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My Big Little Brother

by Hailey Mills 5 months ago in humanity
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What if it had been me?

There is something special about the bond between big sisters and little brothers. As a big sister myself, I know it’s something that can’t be matched by anything else in the world. The sound of laughter, as your little brother sits in your lap while clutching the steering wheel, giggling and screaming as he slowly maneuvers the car around the empty parking lot. The smile that creeps onto your face as you hear his gentle snoring, realizing he has fallen asleep in your arms during his favorite Disney movie. The shared feeling of pride as you both stand in front of the bathroom mirror in awe of his handsome appearance for picture day, having secretly combed through his hair with Dad’s styling gel. The rush of excitement as you both sneak a spoonful of raw cookie dough from the bowl while Mom’s not looking. Simply knowing that the two of you will be best friends for your entire lives, is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world.

And little brothers say the most adorable things. Once, I drove to the elementary school to pick up my six-year-old brother, Jorge, and he climbed into my car with large pouty lips and his wide brown eyes full of tears. I reached my hand into the backseat to gently ruffle his dark curly hair.

“What’s wrong, buddy?”

“I got stung by a bee today.” He held up his tiny right arm to show a little pink spot swelling up on his light caramel skin.

I immediately went into full motherly panic mode. “Oh my goodness, are you okay? What did the nurse say? Did you smash the bee?”

“Of course not!” Jorge exclaimed, with his cute lisp at the end of “course.” It was almost as if he was disappointed that I would even suggest such a murderous thing. “Even before the nurse made my arm all better, I forgived the bee because he didn’t mean to do it! He’s my friend.”

That’s Jorge alright. Friend to all.

But my best friend.

When I was a teenager, I’d pick Jorge up from school every afternoon. Each day, he would jump into the backseat clutching his Ninja Turtles backpack with the biggest smile on his face, eager to tell me all about what he learned. It was the best part of my day. One particular afternoon, I was driving home with him buckled into his booster seat, when he suddenly shouted, “I wanna be a barn owl!”

I laughed at the pure exhilaration in his voice. “A barn owl?”

“Yeah! They live in barns and protect all the sheep and the pigs, and they’re nomp-termal, so they stay up all night and sleep all day! Look!”

In the rearview mirror, I saw him proudly holding up a little crayon drawing, with his name scribbled at the top of the page. The “J” and the “E” in “Jorge” were backwards, but sure enough, it was a picture of a barn owl.

“That’s so good, buddy!” I said, flashing him a thumbs up. “So, you want to be a barn owl, huh?”

“Yep.”

“But don’t owls eat mice? That seems kind of gross. Like, really gross.”

“Some owls do, but I wouldn’t eat the mice because they’re my friends,” he replied matter-of-factly. “What do you want to be, Mar?”

Mar, my nickname. Short for Mariana. It was the first thing Jorge learned to say. “Um, honestly buddy, I really don’t know yet.”

The minute we got home, we dumped our backpacks by the front door and ran to the fridge, where I lifted him so he could pin up his latest masterpiece alongside the rest of his artwork.

Jorge made me promise that we’d ride bikes if he finished all his homework, and so that sunny afternoon, I helped him lace up his sneakers and we went out to the garage. My mountain bike looked pretty ginormous next to Jorge’s small red one.

“You ready to try it without training wheels today?” I asked.

He made his signature pouty face. “But I love my baby tires.”

“Well, I think it’s time for you to be a big boy,” I said enthusiastically. “You’re going to turn seven soon!”

He thought about it for a minute, chewing his little fingernail and eyeing the bicycle. “You’re sure you won’t let me get hurt?”

I knelt down, looking right into those innocent brown eyes. “Promise,” I said with a smile.

It didn’t take long for Jorge to forget all about his “baby tires.” Soon he was riding up and down the driveway without any help at all, grinning as if his birthday had come three months early. I was amazed at how quickly he’d caught on, and within minutes he had leveled up from the driveway to the sidewalk in front of our house.

“I’m doing it, I’M DOING IT!” he screamed joyfully, his short legs pedaling furiously to increase speed. I laughed, so excited to show my parents when they got home from work what a good teacher I was. This moment was truly too tender to miss.

“Hang on, little buddy, I want to get a video of this for Grandma!” I ran up the front steps to grab my phone from inside the house.

Would a video really have been worth it? I’d only been away from him less than thirty seconds. And yet, the scene that met me the moment I walked out that front door will forever be in my nightmares, my thoughts, even branded to the backs of my eyelids. No matter how badly I want to wish it away.

There was a strange red Honda Civic pulled up on the sidewalk in front of our house, facing in at an odd angle. The flowerbed in the front yard and our mailbox had been crushed. I saw a young boy in the driver’s seat, breathing heavily and clutching the ends of his hair, his face completely drained of color. The passenger door was open, and an older girl had gotten out. She sat crouched on the pavement, looking underneath the car, and her cries and screams echoed through the street. My heart was pounding horribly as my brain struggled to make sense of the situation. That’s when I saw Jorge’s little red bike smashed from underneath the front right wheel. But I couldn’t see Jorge.

The next few hours were a blur of sirens and red and blue lights as they took my baby brother to the hospital. All I remember is blood and tubes and nurses and rapid shouting. I remember my mother’s hand on my shoulder, my father’s heartbroken sob, and the sound of a steady beeping, beeping, beeping, then nothing.

The sudden ending of a friendship that was supposed to last a lifetime.

I remember when my mom first told me. “Baby, he-he didn’t make it.” Everything else in the world started to dissipate: the dim hospital lights, the sounds of nurses and upset patients and hurried footsteps. All that was left was the sound of my breath, but suddenly, my lungs weren’t working. I burst out of the hospital doors into the night and fell back against the wall as tears streamed down my cheeks. I think I was screaming.

He was riding his bike safely on the sidewalk, just like I had taught him. Helmet on and everything. It wasn’t enough to protect him. I should have been there. I could have seen the car approaching way too fast as it was about to swerve up onto the curb, I could have pushed him out of the way. I could have screamed, I could have taken the hit, I could have done anything and it would have been better than this feeling in my chest. He was too young to die. He deserved to finish school, to have a family and grow up with his friends. I was supposed to be there to teach him about girls, to watch him leave for his first date. I was supposed to teach him how to drive and how to throw a football. We were supposed to be there at each other’s weddings.

But now he was just gone.

And it was my fault.

The days were so empty without my little buddy. Time passed without meaning, almost too quickly for me to comprehend. I grew up and started college. In a way, living on my own in a big city felt like a fresh start. Although sometimes, I still thought I heard his laugh.

My day had started at four in the morning with my custodial cleaning job, followed by six hours of arduous classes. I shuffled into my small apartment, kicked off my shoes, and collapsed into the living room armchair. School was rough, but at least it kept my mind from dwelling.

As I was beginning to drift off into sleep, there was a knock at my door. Assuming it was my roommate who’d probably forgotten her keys again, I moseyed across the dark room and pulled the door open, rubbing my eyes.

I was quite surprised to see a young boy standing in the doorway, with light skin and dirty blonde hair. He had deep purple bags under his dull gray eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in months. He was tall, but his posture was awful, and his hands were curled into anxious fists. “Mariana?” he asked, head bowed and voice trembling.

I had no idea who this boy was, but I could tell he was hurting. Perhaps I was supposed to remember him from one of my classes. Confused, I opened my mouth to say something, but was cut off.

“I…I’m so sorry.”

And then I knew. I hadn’t recognized him at first because it looked like he’d aged ten years in only two. This was the boy who killed my brother.

Jonah was his name. I’d heard things about him, but never actually met him. My mom told me he was only sixteen when it happened, just a year younger than me. A brand-new driver, who had been practicing with a permit because he didn’t even have his license yet. He’d been driving through the neighborhood when he came around the corner a bit too fast and lost control of the car. I was too young to understand it, but there’d been a lawsuit, and I heard he dropped out of school. His family moved away a couple months later.

And there he was. Standing in front of me.

The boy’s weak voice broke, and before I could react, he was sobbing. Suddenly, his older sister came into view and wrapped a comforting arm around him. Marie, the screaming girl who’d first gotten out of the car. She was the one who had been teaching him, and I could tell that she, too, had aged much too quickly. I didn’t know how they’d found me or why they were there, but I could assume it was to give some apology I really didn’t want to hear.

Her little brother was still alive.

Mine was gone.

The boy opened his mouth to speak again, but I pushed past them, flew down the stairs, and jumped into my car. The image of their shocked faces as I fled stayed with me for miles. I drove for what seemed like hours, crying, not realizing where I was going. Before I knew it, I had parked, walked out of my car, and found myself kneeling down at my little brother’s gravesite. The place where I’d buried my little Jorge.

How dare that boy come find me, to ask for my forgiveness? He certainly didn’t deserve anything from me, he didn’t deserve anything from the whole world other than pain and sorrow, the same pain and sorrow that because of him, I was forced to feel. The pain and sorrow and emptiness that I would never be able to let go.

All of a sudden, a dark shape dropped out of the sky and landed on Jorge’s headstone, startling me from my misery. I gasped when I realized that it was a little brown barn owl, staring at me with large bright eyes. The owl let out a vibrant hoot, then began to nibble at something within his many feathers. I shifted closer to the owl, my mouth hanging open in utter shock. With a quick jerk of the head, the owl returned to his steady gaze, so innocent and warm, as if to say, “It’s okay, Mariana.”

And then I could feel him. Jorge. My sweet baby brother. With trembling flingers, I closed my fist over the little silver owl pendant I’d worn around my neck since that day, to keep my best friend close. Jorge loved everyone. I knew without a doubt what he would’ve wanted me to do.

The owl gave me a longing final look before it spread its wings and took off into the evening air. The comforting feeling of peace and safety remained around me like an aura as I got back into my car, somehow smiling as my tears fell. It was possible that seeing the owl there had been a mere coincidence. There was an abandoned barn at the edge of the graveyard, and maybe it frequently left its home to pay a visit to all the gravestones. But no matter what it was or where it came from, seeing that owl meant something more. It was a reminder that instead of hating the people who took Jorge’s life, I had to live for Jorge.

The image of the young boy and girl in the hallway outside my apartment returned to my mind, only this time, I saw them differently. What if it had been me in the passenger seat, just taking my little brother on a drive after school? What if it had been me standing outside that doorway, after years of suffering, just trying to protect him?

As I drove back home, I looked through the rearview mirror into the backseat, the same way I did every time Jorge hopped in. I remembered him sitting back there in his booster seat with his light-up spiderman sneakers on the day he’d been stung by the bee. He hadn’t been mad, rather he insisted that we forgive the bee. He didn’t mean to do it.

In the end, it didn’t matter what I had or hadn’t been able to teach my little brother as he grew up. Jorge had been the one to teach me.

I was still smiling when I arrived back at my apartment. The two young siblings were gone, but it didn’t matter. I sat at the counter and pulled out a fresh piece of paper, at the top of which I started to write, “Dear, Jonah and Marie...”

humanity

About the author

Hailey Mills

Hi I'm 18. I've never let anyone read my writing before but here we go. :)

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