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I sat and watched the motionless man struggling for his life in his hospital bed. I held his hand only to hope that he squeezed it in return, but nothing happened. A nurse walked in and offered me a blanket since she knew I wasn’t planning on leaving. I refused and told her to give it to someone who really needed it. After that she just watched me as I gazed over my brother. I didn’t notice at first, but when I looked up I could see tears beginning to fall down her fair cheeks.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just find it so sweet that you haven’t left his side ever since he was brought here. I never usually get like this, but there’s just something about you two. You see, I have two boys of my own. Though I can’t remember the last time that they’ve ever gotten along,” she laughed.
“I don’t mind,” I replied. “Though I do think he would.” I looked over to my brother with a smile. The nurse wiped off her tears and smiled in return. Instead of leaving to go about her business, she grabbed one of the chairs at the other side of the room and set it across from me with only my brother between us.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she started. “What was life like for you two, growing up?” I sat back in my chair.
”Life for me and this guy? Whoo, it was something. You might want to get comfortable miss. It’s a pretty long story.” She waited patiently as I prepared to begin.
Some siblings would agree that trading each other in or being an only child would be worthwhile. But that’s not how it was for my brother and me. Being that we’re identical twins, we were inseparable when we were younger. We still are! I would look out for him and he would look out for me. Although most of the time he was the one looking out for me. Growing up, he was the handsome, outgoing jock and I was the quiet, nerdy, school boy. I didn’t have that many friends, but I did have a few close ones. Michael, on the other hand, was known by everyone. He had all of the girls flirting with him from left to right. I think it was his bright personality that drew everyone in. He was the one with the positive attitude and overwhelming confidence. Luckily, he wasn’t one of those self-centered young men who let popularity get into their heads. He never minded being well known, but he never flaunted it. I remember him always telling me, “Mason, you’ve got to get yourself out there. You have no idea how many people would admire if you just opened your wings for once.” I would always disregard him when he said that. I figured he was just trying to sound like one to be of those…what do you call them? Oh! Shrinks. I hated those guys. Mike and I always had to go see one after the death of our mom and little sister, Michelle. They were in the building on 9/11, you see. Mom had to bring her to work with her that day and the babysitter was supposed to pick up our sister later on. They made it down a couple of floors, but the building collapsed before they could touch the ground. Our dad would take my brother and me to see the shrink every Wednesday after school to make sure we didn’t lose our sanity. I thought it was ridiculous if you asked me, but the old man was pretty worried. Mike and I decided to deal with it to put him at ease.
Anyways, after a couple of years of trying to get used to just the three of us in the house, Mike and I finally became seniors in high school. I was planning to become a marine biologist and Mike was aspiring to be in the NFL. We were spending even more time with each other. We (and a couple of friends) always went to the movies at least every weekend. If it wasn’t the movies, we were at someone’s house. Everything was going the way it was supposed to, until a few weeks before school ended. Mike and I were driving home after his football practice and he struck up a topic I never thought we would talk about. Just out of the blue he said,
“You know, I’ve been thinking about other options besides football.”
“That’s good,” I had replied, not catching on.
“I’ve been thinking about joining the army….”
“That’s funny Mike.”
“No, really. I don’t think it would be such a bad idea.”At that moment, I had pulled the car over to get a good look at his face. There was not even the slightest sign of a smirk.
“Mike, this is the same group of guys that you said you wanted nothing to do with when Mom and Michelle died. You said the whole terrorist-government-army-air force thing was whack. You’ve never liked the army. You even blamed them for not being there for those people in the towers when you knew it was something they had no control over. Every time a JROTC kid walks through the halls in school you look at them like you’re about to strangle them or something. And now, on a Wednesday afternoon after you just had football practice, you’re telling me you want to be in the army?!”After a few seconds he answered,
“I just don’t think that it would be such a bad idea. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Instead of hating the people who protect our country every day, why not help them to make sure an incident like 9/11 doesn’t happen again? Why not—“
“Why are you doing this?” I had interrupted.
“Why are you getting so upset?”
“Because you’re my brother you idiot! We’ve never, ever been separated before and now, all of a sudden you’re telling me that you want to go across the world to risk you’re life for something that you don’t even believe in?”
“Mason, just hear me out for a minute—“
“No! I don’t want to hear you out. What happened to the NFL? What happened to you becoming the star quarterback and me and Dad coming to all you’re games and—“
“Well you know what, things can change. Not everyone sticks to their decisions at first. Besides, you guys would be fine without me.” I remember how I got so frustrated that it took me the whole car ride home to answer him. When we pulled up in our driveway I said,
“Have you told dad yet?”
“No. I was planning to tell him at dinner. I was hoping that you’d be there for moral support.”I remember keeping my eyes so focused on the wheel that I was sure that the wheel itself would fall out of place.
“Well, you’re not getting any of that from me. I’ll be in my room.” I angrily got out of the car, stepped into the house, and shut my bedroom door behind me.
I paused to look at my brother to see if he would even move a finger. Still, nothing happened. He was dead to the world.
”So you never really specified why you were so upset,” the nurse said, pulling me away from my thoughts. “I mean he was going to do a good thing. Other than the fact that he was your brother, why did it affect you so much?”
“I didn’t want to be like one of those military/army/air force families that have to go about their lives in fear of seeing a couple of men stand at their door step to tell them that their loved one is dead. Thinking about Mike dying is the last thing that I wanted to think about. The fact that he wanted to leave and go fight made me feel like he wanted to speed up the process.”
“So what did you do when he left?” the nurse questioned.
“I was just about to get to that…”
The night before Mike left, I had come to my senses and told him that I supported him even though inside I was pleading for him not to go.
“If you die out there, I’ll kill you,” I had said with a smile.
“Don’t worry, that won’t happen,” he smiled back.
The day that Mike left was one of the hardest days that I’ve ever had to experience in my life. I remember hugging him so tight that he told me if I hugged him any tighter he’ll die before he even gets to fly out. Dad and I dropped him off at the airport and waited impatiently for him to return in 6 months. He sent us pictures, and even got to video chat a few times. When he finally got back I didn’t let any time waste. I had this real nerdy plan of all the things we would do when he got back. He didn’t have time to breathe!
He was a changed man when he returned. He wasn’t as laid back as I remembered him being. He was sterner; more collected. He still smiled, but not as brightly as he used to. I assumed that the army “high jacked” his mind. (Juvenile, I know.) I figured that if I loosened him up and took him to our old hang outs that he would get back to normal. But before I could, he was already packing up to leave for his 2nd deployment. I felt like I was losing him each time that he left.
I was a marine biologist and lived about 3 hours from our house by the time he was back early from his 5th deployment. Our old man was in the hospital and the doctors didn’t think he would live to the next day. They were right. We had the funeral a week after it happened. Instead of taking time to cope with everything that just occurred, Mike already packed and had gone back. We didn’t talk until about a month after dad died. Let’s just say that the conversation was not as long as one would expect it to be. He kept coming home and going to work for a while. I had already lost count of how many times he’s left by then.
I paused to look at Mike again in hope of any sudden movement. I looked at the many tattoos sleeved upon his arm. Dad would have killed him if he saw them.
“So if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you two?” the nurse asked curiously.
I smiled, “We’re 45 now.”
“Wow,” the nurse replied, shaking her head. “The army must’ve done some damage for a 45 year old to have a heart attack. Poor guy!”
“You have no idea what my brother has been through,” I said, in a harsher tone than I wanted it to be. “I don’t think I could ever understand how much drama and heartache he went though.” After a few moments the nurse asked,
“What caused it? His heart attack I mean.” The nurse asked.
“His attack was caused by something that no man should ever have to go through.” I replied. I took a sip of some coffee I had gotten earlier before I began to explain to the nurse.
I was about to get ready to leave to go run tests for my lab when I heard. My coworker, Bryan had called me urgently and told me to turn on the news to channel 5. I still remember the headlines: “EXPLOSION KILLS 40 SOLDIERS AND LEAVES 10 SERIOUSLY INJURED”. That wasn’t even the part that killed me. My heart sank to the pits of my stomach when I found out where they were. They were stationed at the exact place that Mike was supposed to be stationed at. I remember not even wanting to move. Knowing that there was a 75% chance that he was dead didn’t make the situation any better.
“Now, because it is hard to identify most of the burned bodies in this attack, most families will not be able to know where their loved one is for at least 48 hours. The seriously injured will also not be able to contact their families until they are transported to a safer environment. This will also not happen for another 48 hours. I’m Janelle Roe, Channel 5 News.”
48 hours felt like 48 years. I didn’t leave the house. I just sat, hour by hour, in front of my T.V. and next to my phone. You have no idea how much it hurt to know that 50 soldiers were affected by this, 1 of them was you’re twin brother, and you didn’t even know where he was or if he even was alive.
Then, the call finally came. His voice was so…broken. He had told me that he had broken his left leg and he fractured his collar bone and that he should be as good as new after about 2 months. I was relieved that physically he was going to be okay. As far as his mental state, I was concerned.
He came home early and permanently when he felt comfortable enough to fly. He stayed with me at my apartment since we sold our parent’s house. I had never seen anyone so down in my life. I tried to make conversation with him to lighten the mood, which did nothing but make the situation worse. I figured he was still in shock and was trying to get over everything that happened. I told myself that it would pass, but I really became concerned with him during the night. The first night he came back to stay with me, I could hear him thrashing and yelling from nightmares. He wouldn’t stop for hours. The next morning, he said nothing about last night until I brought it up.
“So what was that?” I said.
“What was what” he replied.
“You know what I mean; the thrashing, the screaming. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
He stared hard at his cereal before answering me. “I’ve been having nightmares ever since the attack. My doctor had put me on meds back in Iraq but I decided to go without them when I came back.”
“You’re and idiot, you know that?”I said to him. “You would rather suffer and get no sleep than take the stupid meds? Are you mental?”
“I didn’t want my sleep to depend on a couple of pills. I figured that I could control--“
“Yeah, and look where that got you now” I interrupted. “Mike, I don’t see any harm in getting a little help. It’s not like you’re going to be on them forever.”
“You just don’t understand, alright? You don’t know what it feels like to be hanging around with some friends one day and then the next day an explosion takes away their life. All of the men that I became friends with were dead in the instant.” He began to raise his voice, “Now I have to carry this burden, this hurt with me for the rest of my---“
The next thing I know, Mike is on the floor with his hand clasped tightly to his chest. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the hospital only to find out that he had a heart attack.
“And now we’re here,” I said to the nurse with a small smile. I looked at my brother.” The doctor said it was stress.
I’m not surprised. This guy has been through so much in his life. He lost so many people, especially from the explosion, and now he has to live with it.”
“At least he still has you,” the nurse said after a while.
“That’s right. I’ll never leave him. No matter how much we fight we will always be brothers; twin brothers. He was always there for me when I was younger, and now it’s my turn to be there for him.”
At that moment, Mike opened his eyes and searched around until I found mine.
“Hey bro,” he said.
“I’m gonna kill you,” I said out of relief and frustration.
“But I didn’t die!” he protested with a smile. It still wasn’t that same smile from the old days, though. It was a smile of a changed man who was fighting to get through a difficult situation. It was the smile of a soldier.