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Look back before leaving for future

Column/Thomas T. Huang

I was puzzled by the sleeping form of my brother in the dark. Lying in bed with my chin against the pillow, I squinted across the room. In the morning, I was leaving for Boston.

His body seemed too large, stretched on the mattress in the dim light of the streetlamp. His feet, almost as large as mine, reached the edge of the bed. Jutting out from beneath wrinkled sheets, his legs were long, thin, and hairless.

I remembered his pinchable calves when he was a baby. His legs would jiggle as he moved in diapers and shorts unsteadily through the park near our house. It's funny how quickly babies learn to walk, and how quickly they forget when they grow and their bodies change.

Now, at the age of thirteen, his legs had grown to stilts in blue jeans, and his feet had become rowboat oars, flailing away at the floor.

The day he was born, my mother had said, "It's time," and I, as a curious child, stooped to look under her skirt. We all piled into the Ford Maverick to get to the hospital that Sunday morning.

The nurse later told Father that our mother was having complications. He gathered my sisters and me in the cold, white room, and told us to pray.

I think that's the only time he ever told us to pray, and it made my stomach feel hollow. Perhaps I sensed that my father, scared, had to ask his children to help him. Someone older would have seen his vulnerability, his love. But we were scared out of our wits.

We had never gone to church. We had never read the Bible. Yet we had to talk to God on that Sunday morning. Faced with tragedy, people run to God, just like animals run to water in a forest fire.

My mother and Greg came home, both healthy. Sometimes I would stare at the baby in his crib and remember praying in the hospital. I watched the girls with their grins stroke his hair.

Greg's body was tiny, but he had a huge head, the top of which looked like a ball of black fur. When my sisters tip-toed into the nursery, the ball of black fur would pop up to meet them.

I was quiet, confused.

I had been the youngest child. [el-58p4]

For five years before Greg was born, I got used to the attention from university professors who came to our Christmas parties, and ladies in dark dresses with bright lipstick who had tea with my mother.

Things changed. I always lost my fights with my brother, because my mother admonished me to set an example for him. I couldn't hit back and the competition between us grew. He used to run a lot, giggling uncontrollably. When we raced in the park, I had to slow down to let him overtake me. But he yelled at me if he thought I let him win.

"Don't let me win, Tommy! Don't let me win!"

Seven years ago, there was an accident. My family was at a picnic, and my brother built sandcastles with a pail and shovel in the sandbox. He burbled and sang.

I circled the sandbox from a distance. To attract his attention, I threw a small stone to hit the sand in front of him. It struck him in the forehead. Shocked, I ran to the crying Greg and held him until my parents came. The scar on his skin soon vanished, but the scar in me had not. From then on, I became the older brother, as I should have become long before.

Now Greg often stood quietly with his hands in pants' pockets, and I was annoyed, because the habit reminded me of myself.

I tried to connect the silent young man with the running child. I was a silent young man, too, and perhaps my brother was following my path. Somehow, just as in the park, I had slowed down to let him overtake me.

Still unable to sleep, I got up from my bed and approached my brother. I listened to his snores, which blended with the whir of his electric alarm clock. I had only a few hours left.

Even though he had now a young man's body, asleep he looked like a baby. Vagrant strands of hair rested on his pillow, and his eyelashes fluttered slightly. I longed to go back in time.

He turned over and seemed to pout. We would be apart from now on, since I was going away to college for the first time.

I studied his face carefully, every feature of it, because I knew that, when I returned, the child would be gone.