Killing Reuben: A Short Story

Killing Reuben: A Short Story

15
views

This short story is republished from my 2015 anthology The Forging of Things.

Killing Reuben

“The world is such a beautiful place,” my little brother Reuben used to say as he would draw blue trees and red grass.

I would look at him curiously and say, “What do you mean?”

I tried not to sound judgmental or doubting since he was autistic. Although he was sixteen years old, he still had the innocent heart of a child. He was no doubt imaginative and thoughtful. What made him truly different from the rest of us was not his social apartness but his outlook of the world. He woke each day with newfound enthusiasm and an inspiring sense of wonder and awe. He loved learning new things and admired the different qualities and flaws in each person he met. So when he would declare how wonderful the world was, you couldn’t help but be amazed at how utterly happy he was.

Continuing to color in the shapes he drew, he would casually say, “Momma always says how cruel and unforgiving the world is. I don’t see it that way, though. I look at Mrs. Monica, and I just love how she smiles. Ricky always shares his fries with me when he doesn’t want anymore. They always make me happy. I just feel so happy when I go to sleep.”

His reply to my question would always put a big grin on my face. It thrilled me to know that Reuben was happy and enjoying life. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t help but look at the world in a different way. I could only see the looks of impatience on those who meet my brother, or I could hear the question “Is there something wrong with him?” over and over again. These conversations were the times when I would envy Reuben. He didn’t have a care in the world,

and any judgment that he faced passed right over his head. Where we always worry about the bad in the world, he only cared about and considered the good.

There were times when I lied outside with him on the lawn and counted the clouds or laughed at their shapes. In these special moments, I felt like I could understand his outlook on the world. We would put everything aside to enjoy each other’s company and bask in the warmth of the sun. I would look over to him and ask, “Hey, Reuben, what’s on your mind?”

He would stare thoughtfully upward as he considered the question. When he finally had this answer, he would look at me, smiling, and say, “I’m so happy. The sky is blue and that makes me happy.”

“You don’t like it when the sky is gray?”

“I love when the sky is gray too. I love the thunder and the lightning. I don’t think the sky can ever make me sad.”

“That’s wonderful, Reuben.”

One day, he came from school, beaming, and said cheerfully, “Guess what, Jerome, guess what!”

“What’s up, Reuben?” I couldn’t wait to hear his good news.

Every time he had something great to share, he would always confide in me first. I would always try to make his good news seem like the best news in the world because I never wanted him to feel neglected.

“I have a girlfriend!” He waited eagerly for my response.

My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. “Are you serious? That’s great! Who is it?” My heart pounded with excitement only because I knew that’s what made my brother happy.

“Alana Reinhart! She is in my homeroom. We always talked, and today, I asked her out. She said yes!”

Alana made my brother the happiest boy in the world. He would always tell me how beautiful and kind she was. He bragged to me about how she was a genius and how she would even help him with tough homework. For once, my brother had something—or rather someone—to feel proud of. He was beginning to explore new areas of love and open his heart up to something spectacular.

During the summer evenings, I took him for walks on the beach. We stared out at the fiery red ocean and spoke of wonderful impossibilities. He was amazed at how the ocean seemed to extend so far into nothing, which he filled with everything with his mind. He would suggest sitting on the soft cold sand and watching the sun until it was well under the horizon.

Again, he would repeat, “The world is such a beautiful place.”

“Yes, it is,” I said while staring mesmerized at the pastel-colored sky.

“No,” he said with no hint of hostility or rudeness. “You don’t get it. You don’t see it.”

“What don’t I see, Reuben?” This was the first time he had actually called me out on my lie.

“I always hear how horrible the world is, but I don’t want to think like that. I like to have beautiful world separate from ugly world. They can’t be the same.”

“Why not?” I couldn’t understand where my brother was going with this, but I tried my best to open up my mind and understand his thoughts.

“Because beautiful world is just too beautiful to be an ugly world too. Beautiful world has the sunsets, the trees, flowers, the bees, the sky, and love. That’s not ugly. It just isn’t.” His voice seemed to drop off into a reverie. I noticed how passionate he felt about his perspective of the world.

I looked at him endearingly and whispered, “Beautiful world is beautiful, but unfortunately, there are just not nice people out there.”

“But that’s where you’re wrong, Jerome. The not nice people don’t live in beautiful world. They have to live in ugly world, and I don’t want to live in ugly world, so I choose to live in beautiful world.”

And that’s when I understood what Reuben was talking about. In his mind, he had separated good things and bad things into two distinct categories, or more precisely, two distinct worlds. Where we tend to think of a world full of good and bad, he chooses to think of a world of good and world of bad where he decides to live in the world of good. It’s not that he doesn’t see the bad, but to him, it’s on the other side of the brick wall. When my eyes met his, at that moment, I understood him better than I ever had. The electricity that passed between us ignited the tight bond already between us. He made sense.

That was the last conversation I had with him. The following morning, he didn’t wake up. According to the doctor, he died from meningitis. The news hit me hard at first, and then it didn’t hit me at all. I remember being completely distraught and tuned out to everything else around me. For the next few weeks and months, I had shut down. The once colorful vibrant world seemed like murky gray sludge. So many emotions coursed through me the moment I found out had lost my little brother—sadness, anger, confusion, conflict, and finally emptiness. I felt nothing. I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by the world. My brother trusted it. He saw only its beauty, something that most people see for only a fleeting second. He lived in its beauty. He believed in his heart that he didn’t live in a world of hatred, violence, and death. To him, that ugly world did not concern him. It was far away and unreachable. He put all his heart and soul into this beautiful world, but it had let him down.

My brother had truly changed my life. In the short sixteen years I spent with him, he made me see the world in a way that no one else had. He had a heart as big as the moon, and he made sure to share it with everyone he knew. If anyone could truly be innocent and lonely, it was he. No one understood him, including me. But as opposed to everyone else, I took the time to listen to him and see the world through his eyes, and that world was truly beautiful. That world was a fairy tale, a dream come true. That was his world, the world that killed him.





Cover Image Credit: xdesktopwallpapers.com

Popular Right Now

Where You Will Be Happiest Settling Down, According To Your Zodiac Sign

Use your horoscope to discover where you would be happiest settling down.
1663
views

You ever experience a stroke of wanderlust and have the urge to just pick up and move? Here's where you're headed, according to your zodiac sign.

1. Cancer – little cabin in the woods.

I'm starting with Cancer because we are currently in Cancer season (June 21 - July 22). Cancer is a water sign that is known to be easy-going and affectionate. Cancer's romanticism and obsession with happiness will leave them quite content with a little log cabin in the woods, where they can snuggle up to their love and fall asleep to the sound of rain.

2. Leo – Los Angeles.

"Hopped off the plane at LAX, with a dream and my cardigan. Welcome to land of fame excess."

Leos, AKA Lions, are fire signs known for their love of the spotlight and all things exciting. Fun-loving Leos belong in the city of angels, also known as, LA.

3. Virgo – the suburbs.

The name Virgo comes from the word "virgin," and the innocence also applies to their hardworking and kind personality, where many of them prove to be the purest of people. This Earth sign is known for their tendency to worry too much, therefore they belong someplace safe and suburban somewhere out west.

4. Libra – Paris

This air sign is characterized by their love of romance, and therefore day dream about the city of love: none other than Paris, France.

5. Scorpio – Canadian mountains.

Also known as Psycho Scorpio, this water sign is known for being quick-witted, mysterious, and wise beyond their years. But Scorpios aren't particular fans of anyone who isn't themselves, so they would be thrilled in a secluded mountaintop mansion in Canada where no one can get to them and they can scheme world domination in private.

6. Sagittarius – New York City.

"If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere!"

This fire sign, which spans Thanksgiving and Christmas time, dreams of travelling the world. These feisty and restless people can never stay in one place doing one thing for that long. Therefore, they belong in the city of dreams AND the city that does Thanksgiving and Christmas like no one else can: the Big Apple.

7. Capricorn – New England countryside.

This earth sign is known for its down-to-earth and responsible nature. Capricorns are the dependable and trustworthy people you can always lean on. My mother, my best friend, and my boyfriend are all Capricorns, and I don't think it's a coincidence.

Capricorns are best suited for the countryside, because they value their peace and quiet so much.

8. Aquarius – Myrtle Beach.

This air sign is known for its subdued nature and love of anything having to do with sunshine, warm weather, and water. Therefore they belong in the South – namely tourist central of South Carolina: Myrtle Beach. Aquarius will be right at home among the hustle and bustle of a mini beach city year round.

9. Pisces – Hawaiian Islands.

This water sign, which is ruled by Neptune, and symbolized by the fish, obviously belongs on the water. Pisces are imaginative and artsy, too, often dreaming of a more beautiful world. Pisces should move to Hawaii because their appreciation for beauty and the ocean will be fulfilled there. They will be right at home on the pink and black sand beaches or by the natural forest waterfalls.

10. Aries – New Orleans.

This fire sign carries a strong enthusiasm for life and round-the-clock energy, which leads them to "Big Easy" New Orleans, Louisiana. Can you think of a place any more fun?

11. Taurus – Italian villa.

This Earth sign is known for being realistic, level-headed, and in tune to the natural world. Because of Taurus' love of cooking, gardening, and loving the world we're in, Taurus would be very happy on an Italian villa, with land to roam and garden flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Put a table on your patio, and Taurus is ready for a late evening, candlelit, outdoor dinner.

12. Gemini – Boston.

This air sign is symbolized by the twins because of Gemini's two personalities: the angel and the devil. And after living in Boston for two years, I discovered Boston has two sides of its own: one is the downtown, hustle and bustle of the dirty grimy city we all love anyway, and the other is the deep American history around every corner and the way Boston is all wrapped up to make it feel like a small town sometimes.

Boston has everything so Gemini will never be bored: the thrill of the city, the wonderful history of colonial America, the greenery of the Boston Common, and the water, which provides a taste of nautical life. Gemini's best fit would be a top-floor Beacon Hill apartment in Back Bay, because it's an escape from the busy city life without missing out on any of the action.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

It Is Pointless To Pity The Homeless

Guilt is the silent killer of political action.

320
views

Two summers ago, when I was an intern at The Father McKenna Center in Washington DC, I met Jason, who was homeless. I had just finished closing the shelter's computer lab for the evening, and the attendees of the AA meeting in the shelter's cafeteria had started to say their goodbyes and disperse until next week. As I was leaving to take the subway home, and as he was leaving to walk back to his encampment, wherever it may have been, Jason and I converged with each other at the front door of the shelter, and we introduced ourselves to each other.

Jason had two children, aged four and six, both of whom were protected from him under custody by his former wife. She had made the decision to divorce him because of his drug use, which posed a danger to the couple's children. (Jason did not hesitate to admit to this.) Shortly after the separation from his family, he became homeless. He had a high school degree and some former experience doing construction work. Aged into his mid 30's with minimal employment, Jason had been struggling to find a job for years.

As we walked, he told me about his kids, and how sometimes he hears about them during occasional phone calls with his wife. For a moment, he turned his head to look at me in my eyes, and he quietly told me about how proud he was of his daughters for completing the first and third grades of elementary school.

If you are homeless, it takes an immense amount of courage to make the commitment to go to a homeless shelter. I believe that the one thing that most people struggle with, homeless or not, is the challenge of confronting one's own demons. Jason had demons, luggage, regrets, and so on - I had those too. Jason had first stepped at The Father McKenna Center shortly before I began my internship. As I performed the duties of my internship, Jason and I, together, experienced a great turbulence in our individual missions to confront our demons; and with that turbulence came sobriety. Not relief or improvement, but sobriety. True self-improvement is a year-long commitment, but self-awareness is a skill which can be utilized at any time.

Jason and I spoke several times throughout my internship. One of the last interactions I had with his before I completed my term happened again at the front entrance of the shelter. He told me that after years of searching, he had found the initiative to apply for a job. "Even though she and I needed to go our own ways," he said, "I still want to show my wife that I care about her. We're not married, but I still want to provide for her and the kids. I don't know how they feel about me, but I want to show my daughters that I am still their father, and that I love them."

When I started my internship at the shelter, I genuinely believed that I would come out of it depressed and disillusioned. But I learned to look beyond the misfortune and suffering, and with that perspective, I started to find more and more inspiration in the facets of life by which I had previously felt discouraged and depressed. I have not seen Jason in two summers, but I think about him every day, for strength.

Say, for instance, that you start to feel as though the daily grind of your summer job is starting to become too monotonous. Us undergrads are tirelessly told by our advisors that the best possible use of our time during the summer, outside of college and other than working for pay, is time spent volunteering and building up our resumes. After some online research and phone calls, you break down your volunteering options to three different nonprofit organizations in your area: Your first option is to spend 3-5 hours once a week helping a local community center care for its flower garden, fresh herb greenhouse, and wildlife sanctuary. Your second option is to spend Tuesday and Thursday evenings bathing, petting, and reading storybooks to all the dogs and cats at a nonprofit rescue shelter. Your third option is to spend 5 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at an inner-city homeless shelter and rehabilitation center for men who have been recently released from prison.

This where the conflict begins. Deep inside, you know that volunteering at the men's shelter is, in your opinion, the most valuable kind of work you can do. Human beings require more attention than plants and pets. Humans beings need to be kind to each other, and so, you may want to volunteer at the shelter.

The problem is certainly not that nobody wants to volunteer at homeless shelters. I consider myself an optimist, and I still think that the majority of people living in the United States wish to care for and support each other. The true problem is that even when a good-minded, empathetic, caring person wants to offer their kindness to the homeless, there are layers upon layers of illusions, false impressions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and (most importantly), miscommunications which prevent them from doing so. What must truly be addressed is not how much attention is being paid to homelessness, but how attention is paid. There are many kinds of layers of illusion; the majority of them are certainly racial illusion. A vast number are economic. Others, however, are emotional. A lot are just flat-out moral as well.

The growing epidemic of homelessness, as an affliction, is the product of political injustice, racist systems, and greed. But the homeless lifestyle itself, however, is not political in nature. Homeless people are not statistics in a study, neither are they variables in a social equation. Homelessness is a daily struggle for a human life, and those who are homeless suffer. They are as emotional and as sentient as the well-off office workers who pelt them with quarters as though they're fountains.

Understanding homelessness is especially hard for people on the polar opposite side of the social/economic spectrum from the homeless. It is somehow harder for a wealthy and educated person to understand homelessness than it is for someone from lower-class origins to do so. As I said before, I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people on this Earth have the moral initiative to help those less fortunate - but this initiative is excessively overridden by the reflexive tendency most people have to compare and juxtapose themselves. This act of reflexive juxtaposition is what scares most people away from homeless shelters.

Call it what you want - "juxtaposition" is not the only word one can use to describe this feeling. Some people might call themselves "overqualified." From a political perspective, some have referred to it as "white guilt." Regardless of what you call it, it is reflexive. Homeless people, just upon sight, are registered with labels and false truths. The visceral, instinctive reaction to a homeless person is "Look forward, walk firm, and don't make eye contact." This is what needs to change.

In western society, people who grow up privileged - with parents, shelter, an education, and relationships - are subconsciously taught, unintentionally encouraged, and silently conditioned by the people around them to treat the homeless with, above all else, pity. The etiquette of reacting to a homeless person suggests something of a "passive melancholy." Like I mentioned before, under this mannerism of avoidant sorrow, homelessness is not a condition of life. It is a political symbol. The stumbling beggar in the subway and the raggedy busker on the street corner are effectively dehumanized by default; as long as they are evidently homeless, their role in the social dynamic of these public places is automatically different from yours and mine. The status of homelessness completely nullifies - no, prevents - a person's worthiness and rightful entitlement to human attribution, and without mercy, they are turned into something which is not human: a figure which is nothing but a representation of itself.

After years of riding the bus and subway, I have become aware of several different categories in which the people around me fit; I see the day laborers, who are categorized by being older men, clad in paint-stained construction pants, functioning in close-knit groups of six or seven. I see the government employees, who are categorized by the loudness of their gazes of exhaustion, directionless and unfixed, garbed in outdated albeit notably well-fitted suits, bland floral blouses, sky-blue button downs, the incredible pant suits, and khakis, and khakis, and khakis. I see the college-aged summertime interns running coffee for politicians who never remember their names, and they, too, are categorized; specifically by their calculated movements, blatantly artificial exteriors, and the endearing aura of simultaneous youthful naivety and capitalistic millennial-themed ambition (they also act like they know where they're going, when really, they don't, but they never stop to ask for directions). I see the mothers, the trust-fund white kids from Gonzaga, the beatniks from Howard, the Reagan-bound luggage-bearing vagabonds, the punks, the academics, the racists, the anarchists, the activists, the drunks, the wandering, the sleeping, and of course, the emblematic tourists in their MAGA hats, graphic tees, and jorts.

What kind of a response is demanded of those who choose to protect the weak? How are the wounded addressed by the healers? How should I talk to someone who suffers? The photographers, the journalists, and the volunteers cannot hope to rile a revolution alone. Neither can the teachers hope to raise a generation freed from toxicity alone, nor can the young politicians on the Hill hope to deliver their country to safety and stability alone. The problem of homelessness can be addressed, as can it be confronted, observed, studied, and journalized. Don't get me wrong, though - this type of action is deeply important: The awareness of a problem creates an opportunity for its solution. But the raising of awareness is not enough. The confrontation of our reality is not enough. To take the first step beyond awareness is to give attention to those who are in need of it; to attend to the weak and the wounded, and to act for their protection and their healing. In the words of the French revolutionary Simone Weil: "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."


Song suggestion: LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

Cover Image Credit:

Paul J. RIchards/Getty Images

Related Content

Facebook Comments