Nolan and Riley, 1st November 2002
I froze in my place holding the photograph in my hand. I didn’t know what to feel. It’s been eighteen years. Eighteen years I want to erase from my memory.
I stumbled upon one of the only good memories of my life while cleaning my room. A room big enough for just me and my useless stuff. A single bed, an almirah on the right side, some space for my legs and that’s it. The room, although very small, wasn't cluttered and that made it look a little more spacious. I am not a huge fan of keeping things for ‘memories’ or hanging pictures on the walls. These things mean attachment and I despise that feeling.
I thought of cleaning the room because I had some free time and my mind tends to think of very hurtful things when there is nothing to do. I started with the almirah. All of my clothes were messed up but that barely took three minutes to sort; I am also not fond of dressing up. Then there were my psychology books— why were there so many, and so heavy? The amount of dust on them just shows how much I read them.
“I want to be a singer when I grow up”, well look where I am now. My voice wouldn’t have allowed that dream to live anyway. Most people want to be a psychologist to help others or the money perhaps, but I thought maybe I could help myself. I think I added more to my troubles though. While flipping through the pages of one of the books with incomprehensible terms, something fell out and slid in front of my feet. There was something written in the back. “Did I not throw all the pictures away?” My eyebrows crashed while bending to pick it up.
It was me and my brother Nolan, playing on a slide. He was five, I was three. He was wearing black pants with a yellow handwoven sweater and a woollen cap, I was wearing blue shorts and a green t-shirt. He had a terrified expression on his face, a smile as big as the sky was plastered on my face.
I always made fun of him for feeling cold and he always said that I must be an alien for wearing those clothes in November. “Smile! Okay now come down Nolan, the slide isn’t that scary,” mom asked him after clicking the photograph. He was two years older and twice a coward. “Weeeee!! Mommy look I came down before him,”I said beaming with pride. “Yes Riley, good. Come down sweetheart, mommy is waiting for you. You can do it.”
“You can not Riley! That guitar is for your brother and not for you.” I was ten, and starting to realise how differently mom behaved with us. “Yes mom, I swear she’ll break the strings one day,” Nolan suddenly appeared out of nowhere, rolling his eyes. I rushed out of the room trying to hide my tears when a pair of arms engulfed me. “ I think your mother has cast a spell on him. Don’t worry I’ll scold him and make sure he lets you share the guitar. For now why don’t we go get some ice cream without telling them?”It was my dad. Probably the only person in the world who loved me.
Nolan wasn’t like that before. We played a lot, argued even more. And there was this one time we painted the kitchen and ourselves but mom scolded me. He gave me a chocolate and asked for forgiveness because the painting thing was all his idea. I guess mom really did cast a spell on him.
It wasn’t that bad though. I still had dad. Whenever mom scolded me he would take me out to get ice cream or play hopscotch with me, which I knew he absolutely hated.
“I love you,” five years later those were his last words before he left home and his car crashed into a truck. Everyone at the funeral gave me weird looks and were talking behind my back. I guess I deserved it because it certainly isn’t normal to not completely break down at a funeral, especially when it is your father’s. I just couldn’t believe he was gone. If he had a terminal illness I would have been prepared but an accident?
Now that my dad was gone there was no one to be my shield against mom.“Riley, Nolan has to go to college next year. We don’t have enough money to send you too. So after finishing school why don’t you help me?”my mother said glaring at me as if she only expected me to answer in affirmative. “Dad would have never let this happen. For how long will I suffer? I can’t take this any longer.” I thought while fidgeting my fingers. “Why is it always him? Why mom why? Why do you hate me so much? All these years I tried my best so you would at least, for once praise me or just talk to me like a normal mother would. After dad passed away I thought—,”I choked on my tears. Where did I get this courage from? “You can look after your sweetheart, I’ll manage on my own.”
I clenched my fists and stormed into my room, stuffing all my stuff into the suitcase. I didn’t need the pictures of course. They would only remind me of my mother and brother. Neither did I want to take any pictures of my dad. They will only make me cry. My mother didn’t utter a word as I dragged my suitcase out of the house. Did she hate me that much?
It was hard doing two two part time jobs along with school, but I had no other option. The room was small, but that was all I could afford. I occasionally texted my mother so she would know I was alive but she never replied. I didn’t have any friends. Why? I didn’t want to get attached to someone only to get thrown away later. Now that I was twenty one, surviving was even harder. I was buried in debt but at least I had two part time jobs so maybe there will be a day when I’ll be debt free. That picture? I remembered I kept it so I wouldn’t forget what Nolan looked like. The first five years of my life weren’t that bad for I had no idea what was actually happening. I guess that picture counts as a good memory. I definitely had fun in that park.