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Losing a Brother
I thought I’d lost my mom too
Alexandria Ali
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When I was 7, my parents split and it made my mother and me closer. I would come home from school and hang out with her while she cooked. Her fried chicken filled the house with scents of Adobo and herbs that made my mouth water.

I could tell her anything; we were best friends. My mother had me when she was fairly young, and she said it was like she was growing up with me. Now, she was 43 and I was 16, and it felt like that to me, too.

“So, mom let’s say your daughter liked a boy from her school who rides skateboards,” I told her one afternoon.

“Yes, let’s just ‘say,’” my mother said making air quotes with her fingers.

“Do you think the said boy would like your daughter more if she took her skateboard off her bookshelf and actually learned how to ride it?”

“I would just say hypothetically that my daughter should be herself, and if said boy only likes her if she skateboards then he’s not the right choice for her,” my mother said, setting the chicken in front of me.

“Thanks mom.”

“No problem, baby.”

“Do you think you could help me re-nail my skateboard to my wall?”

My mother laughed. “Yes, Alli.”

A few months later on a cold November evening my mother and I were getting ready to go to Friday game night at her best friend Emily’s house. This is a tradition and the highlight of my weekends. We play charades, catch phrase, and sometimes go bowling.

“So Emily introduced me to someone,” my mom said. “He’s her cousin and his name is Noel.”

“Wow, that’s very Christmas-y.”

“Be nice. You might like him. Emily says he’s really funny.”

I felt a tight knot form in the pit of my stomach. When I met him I had a feeling that even if they hit it off, the relationship would not last long.

Big Sister Plans

A year later my mother got pregnant. I saw more warmth in her eyes and lightness in her smile. I loved seeing her this way; I loved her new bubbling laugh.

Noel didn’t want to be involved. He gave over all parental rights to my sibling-to-be to my mom, and they stopped seeing each other. I became her partner in the pregnancy. I loved taking care of her, although I wouldn’t have minded a few less midnight runs to the deli to satisfy her cravings for Doritos and chocolate ice cream. When she found out it was a boy, I said in a British accent, “We shall name him Nicolias.” The name just popped into my head. My mom loved it.

During her third month we went to get her first sonogram. “And that’s Nicolias,” the doctor said looking back at the sonogram machine. I saw a tiny person, my baby brother.

“He has a big head,” my mother laughed.

“That’s where he’ll store the knowledge he’ll receive from his big sister,” I joked. At that moment, I fell in love with my baby brother.

I was nervous about Nicolias’s health because my mother had had three miscarriages before she got divorced. I tried to go to most of her doctor appointments with her.

I began singing Disney songs to Nicolias and I read him elaborate children’s stories I wrote just for him. With each sonogram, Nicolias became more real to me. I can’t describe the excitement I felt for his arrival.

He’s Not There

One month later my mom had a scheduled doctor’s appointment but she didn’t want me to go with her.

“Why don’t you go out with one of your friends? I heard there’s a free movie at the Seaport today.” My mother said this with a forced tone as if she was trying to swallow a pill with no water.

“Don’t we have a doctor’s appointment for Nicolias today?”

“Yeah, but I can go alone. It’s a simple checkup. You haven’t been out in a while.”

There it was again—a thickness to her voice. She must be nervous about Nicolias’s arrival, I thought grabbing the money she held out to me. I gave her a big hug and kissed her on her forehead before heading out.

While I was out I called her but got her voicemail. Something seemed off. I tried to shake away my thoughts.

When I got home the house felt too quiet. My dog, Chocolate, didn’t even bark when I walked in.

“Mom, you’re home?”

“In here,” my mom called from her room. When I walked into my mother’s room she was wrapped in a ball. Chocolate lay at her feet; the TV was on with no sound.

image by YC-Art Dept

“Hey what’s wrong?” I asked as I gave her a hug, and placed a hand on her stomach. She pushed me away.

“Mom, you’re getting me worried. Is there something wrong with Nicolias?”

“He’s not there.”

“What do you mean he’s not there?”

“They tried to deliver him today, that’s why I went, but his heart wasn’t strong enough. He looked just like you.”

Whatever my mother said after that I didn’t hear it. It was as if I was underwater. Everything sounded jumbled and unclear. What did she mean his heart wasn’t strong enough? I had heard his tiny heartbeat.

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I didn’t want you to be there, I thought it was best.”

“That wasn’t for you to decide! He was my brother, and you’re my mother. I had every right to be there!” I yelled.

“I wanted to do this on my own.”

“On your own?”

“I wanted to be alone.” I looked back at her one last time before going to my room and crying for the brother I would never meet.

Angry and Grieving

After that, my mother and I hardly talked to each other. When we did talk, we’d argue. She’d work late almost every night and I usually ate dinner alone. She stopped going to family game night. We stopped shopping together, something we had loved doing most weekends. One night, about three months after Nicolias had died, we had a senseless fight over me forgetting to throw out my water bottles. I’d had enough.

“Maybe I should move in with Dad.”

“Fine, move in with your father if you feel he’ll do a better job than me.”

“I think he’ll care a little more.”

She got up and went to her room.

I sat on the couch. I knew that was a sucky thing to say. My mother loved me to death. But I was angry that she was working so much and too upset with her own grief to even ask how I was dealing with Nicolias’s passing. And I was angry that I hadn’t been able to protect him or my mother.

My mother’s phone buzzed. I looked down at her screen to see a picture of me standing next to an Edward Cullen cutout. I remembered that day; it was freezing and my mother and I had stood on line for two hours to see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1.

Seeing that screen saver made me realize I was still the most important person in her life. I needed to take the step to work on our relationship. I couldn’t let it continue to be a string of pointless arguments.

I walked into my mother’s room. She was lying on her bed watching a re-run of I Love Lucy.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier. It wasn’t nice.”

“You know I love you,” my mom said, sitting up and looking at me.

“I get that but you have to remember that I’m going through this too.”

“I know you are.”

“Do you? Because it doesn’t feel like that sometimes.”

“If we want the arguments to stop we have to meet each other halfway,” she said.
I sat down beside her.

“Mom I need my best friend back.” My mom looked up at me, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I need my best friend back too.” My mother grabbed my hand and kissed it.

Healing Together

From that day on I would go pick up my mom from work or, when I was off from school, I would visit her at lunchtime. She worked on repairing our relationship too. In the mornings before school, she made sure to talk to me about how I was feeling. She began taking days off to spend more time with me; we even took a mother-daughter vacation to Miami.

It’s been two years since my brother’s passing. It remains a constant pain, but one that my mother and I have found a way to power through. The best part is that we power through it together. We have reached the point in our lives where it’s OK to talk about Nicolias, and to say we miss him.

And just last week, she came to family game night, for the first time in two years. She knows that tradition’s important to me. She told me she hadn’t wanted to go because Emily’s house reminded her too much of Noel, and Nicolias. But it looked like she had fun.

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(NYC-2016-03-09)

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