[CREATIVE NONFICTION] Windows
The hardest part is learning how to say goodbye…
Big blue eyes reflect in the window. Even now, years later, I can feel the spark within them—memories of love and hope. You were so young. So small. So dependent. Dependent on me.
You won’t leave me, right? Your voice still clings to my ears. You’ll stay with me. Won’t you?
Of course. “I promise.”
I recall it as if it were yesterday. Your hand was tight in mine as I walked you towards the street corner, book bags slung over our shoulders, far too heavy for someone our size. You scuffed your new shoes along through the gravel, kicking up clouds of dust. I remember scolding you once or twice. Mother wouldn’t want that. It was the laughter of the other children that made you anxious. There were a good four or five of them, standing next to the street sign, throwing rocks and grass at each other and waiting for the morning bus.
They’re good people, I told you. Friends. You’ll be making plenty of those.
Looking back, I don’t think you understood what I meant at first. I shouldn’t have expected you to. You just glanced up at me with those big blue eyes in wonder, perhaps in question if I had any “friends”. I’d been doing this daily routine for the past five years, so shouldn’t I have? I gave your hand a squeeze.
You’re going to like school. Right now, it’s just the start. You’ll go and learn about the small things at first. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but someday…
We sat together on the bus, hands clasped. Huddled close together like we were all we had left on earth. For that moment, we might as well have been. I leaned my head against the window, watching the small-town traffic hurry by.
I won’t let anyone hurt you. I vowed that promise with my pinky finger wrapped around yours. Never… I promise.
Five years is a large gap between us. There are days I’m grateful for it, and others I wish we were closer. I tell myself if we had been a year or two apart, maybe we wouldn’t have grown to fight so much. We both have bruises and scars—five years deep—inside and out from our words and nails and fingers. Some mornings, the wounds show more than others. We can’t bear to look at each other.
Yet, I’ll never forget the first time I saw you: curled in Mother’s arms. I sat by your side, watching wide-eyed in wonder. I never told you what Mother made me promise that day. Maybe I was too young to truly understand, but she made me swear to always be there and look out for you. No matter what. No matter what.
I know sometimes I wasn’t there. Sports games you’d need extra support for, concerts, and oftentimes, the more personal things. I used to blame you. Would say that you weren’t always there either. I would holler, kick at your door, lash out at you. But, it wasn’t your fault.
I’d lock myself away from you, staring out the window as the storm clouds drew near. Through the windowpane, I could smell the rain on the horizon. A rain of regret. Yet, I’d just stand there, clutching the windowsill and chewing my bottom lip. How could I stay mad?
“I’m the big brother.” I’ve learned to correct myself. “It’s my responsibility to be there. No matter what.”
No matter what…
There were a few years we drifted away from each other. Maybe it was because I became envious of you. Or maybe it was because I believed the nagging lie in the back of my head. The lie that you— that Mother and Father— never really loved me. Never understood me. Never accepted me. In reality, they loved us unconditionally; but I turned them away. Watched them through clouded windows. It’s a lie. It’s all a lie… The words spat at them were also spat at you, and I spiraled into the darkest pit of being I’d ever known. You never loved me.
I lost a part of myself that day. Maybe because I forgot who I was, or maybe because I believed I was expected to be someone I wasn’t. A restyled my hair and replaced my wardrobe, toying with different styles my idols went with—idols who existed only within fiction. They’re better than real people, I told myself. They can’t hurt you. As my persona changed, my anger grew. And with each shout and scream and slam of the door, I felt even more lost to the world. To our family. To you.
“You never smile anymore…”
It only hurts when I look back and still hear you say those words to me. At the time, I was emotionless. If anything, you were given a scoff. I don’t need to smile.
My bitterness caused you to withdraw. Into a shell of anxiety and depression. I broke you down, screaming at you to “shut up”, destroying your self-worth. I wish you weren’t here. I wish you would go. I wish you weren’t my brother.
I’d heard you cry at night, but I was too much of a coward to confront you. Embrace you. Tell you everything was going to be okay. I’d find you in the morning at the kitchen table, the family around you asking if you needed anything. Reassuring they loved you. I simply shook my head and went upstairs to my room. It’s a lie. To withdraw into my own shell—one a little thicker than your own.
I remember standing before the window when you came into my room. The winter chill had caused it to fog, and I traced my fingertips against the glass, etching illegible text across the surface. You joined me at my side and watched in silence for a few moments before drawing a smiley face.
“Do you still love me?”
My eyes remained focused on the glass, lips tight. I didn’t know what to say. What I should say. You waited for a long while until the first flakes of snow began to fall. In excitement, you seemed to have forgotten the question and hurried downstairs. I smeared away the images and text we had added to the window. Snowmen’s hearts are less frozen than mine…
With a shaky finger, I wrote your name on the glass. This time, I left it for the frost to take.
Growing up, we promised each other we would never let anything or anyone separate us. Even in our darkest times. But, as always, that promise was broken. And, as always, it was me who broke it.
I moved away for a short while—to advance my studies and get a new outlook on life. While you stayed safe in our small town, I replanted my roots in the city. A place I could start over. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I had a nice suite in the middle of the theatre district, with a view the rest of the city would die for. I sent you pictures. Told you I was having the time of my life.
“I belong here,” I said one night over the phone.
You answered with silence, and then a quiet, “I’m afraid of the city…”
I knew as well as you did that it wasn’t so much the city you were afraid of as much as the people. You never liked being gawked at. That’s why I taught you to walk with your head down.
Yet, I still convinced you to come visit me. Your first night here, I took you to dinner at the cafe on the corner. Ordered you a shake and late night waffles. You just sat there and picked at it, not saying a word. Your silence remained even when I brought you up to my suite and showed you around.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better view,” I said, motioning out the large windows that stretched the length of the wall, ceiling to floor.
You took one look and winced. In fear, I’m sure. I knew your emotions all too well. But still, I took your hand and helped you up onto my desk against the window, holding tight. You cried out that you were scared and to let you down, but I pressed you to the cold glass and told you to look out. To see the city from above, like you were floating. Unstoppable.
You were hesitant, but when the last light of day fell behind the buildings and the city lit up, I felt you at ease. We stood there in silence, watching the traffic below and the flickering embers of civilization in the distance.
“I like to stand here sometimes. At night. When I need to think,” I told you. “It’s like being close to death. A burst of ecstasy. Like standing on the edge, so close to letting go… Torn between fear and beauty.”
The lights reflected in my eyes as I stood there. Frozen. “Sometimes, you forget which it was, the beauty or the fear, that made you jump…”
We held each other close after that, the sounds of the city drowning out our tears.
“Don’t leave me,” you said. “Don’t ever leave me…”
It was a week later that I packed my bags and moved back home. Home to what I knew as a home. That small town on the edge of nowhere, granting promise only to those smart enough to leave it. Lucky enough to get out while they could, before it dragged them down and suffocated them with false hope. I was one of the lucky ones, but something pulled me back. That anchor that fastened me to my desk those late nights overlooking the city. Ready to jump. Something I called “brother.”
Once I settled in again, I took us on day trips to some of our favorite places, catching up on all there was to know—all we couldn’t fit into phone calls on limited plan minutes.
“How’s school?” I’d ask.
“It’s school. What was work like?”
“It’s work. Getting good grades?”
“Averaging. Is it true that the corner of China Town is a wind tunnel? You know. Like they say?”
“Almost blew me down a few times. But I braved it.”
When you had nothing more to say, I smiled. The first, genuine smile I remember smiling in years.
“Everyone knows Vihn-Sun has the best crab rangoons this side of the China Town arch. No way I was settling for that Bento Box cheap imitation crap again. A little wind can’t stop me from getting my ‘goons.”
You gave a little smile back. “We should get some rangoons sometime… Like we used to.”
This time, I chuckled. “They’d have to be bad.”
“Bad enough we still eat them and watch movies all afternoon… Then debate if there really were some good ones, or if we’re just getting used to how bad they taste.”
“You and I both know it’s the latter.”
Things went on the way they always had for the next year or so. You were busy with school while I was busy with work. Yet, I slowly had been making amends to the coldness I’d shown the family over the years, letting an ounce of gratitude pour out. But it wasn’t enough.
The rest of my nights were spent locked in my room, either finishing projects for work that continuously piled up, or, as you came to call it, “leave me alone time.” Really, I’d just lay in bed, face down in my pillow, wishing things were different.
The bottle of aspirin has become my best friend.
I rarely tell you to “shut up” anymore. Maybe I’ve grown used to your voice now, or maybe I’ve just learned to drown out what you say. My mind isn’t what it used to be. I think we both can see that. Perhaps the reality of it is that you simply don’t talk as much anymore. You know it’s not worth it when no one is listening anyway.
But that night, I did listen. You stood in the doorway of my bedroom, holding a letter with a look of excitement on your face.
“I got accepted to university…,” you told me. “My top choice.”
I didn’t know whether to be proud or terrified that you, my little brother, would be heading off to school in only a few months. You, who, what felt like yesterday, was clinging to my shirt, waiting for the bus to pick you up and start the first day of the rest of your life.
The rest of your life…
And this was it.
“It’s a great school. Up north in the mountains. It’s one of the best for my major. This could… could really be it, you know?”
I nodded to you and asked for the door to be closed. I had work to do. You said something I couldn’t make out—I didn’t want to—and did as asked.
When I was sure you were gone, I shut my laptop and broke down and cried.
“You’re nothing without me.”
I used to say this all too much growing up. I’m sure you remember. Being the big brother, I was always the tough one who was looking out for you. Making sure you were okay.
“You need me.”
In those few moments of the door opening and you announcing your, what should have been happy news, I realized I was wrong. Again. I was the one who needed someone. I was the one who was nothing without the anchor.
My window here is too small and close to the ground.
I taught you so much in life. How to make friends, how to attempt to fit in, how to smile. How to lie, how to hide emotion, how to fear. Yet, in all I taught you, I could never find it in me to teach myself how to say good-bye.
When the last of your bags were packed in the trunk, I stood on the porch and watched. You looked more of a man than I ever did that day, standing proudly in your new university attire, the widest smile I recall ever seeing on your face.
“I’m heading up early to get everything moved in before orientation. It’s a long drive, so, the sooner the better,” you said.
I faked a smile.
“My roommate texted me and said he’s on his way, too. His flight lands around three.” You noticed my eyes were focused on the ground. “Bro…?”
All the years of bottled up emotions, things I tried to conceal, poured out in that moment. I never cried. Not in front of you. But I couldn’t hold back.
“I’m nothing without you…,” I whispered. “I need you. I need you.”
I could see through my tears that you, too, were no longer smiling. You gripped your keys tight and walked over, putting your arms around me, like I had you so many times growing up. I embraced you back. Only now, those little shoulders I once drew against me were the same as mine.
“Don’t leave me…” My voice trembled.
“I won’t,” you said. “Not ever.”
I felt so weak. So vulnerable. My whole life, I had been the big brother. The strong one. The leader. Now, I was bawling my eyes out, leaning on your shoulder like a child.
“This place…” I motioned to our house behind me. “It’s not a home. Not without you.”
“Go to the city.” Your words were firm.
“Let’s face it, Bro. Neither of us wants to grow old and die here.”
“We can move together,” I said. “The city—”
“Is where you belong.”
Our eyes meet. Big blue eyes…
“But I belong somewhere else.”
I made a promise to Mother when you were born, and it’s the promise I intend to keep. Though I haven’t followed it as much as I should have in life, I do the best I can.
I do still love you… No matter what.
You made a promise to me, too. Right before you started the car and drove off to the beginning of the rest of your life. You told me something about the city. Something I never forget each and every night as I look out over the streets.
You said that there’s something magic about windows. Something of fear and beauty. You said that it’s the fear of starting over and being alone mixed with the beauty of a breath of new life. Freedom. Windows always pull you back.
From atop my desk, the streets below seem like a black void. I stand there for hours, the cold glass against my face and hands as I contemplate taking the jump. Escaping the edge.
But the anchor weighs me down.
Don’t leave me. Don’t ever leave me.
“No matter what…”
The glass beneath my fingertips becomes warm as I focus on the reflection rather than the city behind it. A slideshow of memories playing before me. The traffic of the small town on the way to your first day of school. The rain, the snow. Your name etched into the glass.
Big blue eyes…
Your words echo through my empty suite, nipping at my ears as I try to swallow the lump in my throat. The lump that for so long has longed to find its way out.
“This is my life. My future. When we were alone, for that first time, you promised me I’d have a ‘someday.’ Well, this is it. But just because our somedays don’t cross doesn’t mean we’re lost. We’re brothers. No matter where we go, our blood keeps us together. And maybe, late at night, when we look out our windows, we realize we’re just looking at each other.”
The mountains have never felt closer.
Dorian J. Sinnott is an Emerson College graduate, currently residing in upstate New York with his bossy cat. When he’s not focused on his own stories, Dorian runs a writing program for local teens. He also enjoys English riding, playing violin, and cosplaying at comic cons (yes, he’s a total nerd). His work has appeared in The Bleeding Lion, Shadow’s Ink, and Alter Ego.