Part One - June
The summer I turned 16 began like all the others. I was excited, as every teenager in Westerville was, for the final bell of the school year, followed by 3 glorious months of freedom. June, July, and August stretched before us, waiting to be captured and filled with lazy afternoons at the neighborhood pool, watching my brothers eye the girls I shared a lunch table with, seeing which ones puberty had been kind to. Sitting next to Taylor at the piano, playing chords while he effortlessly created a melody. Cooking sloppy joes for the boys (pickles for Ike, a square of American for Zac) who would wolf them down like feral children and ask for more to fuel their growing bodies. There was never enough, but I would make as much as I possibly could, and always scoot my leftovers over to Taylor. Night time adventures followed by dozing uncomfortably in the treehouse that we still held sacred, even though Ike was back from his first year at OSU, where his friends all called him Isaac.
I was turning 16 that July. I wasn’t planning on having a party because I didn’t really have any friends close enough to invite over or go out for burgers with. I would spend my birthday this year, like every year, with my brothers.
The fact of that matter was, my three brothers and I were inseparable. They were everything to me, and I was their queen. Ike was the oldest, but he had only been about two years old when I came along, so really none of us could remember a time when we were ever alone, and we didn’t want that to change any time soon. Taylor, my silent shadow from the moment he came into the world, was only 9 months my junior, the smallest gap between any of us. We had been mistaken for twins our entire life, and if someone told me we actually had shared a womb, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. He was my soulmate, the knowing looks we shared our first language, English coming second. He was often accused for being emotionally unavailable or too shy, but to me he was an open book. Zac rounded out the clan 2 years later. In the summer of ‘72 I, Christine, was turning 16...but no one called me Christine, except my mother who had opened her veins in the bathtub 8 years earlier...the golden promise of summer powerless to the black cloud of sadness that haunted her relentlessly. To her, I had been Christine. To everyone else, I was Cricket.
Ike arrived home for the summer the very same day that school ended for the rest of us. I was so happy to have him back. The house felt wrong without him, and we found ourselves constantly waiting for him to visit every weekend. But now there were three uninterrupted months to look forward to with no pesky college classes to occupy his mind. He was pursuing engineering, just like our father, and would undoubtedly join our remaining parent working on farming equipment an hour north of our house, in the magical, mysterious land where the corn came from. Like father, like son. I knew that he would much rather be playing his guitar, but we all knew that the music we played for each other was a hobby, not a career. Ike was my rock. We shared our father’s features: light amber curls and luminous brown eyes which made some people uncomfortable with their intensity. Ike’s presence filled up a room, his charisma capable of getting him out of any kind of consequence for the trouble he loved to cause. He was spontaneous and exciting, always ready for adventure. He was the object of many girls’ affection, which garnered me friends that didn’t last. But, I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the look on their faces when they finally figured out that I was the apple of my brother’s eye, and no homecoming queen could ever compete with the bond we shared. Having him home would mean exciting escapades and summer time adventures. I built it up so much in my mind that I could think of nothing else for the last few days of my sophomore year.
We always walked home from school, but after the final bell rang, I emerged flanked by my brothers to find Ike parked right in front of the building, sitting on the hood of his car, a sly smirk on his face, waiting patiently for his comrades. Summer had begun.
As you would expect, we had been left to our own devices for much of our formative years. I was days away from turning eight when my mother died, and she had begun fading into nothingness long before that. There were countless nights where we would appear at an empty dining room table, forced to boil hot dogs while our stomachs growled loudly, but never loud enough for our mother to hear from her bedroom fortress. Ten year old Ike would draw smiley faces with ketchup on our plates while we waited for the water to bubble, while we all wondered how our mother could possibly sleep at a time like this. Other days, we would come downstairs in the morning to a feast of french toast, our mother’s absolute favorite thing to prepare. There would be mountains of it, letting us know that she had been awake for hours preparing. Bacon, sausage, fruit, and 3 kinds of syrup set up all around the table, our eyes wide and our mouths watering. “Nothing but the best for my babies!” She would exclaim, her blue eyes glittering. We would eat off of the french toast for a few days, and then it was back to plain spaghetti noodles, while she retreated into her room and cried herself to sleep at three in the afternoon.
Our father worked constantly, having four hungry mouths to feed, three of them being teenage boys (I would often slide my portions over to Taylor, not for lack of hunger, just because I knew how there was never quite enough to satiate his pubescent appetite). His own mouth he fed with scotch and free bar peanuts. We didn’t mind. We became each other's parents, making sure we all got dressed, fed, and out the door every morning, taking turns making dinner and spending evenings either in the treehouse we found in the woods behind our yard, or somehow ending up all piled into the same twin bed, not having to say a word but understanding how desperately we all needed each other. We were so codependent, in fact, that people often wondered what the exact nature of our relationship was. I certainly didn’t have any female friends, which made other girls simultaneously jealous and suspicious - jealous because my brothers were all incredibly handsome, suspicious because they doted on me while never having girlfriends of their own). We tended to avoid school functions, occasionally swinging by a football game as one single entity, and leaving by halftime. We just never had the impulse to branch out beyond each other. We had everything we needed, which made others uncomfortable. Even our dad would comment on how it gave him the heebie jeebies when we would communicate with glances. But he was an only child. He wouldn’t understand.
Ike going to college had been difficult, but luckily he had only ventured to Columbus and was home nearly every weekend, meaning we all lived for Friday nights. This friday, school having just ended, we climbed into his car, as he announced our next adventure:
“End of the semester party at OSU tonight. Who’s up for a drive to Columbus?”
“I highly doubt we should take the boys,” I said, my maternal instinct strong even though I wasn’t that much older than my younger brothers. “And...didn’t you just get home from Columbus?”
“I think they’d be fine.” Ike replied nonchalantly, “and come on, Cricket, it’s like a half hour drive. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“If Cricket’s going, I’m going,” Taylor stated plainly. He hated when our experiences weren’t shared.
“And if Tay’s going I am not staying home by myself,” Zac whined.
“Ok, first of all Taylor, you would hate it because you hate parties but that’s beside the point. Second of all, Zac, you’re thirteen,” I responded, glancing at Ike for help but receiving none. Ike was an enabler, but the group needed one to function. Otherwise, we would never leave the house.
We talked in circles for 10 minutes until, pulling up in the driveway, three sets of eyes turned to me. There was something about Taylor’s blue eyes, so different from my own, that could persuade me to do just about anything. I heaved a heavy sigh, knowing I was overruled. Three to one.
“Fine. We all go.”