Kevin had written about me in his opening assignment for sixth grade. It was about the time this summer when I came over to visit for two months and I wasn’t sure what to say. He gave no physical description of me, which was okay because that didn’t matter. He also didn’t explain why I was in Sweden and only said that I was with someone named Chris, so the teacher was left to imagine whatever made sense. He could’ve added that I was studying in Sweden and that Chris was my boyfriend. The more I read his paper, the more it felt as if Kevin didn’t really know what to write. The leftover pencil markings and dozens of eraser stains showed that he had tried with something, only to go back on his words again and again. His comfort zone had been the card games we played, Dominion or Fluxx.
He was surprisingly honest about losing, admitting he only won two games in Dominion out of the “hundreds of times” (which was actually sixteen since I kept a tally) and Fluxx was split down the middle since we didn’t really keep track. He failed to accurately portray much else, like our feelings or usual conversations, or my real personality. Or he did and had felt uncomfortable to leave it? I wasn’t even going to bother trying to read what he tried to write before he replaced it with something simpler. He had written this much. It was something.
Kevin had stood there by the door, peering in what our mom called the Scrapbooking Room. He didn’t move any closer, waiting upon my word to come in.
“Do you want to play with me?”
“Sure. What do you want to play?”
He did this bashful pose, tilting his shoulders and shrugging a little. “I dunno. Whatever you want.”
You mean these two games? I could’ve taken him to the movies, or wherever he wanted to go, if I knew how to drive. Yet I pretended to have difficulty with my words. “Fluxx?”
“Okay.” He sat down and I shuffled the cards. He was as happy with the routine as I was.
“How’s it going with you? How has your day been?”
Kevin shrugged. Good answer. After all, the day had just started.
“Okay.” He took his cards. “You?”
“Eh, could be better. You excited to go to a new school?”
“I guess.” He didn’t sound bored or annoyed. He just sounded like me, like every question had to be answered with as few words as possible, like we were writing a thought essay and had to limit to the word count.
We said very little after that, until Kevin began to tremble as if we’d encountered some draft. He laid out his goal and keepers. “I won.” He was grinning. Even with such obvious euphoria he kept to the word count. I scooped up the cards and prepared for round two.
He had written his love for me in his paper. It should’ve filled me with sudden affection, and it did, but I unconsciously looked around first before I read the words. As if somebody would look over my shoulder, read what was written there, and laugh. Bold and black, he’d written I LOVE MY BIG SISTER in his large sloppy writing that uncomfortably resembled my own. To have him write that was something. I could never do it, and not because I didn’t love him. It was like him writing something large only to reduce it to its smallest pieces. Like when he hugged me. Hugs and kisses should come with prompts before they were given out. Kevin had broken that by hugging me unexpectedly.
“Why are you hugging me?”
“Because I can.”
Mom had refused to let me take Kevin when I left. Her story changed every time I talked to her, varying in tone and urgency. No matter what excuse she offered, the reasoning was the same. She was afraid for Kevin’s safety. He was only eleven and she wouldn’t let him go. She didn’t trust him even with me.
“Well, don’t tell him any of this, please.” She told me. “I don’t want him to be more upset than he already is.”
The first thing I told him when we gathered on the floor for Fluxx had been about that.
“Yeah, I’m gonna miss you.” His eyes grew big and he smiled again, full of teeth. “I wish I could come.”
“You could sneak into my luggage. I’ll poke some holes so you can breathe.”
He giggled, but it didn’t last. “I have to go to school though. I can’t stay.”
I didn’t expect that. “No problem. We have schools there for you.” He brightened up. “You need to know Swedish though.”
He gave an exasperated sigh, but his smile was still full of teeth.
“Maybe in a few more years,” I told him, resting my hand on his shoulder. That’s if you’re still infatuated with me or if I’ve moved back. He didn’t nod or anything, just said his okays and we went back to playing. It was so oddly adult. He didn’t cry or press the issue further. I could’ve wrapped my arms around him and given him a proper hug. I could’ve pressed the issue with a plan, maybe told him how much I would really miss him when I’m gone. He knows, I told myself, Saying so would only be hurting ourselves.
Kevin had come up to my room again. He stood there looking at the two suitcases on the floor. I wondered if he’d reconsidered the option about getting in.
“Can I help?”
“Sure.” I had to take out clothes from one so he could put them back in again. He was very careful, folding them in as neatly as he could.
The pauses were getting awkward. “I’m leaving Dominion behind.”
He looked up. “You are?”
I blinked, trying to focus on his face. “Yeah. I can’t bring it with me. It won’t fit, see.” I gestured, then brought my hands to myself quickly. “I want you to take good care of them.” The two giant boxes sat there and it was far easier pretending to read the text. “They’re expensive and—” I couldn’t think of what else to say. “They’re special,” I decided with, licking my lips.
“Don’t worry. I won’t lose them.” I won’t play with them either, his pause seemed to say. I could almost imagine the thought, if it was his thought in the first place. He had equated the games with me and he had my ghost to contend with if he was going to play those games with anybody else.
“Okay,” I said, then thought, “I’m—”
Going to miss you, I might have said. It was truthful and honest and it felt good to hear. To say it though…
Gonna leave, I might have said. That was just to have something to say.
“Will you miss me?” I said instead.
“I’ll…well, you know.” I laughed uneasily and we finished repacking in silence.
He had left out the final goodbye. His paper ends: IT WAS NICE BEING WITH MY BIG SISTER. He had been stronger than I was at the very end. When I hugged him at the airport, it was motherly, protective, my nails digging into his arms. He did not say those words to me, but only smiled. Mom was trying to bless me, but I shied away from her touch and stood apart from them. Dad tried to grab me in another crushing hug, but I was already in line and well out of reach. Kevin waved goodbye, his crooked teeth yellow in the light. I was unable to say any more words to any of them: my throat had closed up, my gut was disintegrating, and I had a sudden urge to visit the bathroom.
Kevin had always been stronger than me. Whatever he had struggled to say in his paper, whatever it once said before he reduced it to card games and saying he loved me, had held much more open truth than I could’ve told him. He had hugged me without prompt, had waited for me at the door every day simply because he enjoyed my company. I could learn from him. I could learn to open up.
Things always did feel easier to do in my head.
Cristina Vega is a student at Malmö University in Sweden. She is currently an undergraduate in English. During the summertime, Cristina returns to her home in Las Vegas. She likes going to pubs and listening to people, even though she doesn’t drink. She doesn’t have a favorite genre of literature and reads anything.
© 2011, Cristina Vega