My brother and I had always been close. “Joined at the hip,” everyone would say. They weren’t wrong; we went everywhere with one another. There was some security in that. The bullies at school were ruthless, our neighborhood was terrible, and, honestly, neither of us could imagine having to go through it all alone.
Even though we’d spend time together, we didn’t have much in common. Danny was a sports nut. He’d never miss a televised football game and he’d always talk about how he wished he could’ve played in high school. He tried out, but he didn’t make the team. “Just not athletic enough,” said the coach. I remember how heartbroken he was and our parents did their best to console him. There wasn’t much they could say, though. It’s not easy to comfort someone when they learn their dream is unachievable.
I, on the other hand, am more of a nerd. I’m bookish and I love to write. Something about the written word makes me feel free – like I can do anything. Silly, I know, but it’s better than doing nothing. Or watching football.
Once school was done, we needed to find a job. College was out. Neither of us were ready for the commitment. The local supermarket was looking to fill a few positions, so they hired us on the spot. The pay wasn’t the best, but the work was consistent and it filled our time. The money we made allowed us to rent an apartment near work. Moving out of the home where we’d grown up was a bittersweet moment for our parents. They were sad to see us go, but nonetheless proud of our maturity. Still, I knew they were relieved the place was so close to home.
A few years went by. Danny and I did our thing. Our social life was decent. He had a girlfriend for a little while, but it didn’t last. I stuck with my books. The escapism they provided was invaluable, even though the life I was trying to escape wasn’t all that bad.
Something terrible happened one summer about four years after Danny and I had moved. Our parents were arrested in a child pornography sting operation. It was a massive, multi-state investigation that caught nearly a hundred people. My brother and I were absolutely dumbstruck by the news. We knew it had to be bullshit. But there was evidence. Overwhelming evidence. Pictures, videos, chat logs – everything. Neither of them even contested the charges. Mom was sentenced to six years and Dad got seven.
The feeling of confused rage toward our parents manifested itself differently between Danny and me. He was a puncher. Walls, doors, some guy at a bar who was nice enough not to press charges; the works. I, probably unsurprisingly at this point, was a crier. All I could think about was how the memories I had of playing with either of my parents were tainted by a hideous, predatory subtext. I wondered if either of us had been molested. It was enough to drive me crazy. I sank into a deep depression.
A few months ago, Danny got sick. He thought it was a cold, but it persisted. When he finally got it checked out, the doctor said it was something more serious; something congenital that he’d somehow managed to avoid until then. His lungs kept filling with fluid. The doctor was surprised I didn’t have it, too. But that didn’t provide me with much relief; this was just another insult to my brother. His body wasn’t content with just making him bad at sports, it had to make him sick, too. He was terrified. I promised I’d take care of him, no matter what – that I’d try to be the source of comfort he’d always gotten from our parents. It was a rare moment of emotional closeness between us. We shared a profoundly awkward embrace.
As Danny got worse, I did my best to help him out. I hate to use the word burden, but he was a terribly heavy weight on me as his condition deteriorated. He refused to go to the hospital – not that we could realistically go anyway considering we had no insurance and were still paying off the thousands we owed for the visits to get him diagnosed. The only good thing was he was getting some disability pay from missing work. It barely paid the rent, but between that and the little we’d saved, it was enough to scrape by.
But now, as I write this, none of it matters anymore. Danny died in his sleep a few hours ago. The sensation of his body cooling is indescribably awful. I’m feeling weaker with every passing moment. I knew that if he was the first to go, I’d be prepared. I’d write something about us and leave the note to be found. I figure maybe people would want to read our story. But now that it’s here – now that the abstraction has become a reality – I’m scared. I want to get up and run away from the inevitability of it all, but I know it’s impossible.
My heart can only pump so much blood for the both of us now that Danny’s has stopped. The weakness I mentioned is starting to overpower me. I keep glancing at the face of my brother, expecting him to wink and start laughing, proving that this is just a cruel joke. But now I’m just fantasizing. I guess there will be time for more of his jokes and awful, cackling laughter after I join him. I wonder when our parents will find out. Even though I hate them for their crimes, I still want to make them proud. Hopefully, even in their grief, they’ll take solace in the fact Danny and I left the world the same way we entered it: joined at the hip.