After 22 years, I finally got the courage to return to my hometown. I drive into the small town and immediately feel nostalgic, but I’m not exactly sure if that’s a good thing. The whole town seems to be covered in brown as autumn leaves fall off the trees and onto the streets and houses. Thanksgiving decorations are hanging and I smell cookies and apple cider from a nearby store. Everything seems to be where we left it. The first thing I notice is a small store that my dad, Theo, and I used to go to almost everyday. It’s closed now and even though I didn’t expect it to still be here, I started to fill up with rage and sadness at the same time.
I noticed a few old men and women sitting on a bench. Two kids are running around chasing each other and I hear their mother yelling behind them. “Lily...Elio both of you stop running right now! You’re bound to get hurt.” I immediately recognize the woman. It’s Luna. I remember me and her chasing each other around the schoolhouse when we were just 7 years old. It’s crazy to think of how we’re all grown now. Both her kids look just like her. I wonder if she’s still with Ivan. They seemed so in love the last time I saw her even though we were only 14. I guess love means different things at different ages. Next to her is a man. They’re holding hands running after their children, but it wasn’t Ivan. At first I didn’t recognize him but it’s Oliver. I never expected them to end up together but I guess time changes everything. I thought of getting out of my car and seeing if she wanted to go get coffee or something but her hands seem full at the moment so I decided to keep driving. Maybe I’ll check up on her later before I leave. But after a while, driving was getting tiring so I ended up parking my car and walking instead. Walking past these very same stores and houses started to make me feel kind of queasy inside. I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming sadness as I walked past our old house. There’s another family that lives here now which makes me kind of angry.
This was our home. It doesn’t feel right seeing another family here instead. I turn and walk across the street suddenly walking into the park where our family’s tragedy had begun. I say “suddenly” because I had no intention of visiting this park. I had told myself multiple times it wasn’t my fault what happened to my brother that day and I knew I’d blame myself again if I ever stepped foot here. I was born and raised here with my two younger brothers, Theo and Blaise and our parents. We were an average family just like everyone else but one incident occurred and from there it just got worse.
Theo was only a baby when Blaise and I went to go to the park one day. Our parents let us go alone because the park was just across the street from our house. One day we were playing hide and seek and it was my turn to hide. We only counted up to 20 because Theo couldn’t count any farther. But after a few minutes I realized Theo never found me and I started to get worried. I walked across every inch of the park and he wasn’t there. I heard all the other kids laughing and playing and I started feeling dizzy and kind of sick. I was a very angry and easily annoyed child growing up and all I wanted to do at that moment was scream at everyone to shut up. How could they possibly be playing around while I’m crying in the middle of the park. I started getting really scared and stopped looking for him and I decided to run back home. I knew how much trouble I would be in.
But my parents first instinct wasn’t to yell at me which surprised 7 year old me but now it makes more sense. There were cops looking for everyone and pretty much the whole town was looking for him. It was a small town so we all looked out for each other. We never found Theo until years later. But that’s when our family’s story got even worse. One day dad, Theo and I were on our way to that very same store we went to every day. Theo was old enough to actually go out with us and I loved him but every time I entered that store I hated that Blaise wasn’t there to steal those little candies at the back of the store with me. We never got caught which made it more fun but that suddenly didn’t seem to matter anymore.
So that day the three of us entered the store and Theo and I ran to the back of the store. I decided it was time to teach him how to master the art of stealing without being caught. I told him not to run away but he did so anyway so I had to calmly walk behind him. “What happened to your brother Venus?” I remember my dad asking me.
“He has to use the bathroom” I calmly responded. My name isn’t actually Venus but I made sure everyone called me that. I was Venus and Blaise was Saturn. There was no actual logic behind it, I just liked the name Venus and Blaise liked that there was a ring around Saturn. We made up our names when Theo was a baby so he doesn’t have a nickname like us and I think that bothered him sometimes. We finished the handful of candy we took without paying and were on our way to throw the candy wrappers in the dumpster behind the garbage can and that’s when we saw Blaise for the first time in three years. But it wasn’t him. It was only his head. His head was detached from the rest of him. Theo was only scared but didn’t recognize him. But I would know my brother anywhere. He looked older but he still had that baby face. I was frozen and not sure what to do. I closed the dumpster and we slowly walked back to the front of the store. I wasn’t sure if I should tell dad so I decided to tell mom instead. We were never that close to our dad and I wasn’t sure how to have an actual conversation with him. “What happened to you two. You look like you just saw a ghost” dad joked. We always laughed at his jokes so he wouldn’t feel bad that we weren’t as close but this time I just couldn’t laugh. When we got home I told mom I needed something and we went to another room and I told her what I saw. That night the police and everyone were all over the town and rumor was that the FBI were here too. That night mom sent the both of us to sleep even though I couldn’t sleep. I cried the whole night. It’s been years and it took me this long to finally move on and now all those emotions are coming back like the way a tsunami takes over building and homes and people.
When we woke up the next morning I saw my mom crying but dad wasn’t there. Most of the day went by and mom still hadn’t told us anything and Theo and I were confused until we turned on the news. It was dad. I couldn’t believe it. Dad had taken not only Blaise but two other children in our neighborhood. I didn’t have the heart to ask mom about it but when she entered the living room she told us to turn off the TV and sit down for lunch. And she left to a different room but we could still hear her sobs getting louder.
I can’t really give too many details about that day because we were a lot younger and nobody really gave me a proper explanation. But the next day no one in the neighborhood could look us in the eye and my mother decided we couldn’t stay here anymore. I remember her saying it felt like we’ve been stripped of our dignity. I don’t really blame her either. She wasn’t allowed in her book club or yoga class anymore. All the other kids stayed distant from Theo and I and our lives just started crashing down. Everything felt out of touch and I had lost my capability to be angry. I just wanted to apologize to those families that had lost their children but why would they want to hear from me? And most of all I missed my little brother. All our memories came flooding in as mom, Theo and I drove out of this very same small town and never came back. We moved to New York and to our favor no one ever found out the truth about our family. Every day thoughts about dad hurting Blaise haunted me but I tried my best to contain them. My mother reminded me every day it wasn’t my fault and every day I reminded her that I would always be here for her. Unfortunately, my mother died from ALS a few years ago. She lost her ability to move around first and I remember how painful it was to watch. My dad killed himself in prison a while back too. I’m not exactly sure where Theo is. He got up one day and decided he wants to go travelling and never thought about calling to let us know how he is so it’s just me now.
I walked around pretty much the whole town all day today. Like I said, it’s a small town. I decided not to bother anyone. I highly doubt they want to go out for coffee with me. But I did get to see a few other people from my early childhood days as I walked by. Eliza and Nova seem to be happy together. I always knew they’d end up together. And I think I saw Levi walking his dog too. All these thoughts rushed through my head as I drove out of this place. I never did forgive my dad for taking all of this away from me. My friends, neighbors, my home and most importantly my brother. But I guess there’s no point in complaining now.