I Always Wanted to do this to Your Brother

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The problem with being Kevin’s brother, was that everyone knew him by his bad reputation. If Kevin ate up all of our parents’ attention, all of my teachers remembered him, when, five years later, they got me as their student. “Not another one,” they often groaned when they first met me. By parent-teacher night, they would tell my parents how different I was (as if our parents hadn’t figured that out for themselves.) It always annoyed my mother, because she figured I had lost half the year winning over my teachers before they bothered with me. Kevin had always gotten away with being so bad, because our teachers knew that Dad had money. Dad could hire their husbands and brothers to work for his company. They let Kevin get away with things because he was rich, and our parents didn’t let him get away with anything. My teachers never bothered teaching me for the same reason- I was a rich kid, I wouldn’t need to work for anything. Plus, I was Kevin’s brother.

When I was in Grade Five, my dad was turning fifty. It was a big deal. My mom had been secretly taking motorcycle lessons so she could surprise him with a bike trip that summer. I felt like I should get him a present, but I didn’t know what. He had everything. There was a kid in my class who had the same first name as my dad, and he came to school one day with a personalized pen. I remembered my dad saying once that he lost pens all the time. People signed so many documents in his office, they would often take his pen when they left. He’d lost so many good pens that way, he’d started keeping cheap disposable ones in his desk. But those were indeed cheap and often the ink smudged and glopped. People looked disappointed when he handed them a Paper Mate or Bic disposable pen to sign something with. I asked Simon where he got his pen, and he told me the stationary store where he’d bought it. Said it looked nice, but wasn’t that expensive.

That seemed like the perfect gift for my dad- something he might keep because people would be embarrassed enough to have accidentally swiped a pen with someone else’s name on it that they might return it. I went to the store that weekend and bought him the pen. I also bought comic books and candy, which I ate on the way home and tossed the bag.

The following week, Simon at school went to our teacher and said he hadn’t seen his pen since the day he’d shown it to me. Our teacher thought it would be a good chance to teach the class how the justice system worked, so she staged a mock trial. My “lawyer” was terrible, and soon, I was convicted by the circumstantial evidence of Simon’s missing pen, my interest, and the teacher’s assumption that Kevin’s brother was capable of theft. Bryce was the “crown attorney” and he was quite zealous in his conviction of the good, polite kid with the short haircut that his father loved. I was then taken to the principal’s office, he was told that I was accused of stealing, and I was given the strap, along with a three day suspension and a note to take home with me.

I hadn’t taken Simon’s pen, and I was furious that I was convicted simply for being Kevin’s brother. “I always wanted to do this to your brother,” Mr. Combover, as the kids referred to our principal, told me, as he brought the strap down on my upturned palms. There was no way Mr. Cuomo/ Combover was going to see me cry, so I steeled myself and accepted his lashes. When I got home, I handed the note to my father before Mr. Combover had the chance to call him. My father was furious, and would not hear my protestations of innocence. “Did Mr. Cuomo give you the strap on your hands or your butt?” Dad asked me. I replied my hands, and Dad ordered me to my room and to take down my pants. Again, I insisted that I was innocent, and a search of my room located a pen with the name Simon on it, and no receipt. That was in the bag I had tossed. My father convicted me on evidence that certainly made me look guilty. If I hadn’t given a tear to Mr. Combover, I certainly wasn’t going to give one to my father as he whacked my backside mercilessly. I heard the phone ring, I heard Kevin answer it and reply that our parents were busy. I figured it was Combover calling to ensure I had given them his note. Still, Dad whacked me. He stopped when I begged him to let me use the bathroom. I’d literally had the piss beaten out of me. As I was washing my hands, Kevin stood at the door and laughed, commenting that Dad was really giving it to me. “I’m aware of that,” I retorted, the soap stinging my hands where Mr. Combover had lashed them earlier that day. “Bring the clippers with you when you come back,” Dad called to me, causing Kevin to grin even more manically.

Well. I had lost all of Dad’s respect and I knew it. And I hadn’t even done what he thought I had. As I searched the cupboard for the blade guards, I wondered if we even had guards for 1/16 and 1/32. “What’s taking you so long?” Dad asked me, standing at the door now. I told him I was looking for the right guards. “You won’t need guards,” he took the clippers from my hands and guided me back toward my room. “Sit.” It wasn’t as though the change would be a big one- a day or two of growth and I’d have 1/16 of length on top again. The difference between a clean nape and sides and a total head shave was miniscule. But Dad was cutting my hair, and I was meant to know it was a punishment. His hand at the back of my head, holding it still as he plunged the guardless clippers down from the forehead and shaved his way back. The phone rang again, but it was drowned out by the drone of the motor as Dad got closer and closer to my ears, leaving tracks of clean skin behind.

“Simon, stop!” my mom burst into the room, breathless from running up the stairs. Dad did not stop, kept shaving as he told her if I was prepared to steal, I should be prepared to accept the consequences. “He didn’t steal,” Mom insisted. Dad and I both turned to look at her at the same time, his hand still holding a buzzing clipper, my head half shaved. I had a perfect balding man’s horseshoe of hair encircling me, just above the ears. The only spots Dad hadn’t got to yet. “That was Mr. Cuomo,” Mom explained, as my father was expecting an explanation. “After he gave you the strap, they had Art class in the next period. Simon opened his pencil case and remembered that was where he’d put his pen, to keep it safe. He was going to hide it, but one of the girls who sits near him saw it and told the teacher.”

I think we all crumpled at the same time. My father in guilt and shame; me from the relief that at least my parents knew now that they hadn’t raised a thief. My mom at the site of me, half beaten and with a half-shaved head that still needed to be finished. “So, he knew before I came home?” I realized, and Mom nodded. The asshole was just afraid that my parents would be mad that he’d given me the strap so he wanted to tell them himself. After he’d made such a show of marching me back to class with my red hands, and making me apologize to Simon in front of the whole class, he wasn’t man enough to admit his own mistake. “Kevin knew. When Mr. Cuomo called, he told him that there had been a mistake and that we needed to call right away.”

Now I did cry. It was bad enough that my classmates and teacher believed I was a thief. I understood that Mr. Combover enjoyed giving me the strap because he hated my brother, and Kevin had just never been caught at anything. But my parents believed it. My brother knew and he let me take a beating, he teased me and stood by while Dad shaved me, knowing perfectly well it would come out eventually. “Son, I know you’re sore with me right now,” Dad said, and I wondered if there could be a more appropriate word in that moment. I was indeed sore. “But I can’t leave your hair like this. We’re going to have to get through this together.” I nodded and asked him to be quick about it. Dad was as gentle and kind as he had been vicious earlier. His hands shook, but it wasn’t like he could do any damage by that point. When he finished, he dusted me off with a towel and then sat down on the same chair and passed me the clippers. I shook my head, because two wrongs don’t make a right, but Dad insisted that he’d been wrong, and this was a way to right it. So I shaved his head, the way I’d watched Gunter do mine in the mirror a million times, leaving him a dusting on top and scraping the sides tight and clean, working my way down to a clean cut nape. Dad thanked me, which was ridiculous, but I realized he needed to feel like I would forgive him.
I wasn’t interested in holding a grudge. The circumstances were pretty damning. I dreaded returning to school the next day (my suspension had obviously been lifted,) but my mom said that anyone who was my friend based only on the length of my hair wasn’t really my friend. I figured anyone who thought I was a thief wasn’t really my friend either.

Of course, Dad now had Kevin to deal with. He was exhausted after disciplining me and now learning that I was innocent. But he found it in himself to give Kevin the same fervent lickin’ he’d given me earlier that night. I knew that Kevin deserved it, but I still felt bad. “He doesn’t feel bad,” Mom pointed out, to alleviate my guilt.

The next day at school, Simon wouldn’t look at me, and did not apologize to me. My mom asked me that night if Mr. Cuomo had gone to the class and apologized to me. Of course he hadn’t. So, my mother went to the school and had a word with him. That afternoon, Mr. Cuomo came into our class and said he had an apology to make. He then called out Simon to do the same, which was pretty hypocritical, but Simon mumbled an insincere apology. He made me shake hands with Simon to show that I’d forgiven him. I shook his hand as sincerely as he’d apologized to me. I realized that week that I would always be tainted by my brother’s reputation, no matter what I did.

My parents realized the same thing.

A few weeks later, when my hair had grown a bit, Dad looked at me over breakfast and said it was time for a trim. I cringed, despite myself. He sensed it and I felt bad, but I couldn’t help it. I was still afraid of him. “Gunter has a spot,” Dad added, and my shoulders immediately relaxed. I was out of the homecuts. We drove to the shop together and Dad asked if I’d forgiven him yet. “Of course I forgive you,” I admitted. “I would have thought the same thing if I were you. I just wish I could go to a school where they’d never heard of Kevin. Where they didn’t kiss my butt because you have money and then a day later, kick it because I’m Kevin’s brother.”

Dad said nothing, but I could see that he was thinking something. “I messed up Andrew’s last cut,” he lied to Gunter. “In my rush to get him trimmed, I just made a hack’s job and had to shave him clean. Go easy on him today, okay?” Gunter eyeballed his clippers, which he seemed to be anxious to put to use. “We still shave it tight, no?” he asked.

“That’s up to Andrew,” Dad replied. “He’s old enough to decide for himself.” I knew it was Dad’s attempt at amends for the lickin’. And I knew that I kind of liked having my hair tightly cut. It wasn’t necessarily the look of it so much as the feel of the steel blades sliding across my head. I had stopped caring whether Bryce hated me, whether his father used me to scold his kid.

I had stopped caring about that the day Bryce took the ‘job’ of prosecuting attorney at my ‘trial.’
I looked up at Gunter, cape and clippers ready to get to work, and I knew that Dad hadn’t taken me to a barbershop with a half inch of hair on my head expecting me to decide I didn’t need a trim at all. “Give me the usual, please,” I declared, sitting down.

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