Author Archives

Katie Prout

My Brother, My Self

Illustration by Eric Peterson

Katie Prout | Longreads | December 2018 | 25 minutes (6,270 words)

Every addict is a lawyer and my brother is no exception. On the first winter day that feels like spring, the boys next-door get too rowdy. Beer cans fall to the ground under a faint February sun. Frat boys slur-shout along to Drake and make my thin walls quake. I huff and puff, and I consider putting on my boots and crunching over through the melting snow to tell my neighbors I have a sick kid (“Will you please turn it down?”), but instead I pull my bathrobe tighter and text Hank. I feel like you know about noise complaints, I write.

Huh? he texts back.

I know it’s only 5:30 and a Saturday, but I’m trying to work on my thesis, I have a deadline, the undergrads next door are having a party. I’m about to cut their wires.

It’s not too early to call in a noise complaint, he writes. It just depends on how loud.

I thank Hank and call in my noise complaint, and as the sun goes down I screenshot our text exchange and go back to writing, as I always do, about him.

Every addict is a pharmacist and my brother is no exception. In June, our mother asks for Hank’s take on a new pain medication before allowing our youngest brother, struck by spina bifida in the womb, to be put on it. I am less inclined to take his advice when it comes to my own medication: “Xanax is as bad as a drink,” he says, and perhaps for him, that’s true. Like my mother, I go to Hank for his take on medicine in general, on how various pills may or may not interact with one another, even if I don’t always follow what he says. As an addict, he’s come to know the law, from its loopholes to its nooses, as intimately as he knows how ADHD meds mix with benzos, or how much vodka can steady withdrawal shakes until he can figure out his insurance for the hospital.

Every alcoholic is an addict, but not every alcoholic is taken seriously as such. I think about this every time I refer to Hank as an addict in conversation with others or on the page by myself: I think about this a lot. “Addict,” I say, and the faces of the people I’m speaking to grow still in sympathy; “alcoholic,” I say, and their faces are blank. The word alcoholic doesn’t mean much to them, or maybe it’s that the word alcoholic could mean anything. “I’m basically an alcoholic,” a man said to me once over drinks, laughing, and then frowning when I didn’t laugh too, when I stood up from my barstool and asked him if he was OK. It’s a joke, he said, you should joke more. But words matter to me, and that one matters in particular.
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Learning to Swim in a Sea of Uncertainty

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Katie Prout | Longreads | May 2017 | 12 minutes (2,916 words)


This semester, I’ve been learning to swim. When I told her I didn’t know how, Stephanie laughed at me.

“John can’t swim either,” she said. “The people in your family don’t have enough body fat, you muscle-y freaks.”

Stephanie is John’s wife, my sister-in-law, and Stephanie can swim; she grew up in Michigan’s thumb, a remote place called Port Austin where freighters from Ontario still pull in. We grew up farther south in the state but still, my dad used to take us to watch them, longer than football fields; bigger, he said, than the Titanic. Further in along the boardwalk we’d go, skin sticky against the piping of the metal fence, and my dad would jump into the water my mom forbade us to enter, and come up clean.

When he was born, I hated John’s guts. Eventually, there were six of us kids, but for all of my memory it had just been me and my brother Steve, two years younger, and that was how I liked it. I was three years and 363 days old when my parents brought John home, and from his first adorable cry, the hot hate of cruel little animals coursed through my body, directing my actions toward him for the next two years.
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