It was actually Andy’s birthday. Mine had been two months prior, and today was about him. As my mother and I drove, I got the speech. “This is his day, honey. And I need you to respectful of that.” I knew the words, I’d gotten them every December 16th for as long as I can remember. All about him, and how we must keep in mind how special and how much of a gift his little, fragile life is. I know. I do love my little brother. I remember bringing him home from the hospital. My parents say I was too young to remember, but I do. I remember them crying, and I remember all the little tubes running in and out of his body. Above everything, though, I remember his eyes–dark blue, just like mine.
Hours later I see those same eyes sparkle as he unwraps present after present. Mom helps him with the ribbons. Hot wheels. Video games. Race cars. Legos. The stack of crumpled paper grows and grows next to him. I watch from the hallway. I love seeing him here, seeing him happy. We got lucky, this time last year we were still in St. Francis’s left wing. I was thinking still about last year’s party when my grandma took my hand, and led me into the next room. Without a word, she wrapped me in her arms. “I know how hard this is for you,” she says. I’ve heard that my whole life. But now, hugging her, I actually believe it. Without a word she walks to her closet and pulls out a box. “I know it’s his day,” she starts, as she lays the box in front of me. “I just hate seeing you there … that look.” Her head jerks as my mother calls her form the next room. She kisses my cheek before walking out of the room. “Sweetie,” she called, “this’ll just be our little secret.” And she was gone.
I felt guilty as I stared at that box. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’d had the speech. I’d been listening. I’d been doing everything I was supposed to be doing. But not now. Not now because this beautiful red bow was staring up at me. I could have told my grandma to wait. Christmas was in a few days, not a big deal. I wish I was I bigger person. I would have been able to, if not for the bow. The big red silk bow knotted around the box, tied by my grandmother’s fragile hands. With my thumb and forefinger I gentle guided the tail of the bow upward, as the knot disappears. Strange how easy that is. How one draw has the power to unravel the whole thing.
I’m lost in that ribbon, letting it spill through my fingers, when I hear my brother call for me from the next room. I run over, and am there, smiling, before I have to hear my name a second time. Before him now, instead of a mountain, is one lone blue package. From me. He grins his toothy grin at me, and I hate myself. I hate that big red bow. I watch as he pulls the tail of the ribbon, just as I did. He opens my pack of goodies, of pills to make him better and wings to let him fly away. He’s leafing through the books when my grandma walks in from the next room. “I redid the bow, and it’s all waiting for you, under the tree,” she whispers in my ear. “Merry Christmas.”
I don’t see her again until after dinner, on my way out she pats my knee and says, “You’re a good sister.” That’s all I needed to hear. That’s all I’ve ever needed to hear.