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Bittersweet Memories
By Julia White
Genre: Non-fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

Julia White

His messy blond hair shone, turning it almost white as he ran through the rays of sunlight that bore through the windows in the family room. I was gaining on him, pounding my tiny feet after his on the bare wood floor. It's our favorite game: chase. We weaved a chaotic pattern with our feet and sent a chorus of shrieks and laughs in to the summer air, following a pattern that sooner or later ran through the same places: around the worn couch, past the lazy black dog who lay in the same beams that created the glowing hair, and under the handcrafted kitchen table. I was chasing him like a maniacal toddler zombie, with my arms outstretched and my mouth hanging open in laughter. He was quicker than me and always barely out of reach, no matter how much I stretched my tiny fingers. His chest, striped with a vertical scar, heaved while he giggled, his round cheeks turning red as he ran away from me.

I didn't know it yet, but I needed glasses. So when we rounded the bottom of the stairs, my faulty vision failed me. Gravity took over and I wound up in a heap on the floor, wailing in anguish from a suddenly throbbing knee. When he heard the quick change from laughs to tears, Liam came back to me. He plopped down on the floor, wearing a fresh face of concern. The cry also called in our mother, a kind faced woman who often smelled like freshly baked cookies, who picked me up, cooing as I tried to grab her blonde, sweet-smelling hair. I giggle as I look down at my brother, knowing how easily it would be to catch him with my mothers lanky legs. Taking my sudden mood swing as a sign that I was fine, my mother set me gently back onto the floor next to my relieved friend. We both stood up without a second thought and I reached out my arms, signaling to unpause our intense game, and our laughs continued to sing as I re-engaged in running after Liam.

I was filled with immense gratitude to have such a wonderful person to be with every day.  He was my one and only friend, the one person who was always there to make me happy, no matter what was making me upset. Nothing could tear our joyous friendship apart. Well, except little spats over measly toys. But those usually didn't matter after our parents sort it out. We were still inseparable; even if Liam was more friendly and outgoing than me. In other ways, we were the same. The same minds, the same eyes, the same laughs, the same age and the same birthday. He was the other half to make us whole.

Liam and I had so many fun memories together. There were endless amounts of days when we would keep each other company, our restless energy and imaginations bursting out of every corner. We ran until our legs could no longer carry us, then we'd play with the toys that our parents graciously bought for us. We made up fun games that we played with our toys or just our surroundings. On warm days, when the dappled sunlight glistened softly through the trees, we loved to bike around our large driveway, our matching tricycles squeaking along with our gleeful laughs as the long days dragged by. We enjoyed singing together, and we often danced as we sang, our movements short and awkward as we attempted to match the rhythm of our songs. When the days were cold, short and bitter, and the snow crunched beneath our feet, our parents would put us in a little sled and pull us around our quiet neighborhood. When we were not playing outside or inside, we took naps together, huddled in warm, fluffy blankets as the snow fell softly to the ground outside. We traveled everywhere together, vacations and normal outings alike, and if I was separated from him, I would ask and ask to see him again until he finally appeared, and we would rejoice and hug.

As close-knit as we were, we didn't always agree. We would often bicker over toys or who got more attention from our kind parents, who always made sure to save time for us. But that all changed when my mother brought home a petite baby girl. Liam and I had very different reactions. While Liam fawned over her and sang to her, I whined to my mother to put her back. I didn't like the new baby one bit. It was supposed to be just Liam and me, and this little girl got in the way of that. Liam paid way too much attention to the baby for my liking, and with every note of the made-up song he would sing to her, my hatred for her grew, as if the song were a bell that taunted me constantly. Fortunately, Liam's obsession with the baby didn't consume him entirely. He still had the time of day to play games with me.

On a morning when I was particularly bothered by my baby sister's attention-seeking ways, a twinge of determination sent me searching for Liam. We hadn't had a good game of chase in a while and I felt like today was the day I was finally going to catch him. But first, I had to find him.

He wasn't in the kitchen or the bedroom or on the couch. Liam was gone and just about everyone taller than me was crying tears that created clouds of a strange, forlorn demeanor which matched the dreary sky outside. I didn't know it then, but I'd be chasing after Liam for the rest of my life.

I  trodded to my father, a fun-loving person with strong arms that would pick me up and fling me around the room, making me feel like a bird, for answers. "Daddy, where's Liam?" I inquired, inclining my head far back to stare up at his tall form. My dad stared back, his green eyes that usually shone with happiness seeming suddenly depressed searching hopelessly for an answer. Then he finally answered my distraught question. "He's in heaven," Dad explained sorrowfully, the grief creaking in his throat. So I left him be, and I started to search for heaven, not completely understanding what ‘heaven' even was. "Where in the house is heaven?" I pondered as I continued to search anxiously for him. Was this a new game Liam made up without telling me? If so, I didn't like it. It felt as if Liam and I were playing hide and seek, and I was failing miserably at finding him. And I kept waiting for the relieving moment when my friend would jump out from behind a door so our chase could continue. But the moment never came.

Since the baby was still young, I played games by myself, trying to spark at least a little imagination, but without Liam there beside me, it was hopeless. The songs I sang sounded cold and empty without the harmony of his voice with mine. The warm blankets felt too big without my friend's comforting presence by my side. The sled felt too light, and the chilly winters seemed to pass by slower. And worst of all, a strange hollowness had set itself in me, filling me with an indescribable loneliness that I didn't understand. Instead of him being just out of my grasp, he had disappeared from the chase entirely, as if he had found a way to cheat his way to a place where I couldn't find him. Where had my other half gone?

As the days drifted into weeks, which drifted into months, the blissful sound of Liam's laughter slowly faded from my memory, and when I tried to imagine his joyous face, my mind drew a defeating blank. One dreary night, my mother sat down with me and read me a book about people who lose loved ones, and how they cope with it. I suspected she was reading this to me because of my persistent question to my parents on where my twin had gone. Most of the words in the book she was reading flew right over my young mind as if they too were wrapped in my father's arms, and I didn't understand a lot of what she was saying. All I could remember were the pictures in the book, and how the girl who seemed to be the main character looked so sad and lonely, and I couldn't help but relate to how she seemed to be feeling.

Will I ever see him again? Why did he leave me? I'm so lonely without him. Please Liam, come back! I miss you.....

Of course, I never saw him again. The Liam I forever chased would only stay in my mind, teasing me for being too slow.

Years and years rushed by, and my sister, Carleigh, and I continued to grow. We also gained another sister, a bouncing, blue-eyed baby with the name of Rachael. Soon enough, it was my first day of kindergarten, and I was so scared to leave my parents side. But at the same time, a jumpy little tug told me to rush through that door, and befriend every person in there. So I hugged my caring parents fiercely, as if it were my last moment with them. The disappearance of my brother had taught me something. I realized that life was unpredictable, and I never knew when anyone I loved would disappear just like Liam did so long ago. So I tried to make every day count, just in case it's my last. Their eyes glistened with threatening tears as I excitedly turned toward the looming classroom door and followed that tug as it lead me into the adventure that is my life.

While treading the path of my life, I would learn that Liam died from heart problems, and the only way I now remember his face is through pictures of when he was young. I often wonder today what life would be like if he never died, if I had gone to school with him and shared my many adventures with him.

As my life progressed, I also often tried to make lots of friends, in order to fill the empty space that Liam left when he passed away. But no matter how many friends I gained, or how close I got to them, nothing could take the place in my heart that my other half left. But maybe that's for the best, because nobody can replace him, and even if I catch someone else, it will never be the same as catching up to my twin.

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