This is Why We Tell the Story


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Surprisingly (only to her), Jaden is a member of the BA/MA Creative Writing Graduate Program at Penn State. She has loved writing since she was young and enjoys making people FEEL something with he  [+]

Image of Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
If I took you on a tour of my childhood, our first stop would be my childhood home, a small place with big memories. I’d show you the attic where my brother and I played or the room we shared. I’d recall how Jaran, my brother, would pull himself out of his crib just to crawl into my bed and sleep with me. I’d point to the exact spot in that room where I’d seen a ghost in the middle of the night, and maybe some of you would get scared.
From there, I’d lead you up the hill to our current home. I’d talk about how my mother, brother, and I had Sheetz in the empty living room before all our furniture had been moved in. We’d finish the tour in the backyard near the place where my first guinea pig was buried, where the swing set used to be, where my mom used to maintain a fairy garden. Behind the shed, I would linger for just a moment, staring at the gravel parking area. I’d remember a sadness that is infinite. I’d remember this:
I will never forget the year. It was during the winter that followed the autumn of 2016. That fall, a laziness had seemed to settle over our neighborhood, as no one had thoroughly raked the leaves out of their lawns. There were piles of them clumped in the streets after the first snowfall came. I was 18 and had just been accepted into the only college I’d applied to. I’d dreamt of going to an arts school in California, but the cost burst all bubbles in my imagination. It was January, frigidly cold, and post-winter break. It was the kind of cold that made you cry out of frustration for want of warmth but would make your tears freeze to your face. I had only one more semester of high school, then I’d be free—free from the nonsensical drama and bullies but not the cold.
During this time, Jaran had a girlfriend, his first serious one ever. I was jealous of him, as per usual, because things seemed to go his way, even though he was always getting in trouble. He was popular in school, athletic, and comedically charismatic. He was everything I wasn’t and couldn’t be. I was nerdy, a band geek, and socially awkward, kind of like every 80s Anthony Michael Hall character. People even called me “Jaran’s sister,” even though I was three years his senior. Despite all this, I got to drive him to her house because my parents were very hesitant about preparing him for his own permit.
I loved driving. I enjoyed blasting my music, sailing away down the roads. Plus, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I liked spending time with him. A part of me missed those days when he’d want to spend his time with me* in the summer and ask me* to play video games with him even though I sucked at them. I tried to not get too bothered about it before I went off to college, though. Mom assured us both that we’d be best friends again in the future.
“You two are all you have in this world, so be nice!” she’d say.
On this particular day, I went to pick him up from her house. I knew they always spent time there because they weren’t really being supervised, not like they would’ve been if they’d been at our house. There wouldn’t be alone time in a room together or cuddling up while watching a movie under the same blanket. No, none of that. I honked the horn a few times to let him know I was there.
He eventually ran out the door and toward the car, a big smile plastered on his acne-ridden face. His teeth were perfectly straightened from the braces he’d endured a few years back, and the sparkle was clear in his eye because he was wearing his contacts. He’d had glasses since he was three years old due to a lazy eye he’d developed. Back then, he had to wear an adorable blue eye patch over the one lens to strengthen his eyes. I had my braces on at the same time as he did but had to wear mine longer than him, and my contacts made my eyes uncomfortable, forcing me to constantly wear my glasses. Despite these geeky features, I had been blessed with flawless skin, one of the few things—including my stellar grades—I could hold over him.
He hopped into the car; and I let him plug in his phone so he could play his music. I relished in these moments. I felt like one of the cool kids because he was sharing popular music with me. Within that car, we were friends again, singing duets and telling jokes. Chance the Rapper was one of his favorites, but he also had a soft spot for Frank Ocean. I, in contrast, loved classical music, instrumental pieces, and barbershop quartets. My favorite song was “Moon River.”
“Hey,” he said, as we pulled onto our street, “thanks for always driving me.”
I smiled back at him.
“It’s all good. I love the drive.”
Why didn’t I tell him what I really meant, that I liked driving him*. Maybe he would have felt more loved, like he could talk to me. I’d meant that I looked forward to being in the car with him, him sharing his music with me, us not arguing for once. But that’s not what I said.
He died two days later.

“I’m sorry to say this, but we found your son. He completed suicide.”
I paused, watching my father take a step back, like the news had physically pushed him. He* completed* suicide*. They say you can never forget the sound a woman makes when she loses her child. It’s a sound I hope you never have to hear. It’s the equivalent of those sounds people make in movies when they’re being tortured, gutted alive, chainsawed in half. It comes from a place within a woman, never to be touched. It is the Pandora’s Box of sounds. He* completed* suicide*.
All I could think was Damn, what an awkward way to break that news.*
I answered people’s questions and started calling those who would care to know. I cried when I had to leave messages because I felt bad that people would have to open them up and listen to them.
My parents were adamant about me not seeing his body. One of the counsellors that was there told me he’d shot himself in the side of the head, but his face was fine. Because I never got to see him, I now have recurring dreams that he bribed everyone there with big bags of money to stay silent and ran off into the night, never to return. However, the undeniable pain I felt in my chest when he wasn’t in bed that morning said otherwise.
***
When I was little, I told my mom I was running away. I don’t know if I packed a bag or where I was heading to, but I do remember one thing. When I turned back to the house to see if anyone was there begging me to come back inside, I saw Jaran, standing in the doorway with tears streaming down his face. I wonder if he looked back at the house when he went up the sidewalk to that alley for the last time. I wonder if he wished someone was there begging him to come home.

A few months after he passed away, Frank Ocean came out with a cover of a song, and I teared up when I heard the words:
Moon river*
Wider than a mile*
I’m crossing you in style*
Someday.*
I’ve accepted every gift Jaran has sent my way since his passing. Things mysteriously breaking in the house and cold spots in the room after you’ve mentioned him are just a few of those special moments. Jaran’s last words to me were in his suicide note; he knew I’d be successful.
It’s hard being the child left behind. People forget that you too have lost something. Being a son trumps being a brother, but not to me. My whole life was interwoven with his, but now the duet’s a solo. I refuse to allow people to speculate about him. I write so people know the truth. He was happy. He was loved. He was impulsive. He was a troublemaker. So, I write his story.

*Italics
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