Bryan and I had known each other our whole lives.
Only three days my elder, our parents found it convenient to take turns babysitting the two of us while the others got a break. We grew up doing everything together, sleeping, eating, bathing, playing. Each of us was the other's second half, inseparable, like conjoined twins sharing one heart.
When we started kindergarten, we we placed in separate classrooms. We both threw the most awful tantrums for a full week of school, screaming furiously in our shrill voices, refusing to heed the demands of our teachers. Finally they agreed to place us together, more to ease their own headaches than out of compassion.
We grew. Most people thought we were fraternal twins, as we shared a last name and both possessed identical blue-gray eyes. We found this amusing and allowed them to think this, though really we were just second-cousins. We often referred to each other as brother and sister.
In personality, however, we couldn't have been more different. While I was a quiet little mouse of a girl, preoccupied with schoolwork and never questioning authority, Bryan was a rebel. He was constantly being reprimanded for blowing off school assignments and talking back to teachers. People always wondered about our unlikely duo, the teacher's pet and the teacher's nightmare, inexplicable best friends.
But when we were alone together, our personalities melted into each other, mixing like blue and red to make purple. I had a secret passion for hard rock music, a stark contrast to my general good-girl aura; Bryan, the slacker, had a hidden love for history, and would spend hours perusing dusty old books about Cleopatra and General Patton. Only I knew about Bryan's intellectual side, and he my rebellious side.
No pair of friends was ever closer than we were. We completed each other, our opposites canceling out to form balance. We were at peace with the world and very happy with one another's company, and we thought it would stay that way forever.
And then, everything changed.
When we were twelve, Bryan's father was shot and killed by an Afghan soldier.
The news of his death was a shock to everyone. Bryan and I sat crying together for hours, until we ran out of tears and could only whimper quietly, our arms around each other tightly. Bryan's mother say watching us, dry-eyed. Her face frightened me. She looked like a statue, so still and pale. Her hands quivered, but not a tear escaped her eyes.
I had never been to a funeral before. We entered the church together, Bryan with one hand holding mine, the other holding his mother's. Her hand was limp in his. She walked beside us mutely, eyes staring straight ahead, face white as paper.
I was deaf to the eulogy. I kept looking at Bryan, tears spilling down his cheeks in twin rivers, then at his mother, stiff and without a hint of emotion. Something was very wrong. I didn't know what to do.
After the funeral I told my parents I was worried about Bryan's mother. They said she was just in shock. She would begin to grieve when she was ready.
But she didn't grieve. Not once did I see her cry, or even glimpse a trace of sorrow on her perfect porcelain face. She looked like some inanimate doll.
They say you can't heal until you mourn. Bryan's wounds were bandaged by his tears, but those of his mother were left open to fester in the murderous air, infecting her with tiny ravenous viruses that devoured her from the inside out. Two months after her husband's untimely death, Bryan's mother took her own life.
When they told me she was dead, it was like a slap in the ace. I'd known something was wrong, and I hadn't done enough to save her. The thought of facing Bryan with this torturous knowledge was agonizing, but I couldn't bear to leave him by himself at a time like this. In just two months, he'd become an orphan.
I was expecting him to weep for hours, like he had when his father died, but instead I was horrified to see him dry-eyed and stone-faced, utterly numb and emotionless. Just like his mother.
Hysterical, I sobbed onto his shoulder in violent anguish, as if my
tears would coax his to the surface, but he just sat in silence, his eyes glued to the floor, as my tears soaked his shirt.
The second funeral filled us all with a maddening deja-vu, seeming to mock out pain with its sick humor. I slipped into my black dress for the second time, too miserable to even glance in a mirror.
Bryan's door was closed and silent. He didn't respond to my knock, so I entered quietly. He was sitting on his bed, back arched downward, leaning forward with is elbows resting on his knees. His face was buried in his hands, tearless, and his body quivered as if from cold. He was nude but for a pair of boxers, exposed and vulnerable.
Like a mother caring for a child, I pulled his suit form its hanger and began to dress him. It looked brand new, but we both knew it had been worn once before. Gently I eased him into his shirt, jacket, pants, tied his shoes, fiddled hopelessly with his tie. I ran a hand through his tangled mop of hair, trying to brush it out. He sat in silence and allowed me to take care of him, his eyes dull and distant.
Seeing him at the funeral terrified me. It was like he had become his mother, and the old Bryan, who cried and mourned and healed, was lying dead beside her corpse. My tears were more out of sheer terror at the expression on his face than sorrow for my aunt's death.
After the eulogy, the casket was left open for us to see her body. She looked at peace, like she was only asleep in her satin-lined bed. Her serene expression brought a sudden surge of rage to me. What right had she to be at peace, when she had been too weak to stay alive for the sake of her son? Why was she happy, when she had abandoned her only child to fend for himself in a hellish existence? I nearly spat on her lovely face.