The best memory I have with my father is the day he bought my brother and I leather journals, the fancy kind, complete with our initials on the front. From that point forward, Jack and I were writers. Writing helped me become another person—someone who matters. My brother lived through stories about the power of superhumans and soccer players, while I wrote to create different, better manifestations of my life. The power of writing, I believed, existed solely in one’s ability to pursue the sublime.
I grew up dreaming and writing about being a Hermione Granger with Harry as my sidekick battling thirty Voldemort's (thirty!); my stories were dynamic.
Living life vicariously was comfortable and easy.
When I was eight years old, I caught my brother standing on the roof of our outdated, Victorian-style two-story home, fall leaves clumping in the gutters beneath him. He didn’t realize I could see him. I watched intently, as he spread his arms out, like an eagle preparing for takeoff. He stepped forward once, twice, but didn’t jump. He dropped his face into his hands, and he wept. I ran inside the house, up the stairs, and I climbed out onto the roof with him. I put my arms around him, scrawny and too skinny to properly wrap around him, but it was the only thing I could think of in that moment to help him. He flinched at first, but eventually sunk into my embrace.
“Why doesn’t he want me?” My 12-year-old brother’s sobs erupted from his shaking body, angry tears dripping from his sapphire blue eyes. His braces uttered the words with a small lisp, and I hugged him tighter, still not knowing what to say. “Why aren’t I good enough?” He disorientedly kept repeating this question, and I held onto him tighter, as if letting go would cause him to fly away from me. We sat there for hours, on top of our crumby two-story home, watching the cars drive into the setting sun.
As for me, to improve my own Harry Potter style saga, I remained melodramatic and wishful. Perhaps that’s why, at fourteen, I paid no mind to when my brother’s stories changed.
. . .
“Happy birthday to you.” As we stop singing, my mom sets the chocolate cake down in front of my brother, and he blows out the 18 candles. I don’t know why I always think of that time when I found my brother on the roof every time we celebrate his birthday. Maybe it’s because he has the same hollow look in his eyes as that day. Or maybe it’s because he’s thinking the same words he was repeatedly whispering that day. Nevertheless, he smiles.
“Jack, did you make a wish?” My mom’s tired hazel eyes look at him intently. Jack breaks his stare with his cake, glancing at my mom, then to the ground.
“Yep.” I roll my eyes, knowing exactly what he wished for. Whether it be a birthday, a shooting star, dandelions, or even a four leaf clover, he never stops wishing for my dad to suddenly reappear in our lives, as if the past ten years were all just a simple misunderstanding. I had no idea why Jack wanted him so badly to be in our lives again. As for me, I would spit in his face if I ever saw him again.
My father wasn’t the type that we could kick a soccer ball around with in the backyard while waiting for Thanksgiving dinner to be ready. He wasn’t the type to really wait for anything, to be quite honest. He didn’t even wait around for my mother to get home from working a night shift in the emergency room to tell her that he was leaving her. My brother and I got home from school as he backed out of our driveway in his rusty Chevy truck, puffing cigarette smoke out his window. He didn’t even seem to notice us. I was seven. In a fit of spite, I killed my Hermione, realizing I could never be her.
“Evelyn, can you help with the dishes?” My mom’s melodious voice snaps me out of my daze, and I nod. Jack gets up from his seat, towering over my mother. “Jack, where are you going?”
“My room.” My mom begins to protest, but she stops. She knows that she lost that battle before it even started. Jack starts for his room, but turns around and says, “Thanks for the cake.” Mom smiles. I follow him to his room.
He’s sitting at his desk, flipping through his vinyl records. If this were one of my stories, I'd describe him as a pristine statue left behind from another era, itching to return to his dream of normalcy. Our father left a lot of his stuff behind, including those records. Jack keeps them in pristine condition, always thinking he’d come back for them, but he never has. He treated the vinyl records with the care and patience he was never given, allowing him to waste away into a ghost of the past."
“You okay?” I sit down at the foot of his bed, looking around his room, though there wasn’t much to look at. His walls were empty. It looked more like a spare bedroom than one a teenage boy lives in. No pictures, no posters, nothing. His journal lays at the edge of his desk, the seal closed. I can’t tell how long it’s been since he’s written. He looks at me, confused.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He turns his attention back to the records, contemplating which one to play.
“Jack. I’m not an idiot.” Sheepishly turning back toward me, he takes a breath. He knows that he can’t lie to me. Jaw clenching, hands shaking, he pulls an errant strand of curly jet black hair out of his face, as if looking for something for his hands to do.
“It’s been nine years since I’ve seen him. He couldn’t even call on my birthday.” Now it’s my turn to look confused.
“He hasn’t called the past nine birthdays, Jack.” He laughs quietly.
“Remember when we really wanted to go to Disneyland? And he told us we’d go there for my 18th birthday, if I still wanted to go. I made a calendar and everything, and I counted down the days. Until he left. Then I threw it out. But maybe he’ll still take us. There’s still time for him to call.” He sounded like an excited toddler, entertaining the idea as if it could possibly ever happen.
“Shut up, Jack. He’s never coming back. It’s been NINE YEARS. And he hasn’t so much as called us. You need to snap out of this, and stop letting him ruin every holiday, every birthday, every good thing in your life. He doesn’t care about us.” Jack stares at me, hollow. As if he’s trying to look inside of me, trying to find out if I have a heart.
“Get the hell out, Evelyn.” Jack turns around, shuffling through his vinyl records again, although I’m pretty sure he isn’t even paying attention to them.
“Jack…” I can’t think of anything to say. He doesn’t turn back around, so I leave, wondering if he’ll ever forgive me.
I go to my room, knowing that the only thing I can do to clear my conscience is to run, and run as fast as I can. I step outside into the unseasonably warm November air, letting the leaves crunch beneath my sneakers. It’s satisfying. The sky was a clean, milky blue brushed with the bright, bruised tones of an out-of-control fire. I have a rhythm going. My emotions are running away with me. 1 mile. 2 miles. 3 miles. 4 miles. 5 miles. Hot and fast and angry as I can be, I can’t stop, I won’t stop until I feel fine again.
As the sun starts to set, I realize I’ve been running for over two hours. I finally make my way home, and I find my brother on the roof again. I blink twice, thinking it’s just another flashback. Except he’s still there. I yell his name, and he looks at me. He won’t break eye contact with me. He isn’t spreading his arms though. “What are you doing up there?” I’m still catching my breath from my run, and my voice is hoarse. He doesn’t answer.
But he does jump.
My brother was a writer of life, but his conclusion wasn’t sublime.