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My Brother Jake
Nineteen. Nineteen months since he left. Nineteen years of his youth. Nineteen minutes after seven o’clock when his spirit sighed the last breath out of his body.
He had only nineteen days of autumn left, my brother. I was fifteen. I can still remember the pleasant sound of Jake’s voice and the steady beat of his heart against my ear- every thud counting down to the day when the rhythmic pumping of bright vermillion within his body would finally cease. He was my protector- my armor against pain and sadness. But after he left, that’s all his memory brought me. Pain. Sadness. Anger. I never knew how Sarah did it. It was as if nothing ever happened- as if he didn’t exist; the glossiness had faded from the crystal blue abyss of her eyes, the worried creases adorning her brow had been perfectly smoothed.
She had never been as close to him as I had. I wondered if she even missed him anymore. If you ventured into her room, you would be ignorant to the very fact of his existence. Every remnant of him was erased- dispersed into the sweet morning air. The teddy bear that he had given her six years ago, which used to snuggle deep within the comforter of her warm bed, now lay suffocating at the bottom of a cardboard box in the garage. Even the picture that Jake had drawn my sister when he was in kindergarten - the one she always kept over her desk- was gone.
His picture is the first thing you see when you walk into my room. It’s a picture of me and him on a tree swing when I was nine, in front of an old cabin where we went camping once. He was wearing his bright red T-shirt, my favorite shirt of his. Stained with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Soft with age. Now faded and tucked safely away in my dresser.
Jake had never been like other boys his age. He was mature and very concerned with finding the truth in everything. His passion was helping people and learning their stories. When his friends needed help, he was there. When I needed him, I didn’t even have to open my mouth to ask.
Jake was my best friend. He was the sun that dried up the salty tears which dared to charge down the slopes of my face. The kind of person whom you can pour your soul into without the anticipation of jagged shards of criticism.
I know my mom missed him as fervently as I did. When Mom and Dad divorced three years ago, I saw her cry once. Just once. I hadn’t known what to do- I had never seen her cry before. But after Jake’s death, though my mother strove to conceal her desolation from her daughters, it no longer seemed an uncommon thing to see her beautiful blue-green eyes submerged in a sea of loss. Or feel the dampness of drying tear tracks against her cheek when I pressed mine to hers. Slowly the tear tracks became less frequent, faded like Jake’s red shirt. Or like the path in the front lawn where he used to ride his bike. Washed out by the rain.
Jake used to love the rain. Especially when it rained hard and the windows were of no use except to witness the thick sheets of water sinking into the earth. He said it was refreshing, as if when the sun came back out there was a chance for a new beginning. As Jake was my hero and idol, I believed everything he said. And so I, too, loved the rain.
There was a drought after my brother died. And I felt it beyond the dying grass and forest fires. I felt a drought inside of me, as if my blood had dried up and my heart had shriveled. I stopped smiling. I became hardened and solitary. My grades dropped and I lost the enthusiasm for life which I had been so inspired by in my brother. I had lost many friends and kept only the true ones who never strayed from me, as people had grown tired of my blank stares into oblivion. I guess that’s what happens when your heart is empty- your life becomes empty, too.
I was so angry at myself for that Thursday. The day my brother died. He had asked me that morning to use my CD player, but being the selfish child I was, I said no. I told him that I wanted to use it later, and that it was almost out of battery power. But Jake didn’t become angry like Sarah would have. Instead he just gave a soft smile and tousled my hair as he did whenever I acted like the kid I was, and walked silently out of the room. I heard the TV turn on and blab for about an hour, and then Jake went out to check the mail, because it had been sitting patiently in the mailbox all day.
I heard him open the front door, and felt a pang of some sudden feeling I couldn’t explain- a foreboding, clammy, awful feeling. So I followed my instincts and padded my feet towards the door. That’s when I saw what had happened. It had only been a few minutes- maybe even one. But in the light of the foyer ceiling lamp, I could see Jake sprawled outside on the gravel of our driveway. I would have screamed, but instead opened my mouth like that of a dying fish, gasping for the night air to somehow reach my empty, deprived lungs. I don’t know how my feet ran to him, but they did. I found my voice somewhere deep inside of my throat and screamed his name, and then for help. He was unconscious, or so I thought. I didn’t know then that he was already dead. I found out after my neighbor came running out of his house, dialing 911. After the ambulance came and took him. After I waited for what seemed like hours in the lobby of the hospital, where my seven-pound, nineteen-ounce older brother had once been brought into the world.
An aneurism. That’s what it was, the thing that killed my Jake. The doctor tried to explain to my parents and me, fumbling with her stethoscope that hung numbly from her neck. She said that it was not an unusual occurrence, and most times people don’t know they have it until it is too late. But I knew that even if Jake had felt anything, or had any symptoms he wouldn’t have told me. Probably to protect me from worrying about him.
Two days later I found myself dressed in black at the town cemetery. My eyes were red and itchy from the longing to cry, even as I was unable to. I had cried too much in the days before; no water would escape the corners of my eyes simply because there was none left. My sister had flown down from Boston. I can still remember how she was when my father told her the news- speechless with lips pursed tightly and watered eyes. Her eyelids reminded me of dams that were about to break, trying to hold back the rush of water seeping through the cracks. No one could register the news. It was as if our brains had shut down like crashed computers. But slowly the minds of my family began to reboot. All of my family’s minds except for mine.
They say that time is the healer of everything. That even the pain of loss as great as mine can gradually disintegrate. Life went back to normal for everyone around me, but I remained angry and broken. I know, it sounds silly now, but I was so angry at myself for refusing to lend him my CD player, which afterwards- in a fit of rage- I bashed on the kitchen floor. I felt so guilty for never truly appreciating my brother’s love. I would have given up that stupid, meaningless CD player and everything else of mine if I could just have him back, even for a brief moment. But that was not an option. I felt a loathing towards myself bubble up in my chest like magma underneath a volatile volcano. I had been so self-absorbed and swore to myself that I would change. I did, but of course, it was too late.
After many months, I finally spoke with Sarah about our brother’s passing. There was no need to talk to my mother, we shared a mutual understanding. But I refused to understand how Sarah could wash him out of her life as if she was that old bike trail and his absence was the rain.
One evening when she sat alone in her room, I entered, stunned to find her surrounded by a mass of Jake’s pictures. Her sobs were soft but audible. Without thinking, I went over to her and hugged her, hoping to release her from at least a moment of her sorrow. We cried together, after so long a time. She told me about how she had tried to push her loss and grieving far away from her. That’s why she had tried to remove his memories from her room and all that she laid eyes on. That’s why she had stopped coming to my room. She missed him just as much as I did, if not more. We talked for hours about Jake. We discussed his goals and passions. We fell into each others’ arms with laughter as we recalled the witty and hilarious remarks and mischievous pranks of his childhood, and unknowingly, my sister and I forged a bond which we had never shared before. Even in death, my brother continued to hold my family together.
I cleaned up my life. I became absorbed in studies and friends and eventually even my music, once again. My mother, sister, and I are closer today than we ever have been, and hold Jake so close to our hearts that it feels he is here with us. Perhaps he is.
I used to wish that I could’ve told him in person how much I loved him and respected him. But I have realized that it doesn’t matter- he always knew.
I am truly grateful for the time that I was blessed with him in my life- my best friend, my mentor, my keeper of secrets, my inspiration, my hero- my brother Jake.