From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

My Little Brother

A sibling may be the sole keeper of one’s core identity, the only person with the keys to one’s unfettered, more fundamental self.

Marian Sandmaier

It was a stormy Saturday afternoon when my mother took my five-year-old brother, Christopher, and me to a new enormous toy store she had read about in the newspaper. “So many toys,” the advertisement had shouted in full and flashy color, “that we had to get a huge warehouse to fit them all!” Christopher and I couldn’t have been more excited. We ran across the parking lot, through the cold and biting rain, as fast as our little legs could carry us. We left our mother outside to battle with the frustrating umbrella, which never worked when she wanted it to.

“Christine! I’m going to find the Lego section! There’s a new pirate ship I want, and I have four dollars! Maybe I can buy it!” Christopher exclaimed and ran off excitedly. I only half heard him. I took a right turn and, to my wide-eyed delight, found myself in the midst of Barbie World.

I was studying a mini mink coat and doing some simple math in my head when suddenly an earthshaking clap of thunder roared from the storm outside. I jumped at the noise, dropping the accessory to the floor. The warehouse lights flickered once and died, covering the stuffed animals, matchbox cars and board games in a blanket of black. Thunder continued to shake the sky and whips of lightning illuminated the store for seconds at a time, casting frightening shadows that played tricks on my mind.

Oh no, I thought, as my stomach twisted and turned inside of me. Where’s Christopher? I ran up and down the aisles through the darkness, panic filling my small chest and making it difficult to breathe. I knocked into displays of candy and tripped over toys, all the while frantically calling my brother’s name. I needed to know he was all right, but I could barely see. Tears of frustration and fear trickled down my face, but I continued to run. I found Christopher in the Lego aisle. He was standing alone, perfectly still, clutching tightly to the pirate ship set. I threw my arms around him and hugged him until he couldn’t breathe. Then, I took his hand in mine and we went to find our mother.

Years later, on a beautiful Tuesday morning, I was leaving my computer class on my way to sociology. As I drove, the radio filled my ears with horrendous news: A hijacked plane had crashed into the Pentagon and two other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Fires, destruction and chaos echoed across the east coast from Washington to New York City. My first thought was of Christopher.

My brother had joined the Air Force just a year earlier, and he was stationed in Washington. I had grown used to seeing him for a few days every five months or getting 2:00 A.M. telephone calls just to let me know he was alive and well. But as the Towers collapsed and newscasters began to cry, I was overcome with the need to see Christopher, to hug him and make certain he was all right. I pulled over to the nearest pay phone and frantically dialed my grandmother’s number. Christopher would call her to let the family know what was happening. The operator asked me to hold; it seemed as if everyone in the nation was on the telephone, trying to get through to loved ones. I felt the familiar panic steal my breath as I waited for a connection. Finally, I heard my grandmother’s voice.

“He’s fine. He’s okay. They might have to move him out. He might be called to help somewhere in some way, but he’s fine, Christine. He called and told us he was fine.”

I spoke with my grandmother for a few more minutes. Boston was evacuating its tallest buildings. Schools were closing. Some workers were being sent home. All airplanes were grounded. The sky was silent and crystal clear. As I hung up the phone, I began to cry from relief. It was silly of me to worry about Christopher, I scolded myself. He was an adult. He stood 6’2"while I, his big sister, never hit 5’5". He could fit both of my hands into one of his. Christopher could take care of himself. But I realized at that moment that there is still a piece of my heart that will always run to try to protect him, no matter how big he may be or where in the world he is located. That same piece will always remember the five-year-old boy standing in the dark toy store with the pirate ship clutched to his chest, saying, “I knew if I just waited here, Christine, you would find me.”

Christine Walsh

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