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When people talked about my brother, he always brought to their mind a good image: Straight-A student. Quarterback. Handsome and outgoing and friendly and an all-around inherently good man. This was how all the world saw him. A typical high school jock, went to parties, had tons of friends and fun times, college-bound. Seldom had anyone been exposed to his sensitive side, seldom had anyone seen how artistic and soulful he could be. Truth be told, I knew him better than his best friend did. Being his little sister, you'd expect he'd treat me as older brothers always do -- often annoyed by them, pushing them away so as not to ruin their "image." But we were closer to each other than anyone else.

When he had first come out to me I was almost at a loss for words. He'd hid it so well. And then, stupidly, I inquired if he was ready to tell everyone else. "No!" he snapped immediately. "I don't want them to define me by my sexuality. It won't be, 'look at how well he plays football!' anymore. It'll be 'look at how well gays play football!' It won't be, 'look at how bad he is at math.' It'll be, 'look at how bad gays are at math.' It won't be, 'hey, look at that kid, I hear he's the popular one in his school.' It'll be, 'hey, I hear he's the gay one at his school.' You know how intolerant people can be. Attractive men from affluent Christian families who play football don't grow up to be... gay." He could barely even say the word. I wondered if he'd ever be able to face everyone coming to grips with his sexuality, when he couldn't even come to grips with it himself.

I cringed when I thought about the slurs he'd face from his classmates. From our parents, when they found out. From the homophobic world. I can still remember the way he smiled, the way he laughed, the way he cried. The way we told eachother everything. The way we held eachother silently during our parents' violent fights. The way each of us needed each other so much.

It took a few hours for the news to reach us. A phone call, swift and deadly, like a bite from a rattlesnake. "Your son's in the hospital. Overdosed on prescription drugs. Please come immediately." We weren't told if he was alive, dead, if it was on purpose, by accident -- anything. I shuddered, eyes closed as I recalled those stressful hours. Fingernails digging into my skin. Too stunned to cry, to do anything but block out the world surrounding me. A world of homophobia and racism and sexism and violence and drugs and crime and hate.

Images flashed through my mind. A simple note, and on it an I love you, Julia. I remembered gripping the note so hard my knuckles turned white and confirming it was his handwriting, my name. The tears and grief started a few days after the shock subsided.

I couldn't help wondering if I had done something wrong. And then I tried to recall when I had last spoken to him. A day ago? A week? A month? A year? His last phone call -- we spent an hour before I needed to study. "See you. Love you," I'd said simply, and hung up. What would I have gone back and said, changed, done now that I knew that was the last time I would ever hear his voice?

A year and it wasn't over. I trudged down the stairs, heavy-hearted, leaden-faced. The dinner table was set nicely as per usual and my parents were waiting. The expressions on their faces matched mine. We sat down quietly and said grace, but no one could bring themselves to eat. Our eyes kept inadvertently slipping to the spot at the table that should've been set, where a chair should've been, but was now only empty. We pushed around the food on our plates, three people with irreparable damages, a family minus one.



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NILAKSHI008 said...
today at 5:28 pm:
I can clearly feel that this piece of writing is straight from your heart. It is beautifully written with a strong message. Keep it up!
 
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