This story is by Mathlaa and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I open my eyes wide, my heart is pounding fast, and my whole body is shaking. Bringing my knees to my chest, I take a deep breath. I’m trying to forget the nightmare, but my mind keeps replaying it: A green jeep rolling down a hill, smashing into a tree trunk, my brother crawling out of the driver’s seat.
“Aaron, get dad out.” Criss shouts at me while trying to help mom out of the back seat.
I look at my shivering hands, I’m holding a shovel! I walk towards him, slowly. I stand behind him, my hand swings the shovel, smashing my brothers head! Again, and again! I want to stop, I want to help my parents out, but my mind is stronger than my heart. It controls my body by repeating one sentence: You caused their death.
I slap my face hard. When the vicious memory finally stops, I let my eyes spin around the room, searching for anything to give me comfort. When it settles on the bean bag chair to my right, where my brother liked to sleep, I remind myself: He’s not here anymore. Find a different way.
I grab my phone heading to my sister’s room. The door is half open -as I always insist- what I don’t like, is seeing the room empty, and her phone on the desk. Where did she go without her phone!?
I jump down the stairs.
“Daisy, since when do we leave our phones far?”
No answer. But she never breaks the rules! meaning something happened to her!
The alarm system hasn’t been sabotaged. She either went out willingly or someone forced her out!
After checking the yard, I run to my room for the car keys while trying to restrain my dark thoughts: She’s ok, probably went for a walk.
Maybe she got hit by a car. The dark thoughts win. Soon you’ll receive a call informing you…
I hit my head. STOP, STOP, Daisy is ok.
The neighbourhood is quiet, no sign of her. I try hard to think of possible places to look for her, but suddenly I know nothing about my little sister! It’s PTSD taking control of you Aaron, just calm down. I take a deep breath but instead of blowing it I hold it, my phone rings! With it my heartbeat accelerates. No! I can’t go through that again. Please God! Not my little Daisy.
With a shaking hand I take it and the name makes me freeze! A fraction of me is relieved; it’s not the police nor a hospital. Why is he calling now!? Is it possible he senses that I need him even though I have been avoiding him!?
“Ray!?” I answer.
“Slow down; Daisy Is safe.” He adds after a moment of silence.
“How do you know? Where is she? Is she with you? Why?”
“Slow down, I can hear how fast you’re driving.” I don’t realise it until he says it.
“We’re at the cemetery.” He says when I lower the speed.
OFCOURSE! It’s the 1st of April. How could I forget? My mind kept warning me for a whole week then it just slips away!?
“You know she’s not allowed to go there.”
“It’s been a year and she tried hard to obey you. Asking her to live through today like any other day, that’s too much. I know it’s hard enough on you with the nightmares, let alone thinking De Is in danger; that’s why I called, despite her begging.”
A death yard can’t help my sister. “I’m coming to take her.”
Getting out of the car, I catch sight of a brown flat hat. Ray is leaning on the main gate, busy zipping and unzipping his jacket. He is anxious, so am I. My heart wishes to hug him, and apologize for refusing to meet him for the past few months, but my mind keeps warning me to push him away. The same is happening now, my mind orders to walk pass him, but the big smile on Rays face keeps me walking to him.
“Aaron!” Ray removes his hat. “It’s so nice to see you, brother!”
Ashamed, I lower my eyes. If I were him, my first reaction would be demanding explanation for avoiding me.
I look at him and notice dark circles under his eyes, which reminds me why he left. “How is your mother?”
“Chemotherapy is not easy, but she’s a fighter. Like yours.”
At the mention of my mother, I decide better to obey the order.
“You can’t stop believing in her.” He continues when I walk pass him.
“Stop.” He grabs my shoulder. “I get it, it seems safer to stay away. Who wants to watch the woman who always kept their family standing, falling apart?” As he speaks a memory crosses my mind: My mom’s body stiff as the white bed beneath it, her eyes that did not see light for 365 days. What an anniversary! “It is hard, but just holding her hands through the pain, tells her how much she means to you.”
“I’ll spend every second taking care of her; if she wakes up.” I say as I head to the stones bearing my dad and brother’s names.
I spot Daisy, shaking on the ground. When I sit in front of her, she looks at me, her face swollen and red. I pull her to me, and she clings to my chest.
She’s a kid I didn’t want her to come to this gloomy place.
“Look around De.” I wipe her cheek lifting her head. “This place doesn’t help us move on. There are other ways to stay connected with dad and Criss.”
“Like what?” She yells. Then lowers her voice. “You locked their rooms! I want to hug daddy’s pillow until I sleep, I want to spend the night on Criss’s balcony.” She bites her lip. “With you, imagining him beside us trying to frighten us with his silly scary stories.”
Feeling the tears, I shut my eyes. “Sorry. I’m not ready yet.”
“I want the pain to stop Aaron!” She runs outside pushing Ray who tried to stop her.
“She went to the car.” He says approaching me. “I’m worried about you Aaron, and she needs you. If you’ll go to Dr Rose…”
“Stop telling me what to do.” I stand straight.
“Alright, but tell me what did I do?” He steps closer. “Why aren’t you letting me help you?”
You need him. Again, my selfish heart orders against the warnings. You cannot face this alone.
You cannot face what will happen if you let him help. My mind interferes.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN? I’m tired of dealing with all of this alone.
A bang makes me turn. There’s a shovel on the ground! Next to it stands a bearded man. As if I’m stuck in quicksand, I sink to the floor. “NO! NO back off.”
“Hey, he’s just the gardener.”
He’s grabbing me! “Let go of me.”
“Excuse me.” Ray walks towards him. “Please, can…”
I lift my heavy arm to grab his. “Don’t go! You should run, please Ray!”
Tapping my hand, he asks the man to leave.
When I’m sure he’s safe, I let my arm drop. I’m such a coward. My panic is what cost my family their lives, they always try to keep me safe, but they cannot rely on me on anything. Just like how Criss had to drive our parents although he had a fever. This is the reason I cannot accept Ray’s help.
“I want gone. I mean it.” I try to lock eyes with him.
“Not happening.” He drops besides me. “You had enough space. Now talk to me.”
Something in his tone forces me to speak. “Ray, every night I see myself killing my parents! Beating Criss with a shovel repeatedly! until…”
“Stop blaming yourself. You didn’t cause the accident, and the night your house was robbed…”
“That night Criss got beaten with a shovel because of me!”
“NO, listen, you were in danger and Criss saved you. And when he asked you to hide you didn’t, you came knocking on our door for help. You looked terrified, barely able to speak, but you saved your brother Aaron.”
“It was a one time thing. I live in endless trepidation, that’s why my parents couldn’t trust me.”
“It wasn’t about trusting you, they were afraid of losing you. Because honestly, after the robbery we thought you’ll never be the same.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulder. “We got this brother, together. Just like last time.”
Light steps behind us, a small hand on my back.
Ray gestures to Daisy. “They trusted you with someone more precious than their life.”
I put her on my lap, and I lean on Ray.
Ray didn’t leave my side when I was first diagnosed with PTSD. This time, I’ll be his armor, and he’ll be mine. That’s how we’ll turn PTSD into PTSD controlled.