Personal Column: Cherishing the impermanence of life


Bao Nguyen

My brother hugging me in elementary school while I wistfully stared out into space.

In typical younger sister fashion, I always barged into my brother’s room unannounced, but he never minded. He’d always be sitting at his computer desk playing games on a slightly torn rolling office chair that looked comically huge compared to him. Wherever he went, I followed. It was like witnessing a mother hen and its chick, except the mother hen was always him. When I could still fit, I would squeeze behind him, put my legs on the chair, hug my knees, then settle my head on his back as the various sounds of “World of Warcraft” mixed with aggressive tapping echoed within the room. 

The chair didn’t look so big with both of us on it. 

“Wake me up if you leave the room, okay?”

The thought of his presence leaving my proximity terrified me; I could only peacefully sleep in spaces that felt safe. As the comforting sounds of sorcery and slashing swords slowly lulled me to sleep, he always replied, 

“I will.” 

But whenever I woke up, I would be confronted by the suffocating silence of the room and the emptiness surrounding me. The space was no longer safe. As a lost chick would do, the only thing I could do was hop off the chair and search for him.

A few years later, the bedroom door opens, and I’m still there, by the computer desk. He’s sitting on the office chair, and I’m sitting on a wooden chair that I carried into his room. The rolling chair seems much smaller than before, and I no longer have a space behind him. We’re both playing “Minecraft,” one of the many games we played together, our shared love language. While I idly wandered the open plains, he gathered materials for us to survive in the game. Without him, I would’ve died of something as stupid as hunger.

Even in games, I owe the foundations of my life to him.  

There are many things that remain unsaid between my parents and me, whether it be something simple, like an occasional existential crisis, or something more complicated to express, like the fluidity of self. Not only are feelings difficult to translate into Vietnamese, but I felt like they would never truly understand my most authentic self. Our conversations would always begin with, 

“Do you have anything on your mind?”

I would abruptly end it with, 

“I’m fine.”

When my brother asks,

“Do you have anything on your mind?”

I would never end the conversation. 

The things that were difficult to articulate to my parents came fluidly when talking to him. Somehow, he always knew what to say. 

It has always been him and I against the world — until the realities of the world hit us. Due to him being four years older than me and therefore the first to leave home for college, I unfortunately began my first year at Carnegie without clutching his hands.

When I opened the door to his room, what was once filled with the sounds of gaming was now filled with silence. Occasionally playing video games over call and Facetiming didn’t feel like enough. Our laughter and conversations encompassed my life, and without him being home, it didn’t truly feel like home

My younger self would have counted the days until my brother returned home. Would have whined about him leaving. But being apart felt like it was going to be okay. In reality, it was more okay. Unwillingly, I was the only child in the household, but it made me depend on myself and my parents more. For the first time, I navigated a large chapter of my life without being overly dependent on anyone.

In Vietnamese, there are honorifics used to address certain people, whether it be someone much older than you, or slightly older than you. “Anh” is the honorific that goes before an older male’s name, showing that you respect them. I’ve always thought that honorifics were unnecessary, but I never dropped the “Anh” in my brother’s name. I will always admire and cherish him, wherever we end up in life. 

The days when we both fit on the rolling chair genuinely felt like they were going to last forever. Surviving “Minecraft” together felt like our biggest concern. I’m going to college next year, and he’s going to graduate school. Regardless of the separate lives we’re leading, like the memories of growing up together, our bond is everlasting. I know he’ll always be there to support me as we navigate our individual lives, and without hesitation, I’ll always be there for Anh Luong, too. Hug your siblings before life goes on — life is bittersweet.

(To Anh Luong, if you’re reading this, thank you for all that you’ve done for me.)