This is chapter eleven (or so I’ve been told) of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
No matter how much time is spent sleeping on a couch, it’s still sleeping on a couch. It’s never actually restful, and even when it feels great at the time, when you get up you feel like you’ve missed the entire night and you’re bitter at the world for making you feel this way.
At least, that’s how I was beginning to feel on this particular day after waking up on Alex’s couch. I had slept well and peacefully for the most part, yet the actual waking up process was painful. I was suddenly longing for a nap in an actual bed, though I hadn’t been awake for more than five minutes. I figured that wasn’t a good sign for the rest of the day.
I had wandered over to Alex’s house the previous evening at Jenn’s encouragement, and as it turns out, it was great for both of us. It was a temporary break from the chaos around us, and I think we somehow both needed it.
We watched stupid movies and played stupid old video games and for a brief moment, had more of a teenage brother relationship than we ever had when we were actually teenage brothers. It helped me out tremendously because for a little while, I felt totally at home and at peace. I was able to enjoy a stupid evening of doing nothing with my brother, and that’s all the evening needed to be. I didn’t want to have to strain to think of things to say or do, I just had to sit down and hang out.
I didn’t have to think hard about what to say. I didn’t have to be a shoulder to cry on. I just had to be an opponent in a video game, nothing more. That was something I was sure I could handle.
For Alex, it was necessary because it allowed him to wait for news without worrying. Doctors hadn’t been able to figure out what was wrong with his son yet, but thankfully Bryce had stabilized some. There didn’t seem to be a threat of imminent danger, but he still couldn’t leave the hospital.
Alex and Rachel finally felt comfortable enough to go home, though, and try to rest for at least an evening. The waiting was still hard, being apart from their child and unsure what the future would hold, but this one evening, they allowed themselves to stop thinking momentarily.
Obviously they couldn’t fully relax. Until there were answers and a course of action, relaxation was impossible. But they could at least wait without worry, and that’s something I could offer my brother. I didn’t have wise words. I didn’t have answers or medical knowledge. But I had the ability to just be around, and that is what I did.
Jenn was absolutely right. I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit that, but she was. I didn’t need any of those wise things I was convinced were required to be helpful. I guess I owed her for that.
The evening was just what was needed, but I knew this morning would be rough, as we snapped back to reality. At least, I assumed it would be, until I realized what it was that had woken me up. There was noise from the kitchen, as Alex had already been awake and apparently cooking breakfast. He wasn’t letting reality get in the way this morning.
I took a few moments to observe Alex before I wandered into the kitchen. He was steadily moving back and forth from starting up a pot of coffee to frying some eggs to cooking bacon and making toast. I wondered if staying busy like this was another way to preoccupy his mind.
I had never really seen my brother like this before. As I looked closer at him, I could tell just how exhausted he actually was. He looked drained. Completely empty. It was like there was nothing left in him, yet he was continuing to go through life like he knew nothing else to do.
“How do you like your eggs?” He snapped me out of my pondering. I guess he saw me standing nearby staring.
“Uh, well just over easy I guess. You need a hand?”
“Nah man, I’m fine.”
I grabbed some orange juice from the fridge, poured a glass, and took a seat at the table. Alex never stopped moving, either checking on food or coffee or even just checking notes and schedules on the refrigerator door. He was in some sort of rhythm, and I was worried to interrupt it, but with how worn he seemed, I had to check on him.
“Are you okay, man?”
He stopped moving for a second and looked out the window. It seemed as though he hadn’t even considered whether or not he was okay before right now. Then, as quickly as he stopped, he started up again.
“Yeah. I am, actually. I have to be.”
“You have to be?”
“Well yeah, I do. Because there are things to get done. Rachel will be coming downstairs soon, and I want her to have breakfast set before her. Later on, I’ll have to go down to the hospital, but there’s stuff to take care of here at the house before then.”
He grabbed a few plates of food and walked to the table to set them down. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said as he took a seat, “to stop just because I’m waiting for something to happen, you know? Things don’t stop, so I can’t either.”
I took a sip of coffee and waited to see if Alex was going to start eating or if we were both waiting for Rachel. He looked as though he had aged twenty years over the past few days. He spoke up again.
“The hospital called this morning, actually. Right before you got up.”
“Yeah? What’s the word?”
“Well the word actually was something very large and beyond my comprehension. But I understood that surgery is required. Soon.”
“Yeah. Heart stuff. Pretty big, but they seem confident.”
“Wow.” I was silent for a second. This was one of those moments that I knew I wasn’t prepared for and wouldn’t know what to say. But maybe I didn’t need anything to say.
“Yeah, wow is right. But hey, Bryce is in good hands. So I can’t really worry about it. I can’t control it. I have things I can control, though, so I’ll do those things. I think last night reminded me of that. I can’t just stop doing things.”
Did last night really serve as some grand reminder for Alex? It was nothing special. It was nonsense, actually. But it helped motivate him?
“I have to keep going, Aaron. No matter what.” The coffee maker finished up. “Want a cup?” he asked, as he instantly stood up and moved towards the cabinet to grab mugs.
He moved like a man in a daze. Every step he took seemed to be in slow motion. Every move he made looked as though he had the weight of an anchor attached to the other end.
Yet he still took the steps. He still made those moves. He wasn’t going to let a potentially awful situation stop him from continuing to care for his wife, for his family. To do the things he needs to do. He wouldn’t allow himself to freeze up. To run away.
I knew instantly that he was doing things I had initially never thought I could do. After all, I did just the opposite of him years ago when I felt like my world had fallen apart. Here was a perfect opportunity for Alex and Rachel to fall apart as well, but Alex wasn’t going to allow anything like that.
I had never seen my brother like this. He was worn, but he was strong. Everything about it was honestly inspiring.