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When You Were Older
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Part One

Tumbling Down

15 September 2001

IT WAS FOUR days after the towers fell, and I woke in the morning to see a giant standing over my bed. I was all set to scream a very unmanly scream, but it came out silent. I never managed any sound. Good thing, too. Because that would have scared this particular giant right under the bed.

It only took me a second or two to figure out who it was. And, worse yet, where I was.

Then, as I’d done every time I’d wakened from post-9/11 sleep – usually just a vague nap in somebody’s moving car – I ran the list in my mind. What was lost, what had changed.

New York is over, the job is gone, Mom is gone, all my friends went down with the towers, all the work I did to leave Kansas behind for ever has come to nothing. I’m back in Nowhere-ville, right where I swore I’d never be again. And I’m stuck.

It was a perfect storm of nightmare scenarios. All was quite effectively lost.

I looked up again at the skinny giant, who was only my brother Ben. Not that I hadn’t expected to bump into him, but … I’d gotten in late the night before – well, late by Ben standards – and he’d already gone to bed.

He still wouldn’t look at anybody. But it was nothing like that old business trick of focusing on a spot between the other person’s eyebrows. Ben did everything big. He turned his head away and looked off at a forty-five-degree angle, eyes turned down to the floor.

So there it was. Something that hadn’t changed.

‘Hey, Buddy,’ I said.

‘You have to take me to work. You have to get up.’

And those were the first words my brother Ben and I had said to each other in over six years.

I sat up in bed, in just my boxer shorts, blinking. That had not been nearly enough sleep. Not even close. My eyes felt sandy, my stomach borderline.

‘Do you have a car?’ he asked.

I could tell he was nervous about his ride.

‘I don’t.’

‘Then how are you going to take me to work?’

‘Mrs Jespers said I should start using Mom’s car.’

‘Oh.’

‘But she didn’t know where Mom kept her keys. Do you know?’

‘Yeah,’ Ben said. ‘I know.’

‘Will you tell me?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Now? Or at least now-ish?’

‘She keeps them on the hook by the front door.’

‘Good,’ I said. ‘Progress.’ I didn’t say, Finally. ‘So … look … do you know who I am?’

‘Yeah,’ Ben said.

‘So you remember me?’

‘Yeah.’

‘So, who am I?’

‘My brother.’

‘Right. Good. Do you remember my name?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why don’t you say it?’

‘You didn’t say I should. Just if I remember it.’

‘Actually, I meant, why don’t you? Like, how about saying it?’

‘Rusty.’

That old identity, so long left behind, sliced me like jagged metal. Jagged and, well … rusty.

‘I go by Russell now.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I’m all grown up.’

‘I have to get to work. I have to be there by quarter to seven. I can’t be late. Mr McCaskill wouldn’t like it if I was late.’

‘Sure. Fine. Let’s get you to work, then. Have you eaten?’

‘Yeah.’

‘What did you eat?’

‘I ate cereal.’

‘How long have you been up?’

‘I get up at five.’

‘I didn’t hear an alarm.’

‘I don’t have an alarm. I don’t need an alarm. Every morning I just get up at five.’

‘Why aren’t you getting in?’ I asked, raising my voice a little so he’d hear me, but keeping it down for the neighbors’ sake at the same time.

Our mom’s old Buick was running, warming up. I could feel the vibrations under my butt. It ran rough. I’d opened the driver’s side door to lean out and talk to Ben, who was standing by the open garage door, not getting in.

‘It’s not one of those doors that closes all by itself,’ Ben said. Loudly, with no concern for sleeping neighbors. And impatiently. As if I should have known already. As if everybody in the world should be just as informed as Ben figured they should be. ‘I wait here by the garage door till Mom pulls the car out. Then I close the garage door. Then I get in.’

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