The hill that led to my childhood home became less difficult to climb as I grew from toddler to teenager. As in, I was less out of breath the longer my legs were, which seemed to be a perfect paradox for the rest of life. Because that hill was really the only thing that got easier as I got older. It didn’t take me long to realize that the most difficult part of my day being the walk home, was a struggle I’d wish again and again to be my only. But oh, the places my legs have taken me. Not always gracefully, but certainly to destinations that have taught me important lessons along the way.
At six, they carried me to my first day of school. My older brother, Axel, led me to the table with my name in front of a chair. “See, it says Magnolia,” his little chubby fifth grade finger pointed at the scribbles and then back at me. Axel peaked at the little girl with frizzy hair sitting next to the seat marked mine and then sneakily at her card, “and you must be Logan?”
The little girl looked up at Axel with narrowed eyes, “yes.”
“I’m Magnolia,” I told her.
“That’s a weird name,” she responded.
“So is Logan,” I retorted, folding my arms.
She sighed and motioned for me to sit next to her. Once I did, she sighed again, as if to say I had sat as she said but wasn’t nearly close enough to her face for what she was about to say. I half expected her to pull my hair or spit in my ear.
Instead, she inched closer and whispered quietly, “my mom gave me a boy’s name because my older brother came out a wussy. She thought maybe she’d get a strong girl instead.”
“What’s your brother’s name?”
“Like the month?”
“No, like a distinguished gentleman.”
I looked at her.
She looked back at me.
“So, do you want to be friends?” She questioned in a huff, like waiting for me to ask had really tested her patience. It didn’t seem like she had much to begin with.
I smiled and gave her a nod. At six I found a best friend.
At seven my legs brought me to the hospital where my younger siblings were born. Jackson and Elliot. Twin boys, both blonde, not identical. Axel and I had dark hair. We got it from dad, who smiled at his new sons and cried with mom. I found him later in the hallway, scratching his head, eyebrows knit together.
I’d spend hours staring at my little alien brothers in their cribs, inspecting every centimeter of them. Jackson was quickly my favorite. We started calling him Sonny because he cried less than Elliot and smiled more instead. Mom would let me hold Sonny, and sometimes even give him a bottle. It was my favorite part of everyday.
Axel was old enough to know that favorites weren’t nice. Although I could tell that he preferred Elliot, maybe because nobody else did. He’d hold him while watching tv and pick him up at night when he cried. Dad would watch from the kitchen, still learning to love what he wasn’t certain was his. He’d always been gentle. He never got angry, but sometimes he seemed quite sad.
At seven I learned what being the older sibling was. I learned that love grows.
At eight, my legs carried me to the new bookstore down the street. Mom held my hand as we looked through the children’s section. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the old man in the corner, waiting to sign copies of a book that no one seemed to be buying. I edged my way over, until I could see what he had written. Eight is when I learned my love for poetry and signed works of art. My classmates found it weird. Logan too, but we had past accepted each other’s weirdness, and prided ourselves on being different.
At eight I learned my love for all the unloved things.
At nine, my legs brought me to dad’s office after school. Axel was at football practice. Sonny and Elliot were in daycare. I’m not sure where mom was. I sat in the big chair, drawing on a yellow pad of paper that dad had handed me. He was standing by the cabinets, organizing documents that all looked the same. He’d lick his thumb before he’d pick up the next. I looked at my own thumb closely and did the same, surprised that it was easier to hold the top piece of yellow paper when I did.
I looked up and dad was smiling at me, “it’s habit.”
“It works,” I said, doing it again.
He walked over and leaned against the desk, his glasses crooked on his nose and his fingers dark from the ink of fresh legal papers. “So Magnolia, what’s your favorite subject so far this year?”
It didn’t take me long to answer, “English.”
“Always,” I smirked back at him.
“That’s my girl,” he squeezed my cheek, and then got back to his sorting.
At nine I learned the dedicated art of soft appreciation.
At ten, my legs unwillingly and painfully brought me to my older brother’s funeral. The ache of losing Axel was hot and uncomfortable and permanent. It seeped into my shoulders, my ribs, my knees, and feet, but most of all it poured into my heart. It was everywhere, and he was nowhere.
The emptiness of a home without Axel was palpable. His loud laughter no more, left silence so loud it was deafening. His love was etched into every inch of our home. His feet never without socks, padding down the hallways and into the yard. Mom would shout, “Axel, your socks will get wet in the yard!”
He was my guider, my comfort, my forever best friend. The air in the house grew cold the second mom had gotten the call. The pit in my stomach brought me downstairs slowly, not knowing what I would find and terrified at what it would be. Mom was on the floor. Dad was hovering over her. But I knew instantly it wasn’t mom who had been hurt.
It had been an accident. It had involved a car driven by a drunk and a teenager riding a bike. The collision of two such things is never in favor of the innocent.
At ten, I learned the devastation of loss.
At eleven, my legs carried me through class. Through fake smiles and forcing happiness for my four-year-old brothers. Sonny and Elliot asked a never-ending stream of Axel themed questions. They didn’t remember his presence, but he was magical to them. He was their equivalent of Santa Claus. Recounting stories with them helped me memorize my older brother in ways that I otherwise would have forgotten. It was painful to think of him but even more so to push him away from my thoughts. And I knew that I owed him more than trying to numb the heartbreak he left me with.
At eleven, I continued to learn how to love through loss.
At twelve, my legs brought me past the bedroom of my parents’, one late night. I could overhear their whispers, and regret quickly filled me for placing my ear on their door. I still wish I could forget hearing mom ask dad why he still loved her.
For a long time, I wished I had waited to hear what he said. Not knowing made me imagine both ends of the spectrum of answer he could have given her. The next day, dad had made coffee and given mom a kiss on her cheek. I chose for a while to believe that his response had been a confession of everlasting love. Their marriage ultimately did not survive. But that wouldn’t happen until I was sixteen. Over the next four years, my confidence in dads unheard answer dwindled as they grew further apart.
At twelve I learned to question the love from those we’re supposed to spend a lifetime with.
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hi hiSep 9, 2022