My Own Brother’s Face (While Reading Jesmyn Ward’s ‘No Mercy in Motion’)

I was hours away from submitting my application to a creative writing workshop. I sat/stood/kneeled in front of my laptop, my eyes squinting at the screen as if they were trying to hold the pieces of my story. It was falling a part. It was no longer worthy of submission. And there was no way I was going to see my brother play ball that night. I watched his face fall as I told him so. In the five years that it had been since I moved away from home, I had allowed too much physical and emotional space between my brother and I. I should not have been surprised by his face, as I had been. Even he tried to fill some unfitting role in that moment, telling me that there would be another chance the next time I was in town. He did not insist on me coming. Yet, there was no way I could focus on my falling apart story with that image of my brother’s fallen face burning at my forehead.

Now when I recall the moment, it is paired with another: some ceremony at the close of one of his elementary school years. My mother and I arrived late. When we found our seats, I could see my brother, expectant, scanning the audience. When he spotted us, his dimples pressed into his cheeks, his eyelids closed tight around the far ends of his eyes, and he showed everyone the spaces where too-big teeth were crookedly fitting their way into baby spaces.

I’m remembering this as I make my way through Jesmyn Ward’s No Mercy in Motion. I had started the piece in an office I was temping in today. I had struggled even as I began. As I rode home, I had to remind myself over and over that I hadn’t actually left anything in the office, that I had only left this essay unfinished. As Ward described her last memory of being with her brother: watching his face fall as she told him she was leaving for New York, I decided it was time for dinner. As Ward imagined her brother driving along the beach road, I broke to share it with my partner. Finding no solace, I decided to write this. My forehead is tight with fire.

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