Why can she still see him...and are they really just delusions?
As I walk in the house, I throw my backpack off my shoulder, a clip catching on my long brown hair. I cringe and pull away, ripping out a couple of strands. Home sweet home…it’s been a rough week, and today I haven’t even been called crazy. Sometimes I forget this is where I grew up. I've been dreaming of life on my own for a long time. But at 17 years old, it isn't so realistic. My mom follows close behind me inside the house trying to match my increasing pace. My parents strongly believe that I don’t need my own car. Which made sense, until I realized it's just another way for them to watch me 24/7. I don't want to hurt my mom by telling her, but it’s pretty annoying when it comes to having your mom pick you up every day.
“Well yes, my day is amazing how about yours? Oh great, huh?” She finishes sarcastically. "Honestly, where are the manners I raised you with?" I groan and gently massage my temples. I haven't been the nicest lately and I can't help but feel bad for her sometimes.
“Sorry. Just not feeling incredibly social right now,” I say. She raises her eyebrow at me expecting further explanation. “Dad called me earlier,” I mutter, hoping I won’t have to give her too much information. Soon after my brother Sean’s death at only 18, my mom and dad split. Feels like it was God’s way of saying “I guess you aren’t dealing with enough drama, being 15, so let’s add some more!” Like a major screw you. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t believe in God. It was 2 years ago, but the memory still has a way of popping up when I want it the least. My dad had told Sean he could take his car for an after-prom party after my mom had already told him no. She thought it was unsafe. Of course, my dad had made it a habit of ignoring what she wanted. He has a way of wanting to prove people wrong. I guess he's always been a bit of a cocky asshole.
So, of course, my dad got what he wanted, and Sean took the car. Several hours later his body was found surrounded by four of his friends I'd met years ago. The moment I heard what happened, I broke a little bit inside. As soon as everything was settled with the funeral, my parents fought like never before. I had taken to hiding myself upstairs and reaching for Sean’s hand before remembering it wasn't there anymore. There’s something about losing someone that people overlook. When you automatically look for them in a crowd, or when something happens and you want to tell them so you go to text or call, and then it hits you all over again. Those were some of the worst moments. The ones where I momentarily forgot and was crushed down again. Soon my mom divorced my dad. I guess Sean’s death was the last straw, which makes a lot of sense I was surprised they hadn’t separated earlier. Things were never great between them, but at least I’d had Sean to make me feel safe.
“Oh. Well alright. What did he want?” She begins to put dishes away, trying to look cool and collected, as she always does when dad is mentioned, but I can see right through it.
“Just the typical dad…asked me basic questions, and then asked about you,” She flinched, reminded of his attempts to contact her. He doesn’t necessarily want to get back together, but there was a lot left unsaid between the two of them.
“Well tell him I have nothing to say to him.”
“Of course. I will.” After a short pause, I say, “Mom are you okay?”
“Yes perfectly fine. Why don’t you get started on your work, will you? We can talk more later.” She says quickly before leaving the room.
I sigh as I grab my things and head upstairs to my room. I don’t love my dad. Or at least I don’t think I can call it love at this point. I talk to him briefly over the phone, so that I don’t make things worse, but it’s minimal effort and he can tell. He just isn’t responsible enough to be a father, and shouldn’t have had kids. He let Sean go as a point against my mom because they were in the middle of a fight. He just didn’t expect the crash. I don’t think it’s petty to stay mad though, I think it’s completely warranted. Whether he meant to or not, he challenged my mom’s authority and let Sean go without a second thought. In my eyes, he is the reason Sean isn’t here with me right now, and that’s reason enough.
Without him, I started to fall apart a little bit. The night my parents had their first fight since losing Sean is when things got too much. I saw him. I didn't mention it until I had to. My mom could only notice a certain amount of paranoia and panic before she forced it out of me. I've been seeing a therapist every day since plus medication that seems to be working so far. I haven't had a hallucination in 2 years. It's a success, so why does it feel so disappointing?
“I know what the mitochondria is, I’m not a dumbass,” says Allie as she playfully kicks me with her foot. We’re sitting on her couch her lying down with her legs in my lap as I quiz her on her harder biology terms list for our test coming up next week. I used to be friends with some of Sean’s friends, but I haven’t been around them much lately. Thankfully the ones in the crash with him aren’t ones that I knew well, not that it makes it any better. After the accident, I couldn’t handle talking to them much. We still talk sometimes, but nothing like we used to. They had turned out to be the main people I’d hang out with, so with them gone I was feeling lonely. Then I met Allie. Apart from being my school bio friend, she was the one to pull me out of the hole Sean left. It’s been two years and I’ve been with Allie for what feels like all of it. She’s charismatic and, if I’m being blunt, everything I wish I could be—normal.
“Hey there’s nothing wrong with being a dumbass! You match 99% of the teenage population,”
She laughs, but the surprise that she finds me funny has never really died. I mean it’s not that I see myself as unfunny it’s just rare that people get my sense of humor. Sean always did.
“Hah if only I could deny that” She says with a smile.
“Oh also I forgot to tell you! So we’re going out Friday night whether you like it or not”
“Yeah no thanks I’m perfectly good with staying in” I say quickly before she can continue talking.
“No it isn’t healthy! C’mon We can go to see one of those mainstream pop music groups you like. I won’t even make fun of you this time.” She looks at me and her eyes soften. “Sky you haven’t been out of the house except for school since you last got out of the hospital. It would do you some good to get out.” Ever since Sean passed away I’ve had delusions of him. At least that’s what my psychiatrist called them, but they feel too real. I know it sounds stupid to believe they’re real, but there’s no good way to tell a doctor that my brother is really there sitting down next to me. At first it was terrifying and I didn’t understand, which I still don’t fully, but it’s become a normal thing. He appears, but never talks. I don’t want to see him especially if I can’t also hear his voice. My mom has had me in therapy since before Sean died, so as soon as she noticed me trying to talk to my invisible dead brother it was a fairly clear red flag. Ever since, I’ve been taking anti-psychotic meds, and put in family therapy which is easily one of the worst things in my life right now. At this point it’s just my parents arguing over their separation and then every once in a while I get the “So still getting the delusions?” which I answer with a yes and then the topic goes right back to my parents.
I know they care, but they tend to be kind of selfish. Not that I’d tell them that. I know any sane person would say to just lie and say you aren’t seeing anything anymore and that you’re cured, but I don’t want to and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that deep down it hurts more to see him all the time, but a large part of me is pretty convinced it’s so I can go back to feeling normal. Sometimes it gets to be too much and when he disappeared I spiraled and ended up screaming, trying to hurt myself, and got put in the hospital. Or at least that’s the order people told me in. All I remember is waking up in the hospital to my mom crying by my side. I always thought she was dramatic, but I guess in this case it’s fair. But for now, whether I like it or not, I’m stuck being followed around by my dead brother as if the picture frames around the house aren’t enough to get me down. I finally cave to Allie’s pressure. It’s the least I can do for her loyalty, staying by my side even after I went crazy.
“Fine” I say, closing my eyes in defeat. “But Saturday we stay in. My rules.”
“Okay definitely! I’ll start planning right away! I’ll text you later once I figure it all out.” She says.
“Great just make sure it’s soon so I can ask my mom. I’m sure she’ll say yes, she’ll be thrilled you’re getting me to go out.” I roll my eyes. Sometimes I sort of envy Allie’s higher energy personality. I guess I had more of that when my brother was still around to hold me up. I have to do it for myself soon. For now it’ll just be a whole lot of coffee instead. I think that’s a solid plan.
The next day I immediately regret falling victim to her tricks. She would never try to hurt me, but she’s always been amazing when it comes to persuading people. She has a way of making everything possible and positive. It’s one thing we don’t have in common. I guess I would say I’m a realist and she always brings out the positive in a decision, making it seem like something I would like. It’s only when I stop to remember the conversation and decisions that I regret everything. I quickly go to text her, entering our chat. I go through possible excuses to get out of it. I hesitate, my fingers hovering over the letters as I think. I’ve worked hard to keep my mom from worrying, so she’s probably hoping I make more friends or go out, but more likely both at the same time. I understand her worry, but I wish she’d get off my back about it. I’d never say that to her, but I think with one of her kids gone it hurts to see me especially not living life to what she sees as the fullest. She sees how much I’ve changed and she doesn’t want me changing and wasting my life when her other kid doesn’t get to make the choice for himself. I get angry sometimes that she seems to need me to live for both Sean and me. It’s not fair, but I remind myself that though I lost a brother, she lost a son. I hate to think she has it worse than me, but she’s grieving just as I am just in a different way. And there’s nothing I can do to fix it, just like there’s no way for her to fix me. All that can do it is time in itself. I guess you could say that I’m realizing time is a real bitch. They talk about how time heals all wounds, but nobody says how hard it is to trust that when you’re going through the hell of it. Something goes off in my head and I get an idea. I could always use my mom as an excuse. She’s always a fool proof way of getting out of things. In my brain I try to formulate possible sentences. I go into my conversation with Allie and let my fingers hover over the keyboard as I form my thoughts.
“My mom’s on my case and it’s getting on my nerves,” I type. Nope she would find a way around that. Delete. I backspace and work on more possibilities. Maybe it’s good to go for something vague. Something along the lines of “Sorry I know I suck, but life also kind of sucks right now and the last thing I want to do is go partying. But as I hesitate over the keyboard, I realize there’s no excuse in the world that won’t disappoint her. The last thing I want to do in my life is disappoint her. So I frustratingly throw my phone onto the couch and a few moments later throw myself down onto it.
I try not to use the “my brother’s gone” card, because I feel like it makes me seem pathetic, but sometimes I really wish I could do it without feeling guilty. So I agree to do it, without letting her know how many times I have and will continue to second guess my decision which really, when it comes down to it, was Allie’s decision, not mine. But for now I just need to focus on the week and not think about what I had gotten myself into. After all, it’s supposed to be the good part of the week. The part I’m not stuck in school. So why does the thought fill my stomach with knots? Why don’t I like to have fun like the rest of my class? I guess Allie’s right. I need something to take my mind off things. At least my therapist will be proud of me. Supposedly staying in and letting my mind wander is unhealthy so it’s a pretty big fighting point with my family. It’s Wednesday so I have 2 more days before I face it. Never thought there would be a time that I don’t want the school week to end.
It’s morning so it’s time for school, and I’m honestly dreading seeing Allie. Mostly because she’ll most likely tease me for being nervous. It’s all in good fun, but I feel kind of guilty and pathetic I can’t act like the majority of my age group anymore in quite the same way. As soon as I get to school I head to my locker to drop all the stuff off that I know I won’t need in class (which is every textbook I was required to buy that we use only once).
As soon as I open it a note falls out saying “come find me.”[About sean. Dont forget] Allie. She tends to be a lot which is at most annoying, but usually, to me at least, it’s quite entertaining. I know it’s just because she told me to meet her in the morning to help with math. Math is the one thing that makes sense to me as grammar is easily my worst. Yep, she sure has a thing for the dramatics. She’d already told me last night, but she loves repeating herself apparently. I head to the library and as I’m passing by the windows looking in I see her automatically jump up and wave to me. Undoubtedly she’s had more than one cup of coffee and possibly a bit too much sugar. I roll my eyes at the enthusiasm. I don’t know how she keeps that energy up. After all, she hates math.
“I’m ready for Calculus. Did my homework and everything. Plus I have nothing to fear with my genius best friend” No matter how strange she can be, no matter what, she manages to make me smile.
“Allie you realize I have my own work I’ll need to do every day. I’m already your full time friend which is enough on my hands.” She gasps, mocking me.
“I knew you don’t love me the way you love Alex!” I roll my eyes and push her back down on the chair to try to focus her.
“Oh shut up and focus dude.” I say only somewhat aggravated. Alex was one of Sean’s friends, but, after everything that’s happened, we don’t talk anymore. And the few times we do it’s awkward as it can be. I mean it’s a weird situation with no particular guidelines I’ve read in any of the dumb magazines aimed at love sick high schoolers. I mean…not that I’ve read them or anything…
“Great. Yes. Always focused” She says in a forced serious tone. “Now. Integrals. To be fair this isn’t my fault. Mr. Boring is totally in the wrong here. I was all focused until he went on a tangent about baseball of all things. I was out for the rest of class. Definitely a sucky teacher ruining my education!” She sighs probably attempting to earn my sympathy.
“Allie…so not the point. Tell me where you for real have problems” I say patiently.
“Well last night I was on the phone with my mother and SHE said…”
“Math…related?” I interrupt, exasperated.
“Oh, right” She says sheepishly. We spend the next thirty minutes working through her problems. However, part of the time added up was spent on her going on tangents before I bring back her focus. She’s hard to teach, but I’d do mostly anything for her. The bell finally rings filling me with low level anxiety.
“Great. It’s time for Spanish.” I say sarcastically.
“Ooh someone gets to see her crush. Maybe don’t avoid eye contact this time and act cool?” She doesn’t know the real reason I’m awkward around him and I feel like it’s easiest for it to stay that way.
“Mhmm. Maybe.” I say unconvincingly.
“Okay I’m gonna pretend you meant that, because I don’t have the energy for a pep talk or a lecture right now. I’ll see you in a bit. Love you!” She says, grabbing my hand, squeezing, and then letting go as she smiles at me then turns around and heads away. I’ve had episodes before. PTSD is a bitch and I don’t talk about it. I avoid any of Alex’s friends out of fear that it will trigger it. I haven’t been in his room since I had a panic attack going through his stuff when I got hit by nostalgia. This is when I had my first panic attack. It doesn’t help that I have to see Sean’s friends everyday. This including the delusions that started is a lot more than what I expected in high school. My therapist seems to believe that the delusions were triggered by Sean’s death and it’s my body’s way of coping. Makes enough sense. Either way there’s no real other reason I can think of for having them. If this is my body’s coping strategy it’s a lot more inconvenient than any number of other strategies. It leaves me with a pounding head when he’s around. Imagine a headache on steroids. That’s what it’s like. Not that it makes much sense, but I don’t know how else to explain it.
“Hola estoy bien, y tu?” was the extent of Spanish I had grasped by the beginning of the year. I’ve come a relatively long way, but language has never been something I’m strong in. I do much better with formulas and problems I need to fix. I walk into the classroom and take my place at my desk. Out of the corner of my eye I see Alex coming as he takes his place in the desk right next to mine. I clench my teeth hoping he won’t talk to me. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite go the way I wanted.
“Hey Sky we haven’t talked in a while what’s up?” I take a deep breath and turn to look at him.
“Not much everything’s been pretty quiet. Just been spending time with Allie,” I lie smoothly.
“The guys are all hanging out after school to play soccer, you up for joining?” He asks hopefully.
“Um maybe I’ll get back to you later,” I say, unsure.
“I’m here if you want to talk about,” He hesitates as if Sean’s name is forbidden, “him.”
“Thanks it means a lot Alex. I really am doing alright, though. You’re taking care of yourself too? You lost him too, you know,” I say gently with a tight smile.
“Yeah it’s weird, I keep expecting him to be there. Like theres an empty space everywhere I’m not exactly sure how to put it,” He said. He isn’t the most eloquent person I’ve met, but I’ve still always loved talking to him. “It’s strange it’s almost like I can sometimes…” He goes quiet suddenly as if considering his words carefully.
“You can sometimes what?” I ask getting slightly nervous.
“I don’t know it’s crazy I’m just getting over it I guess. It’s like sometimes I catch glimpses of him, but I guess that’s what trauma does to you,” He says letting out a nervous laugh. I immediately get chills all down my body. It isn’t just me. Alex sees him too? Before I can respond our spanish teacher walks in
“Everyone open your work books to page 30 and Alex if it isn’t complete again then get out,” He says, glancing at Alex.
“Don’t worry, Sir I have it right here,” He says sliding an amused, but slightly scared smile my way. I force a smile back as I process what I just heard. I space out for the rest of class, probably missing all kinds of important information.