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The Facts of Life

(Listen to this piece on S2E37 of the podcast)


There’s a knock at my bedroom door, but my seven-year-old brother doesn’t extend the curtesy of waiting for a reply, just swings the door open like an Old West saloon. The hinges screech and the door frame rebounds against my dresser, reverberations causing my Victoria Secret body sprays to clatter and roll against each other until one decidedly rolls to the edge and slams into the carpeted floor with a light thud. I roll my eyes even though they remain shut. As a point of clarification, I haven’t opened them all day. They haven’t been open since I rolled over into dreamland around midnight. The church bells down the street chime seven a.m. My little brother clears his throat as though readying for a speech, but I am sixteen-year-old, and sixteen-year-olds don’t wake up at seven a.m. on Saturdays. I don’t want to be awake at seven a.m. on a Saturday.


“Harlow, did you know that North American Horned Lizards can squirt blood from their eyes?” Petey announces to his unwilling audience of one. I grunt noncommittedly, which is clearly not enough for Petey, because he clears his throat again. “Harlow?” he ventures, voice lilted in a question mark like maybe something is wrong. Like maybe my cochlea is out of tune and I missed his very important proclamation.


“I’m still sleeping, Petey,” I say, lifting my blanket over my head. I feel a bit of guilt, but I try to shrug it off. I’ll try to sleep it off.


A soft hand taps my blanket-clad shoulder. “Did you know that sheep sleep less than four hours per night?” Petey ventures. I let out a loud groan. All I want to do is sleep. I am sleepy. It is Saturday. Why are little brothers so annoying. Cute, maybe. But annoying still.

“That’s interesting, but I need you to go away right now because I’m trying to sleep. Tell me later, okay."


“But it’s morning time,” Petey counters. I don’t answer him, and after a few seconds, I feel his weight sink into my mattress. He now rests his little body against my back, and my irritation rises.


“Something else,” Petey begins, and I curse those little animal fact books he picked out after our last library visit. “Something else I learned is that starfish do not have a brain.”

All these facts are interesting. True. But they’re random, freaking random, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s becoming harder to go back to sleep now that he’s got me so wired up.


“Petey,” I say, bolting up to a seated position. I blink my eyes into focus and stare directly into his brown eyes now widened in surprise. “Get. Out. Now.” I point to my door to make things clear.


He twists his mouth into a pitiable pout. He crosses his hands across his chest and dips his chin.

“I just wanted to tell you what I learned,” he stammers before slinking off the edge of my bed and stomping out of the room. I sigh—part relief and part shame. I didn’t want it to come to this, but he just wouldn’t leave me alone. Literally the lament of any older sister you’ve ever met. He pulls my door close with more force than necessary, but at least he got the point. I sink back into my pillows with a huff, and allow myself a few minutes to get back into sleep mode. Just as I’m drifting off, that’s when I smell it, the sweet smell of homemade waffles and bacon and eggs wafting down the hall.


I hop out of bed, suddenly, miraculously motivated out of bed by a biting hunger that nothing but buttered waffles with syrup and cheesy eggs will satisfy. Sixteen-year-olds don’t get up at seven a.m. on a Saturday, but if mom’s cooking an early weekend breakfast, one might be inclined to exceptions. I reach for my door handle, except that when I twist and pull, it doesn’t open. It jiggles a bit, but there’s definitely something keeping my door from opening all the way. I try again, pulling harder this time, but the door once again opens just a sliver before slamming shut on itself.


I narrow my eyes, confused. My door is clearly being held shut by something. It’s like something tied a rubber band around the exterior handle and tethered it to the bathroom door handle across the hall. The soft footfall of my brother approaches and stops just on the other side of the door.


“One other thing I learned,” Petey says through a mouthful of what I presume to be Saturday morning breakfast, “is that the early bird gets the worm.”


“You didn’t read that in your books!” I say, voice muddled with incredulity.


“Nope,” Petey admits. “But it’s a useful fact,” he says with a giggle, before padding back towards the kitchen.


I can’t stand that little smarty pants.







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