Between the Lines

Some of my little brother’s friends were tear-gassed last week at a demonstration against the war in Albuquerque. They blocked an intersection near the UNM campus, four or five hundred students and other assorted radicals. Despite the peaceful nature of the gathering, the police broke it up with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I want to do something,” he tells me, his voice wavering over the distance between us, “but I don’t think anyone cares. I don’t think they’re listening.”

I’m watching Louie sniff around the courtyard outside my office, cell phone pressed to my right ear. The wind is picking up. I turn my head slightly till I can hear him again.

“Now the protests are only a couple of hundred people.”

“I went to a couple of the big demonstrations here in San Francisco before the war,” I tell him. “But that was it. I don’t get the sense that it makes much of a difference anymore.”

I feel like I should have something to offer him, my little brother, some kind of wisdom, especially now that Mom’s gone.

“I’ve never been arrested,” he says. “I suppose I should keep it that way.”

“I just had that one arrest, during the Contra War.”

“I remember. Dad was pissed.”

He sounds sad and defeated. His girlfriend’s left him for the second or third time. He wants to quit smoking, he wants to go back to school. I want him to get a computer and join civilization, so I can e-mail him. I try not to push. He’s been pushed his whole life, to be different, motivated, educated, goal-driven. To be more like me. I just want him to be happy.

The sun feels good on my face. Louie’s confused by the change of routine; he sits by the door, waiting to go back inside. But I stay still. There’s something I want to tell my little brother, I try to think of the right words…when Mom was sick I tested positive for HIV and I kept it from everyone, I didn’t want them to worry, but now I want you to know…

I almost say it. I can feel between us a short, taut rope, one that I could balance on and walk in his direction. But I don’t. I don’t want to tell him over the phone.

The irony is not lost on me, that I won’t tell him but I’ll post it on the Internet. The still-sharp memory of the September morning I checked my e-mail and found a message from my father, who had just found dogpoet. The subject line of his e-mail had said, simply, “Devastated”.

“Do you feel like Mom’s around?” I ask my brother.

“All the time. Do you?

“Yeah. Not at first. It took awhile, but yeah. I’ve met this guy. Well, not really met. It’s a long story.” I hate describing it. “But I feel like she has something to do with it.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s what I’ve been looking for.”

“Cool,” he says. “That’s exciting.”

“Yeah. And hard. I’m impatient.”

“Uh huh.”

“And fucking horny.”

He laughs. “I know how you feel.”

Louie watches me. I’m smiling. “I gotta get back to work.”

“Okay. Thank for calling. I love you, Mike.”

“I love you, too.”

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