The first time I ever heard about Matthew, Mom was filming us on her Nikon D5300 and trying to get us to play this stupid game for her YouTube channel. The previous day she had filmed our reaction to her telling us we were getting a new brother or sister. We had been in a good mood then, ready to whoop and jump in the air and cover our mouths with our hands and run out the room. The bit she was filming that day was meant to be sequential, but Dad, a moron, had put our clothes from yesterday in the washing basket instead of spraying them with Febreze and folding them on top of the vasselier like he was supposed to. I had to wear this stinky, crumpled Ralph Lauren football shirt and Elise had to wear this stinky, crumpled Ralph Lauren pin-striped dress. My parents were very faithful to Ralph Lauren because it was where they got the idea to adopt from overseas in the first place, out of an article about a child model for Ralph Lauren, who had been adopted from India. The article was still on our corkboard. The title of the article was ‘SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE!’
Mom shoved a scratch-map towards us with the hand that wasn’t holding the camera and asked us to guess where our little sibling might be from by scratching out different countries. It was laborious. Elise scratched out the UK, and I scratched out Australia, and Elise scratched out Sweden until Mom got irritated. Dad pointed out a country that was the shape of an Airheads candy. Because it was a scratch map, it didn’t have any names on it.
I was editing with Adobe Premiere on Mom’s computer when she got back from the airport with Matthew. We were going to film the first time we met him, but it was easier if it wasn’t the real first time so we could plan it. Elise ran and opened the front door but something was wrong. My first thought was that he came from a people that was extremely tall, like the Dinka people of South Sudan, because he was taller than Mom. But it turned out that he was just old. It obviously wasn’t what Mom wanted, because toddlers got more clicks, but she had been teasing this for weeks and had a brand deal so in the end she just had to take whatever she could and move on.
‘Hi,’ said Matthew.
I thought he must be half Black, half Chinese because he wasn’t Black or Chinese. Unless he was…Muslim? Elise and I shook hands with Matthew and then he helped me edit a video of his gender reveal on Adobe Premiere. I was holding a large balloon filled with blue powder which Elise stabbed with craft scissors. When it popped the powder sprinkled over us like a Pokemon stun-spore animation.
Mom was disappointed because she had to scrap a lot of video ideas, like teaching Matthew English. The thing is, Matthew was actually really good at videos. He was spontaneous and could do cool stunts, like fifty cartwheels without getting out of breath. He said it was because he was raised in a mountainous atmosphere so the air down here went in really smooth and easy. Mom said, ‘I’m not trying to be David Dobrik.’
Matthew taught me a lot of useful things, the first two of which were how to clean your nose out in the sink and how to make your hand into a boat shape so you could eat without using cutlery. He also showed Elise and me how to play tigers and goats. First, you had to make a grid of thirty-two isosceles triangles. We made a huge grid in the yard out of rope and twenty Ralph Lauren promotional T-shirts. We needed one more tiger. Mom came out into the yard. ‘Be a tiger! We need a tiger!’ Elise yelled at her.
‘Or you could be a goat,’ I said.
‘What?’ said Mom. She looked angry.
In the end, Dad was a tiger.
Matthew got a job at the computer repair store so he could save up for community college. He actually had a lot of qualifications already, but they weren’t valid in America. He bought a car and sometimes brought Elise and me along on trips to the Asian supermarket to buy Lao Gan Ma and Bombay mix.
‘Timi haru kasta chau?’ the shopkeeper used to say to us.
‘Hami sanchai chum,’ we said back.
Dad used to be the one who was behind the camera, but after he started going on more weekend work trips, Mom made Matthew the camera man. He was also the donkey-man. One day we were hiking along the Bison trail and Matthew had to carry a colossal backpack with a million changes of clothes in it so Mom could take a lot of photos and eke them out over the next month on her Momstagram.
Mom found a boulder she want to take some photos with and asked us to climb on top. I could do it easily but Elise looked like a crazy squirrel trying to get up there in Keds, swinging this dumb Barbie-colored baguette bag prop. Mom rolled her eyes. It was funny ‘til it wasn’t because she ended up slipping and crunching her ankle. Matthew had to scoop up Elise and run with her back down the trail with the obese pack still bumping up and down on his back. Mom scooped up the baguette bag before she followed.
We went to the ER and had to wait on this gross foamy line of chairs. Mom started sneaking the camera out and zooming in on Elise’s face and then zooming back out and then zooming in on her twisted ankle. After like an hour of waiting she said ‘Hell,’ and then grabbed Elise’s arm and tried to make her hop over to a ward and lie down in an empty bed for the clickbait. She was dragging Elise and Elise didn’t want to be dragged and was leaning the other way and they ended up crashing onto the floor. A lot of nurses came and stood in a disapproving circle around them like nuns. After that we stopped speaking to Mom and Mom stopped speaking to us. She posted a broken-heart emoji on Twitter and started taking Dad on expensive dates downtown.
For Matthew’s eighteenth birthday, we pooled our pocket money together and bought him a Canon EOS M6 Mark II. He also had some presents for us. They were adoption papers with our names freshly printed across them, and two airline tickets. We were finally going to be able to leave Trump’s America behind, and pick fresh golden raspberries off wild bushes. We were going back to Matthew’s homeland.
‘Your parents have agreed,’ he said, ‘and they’ll come and visit on vacations.’ We nodded happily. Mom and Dad were away in Guatemala. They were trying to find a new orphan there, a young one, with some modelling potential.
At the airport he bought us chicken nuggets and Capri Suns. Elise propped her ankle up across two chairs and rested her head back in Matthew’s lap. I leaned onto his other side. I felt content and languid, like a dog.
‘I love you, Matthew,’ I said.
He put his arm around me. ‘My name isn’t Matthew,’ he said.