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Don’t Melt, My Snowflake MAG
I leaned over my math book, thinking hard – or trying to. I hated math. I just couldn’t think when it came to algebra. But I knew the real reason I couldn’t think: my brother, David.
I slammed the book shut, and stared at the swirling snowflakes. Christmas would be here in a week … but would my older brother, who had run away last September? Probably not. He skipped last Christmas, so why should he come this Christmas? We hadn’t heard from him at all since he left. David and I were close, with much less sibling rivalry than in most families, and this time of year just brought out the worst feeling of emptiness without him.
I found myself concentrating on the snowflakes, swirling around in the wind as if they had no place to go. I wonder if David is like one of those snowflakes, I thought, getting blown around with no place to go. Or, I thought, biting my lip, is he like the snowflakes that get caught on a windowpane and melt right there?
I shook that thought from my head. If I had just one wish, I’d want David home for Christmas.
* * *
I sat in algebra class the next day staring down at my unfinished homework. This really stinks, I grumbled to myself. I haven’t been turning in finished algebra papers all week. I’m sure to flunk it this semester. And I won’t get into college, all because I canned algebra my freshman year. And it’ll be all David’s fault for being a great brother, then leaving to go who knows where, and leaving me to wonder whether he’s dead or alive. All because he and Dad had a stupid fight.
I don’t think I listened to a thing in class that day. All I remember is the feeling of dread when I passed in my incomplete assignment. After class, the teacher called me to her desk to “talk.”
“I think I know why I’m here, Ms. Rodkin,” I said, just to let her know I was aware I had been slacking off.
Ms. Rodkin was tall and pretty. She looked as if she were in her thirties, though I knew she must be in her mid-forties considering the years she had been teaching.
She peered at me over her wire-rims. “I just wanted to know if I should be concerned about anything. As of now, your algebra grades are going way down.”
“I know, it’s just … I’ll try to do better. I’m sorry.”
She looked concerned. “Is something wrong? Can I help? If you’re having trouble ...”
“No, really, I know I can do better. I just haven’t been able to concentrate.” My toes were wiggling inside my shoes to get to study hall, and my eyes kept wandering to the door. I guess Ms. Rodkin could sense that I didn’t want her help, as she made a shooing motion with her hand.
I gladly hurried toward my destination.
“I miss David too, you know.” Ms. Rodkin stopped me in my tracks.
I was puzzled. How had she known what I was thinking? I knew my brother had always done well in math and, since he also was a bit of a class clown, he managed to build friendly relationships with all his teachers. It didn’t surprise me she remembered him. But how had she …
“How – how did you know?” was all I could manage to blurt out. She had caught me. I felt like a criminal who had been tricked into revealing herself.
“I know everything.” Ms. Rodkin winked at me. “The seniors call me Miss ESP.” Then her face immediately flooded with guilt.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I mean, I know it’s a sensitive … it’s none of my business.”
I didn’t want her to feel like an intruder, so I gave her a warm, but subtle smile. “That’s okay.” I looked down at my feet. “Guess you can’t easily forget him, huh?”
Ms. Rodkin shook her head and chuckled.
“Sometimes I turn around and expect to see him making a funny face at the person sitting in front of him.”
I laughed. I knew what she meant. Even now, after over a year, I would walk into a room and expect to hear him laughing his funny laugh that always annoyed me, or to tap me on the shoulder and then run and hide. Or sometimes, I would imagine that I heard him calling me “Sassy,” his nickname for me.
I didn’t want to remember all those nights hearing Dad and David fighting downstairs when they didn’t know I was home. I didn’t want to remember that horrible morning we found David, his things, and his car gone. I could hear Mom crying and screaming at Dad for being so rough on him. I blanked my mind and tried to push these thoughts out.
“I know exactly what you mean, Ms. Rodkin, ” I said.
The teacher fingered the bracelet on her wrist. “I miss him in my classes. He was a wonderful student.” She paused. “He was good at algebra.”
I forced a laugh. “Too bad he isn’t here right now. He could be helping me.”
“Hmmm. Well if you’re having trouble, let me know.”
All of a sudden, her expression changed. She stared out the window, and seeming lost.
“You know, I had a sister, Myrah,” she said sadly. “When I was 12 and she was 15, she got fed up with my parents and decided to try the world out on her own.” She shook her head.
I was silent for a minute. “I-I didn’t know that.”
Ms. Rodkin looked up at me, blinking.
“Well, now you’re the only one here who does,” she said in a voice just above a whisper.
We were both silent. I shifted my backpack on my shoulders.
She winked at me. “Go on, get out of here,” she said softly. “Go to study hall.”
* * *
The days before Christmas vacation were slow and boring. Normally, David and I would take off and go skiing, except for the days we told each other we had a headache and couldn’t go, but we always knew that meant we needed to go Christmas shopping for each other. I could still go skiing with my friends, but what fun was that when they couldn’t amuse me by trying to drink hot chocolate through their nose?
Christmas dinner was a sea of tension. We invited all the relatives that lived within an hour drive, and they arrived with seemingly cheerful faces. Everyone complimented my mother on her wonderful hors d’oeuvres and breathed in the luscious aromas from the kitchen. I could tell from the way my dad kept looking out the window, and the way my mom stared into space every so often, that things were not okay. It certainly didn’t help when we sat down to eat and my grandmother laughingly said to my mom, “Oh, that boy never does show up on schedule, now does he?” My mother cleared her throat, and I could see her body tense.
I sat next to my cousin Jason, who let out loud belches after every few bites. I nibbled my biscuit, fighting the urge to stuff it down his windpipe.
Across was my Uncle Randy, making one dumb joke after another. Some relatives were so annoying. I concentrated on Aunt Rebecca’s stories about teaching first grade.
I helped my mom load the dishes into the sink and offered to wash them. It took me about an hour to finish, and by that time all our company had left, stopping in the kitchen to kiss me good-bye and Merry Christmas.
I decided to go to bed right away. I was exhausted from all the preparations Mom and I had done for the company; I knew she must be tired, too. I wanted to tell her that she could go to bed, that she didn’t have to bother with the Santa job this year, but she probably would have been offended. So I kissed her and Dad good night.
As I lay there in the dark, I tried to imagine what my brother could be doing right now. Was he picking through garbage cans, trying to find a half-way decent supper, or was he safe and warm at a friend’s house? Or was he a melted snowflake?
I chased that thought from my mind. “David,” I said softly, “wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re having an okay Christmas.”
* * *
I woke up at about 1:00 a.m. with a start. Had I heard something downstairs? I listened carefully, not moving. Nothing. Probably just a dream or something. I pulled my comforter back over my head. I heard it again. Footsteps, downstairs. My bedroom was over the living room, where the steps seemed to be coming from. They were faint but clear through the heating vent.
At first I thought it was just my parents putting presents under the tree, but the footsteps were nowhere near the tree. I knew it was silly to be scared, but just to make sure, I rolled out of bed and tiptoed down the hall to my parents’ bedroom. My mom and dad were both sound asleep.
I began to panic. Who was walking around downstairs? A burglar? A murderer? I shuddered. I didn’t feel like getting chopped to bits at 1:00 a.m. on Christmas day, even though I would probably make the front page of the newspaper.
I scolded myself for having such a gruesome imagination. It was probably just Uncle Randy or somebody. Forgot his hat or something. I decided I’d go down and offer him cookies. I couldn’t sleep anyway.
I started down the staircase. From the middle of the stairs, you have the view of our entire living room. I looked down into it and saw a man. But it was not Uncle Randy.
This person was thin and wore torn jeans. I could only see him from the back, but I could tell that he didn’t belong in this house. I was really scared. I wanted to get my parents, but I knew I couldn’t get to the top of the stairs without this stranger noticing me.
I spotted the flashlight that we kept at the top of the staircase. If I could reach it, I could throw it at the back of the guy’s head to knock him out. It had to work. It worked in the movies, didn’t it? I took a deep breath and stepped up one stair, very, very softly.
No creak. So far, so good. I let out my breath quietly, then sucked it in again to prepare myself for the next step.
I stepped up and grabbed the flashlight, grasping it so hard my knuckles turned white. I stepped down one stair. No creak. Then the next... Creeak! I stopped in horror. I listened. My heart was beating so loud I was sure the man could hear it. He didn’t seem to be reacting, so I got myself ready to pitch.
I drew my arm back and planted my foot on the stair. My victim was leaned over with his back to me, just where I wanted him. Ready… aim… WHAPP!
I hit him! But I hadn’t knocked him out.
“Sassy, why’d you do that?”
I held my breath. Then it came to me. This was no burglar. This was the only person on earth who called me Sassy.
“David!” I exclaimed, forgetting to keep my voice down. I ran toward my brother, who was hunched over holding his head. I pulled him upright and grabbed his shoulders, not believing it was true, that it was really him.
I stared at him. He had gotten thinner, his cheeks were sunken in, and he needed a shave. But I could still see the same old David, with his deep, green eyes and black hair that resembled mine. He looked more rugged now. There was something more to him now than when he had left. I immediately recognized it. It was in his eyes.
It was pain.
David had gone through a lot of hard times since last September. He looked like he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a while. And he had a bump on his head from me. A great way to welcome him home.
“Sorry about that, Dave. I thought you were a burglar or something.”
He smiled crookedly. “That’s okay. After what I’ve been through, I’m used to it.”
We were interrupted by my mother’s shriek. “David Scott, you’re home!”
There was about half an hour’s worth of greetings, questions and tears.
Apparently, David had bunked out with some friends a couple of towns away, and they kicked him out for no good reason.
“Not real good guys,” as he described them.
I silently thanked them, whoever they were, for sending my brother home.
It was the best moment of my life. Every year for Christmas, I had asked for something unimportant, something I really didn’t need. Sometimes Santa gave it to me, sometimes he didn’t. But this year, my Christmas gift was better than anything “Santa” had ever given me. I didn’t care if I never got another gift in my entire life, as long as I had my brother to tell me new jokes, help me with my algebra, and call me Sassy, I would be satisfied forever.
My snowflake had found a place to rest.