Changes This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   My brother betrayed me when we were fifteen years old. It isn't something that I have forgotten, nor am I ever likely to. Yet I have been changed since then, changed by things that have happened to me.

Our parents had been fighting for months, so it wasn't really a surprise when they announced to my twin brother Derek and me, that they were going to get a divorce. Yet, just because it wasn't a surprise didn't mean my heart wasn't broken. I became withdrawn from my friends and I showed up less and less for swim team practice The only person who cared enough to notice my changed behavior was Derek. He forced me to go to all of the parties with my friends and threatened me with the loss of the car we shared if I didn't work toward my goal of making Nationals in the one hundred yard butterfly. That extra push was just what I needed and I not only met my boyfriend, Joey, at a party, but I also made the Nationals.

It was during the final weeks of preparation for the meet that our parents received their court date. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the Nationals. In fact, Derek and I spent the opening day of the Nationals in a dark and depressing courtroom. We were the issue at hand, or rather, where and with whom we would spend our high school years.

I didn't know with whom I wanted to live. It seemed unreal that anyone could demand two teenagers to choose between their parents. It reminded me of a scene in the film "Sophie's Choice" where a Nazi officer forces Sophie to choose which of her two children would live and which would go to the gas chamber.

The judge, who had the coldest blue eyes I had ever seen, called the court to order. Turning to Derek and me he bellowed, "Do the minors have a preference in the matter of a custodial parent?" I expected silence. Instead, Derek rose.

"Your honor, I would prefer that my sister, Stephanie, and I were separated," he said.

I couldn't believe it. How could those words have come from Derek's mouth? We were twins. We shared everything since the moment we began to exist. How could he want to leave me?

I stood and ran away from my brother, ran away from my parents and their lawyers. The tears poured from my eyes as if they were a faucet stuck in the full on position. I didn't even know if anyone followed me. I didn't seem to know anything anymore. I had always counted on Derek to be my support and now, when we were experiencing the worst thing that had ever happened to us, he wanted to leave me.

Well good riddance, I thought. Yet, at the same time my whole world was breaking in two; just like Derek had broken us in two.

*****************

I didn't return to the courtroom, nor did I speak to Derek. The judge decided I would continue to live in Massachusetts with my dad, since he felt that I required the stability offered by familiar routines. Derek, on the other hand, was off to live with Mom in Maine. When he came home to collect his stuff and say good-bye, I locked myself in my room, refusing to come out, even to just say good-bye to Mom.

Mom had changed a lot. She had met David, a veterinarian, over the winter who, she claimed, saved her from continuing her disastrous relationship with my father. She had become a free spirit. Mom quit her job as an English teacher and began to eat tofu and frequent crystal and new age shops. Her dark hair, usually kept short, grew long, and she parted it down the middle like every teenage girl had during the '60s. Her B.M.W. was traded in for a Volkswagen and she began to work on a novel, which was supposed to chronicle her life as an enslaved housewife.

To say the least, the changes in my family left me very confused. My twin had deserted me and my mom was a born-again hippie. Dad and I just carried on.

Joey and I became closer and closer. He almost filled the void that Derek had left behind. I say almost because you share different things with the people you love romantically than you do with the people you love in your family.

Derek called often and came to visit during the summer. I always made it a point to be out or at least "unavailable for comment." I also found excuses not to visit Mom.

Dad married Lynn, a woman he had worked with for years. Lynn was the exact opposite of what my mother had become. She was a short, curly redhead with a quick temper and an easy laugh. She tried to help, to be my mom, and it seemed to work. Lynn had an eight-year-old son from her first marriage. It was nice to have another kid around the house.

All in all my life had continued, with few minor interruptions since that horrible day in that dark courtroom. Until the phone rang, on a June day, two years after my parents had divorced.

*****************

"I got it!" I yelled, sprinting across the kitchen floor. I jumped over Adam's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just in time to save myself from major damage. I picked up the phone, expecting it to be Joey. But it was my Mom.

"Stephanie! Thank God that you answered. There's a problem," my mother's voice cried breathlessly. "Your grandfather has had a stroke. David and I are here already. You and Derek have to get here immediately. I have booked you on the next flight to Denver. Derek is driving down to Logan Airport. Put your father on the phone so I can give him the details."

I didn't have the chance to utter a word. I handed the phone to Dad and went upstairs to pack.

My head was swimming. Everything was moving so fast. Thoughts were running through my head. Thoughts of Gramps lying in some hospital bed, of having to fly, of canceling my plans with Joey that night and finally thoughts of seeing Derek.

*****************

It seemed like it was seconds later that I was standing with my father in the Northwest Airlines terminal at Logan airport. My clothes had been thrown into two bags along with my cosmetics and entertainment for the flight. Dad was pacing back and forth between the ticket counter to the row of chairs. The flight was scheduled to leave in twenty minutes and my brother had still not shown up.

My father was upset, to say the least. He knew that if Derek and I weren't on that flight there would be hell to pay with my mom. Dad looked much older than his forty-six years. His blond hair, much like my own, was disheveled and he kept running his fingers through it. Every muscle in his five-foot, eleven-inch body was tensed. Dad's green eyes were shining and his round cheeks turning a deeper shade of red with every minute that passed. I began to worry that he would explode, when I spotted Derek at the end of the terminal.

Derek and I are a study in contrasts as far as looks go. He has wavy brown hair, dark eyes and stands at six-feet four inches. I, on the other hand, am a five-foot, five-inch blond. My eyes are green and I have these annoying freckles everywhere.

Derek's eyes were shining as he approached us. He was wearing a Bowdoin sweatshirt, a faded pair of Levi's and Tevas on his feet. Dad let out a huge sigh of relief and quickly hugged us both before shoving us on the plane.

I hadn't realized, or rather, considered the fact that it was a four-hour flight to Denver and that I was going to have to sit with Derek. Great, I thought. I moved down the aisle toward the seat number listed on my ticket. I had the window seat, which was a blessing. I could put on my walkman and stare out into the sky. Derek, however, had other ideas.

Just after one of my favorite songs began to play, the sound stopped abruptly. Derek had pressed the stop button on my walkman.

"Steph, we need to talk," he said. That was the last thing that I wanted to do. Yet, in a corner of my heart, I knew that talking to Derek wasn't just something that I wanted to do, but also something that I should do. Only, my pride spoke before my heart had the chance.

"Derek, you made your choice when you asked that we be separated. I can't trust you anymore. So let's just think of Grampa and hope that he will be all right. You don't have to try and make polite conversation," I said.

I had never seen Derek so hurt. He turned quietly to a magazine, and ignored me for the next hour until I fell asleep.

In a sound sleep I began to feel like I was being held upside down. The blood was rushing to my head, and I had a tingling sensation in my toes. I told myself that I was dreaming, until Derek began poking at my arm. I awoke to find the plane diving toward the ground below us.

My stomach was in knots and I felt like I was going to throw up as I looked around. Mothers and fathers were buckling in their children, trying to soothe them with calm words. The flight attendants sprinted for their seats as bags and jackets flew from the compartments overhead. Eventually there was a deafening silence as we waited for what would happen next.

I looked to Derek with tears of fear falling quietly down my face. He only smiled and took my hand in his. I had forgotten that we weren't speaking.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the plane began to level off. Sighs of relief could be heard all over the cabin. When I looked down at my lap to unbuckle my seatbelt, I saw that I was still gripping Derek's hand. It was then that I finally realized that I wanted to work things out. I knew that we would be able to find a way to be close again. He had been there for me when fear had made me need him. Nothing could ever change that. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Jan. 17, 2012 at 10:40 pm
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