“It’s Not Just Alex,” New Era, June 1997, 38
Jamie knew what was happening in the kitchen that very moment. Her parents were waiting for her brother, Alex, to come home. She also knew what would happen later in the night. Maybe she would be asleep when it happened. Once she had slept through it all, but most of the time she woke up when it started and she lay in her bed and listened to the shouting and denials and slamming of doors. She hated it most when her mother cried. It always tied her stomach into knots and made her want to run away. She wondered what it would be like to never wake up listening to people yell at each other.
She was in her room ready for bed. She thought about praying but decided against it because she had prayed so many times that her brother would quit going out and getting drunk and she couldn’t see that her prayers had changed anything.
She slipped between the covers. The sheets were cold. It was November and getting colder every day. She remembered her mother telling Alex about a man who’d been drinking and passed out on the snow and froze to death. It didn’t faze Alex. Nothing fazed Alex.
Sometimes Jamie wished Alex would just go away so they could be a family again like they used to be, but she never told anyone that because she knew nobody would understand.
Jamie also knew what the morning would bring. When she got up, her father would be gone to work, even though it was Saturday. Her mother would be working in the kitchen, her eyes puffy from a night of tears and a morning of trying to figure out why Alex was out of control.
Alex would sleep until two or three in the afternoon and then watch TV for a few hours, take a shower, make a few phone calls, and be gone before supper. Sometimes he didn’t come home Saturday nights. Jamie thought it was because then he didn’t get hassled about going to church.
Jamie knew how it would be and what everyone would say and how it would go. And on Monday Alex would go to work at the auto parts store like nothing had happened. He worked hard through the week because times were tough and he knew if he messed up, he might lose his job.
Alex wanted to move out of the house and get an apartment. But not just any apartment. It had to be one of the best apartments in town. The only problem was that they required a large deposit and two months’ rent. Alex was trying to save the money, but because he partied so much, he never saved anything. That’s why he was still at home.
I know everything that’s going to happen, she thought. The whole world revolves around Alex, what he does, what he says, where he goes.
When she saw people at church, they’d come up and ask how Alex was doing. Alex isn’t the only person with problems, she thought. I have some too.
People talked about how church was a comfort to them when they were going through hard times, but for some reason, it didn’t work that way for her. All that happened when she went to church was that she kept getting more things piled on her. In the past week she had been asked to serve on a youth conference planning committee and had been told she was in charge of planning a fireside. But in all this nobody asked how she was doing; all anyone asked about was how Alex was doing.
Nobody cares about me, she thought. All they care about is Alex. Maybe I should be like Alex, and then people would notice me too.
She hated what was happening in their family. It was like she was being forced to play a part in a play. Her role was to be the good girl with no problems. She had to be perfect so her parents wouldn’t worry about her, so they could spend all their time and energy on Alex.
She felt like she had no one to go to—certainly not her parents. She felt that if she added one more burden to what they were already carrying they would break. She couldn’t even go to her friends because they all treated her like she was perfect and didn’t have any problems.
She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing sleep would come to take her away. At 12:30 she heard Alex’s car pull into the driveway, heard him get out of the car and come in the house. “Oh, look at you; just look at you!” her mother cried out.
Jamie couldn’t stand to hear it all over again. She pulled a blanket off the bed, went in the bathroom, shut the door, turned on the shower but didn’t get in, wrapped the blanket around her, and sat down on the floor and cried. She stayed there for a long time. When she turned off the shower, the shouting was over. She returned to her bed and soon fell asleep.
The next morning she slept until her mother came to the door and knocked.
“What is it?” Jamie asked sleepily.
“Sister Bradford just called. She wondered if you’d forgotten you promised to help her make cookies for the fireside tomorrow night.”
“I want to sleep.”
Her mother opened the door. “She said to tell you she really needs your help. Nobody else has shown up.”
The difference between Alex and me, she thought, is Alex does what he wants to do and I do what others want me to do. Nobody calls Alex on a Saturday morning to remind him he promised to help bake cookies.
She wanted to go back to sleep, but she knew it wasn’t fair for Sister Bradford to make all the cookies for the fireside by herself. “All right, I’ll get up.”
More out of habit than anything else, she knelt by her bed to say a prayer before she got dressed. She started with her usual routine prayer but then stopped. “Heavenly Father, please help me. I feel so bad.”
Just after Jamie arrived, Sister Bradford’s husband took all the kids for a Saturday outing at the park. It was the quietest Jamie had ever seen their house.
“How are you doing these days?” Sister Bradford asked as they worked side by side, rolling cookie dough into small balls and plopping them on cookie trays.
“Fine,” Jamie said, knowing that people usually didn’t want to know the truth when they asked a question like that. She turned to look at Sister Bradford, who asked. “Really?”
Jamie looked away. “Yeah, sure, I’m doing okay.”
“I’m not asking just to pass the time of day. I really do want to know.”
Jamie paused. “You know about Alex, right?”
“Yes, I know about Alex. I don’t know about Jamie, though. You want to tell me how she’s doing?”
“Okay, I guess.”
They talked for two hours, until Brother Bradford came back with the kids and it was time for Jamie to go home.
As soon as Jamie walked into her house, she went to her father. “Dad, I need to talk to you and Mom now. Is that all right?”
“I’ll get your mother,” her dad said.
It was the one thing Sister Bradford had the hardest time convincing Jamie to do. She had not wanted to say anything to her parents because she didn’t want to hurt them any more than they already were.
Sister Bradford had talked to her about it. “They’re not porcelain dolls that are going to break with the slightest bump. They can take it, Jamie. They’d rather have you tell them the truth than hide it. You’ve got to talk to them and tell them how you’re feeling.” Jamie had finally reluctantly agreed.
“I want Alex in here too,” she said.
“I’ll go get him,” her father said.
And so there they were, gathered in the front room. Jamie took a deep breath and began, “I think our whole family needs to talk to someone who can help us. It’s not just Alex. I need some help too. Just because I haven’t said anything doesn’t mean I’m not hurting. I think we all need some help.”
“Who would you suggest we talk to?” her mother asked.
“Well, the bishop to begin with.”
They all looked at Alex. “Count me out,” he said.
“We all have to do it, Alex,” Jamie said. “If all it does is get us talking again, it will be worth it.”
“Who put you up to this?” Alex asked.
“My Laurel adviser.”
“What makes her the expert?”
“When she was growing up, there were problems in her family.”
“And going to somebody made everything perfect again?” Alex taunted.
“No, but it made it better than it was.”
“It’s not going to do anything for me,” Alex said.
“You’re not the only one in this family, Alex. We’re all hurting. It’s not just you. On the nights you come in late, you think I can sleep through all the yelling? What do you want me to do? Hide in my room and pretend nothing’s wrong? Well I can’t do that, at least not anymore.”
Her father was the first to speak. “I think Jamie’s right. We need to go in as a family.”
Later that day Sister Bradford called to ask how it had gone with her family.
“We’re all going to see the bishop next week. Thanks a lot for talking to me. It was just what I needed. I just can’t understand why none of the other girls showed up this morning to help out. They all knew about it.”
There was a long pause on the other end. “I have a confession to make. After I found out you were coming, I called the others and asked them not to come.”
“I woke up this morning thinking about you and wondering how you were doing.”
That night when Jamie went to bed, she thanked Heavenly Father for answering the prayer she had offered by giving her a Laurel adviser like Sister Bradford.
Alex was out again. Jamie didn’t know what would happen when he came home—except she knew it wouldn’t be the same as before. At least not for her.