I rap the open door three times. I dressed up today; in these lonely, lazy days of quarantine, my usual uniform has been bathing suit, sweatpants. I hope my 9 a.m. lecture (8 a.m. CDT) appreciated my effort. “Such A Simple Thing” by Ray LaMontagne streams silkily into my ears from my AirPods as, once again, I rap the open door three times.
They barely stir. I stand in the doorway. In twin beds in a cozy bedroom, James on the left and Henry on the right, their faces are half-covered by the yellow and brown spiral designs on the matching comforters. James’s feet stick out at the end of his bed. He rubs them together almost in protest, as he always does, like my Mom always does when she sleeps. Henry surreptitiously cracks open one eye and then immediately closes it, afraid of getting caught. I smile.
“Get up,” I demand bluntly, teasingly. James perks up a bit at that one. He always sleeps on his stomach, his head to the side and his mouth open, so he shifts onto his back and squints, trying to discern if I’m Mom or me. When he finds his answer, he turns onto his side. My order is ignored, but I don’t mind.
Everyone says that people look younger when they sleep. I don’t disagree. In the dark honey-colored room, my younger brothers look like twins despite their three-year age difference. They are both dark-haired with long, curling eyelashes that flutter with displeasure at being disturbed. Jamie’s hair is slightly lighter, more chestnut than Henry’s. Hen is skinnier, being the younger of the two, but with just his head above the blankets, you wouldn’t know. He, like me, sleeps on his side, now moving the covers up to brush his nose.
They face each other, twin faces in twin beds. James is stretched out long and lean, his feet still rubbing against each other as they poke out from under the comforter, while Henry is curled up in a ball. I can see James’s scar from where I’m standing, just under his left eye. Henry once threw a rock at him while they were swimming in the lake. I was peacefully reading and sunning on the dock, indifferent to and ignorant of their exploits in the water. Until Jamie swam up the stairs leading into the lake—the kind slick with silt and grime and little lake creatures—with blood streaming down his face. Henry’s thrown rock had hit him right on his cheekbone. Now, the scar looks like a dimple. I remember throwing my book down, leaping out of my chair, and peering into his eyes, trying to discern what were tears and what was blood, since both had mixed together to make the cut look much worse than it was. We raced up the path to the house and Henry followed in guilt. Mom had gone to the grocery store. She later swore that if she had been there, it would have never happened. She’s probably right. Dad, on the other hand, yelled at Henry, cleaned James’s wound, and grabbed superglue, squeezing the clear, viscous liquid into the cut and then ordering James to hold the two sides of skin together. As if no stitches were necessary. Hen and I watched this makeshift surgery in awe, me periodically sticking my head between my legs (I get queasy around blood), and merely a half-hour later it was like nothing had ever happened. My brothers returned to the water and I to my chair and book. The slightly pink, horizontal mark on James’s face is the only distinguishing feature between the two on this Tuesday morning.
“Get uUuUUuUuuUp!” I sing, which I know will annoy them, stepping to the window and twisting the rod to open the blinds. Florida sunshine falls on their sleepy faces in shafts. I have their attention now. Henry pulls his covers up even higher (he’s the one facing the window), while James turns his back to the incoming light and rubs his feet together again. Neither of them opens his eyes, knowing that if he does so, I will have won. This is a battle of wills, however small and inconsequential. Now that the room is golden, they look less alike.
My yellow dress swishes as I move between the two beds. For some reason, I felt like wearing something nice. In the shower this morning I was thinking about springtime at Yale, and how I’m missing it, and how much I was looking forward to admiring the Branford tulips and actually getting Vitamin D in New Haven for once. I’m much tanner now—a noticeable benefit of quarantining in Florida—and I thought about how no one at Yale ever sees me like this. The water ran over me in slow streams, as if it knew that I had nowhere to be. With my eyes closed, I pretended I was in the bathroom on Saybrook Entryway B’s third floor. It’s weird to miss a shower. Especially the communal, single, three-square-foot shower I share with three male athletes and two female musicians. But I do—I miss the slightly “off” smell of my college bathroom, the somewhat aggressive water pressure, and at this point, I might even miss wearing shower shoes. My daily morning shower at Yale, where I’m usually still half-asleep and trying to hurry so that I’m not late to Game Theory again, is one of the things I miss most. Here, I stepped out of my shower barefoot. How strange it was to actually feel cold tile under my toes. That’s when I decided that today, I would dress up. I would pretend that it was a sunny day at Yale, that the temperature was surprisingly tolerable, and that it was the perfect opportunity to show off my favorite yellow dress. I even put shoes on even though I know I won’t step outside once. I take my anxiety pill, struggle to rake the brush through my tangled wet hair, and squeeze new toothpaste onto my new toothbrush. I left my usual toothpaste and toothbrush at school in my haste to leave for spring break, and they remain on the dull metal shelves in that bathroom, probably gathering dust. Today, I think, I will wear makeup. I remember my first-year roommate actually thought I was insane when I told her that I wear makeup to class every day. It’s a habit, something expected, something I keep from home. I brush bronzer over my cheekbones, mascara on my eyelashes, Chapstick on my lips. I have freckles now. I don’t think anyone at Yale even knows that I have freckles, that they gather on my nose and taper out towards the sides of my face, that they appear randomly on my forehead. Mom always said that she wished she’d had freckles growing up, and I think about that a lot. In my yellow dress and sneakers, hair still drying but makeup on, I feel kind of silly standing between my sleeping siblings. Who did I dress up for, again?
Ray LaMontagne still echoes in my ears, soft and sweet and full of longing. I look between the two, Jamie on my right and Henry on my left. They are each facing me, eyes closed, lips slightly parted, hair sticking up all over the place. I look back and forth between them, noticing James’s facial hair. It’s patchy and sparse but it’s there. How? When did it get there? How much of them growing up have I missed from being away? Did I abandon them? Will they forget all about me, that I was ever even a part of their lives? Do they resent me? James is 17. I feel like I was just 17.
Tears prick in my eyes and I look to Henry, who is taller than me now. Both of them are taller than me. I’m the second-shortest in my family even though I stand at six feet; Hen is six-one and James six-two. I have missed so much. I have betrayed them by leaving home, going to Yale (literally a thousand miles away), switching time zones, essentially walking out of their lives without looking back. I have missed so much.
A few tears are slipping down my face now. So much for the makeup. I step towards James and run my fingers through his hair, gently, slowly. It’s so thick, so much thicker than my stringy mess—he got the good Greek genes. I stroke his scalp aimlessly, wondering if I can reach his mind through my fingertips and tell him that I miss him. That I’m sorry I haven’t been here, but I’m here now. That I’m sorry that I snap at him and get impatient when I edit his school papers. That I don’t want this distance between us. I thought he would reach up and bat my hand away, but he doesn’t. His eyelids flutter gently, his lips purse, and his nose wrinkles endearingly. Maybe he understands. Maybe one day I’ll be able to speak those words out loud.
Tears have fallen onto my chest now, trailing down to the neckline of my yellow dress. I disentangle my hands from James’s head and turn to Henry, tracing the lines of his forehead and reaching into his hair, doing the same thing to my youngest brother. He was 13 when I left for Yale. When he remembers growing up, going through junior high and high school and all those associated pivotal milestones, will he even remember me? Will I become some distant figure of his imagination, someone who was there but not really, someone who didn’t call enough or see him enough or care about him enough? He burrows further into his pillow as I stroke his scalp in slow circles. I have missed so much. I have missed so much.
I step away, standing stationary between them, hands to myself. I am in my now tear-stained yellow dress and ruined makeup, silently crying, the sunlight still pouring in as it always does and always will do. I think about how this morning would look at Yale if I were there. I’d be nearly sprinting down Cross Campus, this same music probably filling my ears, cutting between Bass and WLH and then turning right down Wall. I’d be in such a hurry. I like being in a hurry. Is it bad that I like being in a hurry? I miss it. I miss so much.
I stand between my brothers like I stand between two worlds, two families, two homes. I feel guilty when I miss Yale, I feel confused when I miss home, I feel like no matter what I do I am missing something. Carefully, slowly, I back away towards the door, still facing both of them as if I won’t see them again. I’ll let them sleep a little longer. We have nowhere to go, no one to be.
“Such A Simple Thing” ends as my heels hit the threshold of the open door, and I’m still staring at them. Mom will want them to be awake when she gets back, but she can wait. We can all wait, because right now, we don’t have to miss anything. Right now, for once, I feel like I’m not missing it.
Anastasia Hufham | firstname.lastname@example.org