Before I left to be “Hi, I’m Sister Foulkrod” and “how can I pray for you” and “God’s love heals” I called Dane at my mom’s request. When I told him I wanted to change my life and be “praise Jesus” and “saved at last” at first, he was “running around some stupid place for two years to talk about God won’t get you anywhere in life” and “finish school” and “what the hell”. I told him it was the one thing that after everything made me feel full. Made me feel. He was quiet before he said I guess we’re all looking for that.
When I lived in Milwaukee as a missionary, our entire neighborhood spoke Spanish. Our neighbors danced through the early summer air like music into the small hours of the morning. They were “paséenles!” and “Hola chicas!” and we were “las mujeres de dios” and “las jóvenes” and this protected us when the trucks on our street had more bullet holes in them in the morning light than they had the night before, when our neighbor died and his body was put into a black bag and a minivan, and when unfamiliar eyes lingered on our young bodies too long.
There, the thunderstorms were gray and brilliant. Rain fell to the street the same way lovers fall together at airports and lightening kissed trees. The thunder whispered so closely in our ears that our house shivered, and car alarms screamed. I sat by the window to our roof/balcony to watch and to feel. God’s love felt gentle in those moments.
I’m ashamed to say that of my time in Milwaukee, I can’t remember the name of my favorite neighbor. This friend, two houses down, had a St. Bernard named Whiskey Blu. My missionary partner and I spent hours on the sidewalk talking to our friend about the sky and California and everything in between and never ran out of the important things to say. Our friend and Whiskey Blu sat on their porch every day, two houses away from ours. Left of ours.
Holly lived left of me serendipitously, a couple houses left, when I moved to Utah from Milwaukee. Years before, as an engineering student trying something new, I met Holly in my first ever creative writing class.
I was “Hey, I know it’s the first day, but um, can I borrow some lined paper for our quick write? I only have graph paper.” And Holly was “Um, of course you can!” and curly hair and cool socks and smiley eyes and caring hands. Holly lived left of me for a year after Milwaukee and Holly was harmony in church hymns and back scratches when your eyes were heavy and your head, too, and both hung down in Sunday service. Holly said things like insecurity is the vainest form of pride and I was pride and I was vainess. Holly said things like humility relies on gentleness and kindness and the most important gentleness is being gentle with people and their thoughts and their beings.
My husband is gentle with me when he changes nursery rhymes from “my life has a purpose, my life has a plan!” to “my wife has a purpose my wife has a plan!” when I can’t accept I have depression. He is always gentle and kind but most importantly Chandler is good.
When I was little, my mother would pray in Spanish at night when we knelt next to my bed, a spiritual secret we shared, just the two of us. We were “las amadas” and “say hi to Jesus for me” in a house that was “the Jesus thing is your thing”. My mom spoke Spanish other times, but it wasn’t the same. My brother and I took Spanish classes growing up, but it wasn’t the same.
Having a brother you don’t talk to is awkward. When I was little and afraid of driving down steep, steep hills, and the being alone in the dark he was “Dane, hold your sister’s hand, so she doesn’t cry. She’s scared” and he did. He was big brother, role model, best friend, hero, funny, and everything I wanted to be. I was “can I come? I want to play, too”, and “do you want to play airsoft this weekend?”
Now he’s LA and airplanes and travels a lot. In high school Dane was “I don’t want anyone to know we’re related if you talk about church stuff” and “you can’t say that here”. The school was private, but public in ways of harassment and discrimination of children whose religions weren’t theirs. After one year I left that school and picked faith over being bullied by peers and teachers and receiving detentions for fighting misinformation. Maybe that’s why things are the way that they are, maybe in Dane’s mind, I left him. Nothing was the same after that.
I can’t say what it is in his mind, but if I had to guess I would bet that God stands between us, and Dane’s never been interested in Him. When I struggled with faith and wanting to be alive, Dane was “You can’t go to college without having ever taken shots before”. So, for a night we were siblings in our underwear drinking tequila and sucking on limes in an upstairs bedroom that, before that night, I had been in so few times I could count them on one hand. We were siblings when I was sad, while my parents slept, and we laughed. And with the exception of one party-filled birthday weekend a year later that was it. That weekend, he was “that’s my sister, shithead if you touch her, I’ll break your arm.” and “I’ll buy your drinks” and “we just left the bar to grab some food before coming back, do you still like chocolate chip pancakes?” He was all those things.
Now I’m here and he’s there and I think about how he used to draw. How he used to be so good at drawing and how he stopped talking about it so long ago and how he must have stopped drawing so long ago, too. I think about how you probably have to be gentle to draw and I wonder what happens when you stop being gentle or when you stop drawing and what that means. I think about how there was a time he knew Spanish and how we didn’t talk for two years in Spanish or English when I was a missionary and he was doing whatever. But maybe if I sent those once-a-year texts in Spanish maybe he would remember and maybe things would be different and maybe he would call and maybe, if it was in Spanish, it wouldn’t take my mom, la querida, having a brain aneurysm for him to say “love you, too” on the other end of a phone. Maybe I would only cry out of fear of losing her and not also because I didn’t remember the last time I’d heard that, let alone received a call from him.
Maybe if he lived left, or if I did, maybe he wouldn’t have said to my mom that he was “too busy” and “didn’t know how to have a relationship with her right now”. Maybe I could still be “little sister” and not stranger. Maybe we would talk about the sky and the weather and other important things. Maybe he’d know my husband, Chandler, and maybe we’d even have dinner together once in a while, or I’d tell him about what I’m studying. Maybe, but I don’t worry about him finding this essay.
At the end of it all I want him to know that I’m “the door’s always open and the light’s always on” and “I’ll make you a plate” and that I’m still “I love you” and that I’ll always be “that’s my big brother, that’s my hero.”
Because me quedaré con él hasta el final. Siempre.
(names have been changed) ↩︎
Makenna Allred is an undergraduate student studying creative nonfiction and computer science. She loves finding truth in the intersection of seemingly unrelated things and her nonfiction aims to explore the connections between all things.