When I was six and you were ten I told you all I wanted was to fly so you taped me to the underside of the coffee table while our sisters were at swim practice. It was the ugly brown one with the green legs, do you remember? You put duct tape over my mouth and threw a blanket over the table so Mom and Dad wouldn’t see me. You were trying so hard to pick on me but then you heard me giggling into the duct tape when you flipped the whole thing over that suddenly it became a game. I hung there for three or four hours, I can’t remember. What I remember is this: light spilling in between the pale blue threads of the blanket, the smell of cotton left too long in storage, a stray hair caught in the end of the tape that I only felt when I moved my mouth. Mom was asking where I was, and you said I was playing, you thought, and I hung suspended in blue light with my face toward the floor and my back to the wood and when her footsteps faded you were laughing. So was I.
I was nine and you were thirteen when you taught me how to find my blind spot. It’s right behind the eye but we never notice it because our brains know how to fill in the gaps. If you close one eye and the light hits you just right, you can find it, but you’ll only notice it if you’re looking for it. Later that day you shot my favorite stuffed animal, a lamb, with a B.B. gun. I stormed inside and grabbed a scissors and carved your name into the coffee table. Mom didn’t believe you when you said it was me. “Do you think I’m blind?” she said. You didn’t say anything. She grounded you anyway.
When I turned thirteen I started to fight you for real. That was the year you got arrested, do you remember? We were both getting straight A’s and I played my first Chopin on piano and you were on the debate team. I used to cry a lot without quite knowing why and Mom made me go to my room if I wanted to cry because tears were meant for our pillows and I wished I could be more like you. I said you had no idea how hard it was for me to live up to you. “We’re always trying to live up to something in this family,” you said. “I never will and neither will you.” At night you snuck out, you got drunk, you had friends who made you feel accepted and when you did donuts on the football field that night I knew it was because you’d found a way to feel in control. I like to think that must feel something like peace.
You were always the better liar. I wasn’t great, but I liked to, just like you. That’s how I knew things must have been bad for you to tell me the truth. I was a freshman and you were still living in Iowa City. I play that moment over and over again, you sitting on your couch and me there just to pick up a bottle of shitty booze and split a blunt and go back to my dorm. I hear it all the time, you telling me that you were depressed. Suddenly I was back there, under the table and unable to speak, watching you through filtered light. You didn’t say so aloud but you must have made up your mind by then that you were going to quit your engineering job. I knew you would follow this girl that I could tell you didn’t love across the country for a job you weren’t sure you would find because I knew exactly how it felt to grow up in our family and do anything if it meant being enough for someone, anyone. I didn’t say anything and two weeks later you called us from Fort Collins to say you’d already left.
When I was nineteen, my boyfriend’s mom told me that it was easier for boys to move away. That we gave them more leeway to put down roots on the opposite side of the country, of the world, if they needed. That year you came home for Christmas for 31 hours. You erupted at our brother-in-law because he told you to get a “real” job, make money, grow up. He went to Yale, so everyone had already decided you would lose. I listened to you two fight while I did the dishes. I’d seen you lie a thousand times, but I’d never heard your voice catch like it did when I heard you tell him you were happy.
I went to visit you over one of my spring breaks. We hadn’t spoken since the holidays. I wanted to go to Colorado but mainly I wanted to see you. The only thing worse than knowing that you weren’t okay was not knowing at all. You were reading a lot then. You gave me Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I never read it. I gave you my favorite play about a writer and his brother. You never read it. You took me skiing and at the bottom of the mountain, you told me in the falling snow that you could never see yourself coming back home. You didn’t have to tell me why, because I knew our family well enough to understand it. We drove though the mountains back to your little house and I stared out the window and saw clouds shaped like coffee tables and felt the pressure changing in my head just like that time you told me you were depressed and how I didn’t say anything then. I wondered if all of it was my fault and I knew it wasn’t but I also knew that that thought belonged on a long list of things about you that you’d never hear from me. When you woke me up the next morning to drive me to the Denver airport, I told you my eyes were red from the cat. I knew you knew I have no allergies and I thought again about all the time we had left to keep lying to each other if we wanted.
Sometimes when I went home during college I would go up to the attic to sit on the ugly brown-green coffee table. I’d carved your name so deeply in it that our parents had to buy a new one, but they hung onto the old one for whatever reason. I used to stare at your name and think about how easy back it was back then to blame you.
After college, my old roommate moved to Colorado and I told her to look you up. I didn’t even like her and I knew you wouldn’t either but I couldn’t help it. I got what I wanted when she told me you looked good, you were still biking every day, you might be seeing someone. Then she said that you asked about me, and she told you what was, more or less, the truth. That I wasn’t good, but I was okay. She said you called me the best of our family. She said we were just like each other. I said you were better.
Every so often, I hear your voice when I’m washing dishes. I try not to think about how it wasn’t just you that you were yelling about. You said to him, “You don’t like that I’m a mechanic because I don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. I just want to make a living.” To our parents, you said, “If you bothered to notice anything about her, you’d see that she would have loved just as much to become a writer. But we always did what you wanted because we never felt like we were enough for you.” In those moments when I think of you I close one eye and check my blind spot just to make sure I’m not missing you, but all I see is negative space.
Someone said the other day that they didn’t know I have a brother. Some days I admit that I forget it too. I wonder, when I catch myself forgetting you, if you’ve forgotten me, too. The hardest thing for me is knowing these things change as we get older but they never seem to get better. It’s a victory to remember the days where I cried over stuffed lambs. It was so much easier then, to watch the things I thought I loved explode into a puff of cotton, not knowing yet what real loss would be. Loss is when I no longer remember if the hair caught on the duct tape was on my right or my left or if the light was more blue or more green or if you were really laughing or what it would’ve sounded like because all I know now is that I am not laughing anymore but the tape is still over my mouth. I act like it’s normal to hear that you didn’t know our sister was pregnant until she was in labor. I pretend not to notice that you’ve stopped calling on my birthday.
This past spring Mom cleaned out the attic because they’re trying to sell the house. I went up to check for the coffee table, but it was gone. I write you this letter just in case it’s with you because I’ve checked all my blind spots and I can’t find a thing. If you see it, I hope you call so that I can say could you please give it back and also I still love you and I would very much like it if you came home. I know you can’t and I know you won’t call and I know I won’t either but maybe someday soon after I’ve pinpointed all my blind spots, maybe I’ll give it a try. Whether you see it or not from wherever you are, I hope you know to fill in the gaps: I miss you. I hope it’s pretty out there.