Yesterday, I overheard a co-worker utter the word snow and immediately perked up in my cube.
“Hey — snow — are we supposed to get it?” I asked, already teeming with excitement.
“Yep!” she replied. “Tomorrow!”
I allowed myself to feel thrilled, but not overly so — it is, after all, early December in Birmingham, Alabama, and the last time we got a mentionable amount of snow was in mid-January THREE years ago. Nevertheless, I sent my hopeful intention out into the universe and then went about my business.
When I woke up at 6:25 this AM, I was absolutely amazed and delighted to see a light amount of snow spiraling delicately to the ground. My best friend Charlie scrambled some celebratory eggs and fried some festive hash browns, and then I sadly bid him and the pups goodbye.
When I began driving to work, I was startled to realize how quickly the snowfall was gaining momentum. My entire windshield became so thoroughly clouded that I had to pull over, roll my window down, and then get back on the road with my head precariously sticking out of the window in order to navigate at all.
Seconds later, I felt my phone vibrate three times and dared to hope that I knew what it was. I paused at a light, checked my messages, and sure enough, I was right: work had been cancelled!
“Thank GOODNESS,” I texted my boss. “I was about to DIE out on these roads.”
So instead of working, I have spent the whole day relaxing — playing outside with my German Shepherds, re-potting a few plants indoors, and remotely completing two college finals: one for my Spanish class, and another for my creative writing class (my third short story).
I’m sharing the story I just submitted to my professor below, but I would like to preface the story with this disclaimer: I grew up with a sick brother and took the backseat because of it. I’m not at all bitter. In the fictionalized recollection below, I’m simply attempting to navigate, process, and imagine what life might have looked and felt like back then for an almost-four year old.
So here it is… my third short story this year.
Trying to Remember
by Jace Yarbrough
“The time will pass so quickly, Rosie,” she whispers in my ear. I’m not yet four years old, so I may or may not understand or believe her, but she is mother; she smells wonderful, looks beautiful, and around this time, I call her a beauty dance, which doesn’t make sense.
“Lucy, we’ve gotta go,” he says; tall, broad-shouldered, and with a thin and dark mustache hovering above his upper lip. He locks eyes with me and our hazy blues swirl together. Dad.
“Love you, kid,” he says gruffly. I don’t understand it then, but he’s sad, not angry.
Then the two of them exit through the same front door we all passed through together not even an hour ago. I turn around; my Aunt Debbie is smiling at me – she’s got shoulder-length brown hair, kind eyes, and a mischievous crinkle in her smile. “Come here, sweet Amber Rose! Time to have some FUN!”
Way back then, my brother was sickly. Not cough or throw up sickly – more like tubes and surgeries and bone marrow transplants sickly.
He had something wrong with his head, they said.
“It’s not strong, like yours,” Grammy had explained months before, caressing his bald head fondly. I looked at the clear tube coming out of his nose and the other one sticking out from his bare chest. He certainly didn’t look strong.
“You’re the well kitty, and he’s the sick kitty,” is how she explained it another time when we were visiting her quaint little shack in Clearwater, Florida. I had been a swimming mermaid in her backyard kiddie pool while Bob had been sitting still on a lawn chair, watching.
But what usually made me the maddest was going to Miami Subs. Grammy couldn’t drive, so we’d walk up to the stop sign down the street and then catch a bus the rest of the way there. Once inside, Bobby would order a steaming basket of divine-looking and salty-smelling mozzarella sticks, but I could only get French fries.
“He’s got pickier taste buds than you, girly whirlie,” Grammy would remind me gently.
As an adult, I realize now that the price difference was probably a dollar or less.
Back in South Carolina, I’d run up and down the hallways of the hospital… always trying to sneak peeks into other children’s rooms. Most of them looked like Bob: skinny, scared, and sad. I just wanted someone to have fun with.
When we moved into the Ronald McDonald house down in Georgia, things were a little more fun. There was a big bathtub near our bedroom, and Grammy, who had suddenly become a long-term visitor from Florida, would fill it up with tons of soapy, hot water and then sit on the tile floor outside of the bath tub while I splashed merrily inside of it. She’d even bring out a couple of teacups and we’d have tea parties together. I don’t remember there being cookies, but I hope there were. So I’ll choose to remember there being cookies. And mozzarella sticks.
The tea parties continued to occur for a few good weeks until Bobby took a turn for the worse.
One bad day, the doctor said some things that mom and dad really didn’t like. Mom started crying and dad looked mad. The mean doctor said something about weakened immune systems and six months left and give him a good Christmas.
I liked Christmas. I sniffled loudly and rubbed my nose against the back of my hand. My mom looked over at me. Stared. Sighed.
Soon, mom, dad and I were piled up in the family’s yellow station wagon and driving up from North Augusta, South Carolina to Toledo, Ohio, where I was FINALLY going to have some fun.
When I try to remember what it looked like outside of the car’s window, I can see Spanish moss hanging off of the trees like the skeletons of old scarves. I can feel us flying up roads where even Taco Bell signs were plated in gold, and I can also recall strange leaves – – gold, copper and gray, like jewelry mixed with ash — littering the ground everywhere.
There were pieces of tire by the trees, and bags caught up high in the trees. There were fallen trees, standing trees, leaves on the ground, and leaves on the trees…
And they made me remember something a pastor said at church once, back when I used to go; that the leaves that fall to the ground return to the soil to nourish the tree so that it can create the next batch of leaves, like cookies. And at the age of four, I already liked cookies.
And then he went on to say that the tree will repeat this cycle over and over and over again. Until it falls.
But for the majority of our car ride, I mostly remember an endless blur of trees and powerlines, as well as the oddly distinct smell of cold water.
Debbie was fun. Lots of fun.
For starters, she didn’t make me go to church, and she let me eat food my mother wouldn’t (like chicken nuggets at McDonald’s and tuna straight out of a can). She had a grandson named Kyle who was only a few years older than me, and he was equal parts tormentor and best friend. I can’t remember the exact kinds of games we played together – could have been video games, pool parties, or rounds of hide-and-seek — but I have a good feeling when I think about him… like, I know that we had fun. Looking back on it, he didn’t appear to have tubes or stitches, which probably made having fun a lot easier.
Debbie claims that I was easy to take care of. “Except for when you had you’d have one of your famous sit downs in a store,” she clarified. Back in South Carolina, I would cry until I couldn’t breathe if someone crossed me… but in Ohio, the apparent equivalent of doing that was collapsing onto the floor of a store and staking out for as long as a person would let me.
I remember feeling a sense of belonging with Debbie and Kyle and the others… I was learning a new side of the family, and falling very deeply in love with them.
But then I was at the pool one summer afternoon – tip-toeing across hot pavement and dipping my toes into chilly water — when I looked up and saw mom and dad.
They looked so happy. I was so confused.
“Oh Rose…” My mother sobbed, bending over and scooping me up.
Looking back over her shoulder, I watched the bouncing pool disappear with each step she took, and I felt very, very sad, just like a cancer patient.
“You sure this is a good time for her to return?” Debbie asked quietly.
“Oh yes, Bobby has stabilized so much,” my mother breathed, smiling.
Debbie drummed her fingers on the sides of her glass, nodded four times. I had seated myself right beside Debbie and found myself staring up at her. She looked down at me, smiled… but the smile was strained.
“And you haven’t given any more thought to what I mentioned a few weeks ago?” Debbie continued. “In that letter I sent you?”
My dad cleared his throat. “We want to take her home now, Deb,” he said.
And that was that. Cold arms hoisted me back into the station wagon. Nearly a year had passed, and it hadn’t changed at all.
I sat in the backseat alone. Mom and dad’s murmurs reached me sometimes, but mostly, I played with my Etch-a-Sketch (a gift from Debbie). I missed her eyes, the sweet drawl in her voice, and the way she’d hold me in her lap while we watched Disney movies together.
Outside of the window, steam was rising off of hot, stained asphalt.
After many hours had passed and old signs came into view, I began to remember life here… life before Debbie.
The memory of giant pickles in red and white cardboard boxes and orange-dusted French fries that never lasted long, disappearing from our fingertips while the middle schoolers played ball.
A fair had come through town once. In my mind, the air still smelled like sugar as someone deep fried funnel cakes for the church school kids.
I remembered that there had been a stream by our house, deep out in the woods. Tadpoles lived in it. I used to check in on them whenever I could, and whenever I saw them, I wondered if they’d really turn into something completely different someday, like Grammy said they would. They looked fine and happy the way they were. Why change? I thought.
And I recalled, with great joy, that the gas station just outside of our suburb had green alien lollipops. I really liked those. I’m not sure what kind of candy Bob usually got. Was Bob still in the hospital? Wasn’t he my brother?
The car stopped suddenly in a strange driveway.
My parents exited the car first, and then dad tugged my door open.
“Welcome home, baby girl!” he sang out.
“Home?” I asked.
Grammy and Bobby were standing out on the front porch of a house I didn’t recognize. Bobby was still bald and just as skinny-looking, but from the corner of his lips, a smile had begun to spread.
In a slow, monotone voice that I also didn’t recognize, he struggled to say: “Hiiiiii, siiiister.”
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