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

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It’s funny, but sometimes I’ll close my eyes and stretch my arms and just lean back, stretch my body everywhere from my fingers to the tips of my toes, and take a really deep breath.

It chokes somewhere in my chest before it makes it to my lungs like it can’t quite seem to make the effort to get that far.

That’s how I feel lately.

I know he’s gone; I’m not an idiot.

But sometimes it’s easier to pretend he’s still here. Like I’ll wake up in the morning and he’ll be there at the counter waiting for me, so we can eat our Cheerios together and talk about nothing.

He was my brother, you know. My brother.

He had brown hair, usually messy from where it rubbed up against his favorite baseball cap. I can’t remember what team it was. It’s so weird the things you forget.

It wasn’t him, at the funeral. They had this other boy, lying in a wooden box, looking like a wax figure. His hair was gelled. I could see very faint tracks where the comb had glided through, carefully parting his chestnut locks. Brandon hated combing his hair, dressing up. If we had seen that guy in the casket at a baseball game or in the hallways at school, he would have laughed and asked where his mother had bought him the suit. That was my brother. My big brother.

Only a year older, but it didn’t feel like anything. We were best friends, deep down – not all the time, but underneath everything I knew him like I knew the shape of my neck or the color of my hair.

The funeral was a dream, not even a nightmare ­because it really wasn’t that memorable. I kept thinking I should be crying or convulsing or yelling or something, but all I could feel was the same raw ache that wasn’t at all out of the ordinary. Not since that night. It’s amazing what you can get used to. Everyone else was crying, but I couldn’t feel any emotion for them either. It all felt like a soap opera, just some cheesy half hour sitcom you watch when you’re supposed to be doing your homework. Suddenly a very strange thought ran through my head, a line out of a historical romance novel an English teacher would make you read.

Hobbled by my misconceptions …

I knew what it meant. But I didn’t know where it came from. It kept running through my brain, like a line from a song I couldn’t get out of my head, over and over and over …

Hobbled by my misconceptions …

And without really thinking, I’m walking faster and faster away from Wax Boy and sobbing Aunt Martha in her lavender suit, away from all the stupid flowers Brandon would have hated and Mother crying with her head on Daddy’s lap. Brandon, you are so lucky to get out of this, I think. It’s sick. I’m sick. But I don’t even care. I have something strange running through my blood. I need to get out!

People are staring with that stupid gossipy faux-sympathy look.

“They say it may have been suicide, you know …”

“Oh, the poor dear …”

“Is that Chelsea running?”

People are staring now, and I find that yes, I am running. I run past the ushers, through the door, into the big bright universe, and it blinds my hard cold eyes.

I get down on my knees and sit for a while on the cement outside the church, arms twined around legs, breathing hard, gasping really. I look at the sky and it’s so big and suddenly that’s all there is. People are walking past and patting my shoulder, kneeling sometimes but not knowing what to say. The sky makes me dizzy, spinning out for all eternity and never ever ending, and I’m just a speck, a piece of gum someone flicked off their shoe, sticking to the sidewalk forever.

Are you there, Brandon? Have you ever felt this small? I look for him up in the sky, for a sign that he’s watching. A storm cloud maybe, or a violent and sudden outpouring of rain. Something big, bigger than this stupid, tacky funeral and all the mascara marks tracked down the cheeks of my female relatives. It’s a hopeless feeling. Why am I here, Brandon? Are you happier now, wherever you are?

“Chelsea?” It’s one of the ushers. A brave boy, tall and uncomfortable looking. I know him from Brandon’s baseball team. I had a crush on him for a little while. Middle school stuff. “Are you okay?” His eyebrows knit together in clichéd concern.

“No, leave me alone, okay?” I don’t want him here. I don’t want anyone to see me so weak. I’m angry, suddenly, incredibly pissed off at anyone who saw me break down. Brandon would have … I don’t even care. I’m not going to care. I feel like just another dramatic idiot making a scene.

“Leave me alone.” I glare, keeping my chin up. Looking down on him from three feet below. The usher looks scared. Good.

I get up and walk off without looking back, not bothering to wipe the dust from my black skirt. I hate black. I hate everything that goes along with this place, with this macabre show of affection for some dummy in a casket. My brother isn’t here. I don’t care what everyone else thinks. He’s not.

I slip past the mourners back into the church, walking into the main sanctuary, sitting next to my mother and father. Daddy looks like ice, automatically patting my mother’s shoulder as she cries big, heaving sobs into his only good suit. His face is troubled, gazing past the shrine of Brandon to an empty wall.

“Daddy?” Are you in there, Daddy? He doesn’t look back.

“Chelsea … get a ride home. We can’t leave yet … We’ll meet you later, at the wake. Make sure everything’s set up, okay?” He kisses me on the forehead, his mind wandering somewhere I can’t go. “Get the appetizers out, ask Aunt Ida to pick up the ice …” He’s saying these things, but they aren’t sentences, they’re thoughts spoken out loud, directed toward me. Daddy?

“Okay.” I walk back out to the parking lot and wait patiently by Aunt Ida as she talks to her friend, wait for a gap so I can deliver the news about the ice, ask to go home early to get the house ready.

I’m watching myself. I can see exactly how I would look if this were a movie I was watching: I would be crying on the couch by now, wearing old sweatpants and scarfing down popcorn, watching a pale, tired-looking girl go crazy after her brother’s untimely death. I close my eyes. If I count to 10 and open them, everything will be back to normal. Brandon will be standing next to me cracking his knuckles and talking about this sick new band he heard on the Internet … One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

“Chelsea, honey? Are you all right?” Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. I open my eyes. I see Aunt Ida and her friend gazing at me with concern. Aunt Ida’s purple eye shadow is creased. Disappointment settles in my gut. For the first time, I feel like I might cry.

“I’m fine. I need a ride home now so I can get the house ready for the wake. Daddy wanted me to remind you to pick up ice.” I sound like a little girl, a well-raised little girl. A cold breeze brushes my cheek and I hug my arms, bracing against it.

“Right, right.” She pats my shoulder. “Just get in the car. We’ll leave in a minute, sweetheart.” Pet names. I’ve never been called sweetheart, honey, babe, or darlin’ so many times in my life. Funerals bring out the worst in people.

I trudge to her ugly little forest green car and slip into the front seat. I don’t fasten my seat belt. Living dangerously now.

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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laurenj said...
Sept. 20, 2008 at 6:49 pm:
so good! makes me want to cry. ur writing is so full of feeling and voice, it makes me feel like it is happening to me. that shows great writing! amazing story. so sad, though, i think im gonna cry...
 
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northcvball10 said...
Sept. 20, 2008 at 5:21 pm:
Good job!
 
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IloveTeenink said...
Sept. 10, 2008 at 2:26 pm:
This was real cool
 
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