- Twelve Words
My twin brother, Danny, could say twelve words: Eh. Eh-eh. Hi. Yeah. More. Momma. Dada. I-an. Arra. Dayday. Annie. Eddie. At the end of our visits, I wanted just one.
"You say my name right now," I said. "Say I-an."
We were in "Cascade Falls," though there were no falls. It was just what his group home renamed "Unit B" to sound more like a home, more like the nearby, overpriced housing developments in the exurbs of Cleveland. "Cascade Falls" was a wing in a facility for severely disabled children and adults. It was clean and antiseptic, with walls lined in gold-plated donor plaques and elaborate, swirling abstract canvases drawn by the residents with an art therapist's "assistance." The art therapists said the residents told them what to draw through their body language and eye motion, that they could infer intent, could tell what the residents were thinking: move left, move right, circle here, square. I doubted this, even for my brother, who was the smartest one.
If anyone could divine his intent, it should be me, his twin, the one who stewed with him in the same amniotic fluid, the one who should have a bond with him beyond words, some psychic tether between our brains. But even after twenty-eight years of practice, I had enough trouble knowing what he was thinking. Still, it was a convincing story: at the annual fund-raiser, the paintings were auctioned off and "Cascade Falls" raked it in.
My brother lay on his bed with his arms bent at the elbows and wrists, his hands curved down like a praying mantis. He had short and choppy dyed-blond hair, which our father still cut every few months using CVS scissors and two fingers. He wore track pants and a Cleveland Browns T-shirt, the orange football helmet with "Danny Trapp" written in black Sharpie so it wouldn't get lost in the laundry. He was positioned the way my mother taught the staff when he moved here five years ago: pillows under every stress point (head, shoulders, [End Page 94] hips, elbows) with an ancient plush polar bear stuffed between his knock knees. Above his bed were his CDs: ABBA and the Mamma Mia soundtrack, with no trace of my Clash albums, to which he'd said "Eh-eh" until I turned them off. Mixed in were the collected films of Mel Brooks, because even though Danny was legally blind, he dug the dirty jokes.
"Say it," I said.
My brother smiled, flexing his dimples. His caterpillar eyebrows narrowed, and his eyes flashed like an evil genius. "Eh-eh," he said, which was a problem. It was our ritual: I couldn't leave without my name.
"Please," I said. "Just say I-an. Come on. I have to go and you're being a butt-head. I'm serious." I studied his face, a foreign language I was still learning. He didn't give me much, just listened poker-faced with his mouth open, icing me.
It was just after Christmas, three weeks before our twenty-eighth birthday, and we weren't doing very well. I was trying to earn a PhD in English, which, no, wasn't the tragic part. The trouble was with my wife. Before the holidays, she entered rehab for the second time in two months. She was hiding empty wine bottles in closet suitcases, passing out in grocery-store bathrooms, searching for some kind of bottom. Meanwhile, Danny was struggling with his new feeding tube and kept getting helicopter rides to the hospital for pneumonia. He'd spent several weeks in the ICU that fall. Things were bound to get better. We'd wish it on our birthday cake.
I went hardcore. "That's it," I said, and lunged toward him, grabbing his ratty Browns' shirt like it had lapels, and pressed my nose flat against his. "You say my name right now."
He tightened his eyebrows again, scrunched his upper lip, and did his "squirrel teeth," his patent look of displeasure. "Momma," he said into my face.
Was he picking on me, as in Momma, you...