The gloomy feeling is not sentimental – when I look at you in that hospital bed, overprotective sadness envelopes my chest and for a moment, I can’t breathe. And then the moment passes and I sit next to you, gazing at your pale face that matches the matches the colour of dirty rain water pitter pattering on my bedroom window. You look as washed out as the rain, your chapped lips slightly parted, your hair no longer feathery and soft, but a chaotic mess sweeping your forehead. I’d like to believe you’re still handsome despite all the map of wires connected to your body - if I listen closely when my head is dropping onto my chest in the haze of sleep, I can hear them whisper please stay alive.
They said that when I was born, you begged to hold me as you wiggled about on the edge of Mum’s hospital bed. When you finally got hold of me – a wailing baby in a blue blanket – you were transfixed. My small fingers and yours twisted together until we were connected. I blinked back at your face, stopped crying and fell asleep for the first time.
I remember running to the bottom of the garden on my disoriented four year old feet so I could talk to you. You were always sat there, every single day of summer, against the thick bark of our old tree. You’d be reading something, a cassette player lying on your lazy stomach and sometimes, you’d take off your headphones and put them against my ears. I sat there in awe for the first few weeks and then I began singing along. You’d join in too – we took it from the likes of The Beatles to Madonna. I was a material girl and you were Ringo. Together we were unstoppable.
Every day, I would envy you when you went to school, a backpack hanging from your shoulders and Dad’s old denim jacket far too large for your skinny boyish frame. My nose would be pressed against the glass as I sighed, resentful at your gaggle of cool friends who waited for you at the end of the tarmac. And they all wore denim jackets and backpacks too. I wanted my own friends, my own school life and most of all I wanted you to stay home and sing to me all day long instead of going to school.
When I finally went to school, I’d run home and show you my crayon drawings. And you’d love them, telling me lengthy stories about the red stickmen I had drawn. You gave the blob in the corner a life, a job, a wife – the character’s all had dilemmas and unrequited lovers. If I look under your bed, they’re still there. Treasured under a pair of old soccer boots. Scrawls from a wide eyed messy kid and stories from her imaginative, happy brother.
Time passed so quickly – too hasty but yet kind – our arguments were petty and over missing books, not missing love. I began to notice things – the way my friends would stop talking and look over at you; your slouched posture, your daring smile, your mouth that would put a prodigy to shame when you walked over and reminded me to get milk on my way home. I began to pay attention to you when you talked with others – you had a way with words. When I’d be near to tears over my algebra homework, you’d pull me away and drive me in your car to the diner, order me curly fries and the biggest soda cup they had available, speak to me about the future and alternative societies and why algebra was something to be done without the pleasure of tears then you’d drive me home and teach me the formulas in simple steps until they seemed too easy for my confused knot of a brain.
Every Thursday night, you’d sneak out through the window in my bedroom. You’d whisper apologies as your brand new shoes stepped on my hands and I’d squeak in my sleep. ‘Keep dreaming, sweetheart.’ And then a gust of wind would attack my bare arms before you landed safely onto the grass below. I’d not be able to sleep then, sitting up in bed with a notebook before I heard you come back and I pretended to be asleep again. Dramatic snores were given whilst you clambered in, desperate not to make a sound. I was afraid to sleep when you were away – out in the big dark bully of the night. It was only until your safe arrival, did I allow myself to drift off. In the morning, you’d have dark circles around your eyes but the biggest smile on your lips. Thursday nights held the promise of music at the local club. Simply you lived for the thrill of sneaking out, the pulse of whatever band played that night and the unexplainable feeling of happiness it gave you.
I remember meeting your first and last girlfriend – Alena Dalibor. She was from Czech Republic and had thin arms and smelt of daisies despite her chain smoking. I was a little fearful of her at first, preferring to stare at the scarlet string that she wore around her right wrist instead of her eyes when she spoke to me but when you bought her home after school one day and I played Mary Hopkins, she came into my room and sang along. Her lungs pouring all their energy into the magic of the words. I knew why you liked her so much then. She was self-assured, believed in the beauty of the world and listened to French bands with the sharpness of the blind.
What about those teenage summers? When we’d pack our light clothes into small, brown suitcases and travel for 18 hours in a clingy, hot train with other sweaty, careless families. You’d make friends with everyone else’s kids while I stayed introverted, hidden behind your larger frame. But you would make sure to pair me up with another withdrawn kid that was ready to discuss Franny & Zooey and share her ice cream with me. Never did you leave me behind. And when we arrived at the seaside – hot sun and the boisterous sea and the beautiful cottage with over-heated dead roses hung around the door – we’d rush out to the ocean, despite our need for sleep. We’d eat apples and sweets that were too sour for young tongues as we listened to the waves make that calming sound we liked so much. You’d read through wonderful Sylvia Path books while I made my way through your old, dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre beneath enormous sunshades. But in the mornings, you would stay in bed till the early afternoon. ‘I’m tired.’ You would moan, digging your head into the comfort of your pillow. I would look for my own fun then, swimming in the local pool or helping Mum bake pies for our temporary neighbors. When you woke up, you would come into the kitchen, damp from the shower and give me a grand smile and announce our plans for the day. ‘Wouldn’t you want to do something else?’ Mum asks me, her arms covered in flour. ‘You don’t have to go along with your brothers plans.’ But I shake my head vigorously at her; your suggestions were perfectly fine. In the last few summers, you bought Alena along with us to the cottage and whilst you didn’t ward me off, I had the good sense to leave you two alone a lot. I made friends at the swimming pool, spent my time with them instead while you wandered off with her. Sometimes, when you woke up, you forced me to spend the day with you both. ‘C’mon, where’ve you been hiding those past few days? Too old for our games now, huh?’ On one occasion, I got angry – I wanted to read and swim with you and be your summer companion but I had been replaced. I’d been obedient enough to stay out of your way. You’d looked at my angry face, my vicious words leaving a bitter taste in their wake. I’d noticed your steady jawline, your heartrending eyes and my throat had swollen up with urgent tears. Then you had grinned, tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear and tell me; ‘I have a borrowed truck, a hot girlfriend and a great sister. There’s a great Mexican diner in the town’s centre. What do ya say, kid?’
The Mexican restaurant was great – one could not turn down tortillas or a jukebox. Alena produced a few dollars and passed them to me, insisting that since I was the one nearest to the jukebox I should get a go at choosing a few songs to lift the place’s spirits up. I put on Violent Femmes, I saw you sing along to every line of Kiss Off, I saw your eyes lighten up because I remembered the counting part to perfection. Everyone looked at you; your voice soaring above their heads and even the chef’s popped their heads out of the kitchens to see who the daring voice belonged to. You weren’t the best singer – but you had something special in the way you sang, the way you spoke, and the way you thought. Words were given energy – a thrill no-one else could provide so well. And so when you sang that night - it felt like a new discovery of a new type of energy. One that made everyone look up, feel it in their chests too and I desired to believe that your voice became a replacement of everyone else’s heart beats. I began to realize then, selfishness had been invading me. I wanted your voice, your smile, your energy to be just mine. But I couldn’t have that – I had to share you with everybody else. I saw Alena blush, gaze, and smile all under the power of your voice. I saw a girl, who had been lost in the sad fantasy of a thrilling gothic novel merely moments earlier, glance up and look at you as if she had stumbled upon the caged bird that sang. Your influence was too big and too great to be just for me. So that night, I let you go so you could also devote your energy to the others that yearned for it.
For my 16th, you got me a blue typewriter. Cobalt – my favorite – and you asked what I would write about. I said you.
A memory that lingers was when I got out the type writer to write an English essay I’d forgotten to start and realized I had a blank slate instead of a brain. No idea what to write, what to say, what to scream about. I went downstairs in my livid state and began to wash a mug that I’d left on the side that same morning. I looked out of the window and saw you, leaning against your car with Alena. She wore a murky green dress that had obviously been forced on for a family dinner. It was ugly, too sharp against her olive skin. Your lips formed the word ‘beautiful’ before you kissed her. I went upstairs and titled my essay ‘Beautiful imperfections’. My teacher gave me an A+. You gave me a pat on the head, a joyful laugh and you pinned it up to your corkboard next to a Polaroid photo of Mum as a child. It felt better than any grade.
The night before you left for college in New York, I cried so hard in my bed that my eyes stung with the weight of each tear. But the waterworks refused to stop. My life was not going to be the same – you were going to leave the house empty when you left – not even Dad’s precious roast dinner on your last night could drag the scowl away from my face. At midnight, you sneaked into my room, asked me to move over and hugged me till I slept. It was the pressure of your arms and our fingers intertwined just like the first time we had met in that hospital room over 16 years ago that sent me to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, you had been still sound asleep, your smooth cheek pressed to my back. I thought about the fact that tonight, you’d be gone and I’d have to send my own self to sleep.
When I ran up to my room after you left that afternoon, Alena by your side, I found a new vinyl The Power Station lying on my pillow with a note tucked into the cover – YOU HAVE GALAXIES INSIDE YOUR HEAD: EXPLORE THEM.
When you came home from Christmas, the house became alive again. Even Mum and Dad admitted that you were the lungs of the house. Your hair was longer, your eyes brighter and you told me your many college tales. The professor you met who was going to publish your article on the epidemic of AIDs, your mates who yearned for India and beautiful women, and sweet, sweet Alena had a new haircut. She’d gone pixie short, disposing of her usual long locks – you said she looked really good but you missed the softness of her hair. ‘It’s just hair.’ I said. ‘It’s a part of her.’ You answered. I gave you a poetry book and a new jumper for Christmas. You gave me a notebook that had a glossy floral cover and what seemed like millions of clean, blank pages begging to be written on. On the first page you wrote; ‘When they say I have a quiet sister, I respond with bullshit! She possess’ the loudest mind!’
When you left again, I hugged you hard, told you I loved you and rubbed my cheek against the scratchy material of your blue sweater. We stood there, embracing for a while. A moment frozen in time – a photograph that wasn’t taken and kept. I’d gotten used to your presence way too quick, the house had been overjoyed with sibling’s love for a few weeks but it had felt like forever.
‘See ya soon, kid.’ You smiled, moving over to hug Dad.
When I next saw you, it happened to be in a bright, white hospital. They said it happened in the early evening; you were walking home from a class. You were singing along to whatever song that had been playing in your headphones at that time, your cassette player carefully tucked into Dad’s old denim jacket’s pocket that fit you extra well now. Across the road, was the block of flats you now called home. A small arty loft you shared with Alena, who had been smoking a cigarette from the window of the bedroom, on the edge of the city that never slept. The car was a passing thunderstorm, it slammed into you. It knocked the wind out of you. For a second, the street was quiet with the shock. Then Alena screamed and life resumed again.
How could someone who had been full of life barely weeks ago be laying in a hospital bed now; half gone? Mum cried, Dad kept saying ‘Son, son, son.’ In a voice that broke even the coldest of hearts. I sat there, not believing. This was just your body – it was your soul that mattered. When Alena took me into the hospital canteen to get a paper cup of tea, she said; ‘He was singing, in that sweet voice of his. And then it hit him and he was gone. What if he wasn’t singing? What if he had been concentrating more? Was it his voice that put him in his state? His damn voice.’
What was he singing?
‘Deep way down in your heart/You're burning yearning for/Somebody to tell you/That life ain't passing you by’ she had said to me in a fit of tears. The irony clear. The message bitter.
All the talking we had done over the years. The singing that had the unexplainable energy. They were all gone and me and you – we sat in that hospital room, for once, the silence thick between us. I wanted to speak to you, but my voice had vanished with yours. I sat and studied you from my position in the chair. Every day, my legs tucked beneath me, often reaching for your lifeless hand. I wanted you to wake up. I know you wanted to wake up. You didn’t wake up.
They said we were one soul in two bodies.
And so when I heard it, that single constant bleeeep from the machine, I knew that my soul had been broken in half and it could never re-grow.
UPDATE: I obtained some great one-on-one feedback with an amazing writer/poet this weekend. She gave me so many amazing things to work on and so I will be editing this story furiously in my upcoming Easter break. Nothing too major - but some changes will be made :) THANKS FOR READING. xxxxxxxxxxxxx