I could smell the booze and vomit before I even opened the door. Hand on the doorknob, I paused, knowing that a fight was probably about to break out and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. I took three deep breaths, trying to ignore the smell, before closing my eyes and pushing the bedroom door open just a few inches.
“Adam?” I called, knocking quietly. Light streamed from his laptop and I pushed the door open a little more and poked my head in. Netflix was asking him if he was “still watching” Parks and Rec” but I’m almost positive he hadn’t actually been watching it in the first place. “Hey, are you in here?”
When Adam didn’t answer, I stepped into the room and looked around. He wasn’t on his bed where I’d left him when he got home, or in his closet like he was last week. I sidestepped a puddle of vomit and poked my head into the bathroom connected to his room, but he wasn’t in there either. As I turned to leave the room, desperate for fresh air, I saw his feet poking out from under his bed.
“The fuck?” I said, reaching over and turning on the light. “Dude, wake up.”
Adam groaned, but made no effort to wake up. I tugged on his foot and he stirred.
“Seriously, wake up or I’m getting Mom,” I whispered as I made my way to where his head probably was, a last ditch effort at getting his attention.
He groaned again, and I could smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Why is it so dark?” he slurred, words that no one else in the world would have ever understood. But I’d seen him in this state enough to understand him.
“You’re under your bed, fuckwad,” I said, fuming. I hated that he’d gotten himself so drunk again. He promised he would stop.
“Oh, right,” he said, slowly slithering his way out from between a few boxes and some dirty towels. “I dropped my phone somewhere and — oh my gosh, Liv, I’m a snake!”
He started writhing around and laughing, and I had to resist the urge to kick him in the face and walk out of the room.
“How are you still drunk?” I asked, scanning the room for empties, even though I was sure I’d emptied his entire stash while he was out with his friends. His nightstand drawer was open, and I could just make out the top of a glass bottle poking out. “I heard you come in here at six. It’s noon now! That’s six hours to sober up and sleep it off!”
“Except I drank for like four of those hours so joke’s on you, little sis!” he said loudly, laughing his stupid drunken laugh that reminded me vaguely of the way he would laugh when we were kids, a deep belly laugh that could bring a smile to my face even during the worst of my meltdowns.
I kneeled down and looked him in the eye, equipping the darkest of death stares until he stopped laughing.
“You’re pissed,” he said, his face falling. “Shit.”
He, painfully slowly, pulled himself out from under his bed and propped himself against the wall. I watched as he tried to steady the spinning room with his mind, tried to focus on my face, which was now staring down at him from his bed. He gagged and I jumped back out of the splash zone, but he put his hand up to signal that it was okay. His head hit the wall with a thud and tears spilled down his cheeks.
It hurt to watch him, but I couldn’t look away.
“I’m so sorry,” he mumbled, saliva coating his mouth as fat tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m sorry you have to see my like this all the damn time and I’m sorry that I broke my promise and I’m sorry about that time when we were seven and I fed your Workin’ Out Barbie to the dog and then told you dad ran it over with the lawn mower.”
I willed myself not to laugh at that last part. Because then he would think I was laughing at the whole situation and there was nothing fucking funny about this situation.
“You. Promised.” I said through gritted teeth, balling his comforter in my fists to keep myself from hitting him instead. “You promised you would stop drinking after the last time. You were supposed to be bowling.”
“Well, technically I was bowling,” he said, his words a little clearer now. Or maybe I was just getting used to the slur again. “Drunk bowling is a hell of a game.”
“Santino sold you booze?” I shrieked, not even bothering to keep my voice down in case our mom was eavesdropping. I reached into my sweater pocket and pulled out my phone, but Adam threw himself onto me and knocked the phone out of my hand. He was heavy, and I could barely breathe under his weight. “Get the hell off me.”
“Don’t even think about calling Dad,” he said, seething with anger.
He was red in the face now, the anger switch flipped like only a shit ton of booze could manage. I pushed him off of myself and backed up to the headboard.
Last time he was like this, he had just wrecked his car. I picked him up from the scene of the crash, knowing that we’d have hell to pay the next day for leaving without calling the cops, and left a note with our father’s insurance information on the windshield. When he saw me put the note between the glass and the bent wiper, he punched my arm (he was aiming for my nose) and broke my wrist in two places. I drove home through the blinding pain and called our father; less than twelve hours later I woke up to the two of them screaming at each other in the kitchen, our mother halfheartedly telling them to keep it down because they were going to wake me and what about the neighbors, Jack?
After that, he promised he’d change. He apologized to me, did all of my chores while my arm was in a cast, helped write my homework when my arm ached after a few minutes of trying to do it myself, and did his best to go out of his way to prove that he had no intention of getting back to that bad place.
And he hadn’t, for while. Until a couple of weeks before school let out for the summer, when he caught his longtime girlfriend, Vanessa, making out with his best friend against the back wall of the school gym during a free period. He skipped finals altogether, stringing one drinking binge to the last, stealing money from Mom’s wallet to give to whoever the hell it was that was buying his booze. He started breaking curfew, and then he started sneaking random girls into his room and kicking them out before Mom checked on him in the morning, and for a while he even stopped showering.
I covered for him at first, because it just wasn’t worth it to get our mom worked up over him again, but as I looked at him, sitting opposite me on his bed, I hated myself for letting it get this bad again. And then I hated him for making me hate myself.
“You need help,” I said after a few minutes of silence. His breathing had slowed, but he still had that look in his eyes that told me to tread lightly. “You’re sick.”
“Nah, that’s just the shitty mixture of alcohol I’ve had in the last twelve…ish hours,” he said, his eyes drooping slightly. “I’ll clean it up.”
“You and I both know I wasn’t talking about the puke,” I said, my lips tightening into the frown that had been passed from woman to woman in our family for as many generations as anyone could remember. “You’re an alcoholic, Adam.”
“Like hell, I am,” he said, sitting up straight. A challenge. “Just because I’m a kid who likes to enjoy the occasional bender, doesn’t mean I’m Dad.”
I stared at him, letting the words hang between us. This was nearly identical to the words our father had said to our mother the day she gave him the ultimatum– get help or get out.
“It’s not a crime to admit you have a problem,” I said, still half-crouching in such a way that I could get up and bolt out the door at the slightest movement on Adam’s part. “You’re not the first teenager ever to develop an addiction.”
“Thanks, Degrassi,” Adam grumbled, feeling around the blankets for something. “Where’s my phone? I need to call CJ and tell him what a cunt he is for doing this to me.”
I winced at the word.
“Don’t try to pin this on CJ,” I said sternly. I hated this. Every bit of it. Having to be the adult when Adam was actually twelve minutes older than me was infuriating and all too familiar. “How you choose to react to negative situations is one hundred percent on you.”
“Stop trying to shrink me,” he said, bending far over the side of the bed to search for his phone.
One second, he was perched on the side of the mattress, holding onto the bed frame for support. Before I could react, he toppled head-first to the floor, landing with a thud and a crack.
“SHIT BALLS MOTHERFUCKER!” Adam shouted, the volume piercing my eardrums. “Fuck! My wrist!”
I hopped from my spot on the bed and bent down low.
“Shhhh, shhhh!” I tried to quiet him, but he couldn’t hear me over his own cries of pain. “Adam, Mom is going to hear you.”
I wasn’t actually sure if our mother was still home; she tended to come and go without really communicating with us. But if she were home, there was no doubt that she would hear the screams coming from Adam and come running.
“I think I broke my arm,” Adam cried, only slightly quieter than before. “And I landed in puke!”
I recoiled, shuddering in disgust while resisting the urge to smugly throw out a “well, it serves you right” before leaving the room without another word.
“Help me up!” he shouted, his face reddening. I could tell he was trying not to cry, a good indication that he was starting to sober up. “Please!”
Reluctantly, I reached for the arm he hadn’t landed on, being careful to not touch any vomit, and pulled him up. He put his hands out to steady himself, and I could see that look again — trying to steady the spinning room, trying to find one thing to focus on and steady everything else around it as quickly as he could.
“Come on,” I said, pushing him toward the bathroom.
I stepped over the puddle of puke again, turned on the dim light above his sink, and then the shower, and pulled Adam into the room. Carefully, I helped him out of his shirt, and then his pants. I tested the temperature of the water, then helped him out of his socks and underwear and pushed him under the stream.
“Clean yourself up,” I said over the water. “I’m making coffee.”
Adam mumbled something incoherent and leaned against the wall of the shower, letting the lukewarm water beat down onto his back. I stood in the doorway for a few seconds to make sure he wasn’t going to fall over or drown himself, then slipped out of the room and headed to the kitchen.
As I had suspected, Mom wasn’t home. There was still a little bit of coffee in the bottom of the pot, so I threw it in the microwave and started some toast. After deciding against a quick scrambled egg, I put the toast on a plate and balanced it on top of the mug of coffee, grabbing a water bottle before I went back into Adam’s room.
After being in the clean air in the rest of the house, the stench in Adam’s room was nearly unbearable. I tried not to breathe in through my nose while trying not to think about the fact that breathing through my mouth meant that I was basically inhaling Adam’s puke fumes. I couldn’t imagine Mom going through this for years with Dad. Especially because she’d managed to hide it from us for so long.
Adam was right where I’d left him, and I set everything down on his desk and stood in the doorway watching him. He looked so helpless and pitiful, curled into himself in the shower; although he was over six feet tall now, looking at him standing like that reminded me of when he would sit in the corner and pout when we were kids.
People always think seeing their siblings naked is weird, and maybe it is for some people, but I think when you’re a twin, there are a lot of exceptions.
“Hey you,” I said loudly enough for him to hear me. “I brought some toast.”
I wasn’t sure why I was being so nice to him. He didn’t deserve my sympathy. But, like I said, when you’re a twin there are a lot of exceptions.
I let Adam stand under the water for a few more minutes, leaving him there while I grabbed a towel, a pair of sweats, and some Aspirin and moved his toast and coffee into the living room. There was no way in hell I was going to give him the satisfaction of cleaning up his room for him, but I wasn’t going to leave him completely helpless either.
When I reached into the shower and shut the water off, Adam startled awake.
“Shit, it’s cold,” he said, covering himself with his hands. “Towel.”
I held the towel out to him and he wrapped it around his waist haphazardly. He stepped out of the bathroom and tried to head straight for his bed, but I guided him out of his bedroom door and into the living room to the couch.
“It’s bright,” he said, shielding his eyes. I pulled down one set of blinds, not willing to make it completely dark in the room just for his sake. “I think I might puke again.”
I put the toast in his hands and went over to the kitchen for an ice pack for his wrist, which had started to visibly swell.
“If you throw up on Mom’s new couch, she’ll kill you with her bare hands,” I said, looking out the window to make sure Mom hadn’t pulled up while I was helping Adam out of the shower. “And you know I’m only half-kidding when I say that.”
“Yeah I know,” Adam grumbled, defeated.
I watched from the counter as he struggled into his sweats with only one good arm, bare ass naked in the middle of the living room even though the windows were wide open. I’d give him hell for that someday, when this situation was another funny story in our long list of things we laugh at even though we know we shouldn’t. When he settled himself onto the couch again, he looked tired, and about forty years old.
“Why do you let yourself get like this?” I asked, just as he was nodding off to sleep. He jerked himself awake and ran his hand over his face. “You know you’ll just feel miserable and you know I’ll get pissed off at you. And you know I’m going to have to tell Mom.”
I brought over the ice pack and sat near his feet at the end of the couch.
“Can we just… I dunno,” he said, wincing as he put the ice pack onto his wrist. “We’ll just like tell her I slipped in the shower or something.”
I sighed, closing my eyes.
“It’s not about your fucking wrist, Adam,” I said, my tone enough to make his eyebrows shoot up into his messy hair. “It’s not about the wrist or your room or the fact that I’m taking care of you again. You need to own up to your shit. Like I’ve already told you– you have a problem.”
“I don’t have a–” he started to argue, but I cut him off.
“No, shut up,” I demanded, standing up and planting myself in front of him. “You have a problem. You sneak around, you steal from Mom, you constantly have me covering your ass–”
“I never said you had to lie for me!” he yelled, standing up as well.
“That’s not the point!” I shouted back, probably the only person in our grade not intimidated by his height. “I have to protect you. As much as I don’t want to, as much as I know I shouldn’t– it kills me to see you like this but it also kills me to see you in trouble or pissed off or anything else not remotely resembling happy. Don’t you get that?”
“Don’t pull that ‘but we’re twins’ shit on me,” Adam growled. “Nobody cares that we’re twins. That doesn’t make us a pair of special delicate snowflakes who are immune to the shitshow that is our lives. Stop trying to guilt me into happiness just because you feel like you’re responsible for me.”
“I care that we’re twins,” I argue back, my hands on my hips. “And no, being twins doesn’t mean we’re immune to life. But it does mean that we each have someone to constantly look out for us. And being twins also means that what you do reflects back on me. So when you’re fucked up in a bowling alley, people talk. Not just about you– about me too.”
At this, Adam looked down at his feet.
“I never meant to drag you into my issues,” he said, his voice lower now. He dropped down onto the couch and put his head into his hands. “This isn’t about you and you shouldn’t have to deal with it.”
“It is about me,” I said quietly, sitting down next to him. “Regardless of how I feel about it, your issues are also my issues.”
We sat in silence for nearly twenty minutes, until Adam let out a long sigh. I could tell he was nearly sober now, probably clear enough to drive– which meant his arm had to be hurting him.
“Let me wrap that,” I pointed to his arm, then headed to the medicine cabinet in the main bathroom to grab the first aid kit. When I came back, Adam was leaning against the arm of the couch, lost in thought. “Okay, we have a sparkly purple bandage, or a regular one.”
I held up the two bandages and he laughed a little. I could tell it was forced, but I appreciated the effort. I put the purple bandage back in the box and sat on the coffee table opposite Adam. With his wrist stabilized in my lap, I carefully wrapped the bandage the way I’d learned in First Aid, being sure not to cut off the blood circulation to his hand. When I was done, he stood and flexed his fingers a little to test the movement and winced.
“I really think it’s broken,” he said, paling a little as he tried to close his fist. “We need to tell Mom.”
“Wait until you’re a little more sober,” I said, waving him off. “One problem at a time.”
“No,” he shook his head and looked back down at his feet. He was always doing that when he didn’t think I was looking. “I was thinking about what you said. About how I need to own up to my shit. And you’re right.”
I stared at him, speechless. Never, in our entire seventeen years, had he ever admitted that I was right. Or even that he was wrong without actually admitting I was right.
“Is this your first step to accepting your problem?” I asked quietly, reaching out and squeezing his good hand. “What made you change your mind?”
He shrugged, then sat down on the couch again so we were eye to eye.
“This… thing I’ve been doing,” he started slowly, like he knew what he wanted to say but couldn’t quite form the words. I waited patiently for him to finish, knowing that it was hard enough for him to talk about his feelings when he was sober and coherent, let alone when he was still a little buzzed. “It’s just going to keep getting worse isn’t it? I mean, Dad was our age when he started partying. And he just got worse and worse. I don’t want that. I want to go to school and have a career and wake up every morning knowing that I didn’t crash my car into the supermarket the night before.”
Ah, the car incident. Lovely. That was the thing that finally pushed mom—and Adam and I—over the edge.
“You know you’re going to have to go to summer school, right?” I said, scrunching my nose a little. Adam liked school about as much as I did– and I liked school about as much as I imagined I’d like a root canal. “You’ll catch up, but they aren’t going to give you special circumstances for being a fuckup.”
“Yeah I know,” he muttered, defeated.
“We haven’t actually talked about the future,” I said, realizing the fact as I said it. When was the last time we’d actually talked? It had to have been at least two years. Before Vanessa. “What do you want to do after school?”
“I’m not sure,” he shrugged. “I used to want to be a pilot, but I know I’m way too tall for that.”
I nodded slowly, remembering the very short obsession he’d had with jets and the Air Force our Freshman year. After that it was long distance running, which he dropped out of almost immediately. After track, it was Vanessa. Vanessa was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Gross.
“Well, what have you always pictured yourself doing whenever you think about life after high school?” I asked, trying my damnedest to avoid bringing Vanessa into the conversation. As much as he hated her for cheating on him, I hated her even more for breaking his heart and messing him up like this.
“I dunno,” he said, tapping his fingers against his knee. “I guess the opposite of whatever Dad has always been.”
“So… you don’t want to spend your entire adult life hurting people?” I said with a nod. “Great. So don’t be an orthodontist or start a Catfish website and you’re golden.”
We both laughed at my joke and I felt the tension between us break.
“I think I want to do something important,” he said, seriously, but still smiling.
“Like become the President?” I joked, because we were both shit at history and hated even the mention of politics.
“No like…” He licked his lips, thinking hard. “Like, a doctor or a fire fighter or something. I want to save people.”
Outside, the squeaking sound of Mom’s brakes pulled both of our eyes to the front window. She climbed out of the car and looked into the house, waving at us from the sidewalk. We smiled back and I waved.
I stood up, ready to play mediator for the conversation Mom and Adam were about to have, and cracked my knuckles absentmindedly.
“Adam, can I say something?” I asked, holding his gaze.
“Sure,” he shrugged.
“How can you save anybody if you can’t even save yourself?” I asked as I walked to the front door to help Mom carry in the groceries, leaving Adam to his thoughts.