The first time I broke Nicky’s heart, he gave me a look like I had just carved the little pink glob from his chest, gave it a once over like some useless trinket in the bric-a-brac section at the thrift store and tossed it back onto the shelf with a scoff. We were six and eight, respectively, and I had just shattered his Castle Greyskull playset against the wall after an argument over whose playset it really was.
The next big one was at the state fair. I promised to not let Nicky get lost in the haunted house. I ended up doing just that. I yanked my wrist from his clutches and left him in the mirror room. I heard him screaming my name while I stood at the exit, the carnies staring at me. I finally went back through the line and found him curled in the corner of a black light room, the animatronic girl on an electric chair rattling non-stop and other kids just stepping over him like he was part of the show. He was crying, piss on the front of his jeans. I had to sedate and bribe him with nachos to keep that one out of our mother’s ear.
I promised to drive us to a White Sox game when I turned sixteen, but I got drunk and rolled our dad’s car instead. It was like he was an amnesiac and I reveled in breaking the news to him every time he forgot: the brother you idolize is a real bastard. The first time I got stoned, the first time I got drunk, the first time I was brought home by the cops. I broke his heart a million more times at least. He looked up to me and I used him as the lab rat for the cruel things that would show up in my mind.
The big one was when Nicky was eighteen. Lilian. His first love, the first girl he mustered the courage to ask on a date. He came into my room and showed me her picture in their senior yearbook, said they were going out that Saturday. He was floating there, asking me how he should proceed, where he should take her. I looked right into his eyes—into his still-doughy face that I loved yet still wanted to smash for some reason—and told him to be cool, that I was proud of him for going for it.
And then, naturally, Lilian and I fucked at a party that Friday night. We flirted, I told her who I was, she said she didn’t care. I wasn’t going to tell him. I even helped him pick out the shirt he should wear. One of his friends called him up at the zero hour. He was all cleaned up and heading for the door when Dad handed him the phone. The way he looked at me, I knew the information he was receiving.
That was pretty much the end of him being my little brother. They’re called your little brother when they look up to you and you’re their big brother while you stay untouchable. Once you prove to them that they were stupid to think that, then you’re just either younger or older. Two people who used to share something good, now just some blood, maybe a crooked nose or an accent.
I don’t think I stopped breaking his heart though. It was in a different sense after Lillian and now that we’re older and he’s surpassed me in every way. Now, he’s never caught off guard by it like he always was when we were kids. Whenever I show up at his house to borrow money, whenever I’m an asshole to one of his kids at a holiday party, when I don’t show up to our dad’s funeral. He’s already braced, ready to take the hit. He doesn’t feel it anymore, but I’m still latched onto him, living off the tiny pieces I can strip away from my little brother’s broken heart.
Lanny Durbin is a writer and musician from Springfield, Illinois. His work has appeared in Cat on a Leash Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. He can be found on twitter @LannyDurbin.