I caught him the other night sitting at the table in the kitchen looking at my English text book. I watched as he struggled to read to himself out loud. Dean did that. Reading was his weakest subject, but there he was sitting at the table, trying desperately to read Hamlet out of my Advanced Placement English Literature book. Dean wanted to be smart. Time and time again people told him that he wasn't. Told him that he was a good hunter, that he was strong and good with a gun, but they always looked at me and called me "John's little genius." No matter what Dean says, I know that it bothers him. And ever since Truman, ever since dropping out of high school almost four years ago, well, it just seemed to bother him more. And the more it bothered him, the more he tried to pretend like it didn't.
It bothers me that there seems to be nothing I can do to help him. I can't tell him to go back to school and get a diploma. He's 22, and he'd probably be put back in 10th grade, if they would even let him back in, and they'd probably label him as learning disabled. He isn't. He just needs someone to help him. He won't ask for their help, he's too proud, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't want or need it. I just wish I could do it. But he seems to hide his issues from me more than anyone else. I wish he'd let me be there for him like he's always there for me.
Dean always pushed for me to be able to go to school rather than to hunt, always told Dad it was important for me to be able to read and write, be able to do math. He once told dad that it would make me a better hunter if I was allowed to play soccer. He always thought of stuff like that, always able to find a way around something, to make sure I got what I needed or something I wanted. And he was able to outsmart people and monsters like none other.
But for Dean, that kinda thing was easy. It was just simple logic to him. But school, sitting down and reading literature, learning formulas, memorizing dates and battles, never came easy, people never came easy, and for him that meant being held back, or not being helped at all and allowed to fail, not because he was stupid, but because he didn't understand. We never stayed in one school long enough for anyone to be able to sit down and teach him what phonics was, much less how to use it and how to sound out words and what they meant.
I caught Dean one evening, with my text book on the table and an ancient dictionary he must have found at one of the motels we stayed at, and he would sit, with pencil and paper in hand, and write down every single word he didn't understand and then look it up. I found the paper tucked inside his dictionary, when I was rooting through his things to find deodorant, mine had been lost somewhere between Texas and New York. And the words I found listed were ones that were easy, ones that a 20 + year old man should have known, but because he had never been taught, he didn't.
"Dean?" I asked with a dramatic yawn. I was giving him time to close the book and pretend like he wasn't reading. And when I opened my eyes and shuffled into the kitchen that is exactly what he had done. The ancient dictionary was tucked under his shirt, my text book was pushed away from him, and he was sitting there with a glass of something in his hand. My brother was awesome at diversion, that was most certainly a lesson he learned well.
"Why are you up Sammy? Don't you have a big test tomorrow?" He asked and took a sip of his drink. Dean remembered stuff like that. He remembered that I had a huge AP Chem test tomorrow, and he would probably ask me in a couple of days to see the test. That was just what he did. He was always proud of me, and sometimes I wonder if he knew that I was proud of him.
"I needed to be up early to read my section of Hamlet." I said. I didn't have to. We'd finished the play days ago, and I had been wakened by Dean getting out of bed. When you are trained to notice all details, something big like your family getting up and leaving the room tends to not go unnoticed.
"Oh, well, then I'll leave you to it. I probably should get back to bed." He said and swallowed the last of his drink.
"Can you help?"
"Oh Sammy, you don't need my help." He smirked. "My brother the genius doesn't need his brother to help him read a wussy play." His smile held and I was impressed that it did, but it didn't reach his eyes, most people wouldn't notice but they were stormy and sad.
"I need someone to read the other lines for me. We have to memorize a part and it helps if someone reads the other half to me."
"Sam…you don't need…"
"I need your help Dean." And those were the magic words. They always had been, and they most certainly would forever be. He caved. I watched him fold up like a cheap suit.
"Okay Sammy." He wasn't happy about it.
I pushed the book towards him and told him to read the lines, said that I should know mine, and that this was basically just testing me. And Dean nodded, cleared his throat, and began to read aloud from the text, haltingly, and slowly, and at times stopping to sound out a word, and after doing that several times, he pushed the book away from himself and looked at me.
"You do this on your own. You know your lines." He pushed away from the table, careful to keep his dictionary inside his shirts and headed out of the kitchen. I heard the bathroom door close. Sighing I put my head down on the table. I embarrassed him. I didn't mean to, but there it was.
I closed the bathroom door behind me as softly as I could. I didn't want Sam to think I was mad at him. I'm not mad at him. I'm mad at myself. I should have stayed in school, I should have agreed to go into that special program at the one school during my junior year, but I was too proud, too arrogant and I decided that I would just rather flunk and stay stupid.
Sitting down on the closed toilet seat I pulled the dictionary out of my shirt, and looked at it. Why did I even bother keeping it? I apparently wasn't getting any smarter by using it. The list of words in my duffel keeps getting longer and longer and it doesn't seem to be helping. I even study those freaking words and memorize their definitions and I'm not getting any better. Tonight's reading just confirmed it. I stumbled over every single word and Sam knew the words by heart and he said them so well. It was like when he was little and asked me to read picture books to him. He'd correct me as I read, because he knew the words, knew the secret to their sounds. My little brother is so smart.
I shook myself from my funk, stood, washed my face, looked into the mirror and tried to only see the surface, tried to only see the face that women loved, and men wished was theirs, but I wasn't able to see the surface, I was only able to see the failure, the high school drop out, the cash paid mechanic at the garage down the street. The nobody. The scared lonely kid who has no one to turn to and doesn't know how to make people value him. I shook my head and opened the bathroom door and turned towards the bedroom. Sam was standing in the doorway.
"Course I'm fine." I tried to put a smirk in place, and figured that in the light that Sam wouldn't know the difference. I was wrong, instead of reassuring him, his face contorted just slightly more towards disbelief. "I'm fine Sam, I just don't' want to participate in your overachieving."
"You know those lines, you don't need help. What you need is sleep." Something passed across Sam's face that I couldn't identify. Sadness? Defeat? Maybe? I couldn't put my finger on it, but he complied and got into bed, and I went into the next room and tried to get comfortable, tried to be ready for sleep, because Dad would be here tomorrow, and he would want some research done, and I had to be ready, I had to be smart enough, good enough to do that for him.