The Dividing Line

What is brave? Every single day, at least one person is trying to prove that they aren't weak. That they aren't scared. My brother and I had been doing this since we had first met, and each on different sides of the line. He always seemed brave and I always seemed weak. Within two years, we had come to an understanding.
"You're such a wimp!" my brother yelled at me for the millionth time as we walked towards the cable cars in the Italian Alps, "get over your stupid fear of heights and get up there!"
I hated heights, just like my mom had. The mere thought of being too far up made me shudder. I pulled lightly at my hair and held back tears that threatened to fall down my face. "Oh, don't tell me you're gonna cry," my Dad said in a mocking tone.
My fear had developed while I was at my old day camp. We were climbing on a jungle gym and I had reached the top. Since it was so popular to climb, kids were pushing and shoving, and I had gotten pushed right off. I lay on the ground, crying like there was no tomorrow, and kids just sat there, watching my cheeks turn red with tears. Things as small as this can change a child's mind about everything. After that day I had been terrified that I would fall from someplace high and hurt myself.
My family had made attempts at bringing me back to climbing, but I kept refusing. Eventually they had gotten me to go hiking with them, but not after a huge tantrum full of screaming and sobbing. One look at that mountain and I knew I would not be having a good day.
The cable car didn't even reach the top! I would have to keep climbing until they reached a decent path. The weather wasn't too nice either; although the sun was shining, the wind was blowing angrily against me. What if I got blown off the mountain? What if the cable car disconnected because it was being blown about too much? I was scared, and I was being teased for it.
My legs were shaking as we walked to the ticket booth, and my brother stuck out his tongue at me incessantly all that morning. My brother always seemed to be the favorite, and he would gloat about it too. He was able to do multiplication, and he was only five. The way Mom and Dad would keep talking with him and encouraging him made me feel as if I wasn't there. I assumed they hated me. I was afraid of everything, just one small thing and I would be too scared to do it again. All I was good at was reading, while my brother was good at sports and math and everything else; he was a little genius. I had to prove to them that I was worth their love too.
We walked on to the cable car and sat down together. As we ascended, just to make me shiver, my brother kept saying "if you fall you die, if you fall you die." My fists clenched silently beside me and I lifted my hand to hit him, but of coarse, Mom and Dad prevented me. Instead I resorted to yelling "stop it," after every time he said it. This made him grin and he would continue more obnoxiously.
At the end of the cable car ride, I climbed out and took in the rural surroundings. There was a farm with horses and cows. There seemed to be plenty of cows where we were, so I asked myself why they weren't known for their cheese, just to take my mind away from the task at hand.
I was ready, even though the wind was stronger here. The cows made me take my mind off the gusts tugging at my hair, my clothes, and my entire self. Before my family could realize I was gone, I began to climb up the path. The path continued off the side of a steep mountain for what looked like miles and miles, but I wasn't going to be intimidated. I walked down the path, and soon I was out of sight of the farm. The wind seemed stronger than every, and I was sure I was going to be blown off, but I kept going. I wasn't going to be called a wimp.
All the anger that had built up in me was flowing into every step. I marched far ahead, determined to be strong. The path kept going and going, and on either side was steep mountain. One slip and I would go down. The waves of fury washed over that of anger and I moved on, looking only straight ahead.
"Melissa!" I heard a voice calling for me. I turned around, but no one was there. I pressed on. The wind had changed direction and was blowing in my face. When this happens I always have trouble breathing, and that's what happened. The wind was zooming by like I wasn't there, leaving no air for my mouth to inhale. I began crying, and I then lost all respect for myself. I was a wimp! I couldn't handle a little bit of wind. I was crying, and wimps cry.
I kept walking, but each step felt like bricks were weighing me down. "Melissa!" This time I was sure I heard it. I turned around and my father was running towards me. He hugged me really tight, and the whole while I kept saying "I'm not a wimp. I'm not a wimp."
"No, you're not," my dad said. "You're too brave for your own good. We were worried about you. You were so far ahead we couldn't even see you. I tried calling for you, but I guess you didn't hear me."
Even after that day, no one but my brother thought of me as brave. People looked at me as if I was just a naïve little girl who didn't know what bravery was. After that day, I thought that I could handle everything and anything that stood in my way. Sadly, there was something going on that I had been unaware of until after that summer. On the drive home, Mom and Dad told me what was happening.
My Grandfather had been going in and out of the hospital. He had been diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer, and it had not been very pretty. The doctors had tried everything, but the cancer just wouldn't go into remission. Every day, with a heavy heart, I would go to prayers and reach out to god, praying for him to get better. When we gathered at my Grammy and Grandpa's house for my birthday, Grandpa couldn't even eat the cake. I looked at his thinning frame, and I locked eyes with him, and he knew I was scared. I was scared for him, and his appearance was frightening me.
Eventually, my Grandpa had to be forced to sleep at the hospital. When my family all came to visit, I sat in the waiting room. Mom and Dad walked away, being called by the doctors to be able to visit him.
I sat by my brother trying to be strong for him, to make my brother feel like everything would be alright. I thought back to when we were climbing, and I had been trying to prove I was brave. It was ironic because my brother had always been the brave one, but now I was trying to be brave for him. We had come to an understanding that each of us had our strengths, and that we would need to be there to help each other through the bad times. We had to be there for each other.
My mom and dad came back in, and my cousins left to visit. I leaned against my dad. "Dad, why can't I go in?"
"Because," he said, his voice straining "kids aren't allowed in the room." I looked in his eyes and I could tell her was lying. My mom had a blank expression, as if she felt nothing.
At the beginning of fifth grade, the visits to grandpa's room had become less and less frequent among the children. Being strong, more for myself than everyone else, had become a habit. I was constantly optimistic, a smile always plastered on my face. Mom and Dad looked at me as if I would burst out in tears at any moment. Could they see through my disguise?
Weeks after that, my brother and I had been dropped off at our neighbor's house on a regular basis, so they could watch us while my parents rushed to the hospital. We were standing on a time bomb, whether our parents would admit it or not. Grandpa hadn't come out of the hospital in a while, and we all had a gut feeling that he might stay there for a good while longer.
I practiced everything I would say to Grandpa for when he would come out of the hospital. I made a card for him that had a pretty pink heart on it. I had memorized a song and I was fully ready to confront him when he was to come out of the hospital.
I was doing homework at an after school program, and the day had been going great. I was telling my friends about my grandpa, and how he would be coming home soon. My mom had been telling me that he was doing great. I had been clinging at her heels for good news for weeks, so these few words were good enough for me.
Dad came to pick me up earlier than usual. His face was like a mask, with sadness peaking out from behind it. I pretended not to notice. Being brave meant being happy, even when things are bad. That's what my dad had been telling me. He always sounded as if the world would end within the next few minutes, and he didn't know how to tell us.
"We're going to Grammy and Grandpa's house."
My heart skipped a beat. Grandpa was out of the hospital! He was home! I would get to see him and tell him everything that has been going on and how much I missed him. I was going to see him, and he would see how much I had grown, physically and mentally. He would get to hear about my hike. About how I had been facing my fears one by one. I would be able to make him proud and see him smile.
"Bye guys," I said, halfway through the door, "My grandpa's home!" I ran down the hall, eager to tell my little brother the big news, but dad stopped me, and I knew at that very moment how wrong my assumption had been.
"Melissa..." his voice faded off, and I felt the tears streaming down my eyes, even before he said it. "Grandpa isn't home. He passed away..."
My eyes opened wide and I realized everything that had just happened. Even I knew it was coming, I still wasn't prepared for the full magnitude of it. My heart and turned to metal and it's weight was dragging me to the ground.
"I didn't even get to say goodbye," I said between sobs.
"He was afraid that you would be scared if you saw him. He had tubes in and out of him, and he didn't want you to be scared for him."
I wiped away the tears. How many times had I told myself that brave kids didn't cry? I had promised myself to be brave for Grandpa. Did he think I couldn't handle it? Maybe I wasn't brave at all. I was just a wimp who wasn't brave enough to be allowed to talk to her own grandfather.
I knew how my brother would react. He would pretend that Grandpa never existed. That was his way of dealing with it, to run away when it got to be too much. I wasn't going to make fun of him. How could I with what had happened? I would help him through it, just like I was supposed to. I walked up to my brother's classroom.
"Jonathan, get your stuff. We're going to Grammy and Grandpa's." I tried to say it as kindly as I could and hold back the already falling tears.
"Why are you crying?"
I took a deep breath, and let the tears flow openly. This was how I was brave. "Granpa's gone."