Because my brother was born small and beautiful, my mother kept him in a glass terrarium. It is undeniable that there was a latent beauty about him. His soft bones seemed to invite an impressive physique—but in truth, though very small, he was uncommon to begin with. He liked to cry as much as any baby. Once he made it out of the hospital incubator, he ate and shat and complained just like I did before him. He accomplished all of this normal functioning inside the terrarium, which he never grew out of.
Wherever we went we brought the terrarium. Every summer we went to the beach, where I liked to jailbreak my brother and build elaborate sandcastles just to let him walk through the tiny rooms. Once in a while I’d collapse a wall on him and laugh while he dug himself out—what could he do? He and my father played a game that involved throwing him very high in the air when my mother wasn’t looking. Later, he went to prom on the shoulder of a gorgeous, normal-sized girl. He got drunk on drops of booze, easily found. As I said, he never grew. He became a man, of course, but a very small man.
The trouble came when he refused to leave the terrarium. My mother loved the small man that was her son and even more beautiful by then, but she wanted him to build a life we could all take pride in. She wanted me to be able to see him on TV and sigh and say, that’s my brother. But he had other plans. The world was too big, he said, why should he have to leave? The three of them argued until he sealed up his glass home, painted its walls an opaque black, and bunkered down inside. My parents left the terrarium in the corner of their bedroom. My mother worried over it, whispered into it as if it were a magic eight-ball. My father now and then threatened to smash it.
Then one day the terrarium opened again. Its top had melted off and something steamed inside. My brother’s skin had been shed and tossed casually over the limb of a bonsai tree. A yellowish lizard pressed its belly to a rock and looked up through the hole at my parents. My mother screamed and burst into tears. She always hated reptiles, but there was no mistaking those bones, those beautiful bones.
My parents moved the lizard into the sunroom for more light. My mother kept a chair beside the terrarium. She spent hours, sometimes days at a time examining the lizard for signs of her beautiful boy, the small man. She began to feed him live crickets by hand, one by one, and he finally started to grow. This devotion continued for a while. At some point my father died, and my mother moved into the sunroom. The rest of the house fell down around them over the years.
Now the only thing left of my childhood home is that room, just three walls of windows attached to a viewing platform. You can pay four dollars to see them if you choose to, if that’s something you want to see—an old woman and a giant lizard, trapped together in a case of glass. I hear that the lizard is almost as large as the woman. I hear that the woman has stopped eating and that the lizard has not been fed in some time. I imagine that it won’t be long now before my baby brother will have to make a decision. Very soon, he will have to leave.