I was five years old when I first met Max. As I stood on the top of brown carpeted stairs, I took in his small four-year-old stature; his cheeks were still red and chubby from his baby fat. He looked up at me with the sweetest sky blue eyes and a huge grin on his tiny little face, so excited to meet his soon-to-be siblings after a long four years of solitude. I smirked down at him with an evil grin, hands firmly on my hips and declared, “I AM OLDER THAN YOU!” I could hear my mother groan as I swiftly turned on my heel with my head held high and marched into my bedroom. I was the youngest in my family, and I was so excited to have some power over someone in my life. I thought that would show him who was in charge.
It never really did.
A few months later, my mother, my older brother Jake and I were baking cookies in the kitchen, laughing, having a good time. Max was still new to this family dynamic, and he didn’t know how to compete with two other kids for attention. So his logical conclusion to attain some attention from my mother was to repeatedly poke her leg and say “Hey!”
After a few minutes and about a million leg pokes later, my mom finally snapped saying, “Max, please, I’m doing something right now! Either help me like Maddie and Jake are or go to your room!” This was obviously not the response Max wanted because his little face turned into a pout as he made his way upstairs to his bedroom.
This whole having a stepchild was new to my mother as well, and I think as we continued to make the cookies she mulled over what she had said.
“Hey, could you two go upstairs and grab Max? I was a little too short with him earlier, and I think he deserves to help us out with these cookies.”
“Sure, Mom!” Jake said as we both got down from our chairs. In a flash, we were racing each other through the house to see who could get to Max’s door first.
“Hey! Don’t run in the house! it’s not a race!” Mom yelled at us. We both just giggled and ran faster and stomped our feet loudly on the stairs in defiance.
“ I win!” Jake called as he rapped on Max’s door with his fist.
“That’s not fair! You got a head start!”
“No, I didn’t! you’re just way slower than I am!”
Jake was still glaring at me as only an older brother could when he pushed open Max’s door. Nothing could have prepared either of us for the mayhem that waited behind the door.
The whole room was covered in pink silly string.
Pink lines trailed across lamps, dressers and even the ceiling fan. Nothing was spared from the little maniac’s Spiderman silly string shooters as he hooted with laughter jumping up and down on his bed. Jake and I stood in the doorway and felt our chins drop to the floor as our eyes took in the scene around us. When Max saw us standing there, he aimed his weapons right at our heads. Jake lunged for the door handle, using it as a shield against the onslaught of silly string headed our way. The door slammed just in time, and the silly string hit the other side with a dull thud. Hearing the commotion, my mother rushed up the stairs yelling, “What in the world is going on up here?”Jake and I just looked at each other and burst into fits of laughter. Mom shooed us out of the way so she could open Max’s door.
“Oh. My. God.” She said as she took in the scene, her eyes surveying the room in a fascinated trance. Max immediately stopped jumping on his bed when he saw her, stared at her for about three seconds, contemplating on how to escape the sticky situation. He made up his mind that there was only one way out and that was to aim the web shooters at my mother, but little did he know that she was well trained in the diffusion of small children’s shenanigans. “Max, I going to count to three, and if the silly string shooters are not on the ground by then, you will not be getting any cookies tonight.” Panic spread across Max’s face. I could tell he was conflicted, knowing that if he let go of the silly string it all would have been over, he would be captured but not being able to have the cookies was unthinkable. In the end, he accepted defeat.
“I surrender!” He squeaked and dropped the web shooters, not even giving my mom the chance to start counting. When my stepfather came home, he too looked at the room with wonder, and I think it took all his willpower not to chuckle. Instead, he helped Max begin to clean the room, lecturing him on how next time he should just say how he was feeling instead of using silly string to communicate. As they cleaned I talk to Max about how he should probably improve on his aim, and we laughed and joked, and I decided that he was going to be a great addition to our family.
Sixteen years after the silly string incident, I was dragging a drunk Max up the stairs cursing the day I met him. He was now six feet tall, not a trace of baby fat on him and he was resisting me every step of the way.
“But I’m not tired,” He yawned at me, “I want to keep hanging out with your friends.”
“Dude, you are so gone right now I bet you can’t even remember what my friend’s names are.” It was my twenty-first birthday party and being the loving sister that I am; I invited both of my brothers over along with some of my friends for a house party. I wanted to kick myself for not paying more attention to how much Max was drinking. I decided it was time to get him to bed when he made himself throw up so he could drink more.
“But I’m not even that drunk!” He yelled. I clapped my hand over his mouth and glanced at the door to my parent’s room. We had made it to the top of the stairs, and I was sweating. I was not going to let him wake up our parents and see how much of mess he was.
“Max, keep your voice down!” I hissed at him as I shoved him into his bedroom. He giggled as he flopped face first on his bed. I sighed and began to try to tear off his work boots from his freakishly big feet. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter; it was my twenty-first birthday, after all, it should have been me happily drunk hanging out with my friends. Instead, I was trying to take Max’s shoes off as he wiggled both of them and laughed like a madman as I struggled.
Finally, both shoes were off his feet, and he turned over to look at me. His blue eyes met mine, and there was something there that I had rarely ever seen in them. Sadness. It didn’t suit him.
“Maddie?” He asked me quietly.
“I’m really sorry.” He was staring at a bottle on his dresser that was filled with tobacco spit. It was one of those new habits he had acquired at college, and no matter how much I yelled at him to stop he never did. I knew that was to what he was referring. That and all the other stupid stuff he has told me.
“It’s ok.” I took his hand and pulled him up so I could get his bed ready for him. I threw back the covers and plumped up his pillows for him.
“But it’s not. You’re disappointed with me.”
“I’m not disappointed; I just want you to be safe.” He nodded and very quickly pulled me into a hug.
“I love you, Maddie. Thanks for putting up with me.” He held me tight, so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I clung to him, afraid if I didn’t hold tight enough he would disappear.
“I love you too. Now get into bed.” He let go and crawled into bed. I pulled the covers over him, put a bucket next to his bed just in case he needed to throw up again and put some water by his bed. He was already asleep by the time I went to turn off the light. He looked so young and peaceful it made my heart ache. I wanted to go back to the time where the only trouble he got into had to do with pink silly string all over his bedroom walls. Even though I’m older, he never listens to me. He will always be that funny, rebellious kid that strolled into my life just when I needed him most. He is a blessing and a curse and I know one day he will eventually listen to his bossy older sister, but not now. As I turned out that bedroom light I knew there was still a long way to go before he heard what I was saying.