The Stranger / by Academy Monthly

One day, I woke up as a little sister. A little sister who cried every time her brother went back to college, and to fill the void, wrote him endless letters bursting with puffy stickers and crayola residue.

Then what felt like just the next day, I woke up as an “enabler,” a tragically hopeful interventionist, and a soul trapped within circumstances way too real for only fourteen years old. I don’t know where he came from or why, but I met a stranger. He took the place of the brother I once knew... haunted him almost. He changed me. I became one to cry every time my other brothers came home, because I knew that when they came together with The Stranger, argumentative attacks were inevitable. Nobody could get along with The Stranger. For awhile, I still wrote letters to The Stranger’s shell that was once my brother, but I did not await them in return. Rather, I regretted wasting my time because I knew he would roll his eyes and scoff at the fact that I am so young, so dramatic, so naive. I know that my true brother would have read them, if only he were here. I wish I knew that a few cuts of stationary and eraser shavings would not help to bring him back.

My brother was the first I ran to, but The Stranger is the first I run from. My brother and my relationship was bound by a mutual love of art, animals, and family. The only relationship I have with The Stranger is bickering at the dinner table when he gathers just enough sobriety to sit upright for half an hour.

The Stranger looks like my brother. He has the same warm features, same boxy hairline, but different everything. His skin glows with demise, his body is limp with frailty, and his personality is nothing like the boy I once knew. My brother loves fishing, music, and just about everything else. The Stranger has one motive, one passion, and he cheats to get it. He is warped; bound by the mental and physical restraints of poison. The Stranger rationalizes his actions through artificial ignorance. He knows the damage he causes, but he does not confront any of the implications.

I do not know who he is, but The Stranger ruins everything. He has driven my father to dangerous levels of angst. The Stranger fights with my father, a man who would never harm, all in efforts to chase the next high. All my father does is work; he works to give us the life he never had, and The Stranger takes advantage of that.

The Stranger causes my beautiful and lively mother to slip into the depths of despair. How could he? How could he exchange such a loving woman’s thoughts with images of poison while she lives vicariously through memories of an absent, once pure, son?

The Stranger makes my brothers mourn their third link; they now endure an empty dynamic of brotherhood lacking friendship. The Stranger’s friends are his suppliers, and my brothers are their victims.

Maybe I lost my brother due to a specific plan. Maybe The Stranger stealing his identity gave the gift, rather than the burden, of recovery, or rebirth. Maybe one day I will wake up to my brother, returned. Maybe he will have even more creativity and compassion than the brother I knew before...if that is even possible.

One day when my brother’s world is not so unbearable, he will have the strength to cope. One day my brother will be free from The Stranger’s toxic grip. One day my brother will wake up with clear eyes; the same day that I will wake up as a little sister again.