I am not the man I once was. That is the only thought that keeps evenly flowing through my mind as I lay my head down to sleep each night. As I see the way my sister stares at me, there is always this small flicker in the corner of her eye. A flicker that lets me know she still sees what I was when she looks at me, but knows I will disappoint her if she tries to live in such a fantasy world. I know what she feels for me runs deep. I have figured that much out, but one thing I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend is how to make her feel better.
How do I comfort the beauty that loved me even in my absence, and raised our children for years on her own? Especially after we both find out that one of those children is dying. I can’t look her in the eyes, and lie to her. I can’t whisper in her ear, and tell her that everything will be good, when I am fairly certain that it won’t be.
I see the way Cooper walks. The drowsiness in his eyes, and his generally lethargic behavior. It worsens by the day, and I can almost see his muscles weakening. It is the same process I went through in that mad house. I remember my muscles weakening as I laid week after week strapped to a bed. I also remembered how much it hurt to be doped up on medicine. Of course Cooper’s took away his pain, but it also made him tired. Barely alive as it was.
I know she saw what I was seeing. I could feel it when she looked at him. I could sense she was with me, without being with me. I hadn’t touched my sister since we found out. It wasn’t from lack of wanting her. Nor lack of yearning to be with her, intimately. It was because when I looked into her eyes I didn’t know how to make it better. I didn’t think the way my fragmented memories were telling me to comfort her were going to work.
I seem to recall what used to work. I used to just kiss her, and distract her by making love to her, but that won’t work now. Nothing will heal the pain of our child’s death. He wasn’t dead yet, but he would be soon. I could feel it.
In every fiber of my being I knew my son was going to be gone and soon. The weeks had passed since we found out, and it had now been an entire month. September had faded, and October was here. He wasn’t able to move from our bed now. He was in so much pain, and when we gave him his pain medicine he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. He was existing. There was no light inside of him. Not like there once was. I stood off to the side watching in this moment as my sister sat alongside him, stroking his once full head of hair, and whispering to him.
I couldn’t make out what she said, but there were tears rimmed in the bottom of her eyes, and she knew soon he would leave. I stepped in deciding not to linger any longer in the doorway.
“Belle?” I spoke, my own voice sounding foreign, and much louder than I had anticipated for it to sound.
Her eyes turned towards me, and she wiped the tears, forcing a smile, and I knew it was also for Cooper’s sake. He was conscious for the moment.
“Did you need something?” She asked me, and I found myself trying to scavenge my brain for a moment. I had been lost in thought, watching her as though mesmerized by the angels themselves.
“Oh…right. Annabelle, and Gabriel have sort of hyped themselves up a bit. They want all of us to go pick out Halloween costumes. I guess they saw this ad, and want us to take them.” I held up the paper I was holding. It was a circular for Walmart that had a few pictures of kids in Elsa costume’s, and Pumpkin outfits. There was a wide variety of different ones, and I had to admit this was the most normal the kids would have since I came home.
“I don’t think…Cooper needs his rest…And I can’t leave him.” She mentioned, and I was about to agree and head out when Cooper himself seemed to perk up.
He sat up in bed with a smile on his lips, seemingly a bit energized ( or at least awoken fully ) by the thought of Halloween, and picking out a costume.
“Oh please mama! Please can’t I go pick out a costume? I will be very good…” Cooper pleaded with her, seeming to take no thought about asking me, knowing that Belle was truly the one that made all the decisions in the house.
She seemed taken aback, and if I am being honest so was I. Cooper had been so glum these past few weeks, as though he in turn was noticing just how difficult, and numbered his days were becoming. I hadn’t seen him light up like this in far too long.
She stared open-mouthed from him to me for a few moments, before she finally closed her mouth, and nodded. “Oh alright. I don’t see how it could hurt. But you must take it easy, and if you feel sick you must tell me at once, sweetheart.” Belle stood to her feet, and smiled at me, kissing my cheek, before she headed towards her closet to change.
It was quite the surprise but the entire family ended up down at Walmart, looking through the various Halloween outfits. I hadn’t expected such a wonderful outcome when I first walked into Belle’s bedroom earlier in the day. Even little Hope seemed brighter, she was beginning to speak a lot more since she had been when I first came. She called me ‘Dada’ openly, and even seemed content to let me hold her for long periods of time, since we had separated her from Cooper by bringing Cooper into our bedroom.
“Pumpkin, Dada!” Hope cooed in a excited tone as she pointed towards a costume shaped like a pumpkin. I was holding her on my hip, whilst Annabelle, and Gabe were both staring at outfits they too wanted to try on.
“Yes that is a pumpkin! Very good, sweetheart.” I managed. I was getting better at being around our children, they probably had no idea, but they were helping me a bit more with every day.
I was distracted however, turning my eyes towards Belle whom was clinging heavily to Cooper, keeping him on her hip like I was with Hope. But I could tell by the bright look upon his face that he didn’t need to be held. Not today.
“Do you want to try on the pumpkin, Hope?” I asked, picking up one that appeared to be in her size, and she nodded her head with a wide smile on her lips.
“Yes, Dada! Yes!” She reached for the outfit, gripping it in her small hands, and tugging on the fabric.
I smiled gently, and began guiding her, Gabe, and Annabelle towards the dressing rooms, leaving Belle with Cooper, whom was still making up his mind. We all stuffed into one of the large dressing rooms, and began trying on the various choices they all wanted to aim for. Annabelle finally settled on being ‘Princess Anna’, and Gabe as ‘Kristoff’. Little Hope was content with being a pumpkin however, and I didn’t question her. She was only two after all. She just wanted to be like her siblings, and pick out a cool costume.
When we all filed out of the dressing room Belle was also coming out of her own. Cooper had decided on being ‘Scooby Doo’. He loved the cartoon, I noticed how he played with quite a few Scooby Doo toys.
“Are we ready to go home?” I asked, noticing that Cooper was starting to get tired again. Not to mention the fact that I also had to go in to work tonight. Since Belle had been in no state to work again, her boss had given her time off under the circumstances, but I had decided one of us needed to continue working so I choose to. I needed a break from the house, all of the heavy emotions that I carried in the back of my mind, and I needed a distraction. Something to keep me sane. I didn’t want to be at home with my sister whom I couldn’t comfort properly because my own emotions were all fucked up, and I didn’t want to see her cry anymore.
“Yes I think Cooper is getting tired.” She mentioned, and I nodded guiding everyone towards the checkout line.
It was another half hour, or so until we arrived home, and Belle headed upstairs almost immediately with Cooper, and I headed to the couch to settle the rest of our children down. It took a little while, but managed to calm them all by making each of them a grilled cheese sandwich, and settling them down in front of the television. Gabe, and Hope were content to watch, whilst Annabelle insisted on settling onto my lap to eat.
So I calmed myself, and pulled her up until she was pressed with her back to my chest, and I forced myself to watch the Cartoons that were on the television. They were all silent as we watched, but I couldn’t help thinking about Belle. In fact she was all I thought about for the rest of the day, because she only came down for a few minutes to cook Cooper some food of his own before she headed back up. I wanted to say something to her, but staring over in her direction I simply couldn’t think of a thing to say. Not one word. So I didn’t speak, just returned to watching the television.
It wasn’t until late in the night when I turned the television off ( by that point the kids were watching a movie we owned ) and guided them all into the bath, and washed them, before changing them into clean nightgowns, reading them a book, and tucking them in.
I had to admit I had become quite adept with handling out other children, but Cooper was the one I avoided. Belle still hadn’t told him what his fate was to be, nor did she prepare our other children. We had only managed to tell them that their brother was very ill, and wouldn’t be able to play as much anymore. They were loving, and trusting as most children always are, and didn’t ask too many questions about it.
Cooper was always ill after all.
After I took a shower myself, I wrapped a towel around my waist, and headed into her bedroom. She only looked at me for a moment before she turned back to Cooper. “I have to head out…it’s almost six.” I mentioned. Putting the kids to bed early tonight had been something of a chore.
“Be safe.” Was all she mentioned, and I didn’t say more. I just changed into my work clothes, and headed out.
I had my new driver’s license now so I was just as able to drive once more as my sister was, and that was a relief considering I did need to get to work. My shift was dull, boring even, as I bussed tables, and dealt with a few dirty looks as I did it. I was used to the dirty looks that I received in this town. All of them remembered the rumors about what I had done to my sister. I could hear some of them as they spoke about me in evident disgust. None of them could believe that my sister was actually still talking to me after the wretched things I had done to her in my youth.
I got more than one person whom spit at me, or tripped me whilst I worked. I knew that if Belle knew how bad things had become at work then she wouldn’t have liked me working here, but I didn’t tell her. By the time that I got home tonight I was exhausted, and my head was reeling with a few of the things I had heard the customers whispering about me. I was also just tired from the long, hard day I had already had before going in to work.
I only wished I could remember more fully all of the things that happened. I remembered some of the more important details, but not everything fit together the way it was supposed to. Not all things had fully come back to me.
I moved to lay beside my sister when I finally did come home. Too exhausted to do much more than strip my clothes from my form until I was only in my boxers. Then I curled up alongside her from behind. I could hear our son snoring away, but she wasn’t. I knew she was awake.
We laid silent for a good five minutes before she began to turn in my embrace, now facing me she reached up to stroke my cheek. I still got the urge to pull away when she touched me, and being as tired as I was right now my instincts kicked in before my mind, and I started to pull back, but my mind then allowed me to settle.
Touch still hurt sometimes, but I endured it, because I loved her. I didn’t want her to know just how much I still ache so much of the time. There were pieces of my body that still hurt sometimes from the pain I had endured.
“Was work alright?” She breathed out, and I closed my eyes. I didn’t want her to know how bad it was, so I took a moment before responding. When I finally opened them a second time I looked into her eyes, and nodded.
“It was as good as can be expected.” I offered her, and she nodded distantly.
“How is Cooper?” I asked in genuine concern.
A few tears fell from her eyes, “Getting worse every single day…” She paused for a long moment, and I just watched, not knowing what to say to that. “Eli…he has already lived longer than the doctor thought he would…it’s been weeks already…”
I knew where this was heading, and I yearned to distract her, so instead of allowing her to continue, I leaned in and stole a kiss.
“I know. It’s a blessing. We get longer with him.” Was all I could manage to say, and she didn’t respond merely pushed her forehead into my shoulder, and sobbed soundlessly into it.
I wrapped my arms around her to hold her, knowing just how useless I really was. How useless I would always be. God I love her. How I wish I could save her. Before it is too late, but I can’t. There is no salvation from this. Nothing that can be healed once this piece of her is shattered forever. I know it. She knows it. And the world cruelly spins on.