When the Stars Fallhttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Midday-in-Fire-Season.jpg?fit=1600%2C1068&ssl=116001068Kaitlyn LuckowKaitlyn Luckowhttps://barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/kaitlynluckow.jpg
My mama used to tell me a story:
Long, long ago, there was a little girl who lived in the woods with her best friends: the egret and the elk. They had their own cottage that they made their home and filled it with magical roses blooming on the walls and stars covering the ceiling, filling the room with light and peace.
They loved their home and frequently went on trips to lilac fields and waterfalls, carrying home treasures to display. But they never, ever, and I mean NEVER went out after dark.
Because that’s when He came.
The girl had never seen him, but Egret and Elk told her all about him–He was the reason they were there. It was the only place they could be safe.
But He was hard to ignore.
Although the girl had never seen him with her own eyes, she would hear him every night.
At midnight, she would wake up to a sound that felt almost like the trees whistling in the wind. It was so natural, so routine, but it broke through all the peace.
When he knocked at the door, the stars would come falling down and everything would turn dark. But as long as they were inside, they were safe.
“Never answer the door,” Egret told her.
And she never did.
They lived like this for as long as the girl could remember. And they were happy. The girl just wished that one day, she may be able to see the stars in the big night sky.
The stars must have heard her wish.
Because one day, the knocks never came. One day, the stars didn’t fall from the ceiling. It was at peace. One day turned into two, turned into three, turned into four. And finally, Elk decided to go out and see if anyone else knew where he went.
When Elk returned, they came back with news that made the walls disappear: He had been defeated. The lilac, the waterfalls, the roses, and of course, the stars had enveloped Him and made Him fall.
He would never knock again.
My mama claimed that this was a story that had been passed down from generation to generation, but when I told my best friend about it when we were younger; she had no idea what I was talking about. No one did. But that’s okay. It felt like the story was meant for me. And that meant that at least I had something.
We didn’t have much–my mama, brother, and I. My mama would say, “We have all we need–family.”
Raul and I would inevitably look at each other and roll our eyes, because that wasn’t really true either, was it? It wasn’t true the second our father decided that everything was just a little too much and he just wanted a lot from a little.
Some days I think that Raul handled it even better than I did. Even though he was three years younger than me, he seemed to be able to hold onto a carefree hope that I don’t think I’ve ever held.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s still an awkward eighth grader who’s trapped in that moment where you’re realizing you’re an adult and maybe don’t ever want to go into adulthood. He tries to play it cool around his friends and act like he doesn’t care about anything, but I know that in about year or so, he’ll be obsessing about new sneakers and still write the songs he doesn’t think I know about in his little red notebook.
By every definition, he was a good kid: he went to school, got straight Bs, and only ever hung out with his friends to play video games and an occasional game of basketball.
I guess I was a good kid too, though maybe not by choice. Honestly, I’m convinced that I’m just boring. I know people in my class are having parties in their basements and driving recklessly down Main Street at one in the morning, but no one has ever asked me to join them. And honestly, I think I would be too nervous to even say “yes.”
But in my imagination, I’m one of those girls who leans against her locker during passing time, chewing gum with her black leather jacket highlighting her tan skin, and tightly smiling at the people who walk past her. In my mind, I’m the girl who smokes under the bleachers and goes on dangerous road trips to track down faraway loves.
In reality, I keep my head down as I pass through the halls, I hide my skin in baggy sweaters, the thought of actually smoking makes me blush, I’ve never so much as successfully flirted with someone else, and the farthest road trip I’ve ever taken is the twenty-minute drive I took to take Raul to the movies.
Like I said, I guess I’m just boring.
But Raul was good in a pure, he’s probably going to unintentionally become a superhero one day kind of way.
So, it came as a bit of a shock when my mom called me during lunch saying that I had to pick my brother up from school–that he was suspended.
I found him sitting outside of the principal’s office, his head hung low and his arms crossed.
The principal, Ms. Harper recognized me immediately, even though I hadn’t seen her in years.
“Will your mother be coming?” she asked me.
I shook my head. “She can’t.”
Ms. Harper gave me a look that mirrored the pity-fest going on in her mind, but I just shrugged back.
Don’t give me that pity look. The last thing I needed was to have someone pretend to care about me and my brother, only to not do anything about it.
“Both come in here.” Ms. Harper motioned my brother and I to join her in her office.
I looked back at Raul as I went to shut the door behind us and we both just matched each other’s look of exasperation. If I wasn’t worried and if we weren’t in the principal’s office, I’m sure that we both would have laughed.
All of us sat down and proceeded to just stare at one another, waiting for someone to say something.
“Raul, do you want to tell your sister why you’ve been suspended for three days?” Ms. Harper said as if she was talking to someone that was nine, not thirteen.
“Three days?!” I blurted out. “That’s insane. What, it’s not like he punched someone in the face–”
“I punched someone in the face,” Raul interrupted not making eye contact with me.
Silence fell and I stared at my little brother in shock. I still couldn’t tell if this was some kind of weird joke, because I could not picture my brother ever being pushed enough to be angry. Let alone being angry enough to hurt someone else. Maybe he was in as much shock as I was.
“Raul punched Kyle Martin in the face during P.E. class this morning,” Ms. Harper butted in. “Mr. Martin’s lip started bleeding. I’m afraid that Raul made the situation unsafe for those around him. As a result, he needs to be suspended from school for three days.”
“I don’t understand. I mean why would he–”
“He’s lucky it’s not worse,” Ms. Harper said.
I looked at Raul, waiting for him to say something, anything, to defend himself. He wouldn’t just punch someone in the face for no reason.
“What happened?” I asked him. “What did he do to you? Did he hurt you?”
Raul didn’t say anything and continued to look at his hands.
“Raul,” I gently lifted his chin to make him look at me.
Even though he might not be saying anything, I could read his eyes and they were screaming that something was wrong.
“What did he do to you?”
Raul shook his head and hung his head back down.
Ms. Harper clapped her hands together as if she had just finished eating a giant lunch or something and stood up.
“I’m afraid I have a meeting to get to, but please take Raul home for the rest of the day.”
I nodded silently, desperately wanting to yell at her, but I knew that not only would it not help the situation, but that nothing would change. Raul must have felt the same way, because we just left.
We left and sat silently in the car all the way home. The only sound that passed between us was the hum of the engine that was going to bust any day now. We continued to sit in silence even as I turned the engine off as we sat outside.
“Raul,” I said softly, not looking at him. “What did he do to you?” I felt a tear start to fall down my face–terrified of what my brother was too scared to tell.
“He said that I didn’t belong here,” Raul said, picking at the parking sticker on the dash. “He said that I shouldn’t be here. That we shouldn’t be here. That all of us should just go back.”
I couldn’t bear to look at him, because I could feel him shaking. I didn’t want to know if it was from anger or from tears. Neither would be enough. And either would be much more than he should have been forced to bare.
I blindly reached over and brought him to me, cradling his head in my lap like I used to when we were kids.
“This is our home, Raul. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not.”
“I know. I didn’t.”
I smiled softly and lifted him up.
We smiled at each other, knowing that we would always have each other. Maybe my mother was right.
Knock Knock Knock
“Mom, the door!”
No one answered. I forgot that she hadn’t come home from work yet.
Knock Knock Knock
When no one answered, I rolled my eyes and slowly got up from my bed. Honestly, no one cared to do anything around here. I was getting sick of having to do everything: the laundry, picking up my brother, driving around everywhere—
I know my mama was trying her hardest; she was doing the best that she could and she needed me to help lift her up, but I just wanted to be lifted for once.
Kaitlyn Luckow is a writer based out of Portland, OR with a passion for telling people’s stories and creating stories that unite through empathy. You can find more of her work on her websitehttps://www.kaitlynluckow.com.