I hoped only for submission.
The most viable move: to pin him down with my knees. To swing with both fists, using the ball of my palm, beating him against his arms and chest, but careful never to hit his face.
When we fought, even within my own preemptive strike, I always maintained a code of ethics.
No broken bones. No choking out.

He, however, was like an adolescent cage fighter. Five years younger, half my size, never yielding less than the strength of a baby rhino.
He would never hit or kick. Those weren’t options to take me down.
Instead, my baby brother used weapons, and swung to kill.
I was terrified of him.

One of my earliest memories was of him, sitting in my Dad’s lap as we watched TV. Reaching over my father’s forearm, he picked up a clay lamp, just light enough for both his chubby little hands to grip.
As I looked on to Saturday morning cartoons, he dropped it like a hammer, smashing it square over my head.
As I watched him carried away for punishment, I picked up the shattered pieces scattered on the floor. My head throbbed as a giant knot swelled up on the crown of my skull.

In adolescence, he would lurk in the front yard. The sports he’d gotten into involved tools that could second for weapons.
He’d swing golf clubs, choosing them by weight, out of my mom’s grey leather golf bag.
My mom’s were easiest to handle.
Irons worked best, light, with dense mallets. They were perfect for swinging into my shins.

After batting practice one afternoon, he ‘accidentally’ smacked me in the chest with an aluminum baseball bat.

The most potentially violent episode was his charge with a steak knife.
Running into my room, locking the door behind me, I bought time to plan an escape route. Pounding the door, he ran the jagged culinary tool, back and forth, underneath the frame. Screaming obscenities through the cracks, I felt like a terrorized prisoner.
Each time he hammered, the room shook. He was intent on breaking it down to get at me.
Lining the opposing wall, I hand cranked the louvered windows outward and hoisted myself between the small, parallel spaces. I squeezed through, safely escaping into the neighborhood.

When I returned, hours later, I found him sitting next to my mom on the couch.
Quiet, collected, angelic. He was seasoned in putting up a front.

Each year he became better at suppressing his insanity around the people that mattered.
Covertly though, towards me, he was always ready to harvest bloody angst come next fisticuffs.
Within my sleep cycle, I’d often have violent dreams. Of war scenes. Of getting shot at. Of being hunted.
I suffered anxiety stemming from my brother’s hatred of me. Even in sleep I had to keep guard.

Although the traumatic dreams were lucid, I’d often wake up.
So was the case one weekend when my bed shook: the aftershock of a guttural ‘boom’ outside.
In the near distance I could hear birds screeching, a rarity at night.
What I had heard was real.

For a second I lay in bed. My heart racing. The hairs on my arms standing on end. Maybe lightning had struck–those cracks of sound common in the summer months in Florida?
Sliding out of my sheets I headed out into the hall to my brother’s room next door.
Pushing his door open, I could see that his bed was made.

I crept into the living room. There, the TV was still on. Our large couch, empty.
My mom was still at work, this was her late shift.
I continued, hesitantly, out into the yard.

Through the side gate, my brother walked onto our driveway. With a contrived concern, he asked if I had heard the explosion.
His use of the word, defining the specific sound, gave himself away.
That, and an unusual sense of fear I could discern from his voice. His elaborate description. His ranting. I knew, in some fashion, he was guilty.

From across the street, my grandmother came over, frantic. Her naivety playing into the deep, multilayered yarn my brother began to spin. How he thought the sound came from next door. Maybe a suicide?
Spread throughout the streets, our concerned neighbors sprinkled within the shadows.
They kept their distance as my brother was known to lash out. He wasn’t just our problem, he was the neighborhood terror.

My brother led us next door. We knocked. Looking through the windows, their kitchen light was on, but there was no movement. We knocked again, several times, but there was no answer.
Two police cars rolled into the neighborhood. On the scene, my brother dove in to explain the situation, the variables in the equation accurately accounted for. His elaborate descriptions, the tools to dig himself out of a mire of potential shit.
He retold the tale of a loud explosion, the house shaking. He explained to the cops our visit to the neighbors. The knocking with no answer.
Icing on his tall tale.

Together, we pressed the fact that we rarely saw the neighbors. When we did, they never made conversation. They seemed secretive.
My brother pressed the possibility of foul play.
To this absurd conjecture, I kept my mouth shut.
Maybe out of fear for the repercussions of reporting him? Maybe out of respect for his yarn?

Digesting his fabricated information, the police took over the investigation, heading next door to find what they could.
In our driveway, we sat consoling our grandmother, hysterical in what the neighborhood had turned into.
She blamed it on everything, on everyone, except her youngest grandchild.

The cops returned, coming back over to inform us that the neighbor had actually been in the shower.
‘Please let us know if you hear anything else?’
As they regrouped in their cars, filing paperwork, the droves of neighbors slowly moved back into their houses. By midnight, the cops had left. By a quarter after, in the stark silence of our neighborhood, our mother rolled home from work to find us in bed.
‘Could you both come out here please.’
My brother and I walked out of our rooms as our Mom led us into the backyard.
There, the next morning, near the neighbor’s fence, was a large hole the size and shape of an outdoor grill. Expanding from the epicenter in all directions was torched grass. Grass my mother took great pains to maintain.
Splintered across the blackened sod were shredded remnants of a plastic jug. Dispersed in between, tiny sparkles: the sun reflecting off of hundreds of bits of tin foil.
‘What is this?,’ she asked.
And together, for the first time in our lives, we colluded. To our mother, we regurgitated half cocked theories: a meteor explosion, of lightning striking the ground.
I confirmed my brother’s lies. He confirmed mine.

As we walked back inside, I was amazed by what he had done. At twelve, he had successfully collected materials, mixing them together correctly to create a chemical reaction. Something often talked about amongst us neighborhood kids. Something talked about but never seen.
A pool acid bomb.

In a couple weeks, at the end of that summer, I was going away to school. This unexpected situation, the defense of my baby brother, partially out of amazement of what he concocted, partially out of fear for the powers he harnessed, somehow served as an antiseptic to his pent up animosity towards me.
My defense of him became a symbolic handshake.
A familial olive branch.
It was a mutual peace offering.

Inside our house, we walked past the kitchen, past our living room and into the hallway where our bedrooms sat adjacent.
We opened the doors to our rooms. He escaped into his, me into mine.
Our doors shut behind us in tandem.

–Other than the pain inflicted by my brother on me (and vise versa), no one was hurt within these events (circa 1988 through 1995).
–Pool acid bombs are a really dumb idea. Do not ever try them.
–In spite of his youthful predilection for mayhem, my youngest brother has become quite successful, and is actually a damn fun person to hang out with these days. I’m proud of him.
Thanks to him for giving me permission to tell this story.

Matt Coplon

Work by day. Ride by evening. Write by night.