Ryan Walker


When I was five years old, my older brother was diagnosed with asthma. I would later also be diagnosed with asthma, though mine was much milder and primarily exercise-induced. My brother’s asthma was severe, and it dictated his days. He would spend hours curled on the sofa with the plastic nebulizer device strapped to his face. After his diagnosis, our mother lined the register vents with cheesecloth, and wiped the wood furniture down daily. She cleansed the house of objects that collected dust mites, packaged her teapot collection in bubble wrap and plastic boxes, and told us to collect our stuffed animals to give away. Upon our pleas to keep the prized, plush things, we were each allowed to choose one, and only one, to save. I chose a Kermit the Frog toy, which I had given to my brother during one of his stays in the hospital. The soft green doll was pilled and missing the trench jacket he had come with in the Fisher Price box. He was weathered, but now he was mine.

Due to my brother’s severe health condition, and my own asthma, we rarely played outside, particularly not on warm days when the grass was high and the trees were in full bloom. We played inside when he was well enough to play, and we had unlimited television screen time before parents were shamed for allowing such excess. I never cared much for cartoons as a child. I still do not particularly care for them. I suppose I have always favored something more tangible.

When I was not begging, or forcing, him to play Barbies with me (I was allowed to keep those, despite the small plastic shoes and stringy hair that were certain to hold dust mites), we watched Sesame Street and reruns of The Muppet Show. To this day, I cannot fathom how audiences could get behind three animated chipmunks singing in harmony, yet a singing pig, frog, and bear somehow translate for me. Besides my sickly brother, it was a yellow feathered man-bird, a green curmudgeon who lived in a trash can, and a blue cookie-obsessed monster that kept me company in those days.

Most days I sat cross-legged on the grey shag carpet while my brother curled his skinny body on the couch. Steam circled out in rings from the holes of his mask, while the nebulizer hummed in intervals. I never wondered the reason why we had to get rid of the stuffed animals, but I could keep my Barbies. I never wondered why my mother fought the wood with rags and Pledge, but I never saw her wash the couch cushions or clean the carpets. I now wonder where all those stuffed animals really went.

I loved to sing along when Sesame Street came on, and I still know the words. The generations that followed still sing the same song and ask the same question: “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” I would practice my ABCs with the yellow feathered man-bird, and we would count together. We counted in English, “One. Two. Three. Four,” then in Spanish, “Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro.” I remember practicing the numbers, repeating the words, and the way the Spanish ones felt different on my tongue. “Cinco.”

“… Seis. Siete. Ocho,” I repeated to the yellow feathered man-bird, and he told me how nicely I had performed for him. Then we practiced again.

One day, while I was watching my friends on Sesame Street, my brother was not there. He was upstairs sleeping, too sick to come downstairs, or at a doctor’s appointment. I was all alone, in my usual cross-legged position on the floor. I was practicing new Spanish words with the yellowfeathered man-bird, “Chicken… Pollo… Hat… Sombrero.” There was a song to teach these words. He and I sang it together.

I had an idea. It was not the first time I thought of it, but it was my first time alone long enough to try it.

I looked to be sure my brother really was not there. There were remnants — cough medicine and tissues on the side table — but no brother. I stood and walked slowly across the grey shag carpet to the television. Kermit the Frog dragged behind me, his thin, long arm extending from my hand. The screen grew fuzzy, fuzzier, the nearer I got to it. I stopped when I could not go any further. The television set was bigger and taller than I was, and framed in wood. I reached out my hand and touched my fingers to the glass. I let my palm rest there too, so my whole hand was touching the yellow feathered man-bird. I felt the current of static electricity cover me. I remember feeling that friction for the first time, the way it electrified my body when I touched my palm to him. We were connected in that moment.

I tried reaching through the screen to hold onto him, to be there on Sesame Street with him, but I could not. The scene ended. A commercial. I lowered my hand, and the current stopped. He never even saw me trying to reach him.

Later that day, my brother came downstairs to watch television. We resumed our normal positions; he curled on the couch, and I sat on the floor. He nested himself in the unwashed cushions of the couch, the nebulizer tube draped down to the shag carpet. We watched a rerun of The Muppet Show where Kermit sang, “It’s not that easy being green.” I did not know then, could not have known, what he was telling me. Or did I?

I held on tightly to the worn, ragged toy in my hand. “But why wonder, why wonder?” he sang to me.

Some days, I still wonder why.


Ryan Walker (he/him) is a LGBTQIA+ writer from Dayton, Ohio and a member of the Miami Valley Writers Network. In 2019, his poem “Providence” placed third in the Poetry: Adult category of Sinclair College’s national annual writing contest. His flash fiction story “Binge” was long listed for Hunger: The Best of Brilliant Flash Fiction 2014-2019. His nonfiction and poetry have been featured in Flights, Free Spirit’s short story anthology 7 Deadly Sins, Wingless Dreamer’s poetry anthology Vanish in Poetry, and Red Noise Collective. He is presently pursing his MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Kentucky University’s Bluegrass Writers Studio.

Works Cited
Raposo, Joe. Lyrics to “Bein’Green.” Musicmatch, 2021, https://www.musixmatch.com.
Raposo, Joe, Jon Stone and Bruce Hart. Lyrics to “Sesame Street Theme.” Musicmatch, 2022, https://www.musixmatch.com.