Kendall Cruise

Raise the Dead

Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place, but what else is there to do when you are ten and like an older boy, so—there I was. The funny thing is, I don’t even think it was summer, the chill of autumn—maybe even winter—hung in the breeze. To be frank, we were bored, and the boys could only be in the house for so many hours before their mother kicked them out to go play, so Noah suggested we go explore by the creek.

They were my grandmother’s nextdoor neighbors, and the only other kids in the neighborhood; what other choice did we have than to have my two siblings and I, like ducks in a row, cross the threshold between their two yards and give a polite knock upon the door. We’d spend our days over Hulk video games and increasingly more violent games of hide and seek, chasing one another around the house endlessly, too proud to be the only one to wear shoes as we traversed over their rocky patio that poked the arch of the foot. When together, there was no need to ask where their dad was, or why we were only at our grandmother’s every other weekend. In these moments, for once, we were all just kids.

Mason was a year younger than me and an absolute crybaby. While I enjoyed him to an extent, I always found myself paused, waiting to see when he decided that Noah had committed a grievance worth crying over—which I usually perceived as a spilled-milk equivalent. He was a curly mop of a boy, with freckles like a speckled rock and pale as proofed bread. Everything about him was like fine china, which is my kind way of saying he was sensitive, which is my kinder way of correcting my harsh “crybaby” dubbage. He was always sick, always injured, always wanting something else for dinner.

There were times that I would hold my breath, wait to see if—for once—he would decide he felt too sick to play. If the holding of the breath was more than metaphorical, I would have gone blue in the face and passed out on the floor.

Now Noah was as close to what a ten-year-old could conceptualize as a Greek God. I make this comparison for the fact of his nose. It is the one of any Greek statue my mind can remember—beak like, dipped at the top of the bridge with a bony protrusion to mark the start of the slope proper. He was four years older than me, and he was our ringleader.

He had wanted to explore the creek a little bit outside of the cul-de-sac and there was no way we would have been allowed to go over if we asked so—our solution was not to ask. The five of us toddled our way through their backyard and a small field before entering the treeline. Goosebumps coated the skin as the breeze from the rushing water pushed into us.

We walked along the edge over rocks and twigs, sized up branches and bits where the terrain became steep and uncertain. I don’t even remember how it happened. One minute I was up over the water just cresting the beginning of the depression and then I was in it. I must have just plopped, I don’t remember a roaring tumble, any scraped knees, not even wet hair. Just white hot regret.

Noah must have ran to get someone. He seems like the only one who had it in him—a boy scout through and through. The others tried to coax me out of the water, told me to come back to the edge and climb up, or to walk across the creek and get up on the shallower land. All I could seem to do was babble and half cry. The water was too fast, my legs were frozen and shook in fear, I couldn’t catch my breath.

Then, the sound turned all splashing. My father fought against the current, looking nothing short of barbaric in his fear. It is the only time in my working memory that I can think of him lifting me onto his shoulders. He hoisted me up, heavy with water, and carried me back up to the shore.

How was I to know that in this moment, I had allowed a past to be rewritten? A grave to be pulled from the dirt—unlidded.

He died the first night my dad ever drank. Being the oldest of five in an Irish Catholic family inspires a certain degree of rebellion—and there was little else to do at twelve years old in the 80s than cause a little trouble. I imagine he staggered home a little hazy, but cognizant enough to put on a good show.

I only know my Uncle Brian even existed due to tidbits exchanged from my mom’s mouth when Dad wasn’t around to hear. His very existence—some unspoken absence everyone seemed to have agreed upon without my knowing. The events of the night piecemealed together in some panoramic collage, still left unfinished.

I imagine the first thing my father saw were lights. The blue and red flickering across the side of his childhood home. The front door was left open, and the house empty, unsure whether it would be wise to approach the scene still alcohol-ladden.

Brian had fallen into the creek and gone blue in chill and death. You know, it is often said that history has this pesky little habit of repeating itself, maybe as some fucked up test to show it you have learned.

While my father warmed his spirit with spirits alongside some neighborhood boys down the street, his siblings were playing outside—waiting for the call of dinner. They had been exploring by the creek, four of them, missing their fifth, and Brian had slipped. His body cracked through the ice upon impact. I’m not sure what my aunts and uncle might have done. Looked around at one another or the water in shock, called out to Brian, one of them making some daring escape to the side yard where my grandfather spent his afternoons fixing bicycle chains and refurbishing tables? Wished my father was there? Wished the eldest child was there to tell them something, anything was the right thing to do in the way only an eldest can?

The ice had frozen back over before Brian could pull himself back up to the top, his body a dark and squirming shadow growing cold and panicked. I imagine he gulped the first water into his lungs, his instinct a deadly hyperventilation. I imagine his thin arms, his legs—still growing—kicking against the water, against the current his body was in the process of swallowing whole. I try not to picture what it is my aunts and uncle could see, finding my mind pulled back again and again to the view of Brian buried beneath the winter. I try to forget he was seven.

My father received three DUI’s before he was nineteen and lost his commercial driver’s license before he quit drinking. I wonder if he liked the way it combated the creeping cold. If it was the only way he could play through the motions again and again. In one rendition, he does not go to his friends and stays alongside his siblings. From there he poses two possibilities: the one where he dives for Brian and the one where he dives for the house.

In the first, his body would arch gracefully into the Brian-shaped ice fishing hole, pull him to the edge of the bank and wrap his own body around him in an attempt to return the warmth. Brian would cry into his shoulder.

In the second, he goes running for his father, the only man he knew with hands more calloused than his own, and the ice is broken with one of many tools, Brian is retrieved, turned over to his stomach on the bank as his father pounds between Brian’s shoulder blades until all the water has come up and a gasp, as sweet as a baby’s first cry, finds the frost.

He attempts to play through the reality of the night—he is not there. In every rendition of these hypotheticals—Brian dies. This is the way the story goes. This is what he likes to forget.

What do we do, with all that we do not yet know? What do I do with my imagined life, zombie uncle and all? What does my father do with it?

My father dropped out of high school his sophomore year, two years after Brian’s passing. I often imagine my father walking across the stage. Taking graduation photos in the middle of the football field. Maybe he would have picked up a formal trade, like his father. Maybe he would’ve had it in him to stick with it, try out community college. Go into healthcare, like his mother.

I imagine him flipping adamantly through his anatomy textbook, learning every part of the lungs, imagining the contractions of Brian’s, of his throat as he expelled imaginary water onto an imaginary shore inside of this imaginary imagining.

What is it my father felt when Noah told him what had happened? Who did he picture as he trudged into the creek, twenty years sober, and pulled from it a thin-armed body gone cold from the water? When he placed me on the shore was he surprised to see a blonde? Was some part of him pulled from fantasy and back into grief? He finally got his chance to show what he had learned and pulled up—me.

I cannot help but to think he must have paid for my life with his. The price of his life, some butterfly effect’s wager. How do you determine what one child, maintained alive, is worth against that of the figment of one, now realized?

What kind of sick reincarnation tale can be found here? What sort of patient god?

Kendall Cruise is a junior at SUNY Geneseo studying English (creative writing) and adolescence education. They have been previously published in Gandy Dancer and Iris Magazine, and are the current managing editor of their college’s newspaper, The Lamron.