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Topic: This Side of Paradise (not about the book) (07/14/11)
By Marita Vandertogt
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Until one day in particular. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the sun was burning hot. My brother was ten at the time. I was eight. He challenged me to climb the oak tree in the centre of our yard, to hang from the highest branch I could reach, upside down and sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. He said he already did it and it was easy. I said I could. Of course I could. My blonde hair and freckled face mirrored his, but I believe my eyes held far more determination than his. I remember that afternoon so well, because as I started to scale the tree, my flip flops sliding along the rough bark, my knees scraping pain into my head, all I could think about was doing what he said, just because I knew he didn’t think I could.
I was scared as I climbed, forcing myself to not look down until I made it to the highest branch possible. My legs were wobbly and the skinny stick branch I was standing on burrowed into my plastic flip flops. When I looked down, ready to start flinging my legs over a sturdy branch to assume the hang, he was nowhere in sight. “Allan” I called at the top of my lungs. “Allan, you gotta see this, or I ain’t gonna do it.” But still nothing. No sign of him. I made my way to the branch and did it anyway, hanging upside down, seeing the sky as land, and the front of our house with the sea green door my last memory before I felt myself sinking to the ground. Not floating, as one would think falling from a branch, but sinking, like I was falling into a giant hole. That was the last thing I remembered.
I woke up to cool white sheets all around me, and my arm in a sling. I couldn’t see my legs, but one had a pain so fierce, like fire running right up into my stomach. The other one didn’t have any feeling at all. Allan was sitting in a chair in the corner of the hospital room just staring at me.
“Hey,” he said, when he saw my eyes try to focus on his slouched down frame. “You okay?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Did you see me. I did it. I did it, just like you said I couldn’t.”
“Yah,” was all he said, then got up and walked out of the room.
Since that day, my brother Allan changed. He didn’t talk like he used to. He didn’t tease me anymore, or sit under the shade tree, splashing juice on my face, just to make me mad. He hardly had anything to do with me at all. But then, I guess brothers and sisters do that anyway, go in different directions. I grew out of being a tomboy so we didn’t have much in common anyway. It took a few years to get myself walking without a limp. I guess maybe it took as many for Allan to get passed the guilt. I don’t know. I just know that those were special years up until then. Those were years we grew together, we understood the meaning of a glass of cold water, the fierceness of the sun, and living each day to our own expectations.
Those were a lot of years ago. We still don’t speak much. Allan moved to the west coast after graduation, and I have my own family now, with a son and a daughter. I watch them grow together, and I pray they will stay that way. But life has a way of sometimes throwing a wrench into what could have been different. A wrench that nobody gets to see ahead of time. A wrench, that though sometimes simple in its execution, can be the dividing force in what might have been. Maybe the wrench is part of the plan. Maybe not. It didn’t change the sea blue green colour of our front door. Only the people that lived behind it.
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