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It’s cold out. I never liked the cold. Little delicate flakes of snow flutter down from the clouds. A cluster of a few of them land on my navy sweater-covered shoulder. I lift it up with my finger and hold it up to the light. Every little line on each snowflake is unique, he always told me. He loved the winter. It was his favorite time of the year. I already had bought his Christmas gift. It was a snow globe I bought on a school trip downtown at city hall. It wasn’t anything too special, just a picture of city hall surrounded by little specks of what looked like snow, and I knew he would like it. I still think he would have liked it.
Every year, we planned in advance to have our perfect winter day together. We went outside early in the morning and stayed out until after dinner making snow angels, having snowball fights, and creating snowmen. The weather hadn’t been cold enough for snow yet, so we hadn’t yet had our winter day. I wish we had.
His little giggle, his voice yet to change, could always make me smile. He had the cutest sense of humor and was always a sucker for the little puns I passed on to him from my geeky homeroom teacher at school. Whenever I told one of them to him, his toothy little grin would overpower his face until I couldn’t help but smile either. His two little dimples on his left cheek could persuade me to do anything for him, be it watching his Saturday morning cartoons or driving him to the grocery store for some gummy worms. After buying aforementioned gummy worms, we would go home and sit next to each other on his superhero-themed bedspread reading comic books or telling made-up stories about Jerry the Great, otherwise known as his pet lizard as a superhero.
My breath catches as I think about our Jerry the Great stories. I loved making him laugh. The day my mother told me she was expecting a baby, I was less than enthusiastic. The only glimmer of hope for the situation, in my opinion, was that I could teach a little sister how to put on eyeliner. I wouldn’t know what to do if she had a boy. What could I do to help a little brother? Only now do I realize that I didn’t do anything for my little brother; he did everything for me.
How could he have left me without saying good-bye? How could my last words to him have been a joke about a pencil with no point? (Just in case you haven’t heard that pun, it’s: “I was going to tell you a joke about a pencil, but it’s pointless.”) He laughed and waved good-bye to me that day before heading to the car with my mom to go to school. I was at my vanity putting on mascara. I gave him a hug, but it lasted mere seconds. How could I have known I would never see him again? How could I have known that, in less than an hour, that little boy with his hopes and dreams and superheroes, with his high-pitched giggle and adorable dimples, would cease to be existent? I couldn’t have known that, on their way to school, a tractor trailer would appear out of nowhere and hydroplane in the slick morning rain, veering directly into the non-driver’s side of our compact car, killing my brother instantly and leaving my mother unconscious and in critical condition, and noticed first upon the ambulance’s arrival. The doctors and nurses disregarded him after realizing he was dead. They didn’t even take him out of the car. He just sat there while they treated my mother. How could they forget about him? Did they know what a wonderful little boy this had been? More importantly, how could he be gone?
Still shivering, I ascend the sidewalk, heading toward the tiny grave where he lay. We had to order the casket to be specially made because he was so small. I can see the tombstone, a gray color now speckled with snowflakes. I feel so alone in my little world that I almost don’t realize that someone else is by the tombstone. She sits on her knees, leaning forward toward the short expanse of grass below which he lays, still and peaceful. Her palms are pressed together and against her forward, and she appears to be praying. Her curly black shoulder-length hair is over her face, and I realize that it is my mother. With a trembling hand, she pushes a lock of hair behind her ear and looks up at me.
“J-Jamie,” she says, her voice breaking. “I was-wasn’t expecting t-to see you h-here.”
“Mom,” I say slowly, not wanting to burst into tears myself. “Do you need anything?”
“M-Maybe a little, sweetheart. I was j-just leaving.” I help her up, wondering how in the world she got out of her wheelchair and onto her knees, when she is medically considered paralyzed from the waist down. I put my hands at her armpits and lift her into her wheelchair. She waves good-bye to me and invites me to dinner, where she will be making spaghetti. He lived for my mom’s spaghetti, so I accept her invitation. Then, as she wheels away down the hill, I get on my knees and face the tombstone.
“Um, I don’t really know how to do this, kid, but I guess this is a good place to start. So, I guess, uh, here goes…I loved so much about you, sweetie. You had these two little dimples on your cheek that I just loved. Your goofy smile could honestly make my day. You had the—the greatest sense of humor and you were always so sweet to anyone. You loved animals and people and were always so nice to those little old ladies at church. I loved talking to you. And there was this one time when I had just had the absolute worst day at school, and you…you…do you remember? You probably don’t. You got out a box of gummy worms and picked out the red ones and the green ones. Normally you would just eat those for yourself; they were your favorites. But you just cupped them in your little hands and said…you-you said: ‘Sissy, these are for you. You need them more than I do.’ That was the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. I just…I love you so much. And I miss you. You didn’t deserve to die. I would do anything to get you back. Anything.”
I stand up and sweep the back of my hand across my cheek. I had felt something moist on it earlier, assuming it was snow. It was tears. I haven’t cried for months. I was always happy with my little brother. Even if I was heartbroken, he could make me happy. He was always there for me. I just don’t think he realized how much he meant to me. I pull my sweater closer around myself when I notice that my mom is still there, just about twenty feet away.
“M-Mom?” I whisper. My words disappear with the wind, and I hesitate, about to repeat, when she answers, with her back to me. “What are we supposed to do without him?”
“Mom, we’ll be okay.” I walk closer to her.
“Are you sure?”
Am I sure? Of course I’m not sure. I’ve never been more unsure about anything in my life. But sometimes you have to put on a brave face to protect the ones you love. “Of course I’m sure.”
“I don’t know if I can live without him. And what if—what if I lose you too someday?”
I begin to push her wheelchair down the hill and head toward our car. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re stuck with me, mom. I’m not going anywhere.” She laughs and I continue. “And it’s not like he’ll really be without us, right?”
“I guess you’re right.”
I have an idea. “How about every time it snows, we visit this cemetery and talk to him together? How does that sound?
“I…I guess we can do that.”
“I mean, we can visit him more often than that, but those will be our special times. Can you promise me that?”
“Of course, sweetie.”
“Everything’s going to be okay,” I tell her, taking a deep breath in and trying to convince myself more than her. I stop pushing my mother’s wheelchair for a moment, look up at the sky full of delicate flakes of snow, and say a silent prayer for my brother. “Everything’s going to be okay.”