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My eyes felt like galaxies—holding the swirling glow of countless memories—as I took in our childhood home. Its siding looked like remnants of driftwood after a bonfire. I swore I smelled the smoky char of pine creep into my nostrils. It’s wild how the past stays with you like that. It can feel more visceral and real than the tangible things right in front of you. 

“Jesus, it feels like just yesterday.” I placed a trembling hand over my heart, struggling to steady my breath.

My brother, Perry, pulled me into a tight embrace, his strength grounding me like an anchor.

“The house hasn’t changed much,” he said, his voice steady and comforting. “But we have.” His certainty made me question, Have I really changed?

Between the two of us, Perry was as solid and stoic as a mountain range. Good thing, because I was like the wind—flighty and unpredictable. Over the years, Perry had learned to handle even my harshest hurricanes.

Being his older sister—even if only by four minutes—I always wished I’d been his protector rather than the other way around. But that demon burning deep in my belly also flashed a crooked smile, knowing that Perry would never abandon me, especially since I got sober.

I hadn’t had a drink in exactly seven hundred and thirty days, and although it remained unsaid, I knew Perry was terrified of leaving me to my own devices in fear I would relapse.

Our sibling bond was iron-clad. After we lost our parents in the fire (my mother didn’t properly butt out her 2:00 am cigarette and well, the rest is history), all Perry and I had was each other. But let’s call a spade a spade; we were also as fucked up and as co-dependent as it gets. Who mutually decides to visit the catalyst of your alcohol addiction on the anniversary of your sobriety?

The house’s dilapidated front door creaked as Perry gently pushed it open. The rusted metal hinges were holding it up by a thread. 

“After you.” Perry gestured me in, squinting from the sunlight. He was a gentleman, even in such obscurity.

As he held the door open, the shallow scar on his right cheek taunted me like some kind of schoolyard bully. His wound often pulled me in like that. Some days, I was sure I would dive right into it and drown. Other days, I prayed to God and the Devil himself to just let me fucking drown, already. 

That mark became permanently etched on Perry’s face on the day I quit drinking, exactly seven hundred and thirty days ago. That was the day Perry screamed bloody murder at me from the passenger seat, “Jackie! Stop the fucking car!” But my bloodstream was far too poisoned with Bacardi Limon to listen. All I remember next was my vehicle being wrapped around a tree. I could have died that day, but what truly disturbed me in the middle of the night was the fact that I almost killed Perry. 

A lot can happen in seven hundred and thirty days. But I assure you, forgiving yourself isn’t one of them. 

“Well? You coming in?” Perry was still holding the door ajar.

I shook it off and gave my brother a knowing glance. I swear, even though we were fraternal, we had twin telepathy. I exhaled and walked in.

“Watch your step,” I warned, my forehead tense. 

I imagined the rickety floorboards collapsing, crashing us into what had once been our dad’s “man cave”. That’s where he was passed out, the night of the fire. 

“Kids, stay here. Do not move,” our mother demanded after getting us out of the house safely. I remember the black soot on her face and the spiderweb veins in her eyes. She shook us firmly by the forearms. “I’m getting your father.”

Perry and I held each other, shaking. The heat from the inferno felt like standing in a volcano. We never saw our parents again.

Two decades later, there we were—Perry and I—-making our way through the wreckage of our home. It was midday, yet the inside of the house screamed a tone of pale blue midnight. My shoulders were up to my ears, as though we were walking through a haunted house attraction. 

I coughed into my forearm. The ocean of dust was thick like butter. As I cleared my lungs, Perry called out from behind me.

“Jacks, look at this! The fireplace,” Perry's voice was filled with awe.

“Unbelievable. It’s still here,” I whispered, a lump forming in my throat.

It was as though a Fairy Godmother breezed by and brought the decaying living room to life with her magical paintbrush. Kind of like in “Titanic”, when they showed the sunken ship underwater, versus in its prestige as it sailed across the Atlantic.

We made our way over to the fireplace and sat cross-legged on the floor.

“This was our favorite spot, remember?” I avoided his gaze, overwhelmed by the flood of memories.

“Yeah,” Perry murmured, his eyes softening with nostalgia.

For a moment, the taste of crispy, fire roasted marshmallows superseded the saturated stench of mildew. 

“Remember our s’mores nights?” I asked.

“Duh. What about all our fireplace movie nights?” Perry proceeded to do his best, nasally, childhood impersonation of me, “But mom! I want to watch Beauty and the Beast!! Perry always gets to pick the movie!!” 

I punched him in the arm, “First of all, I never sounded like that. And second. So what? I knew what I wanted.”

The corners of Perry’s mouth lifted. He had such a sincere sparkle about him, as though a storm cloud of confetti followed him overhead wherever he went, “You really did, kiddo.”

My chest went heavy. How could Perry love me after everything I had done? After all the relationships I’d ruined? All the jobs I’d lost? All of his relationships I’d ruined? How could he still choose me, when so often I had chosen a forty of Jack Daniels over him?

How could Perry still love me after I almost fucking killed him?

Perry’s gaze widened, “Hey! Remember when Mom would bring out those hot drinks she always made?” He paused, almost as if he was searching for the right term. “Apple… something? Apple ssshhh…”

I snapped my fingers, “Apple-Schnapple!”

“Yes!”

“I mean, looking back it was basically just hot apple cider, but damn it was good.” And it really was.

Our laughs echoed throughout the abandoned asylum we once called home. 

Perry leaned back, holding himself up with his hands. “I loved our fireplace hangs. Especially our movie nights down here. But nothing beats our movies up in the projector room.”

I tilted my head, “We never had a projector room.”

Perry playfully “shoo’d” me away.

“No. Perry. I would remember us having a projector room. Our movie nights together were our favorite thing. You even just said it yourself.”

The house suddenly became pin-drop silent as Perry leaned in. "Memories are quite something, aren’t they?" The slight shift in his tone made my skin crawl. Perry was always wistful, but this felt different, almost… clinical, "We often remember things in ways that are… easier for us to digest.”

I was fidgety. “Gees Perry. You sound like Dr. Lasko.” 

He seemed to enjoy my little joke. 

Dr. Lasko had been my therapist since the accident, and I would go out on a limb and say that he would not have approved of this self-inflicted exposure therapy I was subjecting myself to by visiting the house.

Perry seemingly snapped out of his little therapist moment and went right back to being his sparkly confetti self. As I watched his amicable face scan the mantle above the fireplace, I felt a sickening uneasiness. Imagine you had actually fucking killed him. 

“Man, I can still picture all our family photos up there,” Perry’s childlike wonder destroyed me.

My face went flush. I could feel the water rising in my eyes like the tides. How pathetic and infuriating was it that after everything I’d done, I was still somehow the victim. 

“Hey.” He took my hand. 

“Oh Perry,”  I threw myself into him. “I’m so sorry.” 

My brother held me with his usual care that I didn’t deserve. 

“Jacks, it’s ok. I’m still here. We’re both still here.” 

As my chin rested on my brother’s shoulder, I looked ahead of me at the remains of the house. Something felt off, and it wasn’t just the overall unsettling environment. My brow furrowed. “Wasn’t the doorway to the kitchen on the other side of the living room?”

I felt Perry shrug, “I don’t think so.”

I was staring into the out of place doorway like I was trying to pull a recollection towards me. And that’s when I saw them in the kitchen: the translucent memory of mom and dad. Mom was getting our Apple-Schnapples ready. She was pacing, unlike Dad, who was sitting motionless at the table. His face was planted on its mahogany surface. His glass of Apple-Schnapple was empty, and so was the bottle of Jim Beam beside it. 

Mom floated into the living room, our warm beverages in hand and a cigarette in her mouth, “Kids, your father’s not feeling well. Let’s have our Apple-Schnapples in here.” 

Oh my God. The bruise on her face. 

Perry jarred me back to reality with the gut punch of what he had to say next, “You’re remembering the truth about mom and dad, aren’t you?”

I pushed myself off and away from him. “How did you…”

My brother looked down, delicately tracing the floor with his finger, “We always put them on a pedestal after they died.”

I felt a shiver run down my spine, “What are you talking about?”

As Perry continued to speak, his words grew even more detached. "Do you remember that first drink Dad ever gave you?”

My eyes darted around the room as my jugular pulsed in my neck. As much as I tried to escape what Perry had just said, I did remember. 

I could hear my dad’s slurring words of encouragement, “Come on, Jackie. Just one drink. It’ll be our special time, just you and me.” 

The bitterness of that first sip of beer made me squirm, but sharing a “special time” with my dad—and the desperate yearning that maybe he did love me, afterall—was the overwhelm of the full moon swallowing me whole. I was only a child, and much like how my mom turned a blind eye to my father’s drinking, she did the exact same when it came to her daughter. 

I’d used the death of my parents as the excuse for my alcoholism for so long, because admitting that they helped create the monster I would eventually become was like a knife to the heart. And knowing I had been too weak to conquer the addiction from my own volition just made the weapon twist in my chest. 

The room was spinning. My face was blistering hot like the night of the fire. Or was that the warm heat from the fireplace when we were kids? The childhood fireplace memories ran through my mind, frame by frame, until…..they eventually vaporized to nothing. I crouched over, thinking I might vomit. 

“We never had a fireplace.” Perry was nodding, very matter-of-factly. 

My fingernails dug into my thighs when I looked at the fireplace and: it was gone. Only a blank wall of faded, forest green wallpaper remained. Our house was once on fire, yes, but that was it. There was never a happy childhood fireplace. Ever.

My hands were cold and clammy. I fell back onto the wall behind me. “Perry. Where are we?”

He stood up and glided towards the staircase. One hand on the banister, his footsteps creaked, one by one, as he made his way to the second floor.

My mouth was bone dry, “Perry!”

He stopped and turned towards me, “Come to the projector room. We love watching movies together, don’t we? There’s a movie I’d like to show you.”

As my brother disappeared from sight, I did what any classic horror movie trope would tell you to do: I went upstairs. 

I found Perry standing at the end of the ominous hallway. Large, empty picture frames lined the oxblood walls leading up to him. Through the doorway where Perry stood, particles in the air danced in the projector’s cone-shaped light. That telltale winding of a film reel was the only sound in the deafening quiet of this house that I no longer recognized. 

Half of Perry’s face—the one with the scar—was perfectly illuminated, as though he was wearing the mask from “The Phantom of the Opera”. “I think you’re ready to see how this movie ends, Jackie. This is the most progress you’ve made since we’ve been coming here.”

I gripped my thumbs in the palms of my hands, “Perry, you’re freaking the fuck out of me!” 

I thought my knees might buckle as my brother’s face glitched, like a flash of static snow on a television set. As his face settled back to normal to a deadpan gaze, he disappeared in the innocuous room. I followed, running on nothing but fumes. 

Clutching the doorway, my mouth fell agape. Perry was gone. I darted to the middle of the room. 

As I frantically searched for my brother, I shielded my eyes with the back of my hand from the projector’s light. And that’s when, from behind me, I heard five words that made my blood run cold, “Jackie! Stop the fucking car!” 

I was convulsing yet paralyzed. Moving as slowly as cold molasses, I rotated on the spot towards my worst nightmare, shown on 35 mm. On the projector screen was Perry and me in my car, exactly seven hundred and thirty days ago, the day I almost kill—

Oh my God. 

My head pounded as fragmented memories surged. The reality of what happened began to crystallize, unrelenting. 

My joints ached and my stomach churned. Clamping a hand over my mouth to stifle a scream, I stumbled down the hallway as it began caving in on itself. The picture frames were sucked into the walls. The floorboards cracked into distorted peaks and valleys. Wooden beams swung down from the ceiling like pendulums. I tried to spit out the chalky grit of disintegrating drywall that made the hallway look like a winter squall. 

Panting heavily, I stopped dead in my tracks at the stained glass window. My body trembled with an all-too-familiar dread. Each time I faced this, I wondered if this fall would be the one that would finally end it all. 

Maybe it’d be better if it did. 

Holding my breath, I threw myself through the glass, my hands clawing the air for dear life. Free falling two stories feels like an eternity when you’re watching the memory of your childhood home fall apart before your very eyes. But when the weight of my body finally made contact with the earth I—

I gasped. The cold air of the hospital room shocked my lungs. I sat up, ripping the suction cups from my face and body. My gown was clinging to me, soaked in sweat. Medical equipment beeped all around me like a metronome. 

Dr. Lasko, my therapist since the accident, sat across the stark white room, sighing as he rubbed his forehead. He, too, was connected to a plethora of suction cups and wires. He looked a little worn out in the fluorescent overhead lighting. Ever since I was hospitalized and later incarcerated, Dr. Lasko had been helping me delve into my memories, namely the ones that were too excruciating for me to face. And as such, Dr. Lasko had been appearing in the simulations as my brother Perry, the love of my life who died in the car crash, seven hundred and thirty days prior. 

Disoriented, I blinked rapidly, the vividness of the memory contrasting sharply with the sterile, geometric ceiling tiles above me. 

“I don’t ever want to do that again!” I was venomous. 

“Jackie,” Dr. Lasko started.

“Don’t start,” I pulled up four fingers for air quotes, “‘Jackie, don’t give up. This was the closest you’ve ever come to facing the truth.”

As the initial burst of adrenal and cortisol left my body, I fell back on my pillow. I was depleted. Quiet rivers flowed down my cheeks. 

Removing his own suction cups, Dr. Lasko approached my bedside and took a seat. He treaded lightly. “Jackie, I understand how challenging this is for you, but you did an incredible job today. If we continue making progress like this, there's a real possibility you'll gain your freedom sooner.”

I looked at the well-meaning doctor, but all I could see was Perry. Multicolored confetti fell softly around him like that first November snow. His face was the sun. His eyes reflected the whole world back to me. 

Perry. 

With a weak grip, I took Dr. Lasko’s hand. My vocal cords were like sandpaper. “I’ll leave this place one day, doc.” A single tear dripped from my chin onto my collarbone. “But I’m not sure if I’ll ever be free.” 

Dr. Lasko didn’t say a word, but I felt him squeeze my hand, just a little bit tighter. 

I licked the cracks on my lips as my eyes closed shut, imagining the oaky comfort of bourbon on my tongue. I felt myself drift, and good thing, because I needed the rest. Dr. Lasko and I would be delving into my memories again the following day. 

No matter how masochistic it felt, I vowed to keep showing up for the simulations. Even if I never forgave myself for what I did, at least in my memories, I got to see Perry.

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