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One Teen Story #7
“I listened for the other details of her afternoon that she wasn’t telling me -”
Sometimes, in life, you behave in a way you know you shouldn’t, and later, when you remember the moment, you think about how you should have behaved, but in that moment you can’t stop yourself. You act your age and with the emotions of said moment.
As I read this story I kept thinking of the word premonition. Indeed, the story is set up to give the reader evidence that something bad has happened or is about to happen – right from the opening line.
“On a spring afternoon during my freshman year of college, my mother called me, said my brother’s name once, and began to cry.”
In reading this line my mind immediately thought her brother was dead. Wonder what that says about me. Probably that I read a lot of depressing literature, but most good literature is depressing. Just ask Tess of the D’urbervilles. Poor Tess. But it turns out, (spoiler alert) the brother is not dead, just a weird teenager behaving in ways that many teenagers grow up hoping to forget or in today’s world hoping those behaviors aren’t recorded and placed on some social media platform.
Back to the story, the older sister, thinking she knows what is best for her brother, yet acting in her own interest, is a failure: just kidding. She behaves the way many older siblings behave: as a slightly older child who may have more answers (certainly more opinions), but definitely not all the answers. As the Angelica Baker writes in an interview:
I found myself lingering on the idea of what it means to be an older sibling, to feel so fiercely protective of your younger siblings. And yet as a teenager you’re trying to navigate the adult world, and it’s hard enough to protect yourself. Let alone someone else. So you naturally end up feeling like a failure, as the eldest.
For siblings two years apart, there is a time span when their adolescence over laps and that seems, at least in this story, to come right before the sister (our narrator) grows out of it, leaving her brother behind as she finds popularity, friends, and a boyfriend. So what of the brother’s response? He could have either gone one of two ways: clinging to his big sister hoping their relationship will go back to the way it was, or getting the memo and not clinging. I won’t say what happens, but I’ll add that I’m hard pressed to decide which is sadder.
Again I refer to the author’s words:
I think those are painful moments—when you realize that there was a time when someone needed you, and that you couldn’t do it. Often that window closes. You can try to do better in the future, but by then you’ll be playing catch up. You’ve lost the chance to get it right on your first try. And I think it’s painful when it happens with family, with friends, with significant others. She hasn’t betrayed him, or willfully harmed him, but she was afraid and she withdrew, and now it’s too late to reach him in the same way.
Being a younger brother myself, I liked this story. It demonstrates the true behavior and social patterns of siblings while blurring the lines of blame in thick ambiguity, explaining that sometimes what happens is not any one person’s fault. Yes, someone might feel hurt more than another, but there is still a future.
For more on this story, read this interview with OTS editor Patrick Ryan and watch the video below. And read it!
The Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College serves as one of the cultural centers of campus, bringing together students, faculty, alumni, and local community members from across the disciplines. Our literary programming provides access to a wide variety of genres, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, scholarly prose, playwriting, and hybrid forms; our letterpress studio and Literary House Press introduce participants both to old and new technologies. We are dedicated to promoting the articulated word and to supporting students through professional, on-the-job training.