when i was young, i used to spend my nights afraid. my vivid imagination could easily produce frightening images that i couldn't push out of the way without a distraction. my sister and i shared a room for many years, and even though most of the time i craved my own space, at night i found comfort in her being there, hearing her even breathing across the room while she slept.
when she moved down to her own room in the basement, i had no one to bring me out of my dark thoughts of evil clowns under my bed or possessed dolls hiding in my closet. to keep my mind occupied, i used to sing to myself. some nights it would only take a song or two before i was calm enough to find sleep--other nights i had to go through my entire repertoire of music. in daylight i would shrink under the mere thought of singing in front of someone, but in the darkness i would sing boldly, unaware that anyone could hear my voice.
one particularly hard night, i found the words of one song comforting, so i sang it over and over again. finally i stopped, and the air was quiet.
suddenly, i heard a gentle knocking. i sat up, but stayed still, wondering if i had imagined it. then, it happened again. it was coming from my wall, the one my bed was shoved up against. the wall that my room shared with my little brother's room.
"yeah?" i asked loudly.
"um," tyler's voice softly said through the wall. "will you sing that one again? please?"
realizing he could hear me, i immediately felt embarrassed. i wanted to hide under my blanket and never return. but i stopped myself, because it was him. tyler, with his floppy blonde hair and quick smile. he was born with a gentle soul, trusting too easily others who could, and often did, hurt him. our personalities were very similar, and i recognized the need to keep him safe from the cruelty i had faced. subconsciously i appointed myself as his protector, allowing him to sleep on the floor of my room on nights when his dark thoughts got the best of him. i had always felt a connection to him--an understanding that was never openly communicated, but felt between the two of us.
so, i began to sing. my voice was shaky at first, self-conscious in the knowledge that someone was listening. but quickly my embarrassment faded and i found myself singing as boldly as before. when the song was over, i heard his small voice squeak through the wall again,
after that night, whenever i sang, i pictured myself singing to comfort him. that thought made me feel stronger, bringing me out of my own darkness.
as the years passed, the connection remained. we each got lost for a while along the way, alternating spaces of time where the distance between us grew while we made our way along our individual paths.
the night before my wedding, he asked if i would come with him. we drove and drove, listening to our favorite counting crows song, talking about the happiness and sadness of our past and the changes that lie ahead.
the next time i was with him, i wore my wedding dress as we danced. i hadn't cried all day until that moment, but my emotions spilled over and tears fell freely down my cheeks as we slowly made our way around the room. i knew he was lost, and i was abandoning him in the name of love and a new life for myself. i was afraid he wouldn't forgive me for this, that our relationship would never be the same. my heart ached with the thought that i was leaving him alone in the darkness.
"it's okay," he said. "i'll be okay."
my voice was caught in my throat, no words could come out, so i just nodded my head as someone brought me a tissue and the photographer snapped pictures of the two of us.
four years ago, as we were riding together from utah to arizona, he spoke the words aloud i had always felt about myself but had kept hidden, never sharing with anyone.
"i think i'm broken," he said. "like, really broken. that there's something wrong with me, deep down in my core, in the way that i can't fix it and i'm scared i'll never know how."
"me too," i half-whispered, afraid that if i said it out loud it would make it more real. our honesty began a conversation of raw vulnerability, of pain, of understanding. we admitted things we couldn't yet speak to others, emerging out of the darkness yet again as we loved each other through it.
two years ago, we faced a new fear--the possibility of losing our beautiful older sister. up until this time i had looked at tyler as an eternal little brother, only being able to see him as the boy i must protect no matter how old he was. but during this time, i was a witness to his change. maybe he had changed years before and i just couldn't see it.
he gathered the three of us together, siblings bound by blood but connected with our souls through love. i watched his tears as we sat in chairs facing each other, and heard his voice crack as he said he would do whatever it took to not lose one of us. he told us we were all we had who understood on a level no one else could. he vowed to fight to save us from our own broken-ness. my sister and i vowed to do the same, promising to not give up and to always be there for each other.
i saw him in a different light, and as much as i thought he had changed--i changed even more. this boy who had been given the gift of a soft heart had shown me how to push past the darkness to reach out for another. that night, i saw his strength.
last week, ty was hurt in a dirt biking accident. his femur was shattered in nine places, and his hip broken in two places. the 70-yr old surgeon announced it was the worst femur break he had seen in his career. that fact that he was alive was nothing short of a miracle, because the slightest alteration of his accident could have been paralyzing or fatal.
i was walking into costco with my 3 kids when i received his wife kirsten's text of what had happened, that they were in an ambulance and she would keep us posted. i received updates for the next few hours from her, my sister and my dad. one surgery down, another to go. i paced the floors, filling my time with meaningless things to occupy my mind as i waited to hear more.
my sister called on her way up to see him in the hospital at almost midnight that night. hearing her voice, i broke, crying that i couldn't be there. i knew i couldn't do anything to better the situation with just my presence, but it was for me that i wanted to go, to see that he was okay. i cried as she assured me she would call and give a detailed report on their way home. they texted pictures, and provided details for me after they returned home.
she knew why it was so hard for me to be away, explaining to our father, "we are knit together, the three of us. when one of us is hurt, the other two feel it."
the next day i spoke to her again and she relayed her visit with him. she said it took 40 minutes for the ambulance to reach him, and he was conscious the entire time. i was told the pain was so unbearable that he bit his fingers and arms in between his screaming. in my head i could hear his screams and felt sick to my stomach. his first surgery was successful and he was awake when she saw him. she said his beautiful face was still in tact and he looked and sounded amazing with what he had endured.
she told me he was going to be okay.
i cried after we hung up the phone, tears of reassurance.
later that night, leah came out of her room upset, saying she had a nightmare. she asked if i would lay down next to her and sing her a song.
There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren't any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
I know a place where no one's lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
i stroked her hair and sang the words i had sung before to a scared young boy who had now turned into such a courageous man, one i loved so fiercely.
as i sang i hoped these words would provide comfort, they way they had for me and my little brother so many years ago.
bringing us out of the darkness together.