His Life Through My Eyes

The brutally strong wind slapped the sides of his bare face as he took slow strides along the side of the road. I drove past him with water leaking from my eyes while contemplating if I should turn around and give him a ride to whatever destination he was searching for. I didn’t turn around. That was the last day I saw him, the last day I looked into his eyes and the last day I felt sorry for him.

He is a wanderer, a lost soul searching for the future but unable to deal with the past. I always felt like he was given the short stick in life. Now I realize that sure maybe his stick was smaller than others, but he broke and cut it down into nothing. He diminished any hope of a future because of his actions and then proceeded to blame others because of the consequences. This stranger is my brother. The memory of the day I last saw him is as vivid in my mind as if it had happened only moments ago. That moment changed my life in one of the most devastating yet inspirational ways. My brother’s name is Jake and with no intention he has created a spark within me that radiates motivation, success, honesty, and forgiveness. While this might sound selfish, Jake’s failures have motivated my success.

Divorce can really shape the way a person views the world, whether that be in a positive or a negative way. Jake was only five when my mom and his dad divorced. He was seven when my mom remarried my dad, and eight when I came into the picture. Everything in his world was changing, and he didn’t even have the chance to sit back and understand. Much like everything in his life, he sat back and watched as situations unfolded. A brutal match of tug of war was about to begin. It seemed as if Jake’s dad tried to ruin every image of my parents in Jake’s eyes. The bond that had grown between my dad and him was collapsing, as was his image of my mom. Our house began to feel like a prison to Jake. He was so use to doing anything he wanted at his dad’s house that when he was with my mom he forgot that rules existed. As each side of the rope began to pull harder, Jake began to fall apart. He skipped school to drink and smoke, had no respect for adults and constantly moved schools. Eventually he stopped going to school all together. Jake dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen. After that, every ambition was shattered along with every dream he had. Years passed, and Jake stayed the same. Every job he started, he quit. Jake’s drug addictions landed him in both the hospital and jail. The tug of war ceased, his dad let go, and Jake was broken.

Throughout all of Jake’s failures, my mom was there to support him. Anything he needed she would take care of it; anything that he did she would make excuses for him. I didn’t blame her though—he needed both the attention and the support. However, her help soon became crippling. He would never learn from his mistakes if my mom fixed every problem that crossed his path. Around Christmas time, 2013, Jake moved back home at the age of 24. He claimed that he was going to classes to get his GED because he dropped out of high school. My mom told him that he was welcome to stay at our house while trying to make something of himself. As per usual, Jake’s motives were headed in a completely different direction.

He is very manipulative. Jake knows how to make people do what he wants them to do, and that skill doesn’t come without a surplus of lies. Turns out that the real reason he wanted to stay at our house was because he needed a place of residency while he was out on parole. Jake’s history includes drunk driving, selling, buying, and using drugs, and not paying his court fees. One day, his parole officer decided to stop by while I was home alone. The officer was asking all kinds of questions about him and wanting to know where he was. I told the officer the truth: I didn’t know where he was, and he hadn’t been home in weeks. The officer left shortly after. That was where the calm ended; then began the storm. Suddenly Jake came bursting through the back door. My mom asked if I could take my little brother, Alex, upstairs. As I walked up the stairs with Alex, the yelling started. Jake was furious, saying that now his parole officer said he violated his parole because of what I had said. My mom stated that he was lying to everyone and that he used our whole family for his own selfish reasons. They were both screaming at each other when, finally, my mom told him leave. She said he wasn’t welcome back into our house. Just like that, all of the screaming came to a halt. I stood, feet firmly planted on the top steps of the stairs, watching Jake calmly walk towards the door. Before he reached out to pull the door open, he turned around and stared directly at my mom. The last words he spoke to her were, “The next time you see me will be the day I am six feet under.” He then opened the door and walked away. As the door closed, the cold winter breeze surged into the house, making me shiver. My mom then collapsed to the floor with a heart- shattering thud and began weeping. After I helped my mom re-collect herself, I realized that I had basketball practice that day, and I decided that I needed to get my mind off of the scene I just witnessed. While I drove to practice, I passed Jake as he walked alongside the road. I almost turned around to pick him up, but I didn’t. I kept driving because I realized that he needed to help himself. The last image I have of Jake is through my rearview mirror.

I watched Jake turn everything good in his life upside down. His blatant disregard for education only surged me forward. He motivated me to do better in the tasks that I set forth to accomplish. My goal wasn’t to overshadow my success with his failure, but to give my parents something to be proud of. I knew if I at least tried in school that would be a step in the right direction. I didn’t just try, though. I succeeded. Every class I took I aimed for perfection. I did not always see that although I did come close. Throughout high school I kept a steady grade point average of 3.7 while keeping up with sports and volunteering around the community. Jake was always around people who had no more ambition than he did, which only promoted failure. I made sure to surround myself with friends who would help me along the road to success. My friends each had their own reasons behind getting good grades. We all worked together and respected the fact that education was important even if it was for different reasons. Jake didn’t learn from his mistakes; however, I did. I made sure to stay away from the classic high school temptation of partying. He was only interested in the social aspects of high school, but I was the exact opposite. I spend my weeknights studying, and that gave me the opportunity to have fun on Fridays with my friends. However, my idea of fun wasn’t drinking and partying. The taste of alcohol reminded me of Jake. I spent years trying to forget about him, and drinking only replayed old unwanted memories in my mind. Jake is and should be credited for being one of the reasons for my success. I have created my own success, but he was the first reason I had to be a better student, person, and daughter.

Jake indirectly taught me the value of truth. He was, by all means, a compulsive liar. I learned that people, especially myself, respect when others are truthful. I watched as my mom slowly lost hope in every word that he spoke simply because she could not decipher the truth from the lies. I hold honesty very highly when regarding a person’s character. Along with truth, I also value the ability to forgive in a person. He has made many mistakes in his life, just as I have in mine. Mistakes and failure are important in life, but just as important as both of those is the power of forgiveness. I have learned to forgive Jake for all of his actions and choices. I know that to carry the baggage of a grudge or of hatred can become very heavy.

That cold winter day still replays in my head more than two years later. I can hear the screams, see the tears, and feel the pain in my chest every time that memory plays back in my mind. Jake changed everything in my life. He changed the way I feel about success, the value I place on truth and the art of forgiveness. I am not ashamed of him, nor do I look down upon him for the decisions he has made in his past. I do, however, hold him accountable for his actions. I think that he should take responsibility for his actions simply because it is the right thing to do. I love Jake, but I just think that he needs a bit of tough love to truly understand that he is the answer to his own problems. I am a stronger, more motivated, successful, truthful, and forgiving person because of the experiences he has forced upon me. I want Jake to know that he has shaped the person I have become, and because of that, I am grateful. I have always felt as if I could not congratulate myself on my success because the person who inspired me to do better was anything but successful. I realize now that although my actions were, in part, motivated by his mistakes, my success was made from my hard work, my effort and my ambition.

I have buried my feelings about Jake. I locked away thoughts and memories to keep my heart from breaking. I hate him for everything he has put my family through. I hate him for everything he had put himself through. He wasn’t there for me like big brothers are supposed to be for their little sisters. He didn’t protect me from boys like brothers are supposed to. Truth is, Jacob broke my heart before any other boy had the chance to. I hate him because I love him. He left me to fight this battle alone. Jake does care about me, at least not like I care about him. He doesn’t even know who I am, and he doesn’t want to, either. My mind dances through his life. Images of screaming chapped lips, glossy brown eyes and strong fists hitting the wall invade my mind. I have seen his life. I hold on to the images that now are long gone. My eyes betray me as pictures of hot summer days flood in to my mind. Two young siblings playing in the steaming hot sandbox as my dad cuts the grass. The smell of the grass consumes my senses. Jacob gazes up at the sky, smiling. I remember his life even though I am not a part of it anymore. Memories of Jake only haunt me now. I don’t want to remember; I only wish to forget. I want to forget about Jake, just as he has forgotten about me.

Phoebe Fries

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

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