"Brothers" Forever

Po-Ting (Duke) LinMarch 8, 2021Life and DeathHelping Hands

Artwork by Kora Yann Blot

Two years ago, I remember receiving a call from my best friend George at 6:28 AM, saying that his mother was dead.

George, three years younger than I am, lives right across my street and has been close to me since the moment he was born. His mother and my mom had been friends since high school, so his mom often left George at our house to play when he was young. We are practically brothers. George is the type of guy you can count on to lift your mood when you are down and the cute younger brother who tags along everywhere you go. As a result, whenever I am around him, I feel a sense of responsibility to become a role model for him to follow.

That morning, I sat on my bed, paralyzed. A memory of George’s mother bringing the both of us to the amusement park three years ago suddenly hopped out of the blue. I saw the merriment on her face, how she said to her son, “Remember, whenever you need someone and I am not there for you, go find Duke.” And now, all I felt was the guilt rushing through my veins – I was not there when George really needed me.

On October 1, 2008, things had changed. That day was not only George’s fourth birthday, but the day we never ever brought up during our conversations. The day before, I was shopping for his favorite chocolate brand, Hershey’s, as a birthday gift. As soon as I walked into his house the next day, a loud shrieking clang of broken glass jolted us all. Everything suddenly shattered into thousands of unrecoverable pieces. It was a day full of blood and thunder, as my family and I witnessed George’s inebriated dad threatening his wife with fractured pieces of glass. My mother dashed toward George’s mother, yelling, “Stop, Alex! You are hurting her!” Of course, her attempt to halt the situation was futile. I then turned my attention to my friend, who surprisingly was not even bothered by the conflict. “What are they doing?” I asked him witlessly. George glanced at me for a moment, and simply claimed, “He just came back from the bar. Come and watch TV with me. I am bored.” As a nine-year-old, I did not know how to respond. All I did was walk toward the sofa while my inner self was penetrated with unimaginable fears. Everything happened so swiftly that I had not even realized an hour had passed. Yet, now, I finally realize what George meant by “bored”; he was “bored” with the things that had repeatedly occurred during his childhood. After George’s mother was covered with bruises and thrust to the brink, she finally convinced her husband to leave the house. “And fortunately,” George told me years after that situation, “he never came back.”

The first time that I saw George after this incident was three years ago. We used to hang out a lot through phone calls, but we had not met often after his mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. George always told me that his mother was very tired after going through phases of chemotherapy, so I had decided not to bother him. Yet, since George was young, George’s mother had always wanted me to help George with his school work. Once, I remember George asking me about the Battle of Actium when I helped him review for his upcoming history test. I still remember the ignorance within his mellow voice, “What happened to Antony and Cleopatra?” I told George how both of them fled to Europe and committed suicide. Instantly, I saw the dissatisfaction on his face. “If it were me,” he said with pride, “I would have never hoisted the white flag.” The next day, George told me how he failed the test when he was asked to write a brief summary of the war instead, he created a story of his own, a story of how Antony and Cleopatra left no stone unturned and fought for victory. I saw George sitting alone in the corner, looking at the red-inked “F” on his test. “It’s okay. Your response is way better. It clearly shows what you strive for and believe in,” I comforted him. Even till today, it is his stubbornness and uniqueness in the way he thinks that have always captivated me.

Soon after his mother died, however, I knew I had to do something even more. Every Saturday, I went to his house to teach him concepts on science and mathematics, and simply chat with him about school. Hearing how many of his classmates saw him as a child without a parent sometimes pushed me to tears. Yet, I knew I had to act as a strong role model – I knew I had to guide him as his older “brother,” hoping that he would understand that there would always be someone standing with him. To this day, George and I meet together with our friends every weekend. Seeing how he has changed and grown into a mature teenager simply makes me proud of his accomplishments; at the same time, seeing George becoming independent somehow numbs the guilt I felt back in the days. George is no longer the quiet, timid kid who needed my guidance. He is now conducting research at a local hospital, still curious about the world around him. George has taught me how to stay curious and think positively. After all those years of spending time with him, the numbness quickly turned into a feeling of satisfaction, as I could finally understand and appreciate the beauty of giving others a helping hand.

Po-Ting (Duke) Lin is a high school junior from Taipei, Taiwan who studies at the bilingual side of Taipei Fuhsing Private School. As a student who comprehends both Mandarin and English, Duke yearns to show his Taiwanese identity through the medium of English. Besides literature, he never stops pursuing his dream of becoming a medical biologist in the future.