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Candy of Death. Breath of Life.
We live, and then we die. It seems so simple, but as a human to another human, death, like life, is never simple.
His face flushed a dull pink, and then a bright crimson. His chubby cheeks were like two red cherries as his body fought to reclaim a breath that could not be taken. His grubby hands reached out, arms flailing like bent helicopter blades as he flopped off his perch on the back of the emerald green sofa, to the sandy shag carpet, with its ground-in crumbs, and faded stains.
I thought he was playing. I thought he was being a goofy two year old, and I felt my face twist up in irritation as I tore my eyes away from the small black TV balanced haphazardly on its stand. “Be mine”’s, and “I Love You”’s rained down on my head, spilling out of the half empty Valentine conversation heart box, falling in my lap, and working their way into the endless crevices of the couch, perhaps to never be seen again.
Why does he always have to be so annoying? Why couldn’t I have a sister instead of him?
My mom sprung up from the couch, her expression shifting from slightly concerned to full-on terror. This look was one that should be reserved for intruders with large butcher-horror-movie knives; not for Saturday nights. The blue Sippy-cup in her hand was a dangerous projectile, flung just above my head. It crashed over me, and fell in my lap, milk oozing down the pale white wall, and drenching my shorts.
She screeched like something inhuman—sounding like a mix between a cat caught in a blender, and the sound of worn car breaks—and I jolted in surprise, drawing my knees up to my chest fearfully. Her hair cascaded around his face like a thick brown waterfall of turbulent curls that kissed the floor, as she listened for a breath.
“Jeremy,” she cried, and my dad rushed in from the kitchen, his frantic blue-grey eyes taking in the scene in a few short moments. As always, his waist length blonde hair was tied back in three pink hair ties. He wore a black shirt with holes at the bottom from battery acid, and matching black shorts stained pink at the edges due to a bleach accident. He stumbled down beside her, shaking my brother with a forced gentleness. “He’s not breathing,” she sobbed, clinging to the little white hand that seemed drained of life.
My brother’s face was a kaleidoscope of colors. It morphed from a bright red to a purplish blue; darkening like the sky just before a storm hits. His blue eyes seemed to fade, glazing over until they looked like those found on one of my baby dolls as they stared up at the cracked white ceiling. Then the color drained completely. The blue was gone, leaving a stark white.
“Get back!” Dad screamed, and I skittered up from the couch, and darted to the family room, peeking around the wall, weeping softly. Mom tripped over me, and sprinted into the kitchen, as if I was an inanimate object not worth a second glance when she bumped into it. Dad’s hands jerked my brother’s limp body off of the ground, and his hand thumped mercilessly against his back. His hand came again and again, and I wondered why this was happening.
Why is he being whipped? Is it because he spilled his candy? Is this my fault?
I crouched down behind the wall, trying to make myself smaller and smaller, until I felt totally invisible. This wasn’t me. I always had to be the center of attention, but at that moment, I didn’t even want to exist. I couldn’t even find my voice. It was lodged in my throat, digging its sharp claws into my flesh, refusing to come out. I barely managed a soft whimper, and my lips trembled, because I knew it couldn’t be heard over all the screaming. I wanted to cry out to them. “Mommy hold me, I’m scared.” But I couldn’t find the words. I watched in silent terror, a prisoner to the circumstances with no means of escape.
Mom screeched into the telephone, nearly ripping the spiraled eggshell-white cord off the hook. Dad cursed softly under his breath, and laid my brother back down on the floor, his hands making an odd shape as he leaned all his weight on my brother’s tiny chest. He pumped his hands up and down, forcing the pajama-topped chest to do the same, as he counted out loud. My brother’s chest made a hollow sound in protest, and my dad bent down, with cheeks slightly bulging with air and kissed two white lips.
There was a sharp gasp, an intake of breath, and my brother’s eyes flew open wide, soft peach reclaiming the ghostly white on his skin.
At four years old, death was a long nap people didn’t wake up from. Death was ditch- heaven where all my kittens went before I got new ones. Death was a word I wasn’t allowed to use in my favorite phrase, “You scared me to death!”
Death had almost claimed my two year old brother, Levi…my Wubby.