I woke up to my mom standing over me whispering that we had to go, and I knew the phone ringing in my dream was real.
“We’re going to get Eli.”
Just like that, I thought. How easy. Why were we worried, searching for so long and not finding? After months of pretending I wasn’t listening to my mom call parent after parent and how each of them said their kid had a falling out with him and they hadn’t seen him, but had heard he’d started hanging out with so and so and so and so. And so. Now our phone rang in the middle of the night and Eli was offered, all we had to do was go pick him up. It sounded so simple that I felt foolish for having suggested she call Dr. Laura on the radio for advice.
On the drive, my sleepy eyes saw familiar neighborhoods look foreign at three a.m. and I remember wondering why I was even going along. I could have stayed at home, asleep, and woke in the morning and there he would be, tall and strong and strange and a little distant, but always an eye on me and I could push some boundary and he could cuff me and I could get angry and he’d teach me some simple lesson and I’d be quiet while my mind tried to understand his wisdom.
Instead of sleeping toward my brother, I was awake, wrapped in a quilt in the backseat.
We turned and drove past Poynter, where I would go to middle school, where he had recently graduated, and I wondered if I’d ever make it there, and if it’d kill me, if I would be allowed to leave. Then a right, follow the curve, then a right, I think, left? Cul-de-sac? Where were we? Lost in the darkness.
The road eased around and straightened out and I saw our goal: a giant ball of light that lit up the street and houses all around and even the low-laying cold-clouds blazed a beacon for our search. Our lighthouse guided us back to family, and it felt simple again.
We parked in front and I heard the music, felt the bass, and my dad got out and told me and my mom to wait, and I knew those kids were in trouble because that music was too loud and they better hope there aren’t any cuss words because my dad barged in when I was taking a shower and took my Slipknot CD because it cussed.
He didn’t even knock on the strange door or ring the bell, just opened it and walked right in. When the door closed, my mom said her favorite and only swear-word, “Oh sugar,” and told me to wait in the car and got out. As she opened the front door, I saw my dad, his hands raised above his head, waving, and I could tell he was yelling and then my mom rushing into the fray after the tiny bald man with wild arms as the door shut.
I leaned my forehead against the window and made sure the blanket was tucked around my legs tightly. I had waited in a car before for hours. I was a veteran. I knew I could fall asleep, especially if I lay down, and I would awaken as the doors opened and Eli got in, probably mad and unwilling to look at me, and my dad angry but quiet and my mom quiet and dabbing her eyes and we would drive back home and my dad would command everyone to bed: “We’ll talk about this in the morning.” And my mom would try to hug and kiss Eli but he wouldn’t want to and would sulk off downstairs to his room and I would lurch to mine and sleep and we would all wonder if he would be there in the morning.
All I had to do was close my eyes and he would appear beside me. Just fall asleep. Not even quickly. Slowly will work just as well. Just fall asleep and appear your brother. But the light was too bright. And I recognized that song. The first hip-hop song I remember being released, remember watching its debut on MTV. I saw my dad through the living room window looking up at some big kids. Was that David? JR? Kevin K.? I liked them.
I saw them shake their heads and point outside and my dad disappeared and then out the front door came both my parents, alone. They got in. My dad said, “Someone told him we were coming and he left. David said they were going to Kyle’s house.”
Just like that, finding Eli again became a game of scanning every teenage boy’s face, of calling parents that we knew less and less, of my mom hiding the shame from her voice harder and harder and of me pretending my brother was my brother even when he didn’t exist.
Collins-Wilson has an MFA in Creative Writing and is currently teaching high school English in Unalaska, Alaska. In addition to non-fiction, he also writes poetry and novels. More of his work can be found on the Internet. Feel free to talk to him about anything at email@example.com.
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— Sarah Rose Cadorette
“Oh, so NO ONE has ever gotten DRUNK at a WEDDING before?” I asked, flinging my arms out to indicate that I was a very, very big presence.
The EMT sighed, pushed the stretcher up against a wall, and came around to face me. “Do you know why we picked you up, Sarah? Hmm?” I shook my head defiantly. “You were laughing in the bushes.”