top of page



My brother drugged me once, but when we were kids, he saved me from mediocrity. After school, he taught me a hidden curriculum: magnetic rail guns, hydrogen engines, the sting of peachy dip spit, how fireworks get their colors. He makes me his sidekick:

Fetch the sulfuric.

Tell Mom we’ll be home late.

Where are my iron shavings?

Hide this.

Right hand to the God-complex, in memories he still mesmerizes me. His moldy sweetness riveted my little limbs, acidic lemon candies sizzling inside your cheeks.


I spend my free time with some dude named Connor who is always working. On rare nights off, he picks me up at the Spirit gas station near my apartment, takes me up to his. He is shorter than I imagined, but in a comforting way. Upstairs, his fingertips graze my spine when he passes behind me in the kitchen, setting off a familiar sizzle. Where do men learn to do that? Is it part of the same class where they master the urinal shake?

Connor says shaking is lesson two; the back touch is lesson nine but just as ubiquitous. I know some women despise it, feel that touch as patronizing, but to me, it feels like safety. A gestural whisper, This is your place.


When we are young, my parents are always fighting. My brother combats the noise by telling me jokes in his bedroom. I know them as classics now, but back then, he was original and brilliant. “Man go to doctor. He say, ‘Doctor, I am so depressed,’…” I laugh and laugh and laugh. We practice handstands between the mattress and the wall, hang our heads off the edge of the bed and try to identify our surroundings upside down, faces bulging and red. When dishes start to break, he lets me listen to his Weird Al CD with his over-ear headphones that are too big for my head, so I squeeze the sound in. Unable to hear, he smiles along with me. We listen so much, I imagine Mr. Yankovic gets dizzy. Now, I re-watch us sitting there and flinch about my preteen brother, hearing our favorite ice cream bowl shatter—possibly on my mother—smiling at me.


I don’t know where my brother is anymore. Kentucky, I think. Working to support his family. During our semi-annual re-connections, he directs me to the nearest Walmart service counter to send him money transfers. Other times, he barks in a fake Southern accent, boasting about the machines he fixes at work. He asks what I would’ve done to fix them. I don’t know. “It’s common sense,” he says, “You know this, you went to college,” with a tone that sounds like disappointment, or envy, or both. He says that he is proud of me, and I wonder if it is true.


Connor doesn’t really care that I am in medical school, he says. He flips the vinyl and I say, Do you hate me?

“Would I have you over if I hated you?"

Probably not, but I kind of feel the need to impress you.

“That’s really strange of you to say.”

He sits closer with each return from the turntable, the kitchen, the light switch. Soon inches separate us; he does not need to touch to coax me in. I float into his confident plenty like a cartoon character to windowsill pies.


My brother finds a retired anesthetic agent online and replaces half of my Gatorade with it, not that I would notice. He says, “You are dehydrated,” and I start chugging. He watches me stumble. Something is wrong, I say, but he is singing. The hallway is tilted. Nothing. My chemistry flashcards read like laundry fuzz. Finally I ask, Did you put something in this?

“Oh, yeah, did I not tell you?”

My mother sees me hugging the wall to stay upright and laughs, “Why you so silly?” My brother walks me outside, opens the hatch of his friend’s car and sits me up in the back. I fall asleep there and wake up inside on the couch. I smell like a bonfire. I ask, What happened? He says, “You just went to sleep,” but I pick tufts of mysterious rare meat out of my teeth. My hair is sticky and dull.

He kisses my cheek. “You had fun.”


The last time I play sidekick sibling, my brother sneaks into my room at night. He lightly nudges my shoulder awake. “Chút,” he says. Little One in Vietnamese. “Unlock your phone.” I connect the virtual dots for him and he dials a number that the FBI says he can’t call anymore. He talks in the backyard, collecting dew drops and stray grass on his ankle monitor. When he returns my cell phone under my pillow, he presses sly lips against my forehead and leaves a green blade on my bed frame.


Connor will drop me off at the gas station and not check to make sure I make it home okay. I will want to drop him at the same time and be unable, scratching his indifferent name into my margins for days of non-contact. My path to obsession with him is a mystery I strain to crack. Sometimes I call just to try to unravel it. I climb into the car and ask, Do you actually like me? and he says, “What is this about?” I ask my therapist and she says, “Sometimes we try for different endings with people we once felt rejected by. Does that resonate with you?”

I just don’t know who that would be.


In the quiet, I wonder about my big brother, his children—an older boy and a younger girl, what distraction games they play, and from what. I wonder if my brother is still having underground, amnesial adventures with someone other than me.

In our unfinished basement, we had a bucket of sulfuric acid. Big enough that I couldn’t carry it myself. At times, as heavy as me. And if you asked him what it was for, he’d laugh. It was “all purpose.”

He told me the stuff melted a model’s face off. He saw it on the news. Her ex hired someone to toss it onto her. He never told me what he used it for.


I’m past all of that now: conducting science by candlelight, covering his weapons with my schoolbooks in the car. Now I just meet up with boys and girls and men. Monday morning is emergency rooms. Radiology reads. A boxy white coat, stethoscope that seashells old songs. But if my brother asked me to fetch the sulfuric today, I would wrangle that bucket to him, all my fingers fighting for it up those pinewood plank stairs, and it would slosh below me, surf over the edge, burn me blind, new clothes singed, my writhing lips licked off by those perilous, pesky little protons, sure, whatever, fine, but—

Would he want me?

Would he say it?

Would it sizzle?



The tags read like museum inscriptions. Names redacted, leaving worldly

contributions: mechanic, respiratory therapist, nurse, homemaker; beside

their many demises: congestive heart failure, lung cancer, cirrhosis, shot

kidneys—we try to make the stories fit: a caretaker pressed so tightly into her roles

and skidless shoes she drank herself an ocean, where she could float so

freely—a car man whose profession poisoned puff by puff, silent, slick, and sucked

his breath astray. To die and bind your body a textbook, what made you

worth learning from? These hands, what did they make? So we lift off a rib cage

opening their treasure chest, wincing at the bone saw friction rub, jolting between

reverently beholding and plunging curious knuckles

inside and underneath, anywhere a mouse can go, turning

away, reminding each other:

They wanted us to learn. This is what they wanted.



if you’re like me, you think about this once, twice

a day: how will i share my truth yet keep my oppressor,

chomping to sue for slander, at bay? while waiting to be

whisked into the trazodone dozing zone, i’ve compiled a list

sturdy enough to stand your loftiest litigious lampoons. the first

is retroactive; if you could go back to 1999, take a photo every day—

sweater off, kintsugi mug, sibling’s math table head egg,

your mother’s outer thigh. next, if time travel isn’t your forte, write down

what you recall, avoid sounding cinematic (saturation is for storybooks), but

painstake twenty-year-old dates, early 2000s alibis, liquor store receipts—

if your recollection is murky, impossible, repressed then read on still!

have you tried getting a mental health diagnosis (PTSD, BPD), perhaps

addicted to pills? such stray and perilous footprints may taunt

a curious juror to connect your damaged dots. though the least concrete,

trait impressions tell the truth. when baking bread, the proving drawer

does not make copies but rather flaps the fan,

swells up, rounds out, inflames,




how the laundromat reaches all the crevices and the dishwasher,

none. I have seen the act: so aloof, how did I get here?, your spotlight

life a list of calculated crashes; they will cheer when you limp off

but you will not double-glance at the bill. You wake in late morning

a goddamn marauder, missing it. As if the dew drops were sprinkled

on the lawn by God—it’s me. Wiping out on your lush

Kentucky blue grass, spilling sweat like

Sonic rings, Mario coins, the heroes you pretend to be

and the mess you take for granted.



Your mydriatic eyes bore through her bosom and yet,

mine gets gored. I peek into the puddle of your mirror-finish

saliva swatch and notice sternal bone curves through my skin

more than the bells below, beside. Once plentiful, prized, now

fattened, humbled, atop the gallows stool. Dream your hands crushed

amid the fault between her world-shaking sundries, pull mine into

their fishing line noose, cut like clay for you to sculpt. I once saw a cadaver breast

bare and dissected on a table, plump not with appeal but ligaments, ducts,

whet-able webs, how bountiful it looked! So kick the legs. Let

these illiquid assets fall away; separate from the surplus

and more beautiful for it.



Statistical tests are coded more than I could have imagined;

when I add a trend line to data points, I say of them,

“These points are independent of each other; they are

normal, continuous, covariate-less.” It says of me,

“I question the type and strength of this relationship.”

I used to think I just made things look good. Bow the package, watch the

train, wave chiefs to sailing ships. Now I see the trauma: forcing

numbers through calipers to find if they fit my mold, to see what my mold

could make, if that sculpture might stand alone, how closely

it would resemble me, basking in a ray of right. I am stuck

thinking about polygraph engineers, ink bouncing, convinced every

conversation is a con; police line-up casting directors licking pages

of guilty faces. What helps me sleep is picturing

the rigorous criteria their subjects must first meet

because of course they do! If they didn’t, well,

all those tests would be too flawed to trust and the

results—see catastrophic, inescapable—but oh,

they are just lines.


Lydia Buzzard (she/her) is a medical student and writer raised in Western KY. She currently resides in Portland, OR, with her dog. You can visit her on Twitter at @lydiabuzzard.

bottom of page