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None of this makes sense.
The grass has been replaced with cool tile, the sun exchanged for light bulbs dangling from the city. Worst of all, it isn’t Gabriel, my best friend standing there, like I know he should be. Instead there’s a tall figure, with short dark hair, dressed in military fatigues, sharp blue eyes that used to twinkle, and a mouth that used to smile at me.
Just back from a tour in Iraq. Dressed in uniform when he should be in civilian clothes. Holding a gun when instead he should be holding a spoon, because Mom made soup and it is dinner time. But he has found his gun and he’s holding it against her head.
And I wish that back then, I had known.
How to fight. How to defend myself.
How to defend her.
“Get on your knees,” he says, his voice rough, distant, like he is somewhere, but not here.
She does, with tears falling from her eyes to her lap, and I don’t realize I am crying too until I feel the water on my fingertips. But when my father comes in, his mouth opening to yell, she shakes her head at him. But her eyes widen and her jaw drops as he comes up behind Jonathan and without a second thought puts him in a choke hold.
I don’t know where the high pitched scream is coming from.
He fights back, but my father overpowers him, holding him against the wall, whispering in his ear.
He is crying.
Mom gets up and says my name, but the shrill scream is still ringing in my ears and I can’t hear her. I see her lips forming words can feel her hands around me but all that really registers is Jonathan.
His eyes aren’t warm, not sparkling like they should be, but cold and unforgiving, dull, like the eyes of someone who has seen death and won’t easily forget it. His voice is coarse, rough, with an edge that 9 year old little sisters aren’t supposed to hear, with a texture like broken glass; shattered, sharp and dangerous.
It is the first time I realize that he is, in fact, dangerous.
I see the minute he comes back from war and into the kitchen. It’s when the tears start falling, drops of his pain, his memories, hit the floor, fractured. He sinks to his knees, his shoulders shaking, my father’s arm around him, his forehead pressed against his. He knows all too well the horrors of war.
But I, a 9 year old girl who idolizes her older brother, do not. I, when I see him is his military fatigues, do not see guns and blood or hear the screams of death; rather, I see a hero that can do no wrong, the weapon in his hands, while dangerous, is a symbol, not a tool.
I lose my ability to breathe, and something that feels like a knife twists inside. But then Jonathan isn’t the one standing there, it’s Gabriel, and he is gasping, grabbing at his throat and as I look there are bruises forming.
My hands are shaking.