"He would have willingly left the cruel world that had snatched away his optimism and innocence." Please read and review.
It was the two year anniversary of the horrific car crash that had bled us of our parents and that had left me, then eighteen, in charge of a very anxious, very upset yet very loveable fifteen year old wreck of a boy. I was affected by the catastrophic loss, of course I was, but I’d started to slowly but surely drift away from my parents by the time of the crash and so was able to cope with becoming an orphan. Mikey, on the other hand, was a different story. He was definitely a mommy’s boy, always helping with the shopping and chores, always taking the utmost pride in our parent’s praise that always seemed to elude me. He would always tell them everything, even the things that he wouldn’t tell me (which, granted, didn’t exactly accumulate to lot as we’ve always been ridiculously close), and they’d always listen to him; they were his support system, a system which I was slowly getting cut out of due to my own bad habits. So when they died, it was like a part of my baby brother died with them. No. Not a part of him. It was like his lively spirit that never failed to paint a smile onto my pale face had been dragged down to hell, leaving a feeble, weak, empty shell of a person behind. Apart from I don’t think that “dragged” would be the right word, if anything (and it pains me to admit this) he would have willingly left the cruel world that had snatched away his optimism and innocence. Which is why I abandoned my bad habits, my cold attitude and any social life I may have once possessed; all I needed to get by was my little brother’s happiness, something which I knew I’d only get back if I became the people he was missing, if I showed him the complete adoration and devotion that he deserved, yet the crash had robbed him of. I guess you could say I became Mikey’s parents rather than his big brother. I became whatever I had to in order for Mikes to be able to cope with the soul-destroying loss.
I couldn’t help but feel sometimes that I had failed him; like the times when he traipsed in from school beaten up; or whenever I found him ridiculously drunk in the attic; or the times I heard his anguished and dauntingly haunted cries for our parents from behind his foggy veil of sleep; or the times when I’d find Mikey passed out on his bed and everything in his small room smashed up in a fit of misdirected rage. Those times absolutely killed me, just seeing him so unhappy, for lack of a better word, like he didn’t even remember what hope and joy felt like because the people who had given him those feelings had been eradicated from his empty life. And I couldn’t fix that. If Mikes was ill, I could give him medicine; if he was hungry I could feed him; if he was cold I could hug him; if he was hurt I could patch him up; but I couldn’t do anything to stop his loneliness, his anguish, his inability to be found. And that feeling of utter helplessness because of me being unable to help my world heal, that killed me.
But there were the good times too; like when I taught him how to play golf like our dad had taught me so long ago that I’d almost forgotten how; or whenever Mikey got an outstanding school report, showing the intelligence that he had inherited from our mom; or all of the times that Mikey hugged me for no other reason than just wanting to. Granted, things that fell into this category were few and far between, but each one managed to resurrect my dead hope in ever getting to my brother’s inner most thoughts and feelings; to his obliterated heart so that I could mend it.
But the two year anniversary, however, did not fall into the “good times” category. Things rarely did.
I’d tactfully decided not to mention it, the memory of the one year anniversary branded into my eyelids with the white-hot poker of pin-sharp tears. Mikey had gotten so wound and he cried so unstoppably hard that he had actually collapsed into my open arms at the cemetery, unable to face the place that the pain of his agonizingly happy memories had prevented him from visiting for a year. When he wouldn’t wake up after some hysterical shaking on my part, I had broken several speed limits in my clapped-out old jeep to get him to the local hospital. The hospital where our parents had passed. So of course when the poor kid woke up there he freaked out big time and had an actual panic attack. The first of many. Never had I felt so useless and wretched as I did then, each of his numerous tears ripping through my failing heart like a machinegun’s contribution to war. I’d had to physically restrain him through my blinding tears until the doctors had knocked him back out. When he woke up again he was safely in his own bed, his old Superman covers pulled tightly around him like a barrier trying in vain to keep out all of the hurt, I’d refused to let him stay at that hospital if it just wounded him instead of helping him.
But I had decided to say nothing and do nothing unless Mikes bought it up. I prayed to whatever harsh force that misuses it’s power to ruin lives that he didn’t, knowing that if he did he would probably suffer from his second panic attack that week, something that made me cry no matter how much of a regular occurrence it had become. He had once been such a lively and joyous kid but the crash had blotted out his light and had robbed the world of the wonderful kid my baby brother had once been. He had changed into an empty shell of a person, constantly busying himself with keeping up false pretences that only I could see through. Most days I wished I couldn’t.
That day, two years to the day of that world-shattering event, Mikes lumbered heavily through the front door with a fresh bruise under his right eye; an area of skin which was normally so pure that I half-believed that his relentless tears had bleached it. I pretended not to notice the sore-looking mark as he walked silently past me like a ghost; the last thing he needed was me preaching to him about standing up for himself. I remember the last time I had encouragingly told him to do that, he had actually tried. When he got home from that particular failure, he could barely walk and had passed out in my welcoming hug.
“Heya, Mikes.” I greeted warmly, walking to sit next to him reassuringly on our battered and outdated sofa. When I’d suggested, in a stupid attempt at improving our quality of living, getting a new one Mikey had burst into deafening tears and had begged for the old one to stay. When I’d asked why, he’d told me about every evening when I was holed up in my bedroom with a bottle of booze or out with mates, he would curl up on here with our parents and pouring his heart out to them instead of his big brother because his big brother was too busy being a selfish bastard. It had taken hours, not to mention two horrendous panic attacks, before I’d finally managed to calm Mikey down and convince him that the couch, and the bittersweet memories locked up within it’s worn out fabric, wasn’t going anywhere if he didn’t want it to.
He didn’t reply to my welcome, just stared at the dull, cream coloured wall in front of his emotionless face. When I’d suggested repainting the living room in a feeble bid to make it feel more like a happy home rather than a solemn old crypt, you’d have thought I’d told him to burn our comic collection; he had said, or rather bawled, that it was just how Mom liked it, that he’d helped her get the paint just right for her exact eye. I’d slept in his room that night, unwilling to let him be alone whilst in such a pitiful state; half afraid of him having a panic attack and half afraid of what he could do to himself.
“How was school, Mikes?” I asked softly, trying to break the unusual awkward silence that was quickly constructing a brick wall in between us. He just turned to stare at me, stunned, with the hollow eyes of an endlessly tormented victim; eyes that did not belong to my beloved baby brother.
“How do you think?” He mumbled darkly, pointing harshly to the huge bruise that surrounded his, once bright and happy, eye.
“Mikey…” I sighed powerlessly, pulling him into a tight hug. He curled up into me, his blemished face buried deeply into my brotherly shoulder, like a body being forced into a too small coffin. It was barely a nanosecond before I could feel his singeing tears burning through my t-shirt and hear his heart-hammering sobs that crushed my heart like a stress ball in the hands of an over-worked teenager.
“Why doesn’t anyone like me, Gee?” He wept pitifully; his tears slicing the walls of my heart and making me bleed sympathy.
He used to have an uncountable amount of “friends”, but after the crash that had so obviously traumatised his fragile mind, he’d changed. He withdrew from society, only spoke when someone asked him a question that couldn’t be answered by a shake or nod of the head, and only I fully understood why; he knew as well I did that he couldn’t be let down again, that he wouldn’t be able to mentally withstand losing another loved one. His prevention method? Making himself disappear into nothing, because an invisible, non-existent person can’t have loved ones to lose. He was emotionally scarred, depressed, lonely and every other negative emotion known to the human psyche. Because of this his “friends” got bored of trying to help him after about a week, maybe two, and instead found it easier to vent their own trivial problems by bullying him, someone too shy, too without motivation to fight back or even show that he cared. It made me sick. Sick at his friends for deserting him and turning against so easily and without a justifiable reason to do so. Sick at his teachers for not doing anything about it, not even when I had complained to the principal despite Mikey’s fake apathy. Sick at our parents for leaving him in such a way. Sick at him for being too nice to do anything. But, most of all, sick at myself for failing to protect my brother from the cruelty and shittyness of life once again.
I held him closely, running my hands up and down his back like our mom used to do when he’d tripped up many years ago when he was convinced that he could fly. I noticed his breathing had hitched up to a rate of knots, a sure sign of an oncoming panic attack.
“Shush, Mikes. It’s alright, bro, I’m here. I’ve got you and you’ve got me, we’re all we need.” I soothed, kissing his sweaty forehead and readying myself for the evil monstrosity that was fast approaching. Sure enough, he started hyperventilating and shaking in my arms. Blinking back tears, I manoeuvred him so that his back was to my chest in way that meant he could feel my own deep, calm breathing. I remember the first time that he told me how much the certainty and familiarity of hearing me breathe helped him through his hideous attacks that seemed to jump out at him at every possible moment. He’d said that just hearing that simply knowing that I was there with him, that I hadn’t left him alone, made him feel better. I’d actually cried when he’d told me that, still laying weakly in my parental arms, tears of relief that I was actually helping in some form dancing down my face in sorrowful joy.
“Calm down. I’m here; I won’t let anyone hurt you.” I was doing as his therapist had told me; addressing each of his fears and smashing them into pieces with my soothing words. It broke my repeatedly taped heart to have to do this, I would much rather forget my baby brother’s, the kid I was supposed to protect, endless list of deadly-serious fears. Perhaps it was some form of sick, twisted punishment for spending all those nights alone and getting drunk, trying to forget my life; I must constantly be forced to remember my precious brother’s nightmares that agonize me even more than they do him. “I’ll never leave you, Mikes. I love you. Mom and Dad love you.” I was less than halfway through my heartfelt routine that I was forced to endure every time this happened, when I felt him relax in my loving hold; it was over.
“Gee?” He squeaked out in the voice of a broken old man. But he wasn’t a broken old man; he’s my baby brother and if he’s broken, then it’s my job to do everything in my power to piece him back together. But how can I when I’ve lost half the pieces and some of them don’t even fit where the supposed to because they’re so torn?
I felt him shift around so that he was buried sweetly in my chest, his spindly legs curled beneath his body and cupped in my lap. It was what he did whenever he felt sad and it scared the living shit out of me; he acted as though just being in my worthless presence would guarantee his precious safety and happiness, he just couldn’t see any flaw in my flaw-filled self and that’s what terrified me. The kid couldn’t be let down again, it’d kill what little fragment of his past self that remained.
“Yeah, Mikes,” I purred softly into his ear, my hand squeezing his shuddering shoulder consolingly.
“It’s today, isn’t it?”
Holy shit. I knew immediately what his weak voice was meekly referring to and was fully aware that he could end up in that awful hospital by the end of the conversation. The doctor had warned me to be wary of today; if Mikey ever had a panic attack huge enough, such as could be caused by the anniversary of that traumatising event, and was knocked out by it he could be in serious trouble. I mentally debated whether to feign ignorance or not. Perhaps I could divert the disaster? No, Mikes had grown up way too quickly since the crash and would be able to tell straight away that I was lying. He found trust a tricky thing, especially after the obliterating accident, and the last thing either of us needed was a dip in our essential relationship.
I swallowed past my muffling tears as though they were a stuffed handful of painkillers and patted my crying baby brother caringly on the back.
“Yeah, Mikes. It’s today.” I whispered cautiously, bracing myself for the worst and tightened my protective grip on my trembling world.
But instead of the normal panic attack (or worse), he burst into a fresh tsunami of his devastating wails and sobs, each of which dragged my heart lower down until my whole spirit was six feet under. I remembered being told by his therapist that the cause of Mikey’s panic attacks was bottle up emotion and fear, so maybe this was some sort of progress; a major breakthrough, perhaps? It didn’t feel like it. It felt sickening to hear him scream out all of his hurt into my tear-sodden Black Flag t-shirt, to feel his drained fists punch at my chest anguishedly, to see his frail body tremble with all of his unpleasant emotions. And I had no idea how to take away all of the enraging, evil pain from my undeserving charge. As much as I wanted to and would have gladly killed to have been able to do so, I didn’t know how to make it all better like a good big brother should.
I didn’t speak, I didn’t shush him, I just slowly rocked him back and forth, letting him know that he wasn’t alone. Eventually he cried himself out and was sound asleep in the first peaceful slumber I had seen him in for years.
“You’ll never be alone, Michael James Way, never. I will always be by your side, brother, always. I’ll never let anyone hurt you and I’ll always be here whenever you need to cry or want to talk. Always and forever.” I whispered sincerely to my beloved baby brother, tears of desperate seriousness now flowing heavily down my face.
But then, in his sleep, Mikes smiled. It was his first smile in two whole years.
The first of many.
A/N: Wow. Longest one-shot I’ve ever written, I’m not sure if it’s any good or not so please review and tell me what you liked/disliked. Thanks for reading and please review! :)