“No tree, it is said,
Can grow to heaven
Unless its roots reach down to hell”
“What are you doing out in the cold?! Hurry up, come in!”
It’s the first thing he says to me after all the years, opening the doors to his home (not mine, not anymore) and quickly ushering me into the warmth and away from the freezing night air. His movements are fluid and practiced, if not just a tad shaky, and part of me wonders if he’s been waiting for me all along. Certainly the slightly (very) awkward welcoming air, as if this is something natural for him, cannot be faked, but the notion is so absurd I quickly shake it away.
I step inside the house that I used to live in so long ago, with my parents and … him. The winter wind howls desolately outside and I remember where I am. What I came here to do. With gentle nudges, the door clicks shut quietly behind me and I fuss with the familiar knobs for a split second, turning the lock because I know he’s already forgotten.
Really, it’s just an excuse for me to stall a bit more, pushing it off for just a few minutes more after three long years.
He walks with an anxious spring in his step and bustles around, shifting books and picture frames and straightening tablecloths that weren’t even wrinkled. He leads me from room to room as he starts to blabber on about the most senseless of topics with words of worry and the standard inquiries laced between breaths.
“Are you alright? How have you been? Have you been living comfortably?”
I nod and respond quietly just as I always have, too tired and confused and unsure to say anything more than a simple “yes” or a murmured “good”. Guilt eats away at my chest; this isn’t how I imagined it to be (but then again, what did I imagine?). He’s supposed to hate me, glare at me and yell and demand I get out of his house (because it’s no longer mine, is it?), and I don’t doubt for even a second that I deserve all that and more after all I did to him.
But I’m cowardly. I’m pathetic and selfish and I didn’t think this through, not nearly enough, but mostly, I’m just cowardly, so much so that I can’t even bite out more than a few syllables at a time. It’s the most I can manage though, because any more and I fear I really will have to face the cold glares and the harsh frowns that have yet to show themselves and I know I’m not ready for that, not yet, not after spending three years building up the courage to simply come back to this house and knock on the door.
He deserves more than what I’m giving him right now, deserves more than I want I could ever give him. After all the pain I had put him through, how could I ever be anything more than inferior?
“Would you like some tea? It must’ve been cold out there!” My head snaps up and I barely stop the shock from showing on my face. So lost in thought I had been, I hadn’t realized we had come to a rest in front of the kitchen and that he had ceased talking, instead choosing to stare at me with a forced smile and barely concealed worry in his golden eyes.
I nod once, quick and most likely too sharp. It’s all he needs though before he turns away, gesturing towards the dinner table. By the time I’ve sat down, he has his back to me and has already begun flitting from appliance to appliance and cabinet to cabinet in a blatant effort to appear occupied.
Three years and he hasn’t changed at all.
He’s still the same person I looked up to as I grew up all those years ago, all gentle smiles and kind concern. He still tries and makes the best of things, still stays optimistic even when I know he has no reason to be at all. He still hurries around whenever he’s anxious, fiddling with anything nearby to keep his mind occupied.
A few moments later, he sits beside me at the table and places a cup of tea in front of me in an all-too-familiar ceramic mug. The mug was once a glazed over white but the shine it used to have has dulled to it’s current light grey color after so many years of use. The red swirls and circles that once decorated the exterior have begun to chip away, the cheap paint flaking off to leave holes in the childish design. It’s exactly as I remembered it, just like everything in this house, down to even the tiny chip on the rim that extended for half an inch down the side of the mug.
Through my fringe of hair, I peer at him almost like how a child studies an adult so they can later imitate, watching as he lifts his own mug and takes a long gulp of the steaming liquid. I take it as a go ahead and cautiously cup my own mug and bring it to my lips, taking a long careful sip myself.
He’s still the best at making tea.
He had always been the best at everything. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt that he still is. I remember a time, when I was younger and naive to the way the world spins and how attention affects our lives, that I had looked up to him. He was a god in my childlike view of the world, someone only a few years my senior and yet perfect at everything that I struggled to even begin to comprehend.
However, as I grew older and matured just slightly (but not far enough to see past my own child-like selfishness), the figure I had once looked up to and loved began to change. Or rather, I began to change.
His perfection was no longer something I adored, but rather something I loathed with an unspeakable passion. He was the perfect child, the genius between the two of us, while I was the younger one that simply stood in his shadows from then till the end of time. The attention he received became something I craved, the perpetual smile on his face became something I wanted to destroy.
His perfection. I wanted it broken. Erased. Obliterated. Anything, anything at all, to show that he was just as wretched as the rest of us.
“Why are you here?”
He breaks the silence that has once again settled over us, and I flinch, just barely, at his bluntness. It’s a question I expected, hoped he’d ask even, but now that it’s here and out in the open, there’s no way I can avoid it and I’m surprised to find I can’t find the words to answer.
Amber eyes shining gold under the glare of the cheap fluorescent lights bore into mine and I chide myself because how could I have been so foolish, so utterly foolish, to get lost in my own thoughts not once, but twice? Today … Today is a special day, if special is the right word, and I have not come here to think only of myself again.
Today, I have come to apologize.
“I … I’m here …”
The words stick in my throat, and unbidden memories that I have tried to force away resurface. I will them away just like I do the tears forming in the corners of my eyes, but both are quests in futility that I cannot win.
Memories flash before my eyes as I begin to recall a time three years ago and exactly on this day, when I was still selfish and full of contempt and had lashed out at the only person I had ever been close to. I had a knife in my hand and hate in my heart and the intention to hurt and harm in my mind.
I have never regretted anything more.
If I could turn back time, I would stop myself from doing everything that I had done and make everything exactly as it has ever been, but it’s not possible. Before I even realize it, my vision is blurring as cold tears trace salty paths down my cheeks. A choked sob escapes me, and then a second and a third, and I give up trying to suppress them or continue keeping count.
A familiar hand reaches up to tangle in my hair and an arm wraps around my shoulders to pull me into a hug as I collapse on him, clutching at his shirt and curling up just like I used to when I was so much younger.
“I-I’m sorry!” The words I’ve held back for so long now (three years too long) come rushing out and it’s like a weight has been lifted off my chest.
“I’m sorry for hurting you and for leaving and for missing everything and for not apologizing earlier and I’m so so so sorry for everything and I-I just …”
He pats my head and I look up to meet his eyes. There is no anger or hate or cold, blocked off emotions, nothing that I expected. Instead, I am surprised to find … relief? And happiness?
“I forgive you. I’ve already forgiven you, three years ago.” My eyes widen impossibly large and not for the first time that night, I’m at a loss for words.
“After all, what kind of big brother would I be if I couldn’t even forgive my little brother?”
And it’s then that I smile, because I understand now.
He’s still my big brother, and I’m still the younger one. He’s still as perfect, as unchangeable as ever, still kind and forgiving and good at everything he does as if he was an angel on earth. But he’s also human, has always been. He laughs and cries like the rest of us, loves and hurts just like anybody else. He’s still the same person, as unattainable and distant as always, and I still cannot do anything but watch and admire as the world seems to revolve around him. Everything’s the same as it’s always been.
And I’d have it no other way.
The axis mundi.
Some people know it as the world tree. Other’s call it the “columna cerului”, the sky pillar. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what you call it or what you envision it as, because when you really look at it, they all mean the same thing.
The center of the world.
The axis mundi, reaching from the planes of Earth to the Heaven up above and the Hell down below. It is the center by which the whole universe revolves around, an immovable, ever-present axis.
You may believe such a figure does exist. You may believe it doesn’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
Because I’ve already found it.