This is chapter ten of a story entitled The Other One. Wow, ten chapters? Really? That can’t be right. Anyways, to start at the beginning, click here.
Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.
We had exchanged gifts, but it was more of a formality than anything else. The normal giddiness of ripping off the colorful paper was noticeably absent. It felt as though it was supposed to be a distraction from the tension of knowing a family member was hospitalized, but the presents were failing miserably at their purpose. We went through the motions, said thanks, and moved on as if it had to be finished before we could do anything else with our lives.
There was still no word on Bryce. He had become stable, had some trouble, then stabilized again. As far as we could tell, he wasn’t in severe trouble, but doctors had to pay close attention to him and still couldn’t tell what the problem was.
We could spend time in the waiting room. We could bring food and drink to Alex and Rachel. We could bring them changes of clothes. We could do all of these little things, but best we could tell, all we could really do was wait.
I chose to wait at my parents house, on the couch, isolated. I felt frozen, honestly. I had no idea what good my presence would be. I had some words I could share with Alex if he needed them, but really, those words only felt appropriate if things took a major turn for the worst. All I really knew was sorrow, I guess, and the waiting period was something I never could understand.
So this couch, by myself? That’s where I belonged. A place I could understand.
It got to be too much. I had passed the point of being frozen, that’s for sure. I had reached a point of restless panic, where I had nowhere to go but I knew I couldn’t stay here any longer.
Mom and dad were somewhere being helpful. Ashley was at Alex and Rachel’s house, doing some cleaning and cooking for them. And what was I doing? Removing myself entirely.
It was driving me crazy. I had to do something.
I wish I could accurately pinpoint what it was that was running through my head over the next twenty minutes or so. I wish I could say what was going on at all that entire day. It felt as though I was constantly rotating between being afraid to move to being afraid to stay inactive. I was going insane, between thinking of Bryce and Ethan and Alex and everyone around, knowing that this time of year would never be the same for me.
Christmas was hard enough already, since every year brought another reminder that the innocence I thought I knew years ago was dead. It was another chilling reminder that the best person I knew had to suffer through something he didn’t deserve and now he was no longer with us.
And now this? A child? He couldn’t take care of himself yet, much less fight off whatever was happening to him now. How does this make sense? Why should this kid suffer? And why would his parents have to live with this, especially if he died?
Nothing was fair. That was clear to me. Nothing made sense. What exactly was I supposed to be accomplishing by being in Manchester right now? What exactly was I even accomplishing at my apartment or at my job? All of it seemed much too far away to ever return to anyway.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. Everything….well, everything just sucked. I thought that all the goodness I had ever known disappeared seven years ago. Now, I could feel any remnants, especially the goodness my family believed in, slipping away.
I couldn’t find any good around, so I went to look for some. Anything at all that would maybe bring me back around to believing in something more than the mess around me.
And I don’t remember how I found myself here, but somehow I did. Here I was, walking down a hallway but feeling more like I was mindlessly floating through. I passed by several apartments before I stopped at the door I was searching for. G7 stared straight at me.
I knocked, and hoped that Jenn would come to the door quickly.
“You seem to, I don’t know….understand stuff, Jenn. Can you explain any of this to me?”
The better part of the past hour had been spent telling her of the hopeless thoughts I was bombarded with. I knew she didn’t deserve to hold all of those burdens, but she had such an honest and open approach to things that I knew she could handle it all.
Ethan had a pure way of looking at the world. He was full of wonder at even the smallest things, always appreciative of what was around him. Jenn was entirely different, but still entirely good. She looked at things with much more of a critical eye than Ethan ever did, but she still saw everything. Nothing was ever just an isolated incident to her. There were an endless amount of requirements that had to be met before anything would take place. There were constantly moving pieces that set up every situation anyone would find themselves in.
She didn’t see herself as the center of the universe or as the star of a show that the world was centered on. She saw every individual as the star of their own show, and in doing so, saw behind the scenes of every show she met.
Maybe that’s why I thought she would have answers. She could make sense of this stuff, right? I assumed she had some ability to look at the entire story of how my baby nephew found himself in the hospital, struggling to stay with us. The story of why my brother and his wife had to watch all of this happen.
Surely she would have something for me. It was all I had left to hope for.
“Aaron, I don’t know.”
I looked up from the floor that I had been staring at for who knows how long. I looked her dead in the eye, but before I could say anything, she continued.
“Aaron, I don’t think we’re supposed to know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean that disasters happen, and they just happen and we’re not necessarily supposed to understand why they’re happening. Even to good people, or innocent people. Bad stuff just happens, Aaron. It’s hard, but we have to look at the good that we can find.”
“But there is none!” I couldn’t control my voice from raising. The one person I expected to at least have some sort of guess at what was going on in the world had told me that bad stuff happens and there’s no sense understanding it.
“There’s always good somewhere, Aaron.” She stayed remarkably calm despite me being on the verge of losing it. “Look back seven years. Think about the good there.”
“What good? What good was there at all? Ethan died, and a family lost their son. I lost my friend. I’m sorry if I don’t see the good there.”
“Did the family stay together? Did they stay with each other through it all, supporting and helping each other?”
I was slightly insulted by her at this point, which was ironic considering I expected her to be able to explain everything to me. I guess I just didn’t expect to hate her explanation.
“And Aaron,” she continued, “you still talk to them often, right? You were there for them in the process, and they were there for you. You guys all had each other, and you know what? Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got in the middle of a storm. There doesn’t appear to be any good around, so you have to make some. You have to be the good for people who are going through terrible messes.”
There was something inside of me that instantly knew she was right. It took me a long time to deal with Ethan’s death, but she was absolutely right: I had his family to help me cope, and I supposed I helped them as well. Why else would Mr. and Mrs. McLaurin welcome me into their home when I was in town, much less send me letters and keep in touch with me over the years?
I couldn’t see the good that was around in that dark time, and it was honestly because the good was looking out for me. In return, I was good to others who needed it. It made sense.
“Jenn….” my voice was breaking as I realized I had nothing to say in return. What I had realized, really, is what was tearing me up inside this entire time. “I….I don’t know how to help my brother.”
She calmly grabbed my hands and looked into my eyes. “He’s your brother, Aaron. You don’t have to know how to help. You just need to be around.”
“What if I can’t do it?”
“You can. You have to. Right now, your parents and other people are getting them food or doing laundry or just doing stuff for him. What he needs right now from his brother, is not stuff, but just to be there. Be there, and be the good he needs.
“And you know what?” she squeezed my hands a little tighter. “When you feel like you can’t do any more? Come back to me. I’ll be the good that you need.”
I looked straight into her eyes. She had a smile on her face, but not a happy smile. A reassuring one. One that told me that the things I was wondering weren’t crazy. One that I wasn’t a lost cause. One that told me I had somebody who wanted to be there for me if I needed it.
It was a smile, a face, a care, that all told me that I was okay. I was grounded. Where I felt crazy, she had kept it all in place for me. I was more than a story. I was grounded, I was okay, and I was cared for.
“Now get out of here, Aaron. Your brother needs you.”