I could barely see through my tears as I stumbled aboard the train, holding my brother Mikey's cold hand in mine. I didn't dare look back, because I knew if I did I would break down into tears, and I couldn't do that. I had to stay strong for Mikey's sake, I couldn't let him know I was scared, he was just a 6 year old, he was too young for this. We took our seats at the back of the train, the place where the third class sits. The fancy rich people were up front, enjoying luxury seating and dishes of caviar and truffles that are so large they would have fed my entire family. Back here was actually separated from the first class area, as if people who didn't have boutique clothing and gelled hair had some sort of infamous disease, one that could be caught just by looking at us. In some ways I was glad of the separation, it prevented the snarky comments or disgusted looks that I learned to despise. In other ways, however, It made me feel like i didn't belong, like I was looked down on by others.
Mikey had fallen asleep, but I couldn't. Cradling his head in my arms, I gazed out the window as the sun set low in the sky, casting an array of pinks and oranges throughout the blue canvas of endless space. Thinking back to the morning, I could barely comprehend what had happened, how my life had been flipped around like the pancakes Ma used to make, when she was still alive, when the days were still bright.
New York City, Four Years Ago
I sat at the table, my mouth watering as I smelled the familiar, sweet scent of batter wafting in from the kitchen. Mikey, my two year old brother sat in his high chair, playing some sort of battleship game with his spoon. My phone buzzed, It was Kaitlyn calling again. I ignored her, she's been calling nonstop all day. Best friends can be super annoying, am I right? "Mi, ma moo min muck mic", I turned my attention back to Mikey, who was trying to have a conversation with me in baby language. I nodded, pretending like I understood and was in full agreement. I tousled his hair, and he shrieked with laughter. I smiled, Mikey had a language deficiency that caused him to not be able to communicate properly, but I don't think he noticed. Most two year-olds would be saying one syllable words like "cat" and "Ma", but Mikey's range of vocabulary reached only to "blah", whatever that means. It was okay, though, At that moment, Pa came in, followed by Ma carrying the syrup-drizzled pancakes. The sun was shining in the window, and as my parents sat down, I thought about how lucky I was to be here, a big house in New York City, on a beautiful block with a loving family.
The Present Day
Those days were gone. When Ma died in the car accident, we lost everything. She ran the house, there was no doubt about that, she was the one who worked and participated in the PTA, she was the one who was in charge on insurance and taxes and bank accounts. Pa was the one who stayed home and read the daily news, which is why when Ma died our whole lives pretty much collapsed. Now everything, and I mean everything, fell upon Pa to do. He had to find a job, file all sorts of bills and taxes, all that on top of the emotional pain and the funeral. We moved out of the nice house and into a small apartment which was far away from my old neighborhood. I couldn't use my phone anymore, which I know sounds selfish but it meant that I couldn't contact any friends. We hung on for a year or so, but then Pa lost his unstable job, and everything went downhill from there, like if you accidentally send a ball rolling down a hill, and no matter what you do you can't catch up to it.
Mikey stirred in his sleep, his curly dark hair a tangled mess on my lap. I wondered what was going to happen to him when we got to the school. We would be together at nights, but there were two different buildings, one for boys and one for girls in the same boarding school. I would be going to the girls one, while Mikey would be going to the boys one. Mikey found it very hard to make friends; in these circumstances he will probably be lonely for quite a while.
I must have gone to sleep, because when I woke up it was early morning, that soft time when the sun is just about to rise, when the birds are singing their early morning songs and the grass is still wet with dew. Glancing out of the window, I noticed the change of scenery, the rural area was transitioning into a city, meaning we were nearly there. I roused Mikey, knowing that he would happily sleep through the whole ride, and miss our stop. I gently shook him, and I was rewarded by a demonic look and a cry of resistance. Great, the morning's starting off well, isn't it?
When we got off the train, the first thing that hit me was the number of people. This was a boarding school; how were there so many students? There were more than my public school had! Pa scraped up almost all our money to get us into this school, had all these other kids done the same? Were they all looking for a better future, just like we were?
Mikey and I were led into a small room, a room that smelled like crayons and cardboard. It was about the size of a modern bedroom, and that included our bathroom, bedroom, living area, and kitchen. Were we actually going to be living here for the next who-knows-how-many years? I explored the small area, and came to two conclusions. One, the room had been used at least a billion times before, everything was worn down and I found graffiti in the bathroom. Two, this place had been designed for midgets, which was fine for Mikey, but not the best for a 16 year-old like me. The beds were the size of a large crib, and the top bunk was like 1 foot below the ceiling. The chairs were so small I felt like I would slip out of them, and the sink in the bathroom was so low I had to stoop to reach it. It was like being in a kindergarten classroom, and Mikey loved it. It was like his personal playground, and as I watched him happily scramble around I decided this place was just perfect.
The next day I woke up bleary eyed to the annoying sound of my alarm clock, the one that I for some reason decided to pack when coming here. I questioned why the heck i brought such an annoying thing when I could have brought a precious `toy or necklace. Sighing, I pulled out my uniform, and not for the first time I examined the perfect creases and neat letters stitched onto the breast of the shirt. Now it was time for the hard job, waking up the sleeping goblin. But I realized that Mikey was not in bed, in fact he was sitting in the kitchen in one of the mini chairs, milk spilled all over his pajamas. Never had I seen him so eager to go to school. Well, he's more awake than I am, that's for sure.
We made our way down the hall, transitioning from the living area to the actual school area. Mikey skipped ahead of me, which was a good sign because he only skipped when he was in a good mood. I dropped hi off at his designated area, then proceeded to my own classes.
I'll leave out the details of the day. Let's just say I liked some kids, didn't like some kids, liked some teachers, didn't like some teachers. It was just like any other day, except it was ruined by the worry of how Mikey was doing. When the last bell rang, I rushed out of the room before anyone tried to start a conversation with me. I hurried to Mikey's classroom, and nervously waited outside.
New York City, 1 Month Ago
Pa sat at the small table, his head in his hands and his shoulders sagged. In front of him was a pile of paper, which I knew was the taxes and bills that still had to be filled out. I put down my schoolbag, and made my way towards Pa. "Pa, I'm back". He said nothing. "I'm going to go pick up Mikey now". No response. "Ok. I'll just uh, go then". He said nothing as I left the apartment and went to pick up Mikey from his school.
I got to his school just in time. I saw Mikey running out of the building, I crouched down and opened my arms wide. But when Mikey approached, I saw his face was red and inflamed, and his eyes were filled with burning tears. "Mikey? What's wrong?", I grasped his shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "Me hate this place. It bad. Kids mean. Wish me not be here." We walked home in silence, me, a nearly-fully-grown teenager and Mikey a mere scrap of a 6 year old, both of us thinking the same thing. About how nothing was working out. About how we wished things would change.
The Present Day
And here I was, nervously waiting outside a first grade classroom, thinking that all we had done by coming here was make things worse. No more familiar faces or habits, and it's not like this is a fairy tale. Being sent here won't magically pay Pa's tax bills, It won't bring Ma back or move us back into our nice house. What's the point?
At that moment, Mikey came bursting out of the room, followed by a group of little boys, all of them happily screeching and shouting. They ran right past me and into the schoolyard, their faces bright and happy. They circled around my brother as he told them a story in gibberish. Mikey looked up and waved at me, his smile larger than I had seen it in a long time.
I waved back, then turned away, a mixed feeling of shock and joy.
Maybe things will change.