They say that it’s always easier to look back and see how things should have or could have been done than it is to be in the situation and do the right thing. My brother and I had always been pretty close, being the only kids in the family, but the accident that summer changed so much for us. Mom and Dad decided that the best thing to do would be to get away and start over somewhere else. I think they hoped it would help them forget what had happened. Being in a totally new area with no friends and no cousins nearby anymore was something that we had never experienced before. Mom and Dad said that this was what was going to “be best for the family in the long run,” that we would be able to “move on with our lives” and all that mumbo jumbo, but Jay and I had a hard time seeing how that could possibly be true. Here we were, leaving the town that we had lived in for our entire lives, leaving everything familiar to come here, a place that we hadn’t even known existed until the move was announced.
I think it was harder for Jay than it was for me, seeing how he was just beginning his high school years there in Ritton, and he was with people that he had known since the beginning of time. I was just an eleven-year old kid, secure in the small town that we lived in and not really caring about the big world outside of Ritton. Well, there wasn’t exactly much choice in the matter, so we left. That’s when the nightmares started.
I was scared to death of being here in the “big city,” and I couldn’t sleep at night because of how bad the dreams became. The house had only two bedrooms, so Mom and Dad took one while Jay had the other, and I on a couch in the living room right next to Jay’s room. My crying during the night would wake him up and he would come out to sit with me me. I never thought that he would have as much patience with me as he did…He became my hero during those nights that he lost so much sleep just to be with me. I knew that he wasn’t having an easy time either, but when he was there I always had the feeling that everything was going to be all right. The nightmares got worse though, and Jay didn’t know what to do. He tried talking to Mom and Dad about it, but they were tired from working so many hours and stressed about meeting all the new expenses, and they looked at the nightmares as something Jay was using to get attention. Oh, Jay would argue otherwise, but it never did any good.
It was about this time that Jay started sneaking out at night…maybe he just couldn’t handle it anymore. When I would wake up and he wouldn’t be there I stopped sleeping altogether. I would be awake when he left around one, and I would still be awake when he came back around four or five. I didn’t know where he went or what he was doing, and I never asked, but I knew what whatever it was it wasn’t good. Something was changing my big brother and I was too little to understand what was going on.
I think this went on for almost two years before Mom and Dad suspected that anything unusual was going on, and it was only a few months more before the drug arrests began. I wouldn’t believe that Jay was involved in drugs, and I wanted to yell and defend him as much as I could, but there was nothing I could do to get through to them. They sent him through the ringer…you know, rehab, jail, shrinks, the works…but no one ever got to the root of what was troubling him. My nightmares began to change then, and they all involved Jay lying in a dark alley with shadows closing in on him. I knew that my brother was going to die, that something was killing him from the inside out.
I had long ago stopped trying to talk to my parents about what was bothering me-they didn’t have the time nor the energy to deal with it, especially with trying to keep a constant eye on Jay’s activities…So I never tried to tell them about that last dream, the one I had the night before Jay disappeared for good. I dreamt that Jay had come into the room while I was having one of my nightmares again…He held me in the way that he used to, rocking me and telling me that everything was going to be all right. I was surprised to see him home, and even more surprised by how bright and awake and alive he looked-I hadn’t seen such life in Jay for almost three years. Then I woke up and he was gone.
A few hours later Mom and Dad got a phone call telling them that there had been an accident the night before. Jay had taken the car when he snuck out that night, and it had been found in the river over on the east end of town. Jay’s body was never recovered, but there was no question about whether or not he survived the accident.
Mom and Dad became bitter about a lot of things after that, so in many ways I wish that I had been able to share with them that last dream of mine, to let them know that Jay was okay, that he had said everything was going to be all right now. Maybe someday they’ll be able to understand. In the meantime, my dreams have changed. I don’t have the nightmares like I used to, though once in a while a thought will come back that haunts me. When that happens I know that Jay is with me. I wake up to the sound of his voice quietly telling me that everything’s going to be all right, and the warmth of his spirit softly lulls me back to sleep.