You barely listen to the funeral host talk as she speaks in complicated Japanese that your mind couldn’t begin to decipher. You only stare at the bones of your great-grandmother in a metallic room, full of your well-dressed family members. They each had a blank stare; their tears had already vanished.
Only hours ago, they had cried it all out when they saw their beloved 101-year-old family member in the casket. After they saw her body, it was then transported to the funeral home, where we followed like a dying star. Once we caught up, we watched her body be rolled into the furnace, for it to be burned, as all stars do eventually. There wasn’t any smoke or the smell of burning flesh when she was cremated; only the black and white walls of the funeral home only filled our senses.
Now, you silently watched as your family members picked up parts of your great-grandma’s bones and put them in the jar of ashes. It must’ve been what the funeral host was talking about. The familiar figures in your family picked up the bones, piece by piece until it was your turn to do the same. You feel your hands shake as you pick up the bone you randomly chose, watching the chopsticks in your hand and the bone with it tremble slightly.
It reminds you of when you were eating dinner one time when you were in your teens. You had no idea that your chopstick posture grew worse as you grew up, and today was the day that your mom finally snapped. “Since when did you hold your chopsticks so poorly?” She asked, her voice calm and disappointed. You fully defended with fire that “the way that I held my chopsticks was fine”. You snipped at your rice as if it would prove your point further.
The two of you argued your stances while the fried chicken was starting to sog from the oil it was fried in. It looked so sad when you finally came around to it. Instead of eating it right away, you fully elect to sip the miso soup she made, the crunch of the enoki mushrooms making you feel better. You did end up eating that piece of chicken, though. The chicken, the farmers, and your mom worked hard to bring it to your plate. It would be a waste of their efforts and the chicken’s life otherwise.
Dinner was the only time you could meet your mom face-to-face when you were younger. Although you couldn’t remember much else about her ghostly form (aside from what you could gather from the little knick-knacks in her room), you remember when she materialized on the dinner table. But who knows what she was saying back then. You were too busy looking at your Dad’s iPad to pay attention to what she had to say. But you figured it wasn’t anything major unless you were being spoken to, right? You ended up paying attention to your digital “brother” more than your living, breathing mother, even as she got less busy.
Though, in your defense, she did the same thing to you too, while you were growing up. Just in a different way; through work.
You didn’t ignore her out of spite or to make a point, but you did it because you were listening to your brother. Maybe if you watched less Pokémon and focused on talking to your mom more, your chopstick holding may have stayed as perfect as your mom wanted. You may have never had that argument, to begin with, either. Your brother might have understood, but he would never know. You would never know.
After all, you only saw what airs he put on in his videos.
As much as you wanted to pretend, you knew that he wasn’t related to you; he didn’t even know you existed. You didn’t even have siblings. He was just a stranger that felt like what a brother should be like. You knew all the decades of struggles that he went through and how the lack of his friends helped him become the person you saw today. While he was with you, he didn’t know your name. But it didn’t matter. He felt real to you and even though he didn’t know it, he was your video game nerd of a brother. The only brother that you have and that will ever have.
You connected with this “brother” of yours quicker than you did with your mom (which wouldn’t happen until you experienced adulthood). He was just like you, after all; he liked video games, he felt like an outcast that didn’t have as many friends as everyone else day and he had a pet cat. He was what you looked forward to when you got back home from 4th grade, after a day of barely having any friends. It was what you thought siblings were like. You pretend that he got home from school too, or even a job. So, when you guys would find the time, you would sit together and watch him play video games. Mostly Pokémon. You did have the freedom to choose what game he played through the videos he posted. Mom wasn’t there to make that choice for you.
That was only part of the reason why you preferred your “brother” over your mom.
You remember a time when you brought your brother’s likeness to the dinner table. You were listening to him gleefully try to catch a legendary flaming bird inside of something that was effectively a baseball, ignoring the world around you. You were picking at your dinner, bit by bit, as you felt your mom’s eyes on you. She finally spoke up, and you remember that she told you to wear headphones when you’re eating at the table. Her head hurt, after all.
From then on, you wore headphones at the table and absorbed nothing of what your parents were discussing in Japanese. As your knowledge of Pokemon improved, your knowledge of Japanese decreased. This tradition continued for years and years, with that brother being swapped for other siblings and friends through the Internet. You would go back to him sometimes, but you had other company now, aside from him. You grew out of him. Of course, you eventually did make friends that weren’t confined to a phone screen, but those 180×180 pixel profile pictures still felt like home. They wouldn’t admonish you for how you weren’t Japanese enough or how you held your chopsticks. They wouldn’t know if you longed for that same connection that you made with your brother to transfer to your mom. They would never know.
You keep that thought with you as you gently place part of your grandmother’s skeleton in her urn. Even after you reassured yourself as much as you could, you secretly ask yourself if your deceased relatives judging you now, before passing off the chopsticks to the cousin after you. Would they tell you to correct your chopstick posture? Is that sort of thing even genetic? You’ll never know.
You avoid your mother’s eyes as you watch your grandpa and grandma put in the final bones. You hoped that your chopstick holding was good enough for your family; that it would be good enough for your parents when you eventually had to be the only one to put their bones in their urns when they get cremated. No matter what your feelings were concerning your parents, you knew it was your duty as their only direct offspring to place the remaining bones in their urn. You swallow that fear and think about your virtual friends and family; but most of all, your “brother”. They will never change, and you will never see their skeletons.
They didn’t know you, after all. Your parents did.