My Brother’s Gift

Growing up, I never really liked my name. I always thought it sounded generic or common. A name that has been used a thousand times before. That’s why when my mom told me that one of her name ideas for me was Nicollette, I was understandably annoyed. I remember when she dropped that on me randomly one morning when we were both drinking Columbian coffee out of our favorite mugs when we still lived in the house I was raised in. She told me that she wanted to name me Nicollette after her favorite actress, Nicollette Sheridan. I didn’t really know anything about this actress so I googled her and found out that she played a character in one of my Mom’s favorite soap operas. At the time, I could not understand why she wouldn’t go with that name. It was unique and different, and although it was a little bit corny because it originated from a soap opera, I felt like it was a better fit for me. That’s when she decided to tell me the story of my name.

When my mom was pregnant with me, they wanted to keep my gender a surprise. My mom didn’t know if I was a boy or a girl, and neither did my brother or dad. My brother was only seven at the time, and like most young boys, he wanted a younger brother to rough house with and tease. When my mom finally went into labor, she went to the hospital with my dad while my Nana watched my brother at her house. All my brother could do was wait for the news. He couldn’t wait for his baby brother to get here (spoiler alert a baby brother never did come). My mom had delivered a healthy baby girl. My mom, as soon as she could, called my Nana and told her to give my brother Jason the phone. Perhaps Nana called him over to the landline telephone in excitement. Perhaps in the rush to hear about his sibling he slid a bit because he decided to wear socks on my Nana’s linoleum floor that day. Maybe when he finally got there, Nana handed him the telephone with a tentative tenderness because she already knew what was about to come. Jason probably put the bulky nineteen nineties phone to his ear, eager to hear the news. Perhaps his eyes lighted up while he grasped the phone with his tiny sweaty palms. I wonder if he was thinking that this was it and that the time had finally come. He was probably so eager to have his anxiety of waiting lift, finally getting what he always wanted, a little brother. My mom, I can only imagine was overjoyed, and cried the words to my brother that he never wanted to hear: “Jason, you have a little sister!”

Perhaps in the mind of my seven year old brother, only chaos ensued. Although I would only witness it for myself several years later, I know that when he gets mad, my brother likes to seek, grip, and destroy. His face probably turned bright red, and I can only imagine what he could do with all of his seven year old might and brawn. I know he threw that phone right across the room. He might of ripped the phone from its base like pulling a strand of hair from the scalp. My mother’s voice probably became a confused echo that flew across the room. The phone breaking to pieces on the floor of my Nana’s living room carpet. Perhaps my Nana’s cat at the time, Princess, jumped in fright running into the security of the bed room or under the plastic wrapped couch. I’m not too sure what my Nana’s reaction was, but I think it speaks volumes that nobody ever spoke of her reaction. I have always imagined my nana was always more short tempered, so I can only wonder how my brother actually survived. 

One way or another, my brother made it to the hospital. Perhaps he was still red when my mom saw him, and he probably looked more upset than excited to meet me. My mom decided to extend an olive branch, and that branch was my name. I guess that’s when the name Nicollette went out the window. I don’t know why my mom would entrust the naming of a newborn infant to a seven year old. I’m still surprised that he didn’t name me after his favorite Pokémon or Yugioh card. I’m not sure how it popped into his head, but he came up with Nicole. I would come to realize that this was the greatest gift he could have ever given me. 

Several years later, I would receive bad news through the phone like my brother did the day I was born. Except this time the news didn’t turn out to be good like when my brother went to the hospital. In fact, I wasn’t even the one holding the phone. It was my 8th grade science teacher Mrs.Sommers. The phone had rang in the middle of her class, and when she picked up to answer, whatever the person on the other side said made her look at me. I will never forget the look in her watery blue eyes, it was a look of sympathy and loss. She told me to go to the Main Office, and without another spoken word, her eyes watched me leave. Sometime on that morning of April 2nd 2012 in the parking lot of my school while my dad tightly gripped my hand over the center console of our prius, I asked him if something bad happened. He held back tears as he struggled to say that my brother was in a car accident. I asked him if my brother died. His silence gave me my answer. 

Over the next few years, I grasped at all the mementos he left behind like a rope that I hoped would pull me closer. I looked at his raps that he wrote in fluent chicken scratch in his various journals. I lingered in the basement of my house, where the walls were sprinkled with holes that he punched in. I looked through the books he read ten times over. I never felt closer, my body was in the present but my soul was in the past. A vessel, sailing forward with no one inhabiting the ship. I had no compass to find my way back home, and I couldn’t read the stars like a map. I couldn’t remember how, but I remembered the way my brother said my name with his firm, but soft voice. The one he gave me. I was always Nicole, even if I felt lost. I discovered that my name became the compass, the one memento I had never thought to grip closer.  It would eventually lead me back home. 

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