"Go to bed, Randy."
For the past 2 hours he's been huddled in front of the 15 inch TV, arms crossed, biting his fingernails, like he did when he was 7. He continued to ignore me…like he did since he was 7.
Earlier CNN came through with breaking news that an IED had killed 2 American soldiers in Afghanistan and wounded 6 others. No other news had been reported.. just a bunch of people making up theories and interviewing each other about their opinions. No one actually knew anything worthwhile.
Our oldest brother Pete is in Afghanistan.
Randy and I are also soldiers, but not like Pete. Pete is this strong hero that fights the good fight that brings home medals and gets cards on Christmas and Veteran's Day.
We are the screw up soldiers that aren't making it out of Florida's Rear D Unit. Most people don't even know we are here.
I'm not a hero. I can't even get my little brother away from a TV screen that spews garbage and fear into his mind. To make it worse, I don't even try that hard. See, I'm not the good brother. I'm not the big brother Randy expects me to be.
Pete's not here.
Pete's been gone for 6 months in Afghanistan. We waited for his calls, but after the first month I gave up waiting. Randy never stopped waiting for any sign of Pete. Don't ask me why our knight and shining armor oldest brother never called. I'm sure he has some noble reason that makes him even more heroic. All I know is that Randy is waiting for something that isn't going to come, and I'm sick of watching him do that.
I feel like my whole life I've been watching Randy as he waited for someone to come home.
The TV is humming and the light is dancing off the walls. He keeps glancing back at me, expecting me to say something to fix all of this.
I can't Randy.
I can't fix that Pete is in Afghanistan. I can't fix that he's the better brother. I can't fix that he hasn't called. I can't tell you why or tell you that there is a good reason. I can't tell you that Pete isn't one of those fallen soldiers. Words like that can't come out of the middle brother's mouth.
So I say, "Go to bed, Randy."
He looks back at me with this horribly pained expression, "Derrick..what if.."
I cut him off because I know what he's going to say and I can't answer him. "Randy, if he was hurt, they would have called us by now. This story is probably 5 hours old. We would know by now. Turn it off. Just go to bed."
He slowly turns off the TV and moves to sit across from my bed. His expression is still pained, yet he's completely trusting the words I've said. "You're right, Derrick. Thanks."
I just don't understand how one human can have so much faith in another…especially one that has done so little to give it. He turns off the light, I settle into my bed, and stare blankly at the ceiling above me.
Within seconds, the shrill of the phone on the table between us, shatters the silence. Randy and I jerk up from our beds frozen in fear, our eyes lock. His hand is still clenching the lamp, and his fear is radiating the room. We sit there staring at each other, and Randy's face has my gut churning and my heart throbbing in my ears.
I know he's about to say something, so I snatch up the phone before he has a chance.
I answer it quickly in order to smother the anxiety stifling the room.
I can't talk. I'm staring at Randy and he looks like he's going to cry or scream or die, but I can't speak. So I sit there, mouth open, gaping. My heart is so loud in my ears and my hands feel like they are frozen to the phone.
Say something Derrick. Comfort someone.
I don't know how.
As if Pete already knew, or didn't care, he continued, "There was an incident today, but I'm ok. I took some shrapnel to the shoulder, but I'm fine."
"Ok." I respond, blood still spinning and pounding against my skull.
Everything caught up to me, and I just start spewing out words because I don't know what else I should do. Stay calm? Fix Randy? Reassure Pete that I am decent brother?
"He's fine Randy." It was as if I took the weight of the world from his shoulders. His body dropped back to his bed in relief. "Pete I'm glad..we're glad..you're alright. Randy was freaking out over here, and we didn't really know what was happening. I mean we haven't talked to you since you left...and you never called so we weren't really sure where you were anyways. You know, we wouldn't have worried if you'd have called. I mean, is it really that hard to pick up a damn phone?" My voice was getting louder, but I didn't realize it. Six months without a phone call had pissed me off more than I wanted to admit, I guess. At this point, Randy ripped the phone from my hands, and proceeded to ask Pete questions so rapidly I doubted Pete even had a chance to answer.
Why do I have to be a dick?
I could hear Pete's calm voice talking softly to Randy. Randy's whole posture had changed. The tortured face I had seen off and on for months, was smiling. Whatever Pete was saying, was what older brothers always say to fix everything. They lie. They hide the truth. They tell you what you want to hear. In the 30 seconds Randy spoke to Pete, he did more for Randy then I could do in 6 months.
I don't know how long passes before Randy say his goodbyes and hands me the phone.
"I gotta go Derrick. Take care. Everything's fine. Love ya, brother."
"Alright, bye Pete."
I hang up the phone that sags heavy in my hands. Now, I am the one sitting on my bed staring at Randy's lying form. He's happy. Pete's gets shrapnel in his back, and he still makes Randy happy. I grab for the lamp between us and flip off the light. Darkness once again fills the room, but the anxiety from before is gone.
I'll never be Pete. I can't fix these problems.
Randy's voice cuts through my thoughts and the aching silence "I love you Derrick."
"I love you too, brother."