Field of Fallen Dreams

May 3, 2008
From what I remember, my brother had always been the best at everything growing up: captain of the high school football team and the pride of the entire town. I remember the scorching hot summer days down in Berlin New Hampshire, when he would walk down the etched streets with that air of quiet confidence that I had always hated. It was that same root of my disdain that made the young women pat their hair with fluttering hands, the old women smile from beneath flowered bonnets, the men tip their hats to him and the mothers pause from gossiping through the garden fence, as they multi-tasked while trimming the hedges. I remember the frigid winter mornings when the young girls would giggle, their cheeks red, breath coming out in wisps of smoke as they hid behind frozen trees, watching him shovel the widowed Mrs. Mayner's front yard. I would watch from our second story victorian window, my breath coming in angry shallow clouds, spiraling outward and fogging the glass until my vision blurred and I shrank backwards. I had always suspected there was something more beneath his crooked smile, a flickering shadow rippling across the water's surface marring it. During the spring when we played catch at the old field, throwing the worn football our father gave him across the emerald grass, I would find myself drifting away from conversation and scrutinizing him for the tiniest flaw or imperfection. As the sun set and we walked back home, our laughter bounced along the rough paths that had long since tumbled off of any town map and now lay forgotten. That hatred would slip away, receding into the inexplicable darkness.

I remember the first time I ever visited that field. It had been a frigid winter afternoon, one of the coldest of my childhood. The earth lay dusted with the first layer of frost as the sun peeked tentatively from behind its clouded blanket. School had just ended and I could hear my heart pounding desperately as I ran, stumbling upon loose rocks and wirey branches. I could hear the angry shouts of two of the bullies in my fourth grade class, trailing closely behind. Suddenly my legs flew from beneath me and I found myself face down on the ground. I remember the pungent smell of earth, the fiery burn of the snow against my skin and then the pounding of their fists like precipitation in a violent rain storm. Time seemed to stop and each invisible second fell away in mournful arcs, then their shouts of triumph fell dully away from my ears only to be replaced by frightened squeals. They clambered away and suddenly I could see my brother's familiar dirty white shoes with their blue laces and then everything tumbled away and only his helping hand remained, outstretched. I remember looking up into my brother's pitying eyes, thinking how easy it would be just to reach my hand out and fall into his arms but instead blind rage surged through me and I stumbled upright and ran. Tears stung my bruised face, falling ashamed to the cold ground. My eyes dry and my fingers numb, I found my parents and brother in the kitchen. I could see the pride in my parents' eyes and the way they clapped him on his back as he recounted the story, mumbling the words. I refused to see the discomfort that lay in his eyes and his futile attempts to refocus the attention upon me. When they addressed me though, I could only see that same pity that I had found in his eyes and I hated it. They saw him as a hero and could only believe that I was ungrateful in my refusal to agree. When the winter months thawed and fell away; we visited the field on weekends and lazy afternoons, playing catch with the brand new football my father gave him for his 11th birthday. The grass, watchful trees and mournful chirping of songbirds all served as an aching reminder of that day for me; I can only believe that it was the opposite for him.

I remember my father's old hunting rifle that lay on the mantle in the parlor in our old house. It was passed down from my grandfather just before he died and his faded initials could still be seen etched on the barrel. It was my father's prized possession and was strictly off limits to anyone else. He would often repeat, with that familiar proud look in his eye , that one day it would be passed down to my brother, the elder of this two sons. On occasion my father would take it down to polish the blood red wood and the blackened steel but other than that it sat in regal silence. I caught my brother some mornings standing alone in the parlor, his face half masked by the dim light that had just begun to stream through the shutters, staring at the gun with that longing gaze that so rarely traveled across his face. On the year of my thirteenth birthday, I was not surprised when he told me he was going to take the rifle. I remember the glint in his eye when his arm reached up for it, my feeble protests falling like ashes at his feet, and the silence as his world seemed to hold its breath in awed satisfaction. Then we ran. His foot steps fell lightly across the grass, I followed behind knowing that he would be caught, elated that the paint would finally peel away and my parents would come to a realization and see him as I saw him. The trees, houses and cars fell by in one colorful brushstroke, and then we arrived at the field with a flurry of foot falls and wheezing breaths. Suddenly my brother laughed, the notes flying out of his mouth and cutting through the air and then it was silent. I watched his face, the narrowing of his eyes as he pointed the gun towards the trees, his hesitation before his finger released the trigger, and heard the soft sigh of disappointed relief when the empty barrel clicked softly. Night soon fell and we returned, walking back toward the house, our steps falling side by side this time. I remember seeing my father, waiting in the doorway, his eyes dark with rage. I could feel the fright radiating from my brother and hear the tremor in his footsteps. Suddenly without realizing it, my arm reached out and took the rifle from my brother, who had never once fallen in my parents' eyes. His arm had once done the same thing for me and now he was the boy on the ground whose brother had saved him from the school yard bullies. In later years, I could not understand that moment of weakness and my willingness to take the punishment but I buried it and there it fell forgotten, cast beneath my anger.

When we entered high school at the nearby public school, I was a year younger than my brother. He was a sophomore and already had begun to talk of joining the Marines and seeing the world. After he graduated high school he packed a single suitcase, leaving his trophies and jerseys in his hollow room. The day he left for basic training, the entire town seemed to show up to see him off. In the yawning light of the early morning, I shook his clammy hand and said goodbye. He left, boarding the faded gray bus, flashing that confident smile that seemed so transparent to me. I watched as the bus puttered down Huckaby Road in a curtain of dust, certain that I was the only one who saw or could have seen that shadow of fear flicker across his face when the bus tugged away from the town and the invisible string that connected him fell away. Then he was gone, and in the time it takes for a leaf to flutter to the chiseled ground or for a fish to emerge breathless from below the water's surface, arching in the air its scales glittering angrily; I found myself standing alone. The rest of the summer days dripped slowly by and I found myself drifting out to the field where we had played catch, and standing on that emerald green grass until night fell and the trees began to whisper. I left for college the next summer, boarding that same faded gray bus and being whisked away from the town I had grown to hate. Over the course of the next few years I did not return home at the end of each semester like everyone else. I had grown comfortable with school in New York City, and as ivy grows in time to cover forgotten walls and windows, with each passing day, my memory of home had diminished, succumbing to the growth of thick vines. My memory of my brother too had begun to fade until it was just a distant picture of him walking down that dirt road with the old football tucked under one arm, his blue jersey faded and stained with the nine peeling off of the back flapping in the wind.

The day the letter came from my mother, I opened it with mild curiosity. The curly blue script was thick and the ink had blotted, running together. After the plane ride I boarded the familiar gray bus the following Saturday, dreading the long ride home. The news of his death from a roadside bomb had left me utterly unaffected. I sat numb as the familiar signs and small towns passed by in a sickening blur. The bus finally came to a halt on Bellevue Road in the early afternoon. I hurried, knowing that the procession had already started but I found myself walking toward the old field once again, as though drawn by an invisible force. It had started to rain, the drops of water spilled over head, pounding heavily down. The grass had dulled and was riddled with weeds in some areas. I continued walking towards the far edge of the field, near the oak trees. In the distance I could see Widow Mayner's house, the windows stared back at me unblinkingly, hollow and empty, and I knew that the house lay dark. As I continued to walk I remembered the countless times the ball had been thrown too far and one of us had to jog out to the field's edge to retrieve it. The rain continued to pour down and soon my hair was sopping wet and my clothing was plastered upon me. Looking across the empty expanse, I imagined that I could see him, walking across that familiar field with his old football tucked beneath one arm, just as I had seen countless times before. Suddenly my eyes began to burn and the tears slowly dripped down, the rain drops mixing to blur my vision. Falling to my knees my arms lay outstretched, as I cursed his name between choking sobs.

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SallySunshine123 said...
Aug. 5, 2008 at 5:04 pm
wow! Thats great! This piece is so powerful; it left me in tears! I love the relationship you made between the two brothers that I'm sure many people can connect to on a smaller level ie. jealousy of siblings. The ending is amazing! Keep writing!
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