An unrecognizable voice of a terrified little girl echoed through the penthouse unit. I sensed something off as soon as my feet hit the floor of our house. The kitchen lights were dim and the area quiet and lifeless. Usually, It was filled with the sounds of cooking as my mom got dinner ready for me, but today, as I walked through the lengthy hallway past our kitchen, there was absolutely no noise. The hallway I was so familiar with seemed completely distant without the usual clang and clatter of my mother’s cooking to accompany it. Shadows of all kinds of shapes loomed over my body and twisted around as I looked away.
Then, I saw her.
The fragile fort of faked confidence and cockiness I’ve built over the years instantly broke away as I fell to the ground to feel for a pulse.
She was limp and frail; dead to my eyes. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, for the center of my life was now lifeless in front of my eyes.
“MOM!” I shook her until she quietly moaned. She’s alive! I sighed as relief crashed over me. However, my heart stung as I saw her small frame shaking and her wrinkled face the color of parchment paper. I scrambled up to get the house phone.
My phone constantly slipped out of my trembling hands. Every press of a button felt like a year compared to my racing thoughts as I attempted to dial the hospital number. I can’t let the same thing happen again. Dad, I wish you were here right now. Over and over again, I pressed the wrong number and had to start all over again. Slumping to the ground, I let the phone drop as my thoughts completely stopped and all I could feel was a cold emptiness as I watched my mom fading from my eyes.
“Ahhhhh! Jem, let me down!” my 7 year old self shrieked.
“Not until you give your older brother a kiss!” Jem screamed back.
I remember Jem now and then. But I wish I could forget him.
“Jemmmmm! I’ll make you a tuna sandwich! Now put me down,” I laughed. He stood there with me squirming around his neck, acting like he was thinking of what to do next. He let go of my legs.
“Hehehehehehe,” I giggled. He put his arms around me to help me down, when he suddenly began to tickle my sides.
“James Curtis, you get here right now,” our mother’s voice suddenly rang out. Jem slowly let me climb down his long body as he looked at me with a faked nervousness in his eyes, and then playfully shrugged.
“Ok mom, just wait a sec,” he replied. He ruffled my hair and went in as I sat and waited for the sun to set. I remember that the sky was painted a gorgeous shade of orange and yellow. Yawning, I got up from the small patch of grass in our backyard to head inside when I heard Mom yelling.
“WHY DID YOU STEAL THAT MONEY, JAMES CURTIS?”
I gasped. I stayed behind the paper-thin door as I listened.
“Sorry, I’ll return it tomorrow,” Jem mumbled with his head down.
“I have the money to support you, James. I have money. Just ask me,” Mom cried. She frantically wiped off her tears as she pretended to keep herself together.
“I have enough money to give you some allowance, James.”
“Ok, mom. That’s not what I meant. I promise that I’ll return it tomorrow,” he replied.
“Ok, I’m trusting you. Here take some money. It’s some change,” she handed him a 20 dollar bill. Jem pushed it back into her hands, but that’s when she broke.
“Goddamit James! Just take it. Just for my sake. Please,” she cried. He silently pocketed the money and slid into our room. I walked across my crying mom and silently went into our room. Jem was lying down, sniffling, but I pretended not to notice as I turned the lights off and got ready for bed.
The sound of ruffling bed sheets woke me up, but I realized it was still early morning.
“Jem,” I moaned, “where are you going at this time?”
“The shop, silly. Just hurry up and go back to sleep,” he nudged.
“I want to go too.” I got up and sleepily looked at him leave our room fully dressed.
I was out in about 5 minutes and attempted to follow Jem. Considering his long legs and my short ones, it was impossible. I’ll just surprise him here at the crosswalk, I giggled. A few moments later, the local shop’s bell rang as Jem stepped out. He had a pink box in his hands. Oh! That’s Sailor Moon! That’s the doll I wanted!
“Jem!” I waved. He waved back with his other hand, a huge smile plastered on his white face.
“Jem! Jem! Hurry up!” I called out. He looked right and left and began to cross the road, when a black car ran into him, full-speed. The pink box flew out of his hands as he was tossed into the air like a rag doll.
“JEM!” I shrieked. The black car sped away into the empty streets of our neighborhood as Jem was dying in my arms.
“MOM! MOM! SOMEBODY!” I yelled. My face was smeared in a mixture of my tears, snot, and Jem’s blood. His face was as peaceful as ever as it began to let go of all of its functions.
“JEM! STOP! NO,” I bawled. It was over. He was gone. And it was because I asked him to buy me a stupid toy days ago. I don’t know how many hours had passed when finally somebody found us lying in the middle of the empty road. With Jem, three times my size, and me hunched over his bleeding body, it was hard to miss us.
We were driven to a nearby hospital, but I knew Jem was gone. I saw him leave. Dazed, I didn’t even realize when my mom got here, shrieking for Jem while bawling her eyes out.
It was my fault.