“Anna! Wake up! My angel is here!”
“What?” I eased one eye open until I was squinting at my brother. I would have opened them farther, except I couldn’t. He was shining a damn flashlight in my face.
I shooed my little brother away that night, barely even bothering to look. That was the biggest mistake I have ever made.
My mother had always been… “abusive”, for lack of a better word. She would yell at us, demean us, there was never a shortage of nasty words. As far as verbal abuse goes, Mom was dead on. Physically is where the line gets blurry. She hit us, for sure. But the times she did were few and far between, and honestly didn’t really hurt us. Mom’s abuse was mostly mental.
The worst was the time Brian let the puppy out. He had just gotten the dog for his 7th birthday, we hadn’t even had a chance to name it yet. He said he “thought it would be a good idea to let the puppy go exploring”. The puppy was hit by a car almost instantly. Mom dragged Brian out to the curb and screamed at him to look at the dog, then threw him to the ground and left him sitting there, crying. She stormed upstairs and disappeared into her bedroom. Later, she came down dressed in her work clothes, ordered me to keep an eye on my brother, and informed me that she’d be working a double shift and wouldn’t be home until the early morning hours. Then she drove off without saying another word to Brian.
I went out to him and asked him to come inside, offering him an ice cream from the freezer. He stared at the dead dog for another minute, gently crying and holding his scraped knee. Wordlessly, he came inside.
I couldn’t get him to talk to me at all that night. He sat on the couch, blankly staring at the cartoons I had put on, and I eventually got bored watching him. I went to my room and talked on the phone with my friend Lisa for a good hour. By the time I came out, Brian wasn’t on the couch anymore. After a minute of panicking and searching the downstairs rooms for him, I heard his voice.
Listening carefully, I realized it came from outside the house. He was sitting on the curb, next to the dog, looking up and to his right, as if he were speaking to someone slightly taller than him. Relieved, but still angry, I went out to him.
“Brian! What do you think you’re doing???”
“Sorry… I saw… There was a lady next to the dog. She said she was an angel. She said she was helping him.”
“You can’t see angels. They aren’t re-… They’re invisible. They watch over us, but they’re air colored.”
“No they’re not. They’re white.”
“Yeah, but they’re invis… Ugh. Whatever. Just get inside, it’s time for bed.”
I got him in his pajamas, not bothering to make him brush his teeth or shower. I was only 13, I wasn’t about to force him to do anything. Brian and I shared a room, which I hated. So I went to sleep in Mom’s room until she got home. She got back at around 3am, and kicked me out of her bed. Sleepily, I crept down the hall to our room, when I heard Brian’s voice.
“Is it beautiful there?”
I stopped dead in my tracks, and listened. I thought maybe he was using the phone, which he wasn’t allowed to do so late at night. I also realized the light was on, it was shining out from under the door.
“It sounds really nice. But the puppy is dead. He’s hurt really bad. How can he be happy? Won’t he be sad forever?”
“Oh. I get it. I guess. Can you tell me more stories about heaven, though?”
I listened for another 5 minutes, but he didn’t say anything else. Eventually, the light turned off. I snuck into the room, quietly, to see that Brian was either already asleep or pretending to be.
Ignoring him, I crawled into bed and went to sleep.
The next morning, Brian had all sorts of stories to tell. He just wouldn’t stop talking the entire time we were getting ready for school.
“And there are these really pretty, tall flowers that are even bigger than me, and animals ALL over the place, because all animals end up there, even my puppy. Oh!! And my puppy! He isn’t hurting at all anymore!!! You don’t hurt when you go there, nothing ever hurts again, and-”
He was interrupted by Mom, who was coming down the stairs. “Jesus Fucking Christ, will you shut the hell up, kid? I swear to God, if you say one more word about Heaven I’m going to send your dumb ass up there”.
Mom made herself some coffee as Brian and I sat in silence. She poured it in a thermos and then pointed to the garage, gesturing for us to get in the car. We did.
As we drove to school, everyone was silent. Until Brian, very softly said “she says you’re not supposed to use God’s name like that”.
“What did you just say to me? God damn, kid.”
Brian exploded. “YOU CAN’T SAY GOD’S NAME LIKE THAT!!!”
Mom exploded right back, throwing the thermos over her shoulder at Brian. It smacked him right underneath the eye, and coffee poured out of it onto his shirt. It wasn’t hot enough to burn him, it was barely even lukewarm, but he screamed anyways.
“Shut the hell up!! You’re not fucking hurt!”
Brian pouted and quietly whimpered for the duration of the drive. We got to school, and he jumped out of the car.
“Wait,” Said Mom. She pulled his soccer jersey out of the trunk and handed it to him. As he changed out of his freshly-stained t-shirt, she said softly, “I’m sorry, Brian. But you shouldn’t talk to me like that.” He nodded at her, still teary-eyed, with a slight red mark on his cheek where the thermos had hit him. He ran off towards his class.
“Bye, Mom. Love you.” I said. She nodded back, a little teary eyed, herself.
I know Mom always felt bad when she exploded. She just got too angry sometimes. Still, if she could have just controlled her temper… Brian would still be here. But then again, if I had done a few things differently, Brian would be here, too.
When she picked us up after school that day, she was as nice as she could be. She bought Brian’s favorite chicken sandwich meal from the fast food place across town, and even went out of the way on the way home to get our favorite kind of cupcakes from this special bakery. Brian seemed happy enough, but he stayed silent as he ate, and as we all sat in the living room together watching his favorite movie, the one about the lost little clownfish.
Mom fell asleep on the couch, and Brian whispered for me to come to the room with him. I went, and we sat on my bed.
“Anna. My angel says she can make it so I never have to hurt again.”
“Brian, don’t start this again…”
“Please, Anna! Listen!” he begged. “I don’t want to be sad anymore. I don’t like when Mom gets mad. The angel says she can make it so Mom will never be mad again, and I’ll never get hurt again. And I want her to do it for you too. She says she can, she says you’re still innocent enough to go too.”
“And where are we going?”
His face lit up. “Someplace wonderful. And it’s not like we’ll never see Mom again. The angel promised.”
“It sounds like you’re talking about Heaven. We can’t just run away and go to Heaven, Brian. You have to die first.”
“Anna…” He said condescendingly. “Of COURSE we’re not gonna die. My angel said so.”
“Yeah? And how can you just trust everything she says?” I sarcastically started rattling off clichés. “You just know? You can feel it in your soul? You can see it in her eyes?”
“No”. He said matter-of-factly. “She doesn’t have eyes”.
I scoffed and rolled mine. “OK. That’s enough, Brian. Angels have eyes. Go to sleep.”
“Not these kinds of angels. Not the kinds in charge of showing us Heaven. They use their hearts to see, just like we’re supposed to.”
That rendered me speechless. He beamed at me, and said “I’m going tonight. I’ll wake you up when she gets here.”
He did wake me up that night, and I pushed him away, thinking he was just playing make-believe, and that he’d go to bed soon enough. But an hour later, I heard my mom scream, and the door slam.
I found Mom out by the curb, sobbing uncontrollably. There was a car up on the sidewalk, parked on top of our mailbox. And Brian was in the street, lying in the exact same spot his dog had been in.
I… I’m not going to describe it. I’m sure you’ve seen a squirrel in the street before, all stretched out and dirty, flattened in some spots and swollen in others, bleeding everywhere. Roadkill is bad enough to see. Well this… this was my brother.
A drunk driver had hit him. The driver was arrested, and my brother was buried, closed casket, two days later.
The preacher at his funeral talked about Heaven. He talked about how all little boys and girls go there. How they never suffer, they never hurt, they never feel pain. And he talked about how they are not truly dead, but they live on in our hearts, and have their new life in heaven.
I’m not sure what would have happened if I had gotten out of bed that night. I don’t know if I could have stopped him from going outside. I don’t know if I would have ended up splattered across that curb too. I just wish I could forget the whole thing. More than anything, I wish I could forget that blinding, white light that shone in my face when I peeked at Brian in the middle of the night. It had to have been a flashlight. It really couldn’t have been anything else. But whenever I look back at the memory, I can almost picture a pair of dark, red lips, a sliver of a nose… but no eyes.
I can’t remember any eyes.