You can never go home again.
The words to a story I never finished. I was not sure that they applied to my current situation. But they kept swirling in my mind. I was not going anywhere. My brother, however, was. Which meant that home would not be the same.
We were on a seven-hour car trip to his new home, a university dorm. My father kept saying that the next four years would be an amazing journey. Mother was quizzing him on the steps to do laundry.
“I’ll just mail you my dirty clothes,” he joked.
Mother could not be deterred from her mission to teach him how to solve every possible life obstacle. My brother only wanted to get to his dorm and start his awesome adventure.
I was mainly dreading the return trip with one-fourth of my family missing.
The worst thing about my feelings surrounding his departure was not knowing how I should feel.
“I will, finally, go through your closet and take several sweatshirts that I’ve had my eyes on for months,” I kept teasing him.
“They are still mine. I am not giving you permission to go to my closet.”
“Send me a complaint letter.”
That was how most of our conversations went this last year since I started high school. Once, we had been each other’s best friend. Now, we rarely had a conversation that lasted longer than thirty seconds. My friends used to comment that they envied our relationship. No one had said that for a while. There had not been a specific life-altering event in our sibling tie. Our shared path slowly started diverging as our lives moved on.
“Why can’t you two still be friends?” my parents would ask. Because we couldn’t. Sometimes though, there were moments. Like when I was forced to endure our parents’ unrequested advice, he would meet my eye for a quick second. A shared understanding. That is what I will miss most about my brother. What will I do now? Share the knowing glances with my own reflection? Or say sarcastic things to myself? I would probably not realize what I missed until I felt the void. His absence. Our absence.
My brother was rifling through a stack of gift certificates received at his grad party. One of them was from me. We had not exchanged actual gifts in years. Only cash and certificates. The last time was three years ago. He had been infatuated with martial arts then. I had made him a ceramic bowl and painted it with karate figures. The paint had run while heating in a kiln so that the fighting figures looked more like angry smurfs. My brother had thanked me, but there was no concealing the joy when he opened an envelope stuffed with cash from our uncle.
Father pulled off the road onto a scenic outlook. Both parents exited the car to stretch their legs. Or to stall.
“Do you want to come?”
“No, we are good,” we replied in unison.
My brother turned to me, “I guess, you’ll finally be the smartest kid in the house…”
“I always was.”
He paused before continuing, “you know if you need any help, several of my friends…”
“I’ll be fine,” I replied more curtly than I had intended. I knew that he had told a few of his senior classmates to keep an eye out for me.
We sat in silence for a while before I added, “If you need help with your newfound nerd status…”
“I’ll ask your friends how they put up with you.”
And then we reached our destination. Moving into his room went surprisingly fast. Mother quickly went into “mother mode” and started rearranging the pieces of furniture. My brother left to examine the rest of the dormitory. I was asked to unpack one of the boxes. On top were several cans of shaving supplies. Those should last him until he dropped his future son off to college. Next, a lifetime supply of face towels. I would have commented that he didn’t know what those were, but my brother was not in the room. Under one of the towels, I spied a familiar object. It was the ceramic bowl I had made him. I slowly placed it on his shelf.
Before long it was time to go home.
“I can’t believe today came so soon,” my father remarked. Both parents fought back tears and had a brief private talk with my brother. Then it was my turn. The conversation that played in my mind was, “I know, I always said I wanted a better brother. The truth is they don’t come any better. I will miss you”
The conversation that I had was, “See you soon.”
As I left his room, my feet felt like they were drudging through deep water. Each step was taking me away from the person who knew me best. You can never go home again. At least not to the same home. As I left the building, the front door clanged shut behind me giving a fatality to the moment. Our comfortable family chain was now missing one link. Ahead of me stood my parents next to our car. Father stared at his shoes. Mother was struggling to hold back the tears. What will it be like for them when I leave in a few years? I wondered why anyone would choose to have a family. Someone was always moving on, leaving sadness behind. Was life a series of separations from everything and everybody one cared about? Then I remembered the ceramic bowl. That insignificant, wonderful tender mercy. Surely, life was also a series of unexpected joys. I walked towards my family. Exhaling, I waited for the next merciful grace.
Sonia Mehta is an emerging writer and a high school sophomore in Central Ohio. Sonia submitted several of her works to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. They won a gold and two silver keys. Her story “Porch” went on to win a National Gold Medal.