You Can't Have My Planet

But Take My Brother, Please

James Mihaley

Feiwel & Friends

I’m miserable.
I’M MISERABLE BECAUSE I just made a complete fool out of myself in front of a cute girl. My sister and I were crouching behind a car in the parking lot at Dale’s Diner, playing a make-believe alien game. We were firing lasers at some cyborgs when along comes this cute girl in white shorts whose legs shot up and up like freckled skyscrapers. Her feet lived on the ground floor of those freckled skyscrapers. They were happy living there. I couldn’t see how anything wouldn’t be happy living there.
I smiled at her. She gave me a “Isn’t It Sweet How This Little Boy who Still Wears Diapers Has a Crush on Me” kind of look.
Could you blame her? There I was, holding an imaginary laser gun, making a ridiculous zoot-zoot sound. In her eyes I must’ve looked five, not thirteen like I really was. God, did I feel stupid. I didn’t even want to play this alien kiddy game in the first place. It was Nikki’s idea. I was only trying to be nice to my little sister, to never turn my back on her like my big brother, Bobby, did to me. As usual, I tried to do the right thing and look where it got me.
Nothing new. Just another lousy day in the life of me, Giles.
Bobby glided into the parking lot on his bike and hopped off. “Come on,” he said.
Nikki and I followed him into the diner. When Mom and Dad were away on business, Bobby was second in command behind Grandma.
When Bobby wasn’t looking, I grabbed a roll off the table for the raccoons and stashed it in my pocket.
“What do you guys want to drink?” asked the waiter.
“I’ll have a nonalcoholic apple martini,” said Bobby.
“A what?” asked the waiter.
“A large apple juice,” Bobby said.
“A nonalcoholic apple martini,” said the waiter. “I like that. I’m going to see if we can put it on the menu.”
“I’ll have a nonalcoholic apple martini too,” said the girl with freckled skyscrapers, who was sitting at the counter, peering over her shoulder at Bobby, gazing into his blue eyes, admiring his long blond hair.
Bobby ignored her. If a girl with freckled skyscrapers ever smiled at me, I would’ve smiled back. Bobby was always so busy doing practice SAT tests on his iPad he didn’t even have time for dating. How stupid is that?
He was such a goodie-goodie. If the goodie-goodies had a kingdom, my brother would be king. He’d be known throughout the land as King Goodie-Goodie.
Gnawing on an onion ring, I couldn’t help but notice my lame reflection in the mirror. I was scrawny and pale—a geek without a brain—someone who got decent grades but was certainly no straight A student. Was there a bigger loser on this planet than a geek without a brain?
Dale, the owner of the joint, came over and started talking to us. “When a paper towel falls asleep it’s called a nap-kin. Get it?”
Nikki and I cracked up. Bobby didn’t. Goodie-goodies have no sense of humor.
“So I hear you’re number one in your class, Bobby,” Dale said.
The king nodded.
“Where do you want to go to college?” Dale asked.
“Harvard,” Bobby said.
“With those grades you’ll be a shoo-in,” Dale said, turning to Nikki, pinching her cheek. “And I hear you’re quite the violin player.”
“I’m not bad,” said Nikki.
“Not bad? That’s not what your grandma said. She said you’re a child prodigy. You’ll be going to Juilliard some day.”
Nikki blushed.
Dale didn’t ask me about all the great stuff I did because there wasn’t any. I’m extremely lacking in the great stuff department.
The waiter marched out of the kitchen lugging a big black tray. He handed me my sandwich. I stared at it, belly growling. It was a really big sandwich. I mean a really big sandwich, piled high with roast beef, smoked turkey, salami, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato, bean sprouts, mayo, mustard, pickles, hot sauce. Picking it up with both hands, I closed my eyes and opened my mouth wider and wider, stretching my face muscles more than face muscles can possibly stretch. When I took that first big bite, I had to admit, it was hard to taste the meat in the middle. It got drowned out by all the other stuff they loaded on.
Suddenly it occurred to me that my whole life was right there in that sandwich. Just like the meat in the middle, it was hard for me to get noticed in my family. I was the middle child, wedged between a big brother and a younger sister. In the sandwich of my family, I was the flavor that couldn’t be tasted.
It ticked me off. I couldn’t wait to get out of that darn diner. As soon as lunch was over I told Bobby I had stuff to do and jumped up from the table.
“Make sure you’re back by four,” Bobby said. “We’re leaving today.”
“I know, Bobby. I’m not an idiot.”
We lived in New York City. My family had a summer place here in upstate New York, farm country. We’d been here for ten days. Now it was time to head back to the Big Apple.
“If we miss the train because of you, Grandma will go berserk,” Bobby said.
“I’ll be there,” I said. “Now quit bugging me.”
I shot out the door.
Whenever I got mad I ran into the forest. It was a great place to hang out when I wanted to be alone. The stillness, the shafts of golden light, the wind sifting through the top branches all teamed up to help calm me down. The beauty of nature sucked the octane out of my fist.
I wandered down a dirt path, the wind on my face and neck and hands. Have you ever been deep inside a gentle breeze? You should try it some time.
Standing still, I closed my eyes and inhaled the fresh scent of cedar and pine. A blue jay rang out in the distance. Another blue jay answered. An ovenbird chirped overhead, then a grouse and a warbler.
My English teacher said I have a gift for writing nature descriptions but she still gave me a B because my grammar sucks. I like writing poetry better because you don’t have to worry so much about grammar.
I recited a poem in class once. Big mistake. If you want to get called a sissy just start writing poetry. Wait until the jocks find out. You’ll never hear the end of it. Even girls will laugh at you. Take it from me, Giles. Being a poet will never land you a girl with freckled skyscrapers.
All the poetry I write is for me and me only. I whipped out my notebook in the middle of the woods and wrote a short poem called “Summer Vacation.”
We’re as tight as can be,
loneliness and me.
I continued on my way through the dark forest. A gust of wind parted the trees. The sun burst through. The gloom began to glow.
I shot up a tree. Despite being a crummy athlete, I had a knack for climbing trees. If tree climbing was an Olympic sport, I’d have a few gold medals by now. I’d have an agent. A bunch of endorsement deals.
Resting on a thick branch way up high, I imagined doing a commercial on TV. “Hi, it’s me, Giles. After I’ve been climbing trees all day, I come home and take a shower with Dial Soap.”
I’d be the Tom Brady of tree climbing. All the girls would be after me then. That was my only hope. If tree climbing doesn’t become a professional sport then I’ll never have a girlfriend.
I climbed down and continued on my way. Pulling the roll out of my pocket, I tore it up into pieces and flung them outside a hole that contained a family of raccoons. Grandma wasn’t thrilled that I fed raccoons but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I wasn’t stupid enough to try to pet them. I kept on walking, knowing they wouldn’t come out until I was long gone.
Marching past a giant oak, I glanced up at the remnants of a tree fort Bobby and I built two years ago. I stared at it like you’d stare at a pyramid from a lost civilization, back when life was good, back when Bobby and I hung out together all the time. Before he decided that he was too old to play with me anymore.
We carefully selected this tree because the canopy provided perfect camouflage and was undetectable by alien warlords ransacking Earth. After six hours of nailing boards into branches, we christened our fort with a bottle of Gatorade. Then we drilled spy holes all around the floor and walls in order to engage in alien surveillance and bird-watching.
We were so thrilled with our fort we formed our own architecture firm, specializing in tree houses. We had business cards printed up and passed them out to kids at Dale’s Diner.
I picked up a rock and threw it at the tree house. The architecture firm went out of business when Bobby hit ninth grade and his grades started counting for college. I couldn’t get Bobby’s betrayal out of my mind.
Sweat dripped down my forehead. It was the middle of a heat wave. It was the middle of July. The middle is a universe unto its own. It was my universe. And it was a pretty lousy one. I was tired of it, tired of being stuck in the middle of my family. I couldn’t wait to show everyone that I wasn’t a big nobody, that I added a unique spicy flavor to the double-decker sandwich of this world.
Standing in the middle of the forest, I prayed for something really cool to happen. What I longed for was a quest, an adventure, something grand and daring that would show the world just how brave and important I was. Something that would prove once and for all that I was just as good as Bobby.
I prayed so hard, rocking back and forth from side to side, gritting my teeth, my cheeks all puffed out, a vein in my forehead throbbing … I guess the universe decided to answer my prayer before my brain exploded.
Suddenly the wind picked up, lashing the trees. The hot gusts got stronger and stronger until the whole forest shook violently. I had to dodge the falling branches. It was a tornado. Unlike any tornado I’d ever seen on TV, this one gave off a blinding light. Even stranger, this tornado wasn’t funnel shaped. This tornado was round. This tornado wasn’t a tornado, it was a—oh my God, it couldn’t be—this tornado was a spaceship.

Copyright © 2012 by James Mihaley