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I want to kick it, send it sprawling. I want to tip it over. I want to see it tumble, all the water spilling out. I want to break the little black wheels, already loose from years of play. I want to scratch off the paint, cross out his name. I don’t want to see his name.
I want to see him.
I want to see him smiling, sitting in the ugly, dirty wheelbarrow, begging me to push him down the street. I never thought I would ask for him to bother me that way, I always told him I was too busy. But then I’d do it anyway, and I’d have a fun time. He could always brighten any day.
It hurts to think of it.
I start to push the wheelbarrow down the narrow street. The wheels creak – they must have rolled in some water. These days, there is an abundance of water. I never thought I would grow to hate rain.
I push the firetruck-colored wheelbarrow down the street, and I feel out of place. I’ve never felt out of place in my neighborhood before.
But why am I surprised? Everything’s different now. It’ll always be.
That thought stops me in my tracks.
What am I doing? I can’t give this wheelbarrow away. It’s not mine to give. It’s all I have left. Leo would have killed me. He loves it so much.
Loved. It still hasn’t sunk in.
Sunk. I watch his body sink in my mind, a moment I never actually saw.
I can’t go down this road. I need to stop obsessing, spiraling. I need to be strong. I can’t keep … mourning.
I quicken my pace, and all I can think of is his voice, urging me to push: Faster, faster, funner, funner! I listened; I did it. I put my work aside and I was there for him. I thought I was a good sister, prioritizing my family over my friends, making sure Leo was never alone. I thought I was being kind to myself, giving myself a break. I didn’t know that my indulgence would cost me so greatly. Why doesn’t anyone tell you these things, warn you before they happen?
Everyone fights with their siblings, I try to console myself. It wasn’t your fault. It’s not your fault. But it is. I just can’t stop replaying that night, seeing how I could have made it different, how I could have saved everything.
• • •
“Lily! Guess what my teacher told me today!”
“I don’t have time, Leo. Tell me at dinner.”
His face falls, and I wish I hadn’t been looking at him.
“You never have time. It’ll only be a minute!”
“No, I’m sure it’s a whole long story. And I have homework to do. Mr. Fuller gave out this huge essay due this week, and I’ve got a lab journal due tomorrow, and–”
“Why do you get to talk about school if I don’t?” Leo protests.
I roll my eyes. “I’m not telling you about my day. I’m proving that I’m too busy to talk.” I walk off before he can say anything, and shut the door to my room.
Outside I hear a sad whimper. “My teacher was talking about you. She said you were a really good student. I should have told her that because of school you’re a bad sister.”
My throat tightens and my voice catches.
Hurt, I shout through the door, “Who says I’m a bad sister?”
He had never told me that before.
“Nah, you love me,” I say, pushing the pain aside, attributing it to things little siblings say when they’re upset.
“That doesn’t mean you’re a good sister.”
A good sister was all I wanted to be.
“That’s not true. I always put aside my schoolwork, my friends, everything for you. I am a good sister!”
“You do when Mommy says to. You don’t really care.”
“I’m not a bad sister!”
No answer. I let him go pout and calm down, and I absentmindedly start on homework. A few minutes later there’s a knock on my door.
“What?” I grumble.
“Can you give me a ride in the wheelbarrow?”
“Just one time around the block?”
He stops talking, but doesn’t leave the room. After a moment, he perks up again.
“Can I go swimming?”
“I don’t want to watch you.”
“I’m going swimming anyway!”
“No, you’re not.”
“You can’t stop me!”
“Fine. Go swimming, but I’m not watching you. You can drown if you want to.”
• • •
It was just one fight. One fight, and I lost everything.
I look down at the last remnants, the scarlet barrow, filled with my tears instead of my brother. I want to let go of the tears, the sadness, but I can’t part with the wheelbarrow, our happy memories.
I don’t understand why Mom wants to give it away. I think she’s mad at me, and wants to punish me. I think she blames me. Why wouldn’t she blame me? That has to be the reason why I’m forced to give the wheelbarrow away. I mean, does it really matter if it sits in our yard unused? The Masons could use something else to feed their chickens, but I don’t care. I should have said no. I should have demanded. It wouldn’t have mattered. Mom can’t get more mad at me than she already is.
But Leo’s most prized possession can not go to chickens. I owe that to him.
I force myself to stop walking. I start running. I’m running as fast as I can, pushing the wheelbarrow as fast as I can. Water sloshes around, overflowing, soaking my dress, but I push on. I see Leo, his fluffy reddish-brown hair flying into his eyes, his jeans so covered in dirt that they appear more black than blue, and his grin from ear to ear. I hear his laugh, his shriek, his giggle. Faster, faster, funner, funner! Yes, Leo. Only yes. I won’t say no. Never again.
I reach the end of the block. I knock on the door, not even stopping to catch my breath. “Mrs. Abrams? Is Sarah here?”
A little girl walks up to the door. She’s Leo’s age, and was one of his best friends. Her eyes widen, filled with shock.
“Sarah, this is for you.”
“No but’s. I’m telling you to have the most fun possible with it, to ride in it like it’s a magic carpet or a pegasus or a dragon. Just don’t let it go to waste. Always go fast, always have fun. Can you promise me that?”
That night as I watch Sarah flying down the street, I’m finally able to turn my back on the little red wheelbarrow and say good-bye.