I was seven when I first listened to Eminem. I sat in the middle of the back seats because that’s where my parents said I would be safest; on either side of me faced speakers underneath the window cranks, stuck to their spots in their tan leather heat. My brother’s body pounded onto the driver’s seat, his hand jerked the car into reverse, and his other hand slid a CD into the little hole above the radio that had broken last year. His eyes blinked back to me in the rearview mirror, and he said, “Hey, Sara, you know you’re a little kid, right?”
“Yeah, so?” I said while pushing the top of my seatbelt behind my back so I could lean forward more, feel like I was in the front seat more, like I was an adult more.
This is another public service announcement, brought to you, in part, by Slim Shady.
“So this is music for grown ups that you’re not supposed to listen to—”
Slim Shady does not give a fuck what you think. If you don’t like it, you can suck his fucking cock.
“—but I’m letting you listen to it because you’re smart, right?”
I nodded my head but he didn’t see.
Little did you know, upon purchasing this album, you have just kissed his ass.
“Yeah. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
Slim Shady is fed up with your shit, and he is going to kill you.
My brother skipped the next song, and I listened to Dido’s soft voice come at me from either side, and for the rest of the day I had her lilting voice whispering through my head while my friend and I played with her new Barbies.
When I was eleven, my brother went to college and I started middle school, excited by the adulthood of having my very own locker. I washed my hands next to the girls giving each other piercings in the bathrooms. I changed for gym class next to the girls who looked like me, with their checkered Bermuda shorts and striped purple T-shirts. They talked to each other and smiled at me, and I smiled back. I was more afraid of talking to them than to the popular girls with their eyebrow piercings that they took out before they went home. At least I knew those girls would laugh at me.
A gangly girl with curly brown hairs that refused to stay close to her head elbowed me in the back a few weeks into school, and apologized while nervously squeezing a Gogurt tube between her hands. I accepted her apology with a smile, too nervous to talk to this girl in her muddy Converse and flare jeans. We smiled at each other for a moment, her fingers still kneading the Gogurt, and then the tube gave out, erupting with pink goo that sputtered onto her brown sweater and my white one. Our faces reflected one another’s: eyes wide, mouths open, cheeks on fire. “Ew!” she squealed, and I felt a giggle bubble out of me, and I started laughing harder when she said, “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry.”
Her large hands weaved through her hair, her fingers reminding me of spiders as they got stuck in the knots. I smiled at her, eyes in tears. We were splattered with pink yogurt, and I wasn’t afraid of her anymore. “It’s okay,” I said. “My name’s Sara.” She said her name was Tara. Tara with the spider hands and beige eyes and pink Gogurt sweater, just like me. We walked around the track together that day, and her friends tried to help us get the yogurt out of our sweaters, and we called each other that night after our moms yelled at us about the stains.
When I was twelve, my brother dropped out of college, and Tara and I declared that we were smarter than him. We asked him to prove he was as smart as us by doing our Algebra homework—his refusal was proof of his tiny brain. My parents asked Tara’s parents if I could sleep over sometimes, when my brother seemed angrier than usual, and they always said yes but nobody told us why. A few weeks into these split-second sleepovers (christened that the third time it happened), I came home to our light blue vase in pieces sprinkled across the floor, edges sliced into the dark wood. Nobody was home, our cat was stuck under the couch, and the dishwasher was open from when I had left the night before. My room smelled like beer. My brother’s room was covered in broken brown glass. I went back downstairs and tried to pry the cat out of hiding.
My brother moved to an anger management facility that year, and Tara moved away the year after. I went to high school with Tara’s elementary school friends, and by senior year our favorite topic was how different Tara was. We, her original friends, looked at her Instagram and Facebook photos, each adorned with Tara and a different man, or a half-naked Tara smoking something, or Tara with a red Solo cup in hand and dark circles under her eyes. We all agreed: “She obviously wasn’t who we thought she was, especially if she could party her life away,” we said. We giggled at the avocado masks we wiped on one another at our monthly sleepovers, resting our eyes under cucumbers like old women did in old movies, and we shat on Tara’s new highlighter hair colors and thong swimsuits. She was trashy.
College parted Tara’s old friends and me, and we stopped talking after sophomore year. My brother came home from the facility in a starched pink button-down and black work pants, and he moved into an apartment by my college. We weren’t close.
I was on my way to give him and his girlfriend their tickets to my graduation when I heard The Marshall Mathers LP again. Rain and Dido slowly got louder in my car, the beat seeping through the speakers next to the steering wheel. My chest ballooned with childhood joy—the song from when I was a little girl, before everything happened with my brother and Tara and before I knew any curse words. I sang along with Dido, instinctively and excitedly, and then Eminem started rapping, and I listened to him for the first time. I listened about the death of Stan and his girlfriend, pregnant with their baby. I listened to the rest of the album. I listened about Kim and Amityville. I sat outside my brother’s apartment for an hour listening to Eminem, looking at nothing. I listened until it ended, then I turned off the car and went in, hugged them hello and answered their small-chat questions about school until the questions petered out, gave them their tickets, and hugged them goodbye.
I pulled “Stan” up on my phone and listened again, staring at nothing again. I didn’t know what was going on with my brother when I was younger, but I hadn’t cared. I wanted to be bigger than him, smarter than him, happier. I never helped him. Eminem waited too long to write Stan back. Eminem waited too long to write Stan back and I had waited too long with my brother. I was waiting too long with Tara, I realized too, but why didn’t I care about that? Maybe I just wanted my brother in my life more. Maybe I just wanted what I never had.
I walked back to the apartment and knocked on their door, and I hugged my brother again and said, “I’m glad you’re here, and you have Ashley. Would you guys want to come over for dinner sometime?” I knew their answer in the silence.