Alex was my mirror twin. A mirror twin is identical to you only he’s left handed where you’re right. He was rebellious when I was good, he’d laugh when the moment was sober, and he was a crayon hoarder, making you do without. Alex was the first of us to try new things, like strained carrots, like big boy pants, like all day kindergarten. Although I was first born, he’d have been born leader, first one at a party, last to leave, charming everyone in his wake. That’s why he was everyone’s favorite.
For English homework, I wrote a story mirroring what I remember happening that day, and before I could put the finishing touches on it, Izzy retrieved it from the printer. She rushed at me, yanking at my hair, tears brimming her eyes. “What is this, Matt? Alex’s death wasn’t your fault!”
I rubbed at my scalp and gathered my hair into a small pony. Dad hates my hair more than he hates me. I want to tell him I’m growing it for the both of us, seeing that he’s practically bald. As for Izzy, my sister could never understand what it was like to be a twin, and then stand by helplessly as that twin died. I know him shooting himself wasn’t my fault, but the fact that he died when Dad loved him more, is proof enough, isn’t it?
We’d found a gun, and were wrestling over possession when it went off. Funny thing, it fired twice, one bullet going haywire, scaring us badly, but not so much that we put the gun down. I thought about running for help, for Mom, when a second bullet pierced the skin directly over Alex’s eyebrow. It was the tiniest of nicks and he fell backwards as if he’d been pricked by a needle, a small gush of air rising from his lips. I punched him in the leg, it was a telltale bruise questioned by police, who would have smacked an injured child? When I think back to that day, I remember his bravery in dying, taking no prisoners, telling no tales. He died and was buried the same week, and as time has aged me but not him, except on my birthday, his name’s forgotten on everyone’s lips. My best friend for four years, Alex’was also my shadow, my double.
Buried deep in my closet are the blue leather sandals he wore the day he died. Splotched in blood, Mom slept with them at first, holding them close to her heart, but then Grandmom, and later, Dad tried throwing them out. I rescued the pair in the end, part of a past I don’t want to lose. Not that I think about Alex all the time, but the nightmares have stopped, at least. He’s buried in Virginia, the first in our family to occupy a hillside plot;, if he searches hard enough, he can catch a glimpse of the sea. I don’t believe in ghosts, but sometimes, since we moved, I feel a presence standing at the foot of my bed, attentive like a soldier, loving like a brother. I could almost swear he winks at me, and when I reach out to touch, poof! he vanishes.
Everyone has bad dreams, sure. You know, the kind where you try to scream and no sound comes out. Or, you’re in a speeding car where the brakes fail, and you go flying through the windshield. Most people are lucky enough to wake up from their nightmares and discover everything’s fine after all. All’s I know is that guilt doesn’t dissolve with daylight. I can’t disown that day, can’t flee the country as if nothing ever happened, like Dad did. I can cry out as many times as I want in sleep, and still no one hears.
Anyway, Izzy starts crying real tears while holding the assignment in her hands, pleading, “Matt, it was an accident! You did nothing wrong! Mom explained that to us, remember? It was an accident! You were only four years old!”
Mom explained, but Dad? He was packing to return to Iraq before the dirt settled on Alex’s grave.
Regardless, I dream in rojo. Not black and white but red. Everyone, everything is red. When my dreams heat up to an unbearable intensity I wake up. Conceived together, Alex wants to make sure I don’t forget.
In fact, just this morning it was Alex who convinced me to get my lip pierced, and even if it infects and rots and falls off, I’m glad I listened. This hole’s tiny, a minuscule voice, the most I’ve spoken since we moved here. A friend of Izzy’s performed the surgery and even gave me a gold hoop from her own ear to keep the hole open. I’m hoping Dad doesn’t notice. I can close the hole in my lip, sure, but what about the one in my heart? The hole in my lip you can see, it says something, while the one in my heart’s invisible, a flaring fester.