The Syndrome ©
Mumble. Mumble. Grumble. Grumble.
Brent could hear the voices outside his bedroom door. Without straining his ears, he knew it was his older brother, Dave, arguing with his mother again.
"Where are my books?" he could hear Dave yell.
"Where you left them," his mother calmly replied.
Brent smiled to himself and buried his head in his pillow. Lately Dave had been so cranky his parents had scolded him. "You're in such bad humour these days," their father had complained. "We can't say anything to you without you flaring up. . .for no reason at all!"
"I do not!" argued Dave defensively.
"See? There you go again," shrugged his father.
Dave didn't answer that time. He just sat at the dinner table in glum silence.
Brent thought all this was terribly amusing since it was usually him who was in the wrong. And since he was only ten, almost, and Dave was fourteen, his older brother loved to rub it in whenever he got into trouble. So Brent was enjoying this sudden turn of events until he overheard his parents talking about the 'syndrome'. As close as Brent could determine, Dave suffered from some kind of syndrome. Brent couldn't figure it out but he knew he might get it, that it wasn't pleasant, and that it drove his parents crazy. Perhaps that's why his parents were treating Dave with light-hearted banter, thought Brent, so as not to upset him so much. Perhaps that's why they'd look at each other with exasperation every time Dave had one of his 'syndrome' fits.
Like the time Dave forgot to dry the dishes. . .and it was his turn.
"I warned you," bellowed dad, "that's one dollar off your allowance!"
"What!" exclaimed Dave "I forgot, that's all! Why don't you take money off Brent, too! He
forgets! But oh, no, You never do! You love Brent more than me, don't you?" taunted Dave.
To Brent's surprise, his dad just slowly nodded. "If that's what you think, Dave, then that's what you think. And I'm sure nothing will change your mind. Never mind that your mother and I have made plenty of sacrifices for you. Obviously it hasn't been enough. You feel unloved and you've made up your mind. So there's nothing we can do about it."
Brent stared open-mouthed at the two. Was Dave's behavior the result of the 'syndrome'?
Would Brent catch it, too? He looked at Dave as he was now: tortured, furious, frustrated. He watched him storm upstairs, fuming. Then he caught his father's eye; his father winked at him!
Brent didn't know what to think now. In fact he kept out of Dave's way as much as he could.
First, he didn't want to catch the syndrome. Second, he didn't want to be the object of his brother's miserable temper. And yet, strangely enough, Brent discovered Dave was not at all miserable with his friends. When they called on the phone he laughed and joked. But when he got off the phone and caught his younger brother watching him Dave grew surly again.
Indeed, when Brent thought about it, Dave's behaviour was odd. He remembered being with his mother and brother downtown and Dave was very embarrassed walking with them.
"Don't walk too close beside me," he pleaded. "I might see someone I know."
Brent also noticed how much time Dave took in the bathroom. It wasn't that long ago his parents were ordering Dave to wash his hair. Now he insisted on a shower every morning. It seemed he spent hours in front of the mirror combing his hair and yet it always looked the same to Brent. He noticed, too, that Dave carried a comb in his back pocket and used it every time he stepped in out of the wind. Once Brent mentioned to his older brother that he had pimples, 'zits' he called them, and Dave practically ate him alive.
"You pipsqueak!" he yelled. "Get outa my room!" Brent left, in a hurry. There was no way he wanted to catch the syndrome disease anyway. It wasn't until Brent saw how annoyed his parents were one night that he really began to worry about the disease. Dave had gone out with his friends and not called home to let them know he was going to be late. His parents became angry when Dave wasn't home in time for dinner. When an hour passed his mother wrung her hands in anxiety. Finally, after two hours, she announced to Brent and his father: "I'm worried sick."
When Dave finally sauntered in he had not the slightest idea how frantic his parents were. No, he shrugged, "I never thought to phone. I didn't think it mattered."
"Selfish!" boomed his father. "You've become absolutely selfish! Never think about anyone else but yourself!"
Natter. Natter. . .the argument dragged on.
This time, though, Brent crept away to his room with a frown on his face. Dave had certainly changed, that was for sure. And not for the better, he thought. He was fussy; he was always eating; he talked on the phone constantly; he didn't want to be seen with his family; he argued all the time; and as if that wasn't enough, he had this disease that Brent could catch! Brent was worried. He did not want to catch the disease, too. But what could he do? He lived in the same house as his brother! It was in this wild state of affairs that Brent heard a knock on his door. It was his mom. Was he okay, she asked? It wasn't like him to leave the scene of an argument especially when he wasn't involved. She smiled.
Brent bit his lip. Perhaps now was the time to ask his mother about Dave's strange illness. Summoning up his courage, he blurted out: "I don't want to catch the same thing as Dave! It's a terrible disease!”
"What are you talking about?"
“Dave and the syndrome. I don't want to get it. I don't want to be like Dave and I heard you say I'd get it, too."
His mother looked at him again. . .rather strangely this time. "What are you talking about?" she repeated. But even as she asked the question, Brent knew his mother was thinking.
Then he watched as a broad smile beamed across her face.
"Syndrome?" she asked again.
Brent nodded. His mother began to chuckle loudly. Then she called for his father. When he came, she put her arms around Brent and said, "Brent is afraid of catching the syndrome."
His father looked puzzled.
"Remember, dear. ." she reminded her husband as she hugged Brent closer. "Remember when we were discussing how difficult Dave had become and that he was suffering from the age-old teen-age syndrome and that Brent, here, would go through it, too? Remember?"
Teen-age syndrome! Suddenly Brent's anxiety vanished. He had heard about the mood changes of teenagers before. He had even seen TV shows on it.
"So nothing," he sighed, "is going to happen to me after all! I'm just going to grow into a teen-ager! "
"Right," smiled his mother.
"Right," laughed his father.
And then all at once from the hall they heard: "mom! Where's my shirt. . .the one that matches
my cords? I need it right now!"
This time it was Brent who laughed.