by Bryant DeBerry
“So what do you think you should do?”
My teacher, Ms. Spiro, stares at me. She didn’t look at me as if I was just another sixteen-year-old student just needing a bit of face-time before heading home after classes. She looked at me with real concern. The look you give someone who is facing an actual problem.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I just think I should ride it out. Maybe they’ll stop eventually.”
“If that’s what you think is best then that’s your decision. Some things will always be a part of you. Your experiences make you who you are. In my experience, I have often found it best to take ownership.”
I didn’t really understand what she meant. It was all very confusing and it didn’t seem to apply to my situation. I nodded my head and grabbed my bag walking towards the classroom door.
“Oh, and Nina?”
“If you need anything at all, my door is always open.”
I nodded my head again and walked out into the hall. By now all the students had left. I walked down the hallway alone. In a few of the classrooms, there were still teachers and faculty members lagging behind, grading papers or cleaning off their desks for the weekend.
I turned towards the back exit doors leading to the back parking area where students waited around for their rides home.
I turned around and there was Byron. I stood there and looked at him. I wasn’t intimidated by him. I was just exhausted. It seemed that a day could never go by with just normal peace.
“What do you want Byron?”
“Nothing, Scarface. There’s nothing you could do for me anyway.”
I turned to open the door. Byron rushes up and pushes his hand back on the door, keeping me from opening it any further.
“Why in such a hurry? I actually wanted to ask you something.”
“Sure. What can I do for you now?” I ask him with slight sarcasm.
“I was just wondering. How did you get that scar anyway?”
“You know already, Byron. In fact, everyone knows.”
“Yeah we all know, but we all know you didn’t get it for being a hero.”
“Goodbye, Byron. Just leave me alone.”
I pushed him away and opened the door. I walked past the parking area towards the bus stop. I checked the time. 5:09.
It shouldn’t be too long of a wait, I thought.
A moment later, the bus turned around the corner and I boarded, tossing the coins into the machine. The driver gave a nod and pulled off.
I took the first seat and sat quietly. I thought about what Ms. Spiro said. That I should “take ownership”. I also thought about Byron’s comment. Thinking of that, I feel a deep ache in my chest. I push the feeling away.
When I think about the accident, I know what I did what was right. Everyone tells me so. But behind all of that there is a sense that I should feel guilty that I didn’t do more. That I didn’t think smart enough.
I looked out the window seeing shops and people pass by in a short blur. The bus slowed down to a corner deli.
“Your stop,” The driver says to me.
“Thank you,” I say.
I get off the bus and enter the deli.
I grab a bottled iced tea and pay for it at the counter. I look down at today’s paper. Headline: No Treat For You- Mayor Cracks Down On Trick-Or-Treating In Local Neighborhoods.
There is a photo of a group of children in costumes trick or treating early in the day. Apparently the Mayor thinks it’s a big deal if children are out knocking on doors after 6pm.
A year ago today, the headline was a lot different. On that day, there was a close up of my mother’s face in anguish. Headline: Local Family Loses Youngest In Horrific Fire.
I walk out the shop and turn the corner towards home. I walk in and see my mother sitting on the sofa, staring at the television. I knew today was going to be hard. She was watching, or rather not watching a cooking program.
“Hi, Mom,” I say.
She slowly turns to look at me. Her expression changes slightly, like seeing someone you had forgotten and then finally realizing how you know them.
“Dinner’s in the oven,” she says while she clicks the television off.
“Where were you?” she asks.
She doesn’t sound angry. I can tell that she’s exhausted too.
“I stayed behind to finish a report.”
I sit at the dining table. My mother comes and sits down across from me. She has a piece of paper folded in her hand. She sets it down on the table and leaves it there for a moment. I see now that it’s not a paper, but a folded photograph. She picks it up and unfolds it. She lays it flat on the table again so I can see it. I glance at it quickly and look away. It’s a photo of Dylan. We were all in the park that day he and I were on the seesaw. He was up in the air and I was on the other end propelling him. I remember he kept saying I was helping him learn to fly. He was 7 in that photo. A year and a half later, here we all are without him. And it’s all my fault.
“He would have been 8 by now. Look at it, Nina.”
She slides the photo closer to me. I feel the tears start to well in my eyes. I try to keep them from falling but there’s too many. I silently let them fall down my face.
“I know you blame me for this every day, Mom. But I did everything I could.”
I don’t turn to look at her. But I hear the silence between us and I know she won’t speak next.
“I did everything I could and I’m not a hero. I failed. I don’t know any other way around it.”
“So it’s still about you?” she asks.
The questions knocks me a little. I’m not sure what type of answer to give.
“No, it’s about Dylan. In the end he isn’t here.”
“But we are. And look at us,” she says, almost frustrated.
“I know you blame me for it,” I say.
There’s a long pause.
“You’re right. I did. But there was nothing else you could do. That fire was an accident. It could have happened to anyone. It’s not your fault. And we have to get past the stage of pointing fingers. We have to move on with our lives.”
“How are we supposed to do that? Everywhere I go. I see his face in everyone else’s. When they look at me, it’s all that’s on their minds. When I look in the mirror, this mark, this scar has him written all over it. All it means is I couldn’t save him. I left him to die.”
I look at my mother and I see her crying. It’s like losing Dylan all over again replayed with the way she looks.
She finally gets to a place where she can speak.
“We can’t go on like this. I know you did everything you could. But you have to start with yourself. Losing him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. But all this time has gone by and now I see you’re lost. Do you know who you are, Nina? Are you always going to be the shadow of an incident?”
In the last year, I stopped doing everything I loved. Dylan would always cheer me on during soccer games. He’d come into my bedroom as I was reading and just lay there, not disturbing me, just letting me be. Dylan supported me in everything.
“I just don’t know how to move forward,” I said.
With those words I put my head down and cried even more.
My mom reached across and touched my arm.
“Look at me, Nina.”
I looked up at her. Her eyes looking deep inside mine. We hold each other’s gaze for nearly a full minute.
“Dylan will always be here.”
She reaches up and touches the scar on the side of my face. It’s the softest caress, one reserved for pretty and precious things.
She holds my face and says again “He will always be here.”
I pick up the photo on the table and hold it close to my chest. The ache that was once there fading away. I close my eyes thinking of him. His laugh, his smile, his embrace. I could almost feel him hugging me right now and I wish to never be let go.
I open my eyes and my mother is holding me close. Her hands over mine holding on to the photograph.