Monday, January 13, 2020

Big Brother

           I couldn’t open the door fast enough. I had one goal in mind and I needed, desperately, to rip off the sweater that had been choking me for the better half of the day. From my neck to my lower back, the hives were strong and I felt as though I was suffocating underneath its layers. Claire tore inside the house before I could retrieve the keys from the lock. She ran into Ben’s arms while I made a break for the bedroom. 
            No sooner than I heard, “Hey baby,” roll off his tongue from the living room I had fought the battle with the cream, wool abomination and won. I glanced at my bed, where my now most regrettable purchase lay, and noticed my phone was ringing. It was my Dad. I was hesitant to answer it. He had not called in months. I had not heard his voice since late October. It was now December 17th. That’s not because he was absent in my life but because he physically could not speak. Why was Dad calling? 
            “Hello,” I answered.
            All I heard was muffled cries echoing over and over again. My heart sped. Panic. It was Mom. 
             I screamed, “Dad!”
            “No Gracie, Nick. He’s gone. Get here,” she managed.
         I fell numb. The panic dissipated and before the anger began to make its appearance, I felt nothing.
            This is what I had been afraid of since I was 16-years old and had come to understand that my big brother was an alcoholic. There were many nights that I would stay up late listening to his impenetrable sadness. Sadness that had been sewn into him by mystery and terrible luck. 
          He was ten years older than me. He could recite every single line from the opening scene of Aladdin. He was goofy and kind. He had curiously-sorrowful green eyes and long, black eyelashes. He wore embarrassing t-shirts. Some were crisp and ironed before wear. Some were old and wrinkled with faded color. Some you had to squint to make out the letters that spelled, “Take Me Home Tonight?” He loved boxes of cherry cordials. He taught me how to tie my shoes. In the basement at the bottom of the stairs. His laugh could induce secondhand embarrassment but was also incredibly infectious. He was deeply scarred by a series of uncontrollable moments in his life making his only vice the one that took him away from us. Took him long before he took his last breath.
            Ben came running from the other room after he heard my screams.
            “What’s wrong baby,” he whispered as he approached.
            I didn’t recognize the voice that answered back, “He’s dead. Nick is dead.” 
          The drive to Nick’s apartment is a blur. I don’t remember which road we took or if anything was said out loud. Instead, the sight of ambulance lights flashing outside his window is burned inside the memory, and so is his face. Those dark eyelashes of his, I could see clear across the room. I was not brave enough to get close to him. We were allowed to touch the top of his head, give him a kiss if we’d like, but that was it. I saw enough though and wept into my sister’s shoulder, gripping the hardened raincoat she wore. 
            Where are his memories? 
            The question crept into my mind and never left. Were they in a box somewhere that we could never visit? Did they float away into oblivion? Did he take them with him on his way to … somewhere? Can he see me right now? Is he mad? Will he remember me? Will he remember Christmas dinners? Will he remember mispronouncing every word in Italian on our big, European family vacation? Will he remember how much he loved Garth Brooks? Will he remember being at his concert with us, the night before he left us forever? Will he remember how I was so mad at him that I didn’t even turn around to say hello? Or was it just lights out? 
            Where are his memories? I needed to know. 
           I felt as though I was suffocating again. After seeing Nick, his body covered with a white sheet and pajama pants peeking out of its side, I had to get out. The humidity inside of the space made even the furniture seem wilted. It contrasted with the chilling-slicing wind outside and the internal battle I was fighting. The light stench of stale alcohol permeated throughout its corners. The familiarity of that smell made me nauseous. It pulled me right back into those moments of infuriating discomfort – me, his baby sister, packing his boxers and night clothes for a stint in rehab. Bitterness enveloped me. 
         I sprinted out the apartment’s front door. Passed the firemen in the living room and foyer, passed the neighbors’ sparkling-blue wreath, and passed the onlookers from the balcony above. I ran through the parking lot clutching my stomach. I bent over in the grass. Dry heaves mixed with cracked wailing. Silence.
            Where are his memories? 
            Are they tucked away in a corner?
            Does he get to keep them?
            Will I remember?
            Or was it just lights out?

Grace Lynne Fleming
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