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 Post subject: Dear Iris
PostPosted: Wednesday 16 December 2009 1:23:46am 
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Joined: Thursday 28 December 2006 6:45:34pm
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Location: Going through LeakyCon withdrawal
This is the second story I wrote for my Fiction Workshop class this semester. It's a companion piece to Bringing the Magic Back. Let me know what you think!

Dear Iris,

My brother and I had always been different. The differences went farther than the fact that he was blonde and I was a redhead, and that he was short and on the chubby side while I was tall and lean. No, the differences went deep, to the very core of our beings. I was what one would call a go-getter, striving to get ahead in school, whereas he did the bare minimum to get by in school and life in general. When I was little, I would often ask our parents why this was, why we were so different. They said it was genetics: that genetics were how a girl could have red hair while her little brother was blonde. When I took biology in seventh grade, I finally understood.

Even our parents knew we were drastically different. “Jimmy just doesn't have the drive you do, Helen,” Mom always said. Maybe that was partially why everything turned out the way it did. Maybe the reason Jimmy's life ended so tragically was because our parents never pushed him the way they did me. Sure, they tried, but they realized that it wasn't working and focused all their attention on me. How much of it could be attributed to genetics? How much of it could be attributed to how my parents raised us? Those questions went through my head day after day, week after week, year after year. Would things have been different if our parents had assumed he would go to college and make something of himself like they always did with me?

******

I went away to college and became a successful lawyer, an occupation that so many parents dream their children will become, leaving Jimmy behind to struggle with basic algebra in high school. I met your Uncle Tom during a trial, I the defense attorney, he the prosecutor. Tom and I began to date as soon as that trial was over and married two years later. While I was happily living my fairy tale life, your father had begun to date a girl whom even our own mother called a b*tch, and Mom never swore. He was head over heels for that girl and she thought of him as just another chapter in the book of her life. Then you were born. You were the conflict in the book of that girl's life, a conflict she solved by packing her bags and taking off for who knows where.

Jimmy tried his best and you adored him. You were the highlight of his life; that was obvious to anyone who met the two of you. You overlooked the fact that you ate Spaghetti-Os for dinner more often than not, and the fact that your father often had to leave you home alone after school because he had to pull an extra shift to make the mortgage payment. These weren't things I could overlook, and while I was half-tempted to call child protective services most of the time, I knew it would kill my brother. Instead, I took it upon myself to watch you when he was at work, to make sure you ate healthy, and saw the doctor once a year. It was the least I could do. I had looked the other way when my parents didn't push my brother to reach his potential and I couldn't do that again with you.

******

It was I who found Jimmy on that fateful day. I still don't know what possessed me to drive over to the house at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon, but I thank God every day that I did. A half hour later and you would have come home from school to find him lying in a pool of his own blood with a gun next to him.

The rest of the day was a blur, for lack of a better term: Calling 911 even though I already knew he was gone, driving like a crazy person to the school so I could pick you up before you got on the bus, calling Tom, and then taking you to my house. All of that had been easy compared to having to tell you that your father, the man you idolized, had killed himself.

You surprised me with how quickly you accepted that the depression was to blame, that it wasn't your fault that his life had been so miserable. This was quite the opposite of me. I was trying to suppress my anger for your sake because I could not believe how selfish my brother had been, taking his own life and leaving you.

Of course we took you in. A few years prior Jimmy had drawn up his will, and it stated that we were to get custody of you if anything were to happen to him. We thought you would fit seamlessly into our lives, considering how much time you already spent at our house, but we were wrong.

Gone was the talkative girl who would play video games with Alex and his friends and then complain to me that they weren't sharing. You spent all your time in your room doing who knows what. I was shocked the day I came home to find that you'd cut and dyed your hair black, which contrasted with your pale face.

Tom and the school suggested therapy, something that had never even crossed my mind. Perhaps I was too caught up in my own grief to really notice how much you were suffering, or maybe I just didn't want to see it. Whatever the reason, I took them up on the suggestion and took you to the best psychiatrist I knew of.

Finding out that you had depression was like getting salt rubbed in a wound. You reminded me of Jimmy and that scared me. I was relieved when Dr. Liecht prescribed anti-depressants and made sure you took them every day despite your objections. They didn't seem to help much, but for all I knew they kept you from getting worse. After all, my knowledge of psychology was limited to the introductory course I took in college with a professor whose voice could put someone to sleep better than a dose of Lunesta. The only things I remembered from that class were the names of Freud's stages of development. We never touched on mental disorders.

******

College was the last thing on your mind and the first on mine during the beginning of your senior year. I left pamphlets and applications in your room and you never mentioned anything about them. Not until the day I decided to bite the bullet and just ask you.

Your door was shut like usual and I paused before knocking. “Iris? Can I talk to you?”

You opened the door a crack and stuck your head out, black hair sticking up on top of your head like you'd just woken up. “What?”

“I was wondering if you'd looked through those college brochures,” I asked.

“No,” you said flatly. “I'm not going to college.”

“College is important, Iris,” I said quietly. “I want you to live up to your potential. You could go so far.”

“Dad didn't go to college,” you said. “And he was fine.”

“No he wasn't, Iris. I know you think he was, but he wasn't. You came to our house to get a good meal and to have someone to look after you while he pulled double shifts. I don't want you to live that way. You don't have to. You have too much potential.”

“He was fine, Aunt Helen!” you shouted. “Just because we didn't live in a huge house or drive fancy cars doesn't mean we weren't happy!” You slammed the door in my face.

I stood in front of your room for two minutes before walking back downstairs. I had said the wrong thing and felt horrible. It was so hard to figure out how to phrase things correctly, so you wouldn't think I was looking down on your father. All I wanted was for you to be happy, and college had been some of the happiest years of my life. I wanted that for you.

******

The next day I had to drive to Binghamton, which was a good hour and a half away from our tiny town, for a conference I did not want to attend. All I thought about the whole day was the conversation from the night before. I replayed it over and over in my head trying to figure out what I could have worded differently, what I could say to you to make it up to you.

The conference ended two hours before I had to pick you up from therapy. Tom had dropped you off on his way to work. I was supposed to pick you up but I did not anticipate the four-car-pile-up on route seventeen nor the fact that my cell phone got no service on that particular stretch of highway. By the time I finally passed the awful accident, your appointment was just ending and I was still an hour away from home. Once I had cell service again, I called Tom and there was no answer. Alex was hours away at college. I called his friend, Scott, who I knew was home for a few days.

I regretted going to that conference. It had been excruciatingly boring and the most exciting thing about it was the food they had served for lunch. But even the sushi didn't make it worth it. If I had been on time to pick you up, you wouldn't have had that panic attack. Tom told me I was putting too much blame on myself, that you would have had one eventually and that I couldn't stop my career to pick you up from the psychiatrist's. I knew he was right but I still felt awful and had no idea how to make it up to you.

******

Graduation came without you filling out any college applications, but I had given up. It had been difficult to even get you to go to school anymore, considering how much you slept. Dr. Liecht said it was a side effect of the anti-anxiety medications he put you on. I was so proud when you walked up those steps and took your diploma from the principal. It brought tears to my eyes just as it had the previous year with Alex. In a way, it was even more of an accomplishment for you than it had been for him. Alex sailed through school so easily that sometimes I wondered if he even realized he was there. With you, it was hard every step of the way, which is why it was so much the better when you made it.

Graduation meant that your eighteenth birthday was just around the corner. It was the birthday I had been dreading for the past three years because I knew that on that birthday you'd legally be allowed to do whatever you pleased. I was afraid of what you'd do, afraid that you'd leave and we'd never see you again. I would also be legally obligated to give you your father's will and all it contained. Jimmy had left you everything including his house. What was an eighteen-year-old girl going to do with a house? You didn't need it; you lived with us.

Nevertheless, I wanted your birthday to be special. I took the day off work and made you your favorite breakfast, pancakes. Cooking was not something I was particularly good at and pancakes were not something I made very often. They turned out decently enough and I put them, along with maple syrup, on the table, alongside your father's will, just as you were stumbling into the kitchen.

I sat across from you and we looked at each other. Then I saw something that I could not believe I had missed in the past three years. You were the spitting image of Jimmy. I imagined you with your hair blonde and you looked like him. The same expression, and now even the same look of loss was in your eyes. It brought tears to my eyes and I bit my lip to keep them in. The last thing you needed was for me to break down while you read Jimmy's will.

“Your father's will,” I managed to say as I pushed the envelope closer.

You choked on the juice you had been drinking and I realized I should have waited until after you'd set the cup down to tell you what the envelope was.

“He left me a note, telling me to give this to you on your eighteenth birthday,” I told you.

You grabbed the envelope and ran out of the room. Then I broke down. Tears dripped down my face and I did nothing to stop them. I cried for Jimmy and how he had been so miserable that he hadn't wanted to live, I cried for you and how you seemed to be following in his footsteps, and I mostly cried because I thought I'd failed you. I had vowed to help you feel that you could do something special, unlike what my parents had done for Jimmy, and I had failed. Here you were, eighteen and a high school graduate without a job or a college acceptance letter, about to inherit the house your father had killed himself in. In the midst of thinking about this, I realized that I hadn't even wished you a happy birthday.

******

Tom told me not to worry when you spent the better part of two days at your father's house. He told me you needed to be alone, that you needed closure. Alex had driven to the house and peeked in the windows, making sure that was really where you were. He told me you were cleaning it up, getting rid of all the trash left in the rooms, and turning it into someplace livable again. It took all the strength I had not to speed over there myself and rescue you from that depressing hovel of a house and protect you from all it contained. “You'll just push her away even more,” Tom said when I voiced my concerns to him. I relented and tried to busy myself with work and not think about what was going through your mind as you spent two days in your old house.

When you returned two days later, I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a lingering thought in the back of my mind that told me you might not ever return, that you might want to start your own life away from us. Instead, you came back and although you did not tell me anything of what went on during those two days, you had returned and that was enough for me.

I was surprised when you signed yourself up for four classes at Sullivan Community College later that summer, but I never asked you about it. When the bill arrived, I paid it without question. Instead I smiled to myself whenever your back was turned. Something about you had changed during those two days you spent at your father's house and while I had no idea what it was, it was not something I was going to question.

******

I am not sure when I will give this to you, Iris. I am not even sure if I will ever give it to you. As I sit here writing this, you are frantically typing away on your laptop, writing a paper about the Civil War. It is halfway through your first semester at SCC and you are doing wonderfully. A year ago I never would have imagined that you would blossom so much in college. You come home every day and work on your homework far more diligently than you ever did in high school and your grades reflect that.

We talk more than we used to. We talk about your classes, my job, what Alex is up to at Notre Dame, and every once in a while, you even ask me to tell you stories about when Jimmy and I were kids. It's not easy, for either of us, and that's something I accept. I know it will take work for us to be completely comfortable around each other, but it's something I want to work at, that I need to work at. Things are better, Iris, and they will continue to get better as time goes on. I could not be prouder of you if you were my own daughter.

Love,
Aunt Helen


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