By: Jessica Bartels
The afternoon was soft. The sun was friendly, gentle. The passing wind calmed. Everything seemed new. Jason was finally released to come home. He spent the last year, four hours away, in a detention home for mentally unstable youth. Being away from him was weird because I had been playing mommy to my little brother for years. Our mom worked too hard and partied harder. I picked up all the slack. It was partly her fault that he was so fucked up. He used to be so protective and attached to her. He was already in therapy for severely emotional damaged youth. Now the spring met summer, just a couple weeks since he’d settled, his presence within the thin wood walls was more uncomfortable than ever.
It was then that I learned what it meant to be institutionalized. He woke up at five am. He watched the sunrise in silence. He often sat on his military made bed always accompanied by his ADHD and lord knows what thoughts. He ate plain oat meal. He wore dark Dickey shorts with a white t-shirt. He looked down when you spoke to him and kept his posture up by holding his hands behind his back. His overly active mouth didn’t spew obscenities. He didn’t want to fight over the remote. Instead he jumped when the phone rang and read before going to bed early. Before this time I was annoyed by the overjoyed hyper boy but after seeing this change I missed him. I wanted the innocent child to that left a year ago to return. He kept to himself and avoided conversation, except with our mom. He took every minute alone to argue with her. He would tell her how shitty he had been living. She could have brought him home but she told the judge she could not control him. He never said it but everyone, including herself, knew that he blamed her for being locked away for over a year.
He would argue with her about everything as often as he got the chance. Through his cracked bedroom door I remember hearing him yelling at her for folding his laundry, changing his sheets, or trying to converse about video games.
I don’t know if it was because the weather was so nice or because I was trying to sneak a cigarette while mom and Jason were arguing but I crept outside. I don’t have a good memory but I remember everything about that day. The trees were gaining weight again. Yellow flowers bloomed from the vines growing on the trellis. I walked around the side of the house to the gas price sign that shines onto the interstate from our yard. I stood behind one of the big poles, hiding just enough so that I could see the entire two acres to my right and our house to the left. All windows were open exhaling the smell pine sol. We lived in this cramped house on the dead end road for about six years at that time. I watched the tall grass sway as the wind sifted through it. My smoked ended abruptly because I heard them yelling so loud outside I was afraid someone would call the police. Again. To the left of our house the street dead ended into a men’s rehabilitation center. They walked up and down the road, sat outside drinking coffee, played cards, or rode bikes in circles. To the right of our two acre property was a run-down trailer park. Our neighbors they were nosey enough to see and hear our every move. They must have had the police on speed dial to complain about some nonsense we were guilty of.
I went to diffuse the bomb. When I came inside Mom and Jason were both screaming. My mom had reached her boiling point I saw the tears sweltering under her eyelids as she was stripped the clothes out of his drawers. She raged as she threw them on his perfectly pressed bed.
He stood at the foot of the bed ranting at her as she threw his things into a pile. Most of his rants were a small mumble. He was bold but he knew this was an inherited and a learned trait. She was twice as bold as he could ever be at that age. When the chest was completely empty she moved to clear out the closet. I stood at the half opened doorway wondering what I missed. As she went to walk past the foot of the bed to the closet he didn’t move. At fourteen he could see the roots of her silver streaked scalp. He blocked the way puffing his chest out like a rooster in a caged fight. I heard him mumble NO. But even that close to him her hearing and sight has always been a little off so she didn’t hear him.
She stood only five foot five but she was looking straight up at the blonde haired boy standing six inches taller than her. Her thin eyebrows narrowed. He mocked with his thick spider like brows. I imagined it was similar to looking in the mirror. Both hazel eyes were narrow, strong, and red. He carried a well-defined rigid jaw line of a grown man. They also had the same teeth which they were both hiding behind the same gritted tight lips. My brother stood with his chest poked out blocking the door of the closet. My mom, far from defeated, stood with her right leg cocked sideways and her hand on her left hip. The tone of her muscular bronze arms shimmered off the slanted light shining through the blinds of the opened window. She stood with the tip of her nose almost in his throat. He pulled his elbow back. Instantly I saw his strong build as well. I knew he wouldn’t hit her. Although, he did look as if he were positioning himself to give her a really low blow. I knew he may do a lot of things but he would not hit our mom. She knew it just as well. She didn’t blink or flinch.
I pushed the door open. With the creak of the door Jason looked up. His arm dropped to his side. Shame burned his eyes. With the motherly instinct, she didn’t turn, but said it was nice of me to finally come in after watching the show at the door.
“You treat me just like them. You know keeping me drugged up isn’t helping. I won’t. I’m caged up in this house.
“Move.” She said. “I’m over this shit with you. I have no problem sending you back for someone to monitor you. You have to be a normal kid. Take your pills. Go do something with yourself besides blaming me for everything.
As always he looked at me as his savior. “Your mother is sending me back to the program. She hates me so much that she wants me to be in a place that brainwashes me to the point that I’m lost in the real world. They don’t even give me deodorant or razors. She wants me to live like a criminal.”
Defeated, conquered and crushed he stepped to the side. His voice lowered, “I give up. I don’t know why you even kept me. You should have aborted me. Or just give me up for adoption. Put me back in foster care. Since I’m such a damn burden.”
Before he could storm out of the house my mom didn’t miss the chance to swat him on the back of the head for cursing. He jolted by me as I stood in the door way staring at my mother. I didn’t dare utter a word. I did not want her to turn that anger and aggression towards me. She started throwing his shoes in a laundry basket he kept empty under the desk. The front door slammed. Realizing I was still standing there she looked up at me and wiped the sweat from her head.
“Turn on the fan. I want to get this smell of smoke out of here. When I catch you smoking out back you will regret it. And this isn’t a movie so mind your business. Find something to do before I find you something to do.”
I stayed quiet. I retreated to the green leather couch that faced the TV in front of the giant Victorian windows facing the front yard and street. I saw the men from the rehab moving in the background as I focused into my “Creed” music video again. As I reached for the cordless phone I notice a small multitude of men standing directly in front of my house gawking. I knew he was making some kind of a scene outside to get all this attention. I looked out the side window that looked onto our large uncut field. Peering to the very corner of the window, I saw Jason standing eight feet in the air of the ladder for the gas billboard.
“Mom,” I turned to her in disbelief at first. “He is hanging himself.”
Also in shock she recalculated my words. “No he is not!”
We knew he had skeletons and shadows in his closet but we were not prepared for current depressive tornado he was sucked into. The cycle spun so quickly no opposing force could stop it. My mom stood from the couch and made her way to the window. I noticed more onlookers all the way down the narrow dead end street.
My eyes widened. My voice strained in panic. “He just tied a noose around his neck. He’s going to jump mom!”
I turned to her petrified but she was already gone. Turning back, I saw her dash past the window. He jumped before she passed the window. I snatched the phone off the charger and dialed 911 running outside after her.
As I reached the corner of the house I saw her standing on the riding lawnmower holding his limp body up. Pale in the face his nearly lifeless body squirmed. His spine wobbled with no control as she tried with all the blood running through her veins to hold him up straight. Her face was so red I thought her tears were shedding blood.
“Get a knife!” she screamed with her dry lips and empty lungs.
I continued to give the paramedics my address. I grabbed a hunting knife from my mom’s bedroom. The paramedics said he might have paralyzed his spine so try to keep holding him straight up. I ran to my family’s aide. I held his body up but I could barely reach his knees. He was white. Seeing his face and feeling his body temperature drop under my fingertips was grotesque.
“Hurry up!” I screamed to my mother who was struggling to cut the thick rope with such tremendous weight anchoring it down. “He is cold Mom!”
She cried hard but cut even harder and faster. Her arms went back and forth steadily. Finally I heard a faint siren. I heard horns coming. Finally someone was here to help us. Someone could save him. I felt a relaxing wave come over me but I still held tightly to my brother’s dangling body.
I heard the sirens screech as they got closer. They blew the horn five times; long and solid. I looked back to see the lights roaming the field off in the distance. The road was blocked. I watched a white man wearing no shirt or shoes appear from the trailer park. He stood directly in the middle of the street rubbing the top of his bald head that lead to a short pony tail.
The paramedic blew the horn one last time but none of the crowd moved. At that moment the rope finally snapped. Gravity on its own, no movement from him, brought him to the ground. I tried to bring him down slowly but the massive weight dropped so quickly I was knocked down. My mom lowered him as slowly and easily as she could. His head hit the side of the lawnmower with a loud thud. His left temple started bleeding. His body was white and stiff. Tears and snot trickled down my face as I looked at his dead body now laying in grass that covered my knees. If we were to have walked away I imagine the vultures would appear in seconds. Vulture were the only ones that could spot a helpless lifeless animal in grass so high.
The paramedics came running across the two acre field after jumping a six foot metal gate to get to Jason. They found him unresponsive in the lawn. My mom was frantic. Her face was swelling from burning tears. She screamed. More of a loud moaning screech. She fanned herself which allowed her blindsides to go off. Realizing the paramedic were there with their gurney she started begging for them to save her son. She pleaded. There were police, fire fighters, and paramedics everywhere. All of who scaled the gate and crossed the mini forest.
One man with a gentle voice and a grey mustache that matched his eyebrows spoke to my mother. I stood back for a minute knowing I was having a panic attack and I needed a Xanax but because I was in such state I couldn’t move. I watched in shock as two young well-built firemen slid Jason carefully onto the gurney. A curvy brunette female paramedic rested her finger tips on his wrist for about thirty seconds. She shook her head. My mouth started to water. I spit yellow stomach acid onto the ground. Jason’s corpse was in our backyard.
I could hear the muffled sound of the man talking to my mother. Somehow he calmed her as she told him he story. Maybe she was just out of tears but somehow her eyed dried up.
Suddenly the paramedic turned him to his side and jolted him with a machine on his back. His spine jerked. He threw up the most beautiful colored blood and mucus combination I have ever seen. He took a deep breath. It was the first deep breath anyone took in minutes.
As they strapped him to the gurney they told me he would have died if I called later. Pastel, with a thick blue ring around his neck, they carried him out the drive. Down the street, past all the barefoot audience, and into the ambulance. As they closed the doors I watched the men linger and I was pissed.
I started screaming to the top of my lungs. “You low life pieces of shit were just going to watch him my brother die. You junkies! You trailer park trash! This isn’t a fucking movie! This isn’t the Days of Our Lives! This is real life not a fucking soap opera. What if it was your brother? Or your son? You sorry good for nothing pieces of shit call yourselves men. But you are willing to watch a child die. Are you kidding me? What if he died?”
The men cleared away some staring at me or their feet as I continued to rant.
Mom followed Jason to the hospital. He was released after three days to the juvenile psychiatric ward. After a month he came home. It has been twelve years but he still wears a necklace. Over the years he has covered himself in tattoos so we couldn’t see the way he scarred himself.
I don’t have a necklace covered by tattoos but I think I am scarred in some of the same ways. I will never be the same. Our relationship disconnected quicker than an unpaid phone bill. In my heart I know that something is missing inside of him. It died that day. And when I lost that piece of him I lost a part of me.