"My Brother's Body," by Sharon Horne

Sharon Horne

Sharon Horne

Sharon Horne is the author of a memoir in progress, Memphis Baby: Overcoming reproductive injustice in the U.S. South. Although she grew up in a small Midwestern city dubbed "nowhere USA," she has spent much of her life elsewhere: in the Soviet Union and Russia, the U.S. South, Central Asia, Africa, and now in the Boston metro area with her family.  She is a professor of psychology and researches LGBTQ and transnational psychology concerns.

My Brother’s Body

Before adolescence begins to peel us apart, my younger brother and I, like most siblings, spend a lot of time together. In my family, this means summer weeks in a sluggish station wagon as we escape from Indiana for camping in the Rocky Mountains. 

Somewhere in the brown blur of the plains states I decide my brother belongs on the floorboard. He fits perfectly in the well, his bony knees poking over the hump, leaving the full back seat to me. I insist he move to the floor shortly after I make the mistake of confiding in him my hatred for the letter p.  How I can’t stand the way my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, says, “Get out your p-encils and p-ackets,” her menthol-laced mouth raining spittle down on our shiny desktops.    

True to the little brother playbook, Kevin launches a screed of p words, including packet and pencil, along with a roster of choice five-year old boy p words: pee, puny, puke, and his favorite, P.U., which I’m not even sure is a word.

That’s how he ends up on the floor. And, for a while, he’s quiet as I flip through the Tiger Beat I checked out at the library. Then he starts a whispered p assault, only loud enough for me to hear. I sit up and plant a foot firmly in the center of his chest. 

“P.U.,” he says. I press down harder.  

 “Your foot stinks,” he croaks.

“I need to p-ee,” he says, louder. No response from my parents in the front seat. I flip through my magazine. The plains drone on, the highway asphalt waves in the sun. 

“I’m burning up.” His voice takes on a tone of panic. “It’s too hot!” Then he goes there: “Mom!”

My mom’s profile graces the great wall of the front seat. “Would you stop? Whatever it is. Stop.” 

I make a face at Kevin, silently mock his, “Mom!” 

I release my foot. As he rises and crawls up onto the seat, I feel the heat coming off the back of his shirt. Maybe it was then, finally free, he looked out the window, saw the plains of Nebraska, and thought he saw home. 


I’m a psychologist now, so I should recognize the surge of memories when they begin shortly after the call. That flow of the past that happens when receiving unexpected news about yourself or someone you love. Had there been some p-word spoken on the call that launched that distant 70s car trip?

Because it’s such a rare occasion, whenever I see it’s my brother calling, I pick up. So even though I’m jet lagged and want nothing more than to go to bed, I pace my kitchen in Memphis, phone in hand, knowing it will be short. It usually is. I’m alone in the house, my partner out for the evening with friends at an event at the university where we both work.  

“Hey, how was your trip?” Kevin asks, chipper. I picture him in his house in Lincoln, Nebraska, his two young daughters and wife, Julie, hovering in their modern suburban family room nearby.

I summarize my work trip to Russia to keep it short.

“That’s cool,” he says. He fills me in me about swim lessons, gymnastics, summer camps.

I think we’re about to hang up when he says, “So, I’ve got some news.” He sounds like he’s about to tell me he won a free vacation. 

Instead he says he had double vision. Then he says he kept falling off his bike. There were doctor visits.

I’ve stopped pacing and stand still. 

“Turns out, it’s M.S.” He repeats it, like it’s the punchline to a joke I don’t seem to be getting. “M.S. You know, multiple sclerosis.”

After a short lull, he says lightly, “Lucky me, huh?”

I cover the usual inept things people say in these situations.  When did he first know? (Double vision started five years ago, then it went away, next I woke up with no feeling on left side, trouble walking even when last we visited you, symptoms could no longer be ignored). Did he get a second opinion? (Thirds and fourths). How do they know for sure? (MRI, spinal tap, neurological exam). What is the prognosis? (Anyone’s guess). Are you in pain? (Numbness, fatigue, discomfort). He answers like he’s rehearsed for weeks. Sure, calm, parental.

“God,” is all I can say. 

“I’ve started steroids,” he adds. “But I’ll likely have to give myself shots for the rest of my life. Julie’s learning how to stick me so she says I better behave or she’ll take out her frustrations on me.”

I sit down at the kitchen table. 

Five years of symptoms I know nothing about. Of course, I’m not someone he comes to first. Haven’t been in years. He has a wife, and a life I only glimpse from time to time, rare occasions when we meet up, plow past our thick adult disguises to find one another.    

“I have my own personal urologist,” he says, laughing for the first time. “Every 35 year old needs one.” 

I don’t know what to say to that. “The girls?” 

“They don’t know but know something’s up. Every three steps, it’s like I’m falling over, then I catch my balance. But when I lean, I always lean to the left.” He thinks this is funny. 

I sit. Wait.

“But, yeah, they know something’s going on.” His voice catches. “I can’t pick them—” The phone is muffled. “Up anymore,” he chokes back. 

There he is again, the little boy, my baby brother. 

“Oh, Kev,” I manage.  

I hear him take a sip of something. “They’re getting too big anyway,” the man comes back, and the boy is gone. “Anyway, there’s a higher incidence in siblings, so you should get yourself checked if you start feeling weird or something.”

Our bodies, after all these years and distance, still connected.  

I sit in silence on the end of the line.

“It does run in families but there’s no evidence of a genetic link,” he says, sounding like a scientist. “Well, just wanted to welcome you back to the country, you know, and spread the good cheer.” 

I say something inane about keeping me posted, like his disease is something to track like a travel itinerary, an NCAA tournament. A category 5 hurricane.



On a crumbling Indiana sidewalk, I stand around with a gaggle of other 9-year-old girls. We’re arguing over something like sweet tarts, or maybe it’s pixie sticks. We have pooled our leftover lunch money and visited the candy section of Woolworth’s, and now there’s some kind of distribution problem. 

Lisa cradles the brown paper bag of candy to her chest. Lisa, who always gets to play Rizzo from Grease at the slumber parties, Lisa who has the latest fashions, who certainly contributed the most and now has decided it’s all hers to hand out.   

Hand on hip, as seen on TV, I raise my voice, “Lisa, no one made you queen of the universe. We all bought the candy.”

In orange polyester shorts and matching plastic hair barrettes, Lisa glares at me. “So what?” she spats. “What’re you going to do about it?” She turns to the girl next to her for confirmation and smiles down at me.

“You, …” I say, but don’t know how to finish. I know I’m not allowed to swear even though I want to. “Gosh darn it,” is about as wicked as I can come up with. 

Then we hear clicking. Plastic wheels scrape concrete. Toy spokes quicken, then grow louder as the Big Wheel barrels toward us. Kevin’s head juts over the yellow handlebars, his face a cartoon of determination directed toward our circle. He hits an uneven ridge in the sidewalk, and back pedals the plastic wheels to a halt, skidding toward Lisa.   

“You creep!” she screams, jumping back. 

My brother jumps off the Big Wheel, walks right up to Lisa, and stomps. “Leave my sister alone!” It comes out as a squeak, “You heard me. Leave her alone.” 

His tiny fists are clenched at his side and his face is puffy from exertion. His brown hair, a rounded bowl cut, a shorter version of my own, frames his face. In a bright red striped shirt, he looks a bit like a flustered muppet.

The giggling begins on one side and swells through the circle. Lisa shifts positions, and still clutching the sack, takes a step toward him. She wears a menacing smile of satisfaction, and looks as if she is about to give him a dismissive shove. 

He turns to me, suddenly afraid. His lower lip begins to tremble.

I reach for him, this bomblet of boyhood. “It’s ok, Kevin. We’re just playing around.” I give him a gentle push.

Lisa grins, triumphant. “What a baby.”

I sneer at her, grabbing his hand. “Come on. You’re not supposed to be here.” I pull him away from the group, dragging the Big Wheel with my other hand.

“I only wanted to help,” he whimpers, walking and sniffling. He lets out a little boy cry, all snotty and messy with shame. 

“It’s ok,” I say, but I yank him hard. “Sorry,” I mutter afterwards.

I feel the urge to shake him for his failed attempt at masculinity. I’m just beginning to understand that my own masculinity is a scary thing. I’m supposed to be outgrowing my tomboyishness, replacing it with something less bold, more refined. My brother and I are lucky so far. We have free-to-be parents, who don’t enforce rigid gender roles, who live in that brief time in the seventies when nurture trumps nature. In our home, for every blond Barbie, there is a Black Ken, and GI Joe is not allowed to play with guns.

But I know I should want to role-play Grease’s Rizzo or Sandy and not Danny or Kinickie. I should want to try make-up, to wear dresses. My brother and I aren’t so different. Not yet. Our chests are flat and smooth. Only where he is pointy and plump, I’m rounded, vacant. But I know it’s coming. Someday I’ll have to adjust to ridges and valleys, unwanted body hair, curves and blood. 



“Trink! Trink!” Our college boyfriends urge my brother to take another drink.  He’s visiting me for the weekend in Munich where I’m in college. Kevin grins at me across a large table covered in checks of Bavarian blue and white. At 15, my brother is eager to keep up with the guys, to be at a real Oktoberfest. The guys are nice enough, but like most young Americans, the most interesting thing they have discovered about West Germany, so far, is the drinking age.

The band starts another German polka. Mary rolls her eyes at me, taking a petite drag off her clove cigarette. “You know, they’re trying to get him drunk.” I look at these guys, our dates, now red-nosed and slurring. 

A woman in a traditional Frau costume slams down a row of glass beer steins before us. Beer sloshes out, splashing Mary’s shoulder. “Oh dear,” she says. In a faux British accent, she says, “Wasn’t expecting that. No, sirree, was not expecting that at t’all.” 

She dabs at her sweater with a napkin, just above her breast. My brother catches himself watching, and turns away. She whispers in my ear, “Next thing you know, they’re going to start that chicken dance.” She moves close to me, and under the table presses her leg against mine, resting a hand on my thigh. 

The accordionist plays one of those oompa loompa songs. Mugs clink in the middle of the table. Kevin holds his stein with both hands, and lifts it to his mouth, taking long sips.  

The two guys we came with pull out a Deutsch mark coin to demonstrate the U.S. drinking game quarters to the Germans seated near us. But the coin is too light or the steins too high and they have trouble making the game work. Nodding toward the guys, Mary says, “Do you think Bowie had them in mind when he wrote Young Americans?” She sings in my ear, “Do you remember, your president Nixon? Do you remember the bills you have to pay? Or even yesterday?”

I feel warm from the beer and her breath on my ear.  

The Oktoberfest is not really our scene. Mary and I like to drink wine in our own space, converted former German army barracks. We like to talk about music, about books, and our German history class. When we’re alone in my room late at night, she reads to me, women authors I’ve never read—Iris Murdock, Grace Paley, and Virginia Woolf. She’s all New England Catholic school to my Midwest public school upbringing, Ann Sexton to my Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Armatrading to my John Cougar. 

The guys order another round of beers. Mary puts a hand to Kevin’s cheek, “Take it easy, sport.” He’s matching drinks with the college guys who now try to keep up with the barrel-chested Germans. “Do you think he’s going to be ok?” 

I shrug like an adolescent. Drunk and happy, our legs still pressed together like they’re in a gunny-sack race, I really don’t want my time beside Mary to end. But I slide Kevin’s stein away from him. “Kev, take it easy.”

“Ok, Sharon. Whatever you think, Sharon.” He pushes the beer away, waving a hand haphazardly. He sits there smiling like a good-natured dog. 

His geniality awakens the last reserves of my judgment. “Let’s get him back to the apartment.” We blow goodbye kisses to the guys across the table. They’re happy to continue their dates with the Germans. Kevin gives the guys over-friendly high fives when he stands up, barely meeting the hands of his new buddies.

On the city bus, Mary and I sit in adjoining seats in front of Kevin. Other than a couple of other Oktoberfesters, at this late hour we have the brightly lit bus to ourselves.

Kevin rests his chin between us on the back of the seats and hums one of the polkas. 

“Kevin, shh!” I snap. 

“Oh, ok.” He stops for a few seconds, then says, “You know something, Ma-a-a-ary?”  He slurs, drawing out the vowel like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life

“Oh what, Kevin?” Mary says, teasing with a kind tone.  

“You know something, Ma-ry. You are soooo pretty. Like a movie star. I don’t know which one, but cha do!” He puts his hands around our shoulders and grins at each of us in turn. His breath is beery.  

“You know what else, Ma-ry? You know what else? I think I’m in love.”

“Oh, really,” Mary says, playing along. 

“I bet you think it’s my girlfriend. But it’s not.” It comes out like, “snot.” He laughs. “Not snot. Not.” He belches and leans back in his seat. “It’s you. I love you, Mary. Cause you’re so beauty-full.”

It’s as if my heart suddenly has developed the capacity to speak, and it’s being channeled through my drunken ventriloquist brother. I can’t shut it up.

“Beautiful,” he says again. Burps.  

“Kevin, shut up—you’re drunk!” I give him a warning look.  

In the reflection of the bus window, Mary and I see each other’s stifled laughs, smiling back at us. My brother whispers, “Ok, quiet.” 

I mouth, “I’m sorry” to Mary. She takes my hand, and places it in her lap. Kevin jerkily reaches out and grabs our free hands, and we three hold hands, riding back to campus.  

In my apartment, Kevin falls backwards on the bed, arms crossing over his face. I pull the covers up and tuck him in. From the living room, we hear a loud belch, liquid spilling on to wood floors. I help him to the bathroom while Mary strips the sheets. I caress his skinny boy shoulders hunched over the toilet. 

“It’s ok, Kev. Just let it all out. It’s going to be alright.” 

He cries, “Sorry. I’m so sorry.” He’s teary and plaintive.  

Mary and I exchange guilty looks. I tuck him back in bed, “It’s all my fault, Kev. I should never have let you drink so much. I’m the one who’s sorry.”  I place my hand on his forehead. He shuts his eyes, and turns over. 

Mary and I get into the twin bed on the other side of the room and curl up like a real couple. We watch him fall asleep, my brother’s heavy breathing filling the room.



I recognize the handwriting and snatch the letter off the table before anyone can use it for a flyswatter. I hold it in my lap during the faculty meeting, only paying partial attention because it’s conducted in French. I’m a 24 year old Peace Corps volunteer who lives at the edge of the Sahara desert, and my French is mediocre at best.

The letter is thick and white and rests comfortably in my hand like a soft wallet. “Air Mail” is scrawled all over, in Kevin’s barely legible style. It’s the first letter from my brother in the year and nine months since I left home for Africa.

After the meeting, I rush to my concrete home for the sieste, the break in the hottest part of the day. Plopping down in my one-armed armchair with a glass of Berry Koolaid, I prepare to read it in peace. 

The hot season has worked its way into the envelope, freeing up the adhesive, the flap resting against the back purely out of habit. His letter opens in a typical 20-year-old fashion. “Hey, is it hot over there? I heard you got malaria again.” He’s enclosed a photo of a blown-up mosquito sticking skin. “You really went out of your way to get out of donating blood.” My brother, the amateur scientist, is clearly learning things at college.

He says he’s met a girl at the amusement park where he worked in the summer. “A really wonderful and hot girl,” he writes. I feel embarrassed he’s sharing this with me like I’m a college roommate. Then he tells me about his cross-country bike trip. “Here I am at the end of the trip.”

I pull the picture from the envelope. Since I’ve been gone, my brother has turned into a Greek god. He sits on the floor, his back against a bed. He has a full head of wavy hair, and a firm jaw steeped in cool. His tanned legs, extending from biking shorts, are thick with muscle. He’s beautiful. It’s him but not him. If not for the slight raise of an eyebrow and his green eyes, I wouldn’t know this man is my little brother.  

I wonder if the hot girl took the photo, and if this is her bed. I worry that I won’t know this person when I return home in a couple years. 

He closes, “I hear dad’s coming to visit you. He says he’s more worried about guinea worms than malaria. Do you have those or just malaria?” My brother, ever the jovial scientist, would know all about guinea worms. He’s my brother after all, even if he doesn’t look like him.



Kevin and I are in the back yard of my parents’ home in Georgia where they moved while I was in Africa. It’s the last time we collaborate on a Christmas gift for my parents. We set up a tripod and a camera under the pines. In contrast to living in the Sahara, the greenery even in winter seems dense, ill-mannered, disrespectful of personal space. We prop up the camera and set the automatic shutter.   

We both wear blue. Kevin’s in a standard cotton button-down and I’m still dressing in the bright African clothes I had tailored in the market in Niger. To complete the ensemble, I wear a grey men’s hat I bought in my travels back to the States. Even as I pose, I know this won’t last. Soon I’ll put my African clothes in a bin and I’ll go to graduate school, dress like a professional. My brother doesn’t say a word about my misfit outfit. He straightens his collar, poses, still tan and strong from biking. He nudges me, and says, “Cheese, please.” The shutter clicks. The camera captures us, adults now, as healthy and fit as we’ll likely ever be. 



Kevin strides through the big tent at his own wedding reception. After six years of dating, my brother is marrying the wonderful and hot girl. He’s 27. His body is a barrel of black and white, covered in tuxedo. He’s not fat, just big, linebacker broad. My father, the best man, like a skinny prom date beside him. We gather at tables draped in white in the heat of a Ohio summer. 

The father of the bride, a Republican congressman, looks like he must have tried out for the part. He wears suspenders and smokes a cigar. His four year-old twin sons in miniature tuxes trail his second wife, asking for more cake. I try to get away from the other bridesmaids, next to whom I resemble a cruise ship with cleavage. On our side, everyone in our family is there—everyone, that is, except my partner. Anyone at the wedding who knows about her pretends they don’t. 

This is an evening I will drink. No glass of champagne or red wine set before me goes unkissed by my lips. The deejay spins dance tunes. The Republicans join the Democrats to dance to the Village People’s gay anthem, YMCA. An occasional breeze pushes Midwestern humidity through the tent.  When the music stops, we raise our glasses. For at least one evening, the liberals and conservatives are together in complete peace and harmony. I feel like I will suffocate.

My brother stands in the foyer, saying good night to the guests, graciously offering to escort them to their cars. My lips are as red as the wine I’ve been drinking, matching my dress, which I keep having to tug on to keep my chest covered. My condition is embarrassing him. He scans the crowd for an exit from his emerging temper. Spurred on by alcohol, I feel a small thrill. I still have some slight influence on my baby brother. 

After a Republican leaves his side, I smile at him. “It seems like it’s going well, don’t you think?” 

“Well, I guess.” He sighs like my mother does, noncommittal. He shrugs his big shoulders. He’s not one to get excited about his own wedding. He glances at me nervously, like I’m some stranger he’s trying to avoid talking to on public transit.

“I signed your wedding photo, Squarenose,” I say using my childhood nickname for him. 

“Sharon!” He says, shocked. As a child, he had begged me not to call him that. But he did have a perfect square at the tip of his nose. In truth, it had been tough to come up with a meaningful nickname, he had been such a physically flawless kid.

He turns toward the enlarged wedding photo on the easel behind us, scanning the signatures that line the frame, and zeroes in on a scrawl with a little square beside it. “I love you” is written next to the square that he now sees has a cartoon nose inside. He narrows his eyes at me, but anger is quickly clamped by his disappointment. 

“I have to go attend to my guests,” he says softly. He walks away, leaving me standing there. In one short evening, he sprints ahead and replaces me as the more mature sibling. He’s a grown, now married man. Regression comes easy when you find yourself part of a group that’s not allowed access to established adult milestones, like marriage, children, wedding photos.  

The signing of the wedding frame with his nickname is certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever done. But I have eight hours, hungover and sulking in the backseat of my parents’ car, in order to rank them. 



The year after the M.S. phone call, my partner and I spend the holidays at my brother’s house in Nebraska. In the living room, my nieces climb Kevin’s broad back like a mountain. They ask their dad to make his wild eyes; he works his pupils back and forth in rapid motion, just like he did as a kid, his eyes taking on a monstrous motion. He lifts one eyebrow, then the other. 

He grabs the youngest, tickles her, nuzzling his balding head into her belly. She shrieks, and her older sister tries to rescue her, and they both end up scaling his shoulders. Little feet clamor for footing on his soft belly. He makes Grr sounds and roars, declaring himself the tickle monster. 

I glance at my mother, who is mostly not reading the book in her lap. I give her a questioning smile, wondering if I should break in and pull them off in case. Maybe it’s too rough I signal with my eyes. She shrugs. I don’t say anything. He’s happy, after all, as a tickle monster.

Later after dinner, at the dining table my partner and I play Boggle with my eldest niece who is just learning how to play. In the corner sits a box of wooden puzzles my brother and I had as children. Giant pears and bananas, and beach balls. My sister-in-law wants us to take them home for our baby who is due in a couple of months.  

“What other toys did you have as kids?” my niece asks.

“Oh lots of things,” I say. “We used to have a Fort Apache with soldiers and horses, we had a electronic football set.” I shake the letters. “We used to take handheld game boys on car trips—no videos then. It was before seat belts so we could sit all over the car. I used to make your dad ride on the floor of the station wagon.”

“That’s probably what gave him M.S.” Julie jokes from the kitchen, cleaning up. 

My brother laughs, twirling a wooden orange on its peg at the end of the table. 

On the walls are the photos he took of the girls on trips. Travels to the tops of great American cities: the Seattle Space Needle, the Chicago Sears Tower. “It makes sense to go high now,” he had said. “My mission now is to build memories.”

Kevin and Julie are starting a bakery. He’ll leave his desk job, while he still has some movement, some freedom of motion. They’ll incorporate as the Breadheads.    

He no longer inventories his Halloween candy stash in a spiral notebook. Gone is the kid who wore a cardboard casket on Halloween, creaking it open to reveal a white-faced Dracula dripping with fake blood. Disappeared is the boy who steers the couch, his steamship, around icebergs to Antarctica. Now he drives a minivan and owns a Home Depot credit card. I wonder if he remembers me and my best friend, home from college, calling him Charles our driver, as he faithfully chauffeured us to New Year’s Eve parties, the two of us in the back seat singing Pet Shop Boys at the top of our drunk lungs.  Does he remember how I used to terrorize him from the top bunk with stories about the witch who lived in the attic room next door? 

And has he forgotten all the times besides M.S. that his body betrayed him: the nearsightedness that destroyed his dream of becoming a pilot, the broken clavicle from a run down an icy driveway, the time his hand went through the glass door he didn’t see.  Or the time I let my classmate push him down the stairs and call him a queer for pestering us.  The times I tickled him till it hurt, wrestled him to the ground, wishing my big sister body was stronger, tougher. Before he got big. Bigger than me.



My little brother follows me down the wooded path away from our family’s camper. I flick my retainer down from the roof of my mouth, and flip it so the fake fleshy part covers the opening. Whipping around to face him, I wave my arms like a monster.  

“Grody,” Kevin says. 

It doesn’t work. He keeps following, dragging a stick behind him. 

He sing-songs, “I’m stuck on band-aid because band-aid’s stuck on me.”  

I stop. Turn and glare at him. 

“I do,” he says, “have a band aid stuck on me. Many.” He points to his knee and then to his elbow. He starts again, “I’m stuck—”

“Shut up, Squarenose.”  

 I’m wearing my favorite baseball shirt, blue with gold sleeves, and the Penn-striped shorts that make my legs look tan and strong. I have short platinum hair, crunchy from years of swimming. 

At the top of the trail, a group of girls around my age, 10 or 11, take turns on a rope swing. Kevin and I hover to the side, watching blond and brown pony tails take turns flying over a ravine. The tallest girl passes the rope to the next. She pulls out Bonne Bell bubble gum lip gloss and draws a perfect circle around her lips, and hands it to her friend. 

“Want a turn?” she nods us over, and extends the rope. “Don’t drop it or we won’t be able to get it back.” She points to a rusty nail driven into the tree trunk. “Hang it up there when you’re done. Got it?” 

The rope ends with a large muddy knot, and I take it casually, amble up the mound a ways, and run fast down the hill, flying into the air. I look down, my white sneakers cruising over the green brush.  

When I come in for the landing, I hold on to the rope, and casually hand it to the lead girl. I hear one of her friends say, “He’s really cute.” 

She’s talking about me. 

“But, but…” Kevin starts to correct them, but I place my hand on his shoulder and press. Our secret.   

I lift Kevin and put him on the rope. “Hold tight,” I say. A couple of us draw him back. “Enough,” he says. We release him. 

His little body soars out over the ravine then jerks back. His eyes widen, and his knuckles grip the rope in terror. He screams, “Stop! Shar-” But mid-flight he remembers our secret. 

The lead girl yells, “It’s not scary! Just hold on!” 

As he swings back his face is rubbery with tears.   One foot is sliding off the knot.   

I move directly into his path. Kevin collides into me, a solid hit. I reach and feel skinny arms circle my neck. We both go down. Dirt kicks up and surrounds us. 

“You dork!” the girl screams at me. “You let it go!”  

I kneel, pull Kevin up to standing. I sweep off the dirt around the goo of his grimy bandaids, brush it away from the scabs on his brown knees. Gripping his arms tight, I fix him with a look. “You’re going to be ok,” my eyes say, even if I don’t.

Kevin sniffles and wipes his nose across the sleeve of his T-shirt. He walks over and picks up his stick. We start walking on the thin trail back to the campground.  

The rope snaps back and forth, then settles, dangling over the ravine.