Words by Erika Ramirez.
It always explodes–mostly always. And even knowing so, I still do it.
Ever since I was a kid, I, or my younger brother Osvaldo, have placed a can of Coca-Cola in the freezer for my older brother Alex. He always has an almost-frozen Coke right before he takes the final bites of his meal. If he’s late to the table, we won’t take it out. If he can’t make it to dinner, we won’t take it out. If my mom yells at us, we won’t take it out. If it explodes because he’s late to the table or can’t make it to dinner or my mom yells, we still won’t take it out.
My brothers and I have this way of speaking, without speaking.
We care about what the other one of us has to say more than what we each say. We wait for the other to choose where we’re going to eat. We stay quiet when the other is in pain, even if we’re in pain too. We’re each other’s buffer to our parents. We speak for one another when our parents don’t understand. We speak on behalf of each other when we can’t speak for ourselves.
Spanish was my first language. (I think that’s why I don’t remember my childhood before Kindergarten, because I was living life solely in Spanish.) The first childhood memory I have is of when I was five. I was in Kindergarten and I needed to pee, but I didn’t know how to say that I needed to pee in English. So…I peed my pants. I don’t remember crying until Alex–in the second grade at the time–walked in, took me by the hand, and walked me to the girl’s restroom. He waited outside until I was done crying. I cried of relief, not that I finally was able to pee because by then my pants were soaked, but because he spoke for me. He was there. I don’t remember anything before that moment, but I remember everything after.
Alex has always been there, especially when my parents weren’t for whatever reason. When my mom was ill for a week, he packed lunches for us–the most amazing lunches. Each bag had a sandwich, a soda we weren’t allowed to have at any other time, and two Ziploc bags filled to the top with my snacks of choice. He’d even use my hair clips to close the top of the paper bags. After watching scary movies, he’d leave the door of his bedroom open. He never said why, and I never said why, but we didn’t have to.
We’ve been like this all our lives, including Osvaldo. If anything, he’s the most loyal one in this secret society we’ve built. We take the blame, when the other is at fault. We’ve given each other our (at that time) last cent. We rather hurt, than to hurt.
I can’t speak for them, but a bit of how I am with them is how I am in relationships. I put the other person first, and I don’t say I’m hurting in order to not hurt them. I’ve stayed in relationships longer than I should in order to not hurt the other person, which ultimately leads to me hurting myself.
I’m still learning to not be this way with men who are not my brothers, but with my brothers? I can’t be any other way, nor do I want to be. Even if it means we sit mad at each other until one of us yells out where we should get fast food from, or if my mom yells at me for leaving the Coke in the freezer. Our way of speaking is my favorite language.
Osvaldo recently received news that was hard to swallow; it’s the type of news that will roll over to the next day for the rest of our lives. He didn’t want to tell me at first, to not “worry” me. He also didn’t want to feel as if things had changed, but it has and it hasn’t. I could only hold out for a week before booking my ticket home to California. I went home to live how we always live: I went to be the buffer between him and my parents. I was open to being the soundboard, the rock, and/or the emotional punching bag to anyone, for him. And the days I stayed with my brothers, I showed him how our lives hasn’t changed, by being there for him as always and speaking without speaking.