A Private Jail

I just stopped in to see Sarah at the jail. She wasn't expecting me. I didn't want her to know I was coming. She should have expected me, or would have if she paid any attention to a calendar. It is her anniversary, after all. But she says when you're in there for life, the calendar seems to lose its meaning. The only thing that lets her know of the passage of time is the twice-a-year holiday meals in the cafeteria, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But she's used to that.

She likes it there, I think. He can't understand it, but I do. Not that he ever really understood her. He doesn't understand why I keep going to see her. I don't think she does either, but at some level, she's grateful for it. I go because I understand her. She's more like me than even she realizes, and that kind of scares me. Because if we're so alike, there's really very little keeping me from ending up in the cell next to her. But I don't know. Maybe I would like it too. She likes it because she's never alone. She never liked being left alone, but neither did I. When I come back from visiting her, he always asks me how she can stand it in there, with all the people around, never being alone. But she needs all those people. That's what gives her security, makes her so comfortable she doesn't even mind that she never has a hope of getting out.

Today when I visited her, she was a little different, though. She seemed sad. She may never look at a calendar, but that doesn't stop her from knowing what today is. That's another bond between us; we're the only two people who know what today is. Even he doesn't know.

I finally get home, park the car in the garage, and walk into the kitchen. "Hi, I'm home!" I can't see him, but I know he's there somewhere, and has been all day. His car was in the garage, and he didn't break the little, nearly invisible string I ran across the doorway. It seems a little paranoid, I know, but with a history like his, I can't be too careful. I don't want to end up like Sarah.

I drop my bag on the table and start to walk down the hallway, then think better of it and turn back. I pick up my bag and hang it neatly on the hook that's nicely labelled "Heather's Bag". I don't want him to come back in here before I do and get upset. He likes my things neatly in their place, even when his stuff is lying sloppily all over the place. He didn't use to be like that, but the psychiatrist says the change is perfectly natural for his situation, expected, in fact.

I hang my coat up next to my bag (on the hook that says "Heather's Coat") and walk up the stairs and down the hallway to his study. He's probably in there. He usually is. I used to joke about having a bed and dumbwaiter installed so he would never have to leave the room.

I open the door just enough to slide my head in. Sure enough, he's there, sitting on his recliner, staring at the television. The TV is off. I start to worry.

I open the door a bit more, and lean my side against the door frame. "I saw Sarah today." He grunts and folds his arms. "I'm going again next week. I think you should come." He grunts in a way I take to mean No. "I really want you to come. I think it will be good for you. Please, come."

He turns towards me slightly. "Why?" He finally speaks, but I can see it will take a lot of effort to get him to say anything more than monosyllables.

"Don't you feel even the slightest bit of responsibility?" I'm starting to get exasperated. It's the same thing, every time.

"No." He turns back to the TV and picks up the remote. He turns it on and starts channel-surfing in the ignoring way that's always meant, End of discussion. But this time, I'm not giving up.

"I really think it would be a good idea if you come with me next week." My tone is firmer, even a little harsher. "You haven't been to see her since she's been there. That's what, three years and ten months now?" I know that today is really her four-year anniversary, but I don't say that. I want to see if he knows.

"Four years." He whispers, but I can still hear him. Aha! So it does matter to him. Enough for him to keep count, anyway.

"Right. Four years."

He's still whispering. "And two hours." He didn't even look at his watch, and I know he can't see the clock on the VCR below the TV. The coffee table's in the way, cluttered with all his soda cans. I don't let him drink beer anymore.

"So why don't you come?" If he doesn't answer me, I'll hound him all week until he either agrees or gives me a darn good reason why he won't go visit our sister. After all, he's the one who put her there.

My brother Harry didn't used to be like this. He used to have a perfectly normal, wonderful life. He had friends, went to college, even was engaged for a while. Everyone loved him. Oddly enough, that's what made him his fianc©e break up with him. Her family loved him, but she decided that she couldn't live with that model of perfection. He was perfect, back then. Everything about him was perfect.

And then Meredith broke up with him. The night before the wedding, she just decided that she couldn't go through with it. Everyone told her it was just cold feet, but she didn't change her mind.

I know he didn't always show it, but he did love her deeply. I know that she could see that. And I know that she loved him back, but apparantly that wasn't enough.

Sometimes love isn't enough.

I often wonder, late at night when I'm awake in bed and I hear him down the hall tossing in his sleep, what she would think of him now. Sometimes I wish that I could talk to her, get to know what she feels, thinks. What she saw in him that made her love him, and what she saw when she knew that she couldn't marry him. She must have seen something, some psychic precognitive flash that told her that he wouldn't be perfect forever... I just want to know if she saw this coming!

I wonder if Harry saw it coming. He had no idea that Meredith was going to ditch him at the altar, so to speak, that much I know. He never saw it coming. He was always a little fatalistic, my brother, but always a little na©ve, too. He never suspected that there would be someone who didn't want perfection. Not that he took Meredith for granted, or acted like his girl didn't matter because there would always be a line of girls wanting such a perfect guy (which was true, but he always acted like he didn't know). He loved Meredith as much as anyone could love a girl.

Sometimes love isn't enough.

Even when Meredith did leave him, with no more than a word and a promise that she would disappear, not wanting to cause him any more pain than she already was, he didn't become like this immediately.

I don't think Meredith even really had anything to do with what happened to him.

I don't know the full story of what happened to him, what it was that caused his change, or what happened that Sarah had to go to jail. I don't know. Sarah knows, and Harry knows, I think, but they both pretend not to know much.

All the psychiatrists he's seen can't tell me much of anything, either. They tried to convince me to put him in an asylum, told me that the people there could help him, and I would be able to go on with my life without having to take care of him all the time. But I wouldn't ever do that. Mom always taught us to stick together, no matter what, and that's what we're going to do. That's why we moved to this house, just down the street from where Sarah is, so we can go visit her without a long drive. Harry hates long drives.

But he still won't go to visit her. And that's what tells me that he really is crazy, because he was always the one who reminded us that Mom always told us to stick together. He was always the archetype of the perfect big brother, taking care of us because ©Mom says we have to stick together.© And he never says that anymore.

So he's here with me, and now I'm the one who has to watch out for him. The psychiatrists can tell me how to deal with him, what to do to try to help him, where to limit him and where to let him have freedoms.

They tell me not to let him have beer, to let him have his car (as it's so unlikely that he'll use it anyway), to let him have his study and recliner and television, to let him have a computer but not an internet connection. They sent me to a class where I learned how to set up the computer just for him, so I can see everything he does, so everything he does is backed up automatically onto my computer without him knowing, so even if he deletes something he writes I can still see it.

His psychiatrist hopes that one day, he'll type something that tells what happened, tells just one more piece of the story. One more piece to add to our little family jigsaw puzzle.

Something that will tell me what happened, so I know, me, the only sane one left in our family and the only one who doesn't know what happened.

Four years ago, our family was reduced to this, to a sister who will be in jail for the rest of her life, to a brother who is either insane or pretends so very well, to me, the only sane one left.

Sometimes it occurs to me that I don't know why Sarah is in jail, but then I remind myself that I'm the sane one in this family, and of course I know why she is in jail. And I have to stay the sane one, cause if I go insane too, then they'll take Harry away from me and I'll never see him or Sarah again.

That's why I never tell anybody that I can't remember why Sarah is in jail.

Every time I bring Harry to the psychiatrist, he asks me about how Harry's doing, how I'm doing. And I lie, of course, because if he knew the truth, he would take Harry away. He can't ever know that I don't remember much when I don't have it written down or rehearse it. I rehearse every time before I see the psychiatrist, make sure I have all my lies down.

He can't know that I sometimes forget people's names, and I'm the one who wanted the labelled hooks, not Harry, because I'd lose everything otherwise.

He can't know.

And I have to keep pretending not to know anything about what happened, just like Harry and Sarah do.

And I love Harry and Sarah so much, I can't let him know what I'm really like, cause then he'll take Harry away from me and I'll never see him or Sarah again. My love is going to keep us all together.

I just hope love will be enough.

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