TITLE: Chinaberry Whirlwind
By Ellen Dodson
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“Shhh. Calm down, Grace. We’ll get Dad to buy another one.”
I keep remembering my older brother Eric trying to get me to stop whining after Teeno, the neighbor’s Chihuahua, attacked my Dora the Explorer kite as it swooped in for a landing.
“Stupid, idiot dog,” I said, beating its bony backside with splintered kite sticks.
“Hey, hey, stop it, mean thing,” Eric said. He picked me up, sat me in the crook of one of the Chinaberry trees in our back yard, and handed me the root beer he’d just poured for himself.
Even though my mouth and forehead ached, I proudly held my scowl while he rested his auburn head against a pillow of moss under the tree. “Look at the sky and the clouds, Grace. When you’re upset, all you have to do is look up, and God will help you feel better.”
Now, nine years later and three weeks since Eric’s death, I’ve given myself a crick “looking up” in the backyard. Today, after school, I stood in the middle of the pink and purple blossoms on the Chinaberry trees and prayed for God to show me that He’s real and that my brother knows I’m sorry for being a jerk, and that I miss him. At the end of my prayer a whirlwind lifted fallen petals inches in front of me, twinkling like a spiral sun catcher. It was so cool. For a while, I let myself believe that it was God’s answer.
Inside the house, I pretended not to hear Mom ask if I was okay. I should’ve wrapped my arms around her and listened to her own endless “Remember when’s” about Eric. But, instead, I waded through weeks of clothes and tissue wads camouflaging the carpet in my room. The filter in Bonita’s aquarium is broken, and I keep waiting for her to die in her sludge. Her once lustrous fins float like phantom seaweed.
Everyone tried to warn me, “Beta fish are complicated. Make sure you read the maintenance pamphlet.” But, I had to learn the hard way why they’re called fighters. Bonita killed the goldfish I put in her tank.
I myself have stopped fighting. I finally opened the study Bible Eric gave me last Christmas. I didn’t understand why he highlighted random verses, a few in Psalms and Proverbs but most in the New Testament. Then I couldn’t breath and tears bruised my throat when I realized that each passage consisted of the same word--grace.
What a jerk I was at Christmas. Mom just rolled her eyes and shook her head at me, but Eric stayed still when I tossed the Bible on the coffee table and turned up a screamo band on my i-pod.
Last night I tried to make up for my horrible behavior at Christmas by memorizing the verse he highlighted in Ephesians, 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .” I slept with the page pressed against my chest, hoping that kind of faith would seep into my heart by morning.
I used to work so hard pretending I wasn’t jealous of Eric. I told myself that he was good, but I was gutsy. The beer parties, sneaking off to concerts with dangerous looking guys, stealing “fun” money from Mom and Dad weren’t sins. They were just “opportunities to express myself.” But, he, more than anyone, saw the neediness in me. He also believed in me--in God--enough to reach out and pray for me when I was too proud to link hands and kneel with him. I wanted him to call me a loser, to give up on me. But, he possessed eternal kindness in those blue eyes.
Only after his death did I realize that his goodness towards me and everyone , for that matter, wasn’t so easy. Bright, energetic twenty year old seminary students don’t suddenly die of heart attacks unless their hearts are trampled on or ignored by people who are supposed to watch out for them. I’m so sorry, Eric. I wish I could turn back time and be a better sister.
But I can’t. Right now I’m here, on the edge of my bed. And Bonita keeps staring at me. It’s sad seeing her struggle. Later, I’ll find her maintenance sheet somewhere in this mess and read how to care for her. But, for now, I’ll get up and find a clear glass bowl in the kitchen. Then I’ll scoop her up and place her in cleaner water.
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