If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride *
If it hadn't been for my brother I would have given up a long time ago.
For four years I had been 'normal'. I'd been free from the call of the hunt that dogged me my whole life. Stanford allowed me to find the man I knew I could be. Not the hunter, not the little brother, not the one to be protected, but the man behind all that. I'd always known he was there.
For as long I can remember I'd known that what we did, what our father made us do, was … different. We weren't allowed to talk about it, we had to stay under the radar, unnoticed. But it was hard. I had an unquenchable desire for knowledge, and not just of the supernatural variety. I wanted to know about algebra, verb conjugation, cloud formation, the Constitution.
And therein lay the problem and the foundations of the rift between my family and me. To my father, and thus by default, my brother, school was something to keep us off the streets during the day, something to be suffered in order to keep Child Services away from our door. It was something to be endured. It hindered our combat and weapons training and later on, as we grew older, it got in the way of hunts. The only academic study of any worth, that ever got any attention from my father or Dean, was Latin.
By the time I hit 14 I knew that I had to get away. I wanted to live like normal people. I wanted to be able to take a walk through a forest and not spend the whole time looking over my shoulder for black dogs or wendigos. I wanted to be able to smell the morning air, free of smoke and cinders from another burned corpse. I wanted to be able to have a conversation that didn't revolve around the latest injuries. I wanted to gaze into the night sky and not worry about the phases of the moon. I wanted to read the paper and see just the news. I didn't think it was too much to ask for. Apparently it was.
The night I left for college is imprinted in my mind forever. I knew Dad wouldn't go for it but my desire, no – my need, for a normal life had reached such a crescendo that I could no longer bear staying. When he said 'don't come back' I took him at his word. I'd packed my meagre belongings days beforehand, the anticipation of a new life filling me with hope and vigour. The thrill I felt at starting afresh was tempered only by the look on Dean's face as I walked out the door. I never wanted to be the one to put that look there but sometimes life sucks. I couldn't have gone back if I'd tried.
The first few weeks at Stanford flew by. I made friends, got a job tending bar to help supplement my studies. I was elated to be around people who finally seemed to understand me and what I wanted, people I had more in common with than I had ever realised was possible.
Of course, I missed Dean. In a perverse, devil you know, kind of way I missed Dad too. On the nights when I got a little overwhelmed by the whole college scene I even got as far as having Dean's number up on my mobile. I never called him though. I couldn't risk them thinking I'd realised I'd made a mistake when I knew that this was what I was meant to be doing. Dad and Dean always talked about a calling and this was mine. I truly believed that this was where I belonged and this is where I would stay.
Those four years seemed like a heavenly eternity. I met a girl and fell in love. We made plans. I was going to be a hot shot lawyer, fighting evil my way. She was going put the world to rights and we were going to be together forever. We'd never spoken about it but we had an implicit understanding. We were going get married, have the house and kids, a couple of dogs running around, getting under our feet. Maybe we were being too idealistic but I really thought I had my future mapped out in front of me. I had never known such happiness existed. I should have known it could never have lasted. My father and brother call it the family business, I just call it the family curse.
Towards the end of my studies I had begun to be troubled by dreams, nightmares. Jessica always featured in them, burning on the ceiling. For a few months I passed them off as nightmares. I knew how Mom had died and I assumed, pretended, that I was just transferring those events onto Jess. I wish I had paid more attention to them. I wish I had followed my instincts. But I didn't. I carried on believing that everything would be fine, that Jess and I would live the dream, happily ever after.
The day Dean came back into my life was the day the walls came crashing down. Everything I had worked so hard to put behind me and everything I had worked so hard to achieve were destined to collide and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Jessica's death was inevitable. Nothing and nobody that my family comes into contact with ever survives intact. I know that it wasn't Dean's fault, wasn't even my father's fault, but at the time I needed to blame someone.
Dean took the brunt of it. For days after Jessica died I saw her on every street corner, in every diner, at every bus stop. I refused to believe that she was really gone. I kept telling myself that I would wake up soon, like Pam Ewing. I tried to convince myself that I was sick and that I would wake up to Jessica mopping down my fevered brow.
I withdrew into myself, threw myself into the hunt that Dean was so keen to get back to. The only time I talked to him was to curse him for getting me involved again. Looking back, he would have been in his rights to clock me one. My grief knew no limits. The depths of despair that I had plumbed were endless. I didn't drink, although I thought about it. I knew that was a slippery slope that would be impossible to climb back up. I didn't sleep either.
On my darkest days, the days when I could hardly drag myself out of bed, Dean was there, a constant in my life that I didn't appreciate at the time. All I could see was him arriving and Jess dying. However illogical it was, I blamed him irrevocably. In my grief stricken state I couldn't disassociate the two events. I could barely bring myself to look at him at times. But he never gave up on me, never pushed me, never belittled how I was feeling.
Eventually, in my numbed state, I began to feel the need to feel again. Feel something, anything. Dean and I started to hunt again in earnest. My motivation had changed though, changed beyond all recognition. I was no longer driven by the desire to keep my father off my back, nor to make my big brother proud of me. My sole reason for going on was to find and destroy the demon that did this to Jessica. If I'm honest with myself, my judgement was clouded at best, nonexistent at worst. I was reckless with Dean's safety, careless with my own. I'm lucky I didn't kill one or both of us.
The hunts were meaningless to me but I found they took my mind off the immediate past, temporarily at any rate. And that was to be welcomed. Sooner or later I knew Dean would call me on my behaviour but for the present I had to be doing something. The bruises, cuts and broken bones were welcomed. I felt they were my penance, I was paying my due to Jess.
Dean didn't understand it – how could he? He was four years old the last time he lost someone close to him. He told me over and over that it wasn't my fault, that I couldn't have known, couldn't have stopped it. But he was wrong. I did know and I could have stopped it. In time I came to realise that maybe it wasn't my fault per se, but I could have done something if I'd had the courage of my convictions. But that didn't fill the gaping hole in my soul, that Jessica shaped hole. My dreams were shattered and my life felt meaningless.
Dean told me that we were saving lives, innocent people were alive and kicking because of us and that should have made me feel better but it didn't. The only person I wanted alive was gone, there wasn't even a body left to bury. She has a headstone in some nameless cemetery and what kind of a memorial is that to someone who was so full of life, dreams and ambition?
Ultimately Dean's patience wore out, as I knew it would. There's only so long a person can wallow in self pity, he told me. And that was the straw that broke the camel's back. All that pent up grief and anger that I had held within me for so long broke free. And Dean paid for it. I lashed out at the one thing I now hold dearest to me. There was red a haze that descended over me and I don't even remember hitting him. But I must have done because here we are, Dean propped up against the wall, blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth, eyes wide, watching me. And my hand aches.
And my heart aches.
And I know this can't go on.
* If wishing could make things happen, then even the most destitute people would have everything they wanted.