice?”
      “Yeah,” I said. “I told him I hope he gets better.”

My brother Pete died. He was proclaimed dead at nine in the morning on Tuesday, November 1. It was a school day. The doctor came out into the early morning crowd of the ER waiting room and spoke with my mom and dad. I had been sleeping but I was awake now. I saw them standing in a strip of sunlight coming in from the window. The doctor’s mouth was moving, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. They didn’t know what happened: one minute he was there, the next he was gone. They thought it might’ve been a stroke caused by hemorrhaging in the frontal lobe. Sometimes it happens, the doctor said. There was nothing anybody could do.
      The rain had stopped and my mom was crying again, but no sounds were coming out. From between her fingers I could see tiny teardrops fall and splash onto the floor. My dad held her in his arms. The doctor said he was deeply, deeply sorry, then he turned around and walked off down the hallway. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t; I didn’t know how. I only knew it was what you were supposed to do.

My brother’s funeral was held the following week at the Rolling Hills Cemetery overlooking Highway-1. From there, you could see the morning rush hour traffic just below, slowly moving through the center of town; and beyond that, you could see the cement ship, half-sunken in the tide, and the pier, where Pete had taught me how to fish. A priest spoke a few words from the Bible. Neither of my parents were religious. I cried, though I don’t think I was really all that sad about it. For months my grief and sorrow were so confused, I could not accept that I was even worthy of having it.
      After the funeral, my dad moved back in with us and we pretended to be a family again. Things went on like normal for awhile, as if nothing had changed at all. I took the bus to school and I took it back home; I did my homework and I watched cartoons. My dad said he wasn’t going to leave us this time, said that things were going to be different now. But this didn’t last very long, maybe a couple months was all, and by then I had stopped building my model airplanes.
      On Christmas Eve that same year, Mom and Dad got into a huge fight that went on for hours, right in the middle of dinner, and I went and hid in my room. Back when I was four, five and six years old, Pete and I used to go and hide underneath the covers of his bed with flashlights whenever our mom and dad got into fights like this, and we’d stay there all night, in our little fort, and we wouldn’t come out until morning. So you’d think that by now, I wouldn’t have been scared, but I was. My big brother was gone now and there was nobody left for me to talk to anymore, nobody to see how afraid I was, then tell me not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. I could hear them now. Their voices were slamming around the kitchen, coming through the walls like tremors. I hid in the closet with a flashlight and whispered to myself. My dad was shouting at my mom and my mom was advising my dad never to show his face around here again. That night he left. He packed up all his things and split. It was the first time since he died that I truly missed my brother.
      Later, around midnight, I heard my mom crying in the kitchen. I was lying in bed, awake, staring up at the bare ceiling. My model airplanes were no longer up there; after my brother died, I had thrown most of them away. Now I was up, listening to my mother cry, waiting for her to go to bed so I could go out to the living room and watch TV. Then, I heard something break. It sounded like someone had thrown a rock through our window, and I thought it might’ve been my dad. I heard the sound again. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen to see what was going on. My mom was smashing plates on the floor, one by one, throwing them down and watching them shatter.
      “Mom.”
      But she didn’t hear me.
      I was sure the neighbors were awake by now wondering what the hell was going on next door, though my mom didn’t seem to care anymore, at all. Next she went into the cabinet above the microwave and started knocking all the cups out. Glass broke on the floor, coffee mugs shattered into bits and pieces, tears ran down my mother’s face. She wouldn’t stop. Things kept breaking.
 
Reid Maruyama takes his oatmeal straight with a mug of steaming black coffee.