Miracles Can Show Up On the Heads of Little Brothers in Suburban Basements. It's True. It Happened in 1983.
When I was about ten and my brother was about four, we were supposed to go stay on my cousins' farm for a week during the summer. I was thrilled to go, because the farm meant freedom to a city kid who always had to respect the boundaries of lawns and fences and busy streets and other people's parents. Out there, we could dig and run and climb and hide out and not see an adult for hours on end. It felt savage and powerful to even imagine it.
There was one problem, though, and that was my little brother. He was four and it was summer vacation, which meant that he trailed after me from breakfast to bedtime, talking and talking and talking. I was an introvert who was certain that this kid was Satan's test to keep me out of heaven. For a week before my uncle picked us up, I hatched plans that would save me from seven straight days of this impressively omnipresent kid wrecking absolutely every last thing with even less parental intervention than we already had.
I imagined that he fell down a hole, any old hole, and couldn't get out. I dreamed that he got lost just long enough to miss our ride. I thought that if he got hit by a car just a little bit, like maybe no more than a hard smack, he could break his leg and be stuck on the couch in our basement with his limb elevated, poor dear.
On the day my uncle was coming to get us, my brother and I waited downstairs in the play room where my mother had told us to stay put. "I don't want to have to chase after you guys at the last minute," she said. My brother crawled around on the floor with his Matchbox cars making growling noises while I stared as hard as I could at his temples, wondering if Jesus would help me give him a terrible fever if it were important enough, if I truly felt it with my whole heart. I believed that I did.
I heard my uncle's car pull into the driveway, so I tested my brother's forehead with the back of my hand. There was no blessed fever. Damn. I heard my parents and uncle chatting on their way down the stairs. "Your uncle's here!" my mom, called. "Make sure you're ready." The creak of the third to last step spoke of doom. I looked all over the room, as though something there would tell me how fix this situation, some toy, the television, my father's desk, anything. I felt the pressure of my twenty-second time window sucking the wind out of chest. 19, 18, 17, 16… Oh god oh god oh god oh god.
"What's wrong?" my mother asked. "You look upset."
"Um, yeah, I am." My brain, I was wracking it.
"What's wrong? You guys have to be in the car and out of here in less than three minutes." She indicated her watch.
I looked left, I looked right, I blinked so hard it ached, and then I saw my right arm extend, my index finger, seemingly of its own accord, pointing firmly at my brother's hair. It stuck out there all on its own, determined, and the words that came out of my mouth next were as surprising to me as they must have been deeply disappointing to my mother.
"Him. It's him. HE HAS LICE," I said. I was sure that I had just told a lie that would reveal my innate awfulness, but still my finger trembled with the electricity of potential justice.
"How do you know? Did you see them?" she asked.
"I must have," I said.
She bent down while mouthing no-no-no and picked through my brother's hair, pulling and parting and peering.
"Oh, no. He does have lice," she said, sighing.
I almost felt bad about it, but IT WAS A DAMNED MIRACLE.
"You can't go to the farm if you have lice, honey," she said, cradling my brother's chin. "Are you okay with going to the farm without him?" she asked me.
"Yes. I think I'll be fine," I said. I tried to put on my best concerned face crossed with sadness. Inside, my glee was bounding across a field of daisies toward a gleaming quonset.
I didn't think I'd be fine, though. I knew I'd be fine. I had just commandeered a whole week away to live wild on a farm with no little brother to suck my space-craving soul inside out. I wasn't 100% certain that it was really Jesus who had my back that day, but I did know what it felt like to be a ten-year-old that made lice with the power of her mind. I felt at once preposterous and invincible.
At the last possible moment when you are nearly out of hope, bona fide miracles can show up on the heads of little brothers in suburban basements if you feed them with the right amount of baseless conviction. It's true. I know, because it happened one afternoon in 1983.
PS. My little brother has grown up into over six feet of good man, husband, and father, and I am not ten years old anymore, so I no longer think of him as Satan's test.
PPS. That was one of the best weeks of summer vacation I ever had.