- Posted September 21, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Not Quite Cookie Cutter - The Man Kite
The first time I ever did it was at Kitty Hawk of all places, on one of our family vacations from hell. The weather was cool and my parents were married, so it must have been another mid school year trip to take my brother to be tested by the latest expert in the field. I was about eleven then, teetering on the edge of innocence and angst, and the last place I wanted to be was at a historical monument with my not quite cookie cutter family. However, there I was slouching up the hill head down, mouth drawn, arms crossed against my thin chest, wishing that I was anywhere else.
Brian, my brother, ran up ahead of me, excited. The Kitty Hawk excursion had been for him. He had the kind of love for space and aeronautics usually reserved for those destined to become astronauts or engineers. I often wondered if things had been different would he have grown up to design airplanes or study comets. Sometimes I would even allow myself to imagine him the way that in my mind he was meant to be, shy and reserved with sweaty palms asking his first girlfriend to dance, sitting alone somewhere with his nose pressed into a book, or even teasing me about my boyfriends and telling me to get lost. Then I’d hear him talking too loud and too fast, his voice pitching into falsetto arguing with himself as he walked up and down the street, and I’d remember that those things were meant for other people’s brothers.
I wasn’t thinking about any of that then, I was just walking, slightly chilled against the breeze that blew across the endless hill watching Brian run. He was fifteen, short and thin, with a nose just a hair too large, as though it fell from a Roman soldier and landed square in the middle of his face by accident. He had that thick black hair from our Irish ancestors that I always envied, and it stuck up in bits against the wind. He was wearing the yellow wind breaker. The one that my father’s eccentric boss gave us as a matching set one Christmas, four shocking yellow super slicks in sizes XS to XL. It made a kite like whistle as it fanned out behind him. His arms were stretched wide and he ran back and forth in a swaying motion ready for take off.
People swirled around us, other tourists shuffling up and down the hill. They made a wake for Brian, most glancing quickly then averting their eyes to the ground. Some stopped short and pretended to fiddle with sudden pressing matters in their purses or pockets until he had flown past. I kept walking several paces behind, glad for once to be anonymous. Not that it mattered. I was past the point of embarrassment. The county social studies fair, held the year prior, had made sure of that.
That time the crowd had been thick, the way elementary school fairs tend to be. The scent of must with a hint of Pinesol hung in the air as the two judges made their way to the podium. Our category was next. We sat there, my social studies partner and me, shifting nervously as we waited through the polite applause of the second and third place winners. I looked back at my mother but she was busy with Brian. He never did well in crowds.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t familiar with the warning signs of a major fit, the squinting eyes and clenching teeth, the rigidness of his fingers, the way he would begin to shake just a tremble at first. He had already started talking to himself, trying to self soothe, which was never a good sign. I looked at the podium not wanting to watch the people around us quietly begin to scoot away. He couldn’t go off now, not now, when I was seconds away from the biggest thing in my ten years of life. Maybe this time he would settle.
Looking back I wonder what ran through my partner’s mind when our names were called for first prize and Brian stood up and screamed until the veins on his neck throbbed. It wasn’t her destiny to have every public family gathering marred by Autism. She was just supposed to pose a couple of action figures and stencil some letters.
Mom manhandled Brian through the crowd, until she had him holed up in another room and waited for the screaming to stop. He was still maroon and shaky when we reached them, trophies in hand. Mom looked weary, and I knew she was. She said again how she wished she had flyers that she could hand out whenever he had a public tantrum. She always said that, yet we never got the flyers. Maybe she thought the printing costs would just add up too much.
So there I was, a year later at Kitty Hawk, watching the watchers pretend not to notice the large yellow man kite flying like an airplane up the hill. I wondered how many would share the story as a snippet of dinner table conversation later that night. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t jealous of the mix of fear and elation in their eyes. What would mental illness look like in a flash that went whizzing by instead of sleeping in the room next to you every night? At least that’s what I was thinking as I trudged up the hill and saw the boy, just a little older than me, laughing and pointing. I caught his eye and he smiled waiting for me to get in on the joke, but I just wrapped my arms tighter around my chest because I had left my matching yellow wind breaker in the car.
That’s when I did it. I looked straight at him, deep into his shameless eyes, and extended my middle finger. He frowned and turned away suddenly drawn to some pressing matter in his pocket. It was the first time I’d ever done that and it felt good. I remember smiling, more to myself than to him, though if he caught it he may have wondered what had happened to that sullen skinny girl on the hill. But I knew what it was, it was more than a flip of a finger, a tossing out of innocence, it was the first time I ever claimed him, my brother the man kite, even when I didn’t have to. I walked on, leaving that boy who was just a little bit bigger than me feeling much smaller, and I called out to Brian who was still flying into the wind.