You know, I haven’t cried once since he died. All of this time, I’ve kept strong, being the one to support Mom, Dad, Candice, and even Tristan. They’ve all cried. You wouldn’t think that Tristan would because he is a big, buff football player, but he did. For hours, actually. And what did I do? I stood outside his bedroom door, watching, torn between stepping inside and crying with him, and leaving to go downstairs. I never cried with him. I never cried.
The last time I cried was March 14th, 2013. I had been invited to a party by only the most popular girls in school, at the time anyway, and they told me it was a fancy party. They were all very rich, so I had no trouble believing that it was, meaning that they could afford fancy things for the party. That afternoon, I had made Mom drive me to a dress shop and we spent hours there trying to find the perfect dress for me. We spent another hour on my hair and makeup when we had gotten home, and at 7:30, I was ready to be fashionably late for the party.
When I arrived, though, it turned out that they had given me the wrong information. It was located at the pool in the backyard. The party was a pool party, and I was dressed for a fancy occasion, with heels and a dress down to my ankles. So embarrassed, I had tried to leave, but the boy I’d had a crush on for years picked me up and threw me in the pool, with my dress and shoes on. The water ruined my hair and makeup, and the silk dress I had been wearing. It was a disaster. Being thrown in the pool had been an eye-opener. Those girls were a waste of my time. Literally a waste of my time. I had spent hours on my outfit and they ruined it in just a few short seconds.
I hadn’t wanted to call Mom and tell her what happened, so I just went to the place that was nearest. The hospital. The place that my dear brother, Timothy was practically chained to.
I went to the hospital and I told him everything. And you know what he did when I finished talking? He responded in a way that most seven year olds wouldn’t be able to. He reached forward and picked up a lock of my hair and tucked it behind my ear. And he told me that I looked even more beautiful than any of the girls at that party could even dream of looking like. Even looking like a soaked rat. He didn’t say the last part, but that’s what I thought. So I sobbed at his kind words and wrapped my arms around him, forgetting for a moment that I was soaked in pool water. And he hugged me back, pretending that I wasn’t.
My brother was a boy who was far too wise and sweet for his age. Timothy Marcher was the type of boy that would go out into the world and make a real difference. He would’ve found a cure for a disease or been the greatest writer or saved lives, or something of that nature.
But he never will. Because he’s dead.
March 14th, 2013 was the last day I cried. Timothy died four months and one week after I had come to the hospital and cried my heart out. My baby brother died on September 21, 2013. And I haven’t shed one tear since he’s been gone.
I don’t think that’s exactly healthy, and neither do Mom or Dad. I go to a therapist now, but she hasn’t been able to get me to open up yet. I don’t think I will. I say I’ve let go of my brother, but it’s only been three months. I’m not ready to let go of his thin figure with innocent blue eyes and a smile that could save the world. I’m not ready to let go of his crazy style and wise brain and tiny voice. I don’t know if I ever will be able to.
It’s December 31st today. New Year’s Eve. Our family is going into the city to see the fireworks. They were Timothy’s favorite thing. He would be going with us if he was still alive.
“Mel, could you come over here for a second?” Mom’s voice brings me out of my depressed thoughts about my dead little brother. I look up to see her ashen face peering through the crack in my semi-open door. I sit up, and dust off my kneecaps. She raises her eyebrows. “Melanie?”
I nod a few times and rub my eyes. “I’ll be there in a second,” I tell her. She gives me a wobbly smile. Those are the only types of smiles she’s given anyone in a while. She closes the door and I hear her quiet footsteps down the stairs. I sigh and follow them after running a hand through my hair.
I pad down the hall and down the stairs and take note of how quiet this house is. Even though Timothy had been in the hospital instead of at home for most of his last time in the living world, it was still a lively house. We all knew that he was surviving and that he was still there and that put our hearts at rest. But now he’s dead and there’s nothing to put our hearts at rest besides knowing that he’s not in pain anymore.
We all remember the scrunched up face he would make and how his knuckles whitened and neck became strained when a flash of pain would come over him. How he would make a squeaked noise, and we all knew he was holding in a scream. And how he would breathe like he had just run a marathon when it was over.
When I make it into the kitchen downstairs, I find that everyone is already sitting at the table. They’re waiting for me. I’m surprised, because everyone has been out lately. Mom stays home, closing herself into her bedroom. Dad is usually in the basement, drowning his feelings in copious amounts of alcohol and playing chess online, mumbling about that he’s the King of Chess. Candice is always out with her friends, putting on a fake smile and becoming a rebel teenager, going to underage clubs and hooking up with endless amounts of guys. Tristan is never not at the gym, taking out his pain on the punching bags and by swimming at the pool there and running hard, hard, hard on the treadmill and being faster and stronger than he was before Timothy’s death. And me? I go to the library. I try to forget about my problems by focusing on book characters’ problems. It doesn’t always help, but somehow, thinking about how Harry Potter is going to survive makes me forget about the grief that always looms over my head. For a second, anyway.
We all have different ways of coping.
Dad gives me a false smile as I hesitantly walk in. “What’s going on?” I ask, stopping at the fridge which is halfway to the table where they all sit. Wintery light floods through the windows, putting a shine on half of Candice’s face. They all take a breath.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Tristan begins in his manly and burly voice. Mom bites her lip. I can tell she’s worried about my reaction. Dad takes a drink of a beer. Candice stares a hole into the back of her phone. Tristan cracks his knuckles under the table, trying to be quiet. I rest my back against the fridge.
“What about it?” I try to get him to continue, noticing the pause.
“Since Timmy had cancer, the foundation gave him one wish. Timmy knew that he wasn’t going to…” Mom swallows, “make it, so he made a wish for something to happen after… he died.” She takes a breath and looks down at the table instead of me for a second. Her eyes meet mine again. “His wish was to have his body be cremated and have his ashes be in the fireworks at New Year’s.”
My jaw drops. Did Timothy actually ask for that? Remembering his fascination with fireworks, I know he did. I can imagine the discomfort in the room when he told this foundation his wish. And did everyone know but me? “You all knew about this?” I ask, trying to keep anger out of my voice. It’s a failure. A voice talks to me in the back of my brain, asking why Timothy hadn’t told me. I ignore it.
Guilt comes across each of their faces. “Mel, we were going to tell you before but you’re never here-“ Mom starts, but I interrupt her, letting anger take over my voice.
“I’m never here? None of you are! Dad’s always in the basement drinking, Candice is out, Tristan is at the gym, and Mom, you are always holed up in your room! Don’t act like I’m the one that’s never here! None of you are! Not just me!” I explode. None of them are taken aback like I assumed they would be. They must have been expecting this.
“Melanie, it’s been hard-“ Candice begins, but all I see is red.
“Hard? Candice, you barely even talked to Timothy! How has it been really hard for you? Tristan, when he was born, you were already a junior in high school! You never were there for him. Dad, you’ve always been working, working, working. And Mom, you were always working, too! I was the closest one in age to him and spent the most time with him! If any of you had really known him, you would’ve known that he absolutely hated nicknames. He liked to be called Timothy and only Timothy. Not Tim, Timmy, Timmers or anything that you lot always call him now. I knew him, okay? We were practically the same people!” I glare at all of them, and this time they’re actually shocked. “Did you know what his favorite color was? Song? Artist? Type of tree? What he wanted to be when he grew up? No.”
I am so close to just leaving the room. Yeah, Timothy was their brother and Mom and Dad’s son, too, but I spent the most time with him out of anyone. Anyone. They’re all so full of it, acting like they really knew everything about him. I was the only one he was really comfortable talking to. He was my best friend and my baby brother and my sea glass buddy and my bookworm buddy and everything. He was my favorite person in the entire world and he still is. That will never change.
“His favorite color was red. His favorite song was I’m Yours by Jason Mraz, who was also his favorite artist. He loved birch trees. And he wanted to be a painter when he grew up.” Tristan’s voice is loud as he speaks. I throw my head back and laugh when he’s done.
“You’ve got outdated information, Tris. He hated the color red. I’m Yours had been his favorite song for about a week. Imagine Dragons was his favorite band, and artist. He fell off a birch tree when he was climbing two summers ago. He hated them. And he wanted to be a poet when he grew up. Not a painter,” I correct, locking eyes with each of them. None of them knew him. None of them. I start to leave the room in an outrage, when Mom calls me back.
“Fine, Melanie. You knew Timothy the best. But that doesn’t change that his ashes are going to be in the fireworks tonight. We’re all going to the city to see them. All we wanted to know was if you were still coming.” Her voice is soft, but still stern, trying to keep a calm attitude.
I slowly turn around. “I wouldn’t miss my last goodbye to him for the world.”
I’ve always loved Timothy’s fascination with fireworks. I’ve never been particularly enticed with them, but more with his reaction. I used to love watching the reflections of them in his big, shiny eyes, widened from awe. We all used to go on a trip for the 4th of July, besides Tristan who was at college, and where we went, there were tons of fireworks. He used to try to drag everyone out the door but only I ever actually went with him. I would put him on my shoulders even though I wasn’t strong and it was hard to carry him, and we would make the trek through the woods to get to the mini-beach at the part of the lake where we could see just the open water with no trees. We would sit on the swing-set and I would push him on the swings and listen to his laugh until the fireworks started. And then we would both sit down and watch. He would watch the fireworks, and I would watch him.
He was the best little brother that could’ve existed, and it’s hard to remember that he isn’t alive anymore. So, so hard. It’s unbelievable.
Last month, I got my driver’s license. Mom let me have her old car, and so I’ve made it mine. I’m too mad at them to be in the same car, so I drive to the city by myself. The music that laces my ears is a playlist that Timothy and I made together. A collection of both of our favorite songs. As I drive, I remember when we picked out the songs. How we hunted through iTunes and listened to thousands of songs until he had pointed to fifty that he especially liked. I showed him some that I liked and he had okayed most of them. When I left the hospital that day, a document on my laptop full of song titles, I left him humming a combination of a whole bunch of songs, a happy smile on his little face.
He had been really sick. But he had acted like a normal little kid.
I admired that so much about him.
My fingers are loose on the steering wheel as I continue down the highway, pretending that he’s sitting beside me. It’s easier to pretend like he’s still here with me.
Mom gave me an address of a campsite we went to once. It overlooks the city and sits on top of a hill, with only a fence blocking people from falling over the side of the hill. After a close call with Candice almost slipping over the fence, we didn’t go back. But it’s the best place to be tonight, giving a great outlook on the fireworks. Mom said that the people from the Make-A-Wish Foundation told her that around that area would be the best place to see the fireworks.
So we’re all going there. Mom and Dad traveling in one car, Candice and Tristan coming in his car, and me coming in mine. It kind of shows how much Timothy’s death has split us apart.
The drive is under 45 minutes, and my car bumps along the dirt road in no time. Everybody else is already there, and the sun is just starting to go down. I pull in next to their cars, staying far away from the fence. I don’t want my car accidentally lurching forward and falling down the hill, since it is a bit unpredictable.
We have about an hour until the fireworks start. I put my car into park and climb to the trunk, since it’s the type of car where you can climb into the back and there’s a flat surface to stretch out in. It’s a Honda Odyssey. I’ve set up a few blankets and brought a little stack of books that I’ve already read. They’re my top favorite books and since I own them, I’ve highlighted tons of things in tons of different colors. A lot of them are things that I would think Timothy would like, and others are just words I like, lines I like, or just things that sound cool. The first book on the stack is John Green’s Looking For Alaska. I settle in against my blankets and begin.
In ten minutes, I have to climb back up front to turn the lights on in the back since it’s so dark. I get another five minutes of reading in before I realize that I’m wasting my battery on the car. So I sigh and turn off the light and close the book, putting it back in the pile. I find myself with nothing to do, but I’m still too angry and stubborn to seek out my family.
I lean my head back against the inside of the car, and think. Think think think. I’ve done too much thinking in the past few months. It’s just torture. I think about Timothy’s face. I think about what he said to me before he died. I think about everything.
A knock on the window of the trunk makes me jump. I turn slowly and can barely make out Tristan’s face. I groan. I hear a muffled version of him saying, “can I come in?” I sigh and then nod, bundling myself up in my blankets before I let him open up the trunk and welcome in the cold winter air.
It’s a good thing that the trunk is so big, because he wouldn’t have been able to climb in if it were smaller. I’m thankful at how quickly he closes the door, because even under all of my blankets, I’m shivering from the cold air.
“Hey,” he greets quietly, copying how I sit in the trunk, with my knees pulled up against my chest and my arms wrapped around them. He looks kind of funny doing it, though, since he’s such a big man. Not that he’s chubby. He’s the opposite of chubby. He’s just very muscle-y.
“Hi,” I reply at the same tone of voice. He shivers and I watch his eyes travel to the stack of blankets that lay on the floor that I’m not using. I always have tons of blankets with me, that I’ve collected over the years that I’ve been alive. I finally smile at him. “You can take one.”
He responds by immediately reaching forward and grabbing one, wrapping it around himself like it’s his only source of warmth, which it probably is, since the car is turned off so there’s no heat. “Thanks, Mel.” It’s quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry for acting like I knew so much about him.”
I stare at my hands. “I’m sorry for acting like you didn’t know anything about him,” I say a moment after. I see him shrug in peripheral vision.
“It’s okay. I kind of didn’t. He was born my junior year so when he was little, I was doing high school stuff, and then I had college. And now I’m out of college, and now should be when I spend time with him, but I can’t.” Tristan takes a breath. “I think you really did know him best, Mel. Candice isn’t that older than you and she should’ve spent more time with him, but she didn’t. You did. And you’re right about another thing, too, you know. You two were pretty similar. What I do know about him is that he loved to read and he looked up to you and followed what you did.”
We’re both silent as I roll this around in my mind. I’m opening my mouth to say something when there’s a knock on the trunk again. We both look up to see Candice. I nod for her to come in and she climbs in quickly, shivering from the air outside. I give her a blanket without her asking as she closes the trunk.
She glances at Tristan, before looking at me. Or at least I think she’s looking at me. It’s too dark to tell. “I’m sorry, Melanie. You were right.”
I smile at my hands. “Thanks, Candy.” The tension thins, and I know it’s because I used the nickname that I used to always say. We all sit for a few more minutes in silence, but it’s not awkward. We’re all thinking. Thinking about everything. Suddenly, I hear Mom yell.
“Fireworks! They’re about to start!” she yells again. We all jump.
“Is it safe to climb on the roof?” I ask my siblings after a moment, knowing that we’ll be able to see the fireworks better that way.
I hear Tristan smile. “Maybe. Probably not. Let’s do it.”
Candice laughs and then we all clamber out of the car, each of us grabbing another blanket. Mom and Dad jog over to us and take some blankets, too, after giving each other nervous looks about my reaction. I don’t mind. We all wrap them around ourselves like we’re burritos and I giggle lightly at the idea. Tristan helps Candice and I climb up and then he hoists himself over the edge of the car. Mom and Dad lean against the hood of the car, and there’s some shuffling on the top of the car as the three of us try to get comfortable, squealing at how frosty cold the top of my car is. Finally, we lay a blanket down over it and then we all sit down. Candice and I sit side by side in the front and Tristan is close behind us.
It’s cold outside, but I feel warm, just being next to my family. The moon shines down on us, so that I can see everyone. Mom and Dad whisper to each other, holding hands, a blanket shared between the two of them. Candice’s hand finds mind, poking out of our blankets and I accept the gesture. We need warmth. Tristan leans forward and rests his chin between our shoulders and at that moment, I feel like our family is more together than we have ever been.
A few more seconds pass, and anticipation is the only emotion I’m feeling, even though it’s not even an emotion. I can feel it throughout the five of us. Our hearts beat in unison, the thump thump thump a tribute to Timothy.
And then there’s a streak in the sky. A firework goes up and we watch the line of it, like in slow motion.
It explodes with a loud pop.
I scream a little. I wasn’t expecting it so soon. A laugh shakes through all of our bodies. Red and pink coat the sky, and then the sparks fall. Another one comes up in the sky. It’s silver and explodes with the sound of a crowd cheering. They’re dazzling.
It’s now that I realize why Timothy liked fireworks so much.
When he was alive, he was always obsessed with the idea of being free. Free of sickness. Free of obligations. Free of everything. And fireworks are a spark that is free. Being bottled up and then let loose is really what fireworks are. Fireworks show freedom. Timothy’s ashes in the fireworks symbolize that he’s finally free. He’d had a life of pain, but he doesn’t have to experience it anymore.
He’s finally free.
With this realization, tears fall down my cheeks, illuminated by the moonlight and the sudden light of each firework, lighting up the wintery night sky. It’s the first time I’ve cried since he’s passed, and the tears are like dominoes.
One triggers the next.
Sobs rack my body but I don’t want to close my eyes and miss the fireworks, so I just sit with my shoulders rapidly rising and falling while tears leak out of my eyelids like a waterfall.
I cry for my brother. I cry because I haven’t been able to let him go. I cry because I have been so disconnected from everyone. I cry because I realize what’s happened. I cry for my baby brother.
I cry and cry and cry.
Candice leans into my side and hugs me that way and Tristan wraps his arms around me from the back. I can’t stop all of the tears. It feels never ending.
My sobs, the loud explosions of the fireworks, and the cheers of the city are all that can be heard in the night. Pop, pop, pop. Red light shines on my face, and then blue, and green, and every color, and I realize, as the tears start to stop, that I’m okay. That Timothy is okay now. That Candice and Tristan and Mom and Dad are all okay. That we’re going to survive without Timothy and yes, things will never be the same, but my little brother wouldn’t have wanted me to suffer the loss of him for my whole life.
It feels like with every tear that drops is an ounce of grief being taken away.
I slowly start feeling warmth come into every inch of my body, and it’s not because the temperature is lifting. It’s love. Love for my family, who hasn’t been able to deal with Timothy’s death and love for Timothy who loved me as much as I loved him.
It’s time to let him go. I sniffle quietly and I hear Candice and Tristan whisper kind words to me, much like Timothy did the last time I cried.
And at the slow halt of tears, I begin to laugh.
That’s all I had to do to feel better. To feel okay. To let my brother go.
I had to cry it out.
Another pop of a firework sends the final part of grief out of my system. And I smile. I smile a real smile, which I haven’t let happen in a long, long time.
I feel free.
I smile once more and stare at the lights that make the winter night seem happy and wonderful and cheerful. At this moment, our entire family is together. Candice, Tristan and I are on the top of the car, all bundled together in blankets, with Candice and Tristan hugging me, Mom and Dad are leaning against the hood of the car arms wrapped around each other and kissing each other since it’s hit midnight, and Timothy is in the fireworks that we watch explode into fiery brightness above us. I grin and pat my siblings’ hands that rest on my stomach and arms.
“Goodbye, Timothy,” I whisper to the ashes of fireworks that fall. “And happy New Year.”