“Oh no!” I gasp out loud to my brother. “I forgot my gym clothes.” My voice is tight and thin with anxiety. PE is a major, life issue for me.
Unlike every other Murphy in my family, I am not at all athletic. I do, however, make up for it by being incredibly nervous and tying my entire sense of worth to scholastic achievement.
I am panicking, because in this, my last year of middle school, I have been sidled with a PE teacher that has this crazy idea that physical education, like other classes, ought to be graded on actual merit and skill.
After many weeks of volleyball mishaps, racket ball failures, and never successfully completing a pull up in the history of ever, I know my only chance of scraping together a decent grade in PE is to dress out. I HATE that they make us take our gym clothes home every week to wash them. I would rather smell like the boozy old guy that hangs out in front of the Cumberland Farms store, than have to worry like this.
“I’ll get them!” David says as he shoves his books at me and starts taking off his jacket.
“No, you’ll be late!” I tell him, but David just hands me his jacket and starts running toward our house, which is nearly two miles away.
“Just go to class. I’ll find you.” He yells back at me.
“You’ll get in trouble!” I shout at him as if the fear of getting into trouble would actually stop my brother from doing anything. I watch him–fearless and running. Two things I could never be.
“David! Come back!” I yell, but he looks back and gestures at me to not worry. This gesture is equal parts reassurance and annoyance. I know it well, because he makes this gesture all the time like when we’re in the line for rides at the fair, when kickball teams are being picked on our block, and when circus clowns are scanning crowds of children for volunteers.
I worry about David as I step onto the grounds of our school, Margate Middle: Home of the Spartans. I read somewhere that Spartans were denied things like bedding and underwear to keep them mean and hard. I feel like my teachers are denied a lot of things to keep them mean and hard, too. I also don’t think Mr. Schultz wears underwear. It’s just a suspicion, but it feels like it is true in that way that creepy things tend to be true in middle school.
I go to homeroom. Mr. Schultz takes attendance. Announcements are made over the loud speaker. The bell rings. I walk to my first period class in a daze of worry. The way-too-desperate-to-be merry blue and gold stripes of our school colors on the walls do not foster any school spirit in me at all. Swarms of kids shuffle by. I look around at all the noisy chatting and ruckus and, I think, “There’s no way he’s going to find me. He doesn’t know my class schedule.” I also think, “With his grades, he might not know his class schedule.”
I’m snapped out of my worry by a bag of gym clothes smacking me in the chest. David has tossed them at me from down the hall.
“David!” I yell at him as he weaves through the crowd to get to me.
“Quick! Give me my stuff,” he says.
I hand him his books and jacket. I want to ask him how he found me, how he ran two miles home and two miles back so fast, but he’s already running down the hall to get to his class.
“Thanks, Dave!” I yell after him, but he’s already turned the corner and doesn’t hear me.
I can’t believe he did it. He saved me. He ran all that way–just for his sister. I feel like I’m Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Theme music is swelling while life is touching and beautiful. We’re real brother and sister like characters in a Disney Sunday movie. I’ve been Touched By an Angel and my brother is just like John Boy from the Waltons.
I vow to do something really awesome for David to thank him, but I don’t see him on the walk home after school. This isn’t unusual. We lead different kind of school lives. I am a bookish kid, who participates in lots of extra-curricular activities, and my brother has friends.
Dave never brings up the gym clothes. I don’t either until much later, when we’re older. I tell Dave this story of his incredible brotherliness. He shoots me a look and says, “Big deal.”
I try to explain to him this moment–this incredible brother-sister moment that apparently only I had experienced from our childhood. He remembers none of it. I also get the impression that he’d prefer I forgot all about it, too.
But I don’t, because I think we are a little bit like The Waltons. We are real brother and sister. There are heroes in the Disney-Sunday-movie moments of my life. And in this story, whether he likes it or not, my brother is the hero for two reasons: 1) Because he ran all that way just to get me my gym clothes and 2) Because, to him, it’s no big deal.