The Time I Tried Murdering My Brother
We were in the driveway, arguing about dinosaurs.
Me: “I like dinosaurs.”
Brother: “Not as much as I do.”
Me: “I hate you.”
It was easy to rile me up in those days.
You have to know this about my brother and me back then. I was all heart, he was all brain, and when he attacked, he attacked in a brainy way—with tricky words. He crafted these with care. He was a wordsmith who worked like a key maker, filing his language into the perfect shapes, little blades with teeth on them, perfect for unlocking the safe where my deepest fears lived.
Imagine the scientist who discovered that bulls hate capes, especially the red ones.
Scientist: “How about this one?” [Holds up a green cape]
Bull: “I hate it.”
Scientist: “And this one?” [A yellow cape]
Bull: “You know I have an anger problem, right?”
Scientist: “How about…” [Continues flipping through cape-rack] “… this one?” [The cape is red]
Bull: “Nope!” [stabs scientist to death with its horns, but is later acquitted due to temporary insanity]
Brother: “You’re stupid.”
Me: “I know you are, but what am I?”
Brother: “You’re not good at drawing. I’m good. You’re not good.”
Me: [Casually picks up a letter opener] “I am good at drawing.”
Brother: “I thought of a new nickname for you: ‘Fat Boy.’”
Me: [Murders BROTHER with letter opener]
The history of ‘Fat Boy’
On Friday night, Palermo Consolidated School was having a sleepover in the school itself—a sleepover for us, the children of the fourth grade.
Someone had the grand idea that the boys should walk around with our shirts off.
In those innocent, dangerous days, ideas became actions so fast you can’t classify them as ideas. They are direct orders from the mind, and the body responds instantly. This is because the body and brain are confused. They can’t tell each other apart. They are united in the grip of the last stages of babydom.
A baby looks at his hand and says, “Are you me?”
Hand: “I move, therefore, I am you.”
Baby: “Okay, what about that?” [BABY points at their mother]
Hand: “Does it move?”
Baby: “It moves.”
Baby: “It’s me?”
Hand: “Correct. Now scream at that part of you so it gives you milk or sleep or sounds.”
Baby: “But which do I want?”
Hand: “That is impossible to know.”
That night at the sleepover, a boy named Tom took off his shirt and said, “Hey, let’s take our shirts off.”
We the boys thought about it, which is to say, we were shirtless.
The sleepover came and went, and on Monday morning, the most popular girl in our class reached out with her spider fingers and plucked a thread of the grapevine. This shivered a message all the way to me, where I, like everyone else, was lying helpless on the grapevine, stuck by its sticky threads.
A boy named Ben, Bob, or Brian said to me, “Hey.”
I said, “Hey,” not knowing what he was about to say would change my life forever.
“Rhonda Davis said something about you.”
Rhonda Davis, as I said, was very popular—a tiny girl with long, black hair, a commander, a kid who could make or break you with a smile, a child so powerful she had told Trent Valentine to carve her name into his wrist with a thumbtack and then fill the wound with pen-ink to make a tattoo, and Trent had done it.
I wondered what Rhonda had said about me. Maybe she’d said, “Inform him that he’s my boyfriend now,” or “Inform him that we are betrothed, and our children will look like me.”
I asked Ben, Bob, or Brian to tell me what Rhonda had said, and then I prepared myself to receive glory.
Ben-Bob-Brian: “She said you’re fat.”
It had never occurred to me before that I was fat, but since that moment, it has never stopped occurring to me. The grapevine thread that Rhonda plucked is still speaking its message, like an enemy radio operator of some long-gone war, a soldier left, lost, and forgotten on an island and still believing the war is on, sending daily messages of death out into the world.
My brother quickly noticed something was different about me, and he began trying to find out what it was that made me say, “No thank you” to second helpings at dinner and what made me start running and lifting weights at the age of 10.
Brother: “You’re slow.”
Me: “No I’m not. I’m fast.”
Brother: “You’re weak.”
Me: “No, I’m strong.”
Brother: “You don’t eat as much because… you suck at eating?”
Me: “I’m the best at eating!”
Brother: “Wait, I know! You’re fat!”
I tried to kill him
Earlier in life, my brother and I had been on the same team when it came to murder. We pulled the heads off our toys; drew pictures in church of the pastor on fire or getting eaten by bears, alligators, and dinosaurs; and when our baby sister came home from the hospital, we leaned over the edge of her crib and coughed in her face, hoping this would return her to heaven.
Once my brother learned about the hell in my head, however, he turned his cough on me. I’m not saying he tried to kill me with literal death. He was too smart for that. Instead, he made an important discovery: You can cause someone to die on the inside while the outside’s doing great.
Many people have made this discovery and have left record numbers of dead in their wake. More serial killers are at large in the world than anyone would believe, and their hands are clean.
So, I heard the word from Rhonda the Great, and my brother, like Sherlock, learned the word by telltale signs, then he set to work wordsmithing, refining until he came up with a well-balanced term that was easy to throw with perfect accuracy every time.
His term was “Fat Boy.” Two beats. Double barrel. Knock twice on the door of the Lord of Rage, and he will appear.
He didn’t use this weapon often, because he got in big trouble for it. Mom and Dad were worried about me working out so much and spending so long in front of mirrors, spinning slowly, like the head of one demon possessed.
I don’t blame my brother. He was young and the owner of great power, too young to be expected to handle so much power well. He lived in the presence of a button that made very interesting things happen; he couldn’t help himself.
This is why we try not to elect children to be the president of the United States. I don’t know how nuclear launch codes work, but here’s how I think they work. I believe there’s a special telephone on the president’s desk. Yes, it is a red telephone. Yes, it is a red rotary telephone. Yes, because of Batman. And the president only has to pick up the receiver and say, “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie,” and then he gets to turn on the news, eat popcorn, and watch whatever part of the world he doesn’t like explode.
Picture my brother at the big desk. There is one thing on the desk: the red telephone. All he has to do is pick up the receiver and say, “Fat Boy,” and then sit back, relax, and enjoy the atomic drama.
We were on the front lawn, probably trying to pop wheelies on our bikes. He popped one. I tried and failed. He tried to tell me how. I said, “Shut up.” There was a whiffle bat lying on the lawn. I don’t know why it was there. Sometimes memories feel like dreams.
Brother: “Don’t tell me to shut up.”
Me: “Shut up.”
He didn’t like it when I told him to shut up. But it was all I had. It produced an effect. I couldn’t help myself.
Picture me, the president of a very small country. On my desk, which is a card table, there is a very small red telephone. The little countries only get little phones. And it isn’t a scary red, like blood, like the big countries get, but a soft red. Some have called it pink and gotten themselves thrown in prison. But it’s a powerful phone still. It somehow makes the big countries mad. Again, I couldn’t help myself. I picked up the receiver and uttered the launch code: “Shut up.”
Then the president of the big country, irritated by the little country’s pathetic display of might, picked up his receiver and said, “Fat boy.”
I let my bike fall to the ground then picked up the whiffle bat. I think this is what happened, though what it felt like was this: My bike became a whiffle bat in my hands and my standing still became running and my not screaming and crying became screaming and crying. All this in a mad, red flash.
I ran at my brother. He let his bike go and ran from me, and together, we circumnavigated the house 100 times.
It isn’t dignified for a big country to run circles around the world while a little country chases it, so the big country made sure the little one knew that it was not afraid. My brother looked over his shoulder again and again and laughed at me.
I allowed this because I couldn’t stop it. He was faster. And I couldn’t see very well through what was happening to my face: a rage-cry downpour, and my wipers (the whiffle bat) couldn’t wipe the windshield fast enough.
I chased and he ran. If this was a movie, he would have tripped and fallen and I would have gone to a juvenile detention center for being a murderer. Then FBI psychologists would have transferred me to a caged cell in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and asked me questions like, “Did you know you were a genius of violence?” And I’d say, “I suspected.”
I tried as hard as I could to catch my brother, while he, running on three-quarters impulse power, stayed ahead, alive and well.
What scares me is that I planned to kill him. I was going to hit him with the whiffle bat until he died. Not a single cell in me was against this plan.
Unfortunately, whiffle bats are not substantial weapons. They are made of lightweight plastic, and they are bright yellow to let you know they’re not meant for murder. If you look up “How to kill someone with a bat” in The Anarchist Cookbook, the first thing it says is, “Make sure it’s not a whiffle bat.”
But it was a whiffle bat. So, if I had caught my brother, I’d have had to beat him for weeks, and even then, thirst and exposure would kill him long before the bat. This was agreeable.
If, instead of the bat, I had beaten him with my bike, running him down then hoisting the bike like Moses with the commandments and throwing it down again and again, that would have worked great. Or my fists. Or my feet. Even 55 well-placed head butts would have done it. Anything else, really.
But I was saved from anything else that day by grace, for the big and huge angels were looking down upon my wonderful life, and they spoke thusly:
Big Angel: “Dan’s about to attempt murder.”
Huge Angel: “Balls. Make him slow.”
Big Angel: “Done. What if that’s not enough?”
Huge Angel: “Okay, let’s send somebody down.”
Big Angel: “Who?”
Huge Angel: “How about Albert?”
Big Angel: “He hasn’t won his legs yet, sir.”
Huge Angel: “Bennett?”
Big Angel: “Floppy Bennett? No way. Still working on winning a spine. By the way, why does God have us assemble new angels like this, piece by piece? Isn’t it cruel?”
Huge Angel: “Not a bad question.”
Big Angel: “Thank you, sir.”
Huge Angel: “What about Clarence?”
Big Angel: “Hasn’t earned his wings yet. The fall would kill him.”
Huge Angel: “Your point?”
Big Angel: [chuckles warmly]
Clarence the angel accepted the job of traveling from heaven to Earth without wings because he hadn’t won an IQ yet either. He fell like a star from heaven that day, breaking the sound barrier with a sonic boom that rendered him unconscious.
But just before he struck the ground at exactly the right moment, precisely when a young boy was looking for something to murder his brother with, Clarence awoke and prayed a quick prayer to the Huge Angel.
Because of this final crime of foul language, the Huge Angel transformed the wingless, witless Clarence into an innocent implement of childhood fun.
I picked up Clarence, the fallen angel, who was now an impotent shaft of yellow plastic, and tried as hard as I could to kill my brother with him.
After running around the house for miles, I collapsed on the lawn, exhausted, and my brother glided away, still laughing.
Huge Angel: “Did it work?”
Big Angel: “Yes. He didn’t kill him. Also, Clarence is dead.”
Huge Angel: “Who?”
Big Angel: [chuckles warmly again]