Red String – Part 2

Part 1

A week later you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes. You’re feeling your way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom when you see a bright red string tied around the door knob of your sister’s bedroom. You pause and rub your eyes again, but it’s still there, so you feel your way past the bathroom and down to the red string instead. When you reach the door you slide it off, slowly push the door open, and poke your head in. Your sister is lying in her bed facing he wall, her phone illuminating the room with a dim white light. You push the door open all the way and tip toe over. When you get to the bed you peek over her. She’s already asleep. You get into the bed with her anyways and lie on top of her. She smiles in her sleep and rolls over so you’re lying on her stomach instead of her side. After a while the phone screen dims, then the light goes out. You’re already asleep.

The next morning you wake up squished between your sister and the wall. Your left arm is freezing but the rest of you is warm tucked underneath your sister’s huge blanket and wrapped in her arms. You try to twist around so you can see her. “Amy?” She hugs you tighter and buries her face deeper in your messy hair. She makes a noncommittal noise to let you know she’s awake, but doesn’t open her eyes. After a little squirming you turn so your facing her. Her eyebrows furrow and she shakes her head a little to get your hair out of her nose. Then she relaxes. You still think she looks a little what your mom likes to call distressed, though. But right now you’re a little more ‘distressed’. “Amy?”

She makes an irritated groan.

“Amy can I go to the bathroom now?”

 

A red string for hugs. As you get older the hugs also come with questions and suggestions for distractions. When two months after you turn six she give you a red string, too, and says that she’ll always take care of you, okay? You grin and run to your room where you put the string right next to the blue train your mom bought you for your birthday, and when you put the string on your door your sister comes with too long hugs and a comforting lack for words.

One day when you’re eight and she’s thirteen you leave for the school bus together and she has the string tied around her wrist. So right before the bus stops you hesitantly wrap your arms around her waist and hug. She doesn’t hug back, though. Instead she rubs your head then pushes you away. “Gross,” she laughs. “You’re so sticky.”

The string stays on her wrist for a longs time. It stays there for almost a year. You make sure to talk to her every day, but the hugs lessen. Then, one day when you’re nine you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes and feel your way down the hall to the bathroom. When you go to wash your hands you see the string cut near the knot she’d tied to turn it into a bracelet. It’s just sitting there next to the sink, getting splashed with water and soap. When you brush your teeth in the morning it’s still there. It’s still there that night and the next day and the day after that. You try to go into your sister’s room to ask her about it one night but she just tells you to get out because she’s busy. A month later on another nighttime trip to the toilet it’s still there, so you pick it up. Something doesn’t feel right. On the way back to your room you can’t think quite right. You bump into a table and the corner digs into your hip and you almost knock over your mom’s favorite vase. Your stomach feels like it’s folding in on itself. There must be more shadows tonight, you think. Too many shadows and so many shapes. You stub you finger on your door frame. Your eyes get hot and it feel like you want to cry, so you drape your sister’s string over your door knob and run into your room and curl up in the corner when you’ve long since abandoned your blue train and you wait. The bright blue train looks like it’s glowing in the dark and glaring at you and your stomach folds more. When you wake up the next morning you fix the red string so it’s tied onto the door knob. As soon as you get home you head straight to your room. You leave for meals and to get ready for bed and the next morning to go to school. Your sister never comes.

You forget to remove the string the next day. The day after that you figure you may as well leave it on. The next year you almost forget why it’s there. The year after that you really do.

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Red String

When you were five your older sister screamed a lot. She was – is – five years older than you, and at exactly twice your age her door slammed and her hands pushed your forehead and her voice screeched down the hallway calling for your mom because you just wouldn’t leave her alone. One day, playing with tiny metal cars the size of your fist, you hear mommy say that she’s just upset. I don’t know what to do, she says. She won’t talk to me. Your cars pause for a moment and the quiet vroom vroom stops. You lift your head. At this age your eyes are always wide and your little mouth likes to hang just barely open. They told you at school that upset people like hugs. So you push yourself up, a car in each hand, and clamber up the stairs and down the hall to your sister’s room.

When you get to the door it’s already cracked open, so you just let yourself in. Your sister’s room has more clothes in it than you remember. Her favorite shirt is hanging on the back of her chair and there’s jeans and skirts all around the doorway. Your sister is curled in the middle of her bed with her knees to her chest and her phone clutched in both hands. There’s tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and her mouth is set in a wide line and her forehead has gone all wrinkly. You plod over then climb up on the bed and drop the cars in her lap. Cars are good. She wipes her eyes and tells you to go away. Just leave her alone. She doesn’t want to play right now. But you don’t leave her alone. Because she’s upset. And upset people need hugs.

When you wrap your arms around her she just starts to cry more, so you squeeze tighter. Her tears land on your head and roll down your hair onto your shirt sleeves. She keeps wailing so you squeeze tighter and tighter and tighter; you hug her as much as your chubby five year old arm allow. Then, eventually, she stops. The wails become sniffles and she lifts her face out of your hair. You look up. Her eyes are red and she has wet streaks on the sides of her face, but at least her forehead isn’t wrinkly anymore. You still hold onto her, though. Her body’s gotten all warm, and you don’t know if she’s done being upset or not. She leans forward and extracts and arm from your hug. You squirm when she digs through your hair. Her fingers grab onto a few strand by accident, gently tugging on them. She pulls out a long piece of bright red string. It dangles in front of your face. “Isn’t this part of my friendship bracelet kit?” she asks, then she laughs. You giggle, then let go and take back your cars. Laughing means the upset is gone.

You’re about to hop of the bed and leave before she can yell at you to get out when she pushes the string at your chest telling you you can have it. You take it by the middle with three fingers and stare at it for a while. Then you hold it out. “For you,” you say with your five year old wide eyes. “For hugs. When you need them.” She gives you a smile and rubs your head and says thanks. It reminds you of something she used to do before being ten. This time, though, her eyes maybe looked a little sad. You almost give her another hug, but instead you bounce yourself off the edge of the bed and plod out the door.

The bed was really squishy.

Part 2

Box of Crayons

Every morning your little brother, after slapping down the velcro on his sneakers and pulling on his backpack, grabs his box of crayons and runs to the bus stop. He never waits for you, so as soon as you see those crayons slide off the table and that little hoarse voice calling, “Bye mom!” you have to drop everything and run so he won’t run into the street.

On the bus he shoots straight for the window seat – fourth row, on the right. After he hops up and scoots in, his backpack scraping the dirty green seat backs, you slide in next to him. With a squeak the bus door slams shut. Then, with a puff of air the buss starts to roll forward and you’re off. Your brother’s little fingers cling to the edge of the window as he watches the world go by, mouth hanging slightly open, eyes wide. You watch him watch the houses and sidewalks and trees and occasional dos and you wonder if he’s seeing houses and trees or just blurs of color. Half way to school, though, his fingers start twitching for his crayons. You put a hand on his head. When he looks up at you with curious, innocent eyes you mess his hair and grin. Don’t fall out you tell him. He frowns and whines your name because he’s more careful than that and besides that’s impossible because the window’s closed. You laugh and give him a pat. Then he goes back to gaping out the window and you watch over him until the school bus pulls to the right into the school drop off circle.

*

When the bus pulls up to your stop you brother climbs over you in a rush to get out. Hurrying behind him on the steps out you yell at him not to do things like that. They hurt. Once you’ve reached the safety of your driveway you stop to pull your pants back straight. While you’re at it you readjust your backpack and unbunch the back of your shirt, then slowly make your way down the driveway, back to your house. Half way down, though, you see your brother. Your stomach drops. In his left hand is his box of crayons, open. His arm hangs limp and the crayons are starting to slide out. In the other hand is his dark blue crayon, his favorite. He holds it up towards the sky, moving it around in lazy circles. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

You bite your lip. You rush towards him and grab his shoulder, spinning him around to face you. His arm falls and he drops the crayons, the box. The crayons bounce across the asphalt and skitter down the driveway, chips breaking off, the points dulling down to rounded stubs. Your brother’s head tilts to the side when he looks up at you. His eyes are big, wide, glazed over. And even though he’s looking at you he’s not really looking at you. He’s not even looking past you. You don’t know what he sees and you’re not sure you ever want to know, but if you don’t understand then how will you know what to do, what to say? How do you fix moments like these?

The taste of blood fills your mouth. Deep breath. Two. Three. One more. You let your hand slide off his shoulder. You pick up the crayons. Your carefully fold over the tabs and close the box, because he’s always been picky about things like these. You take one more deep breath. Then you take his hand. Come on, you say. Come on. Let’s go home.