Can You Hear Me?
By Heather Ann Martinez
The waves kept pulling me further away from him. I knew he had stopped breathing and there was not anything I could do. I eventually let go of the thought that someone or something was going to save him. I asked God to keep him safe until we meet again in heaven. I knew our parents will see me coming home. I know my mother will cry and my father will not speak to me for some time. I murdered their favorite son. I did not intend to when we stole the fishing boat. I didn’t mean to fight with him out where no one could see us. I wanted to have an adventure. I was sick of waiting for dad to make good on his promise to take us out here. I was sick of our mother telling us that there was a storm brewing and two little boys shouldn’t be out on a fishing boat by ourselves.
You could say I was tired of everyone telling me I was too young and not strong enough to handle a fishing boat. I watched the fishermen in our village for weeks. Granted, there were more of them on each boat lowering nets and handling the steering. I didn’t know there was going to be a storm. The weather was perfect when we set out. Our grandfather didn’t even notice that his boat was floating away. He was so engaged with his chess match that he didn’t see two small boys run onto the dock. He had not used the boat all that much since he retired. Our father was to be the next fisherman in our family, but he chose to be the mayor of our village. Nearly everyone in our village voted for him, because he was so humble. He never said a cross word to anyone in the village. He knew everyone struggled to keep their families together, and to keep food on their tables.
My parents loved my brother Nicolas more than anything. He was given the best of everything my father could give him. He wore the only new clothes in the house. My parents found enough money to send him to a private school. He always impressed them with how well he did. Even though he was only nine, his future looked bright. Our father talked about sending him to university. He would look over at me and plead with me to pay more attention in school. I was always doing poorly. I got into lots of fights with the other kids on the playground. I didn’t have any use for adding and subtracting or reading. It was all boring to me. My teachers forced me to at least sit through class. I’d look out the window. In the distance, I could see the fishing boats. I couldn’t wait for the last bell to ring so I could go down to the docks. It was out of our way in walking home, but I didn’t care. I longed to be out on the boats. I wasn’t smart like Nicolas yet he wanted to run after me. His school bus would drop him off ten minutes earlier than the last bell at my school. He would meet me and we would run down to the docks.
Nicolas would tell me about what he was learning in school. He tried many times to teach me to read, but I didn’t want to bother with reading and writing. Dad would scold me. Mother would cry. She would tell me some day all of this would make sense. She would tell me that God gave me a brain like he gave Nicolas one. She would tell me that I had to choose to use it. I had to choose to pay attention in school. Eventually, my math teacher moved me to the front row. Math was my last class of the day. My math teacher knew all I could think about was running out of her classroom the second the bell rang. I had actually been planning to take our grandfather’s fishing boat for several days.
Of course, Nicolas said we shouldn’t go out there by ourselves. He was always so cautious. It should have been me drifting lifeless to the bottom of the ocean. I couldn’t help arguing with him. He was doing everything wrong. I thought he knew how to steer. I thought he knew what to do during a storm. I thought he would get us back to the shore before anyone even noticed we had left. All I remember him saying were the words “Can you hear me?” I don’t remember what he said before or after that. All I know is that I punched him and he fell into the depths of the ocean. The storm took him further away from the boat. I jumped in with a life vest, but it was no use. I managed to find my way back to the boat and stayed there until the storm passed. Another fisherman found me. He knew my family and knew I no longer had a brother. I told him I couldn’t go home yet. I pleaded with him to take me to my grandfather’s instead. I sat in my grandfather’s office chair for three days. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t fidget. I didn’t look out the window. The ocean had its way. It took my only brother.
In the months that followed, I tried to make it up to my parents. I tried to pay more attention in school. I didn’t pick fights with anyone on the playground. I never raised my hand to anyone ever again. I grieve my brother’s loss every day. I knew he had much more to offer this world than I ever would. The only thing I knew to do at ten years old going on eleven was to keep my head down. When mother asked me to attend church services with her, I did not complain. I went to confession every Tuesday before school and continue doing so to this day. Before I go to sleep each night, I ask God the question my brother asked me, “Can you hear me?” I also ask God if he can forgive me for what I don’t know I can ever forgive myself for. I think he can. I think he knows more than I do. I think my brother is telling him all about our fishing village and how much he misses being with us.