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He was always there for me when I was little, it wasn't the best childhood but Charlie was always there. He was like a big brother to me. He was actually a cousin, my mother's sister's oldest son, but we were always really close. I was the youngest out of all of us, nineteen cousins altogether, and he was the oldest. I think he felt responsible, which makes sense, because Charlie was always responsible, but whenever we'd all get together the others would play with those closest to them in age. Charlie and I brought the ends together. He'd play hide and seek with me, and tag, and when I got older we'd play board games and do puzzles together. Then video games. My mom never needed a babysitter because of Charlie. She never needed to worry about who would pick me up at school when she was running late, because of Charlie. She never remarried after my father left and Charlie was kind of like a father, a big brother, and a best friend all in one. Somehow, he found the time to be this for everyone in his life. He was always what everyone else needed, and he always seemed happy with that. It was just how he was. He never let you feel like you were imposing, or like you were a problem, or like there wasn't time. I remember the time that my little rabbit died when I was thirteen, and Charlie came over to hold me and to talk to me. Later that night, my mom and I got into a fight, and she told me that I was an ungrateful little brat, and that Charlie had missed a job interview to spend time with me that day. He never told me. It was a week before I brought it up with him. I broke down and cried, but he just held me, and told me that he'd not wanted that job anyway. He said he had other interviews scheduled. Later that same week, he called me up. He sounded so excited. He told me that he had found a great job and that I was the one who was responsible, because if he'd gotten the job he had an interview for the day he came over to talk to me he wouldn't have kept looking. He said he liked the new job very much, and thanked me for looking out for him. Like he wasn't the one who'd been there for me, my whole life. 

That was eight years ago. Charlie was twenty at the time. A week after his twenty-first birthday, one of our other cousins died in a car accident. He hadn't had his seatbelt on. I never saw Charlie depressed before, but he took it so hard, and the entire family was like a ring... like he and I had made our cousins into a ring, a ring that was now missing a stone. Our entire family was a ring as we stood at two arms' length, reaching out, but not reaching all the way, waiting for Charlie to reach out. He'd always been there for us. We didn't know how to be there for him. His depression got worse; after a year, he lost that wonderful job. Six months after that, when he decided that instead of going to college he was going to go into the army, I think his mother was honestly relieved. I know my mom was. She kept talking about how it was "better for him." I hated her for it. I was so angry, for so long. I withdrew, and kept to myself. I read books. When Charlie was posted to Iraq, I watched the news for daily updates. I kept fearing that I would see his face. I asked my mother for news once, but she simply told me that Charlie was "fine" and that I shouldn't worry, because I couldn't possibly change anything, so I stopped asking. She didn't seem to care. I hated that she didn't seem to care. Looking back, she was terrified. She loved her nephew. She loved me. But I couldn't see that at the time. 

Charlie eventually came home. I didn't get to see him for years because he was only home for short periods. He'd try to see me but something would come up. I think I was mad at him for leaving. He came back, because he was medically discharged and came home three years after going into the army. But he didn't come home all the way. There was a problem. Something was different. He was able to get a job doing something like what he'd done before the military, like there was this 'gap' in his life that he couldn't fill, but he didn't hold that job for long. I heard my mother and my aunt talking; apparently there had been an accident. Not even an IED. An accident. A humvee rolled over, and two soldiers were killed. They were friends of Charlie's. Apparently, he was supposed to be in that patrol, but he was replaced at the last minute. I didn't hear why. My heart sank. I knew, or thought I knew, what that would do to Charlie. Charlie was caring. Charlie always felt responsible. I thought he'd be upset, sad, angry, even bitter. I dared to hope that he might come to me for a hug, but he didn't. I felt mad at first. I just wanted my "big brother" back. Months went by. I left him messages. I even wrote him letters. I never got a response. I thought Charlie didn't love me anymore because I hadn't seen him when he was home on leave. We were so close before that.

Then I finally got to see him.

It's been four years since then. I'm almost 22 myself now. When Charlie was that age he was a new recruit in the army. I think about that sometimes. When I finally got to see him, he looked wonderful. He was always handsome, but that day he looked really good. He was wearing his uniform. I'd never seen him in a uniform up close, only in pictures. It looked really good on him. I remember thinking that they could have taken a photograph of him, and maybe used it for army recruiting or something. It was a weird thought to have at the time, but he just looked perfect in it. Proud, dignified, and calm. He looked like the Charlie I remembered. I wore a bright blue dress, because it was his favorite color on me. He always said it matched my eyes, and that I had beautiful eyes, and needed to wear things which would bring them out. To this day I don't think I've ever gone without a blue bow, or a top, or something, even if it was just an earing with a blue stone. I always wear some blue.

I wore blue that day for Charlie. Mom was mad at me. I didn't care. I wanted to look good for him. Even in the coffin, he looked so handsome. I actually smiled, because he looked like Charlie again. I heard mom say something about the putty they used to fill the hole, the reconstruction, what a "nice job" they had done "on him." Or maybe for him. It was hard to hear, and I don't remember a lot about that day except that Charlie looked like he used to look. He looked like my big brother again. 

I don't remember when I started crying, or stopped crying, or started crying. When I cry now it feels like I've been crying the whole time, and when I stop it feels like it isn't real. I keep expecting to see Charlie again. I keep expecting to see him walk in through the front door. I'll yell and scream because he spent so long away, and then he'll laugh, and hug me, and I'll keep screaming until I can't anymore because it's Charlie, and who can stay mad at him for very long anyway. I've done a lot of practicing on the yelling and the screaming part. Now all he has to do is walk in the front door. When I think about him now, I feel numb inside, almost cold. I'm mostly normal the rest of the time, if a little withdrawn. I don't date. I don't have a lot of friends, but I am in college. Maybe that will change by the time I'm finished school. 

Maybe Charlie will walk in my front door then, and this will all be a bad dream, and I'll still be thirteen. 

I love you, Charlie, and I miss you so much. I'm sorry I wasn't there. I'm sorry I couldn't help. I just want you to come home and everything will be fine. 

User Comments
Anon-1

You have my warmest, deepest, most everlasting condolences... I'm so sorry for what you lost. I'm also grateful for the fact that you were able to go to school, and on some level to move on. I think it's a measure of what a great relationship the two of you had that you are able to do this in spite of his loss. 

Anon-2

I don't know if this will mean anything, but Charlie has my deepest, deepest thanks for what he gave for us. Please, don't blame yourself. Don't blame yourself ever, at all. I've known people who went through something very like this. They weren't your Charlie :( but the point is that what they went through, everything is on that. You're no more responsible for his loss than you are for theirs. You were good to him. He had a big heart. So do you.

Anon-3

Charlie would want you to stay in school, and to try your best. You mean the world to your family, like all family members do... even if they don't see it. You mean the world to someone else out there who doesn't even know it yet, maybe. Good luck in all things, and for what it's worth I'm proud of you. This was hard to read, emotionally, but I think you've done amazingly well for all you've been through.

Oh my God. No. Don't you ever blame yourself. Don't you dare. What Charlie did is terrible, and awful, and understandable, and confusing all at once. I have some inkling of where he was in general terms, and trust me... he deserves admiration and respect for the choices he made, and he deserves love for what he went through... but the choice was ultimately his. He was sick, and in need of help. You weren't his sickness. It sounds more like you were his sunshine. I know it's hard but smile, try to smile; he's at peace now, and for as long as he was here, he had you.