I never understood darkness the way my brother did. We were both scared of it, and couldn’t get through a night without irritating our parents as we shook them awake whenever we needed a guide to the bathroom. But, compared with how I saw the darkness, there was something significantly different about the way he stared into it.
The pillow my grandma prepared for me smelt of old wood and long years of confinement. I buried my face into the scent as it slowly pervaded through my nose to the edge of my brain and to the tip of my toenails. I closed my eyes tight against the smoothness of the pillow, making a futile effort to go back to sleep. Yet my eyes sprang wide open, and weightless with ease. The room was dark, and I felt paralyzed.
I wasn’t even born when my brother had his first asthma attack. I was in my mother’s womb, possibly sucking my thumb when my brother was gasping for air, reaching for whatever he could as he fought the fear of being violently tossed around between life and death. I was probably scratching my newly formed ear lobe as my father hurriedly called the ambulance on our home phone with his shaky fingers and sweaty palm. I swear to god I heard my mother’s shrieking voice, telling my father to pass her the phone. The ambulance arrived five minutes later, and took my father and my brother with a head-cracking siren silencing the town. My mother cried alone, as I kicked her belly softly from the inside.
The scent of the pillow became too overwhelming that at one point, I had to sit up and breathe out the uncomfortable air. I turned my head heavily and glanced at the digital clock attached to the headboard. The green light read 2:34, and I faintly wondered what my brother was doing. He must be in bed, of course. Tucked in neatly under the sterilized sheet with my mother and my father at either side of the bed, their eyes too weightless to shut. I reached for the light.
The second attack came when I was four, and my brother seven. It wasn’t a severe attack, and he was sent home with a smiley-faced lollipop shortly after his doctor ran a few sloppy tests on him. This time my mother and I went with him, while my father was out assembling tiny parts of computers to make our lives easier. He called us a few minutes later in a half-hearted manner to ask if my brother was okay, and my mother replied with a slight irritation in her voice that “it was only a small one.” When my mother put us back to bed, I asked my brother if it hurt, and he shook his head. “It’s dark and scary,” was all he said as he handed me his lollipop.
When my fingertip felt the old, dangly string hanging from the ceiling, which was supposedly capable of feeding electricity to the light bulb, I stopped. In the far distance, I heard a faint sound of what felt like a light scratch on my eardrum, not loud enough to crack my head, but still sharp enough to make me flinch. With a short inhale of the scent that still lingered around my hair, I let my hand slowly drop on the soft surface of my blanket, and went back to burying my head into the pillow.
I shouldn’t be the one to pull the string.