RL Ames’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Another Day
It’s late. I’ve lost track of the time, but I know it’s late. I can feel it in the weariness of my step and see it in the inkiness of the night around me. I rub my hands together. They’re chapped and cold, but also sort of numb.
Just like the rest of me.
I catch the dim silhouette of my reflection in a storefront pane of glass. I’m hunched over, huddled deep into my coat, but not because of the cold. I’m not hiding from winter. I’m trying to hide from the world.
I reach my building and climb the stairs, relieved to be home, but dreading what waits for me inside.
My apartment is dark and empty. The light switch makes a sharp click as I flick it on. The sound is loud and startling in the silence.
I shrug out of my coat, kick my shoes off, and crawl into bed, still dressed. I bury myself under the heavy blankets and burrow down beneath the pillow. But it doesn’t matter. I can’t stop the barrage of images and memories that begin to play across the theater of my mind. I hear the voices, echoes of the past, in my head, and it doesn’t matter how hard I shove my fingers into my ears, they won’t stop.
I scream into my pillow, trying to drown them out, trying to stop the painful, flickering images of my failures.
My voice is hoarse and my pillow is wet with tears and sweat by the time I drift into a fitful and exhausted sleep. My subconscious knows it’s only a temporary reprieve. Because tomorrow will dawn anew; relentless in its efforts to force me to continue existing. Day after day. I don’t know how much longer I can go on.
My brother is lost. Not in the sense of a child who’s wandered away from his mother at the store. He’s lost in the sense that he’s standing right in front of us, and still none of us know where he is. I’d say he’s tortured, but that makes it sound way too chic and trendy. But the reality is: he’s tortured.
He spends each and every day living with pain that the rest of us can’t even begin to imagine. It’s not physical pain. Though, I have absolutely no doubt he feels actual pain.
The worst part is that I don’t know how to help him. I don’t know how to stop the cycle he goes through. I don’t know how to make him see what the rest of us see.
We go through ups and downs, but it’s always there. Even during the ups the pain, the struggle, the constant war he wages on himself, is always there just below the surface, threatening to break through and drag him back under.
It’s the worst for our mom. I know that deep down she blames herself. As if there was something she could have done differently: breastfed him longer, not let him watch cartoons, given him less sugar. She’s heard it all, and I know she’d go back in time in a heartbeat and try anything to fix him.
But the truth is: he’s always been this way. Even as a child, he’d get overly emotional, and the smallest things affected him so much more than the rest of us. I remember one day when we were younger my dad brought home some pesticide for the ants who had built colonies in the cracks in the cement of our patio. And my brother sat out there on his hands and knees just sobbing as my dad sprinkled the white powder into the cracks. As if he could feel the pain those tiny ants felt as they curled up and died.
The sun blinds me before I even open my eyes. It’s a harsh reminder of the new day that’s dawned without my permission. It’s a big bright slap in the face that reminds me that all I really want to do is crawl into the darkness of oblivion and fade to nothing.
Oblivion would be so pleasant.
I stumble out of bed and relieve myself in the bathroom. There’s a flashing light on my machine. I hadn’t even noticed it the night before. Reluctantly, I press the button. My sister’s voice fills the room. She’s worried. They’re all worried. This is nothing new. I wish they’d leave me to my oblivion.
The next voice is my mother’s voice, and I feel the hint of a pang of guilt stab me somewhere in my gut. It’s brief, and it’s gone before I can think about it too much. I’m good at ignoring pain. I’m better at ignoring guilt.
Unbidden, a memory flashes through my head. I’m young. It’s the summer I turned fourteen, and we’re at our family’s lake house. My sister was sixteen that year, and in my memory she’s chasing me down the pier toward the water. The water is crystal clear and the sun glints off of it so brightly it hurts my eyes. We’re laughing and I reach the end of the pier a split second before her. I don’t hesitate. I plunge in, and the water’s so cold it hurts to breathe when I come up. She’s next to me, splashing in the water.
I remember being so happy and peaceful that day at the lake. My stomach does a little flip as I remember why. I was happy because I’d already made up my mind. I was at peace with my decision. That night I’d taken my dad’s hunting knife to my wrists.
It was my sister who had found me.
He’s not answering, and that always makes me nervous. I call mom to see if she’s talked to him. When she confirms that he hasn’t called her either, I know what I have to do.
It’s not a long drive over, but it feels like an eternity. My stomach is in knots. I don’t like showing up unannounced at his place. I’ve not had good luck with it in the past. But then again, he’s still here, so maybe I have.
The thing about it is this: people think that to have the kind of issues my brother has you have to have dealt with some hardcore horrible traumatic events. Have to have some sort of horrid past or childhood that scars you for life. But that isn’t the case with him.
We had a normal upbringing. Loving parents, lots of hugs. Nothing even close to abusive. Our parents didn’t deprive or entitle us. We took family vacations, went to Disneyland, dad took us fishing, mom helped us with homework. All the ordinary stuff.
There’s no reason he shouldn’t be normal. Except for the chemicals in his brain. They don’t like to play nice.
I’m a ball of nerves as I knock on his door. I finger the spare key in my pocket, dreading using it if he doesn’t answer. But I know I will if I have to. I just pray I’m not too late.
Relief floods through me when he answers. He looks like hell. There are bags under his eyes, like he hasn’t slept in days. His hair is greasy and falls too long across his forehead.
I don’t know what I see in his eyes when he sees me. Relief? Disappointment? Anger? Sadness?
I push my way in anyway. Loving him means accepting the selfishness of his disease. He doesn’t mean to push everyone away. He doesn’t mean to hate all of us for loving him.
I open his refrigerator and make a note of its contents. I’ll restock it for him later.
He shrugs when I ask him how he is. He turns away when I get closer, but I grab his wrist, my fingers unconsciously skimming across the rough scar tissue there. I make him look at me. I study his eyes for a few moments before he turns away again.
I promise him I’ll come back later that night, and he shrugs again.
I don’t know what the answer is to the quandary that is my brother. I don’t have long-term solutions, and every time I see him, I’m reminded that it might be my last. But as I close the door behind me, I’m safe in the knowledge that he’s lived to see at least one more day. And for him, that’s as much as he can give.
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RL Ames spends her time chasing after her almost four year old son and sneaks in time for writing whenever she can. She can be found at rlames.weebly.com