Hills & Valleys This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      Silent as a stone, I watched the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky pass like a warped, green dream. The sun shone hesitantly from behind dark clouds as I turned my head once more to look at the shrinking mass of beige and brown buildings. My brother was in one of them, probably his dorm, seeming calm on the outside while teeming with nervous excitement on the inside - and I was leaving him behind. Come to think of it, it was more than that. I was leaving my past behind.

When my parents and I dropped off my older brother Jacob at Western Kentucky University, I knew that things were going to change. The question was, would it be for the better? I truly doubt that, I had thought when I tearfully walked out of his room.

Recently, I asked my mother if she remembered that day.

“Oh goodness, don’t ask me that!” she exclaimed, immediately becoming flustered. I was aware that my brother’s departure had affected her even more than me, considering her persona as a protective and devoted mother. She shook her head and looked at me with earnest eyes. “That was a hard day. I remember how ready he looked, how ready he was to be his own man. And there I was, the mother hen. I had to let my baby fly!”

I scolded her for the horrible cliché, and she laughed guiltily. “Lame, I know. But really, Leah, it’s true. I just remember how old Jacob looked, how grown up. I knew that things were going to change.” And they have.

I asked my father whether he’d noticed a change in the atmosphere in the house since Jacob left for college.

“Well, of course. The house isn’t a wreck,” he said dryly, leaning back in his leather recliner. Frowning, I pressed the question. He sighed. “He’s my son, you know, so of course it’s different around here. It’s not the same. I mean, I love you and your mother very much, but something’s missing that wasn’t missing before.”

That “thing” is my brother. I notice his absence almost every second of every day. It’s not as though his departure has left some terrible, gaping hole in me, but when he was here, I always had someone to talk to whether or not he wanted to listen. Whenever I needed advice, he was there, ready to tell me how “fickle” and “social” school was, along with the fact that I was better than my apparent standing on the popularity scale. Whenever I needed advice about boys, he would tell me not to mess with dating, especially in high school - advice that has saved me a lot of trouble. In short, his absence leaves a void in my life.

But really, is his absence a bad thing? I decide to go to the source.

“I think you need a break from me,” my brother says with a phony-serious voice over the phone. Impatient, I ask him to be sincere.

“Well,” he responds, “you need to realize that I’m not always going to be around, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just ... you need to get used to me not being there.” And maybe he’s right.

As I sat in that gas-guzzling SUV leaving the campus behind, I smiled slightly through the sadness. So, things aren’t going to be the same, I thought, watching the messy blur of hills. But maybe this is what I need for my own good. Besides, even now I feel the recognition of his absence growing dimmer, and realize that I can have a fully functioning life without my brother. True, I enjoy his visits enormously, but I am also capable of enjoying my life without him.

So in the end, is it not the struggles in life that make us stronger? I think so.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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