(This story is dedicated to my five younger brothers, particularly the two featured in this. Everything written about them is true, except their names. I couldn't imagine life without any of them.)
The living room was utterly filled with paper: paper cups, paper plates, wrapping paper. . . paper everything. It was the remnants of a family birthday celebration that had just ended.
As eight-year-old Joshua examined the mess, a pensive frown clouded his face. He usually wasn’t much of a talker; his brain tended to say it all. And right then, it was lamenting about the misfortune of picking up all that post-birthday trash. Alone.
He sighed and ruffled his wild, curly hair. Cleaning up never appealed to him, but he was such a good boy. He was always the first to help tidy up, even when none of his four younger brothers wanted to.
Well, maybe one of them did.
The youngest brother, Eli, came toddling in on his chubby legs, spouting off all sorts of one-year-old nonsense. His T-shirt was barely long enough to cover his belly, and his diaper looked like it had seen better days.
But he loved to throw stuff away. Joshua knew that well.
“Hey, Eli,” he said in his calm, placid way. He picked up a random paper cup and asked, “You wanna throw this away?”
“Toe ‘way,” Eli babbled, waddling to his brother. Joshua handed over the cup.
Eli walked a little ways towards the trash can, wound up his throw, and sent the cup flying with a hearty “YEET!”
Joshua chuckled as a big, toothy smile lit up his face. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all!
With fresh motivation, he began making a neat pile of paper plates, stacking paper cups on top of those. The pensive frown returned to his face as he noticed that each individual plate and cup was different from one another, yet looked exactly the same.
How do they even make this stuff? he wondered. What kind of paper do they use? And why do they always have fancy flowers on them?
Those burning questions were immediately snuffed out, however, when he looked up and saw Eli about to eat a chunk of chocolate cake off the floor.
“No, no, no, don’t eat that!” he cried, getting up and racing over to the baby. “You can’t eat off the floor!”
“Da fwore?” Eli said in an inquisitive tone.
“You don’t eat stuff off the floor,” Joshua told him in a firm but gentle voice. “Go yeet it in the trash.”
“No, not ‘eat.’ ‘Yeet.’” Joshua pointed to the trash can. “Go yeet it.”
Once Eli understood what he was supposed to do with the cake, he walked over to the trash can and chucked it in. “Ayy!” he cheered, clapping his fat hands together.
“Hey, come help me pick up plates and stuff,” Joshua offered, walking back to his stacks.
“Pwate?” Eli said as he followed his big brother.
“Yeah, plates.” As Joshua showed him how to stack one on top of the other, he got a warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness. But then, being around his little brothers always made him feel that way.
A few minutes later -- after much walking, stumbling, stacking, and yeeting -- the numerous paper plates were finally in one tidy stack. Joshua picked them up and tossed them into the trash can. He surveyed the room and saw that it was already looking better.
“Wanna pick up cups now?” he queried, turning a loving eye towards the baby.
“CUP,” Eli answered in a loud and unusually deep voice. He did that every time he wanted his sippy cup and couldn’t find it.
Joshua couldn’t help smiling his toothy smile a little. “Not that cup, buddy. We’ll find it later. I’m talking about --” he stooped down and picked up a paper one -- “these cups. You can yeet ‘em in the trash.”
Eli toddled over to a pile of them and began throwing. . . ahem, I mean yeeting them into the receptacle. While he did that, Joshua walked around, scooping up huge armfuls of blue wrapping paper covered in either Minions or Charlie Brown characters. His young mind drifted back as far as it could recall, back to the time when he was a wild-haired toddler obsessed with Minions.
The memory was only faint, though. His mother reminisced about those days often, but it wasn’t tangible in his mind. It was more like trying to see a chart at the eye doctor and not being able to make out the letters. So close, yet so far away. . .
Joshua started out of his thoughts to see Eli sprawled on the floor. Apparently he’d tripped and fallen over while getting the last of the paper cups.
“You okay, buddy?” Joshua asked, making his way over to his brother. His voice was so pleasing to hear: not very high-pitched, but not deep either.
But Eli wasn’t hurt, the tough little guy. He didn’t even cry; he simply got up, babbled more baby nonsense, and walked away to yeet more cups.
Joshua raised his eyebrows curiously as he continued to clean up wrapping paper. Baby brothers were such strange people. They cried about the most insignificant things and seemed to power through the experiences that were actually painful. Being a baby brother himself, though, Joshua figured his older brother and sister must’ve felt the exact same way about him.
He walked over to the trash can to deposit his load of paper, wondering where in the world his other brothers were. They were good boys too, and he loved them dearly, but why didn’t they help clean up more often? He could suck it up and deal with the normal and abnormal messes every day. Why didn’t they? As their mom often said, this was their house too!
A feeling of bitterness crept over him. He didn’t quite know that it was bitterness -- he just knew he was tired of being the workhorse. Hard work came naturally to him, but even that got old after a while!
However, the sight of Eli waddling around the table with more paper cups to YEET into the can sweetened his emotions a bit. At least there was one little brother to support him when he needed it.
“Can I have a hug, Eli?” Joshua requested, holding out his arms invitingly. Eli dropped his cups, walked over to him, and leaned against his brother’s stomach with a tender “mm-mm.”
That little embrace was just what Joshua needed. It was a reminder that he was never alone.
Because two brothers are always better than one.