“What is Family” by Nadia Thornton

What is love? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when your usually bratty sister gives you a hug and calls you her favorite person? Or that wide-eyed look of delight your friend gives you when you show up unexpectedly to her school to surprise her? That anticipation when you’re waiting for your parents to pick up the phone?

What is family?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
There’s a tugging on my shirt. I look down and there’s a small boy with big brown eyes and his thumb firmly stuck in his mouth. I sit down on the couch and he looks at me, unusually quiet, and climbs in my lap. For a second, this little ball of energy is still. His head rests in that hollow groove of my neck and collarbone, and I can hear the rhythmic beating of his heart. His fist is in my hair, and he closes his eyes, secure in my arms.

The spell is broken without warning, and he pushes away from me, shouting, “No more kissy!” He scampers off and grabs a lightsaber, waving it ferociously at some imaginary enemies.

Sighing, I resume my work. He’s funny, that boy. He hates being pampered and babied, but he loves snuggling with his big sister, and he’s feisty and shy and such a contradiction. He’s chasing our other sister with the toy lightsaber, and they’re both shrieking with laughter.

My phone buzzes. It’s a text from my friend Matt, telling me that I suck. I laugh to myself, and compose an equally insulting text, because that’s how he and I love each other. Matt’s an a-hole, but he’s my a-hole, and deep down, I know he has a heart of gold. He cares for me as if I was his little sister; he needs me.

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I’m in the middle of some unwanted homework when my dad facetimes me. His goatee is
graying like his hair, and there are so many wrinkles around his eyes from where he’s smiled over the years. Against my wishes, my eyes fill with tears; I miss him. I miss his hugs, his voice, him telling me he loves me.

Being literally an ocean apart is hard on all of us. I can’t ask my dad to go over my homework, or beg him to get some Chick-Fil- A. I can’t ask him about boys, though I know he dreads that topic. I can’t hear him tell me, “It’s going to be all right. I’m here,” when my depression hits me hard and I can’t stop crying or I can’t move. I can’t tell him a bad joke and wait nervously until he starts laughing. It’s just not the same.

His face fills the screen because he doesn’t know how to use technology, but in his eyes I see the love that has guided me for nearly two decades, through highs and lows. Love that has flown halfway across the world when I tried to kill myself, love that cried with me when my engagement was broken, love that rejoiced with me when I got into CIU, unconditional love. I know that my relationship with him is one that few people are blessed with, and I value him, his leadership, and protection all the more for
it.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

When he walks by me, I blush and look down. He’s always smiling, always laughing; nobody would ever think that he used to battle anxiety. I find his joy infectious and encouraging.

More importantly, when we interact, he makes me feel safe. When we swing-danced on the roof of the parking garage that one time, his hands were strong, warm, and comforting. When we played Super Smash Brothers together, his presence was soothing, while the fact that he was constantly killing me was irritating. He usually smiles at me a lot, and his smile chases away the butterflies in my stomach. And for a second, I debate whether or not to tell him about my feelings.

His eyes are a myriad of ever-changing colors, sparkling with happiness. He makes a joke, and we grin at each other, and for a second, everything is right with the world. Do I love him? I don’t know. To say that would be unwise, but so much of me aches to tell him. He looks away and I glance down at my hands, unsure.

I venture to look back up and our eyes meet again.
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Marissa hugs me hard. I inhale, breathing in her scent, feeling her body crushed against mine, her hair tickling my face. I don’t want to let go. “I missed you so much,” she whispers in my ear, tightening her grip around my neck. I bury my face in her neck. “So, so, so much,” she reiterates and pulls away to grin at me.

I don’t say anything, too overcome by the moment, by how long it’s been since I last saw my best friend in person. She hugs me again, and I wrap my arms around her waist, picking her off the ground, spinning her, listening to her giggle. Height differences are useful, because she is the perfect size for me to hug. Grabbing my hand, she shoos her boyfriend away from coming to say hi to me. “Go away, Evan. Nadia, my woman, is here.”

I laugh, and stick my tongue out at him. “Jilted,” I tease.

Evan rolls his eyes, mumbling something about being a third wheel again, but we’re already walking up the path to her dorm, saying how much we missed each other.

She makes me feel whole again.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
When I finally wake up, it’s late morning. The sunlight plays games on my face, dancing through the leaves, and my hammock is swinging gently. The smell of bacon and coffee floats over to me, and I hear laughter and singing.

Everyone is already awake, and they all greet me joyfully when I come over to them. Caleb is cooking bacon over the campfire and waves his spatula at me; Ruth gives me a cup of coffee. We’re all sitting around the fire in our pajamas, eating breakfast and enjoying each other’s company, even though we haven’t showered for days. George is carving his name into a log, and Josiah’s critiquing his efforts, until George shouts, “Oh, fine, whatever!” and slams his knife into the log, stomping back over to us.

There’s some soft instrumental music playing in the background that I hum along to because we’re millennials and we will find a way to get technology in the middle of nowhere, but for now we are in nature and with each other. Content, I snuggle closer to Kaelyn and spread my blanket around us, and Nathanael catches my eye. I stick my tongue out at him and take a sip of my scalding hot coffee. Proudly, Caleb offers us some “scramcake” (scrambled pancake) drenched with sticky syrup, hot and
delicious.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Kailee shouts, “I’m coming!” and appears from her room, taking care not to trip over our legs, since we’re all sprawled out in the hallway. In her hand is a plate with a huge stack of pancakes. As soon as she puts the plate down, they’re gone, since we’re hungry and pancakes are always a nice late night snack, especially with chocolate.

The atmosphere is warm: we’re all chattering about random things, eating the fluffy pancakes, our faces and hands besmeared with melted chocolate, our eyes shining. As we begin to calm down, content from eating the pancakes, Dez clears her throat, and we all fall silent expectantly.

My legs are tangled with Kaelyn’s. The girls on my hall are safe and love; most importantly, safe. Her hand finds mine, as Dez’s voice echoes through the halls, radiating comfort and love. Even when lecturing us about not taking care of our bathrooms. Tired, Kaelyn puts her head on my shoulder, and I put my arm around her. A wave of hilarity ripples through us as Dez teases us about something.

What a time to be alive.

~ Nadia Thornton

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