By Jesus Galvan, 18, Sierra Vista HS (Baldwin Park, 2005 graduate)
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Jesus (right) and his brother, Carlos, have always enjoyed playing basketball, even when they weren't as close as they are now.

Photo by Thomas Hoevel, 17, Don Bosco Technical Institute

During elementary school my older brother, Carlos, and I were best friends. We each loved soccer, pizza, hamburgers and playing video games. Unfortunately, things began changing when Carlos reached fourth grade. He made new friends, spent less time with me and started wearing trendier clothes.

By the time I got to fifth grade I had become the shy student who studied to get good grades, while Carlos, who was in seventh grade, had put the books aside and focused on making friends. I loved making my parents proud of me for being an honor roll student and for having perfect attendance. Carlos was happy as long as he wasn’t in trouble. But even though I had academic success, I wanted to know what it would be like to live like him. He was always laughing and having a good time, while I struggled to please our parents. I wanted to worry less and play more.

With school as my priority as a fifth grader, I stopped hanging out with my friends. I studied for quizzes while the other students played sports. Obviously, no students wanted to play with me because I spent recess memorizing the seven continents instead of playing soccer. I was afraid to talk to other students, because I felt too unpopular and I was not confident. I was lonely and felt depressed.

I wanted to do my best at school, but I also wanted friends. And I wanted Carlos to be my friend again so that I would have at least one person to laugh and chat with. I missed talking to him about whatever as we raced to see who was faster.

Sixth grade came and I was jealous of how popular Carlos was. How could we be so different? I wanted to be as popular as him. I thought that experiencing life as he lived it would make me more popular. And the only way to experience life like my brother would be if I were to act like him, to look like him, to be like him.

I started paying close attention to the way he had his hair (shaved on the sides and short and spiky on top), the clothes he wore, the music he listened to (rap) and the way he acted. Overall, he was more casual than I was. He would say "That’s so tight," while I would say, "That is quite remarkable." His shoes were mostly untied and stuffed with socks to appear thicker, while mine were tied in the traditional style. Without making it obvious that I wanted to emulate him, I would ask him what type of shirt I should have bought and from what store, or whose song we were listening to. But when should I start changing my appearance?

At 13, I invited myself everywhere my brother went. I would go with my brother and his friends to play basketball, the mall or the movies. He was never able to say "no" because I made sure to ask him in front of our mother. By tagging along, I was able to see who my brother had become. I wanted to be close to him again like when we were best friends.

At this age, Carlos was passionate about basketball. Of course, I wanted to play basketball, too. He taught me what a "double-dribble," "travel" and "foul" were. The Los Angeles Lakers became our favorite team, and we made sure never to miss any of their games on TV.

Carlos also "taught" me how to dress. Well, I don’t know if teaching is the best way to describe it, but he criticized how I dressed.

"Why are you dressed like this?"

"Dressed how?" I responded. I typically wore black shoes, bright-colored shirts with Looney Tunes characters and tight sweatpants. To top it off, I had messed-up, puffy hair that could have gotten stuck to someone’s shirt like Velcro. Looking back, it looked as if I got dressed while blindfolded.

I felt like he wouldn’t want me around if I didn’t change my style and attitude. I didn’t want him giving me the silent treatment at the supermarket because he was embarrassed by how I dressed, so I had to listen to his "advice" and change.

He wore shirts that were loose and reached a little lower than his mid-thighs. His pants were long and wide. He always wore brands that were not very well-known at the time in my community such as Enyce and Akademiks. I needed to be a little bit more "hip-hop." So, I changed. Without wanting him to know that he had influenced me, I upgraded my clothing little by little. I went from Looney Tunes shirts to plain Nike shirts that were a little bit bigger. My sweat pants changed to jeans and khakis that were looser. My Velcro hair lost a few pounds, too. My shoes changed from boring black to a pair of Nike Uptempos. That was only the beginning.

The changes worked

To be like him, I also had to listen to less Korn and Limp Bizkit, and more DMX and Juvenile. Although he never said, "I like your new style," during the time when I changed my look, Carlos began to spend more time with me if I approached him to hang out. But he never asked me to do stuff with him, only for help with his homework. This was ironic because whenever he watched me study, he would shake his head, sigh and ignore me as if to say "You are a loser, brother. You will never learn to be cool."

The weird thing about Carlos is that he contradicted himself. He told me I had no life. Yet he was relieved that I was dedicated to school because I could help him in Algebra 2. Typically after making fun of me he would say, "Thanks for your help. I will probably ask for your help again tomorrow."

Walking toward my eighth grade classroom at the beginning of the school year, I noticed my classmates’ surprised facial expressions. "Wow, look at the new Jesus!" was what I was hearing. Many students said "hello" to me every day. I was no longer afraid to talk to the other students since I was more popular. I liked my new style. I was happy, yet I still remained the same person who studied hard, just with minor physical adjustments.

I became more popular among the students in my grade, but things could have been better between Carlos and me. Carlos would be my good friend at home, but I would be like just a distant cousin outside the house. I wished he would have been my friend at school, as well.

By the time Carlos got out of high school two years ago, I felt free to live without his pressure. It seemed as if he spent a lot more time with me without expecting anything in return. We played one-on-one basketball, and he hung out with me and my friends when we played Nintendo. The thing that I didn’t understand was that he had a bigger, more comfortable room and he would always stay in my room. He still had his friends, so it was weird for me to see this new side of him.

He also began showing much more concern for me than before when he saw me stressed out and sweating, while studying for a calculus exam.

"Why are you stressin’ out so much? Just, chill already."

"I can’t relax when I have to study for a difficult exam right now and it is already midnight!"

"Man, you’re stupid. I bet you this test is not even worth so much. You are just overdoing it. Who cares if you don’t do so well?"

Usually I would stay quiet and do my work. But when I turned 17 my junior year, I finally responded.

I told him how much I care about school. He told me to just ditch tomorrow.

Why couldn’t he support my studying?

I wanted to tell him more though; that I couldn’t skip and that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have the courage. I didn’t want him to do the familiar headshake and sigh. I knew that he cared about me and he was giving me this advice with good intentions. But he didn’t know that calculus was the most difficult class in school and my grade should have been an A instead of a B.

What was the matter with me? Why couldn’t I just say "no"? I was afraid to lose the bond between us.

Later that year, it all changed. He approached me with another of his "friendly advice" conversations. This time, I spoke up.

"I know you just want me to ‘chill’ and not do my work and ditch occasionally, but it’s just not me. I am not going to listen to you, no matter how hard you try. Why does it matter so much to you, anyway?"

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to stand up to Carlos. He did not immediately respond to me. After a long pause, he finally said, "OK, whatever … it’s your choice. Do whatever you want. I’m just trying to tell you what’s best for you."

When he said that, I realized that he disliked how my studies interfered with the time I spent with him. For the two years since he graduated from high school, Carlos had been choosing to spend more time with me, which made me realize that how I dressed didn’t really matter. Suddenly, it was he who had become interested in spending time with me. He actually cared for me as a brother.

To this day, Carlos is still the one I spend the most time with. He doesn’t care about how I look, my study habits or the way I am. He doesn’t tell me, "Those pants are too tight," or "School is taking over your life." He has come to accept me for who I am.

After doing so much to gain his acceptance, I like the person I have become. I’m more confident and a better dresser, but I did not eliminate the things that are most important to me. I am still a devoted student. Although he is nearly the same as always, Carlos likes the new me as well. Now that my best friend is back, everything was worth it.