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I was twelve years old. My brother’s birthday was today. He was turning four. I sat on the floor and studied my younger brother carefully. Every time he smiled, it lit up his face, and his curls bounced with his energy. My other brother was nine years old and he sat impatiently, waiting for Jackson to open his presents. My sister, my eighteen month elder, was in the other room, wrapping up last-minute gifts. Mom sat on the bed that took up a good portion of her room with a faraway look on her face. Dad sat perched on the trash can, watching Jackson get riled up as every second passed by.
The man that helped create him wasn’t really his father. My father was mine as much as he was Jackson’s. He was there for Jackson through every step of his life. He paid for Jackson’s food and school supplies and shelter. He sang to Jackson and rocked him in the blue chair at night when he couldn’t sleep. He was there when Jackson had to have surgery to repair his cleft lip, a defect he was born with.
“Are we gonna open presents or what?” Josh asked, pouting in the corner, patience running dangerously low.
“Chill out, Face. It’s not your birthday.” Dad said, using the nickname Josh hated. He scowled in Dad’s direction and Dad smirked in return. Josh turned his attention to the TV and turned the volume up.
“Presents! Presents!” Jackson jumped up and down and clapped his hands expectantly. Dad just laughed shook his head.
Kenzie finally returned to the room with the presents she expertly wrapped. “Done!” She exclaimed, setting the presents down on the cleared floor. We often slept in Mom’s room with her because we liked to be close to each other and the TV was in there too. Even Dad slept in there, and they had been separated for years.
“Finally!” I sighed, motioning Jackson over towards the presents, who was practically squealing with excitement.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” He screeched, reaching the presents at lightning speed. Josh sat up and turned the TV down, waiting to see what Jackson got this year. Jackson opened each one with care, afraid to tear the paper.
“You can tear the paper, ya know.” Josh said, reaching for the present Jackson had in his hands and tearing off a portion of the paper.
“Noooooo!!” Jackson screeched, making our eardrums warble. I cringed at the sound, covering my ears. Dad winced and so did Kenzie.
“Dude, just let him do it how he wants to.” Dad said, sighing and scrubbing his face. If there was anyone who hated children screaming with such a burning passion, it was Dad. He itched his brown goatee beard and told Jackson to continue.
After Jackson had gotten through all his toys, we decided to go eat leftovers of the cake and dinner. Mom hadn’t said anything throughout this whole interaction. I wondered why and started to get up.
All of a sudden, a low guttural scream came from Mom’s mouth and she fell to the ground. Her body spasmed with sickening movements and froth came from her mouth. Jackson started shrieking and Dad ushered us away from Mom. Jackson was screaming in my arms and Josh was choking back tears. Kenzie stood in a stunned silence, her eyes trained on our mom’s flopping body. I slammed my eyes shut, but I could hear him on the phone with the police, his voice trembling. This wasn’t the first time we had witnessed our mom have a seizure, but it never got any easier.
Moments passed by before I could hear the howl of sirens fill the air. Our town was small. Help would be here in a matter of minutes. Dad told me to lock the dog in our room so she wouldn’t bother the police. Screeching brakes sounded before our house and I could hear people shouting. Men in heavy gear came running up the stairs, huffing, puffing, and pushing us out of the way. Dad was shouting something at us, but I couldn’t hear him. I turned to look at him and saw tears running faintly across his face. I had never seen my dad cry before. Seeing him like that nearly destroyed me. But some part of me made sense of his words and I pulled Jackson in my arms, grabbed Josh’s hand, and ran out of the room. We started down the hall when I heard my mother’s voice. It made me think she was okay. But when I understood the words, I knew she wouldn’t be okay ever again.
“Noooooo! Just let me die! Stop it!!” Her voice shook through the house, bouncing off every surface, filling every gap, reaching every corner, and finding its way to my ears. Tears sprung from my eyes and I fought a sob. Kenzie followed us down the stairs and through the garage to the outside.
Two fire trucks, two police cars, and and ambulance with piercing lights stood angrily in our cul de sac. Neighbors crowded around us, worried expressions on their old faces. Our friend Shila, came to us swiftly. She spoke at us, but again my ears didn’t work. All I could see was my mom flopping on the floor. All I could hear were her screams. Shila pulled us to her house and brought us inside. She set me and Jackson on her loveseat, and we sank into it. Jackson cried into my shoulder, not understanding what he saw, just that it was bad. We sat there for minutes, or maybe hours, but eventually Dad came and got us. We thanked Shila, and headed back home. Dad carried Jackson in his arms, holding him so tight, like he was afraid of losing him too.
That night, we went into Mom’s room and brought in our bedding. We couldn’t sleep anywhere else. We were safe in here, with each other. I stood over my Dad, who laid on the king size bed in the room, a whiskey bottle in hand. He didn’t look at me, just stared at the wall numbly.
“When is she coming back?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. He looked at me then, and a tear rolled down his cheek. He reached over into his jacket pocket and grabbed a pack of cigarettes. He hadn’t smoked in years. I watched as he pulled one out and stuck it in his mouth, lighting it.
“I don’t know, Jordan. I don’t know.” Tears flowed freely from his eyes then, and the rest of us followed in his grief, each crying themselves to sleep in their own pillow.