t was early morning as I slid my catcher’s mitt onto my high rise bicycle handle and began peddling. Ahh. I could smell mom’s cheeseburgers a mile away and shifted my bike into high gear.
Since dad left us three years before mom took over the grill, and everything else. It was just her, me and my older brother, Squirrel.
Stevie was his real name, but the way he nibbled food and packed his mouth he looked like a bushy tailed rodent. So, the name stuck.
Having a brother with Down Syndrome never seemed a problem when we were little. Maybe I just didn’t notice it before. I guess that’s what happens when you get older.
The problem was Squirrel wasn’t ever going to grow up, like the rest of us at least.
“Batman,” my brother sang loudly and tried to soar through the yard with a towel tied around his neck.
“Can I play ball with the team?” He asked. “Maybe later Squirrel,” I avoided his question and parked my bike.
Practice and tryouts were that night but I didn’t want him there.
“Squirrel’s gonna play baseball.” He jumped up and down like he was five but at almost sixteen it was embarrassing.
“No, mom won’t let you.” I always used her as my excuse when I didn’t want him around.
“Zack, that sounds like a good idea” Mom lifted the grill lid to check on supper. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“You know he can’t play,” I came to my own defense. Mom 2-Me-2 “Says who?” She stood with one hand on her hip and the other with a spatula.
“He does pretty well for himself at Special Olympics.” She smiled. “Well, not on my team.” I almost yelled. Mom 2-Me 4.
“I can run fast” Squirrel demonstrated his running ability.
I rolled my eyes. She just glared and brushed the hair from her face, checking the meat to make sure the pink was gone.
Dad used to cook the burgers blood red. “I’m such an outstanding chef,” he’d brag. Mom just laughed, “One of these days Norm, those patties are going to moo and swish their tails.” Squirrel and I would moo loudly and shake our rear ends.
Nothing seemed outstanding anymore. Dad was gone; mom did everything she could, and I was the only seventh grader with a brother like Squirrel.
“Just toss the ball around.” She continued. Mom 4-Me-4.
I tried to change the subject. “Are the burgers done yet?” Distraction, it often worked in the game if you wanted to steal bases. “Almost,” she whispered. “He needs you.”
Her eyes met mine as I turned to look at Squirrel. He was trying to fly again. “He needs a Batmobile.” My words came out before I could think. Mom 4-Me-done for.
“Just spend some time with him Zack.” “I need time by myself,” I snorted. “That’ll work, you can spend the rest of the night in your room.” she marched past me, carrying the burgers.
“There’s tryouts tonight,” I insisted. Mom was just as stubborn. “Well, I guess you’ll both be missing them.”
Squirrel followed her like a hound dog hot on the trail. I sometimes wished I had one instead of a brother. I stomped through the kitchen up to my bedroom.
A thud then a crash came from upstairs. I jumped up from my bed and opened the door. Squirrel was on the floor picking up the mess of splattered hamburger and condiments.
He looked up at me and began to cry. “Squirrel so stupid…can’t do anything,” he sniffed and wiped his tears with a sleeve. “Makes Zack mad, so he don’t want to be with Squirrel anymore.”
I sighed and knelt by him to help him clean up the mess. “I’m not mad at you and you’re not stupid.” I paused. “I am,” I couldn’t believe how I had been treating him. “Zack’s not stupid, he’s my brother.” Squirrel mussed up my hair.
“You want to go play some ball?” I helped him to his feet. His eyes lit up and he hugged me tightly until I could hardly breathe.
After Mom gave her approval we headed for the field.
I was ready for any resistance from the team. There were a few new faces at try outs.
“Hey, who’s the weird guy?” one of them asked. All eyes were on me. I put an arm around Squirrel. “He’s my brother.”
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