I used to love my brother.
Now I’m not so sure.
That’s a terrible thing to say. Believe me, I know it. I wouldn’t ever say it out loud to anybody, not even Pearl. Especially since everyone else loves him. Even the people who’ve never met him. They can’t get enough of him. They worship him.
I used to worship him too. All little brothers worship their big brothers, I guess. It sort of goes with the job description. Think about it. Your brother’s face is one of the first you ever see. His hands are among the first to touch you. You crawl only to catch him. You want nothing but to walk like he does, talk like he does, draw a picture, throw a ball, tell a joke like he does, let loose one of those crazy whistles with four fingers jammed in your mouth or burp the ABCs just like he does. To your little mind, he’s got the whole world all figured out.
But then you grow up. You start thinking for yourself. You make your own decisions and those decisions change you, and they can even change the people around you, and my brother made one big whopper of a decision, and in the end, it’s made it really hard for me to love him anymore.
And I feel like shit about it. Really, I do. But what can I say? It’s how I feel.
He’s coming home. Sometime tonight.
Everyone knows it.
For one thing, they made an announcement at morning assembly. So that’s how my day started.
Even though Mr. Bowers never said my name, and even if there were people there who didn’t know about Boaz, how many dudes have the last name Katznelson? Our Boston suburb isn’t exactly packed with relocated Israelis.
So when Bowers said, “We all, each and every one of us, owe a personal debt of gratitude to Boaz Katznelson, a graduate of this very school, who returns tonight from three years as a marine, and who has served this country at great personal sacrifice.” I was pretty sure people were staring at me.
I pulled the brim of my Red Sox cap down low over my face. A smattering of applause echoed off the gym walls.
“He could have chosen any sort of future he wanted. I know this is hard for some of you seniors to imagine, but any college would have taken him. He was, in every way, a superlative student. But he chose duty. He chose to serve our great nation in this very difficult and very challenging time of war.”
At this point there were a few hisses and muffled boos. I felt random hands slap my shoulder and back.
I typically start my morning in the courtyard with Zim, comparing notes on the homework we blew off, sipping coffee from 7-Eleven and eating mini doughnuts. The kind we eat are so fake they’re not doughnuts—they’re “do-nuts”—which makes you wonder what’s really in them. But anyway, this morning was a weird one. Like the day didn’t already promise to be weird enough.
Zim caught up with me after the assembly.
Zim and I share a birthday. He moved in across the street when we were both seven years, eight months and eleven days old. I’d say he was my best friend if there weren’t a Pearl in my life.
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Cool, man. I’ll catch you later. I’m pretty sure my mom’s cooking something inedible to bring by your place tonight. Seriously, whatever it is, it reeks. Proceed with caution.”
“I’m glad he’s coming home.”
“Yeah. Me too,” I said, because of course I’m glad he’s coming home. I’m glad he’s okay. Glad doesn’t really do it. I’m thrilled, relieved, ecstatic, whatever. I’d say a prayer of thanks, if I were that sort of person, that my brother is returning from this war I don’t believe in. This war I can’t understand. This war for which nobody should have given up so much, and hurt so many people, and worried his mother down to a sack of bones.
But this was his choice. And we’ve all lived with it ever since.
Look, I know how this makes me sound. Like a whiner. Some sort of self-pitying wuss. And yes, on some level, that’s who I am. But I’m not only talking about me here. I’m talking about my family, about how we used to be before he left and who we all are now. And I’m talking about what he’s been like those few times he’s made it back home: how he shuts himself in his room and doesn’t say a word. I’m talking about the letters he failed to send.
Maybe I sound even worse than self-pitying: un-American or anti-American. That’s a tight spot to be in for a guy with a weird Israeli last name and a father with a thick accent who makes me call him Abba instead of Dad like we all still live in Israel, but I’m neither of those things. I’m not un or anti. I just don’t know what to think about this whole mess we’re in.
And who knows. Maybe that’s even worse than being un or anti, because at least then you know where you stand.
Excerpted from THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS © Copyright 2010 by Dana Reinhardt. Reprinted with permission by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. All rights reserved.