Short Story – Ezra & Me

Ezra & Me

            Have you ever had the chance of watching fraternal twins interact with each other? I suppose in most cases it would seem like any other relationship between siblings… In most cases. This is my story of one spectacular bond between a brother and his sister; Ezra and me.

            He was approximately 8 seconds older than me. He never let me forget it. We were born on March 3rd, 1991 in East Harbor, North Dakota. It’s been said the the two of us were inseparable since that first minute out of the womb. When we were in infant care at the hospital in those first weeks of our lives no one could stop our crying, not even our mother, until we were put in the same crib together. Then it was all peachy keen, as long as it was Ezra and me. We took our first steps together; me out doing him, of course, because despite him being older I was much more coordinated. We were potty-trained together (we weren’t apart enough for them to teach us separately), and it took us awhile to grasp the concept of boy and girl. I was found multiple times standing over the toilet while peeing. We played with the same toys: racecars, legos, link ‘n logs, and even Barbies and dress-up (although he would later deny those forms of entertainment). You get the point, right? We were like magnets of opposite charges. And if we were ever apart for very long, we’d always find ways to get back together.

            Our parents were like the engine of the car that was Ezra and me. They supported, loved, and encouraged us beyond what is expected of parents. We could literally tell them anything. Our family was a tight-knit and happy one.

            But, I’ve forgotten a very important member. Also born on March 3rd but in 1998, our dog, Yeltsin, completed our family. He was a mutt; a mix between a golden retriever and an Irish setter and he was the coolest dog in the world. We found him scampering around the beach as a shaggy, red-haired puppy, and we called the number on his tags. The lady who picked up the phone was from Coastside Animal Shelter, and she was very old and very lonely. I’m pretty sure she talked to my dad for at least 30 minutes on the phone that day. Yeltsin was a one-year old puppy who had a knack for digging out of fences, and his previous owners couldn’t afford keeping the whole litter of puppies their dog graced them with. So we did the only log ical thing there was to do: kept him.

            It couldn’t have been more perfect. We owned 5 large acres of land 100 meters from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This was the ideal place for two inseparable, crazy kids and their audacious puppy to grow up in. Our house was three stories (including the basement). It was all stone and brickwork with high ceilings and wide-open rooms with big windows. It had 5 bedrooms, and 3 baths. It was the palace in our happy kingdom.

            The land was beautiful. You could see the ocean from our house, which was located on a slight hill. There was an area of forest starting about 50 feet from the back of our house and bordering a field which was the majority of the land. The best part about thi s field was not the many beautiful flowers in the spring, or the soft, cushiony grass; it was the enormous, welcoming tree that sat smack-dab in the middle of everything. When I say enormous, I mean it. This tree was about 75 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter, with large, inviting branches that you could sit cross-legged on. It had the greenest leaves, and the brownest bark. This tree was as much a part of our family as Yeltsin was. And, that being the case, we gave it a name. It’s name was Mountain. Ezra, on his first sight of Mountain, saw the enormity of it and declared that it was a mountain. He had only heard of mountains, and never seen a picture of one, so the description (gigantic, tall, touches the sky) seemed to fit this tree when 6-year old Ezra first saw it. We hadn’t moved into this dream home until the two of us were 6, but we also hadn’t moved far from our previous home (which I remember little of). We were able to stay in the same school as before.

             The funn y thing about Ezra and me was that we were both polar opposites. I was the creative, artsy one and he was the practical, organized one who liked math. I wrote poetry; he wrote speeches. That never interfered with our bond though, if anything it enhanced it. We never got sick of each other.

            The best thing about Ezra was that he was always there. When I was happy, when I was sad, it was Ezra that I shared it with. And it was Ezra who made me feel better. He was my fortress during the storm and the playful breeze on a sunny day.

            When school started, we were sent to different schools as our parents wanted us to go to a private school and the only private schools offered in East Harbor were not co-ed. Ezra went to St. James Academy for boys and I went to St. Mary’s for girls. This was a problem for the first few weeks, as we had never been apart for more than a few hours. One day during his break for recess, Ezra climbed a fence and attempted to run across the street to St. Mary’s. This proved disastrous as he got his shoelace caught on the top of the fence and was found hanging upside-down by one of the teachers.

            As we grew up, we only grew closer together. Both of us moved through elementary and middle school with straight A’s (to the extreme pleasure of our parents, and Yeltsin was proud too), and only one suspension on my behalf. This was because I punched a girl who declared that my abstract sketch of Yeltsin was “horrible and it hurts my eyes to look at it.” You do not mess with my artwork.

            In high school, Ezra and I were going to attend the same school. It was an 800-student private school called East Harbor Academy (original, I know) and it was co-ed. We really hadn’t changed that much mentally; we were both still wild and inseparable. But we had both hit our first (and possibly my last) growth spurts and the merciless puberty. My mom and I went through a rough patch during this time due to constant bickering and flaring hormones. I had many a good cry with Ezra after the disputes and yelling bouts with her.

            Mountain also provided me with a place of solace during those bouts of bickering with my mom. I would go up to him (we’d established that Mountain was a male, and a mighty one at that) and climb his branches, and I’d sit on my favorite branch about 15 feet up. This was my fa vorite spot in the world. I would sit up there and think and relax and even write poetry on occasion. I would also read up there; reading has always been one of my favorite things to do. Yeltsin joined me every time, providing a warm and cuddly companion. He didn’t get up onto Mountain with me, but he chased butterflies and moths around the tree’s base causing my abdomen to hurt from laughing so hard. I think he knew he was entertaining me. Yeltsin was definitely a prima donna.

            The summer before our freshman year, our whole family (mom, dad, Ezra, Yeltsin, and me) was to take a trip down to Costa Rica for two whole months. I wasn’t going need anyone else there to have a good time. It was the perfect vacation. We went on tours of the volcanoes, explored the rain forests, and snorkeled in the ocean. We tanned and relaxed on the beach, bartered with locals in the markets, and had an amazing time overall. By the time we were supposed to go home, I was ready to move to Costa Rica.

            But we did go home and when we got there it was time to start school. High school was a different world. There were harder classes, and more of them. Ezra and I were surrounded with new and unfamiliar faces (though we still had our friends from primary school). And now we had each other. I had two classes with him freshman year; Algebra 1 and English. He deeply enjoyed Algebra and I always put my two cents in during English.

            I began to see changes in him, and in myself. I had always been boy crazy, but now Ezra was showing interest in a pretty girl in our class. Of course I teased him about it; that’s every sister’s dre am. But I also encouraged him because this girl was very awesome, and I knew they’d have a really good time together.

            Between sports (football and baseball for Ezra, just soccer for me), dating, friends, and homework, Ezra and I lost a lot of quality time together. Yeltsin was still active, but losing some oomph as he got older. Family life gave way to social life. Ezra and I hung around with different crowds, his friends being the athletic, frat boy type, and mine being the kooky, down to earth, out-spoken girls that got along with everyone. At events like dances and games, there was the occasional glance or poke at each other, but other than that Ezra and I didn’t hang out at social events. I don’t like to say that we were growing apart, because we weren’t. We were still as tight as we’d always been, just busier. We were growing up. I was happy that he was happy, and vice versa.

            But one night things got totally out of hand. It was our junior year and on a Friday night. Friday nights were football nights, and after the games the seniors always hosted parties at their houses. Ezra always attended these as he was on the team, and I went occasionally but only if my friends and I didn’t have any other plans. This particular night it had started raining during the game, and didn’t quit ‘til everyone reached Tom Barker’s house (the party location for that night). We were all inside, and a lot of the boys were already drunk. They were being loud and obnoxious, but that’s to be expected when boys get together in general without the added alcohol.

            I had been sitting on the couch pl aying Apples to Apples with a group of friends. I hadn’t seen Ezra for awhile, so I was going to go see what he was up to and get something to drink. I got up and walked into the kitchen when I spotted him. He was out on the back porch with a bunch of guys showing off for some girls. I poured myself a coke as I watched him make a fool of himself. He saw me looking and winked. His friend was whispering to him, and he was nodding in appreciation and agreement at the things the drunken boy was saying. I had never seen Ezra totally wasted, and tonight he was just a little bit more than tipsy, nothing out of the ordinary. He looked at me again, giving me the thumbs up and smiling. Then he looked at the pretty girls watching him and a mischievous smile appeared on his face.

            My best friend and brother got up on the railing of the deck. He began doing silly acrobatics for the entertainment of the watching girls. He did a jump and made fun of the cheerleaders in the crowd by doing a hurky, but when he went to land hi s foot found no traction on the railing that was slick with rainwater. I watched in horror as my best friend gasped and fell 20 feet onto a table below.

…..

After Ezra’s death, life came to a stop for me. I lost interest in school and my friends; I even lost interest in books. I couldn’t listen to music, because everything reminded me of him. I knew he would have wanted me to be happy and move on with life, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be okay with his passing. He was the most important person in the world to me; he was my favorite person in the world. How was I supposed to just be alright with it? Life without my twin there to enjoy it with me was worthless.

            My parents suffered, too. My mom cried for a whole week straight, but after her crying ceased she reached a calm acceptance and life moved on for her. She knew that Ezra would want our happiness, and she tried time and time again to get my dad and me to be happy. My dad… he was a completely different story. He’s normally the calm, composed, self-controlled one, but after Ezra’s death he lost it. When he first got the news, there was no reaction on his face or in his actions. His face was just blank. But he began smoking again and he rarely said anything unless he was asked a question. This was a man who would sit and talk for hours with people about anything worth saying. Now, he hardly spoke at all. 

            Yeltsin took a hit, too. He might not have been able to talk with us or understand the situation fully, but he sure knew that Ezra was gone. I would find him outside lying in the grass with droopy eyes, rather than frolicking through the field and catching insects or knowing on a stick or bone. You could just tell that something was wrong with him. If anyone ever tells you that animals don’t have feelings, they are lying to you.

            It was his neck. That’s how Ezra died. He broke his neck during the fall. He was still alive when the ambulance came, with me in shock at his side. None of the other kids would come near us, especially his drunken friends. They rushed him to St. John’s hospital, which was ten minutes away. He would drift in and out of consciousness. I don’t think he was really there though, when he did come to. There was a blank searching look in his e yes and he didn’t recognize my face. After about 30 minutes of waiting at the hospital, my parents showed up. Then, 2 hours later, the doctor came out to meet us. You know how you can always or never tell if the doctor has good or bad news by his eyes, right? This doctor’s eyes would not meet ours for more than 2 seconds. I knew it was bad news. Ezra’s neck had broken along the main vertebrae of his spine and had ruptured important vessels carrying blood to his brain. He was slowly growing brain dead every second from lack of oxygen and blood. His broken neck meant paralysis from his shoulders down. It was life support or death. We chose the latter for our Ezra. His quality of life if he stayed alive would be so little that it would not be better than death for him.

            My family had always been Catholic. We never went to church except for on Christmas and Easter. We didn’t pray before dinner, or go to receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly. It’s not that we despised any of that, we just believe d that living a good life and loving nature and other people was what got you into heaven; not all the rituals and motions. You’re expecting me to say that after Ezra’s death my dad, mom, and I became devout Catholics who worshipped every Sunday and said prayers 5 times a day, aren’t you? In all truth, we stayed the exact same. I wasn’t pushed away from God; I didn’t blame him for my brother’s death and my parents didn’t either. I really didn’t know what God was to me then, but I knew that it wasn’t his fault Ezra died. I knew that it had happened because it was supposed to, and I hoped that wherever Ezra was, he was happy.

            So there I was, the lost soul looking for its missing half. “The girl whose brother died.” I saw the way other kids looked at me, with sympathy and pity. I didn’t need their sympathy; I didn’t need anything except for Ezra.

            I let my grades drop, let myself fall out of touch with my friends. I did pick up books again, but I would not touch my iPod for months. The only place I felt safe and reassured was on my favorite branch on my favorite tree, Mountain. When I sat up there I felt small and insignificant, but in a good way. It felt good knowing that there were forces out there that were so much bigger than I, and only they knew why Ezra was taken from me; to them it would have made perfect since.

            Soon, I fell into a daily schedule. Sleep, wake up, shower, eat, go to school, come home, spend hours on Mountain with Yeltsin, sleep. Weekends just meant more time sleeping and more time up in Mountain’s branches. And that was about it. My parents showed concern, and even though they wanted me to recover from my loss (for they knew I took the hardest hit out of all of us), they didn’t push me. I think they knew and hoped that I would recover at my own pace. It was better that way.

            A year went by, and I was a senior in high school. I had one A compared to my usual straight A’s and that was in Art. I knew I should try, but I just didn’t want to. It was no fun when I didn’t have Ezra to compete against. I hadn’t even thought about going to college. I figured I’d just lie around for a while when I graduated. Nothing could get me motivated. I still didn’t talk to any of my friends, or go to social events on weekends. My friends tried talking to me for the first few months after his death; they tried being there for me. I just wouldn’t let them in, and I don’t blame them for giving up. I was declared a lost cause, and in some ways I was.

            A few days before Halloween of my senior year, I was sitting on the back porch when a strong breeze came through and ripped out the page I was reading from my book. “Not now,” I said to myself. I chased the page around the yard until finally the breeze blew it high over the bordering forest and into Mountain’s field. I groaned, “Really?” I halfway considered just buying a new copy of the novel. But something prompted me to go find my missing page, so I headed through the trees and into the field. The paper was right there about 10 feet from the trees. “Ha!” I laughed at the breeze’s feeble attempt to take it away from me. As if replying to this mockery, the breeze started up again and lightly carried the page away from my outstretched hand. It landed about 25 feet away from me. Frustrated now, I chased after the paper and got ready to pounce when the breeze picked up again and stole my page away. This whole exercise reminded me of the time when Ezra brought his fishing pole home and, teasing me, he hooked my car keys, reeling them in when I lunged and casting when I got close.=2 0I finally just lunged at him and got them back, but I was not going to be able to lunge at this breeze. The missing page was whirling through the air and as the breeze died down again, it landed at the base of Mountain. I sprinted over to it, determined not to lose it again. This time the breeze did not snatch the paper up out of my reach, so I grabbed it and put it in my pocket. Just as I was about to turn and walk back to the porch, I looked down at where the page had been laying. There was a shiny object sticking out of the ground. Curious, I bent down and dug it out. It was little more than a few inches long and was rusted over. I rubbed off the dirt and smiled as realization hit me like a quiet waterfall. This was Ezra’s old sheriff badge. Whenever we were younger, we would play cops and robbers. It would just be Ezra, Yeltsin, and I, but I was always the robber and Ezra was always the cop. We loved that game, almost more than we loved pretending like we were spies. I remember how much he loved that badge; one year he wore it every single day to school. I missed him… so much that I could hardly stand it. I still felt like he was right there. That 7-year old boy who was obsessed with his sheriff’s badge. I could feel him there.

        I know this might sound crazy, but after Ezra’s death I read a lot of books about human souls and spirits. All of the books agreed that after death, a human’s soul cannot move forward into the afterlife until it has finished its business on Earth. Or until those people it left behind can move forward in their lives on Earth.

            So here I am, standing under Mountain’s branches and holding a trinket that meant so much to my dead brother as a boy. I kept telling myself that the missing page landing right where the trinket was half-buried in the dirt was just a coincidence, but no matter how hard I tried to shake it off, I truly could feel Ezra’s presence all around me. Weirded out, I glanced around. Right, left, then right again. No one was in the field. Yeltsin was sprawled out in the grass underneath Mountain and he was looking around in a peculiar way. I wondered if he had picked up the same feeling I had, but then he yawned contently and laid his head on his paws.

 

A little spooked (and partly worried for my sanity), I began walking back towards the house. All of the sudden that silly breeze picked up again and a loose limb fell from Mountain’s branches and landed right where I was about to step. Normally this would have been just a normal limb falling from the sky, but not that day. That day it was a sign, and the sign said, “You are going crazy.” It wasn’t like me to believe in foolish things like ghosts or lost souls. I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling, the pressure of Ezra’s presence in the field. I had to get out.

 

The next morning, I woke up and felt ten times better about the day before. Common sense had taken control and helped me realize that I was just going through another stage of grief. Then I saw Ezra’s sheriff badge on my nightstand. I took in a deep breath and let my new friend, common sense, work its magic. The badge had probably been there for many years and the wind and rain probably brought it to the surface. That sounded plausible and sane at least.

I went on with my same routine of no social contact and hours spent perched on Mounta in or sitting beside Yeltsin until the end of November. My parents were both really busy at work due to an economic landslide, so most nights I cooked dinner for myself. I would whip up some macaroni and cheese, snack on chips and dip, and eat no vegetables at all. I was becoming a slob, and a junk food fanatic.

 

On one of these evenings, just before sundown, I was sitting on the couch reading a new book and snacking on some extra dark, 70% pure cacao chocolate. I heard Yeltsin start to bark outside and I thought he just wanted in. I got up and started walking towards the door, when his barking became more frantic and it began to fade away into the distance. I opened the door and saw him sprinting for the trees and Mountain’s field beyond. Curious, I grabbed a jacket and took off after him at a slow jog. When I reached the opposite edge of the line of trees, I saw Yeltsin digging furiously at the base of Mountain’s trunk. A strong breeze was blow ing Mountain’s massive branches back and forth giving it a wild, swaying appearance. I jogged over to where Yeltsin was pawing the ground, determined to calm him down. As soon as I reached the circumference of Mountain’s outstretched limbs, the breeze stopped and the branches hung there as if frozen in time. Feeling again that odd presence, I crept closer to Yeltsin, a little afraid of what he was uncovering with his paws. Squinting from fear, I glanced quickly at the unidentified object between his paws. It was a box, a shoebox, and it had my name on it.

“ELLI,” read the box. Officially spooked now, I bent down and grabbed this mysterious box and lifted up to my eye-level. This was Ezra’s handwriting. Feeling shaky, I sat down at the base of the trunk with Yeltsin by my side. Mountain was still at a standstill, as if waiting for something. Taking a deep breath, I opened the Box.

Nothing popped out at me; nothing scary or suspenseful happened at all. It was just a shoebox and it had three items in it. The first item I spotted, I knew immediately just from its coloring. It was a bright teal blue circular object with a string wrapped around it. It was Ezra and I’s first yo-yo. We would play with that thing for hours on end, competing with each other and trying to learn new tricks. When we began school and were forced apart because he was a boy and I a girl, we would alternate days of who got to take it to school with them. I had gotten to take it for the first day of school. That was the day I met one of my best friends in the world, and I met her because she, too, loved the art of yo-yoing. She’d been the last person to stop trying to be there for me after Ezra’s death, and she still looked after me with concern every day at school.

The second object was larger and heavy. It was a picture held in a wooden frame. This item I also knew before I turned it over to see the photograph. It was a picture of our family in Costa Rica. Soft sand, the bluest water, and a view that would take your breath away, this picture summed up the atmosphere of the entire trip. All of us were beaming (even Yeltsin) and we were all hanging off of one another. I remember taking the picture and not being able to stop laughing just because I was so happy at the time. The frame was made by Ezra himself when, on one of the days we spent at the local markets, a nice old man taught him the basics of wood-working. I remember that Ezra had become so passionate about the art that he planned to take a year off between high school and college to travel abroad and learn its secrets. All of that passion sprung from that hour he spent working on a simple, yet beautiful picture frame.

The last object was unfamiliar to my eyes. It was just a piece of paper, and even as I picked it up and turned it over, no realization hit me with the meaning of it. I unrolled it and stared at it blankly for several moments until finally, I remembered. This was an old “diploma” from the days when Ezra and I played together. We would often dream about our futures and graduating from college. Attached to this fake diploma were two grade cards; Ezra’s and min e. They were from 3rd grade and each one had straight A’s. We would compete with each other to see who could get more A’s, and our parents encouraged this kind of competition. The diploma was written out in Ezra’s neat handwriting and it said, “This diploma is presented to Elli Smith as a symbol of her outstanding achievement in her academic career…” It went on a little bit more, and then at the very end of the paper Ezra had signed his name, and right by it he put, “I love you, sis.”

            I slowly put the three items back in the box. I looked up at Mountain and then down at Yeltsin. Standing up, I brushed the dirt off of my back and pants. The breeze took up again, this time gentle and playful. As I began walking back to my house, I was aware of that feeling; the feeling that Ezra was there. But this time it didn’t alarm me or convince me that I was going insane. This time it was comforting and encouraging. I walked back into the house and sat down. I smiled as I picked up the phone and called my friend.

 

            So this is my story, of love and loss and learning. Everyone has someone like Ezra. He taught me to make the most of life, and his memory lives on.

Published on May 13, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. this is a really great/sad story. i almost cried when ezra died! good writing, very descriptive. the only thing i would change are your many parenthesis. ( ) that appeared a lot. otherwise, very good.

  2. i really enjoyed this story,
    i really wasnt expecting his death, it through me off, but you were able to build the story back up, good climax and what not

    you might want to involve the parent figures a little more

    great job!

  3. We hadn’t moved into this dream home until the two of us were 6, but we also hadn’t moved far from our previous home (which I remember little of). This sentence could use a little work. I had to read it several times to understand what you were trying to say.

    But

    I love this story. Your wording is beautiful as is the message. Nice work.

  4. This is really really good! I almost had tears in my eyes while I was reading it. The only thing I could suggest is maybe having some dialogue in there, but it was still a great story!


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