THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN WHEN YOU GO HOME AGAIN

  1. I couldn’t quite place him, the man who stood behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store, but he seemed to recognize me.
  2. He first caught my eye in the produce section.
  3. And then again in the bread aisle.
  4. Each time, he looked at me with eyes so haunted I could've sworn he'd just seen a ghost.
  5. In line, he gave me a tired smile before reaching out and taking the hand basket I'd been shifting between hands to relieve the strain of "a quick grocery stop on my way home."
  6. Eggs.
  7. Milk.
  8. Orange juice.
  9. Bread.
  10. Emergency chocolate ice cream.
  11. Lemons.
  12. He unloaded my basket, one by one, putting the items on the conveyor belt.
  13. After the last item had been placed, he turned to me once again.
  14. In a quiet voice, he said, “I think you knew my brother.”
  15. I looked at him, trying to place him.
  16. Trying to recall his brother.
  17. And then I saw him.
  18. The eyes gave him away.
  19. Aged around the edges, hardened by witnessing some of life's harshest tragedies, they were eyes I'd seen before nonetheless.
  20. Because they had the same eyes.
  21. He and his brother.
  22. Right down to the gold fleck surrounded by a sea of blue in the right eye.
  23. It had been well over ten years since I'd last seen him; a cold winter day as we huddled together and watched as his brother's coffin was slowly lowered into the ground.
  24. Six days after he'd made the phone call to tell me his brother was dead.
  25. Had killed himself.
  26. Not long after that cold winter day, he went back to the Army and I moved away from a spirit that haunted me.
  27. I knew his parents still lived in the same house and I often wondered how they managed.
  28. Because I saw him everywhere.
  29. At the bowling alley we hung out at after school.
  30. At the top of the slide at the park where we had our first taste of alcohol; a bottle of peach schnapps he'd stolen from his parent liquor cabinet.
  31. In my dreams every time I closed my eyes.
  32. "Will you tell me about him?” he asked, and I didn’t know how to say no.
  33. An 8 year age difference meant he'd missed a lot, having moved on to start his life while his brother was still struggling to find himself.
  34. As I racked my memories for story after story to tell him, his smile was almost beatific.
  35. For the next few hours, we sat at the Starbucks next door to the grocery store, eating the melting ice cream, drinking coffee, and trading stories about the first love of my life.