Jamar knocked on Jina’s door that night and walked in to check on her.
“Hey, you wanna talk?” he asked.
Jina sat at her desk with her back to him. “No.”
“C’mon,” Jamar said, stepping into the room. “We don’t spend that much time anymore. You hungry? Let’s go eat somewhere.”
“I’m not hungry,” Jamar replied, kicking his feet onto the desk.
“Then let’s talk.” Jamar walked over to the bed and sat down.
“I don’t have anything to talk about.”
Jamar scoffed. “You? Chatterbox Jina? I could never get you to stop talking and now you have nothing to talk about?”
Jina threw her feet off the desk. “I don’t know how to talk about stuff anymore, Jamar!”
Jamar didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve been a guy for three years and you already lost all your emotions?”
Jina spun and stood up over him. “You had no emotions for 17 years and I had to deal with it. So now it’s your turn to deal with it.”
Jamar looked up at him from the bed without flinching. “Fine. You don’t wanna talk. But can you do me a favor?”
Jina stared back down at him. “What?”
“Can you braid my hair?”
Jina rolled her eyes. “You’re an idiot.”
“An idiot who’s hair’s a mess. C’mon. I know you remember how to do it.” He tilted his head at her and gave her a puppy dog face.
Jina scoffed, but sighed and said, “Fine.”
Jamar moved to the center of the bed and turned so his back was to Jina. It was so cool being able to diffuse a situation with cuteness. It was like walking around with a bulletproof vest. But even cooler was being able to feel his sister’s emotions and knowing that by the end of this he’d have her open and vulnerable. It was like he could read her mind. But instead he was reading her heart.
Jina sighed and reluctantly climbed onto the bed and sat behind him.
“You’ve been doing really good for yourself,” Jamar said as she started on his hair. “What are you, 200 pounds now?”
“Wow. Good for you.”
They went on talking about football and basketball and comparing how much Jamar could bench as a guy to how much Jina could bench now. But then Jamar shifted gears suddenly.
“We never talked about that night,” he said.
“You’re right,” Tina agreed. “You wanna get something off your chest? How’ve you been holding up?”
“I don’t mean me,” Jamar corrected. “I mean you.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“I used to drown myself in semen too.”
There was a short silence.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jina finally said.
But Jamar wasn’t buying it. “The thing about porn is that it makes you feel better, but it doesn’t make you better.”
Jina stopped working on his hair and stared at the wall for a second. Then she sighed, went back to braiding, and started talking. Normally this would have been followed by word vomit, tears, screaming, and every other verbal projectile that was a daily part of girl venting. But none of that had been happening in three years. All the access she’d had to her emotions was gone. It was like the power in her heart had gone out and now she was walking in emotional darkness. She knew her emotions were there somewhere, but she couldn’t see them. So she couldn’t talk about them.
“I…I tried to protect you, but I couldn’t. And it makes me feel things that I can’t even put into words.”
“So let me help you,” Jamar offered. “You feel weak, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Jina dropped her hands. “I feel so weak, Jamar! It’s not even funny! I grew ten inches in three months, but I still feel so small. I can bench 400 pounds, but I still feel weak. And Duke and Big Ben graduated, but I can still hear ‘little man’ in my head. And no matter how good I am on the court or on the field, I still can’t get a date with a girl I like. Nothing I do is ever enough.
Jamar turned on the bed and faced her, smiling. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Jina squinted at him. “Shut up.”
“Can I tell you something?”
Jamar looked her dead in her eyes and said, “It’s not your fault.”
“What happened to me. It’s not your fault.”
Jina looked away and didn’t say anything for a while.
“You stood up for me and I love you for that,” Jamar went on. “But I want you to know that no matter what people say and no matter what you say to yourself, you’re strong enough for me. You’ve always been strong enough.”
Jina kept her eyes on the far wall and said nothing. And suddenly, she felt something swelling up inside of her. Something she hadn’t felt in years. The well that had been dried up was suddenly filling up and before she knew it tears were running down her cheeks. But she wiped her face quickly, gave one giant sniffle, and sucked the emotions back in.
“When’d you get so smart?” she asked.
Jamar laughed. “When I became a girl.”
Jina grinned. She grabbed Jamar’s hair again and got back to braiding. “By the way, Teresa’s not mad at you. She’s just jealous cuz your boobs are bigger.”
Jamar gasped. “So you do pay attention!”