January 17

July 8, 2010

I leave the house early today, a note written with a neat hand left for mom and dad. I remember being younger, when they would always be awake and waiting for me when I woke up on January 17th- today.

The sky is the silvery gray color of calm, I think, like the eye of a storm. This is the calm in my storm of a life.

As my feet carry me over sidewalks and carefully paved roads, the echo of my steps carrying to my ears. No one else is out and about yet. There is a thin layer of ice on the ground, like a sleek coating of clear paint, but no snow. You always loved snow, and always said that the winter was our time. We were winter kids, and you wouldn't have had it any other way.

"Besides, " you would say, "We burn in the summer anyway." And then you would hold your hand up next to mine, and we would laugh as we saw our pale skin. I remember the blue veins that I could trace up and down your arm- like cracks of bright sky running through the clouds.

I take my time walking. It is easy to go slowly- even now, I still have to remind myself of the simplest instructions, otherwise, I might break down. Letting my emotions take over would be a bad thing, I know. Step, step, step. Besides, I don't want to get to school early. That would be a chance for someone- anyone, to see me, to recognize me. And then to want something. No one ever stops to talk with me unless they want something. "Hey, Joanie," they say, "I really need some help with my science project. And I know you are the best in the class," their voices ringing with false sincerity, or "Joanie, I am so glad to see you! I was wondering if you could watch my little sister this friday- there is this big party that I can't miss- everyone is going!" Of course, I was never invited. I guess in their world, everyone only includes people who are someone. I know what you would say about this- "Joanie, you are someone too."

Of course, no one else knows what today is. When my Spanish teacher approaches and asks about helping her for extra-credit, I finally have an excuse to be busy. Bethany Green pulls me aside in the hall between classes, wondering if I can lend her a hand with her Algebra homework.

"Sorry, I can't. I am going to talk to my brother today." I watch as something registers in her mind, and her expression changes from one of annoyance, to one of almost pity. They know about you, of course, they all do. This only distances me from them more. They think there must be something wrong with me, something about my mind that changed after the incident. Maybe it is possible that they are right.

I do not eat lunch in the cafeteria. I can't stand the buzz of everyone talking at once. Instead, I take my food outside. There is no one else there, and I know why. The cold numbs my hands so that I can barely hold my sandwich- but it is preferable to being stuck inside. I look up at the sky, no longer quite the same silvery gray, and the feeling of freedom floods me. I sit back as it overcomes me, hoping that it will wash out the hesitancy and fear in the very back of my mind. Suddenly, I can not stand waiting until school is over. So I start making my way toward you. I stop at a toy store first, however, and pick up a few of your favorite board games- the ones we played so often when I was younger. I buy them every year for you, and even though I always leave them with you, they are never there when I come back.

I sit down next to you on the cold, frostbitten grass, and you do not seem to have noticed me. I wonder, momentarily, if you recognize me. But then, I push the thought away. I know that you will always recognize me- after all, I am your baby sister. Well, not such a baby anymore.

"Hello, Brian," I say, and I trace my fingers across the cool stone of your grave.

Something tenses in my chest, and before I know it, I am sobbing. It takes me a moment to process the thought that I have not cried in six years- not since the day that I heard you were dead.

I study your grave closely, as I do every year. It says your name, Brian Walters, and below that, it gives the time of your birth and death (September 4, 1988-July 28th, 2004). Nothing else. That is what I hate about it. It doesn't show you- what a great brother you were to me, and how much you would have loved our sister Nancy- she is four years old, and she can already read. I am sure that one day, she will love it as much as you did. It doesn't describe what a great friend you were- like the one time that your friend Mike caught the flu, when you were 14. You missed the concert that you had been looking forward to for months, because Mike was going to miss it too. And of course, the day that you died. You were leaving a party (aren't all sixteen year olds?) and you offered to drive some kids home- kids who had been drinking to much, and would have gotten themselves killed, instead of you. As you were driving, one kid reached over to grab the wheel. Of course, at the time, it was all a big game. But when the car went spinning off the road, they all survived with little more than a few scratches to show off. You, on the other hand, had not been so lucky. But I know that you would have been happy with the way that you went, because you knew that you were doing the right thing.

I know why I am crying today, on January 17th. Because today is my birthday. Today, I am older than you were. Today, I turn 17- the age that you will never be. My big brother, who was five years older than me, is now stuck at 16. But I will keep on growing. Soon, I will be 18, and able to vote. You would have loved to vote- you had strong opinions on everything. Then, I will be 21, and I will be able to drink. Eventually, I will be 32- twice your age. And I will keep growing and growing, without my brother there to help me. And when I one day find you, I will have lived a full life- a life that should be yours.

Then, I think of what you would want. You would want me to live life to the fullest. You would not want me to sit around, thinking of what-ifs. I can not let you go, of course. You were my best friend. But I can live my life with you in mind. From now on, I will let you share my life with me.

As I am leaving the cemetery, the games still on the grass in front of your gravestone, I stop again to look at the sky. It is still cloudy and white, but not quite so calm any more. A feeling is stirring in my stomach, a good feeling. I know that when I return to school, and later home, I will be in trouble. Probably, knowing my parents, lots. But for now, the silvery sky gives me hope.

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