Daniel Johnson is a twin. His brother, born at the same time. Daniel recieves some news from the school principal that inevitably changes his life forever.
Remember, this happens everywhere in the world. On a far more regular bases than you would like to believe.
The announcement came over the PA. “Can Daniel Johnson please come up to the front office, Daniel Johnson?” My peers snickered around me thinking that I was in trouble, they ribbed me, joking that maybe I got caught smoking a cigarette behind the bike shed. A joke, I would never smoke, I’m too concerned about what it would mean to my health. I suggested that it might be that I was caught selling drugs to the younger kids. Another joke, I have no idea where I could get such things.
The teacher nodded her permission for me to leave. I quickly ducked out before the kids had time to think up something new. No doubt, by the time I returned they would have conjured up something that was horrific and believable. At least that’s what I thought; I did not know that I would not be going back to class that day.
I was ushered by the secretary ladies through to the principal’s office. I was outside that door, trying to delay the moment when I would have to knock. Eventually I could not delay any longer; I knocked whilst my heart knocked on my ribs so fast that I feared it would give in to the strain. I was called in, I walked in.
The principal, a woman who looked to be in her late forties sat behind the desk that was as old as the school itself. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t sad. She did not look anything, instead an air of defeat hung around the room like a thick fog.
Confusion replaced my fear.
I was motioned to a chair. I took it, but I only sat on the edge.
“Daniel.” She said. I was surprised she used my first name, usually she was quite formal. “I am so sorry to be the one to tell you this but your mother and father were in no shape to do so themselves. Your brother was in an accident. He was riding his bike to school this morning and a car…..” I did not hear anything more, except the word “died”.
I retreated into my own world, I ran on auto pilot.
I went and got my bag and sat outside the office. Waiting for my neighbour to come and pick me up. My mother was frozen and in denial. My father was making the arrangements.
The car arrived and I climbed into the backseat. My neighbour was a middle-aged man and kind in his disposition. I could see he kept looking into the rear-view mirror to check up on me. Making sure that “Everything is a’righ’”
We pulled up at the curb. I recognised my house yet it was unrecognisable. There was no life there anymore. I stepped out of the car; the man asked if I needed any help to get inside. I shook my head no.
The path leading to the front door was strewn with debris. A skateboard, a basketball. Even though we were twins, he was always the one that left his stuff lying around. I would be pissed; on a normal day anyway. That day, I nearly broke down, there in the front yard.
I managed to get to the front door though, a feat on this day and every day that followed.
I hesitated there, should I go inside, or wait out here for a little bit longer? I opened the door and stepped inside.
On any other day I would have yelled out that I was home. I did not, I could not, for fear that the memories, hiding in every corner and every crack would come and overwhelm me, attack and consume me, the brother that remains.
I tiptoed to my room, closed the door and put my bag down.
I knew no more for the rest of that day.
The following morning I awoke in my bed, I stretched and yawned, went down and got some breakfast. I ate and washed up; then I remembered, my brother will not be eating on that morning.
How do you describe that moment? The moment when you realise for a second time that your sibling, a loved one is dead. How do you live with the fact that you forgot that this had happened.
I changed into my clothes, formal and dark, the funeral was today; my father was anxious to get it over with, wanting the ghosts to go away.
How do you explain to him that the ghosts will not go away? How do you say that those ghosts will only become familiar companions in your grief? And that grief is here to stay.
The casket was beautiful, black and perfectly suited to him. The priest read the sermon and then those that knew him best stood up to speak. Or at least those that pretended to know him best. My heart; my soul screamed out silently to them “Get down, go away. You do now know what you are on about!”
Teachers praised his attention and craving for knowledge. Teammates described how he was a good mate. The school choir sang a hymn.
But my parents did not, could not stand and speak of him as if he were dead. They could not face up to it. The responsibility that every family held was not going to be completed. Friends had spoken so why not family?
I decided it fell to me.
But what do I say? How do you describe to strangers that despite the tears, scars and scrapes that we had given each other over the years? We had a love, yes, love that cannot be defined in any way. How do explain to those that do not have siblings that we may have appeared to have hated each other, we may have even believed that appearance at times, yet still we were the closest of friends.
I had decided. I chose something that had happened at a theme park many, many years before.
We once went to a theme park. While this in itself is something not unusual. There was this one ride, a rollercoaster, which looked by far the best thing there. Of course our parents said no, we were too young. But we didn’t let that stop us, we feigned needing to go to the toilet and joined the line.
We regretted it almost immediately. Yet still and we had this big fight about whose stupid idea it was. It was only then that we realised, that argument was the first words we had spoken to each other since we had the idea. All the planning, all the communication that had gone between us, had been completely silent.
I knew this was an inadequate story. I knew it could not do justice to how I felt about my brother. But it was as close as I could get to describing something that is inherently indescribable.
I was the last one to speak, no one else had anything to add; and we all filed past the open casket to pay our respects.
I followed the group, a sheep amongst the crowd.
When it came my turn to gaze upon the body, I looked, and marvelled. He was pale but still okay. He looked as if he was merely in a very deep sleep.
Although, I knew, if I touched his forehead it would be soft to the touch. The car had done a very thorough job on the boy.
We said our goodbyes. The casket was lifted, and carried out the door by four of his peers. Their hands too busy making sure their friend was safe to dry the rivers of tears on their faces.
My mother was weeping openly. My father had rivulets on his cheeks.
I thought that I was going to have to be the strong one. The one to carry what remains of this family through this time. I knew I was going to have to do it on my own. No-one else was going to be able.
We did not go to the burial. My mother was barely with us anymore. My father could not drive safely; and I, I was too young.
But I was till the one that did not cry. The one that saw my brother depart this life with dignity.
To this day I still carry this family. I cook, I clean. I dropped art, my favourite subject and took up a trade subject, so I could learn how to keep the house from falling down around our ears.
Soon after the funeral, my mother retreated to my brother’s room, she has not left since. At least I have not seen her leave. My father is barely home anymore. He cannot bear to see the house where his dead son was raised. So he comes home every night blind drunk.
I still thank my lucky stars that he has been able to hold down his job despite this.
Our neighbours tried to help. But after the first six months their interest waned and so did the meals on which I, and my family depended.
Thankfully I learned how to cook soon after.
I am still the strong one. Not because I have to be. Even though that is what I tell myself. It is because, if I stopped being the strong one, I wouldn’t know what I am.