by Jamin Stortz
It had been three weeks since my brother left before I entered his room. I couldn’t bear it, preferring to leave the door closed and, with it, the possibility that he was still behind it, sitting on the floor with his back against the wall listening to music with his eyes closed like he always did. It was good that he was gone, I would tell myself, repeatedly, despite the sickness in my stomach that told me otherwise. Mom said he was better off, though she couldn’t look me in the eye when she said it.
When I finally did go into his room, I remembered the quiet stillness giving way to the afternoon monsoon tapping at the window. He was gone. All that remained was a small bed beneath the window, a plastic chair, a wooden table with flecks of red paint, and a poster of a faraway city, New York, he told me. A dresser with no shelves still held his clothes, except for the few items he could fit into his backpack.
On top of the dresser was an empty case of Suprema beer. In the case were the things he could not take on the journey north. It was the story of a boy growing into a man unfit for the violence that flowed down our streets: a bulging Captain America figurine that I was never allowed to touch; a painting he made of the San Salvador volcano when he was seven; the faded paper certificate for the painting awarding him third place in the school art festival; a picture of him standing outside the chapel on his confirmation, already towering over mom in his button-down white shirt; a picture of the 2017 La Selecta team, posing before a World Cup qualifying match against Honduras; a yellow-stained Spanish-English dictionary; and a worn book of Pablo Neruda poems, its cover torn.
There was also the photo of him standing with his arm around Isabella before she left him. She was tall and slender. Her silky black hair flowed down from a high ponytail behind a confident smile. Theirs was a first love, where everything tingled as the only thing that ever mattered. Then came La 18 and the barrio gang promising her more, and more, and more. It was irresistible. She left, deleting innocence.
Then they came for him. First, it was harassment. They would follow him home from school, taunting him. Then early one morning, I heard mom scream when she found a dead chicken at the foot of the front door, its blood slowly rippling down the steps. The end was when they beat him up, his face a gnarled mash of blue flesh and swollen eyes. A warning. The next time they would show no mercy. His choice was simple.
The last picture was of us. I must have been seven, maybe eight, and he was twelve by then. We were standing on the beach, our chests bare, his arm on my shoulder, smiling. We were happy that day. None of us had been to the ocean before, mom, dad, and us boys. We stopped along the road for pupusas and yucca frita and ate like kings. We ran on the sand, the waves rolling just over our ankles.
Why my parents took us, I still don’t know. But most of all, I wonder why my brother didn’t take this picture with him. Does he have some other, better picture to remember me that he carries now? Or does he not want to remember me? We haven’t heard from him since he crossed the border into Mexico.
I put everything back in the Suprema box except for the picture of us at the beach. That is mine. That is how I will remember him.
Jamin Stortz is a California-based writer who has lived and worked around the world. In the Coast Guard, Jamin deployed throughout Central and South America and is a veteran of Iraq, where he deployed with the British Armed Forces. Later, for the US State Department, Jamin worked on multi-national projects across five continents. After living in Japan for two years, Jamin now explores creative writing and the power of narrative stories to bridge cultures and divides. Jamin lives with his wife and three children.
One response to “The Things Left Behind”
Wow! You’re such a great writer! That short story was interesting and hooked me in quickly! You are talented! I’m waiting for a book to come out now.