By SARAH WU
On the day my brother gets his college admissions, he picks his envelope up ever so gently, drags a finger across the edge of the flap, and peels back the white like he would peel back the skin of a banana. The envelope bulges with expectations, ripe with the fleshy substance of letters, words, sentences, paragraphs; if he could slip the paper into his mouth, the faintly salty tang of sweat from his upper lip would mix with the dryness of the paper, letters blurring together into inkblots indistinguishable from each other.
In second grade, I tried to teach my brother how to eat napkins; I thought that if my naive brother who was still in kindergarten learned how to eat napkins, then I could have his lunch too. That day, we spent the afternoon shoving dry pieces of paper into our mouths, napkins soaking moisture from our tongues, its soft texture turning into slimy globs, but in the end, we couldn’t force ourselves to swallow; my brother followed my example as I spat the wet clump into the plastic abyss of the garbage can.
He never learned how to eat napkins. I never had my two lunches.
On the day my brother gets his college admissions, he is sitting on his covers, shirt lost somewhere in the void that is his bed, sucking clothes, blankets, humans, alike down its hungry gullet; he would walk around without pants either if it weren’t for my mother, her eyebrow raised and her mouth set thinly as he lumbers down the stairs in boxers for the first time. Now, he stays in his room, soaking the warm, musty aroma of teenage boy and dirty socks, waiting and watching for the email, reaching for a glass filled with the kind of lemonade that our mom only buys once every ten Costco trips.
We once wrestled for the glass of lemonade when we were younger, grubby hands grabbing until the glass toppled over and sprayed sweet lemonade and sharp glass. My brother cried, back when he would cry a lot more, and I sighed and grabbed his sweet, sticky stained little hands, pulled him over to the kitchen sink to pull out the glass shard embedded in his hand, and held his hand underwater in an awful attempt at ten-year-old first aid: 1) tape his hand with Scotch tape and napkins, 2) pour him another glass of cold, sweet lemonade. And when our mom came back into the kitchen, it was like nothing had happened, except for the red stain on the kitchen table.
On the day my brother gets his college admissions, he is still in school, in AP BC C-A-L-C, calc. His head is tilted low to his worksheets; even though the teacher is talking, he has his AirPod in one ear, and he is jamming to the music, head slightly swaying to the invisible beat. The teacher notices the single AirPod in his ear and calls on him; the class notices her frown and turns around to stare at him; my brother doesn’t even look up and calmly says “Square root of three x plus twenty-nine, remainder one over six-oh-oh-five,” and continues to bob his head to the music.
On the day my brother gets his college admissions, he is not at home. He is not even at school. He is riding his bike with his friends alongside the coast of the beach, ocean breeze stinging his face, wild grin turned to the sky, sun beaming down at him as he shouts to the heavens, road swiftly burning beneath him dizzyingly, hands off the handlebars. Underneath him, his bike bucks like a horse and throws him off, and red streaks and gashes form on his legs and arms, but he just laughs and laughs and climbs on his bike again—just one more, I swear—and he laughs because he is free; he laughs because he is alive and he is happy to be alive.
On the day my brother gets his college admissions, I do not know what happens.
In reality, he is more than a couple of hundred miles away and has only sent me a hundred text messages in total from the moment I left home two years ago. I have texted him to ask him how his college admissions have gone, and the little three dots appear … and … disappear … at … the …
flickers for a few hundred seconds before it finally is dragged away and is never to be seen again; I try texting him again, but the three dots do not come up, and it’s only when I text him every day for seven days straight, text him so the chat history looks more like this—
r u still there?
is everything alright
msg me back
—always him on the left, and me on the right, the chat filled to different amounts like two glasses of lemonade, the kind of lemonade that our mom only bought once every ten Costco trips.
A week after my brother gets his college admissions, I get a phone call from him. I pick up and he is there on the other side and I call his name—once, twice, three times—but the only sound I hear is his ragged breaths, and as my voice dies down, I silently listen to him suck in one wet breath after another.
Sarah Wu ’25 is a staff writer
Tiia McKinney ’25 is a staff artist