by Aarushi Agrawal
It was all because of Arlo. It was him. He was the reason his mom was dead, his brother couldn't afford to go to university, and his dad was in a coma. To simply put it, Arlo was bad luck.
And that's how he found himself on the bridge. On the edge of the bridge, to be specific. His back pressed against the railing, his hands gripping the slippery chains, his toes hanging off the edge. He faced the bay, and let the cold rain and wind slap him across the face. He felt the cold pierce through his body, and he could practically hear his hyperactive mind screaming with fear as he looked over the edge, into the angry waves beneath him. He felt his heartbeat speeding up, his chest tightening, his legs shaking, but Arlo refused to be scared. He clenched his teeth, and took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the icy air that surrounded him.
Instead of thinking about the waves beneath him, he thought about his family. He thought about Dad and Ben, his older brother, and how they would miss him, but not for long. After all, Arlo did kill their wife and mother. They would no longer have to deal with a living reminder of what exactly they had been deprived of. They could let go of her.
If Arlo let go, they could too.
He looked down, at the waves that were ready to devour him. He thought about how he would hit the water, and then he would be gone. But it was easier to imagine the moments before it, when he was weightless, and the air was cradling him. He felt himself leaning forward, as if he was preparing to take flight, and as he did, he heard footsteps. Shoes slapping on the ground, coming closer and closer-
"Arlo! What the heck do you think you're doing?!"
Arlo whipped his head around, and instinctively pressed further into the railing. It was Ben, soaked in rain, standing two feet away. Ben. His older, not hyperactive, responsible, brother. Also, the brother who he was never particularly fond of.
When Arlo didn't answer, Ben asked again, "What are you doing?"
"How are you here?" Arlo asked, ignoring his question.
"That doesn't matter, tell me why you're jumping," Ben demanded, as he reached out to grab his shoulder.
Arlo shrugged him away, and muttered under his breath, "I'm not jumping. I'm just. .. admiring the view."
Ben responded quickly, "Oh yeah? Because last time I checked, no one stands on the edge of a bridge at 1 in the morning to just admire the view."
Arlo turned his head slightly, and over his shoulder, angrily said, "Just go away, Ben. Leave me alone."
But Ben didn't budge, and instead continued staring at Arlo. And in a much quieter voice, he said, "Arlo, what's going on?"
"Nothing!" Arlo yelled over his shoulder.
Ben stepped a bit closer, and said, "Arlo, I've lived with you for 17 years of my life. I know how deathly afraid you are of heights, and you certainly wouldn't be on the edge of a bridge for nothing."
Arlo turned his head to face Ben, and yelled, "Fine! If you really want to know, he was going to the school to get my inhaler, which I had forgotten again, when the truck hit him." Arlo felt a giant lump form in his throat as he struggled to get the last three words out, "I-It was my fault." Arlo's voice had lowered to almost a whisper as he felt the tears in his eyes start to spill over.
Ben had been standing still with his eyes glued to the back of Arlo's head, as the seconds of silence slipped by. With a shaky voice, he spoke, "O-Okay. So what happens after you jump? What about Dad?"
"Open your eyes, Ben! He's not waking up. It's been 4 weeks, and he hasn't stirred. He's dead! Gone. Just like Mom. And it's because of me. You always blamed me for Mom's death, well now you can blame me for Dad's too, okay?"
Ben stood quietly behind Arlo, his arms crossed against his body to preserve body heat. And then he spoke, "He's not dead, Arlo. People wake up. He'll wake up. And when he does, I'm sure he wouldn't like the first news he hears to be that his son's dead body is floating in the bay."
Arlo stared at the bay, and let out a shaky sigh into the icy air. "That doesn't change anything. That doesn't change the fact that he's lying half dead in a hospital bed because of me. That doesn't change what I did to him, or to Mom. He knows it, and you do too. So do me a favor, and stop pretending like I haven't been a menace to the family, and just leave me alone!"
As Arlo's last words grew into a yell, and rung out over the wind and rain, and into the bay, Ben stayed silent. The silence grew until it was so loud it felt as if the air was screaming with it.
After a couple minutes of this silence, Arlo whispered, "You don't what it feels like. Knowing that you've killed your own mom. Knowing that your dad drinks because of you, and that your brother can't afford to go to college, because the money is being spent on your medication." Arlo stopped to take a deep breath. "It makes you hate yourself."
Arlo felt the lump in his throat growing, larger and larger, but he couldn't find it in himself to stop. After 17 years, he felt the words just coming out no matter what he did, and he felt his grip on the chains tighten as he continued to speak, "Mom literally died because I was born. You've spent every minute of your life telling me that, and now, just because I'm standing on a bridge, you're not saying anything? Huh? Just say it, Ben. Say it! Tell me I've ruined Dad's life. Tell me I deserve to jump, to rid our family of me," Arlo spit the last words out into the storm. "Because I will, Ben. I'll jump."
Ben found his voice as he said to Arlo with a shaky voice, "Y-You're right, Arlo. I did blame you. I blamed you for everything- "
Arlo cut in, "That's what I thought," and turned to face the bay again.
"W-Wait! Wait, Arlo. Wait. Please. Just listen to me," Ben begged, as he was now right next to Arlo, behind the railing. Arlo rested back into the railing, and Ben knew it was because he was scared. He could see his body shaking under the dull light of the street lamp.
"I was wrong. I was wrong about everything, because I blamed you for Mom's death, even though you couldn't have done anything about it. I was wrong because you didn't ask to be diagnosed with ADHD. I was wrong because you had nothing to be sorry for, because you had nothing to redeems yourself from. I was wrong because it wasn't your fault, and it still isn't," Ben said, as he shook with fear and watched his brother continue to stare into the dark bay.
Arlo thought about it for a second, and then in a quiet voice, asked, "How do I know that you're not just saying this because I want to jump?"
Without saying anything, Ben climbed over the slippery railing, and positioned himself right next to Arlo. He grabbed Arlo's hand from the railing, and he felt how hard both of them were shaking. "You know I'm not just saying this, because I'll jump, Arlo. If you jump, so willI. If you jump, it will be because of what I've done. It'll be because I let you live 17 years of your life, convinced you were the worst thing that's happened to the family. If you jump, it'll be my fault, and now it can't be reversed, because you'll always have this stupid notion that it was your fault. And the thing is, I didn't even realize it until I saw you tonight, a boy who was deathly afraid of heights, standing on the edge of this bridge, wanting to jump, because of me." Ben's voice dropped to a loud whisper as he said, "If you jump, I will have actually killed my little brother." He paused to grip Arlo's hand tighter, and continued, "And I could never live with myself again."
Ben looked at his brother, whose eyes were shut tight, with rain and tears mixing on his cheeks. He was shaking so hard, that Ben was afraid they would both slip and plummet towards the waves beneath them.
After a few silent minutes, Arlo took a shallow breath in, and let out a shaky sigh. "I'm scared, Ben. I'm scared of dying. I'm scared about what will happen if Dad doesn't wake up. I'm scared of what happens tomorrow, and the day after," Arlo said, in a defeated voice, as if all the energy in his body had been sucked out.
"I'm scared of that too, Arlo."
"If Dad dies, what happens?"
Ben didn't take long to respond. "We still have each other, and we hold onto each other till our very last breath. We don't let anything get between us. We don't let us hate each other. We don't blame each other. We don't let go of each other."
"Kind of like what we're doing now?" Arlo said, as he tightened his grip on Ben's hand, with his eyes still focused on the bay.
"Yeah. Kind of."
The two brothers continued staring out at the dark storm, in the silence. After a few minutes passed, Arlo said quietly, "I wish I had told Dad that I loved him. You know, before he got in the car accident. All I've ever wanted was for him to be happy."
"And you thought jumping would make him happy?" Ben asked.
"I thought it would take the pain away. He wouldn't be constantly reminded of what he had lost," Arlo responded.
"He never blamed you, you know. And he still doesn't."
Arlo felt the lump coming back, and he nodded, as he felt warm tears on his face again. "He's done so much for us, and if anyone deserves to be happy, it's him," Arlo said.
Ben glanced at him, and said, "You make him happy, Arlo. You're a reminder of the night that he could've lost two of the people he loved, but he didn't because you were strong enough to survive. You're not a reminder of what he lost. You're a reminder of what he received."
Arlo nodded, as the tears started coming faster and faster. "I haven't seen him since the accident."
"Neither have I," Ben responded. After a few seconds of contemplation, he said,"How about we go see him today?"
Arlo didn't respond for a whole minute, but finally said, "T-That'd be nice."
"So you're not going to jump anymore?" Ben asked, almost apprehensively.
Arlo smiled a little, and said, "No, I think I'd like to be there when Dad wakes up."
Ben smiled back at him, and they both scrambled over the railing. As they both stood up on the concrete of the bridge, in the pouring rain, Ben looked at his brother and said, "I really am sorry, Arlo. You didn't deserve any of what I put you through."
Arlo smiled at him, and said, "After what you did for me tonight, consider yourself already forgiven. Even though you have been kind of a jerk, I'm glad that you're my brother."
Ben grinned, and said, "From now on, if either one of us needs help, we'll be there for them. We don't get to turn our backs on each other. Deal?"
Arlo laughed, as Ben slung his arm around his neck, and replied, "DeaL"