The Ocean’s Magic

Emily Baer

There was a time when I believed in magic. I saw it in the trees, in the shirring of the
waves, in the love of my mother, in the stance of my father; I refused to give up hope that magic
was possible, that it existed inside the earth and all we had to do was reach out and use it. I tried
to do so, many times, using the techniques I picked up from watching Avatar the Last Airbender.
I attempted to bend the earth to my will; when that didn’t succeed I tried to control water, then I
moved on to fire, then air, and when none responded to me my experiments with elemental
magic ended. But I didn’t give up my hope; how could magic not be real? I thought, I just have
to find it. Eventually I gave up on it as all children do, but the disappointment stuck in my
I think even as I grew up a part of me still looked for signs that there was some type of
magic in this world, even if it was just something small and unexplainable. I craved the
knowledge that life could be something greater than my own. I longed for an escape, because if I
could, that meant that anyone could, and if anyone could escape, that meant my brother could be
freed. His addiction was tearing our family apart, I could see the tiny fragments fracturing from
their molded shape, so that our jagged forms appeared monstrous to the hidden eye. I was too
young to understand what was happening, but I wanted to help. As the youngest, my voice was
never heard. Especially in circumstances of great tension.


“Get out of my house!” My father’s furious screams could have been heard from
anywhere in the neighborhood. He cornered my brother, “get out!”
“You can’t @#$%^&* make me! I live here too!” That word, the tone in which it was
used, caused me to flinch. I was hiding behind the couch under a blanket, too scared to see their
faces, too afraid that I would see hatred in my brother’s eyes. I had no concept of time, it could
have been minutes I huddled there – hours – I couldn’t tell. My fear drove me to try and run to
my room, desperately attempting to drown out their words with screams of my own.
“Stop it! Please!” I sobbed, over and over again.
As I moved towards the kitchen, I froze – in my attempts to escape, I had managed to get
within view of the turmoil; just in time to see my brother throw my father against the wall. My
ears were ringing, blue and red lights flitted through the windows, and it was then that I realized
who my mother had been on the phone with when the yelling had begun. So much was
happening at once. Was my dad okay? Where were they taking my brother? Where did my mom
go? Would our family ever be whole again? What would my eldest brothers think when they got
back from their missions to find their home a mess? I moved through the next few days in a
numb stupor, wondering if there would ever be happiness again.
It had been almost a week since the most recent incident of my brother’s wrath, and I was
just awaking from my numbed cloud when my mom called the school, she was picking my sister
and I up early.
“Your brother is gone,” I could tell she was holding back tears, “he’s going to a place that
can help him.”

“When will he be back?” I asked, we couldn’t be a family again if one of us was missing.
“I don’t know,” it came out a broken whisper, the tears she had been holding back were
released, and my mother wept.
Birthdays, recitals, graduations, talent shows, performances – many events passed with
one empty chair. My relationships with my family members grew, with all but one member. He
was invited to every family vacation, and every time he declined. Bitterness bubbled within me,
it was as if a little monster had made a home for itself in my mind, and I began to believe that I
hated my brother; he’d ruined my childhood after all, and it was his fault our family had broken.
I held on to that anger, and refused to forgive him.


We were going to go stay in a beach house on the Oregon Coast, and once more he
wasn’t going to come. It was to be our last vacation together as a family before I left for college,
but I didn’t know that at the time, I failed to appreciate our vacation time; all I knew was the
bitterness of not knowing my brother. The trip was as fun as it could be with all of us ignoring
the fact that something was missing. I was sick of it, despite my anger I wanted to know who my
brother had been before the drugs had distorted him. I sought out my mother and found her
sitting in the backyard, watching the crashing of the waves. I sat in the chair beside her, bundled
in a blanket for warmth against the spraying mist.
“What was Aaron like as a kid?” I leaned my head on her shoulder and breathed in her
unique scent, it was that of home, the ocean creating a symphony before our eyes.
“He was a troublemaker.” She chuckled.

“What else?”
And so began the onslaught of stories. She told me of the time when he was a toddler and
left the house searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Of when my dad had to go
to court because my brother had been caught riding his bike on the train tracks. Of when Aaron
found a golf cart at the junkyard and fixed it up, and how he would come to pick us younger kids
up from school in it. Of how fiercely protective he was of us girls. Of how him and the twins
would go toad hunting. So many things I’d never known about him, and my anger faded into
despair. My tears mingled with those of the ocean, and as each tear fell my mother wove a story
about a boy, a joyful boy who didn’t know how to control the fury that boiled within him.
My mother’s tone turned somber, “he loves you, you know.” Not once had I ever
believed that, she continued, “it’s true. He avoids us out of fear, fear that you and the others will
never forgive him.”
My mother’s words shocked me, and it occurred to me then that magic does exist, it just
wasn’t the kind that my younger self had been searching for. Magic wasn’t controlling the
elements or using spells to conjure anything at will; it was forgiveness, it was love, it was
healing. It was watching the waves with your mother beside you, and choosing to let go of the
past. It was the ability of a family to slowly put itself back together. It was allowing yourself to
love your fool of a brother.
“Aaron’s here!” a voice came from the direction of the beach house. I turned my head to
see him walking up the stone path towards us, and in his eyes there was fear and anxiety. He’d
come. I got up to meet him, and amidst the hugs I felt like there was years of talking to catch up on. I wanted to tell him about my music, about the book I’d been reading, about the drama at school, but mostly I wanted to tell him not to be afraid, because there was magic here.

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