by: Caitlin Bergh
“Are you up?” my brother whispers from his bed, which is just across the coffee table from where I am curled up under an array of diverse blankets on his couch. A checkered blanket made of wool, slightly scratchy. A fleece blanket worn thin and filled with static. A striped blanket that must be some sort of polyester blend. Hints of daylight peek through the shoddy blinds and a framed picture on his bookcase catches my eye. It’s a photo of us when we were little. We are waltzing.
“I’m up,” I say, panicking, “what time is it? Did I sleep in?”
“No,” he says, and I breathe a sigh of relief. “It’s 7am and we’ll be just in time. This is prime caching hour!” My brother’s excitement is enough to get anyone out of bed for the day, even if it looks to be a gloomy, cold one. “Looks like there’s light rain,” he says.
“Doesn’t matter to me!” I say, folding up the blankets. And it doesn’t. I’d go out in any weather for this journey. We leap up and run around the apartment to get ready.
“Let me grab you a bike,” my brother says, reaching for a black bag. Out of it, he pulls a folded hunk of metal, which he unfolds into a bike in minutes. I’m awestruck. “I bought it with my first paycheck,” he says smiling, and I’m awestruck again. He’s a real doctor now living in New York City with a real paycheck and a real bike that folds up into a bag. I feel humbled in the tiny apartment by all that he’s accomplished. Like I’m in the presence of someone famous.
“Thanks for letting me use this,” I say, taking the handle as if it were made of porcelain.
“Oh, no worries,” my brother says, grabbing his own bike and a hooded sweatshirt. He always says that, “no worries.” And unlike most people, he actually means it. He tries so hard to make sure the people he cares about don’t worry.
“Let’s get some coffee,” I say, as we shut the door and stuff our bikes into his building’s ancient elevator, which smells like old, spilled soup.
We say good morning to the doorman as we lift our bikes out onto the street. The air is cool and damp on the Upper East Side this morning, but I am alive with excitement.
“Maybe I should’ve brought another jacket! It’s chilly,” I say, and my brother stops walking his bike.
“Need me to go back?” he asks.
I smile. That is my brother. He has always looked out for me. Just 18 months older than me, he was my hero since day one. We were virtually inseparable as kids, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a baby picture or a childhood video of either of us that didn’t include the other.
But things are different now, I think, as I tell him I’ll be fine and we continue pushing our bikes up the hill to Central Park. We live in different cities, we have different friends and careers and we have significant others. We have crazy schedules and we are lucky if we get to see each other two days a year now. Two days out of three-hundred-sixty-five. Two days. And this is one of them. I’m hyper-aware of how limited my time is with one of the people who matters most to me. I think about how I never could have forgiven myself if I had slept in today.
After he holds the bikes and I run into a café to buy us coffee, we start up again towards Central Park. We are each pushing a bike, sipping the hot drinks that make us more awake, more conversational, and more focused on our goal: the cache.
We are on our way to Central Park because we are going geo-caching. Geo-caching is an international sport, or obsession, that involves hidden treasures all over the world. The treasures can range from simple to complex, but they all include a list, on which you can sign your caching name if you find them, and they are all trackable by a GPS app on your phone. The point is not to take the treasure. The point is just to find it. Find it, sign your name, write a message to the next person, and move on.
Finally, we get to Central Park, throw our empty coffee cups away, mount our bikes and take off. My bike works fine but the tiny tires look so silly to me and I worry it could collapse back into a hunk of metal at any second. My brother is biking with no hands, filming me with his iPhone. “Say hi!” he says. “Hi!” I say to the camera. “Tell us what you are doing,” he says. I dive right into my best ridiculous, British accent, “we are in pursuit of the elusive cache! It’s early and the park is quiet, so we shouldn’t have to fight off too many contenders. We feel hopeful about the find!”
My brother gives a short laugh, showing his approval of my message and puts one hand back on his handlebars, which makes me considerably less nervous. With the other, he is now using his phone to track the cache. When we finally locate it within a few feet, we stop our bikes and walk in its direction, trying our best to act like we are not heading toward anything interesting. We don’t want to attract “muggles” or non-cachers. Finally, the GPS shows that we are within arm’s reach of the find.
“Caitlin,” he says grabbing my arm, “go, you should be the one to make the cache!” It’s very generous of him, and I jump at the chance. I survey the scene. Right ahead of us, I see a tiny magnet stuck to a lamppost by a pond in the park. I grab it, thrilled, and open it up to find a list of ridiculous caching names, names of those who have come before us. We high-five in excitement that we’ve found it, then each sign our own caching names, and I add a few small wildflowers to the secret container. It is customary to add a small token. A sticker, a coin, a rock, whatever you want. We put the secret box back on the lamppost and run, almost giddily, to our bikes.
I take a minute to think about what I am really doing. I woke up early today and went out in the cold, gloomy mist to find lists of names around Central Park. But it doesn’t feel like that at all, because I’m with my brother. Together, the task of finding lists becomes something else entirely. It becomes a mystery that only we can solve. It becomes a quest for something larger than ourselves. It becomes a secret that only we have access to right now at 7am in the park . And this is easily one of the top five best days in the past three-hundred-sixty-five.
When we were little, my brother and I used to spend every day together. Every single day. Three-hundred-sixty-five. We picked raspberries off the bushes in our back yard and brought them to our mom like we had done her a huge, distinguished favor. We set up a fortune-telling stand where I was the fortune-teller and my brother played his keyboard, eerily, behind me. We constructed our own drive-through restaurant by using the window on the first floor of our house and making a menu of what we had in the kitchen. When it snowed, we built a secret igloo. In the summer, I pretended that I’d found a key to a secret garden, and he played along. We had dogs that ran through the woods with us as we looked for salamanders by the stream or fish in the pond. We had each other.
Riding our bikes through Central Park, the mist starting to soak through the top layer of my hooded sweatshirt, I smile for the iPhone camera that my brother is pointing at me, and I laugh and give British-sounding answers to all of the important, interview questions. There are other people in the park, joggers, who look at me like I’m crazy, but I can’t seem to notice them. Because I finally have my friend back, even if it is just for a few hours. We are 27- and 26-years-old now, but as we search for these dumb lists stuck on lampposts and buried under trees, we are kids again. And I remember what I’ve always known. That even if our lives take us to different places, we will always have each other’s backs.
He’s right in front of me, but I already miss him. I’m laughing, but I already feel tears welling up, ready to launch as soon as we say goodbye and I have to watch him walk away to live the three-hundred-sixty-three days of his life that I’m not part of. I have sudden flashes of every fight we’ve ever had over the years as we’ve gotten older, and how each one wrecked me. Ate away at me for months, years even. How I have never really recovered from any of them. I think about how different we are and how much I never want to disappoint him, and how hard that will always be. I wish I could always find my way back to my brother as easily as I can find a stranger’s treasure, a list of names buried under a tree.