I would say it started when we were young. Brothers. Destined to fight over anything. To compete over everything. But now, now brotherly conflict seems silly. As I sit here, hiding behind a building, as bullets whizz around me. Brother against brother, wondering how we got here.
Raised on the land. That’s what my dad had always called it. Raised in the great outdoors. The farm. The life. We shot together. Ran together. Fought and squabbled together. It is what brothers do. It is what we did.
There was always something to compete over. Even though we were a year apart, by the time we were two and three we had started competing according to my mom. We helped dad out in the stalls. We would race to bring him tools. Competed to see who could plant the most seeds or carry the largest harvest haul. Vegetables piled high on our outstretched arms, making us wobble and fall, because they were too much for our diminutive size. But we always bounced up. We always did. Because brothers compete. You play to win.
Over time, our little competitions evolved. Past veggies and seeds, to shooting and speed. We raced and wrestled. Churned butter and built fires. Shot cans, birds, and bucks. Competition was at the heart of what we did and how we knew each other.
But now those competitions, those things that siblings do, seem silly and mute. The days where I studied to catch up to my brother are a distant memory. A distinction of the past. Because there is a divergence between fighting, competing, and this. A difference when brothers shoot at each other. This is no longer a game.
I think about ducking out. But I’m alone. Or at least it feels that way. The war of Northern aggression is what they call it. A revolution. A tear in a nation too far apart on how we should live. Sitting here, pinned down, I wonder how we got here. How my brother and I got on different sides. How we ended up shooting at one another.
At some point, our perspectives changed. I can’t conceive of of embrace the thought that our values, beliefs, and morals have changed. What I thought was obviously right, he thought was obviously wrong. And vice versa. Who is a person? Where is the line between the state and federal government? We, like the rest of the country, even fought about how we should farm. How we should live. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I asked my parents if they could pinpoint it. If they could figure out where things changed. They don’t know. All they know is that our fight manifested beyond brotherhood and into conflict.
There is a difference between competition and conflict. Brothers, brotherhood, uses competition to push each other to greater things. To become better. Neither one of us got far in school. By eleven, we worked actual jobs on the land. By fifteen, our formal education had given way to making a living. That meant I was only fourteen when I started working full days. When childhood ended. Being a year apart meant that we were one in the same. We were a package deal.
The shots have subsided. The stench of death, scorch, and sorrow fill the air. I dare not move or look out. I can’t because part of me worries I will see my brother dead. A greater part of me worries he is alive. If I stand up, I will have to face him.
Maybe I resented my brother a little. Perhaps I wanted to be him. Perchance I loved him too much to evaluate my own views or save him from his own. It is possible that I ignored his slip, or maybe my own. It is hard to say how we got to this place. A place of conflict past competition and into evil, unabridged hate. That is why I can’t pull myself up. Why I can’t look around the corner. If see my brother I have to shoot him.
I sit. I sit for a long while. No one comes for me or the rest. This war has been like that. Maybe at first light, people will come clear the battlefield. Maybe it will happen in a few weeks. Until then, there is an uneasy respite. I can’t sleep. Not because I am exposed or don’t want to. Today was the first time our platoons squared off, but that’s irrelevant. I can’t sleep because my mind nags at me as if somewhere deep in the bowels of my existence I know how this happened. Deep down, I know why.
When did I become the person who would shoot my brother? A person who felt ideas were worthy of violence and death? I was a farmer. My brother was a farmer. That is what we did. What our family did. And sure the war, changes it made to this country, would make that harder, but we are farmers. We should have stayed out of it.
We didn’t. Not only did we pick sides, but my brother and I took up arms. Arms for beliefs that were stronger than the bond of blood. Brothers were supposed to die for one another, not die because of each other.
I scour the depths of my soul, of my mind, unable to find that moment when our ideals changed. When competition turned to conflict.
The obvious answer is it came from an election. 2020 or 2024. Those were the first times were we could vote. But that is too obvious of an answer. We started diverging philosophically before that. Before we could ever vote, or even hold and express an opinion.
When I asked my friends or parents where the seeds of this division were sown, where the hate came from, their answers were reaching and aimless. Some told me 2016, others 2008 or even 2004. The truth was, I wasn’t alive for Bush V. Gore. My brother and I were still picking carrots for fun during Obama’s first term. Those events may be catalyst. May be the convenient way to demarcate truth, but things run deeper.
Seeds of hate. Ideas of anger and rage ingrained so deep that brother can turn on brother are not cultivated in a few years or by a single moment. Botanicals of loathing and vitriol have to be rooted deeper than a decade or even a lifetime can cultivate. Divisions like this, where brother take up arms against each other, where elimination is better than cooperation happens when competition turns into conflict. When the drive to win replaces the desire to grow and be better. When we throw out reason and facts, right or wrong, for the gleam of victory. These things happen as the corruptive roots of power infect your heart like a weed.
My eyes open. Jolted awake by a moonlight cast shadow. It is my brother. Hand outstretched. I take it. Because, unlike hate, hope can come at any moment. Like a weed, we can pull evil at any moment from our heart. Hate may take a lifetime, but change takes an instant. We stand. Unable to speak or exchange words. An instinctual understanding forms between us. Maybe we can be the beginning of a bridge to the better. If we can lay down our arms, maybe the world can realize that we are all one. Maybe this crisis can be humanity’s definitive example of a lesson not learned.