Holding Al’s hand and listening to him breathe I find myself racing back to my past. I am standing at the end of the lane. The small dead-end lane leading to no where that the world recognizes; but to all who lived in the tiny street, this was home.
I pull myself in two pieces, a child and a woman. I see Al, my little brother with his big blue eyes and wide innocent smile. He is wearing his hat with the ball on top and the flap ear pieces that cover when the winds blow.
He wants to stop at the candy store. A tiny white house that was converted into a public grocery store. Oh this was no ordinary business. This was a mom and pop store. Filled with those emergency food items for moms. Milk, eggs and bread. For dads there were car accessories, batteries and fishing lures.
For us kids it was a place better than heaven. Glass cases filled with shelves of candies. Fingerprints remained from other little fingers of kids pointing to this candy and that. The owner sharing freebies of new candies that came in. Wanting our honest opinions he would say. What did we really think of it?
Al tugs at my jacket and points towards the door with the big silver handle. I can’t resist. I take his hand and we walk in to the smells of friendship, hugs and laughter. Al puts his fingers on the glass placing his individual mark that he was here also to pick his favorite pieces.
I had a quarter in my pocket. I pulled it out and Al looked at the shining coin and we both grinned at each other as we knew we were leaving the store with pockets filled with special treats.
All the way down the lane Al licked his sucker and I made my pieces of chocolate melt in my mouth until I could no longer feel it. About half-way home I let go of my brother’s hand and I skipped and jumped all the way to the front door.
I would look back and see Al looking at me, frozen in spot, afraid he would be forced to walk the rest of the way home alone. I hurried and threw open the door and tossed my books on the couch and took off running for Al and grabbing his hand we walked home hand in hand, me his big sister and protector, he the scared little boy of the big world..
So many memories, so many times the two of us did this together. Now as I stand here looking down at my grown brother’s face I weep into my heart. I see the big blue-eyed child now laying here afraid once again.
Afraid to let go of my hand. Afraid he will be left behind. Afraid to walk ahead without me. My legs feel weak and my heart sobs as I see where life has not really changed that much through these past 50 years.
Al and I still need each other. He still seeks me out for comfort and I reach out to him today as if once again I am caring for that little boy all over again. God has decided that we can’t get too much closer as brother and sister.
He has discovered a new job for me and Al. He wants Al to help him with some project way above what my own imagination can dream.
As I look into my brother’s face and I see the pain and sweat from this terrible disease my heart finally breaks in two slices. I look down at his puffy and swollen hands and remember how once I had grabbed hold and walked him into that little store. Now just touching his hand makes him flinch in pain.
His legs that once rode swiftly by me on his new bicycle now lay frozen in time. His feet that once walked side by side with me now lay twisted. No longer the shape of what we know of as feet.
I can no longer understand Al’s words but I can still read his eyes and he is letting me know he is afraid. I reach out to him and tell him I love him. I assure him I love him and I will not allow him to walk this journey alone, just as I didn’t let him walk that little lane from the candy store home alone.