The sanctity of my home was destroyed two years ago when a man smashed our kitchen window in the dead of night. I woke immediately, clutching sheets to my chest, pretending for as long as I could that the sounds of tinkling glass were fragments of a discarded dream.

The sliding deadbolt though? That was all too real. And the familiar creak as the door was carelessly swung open.

My first instinct was to rush down the hall to where my two boys were sleeping. I should have called the police immediately, but I wasn’t thinking straight. I could only imagine how terrified they must be, and what would happen to us if one of them started crying and alerted the burglar that we were here.

The lights went on downstairs. The clatter of things being flung from shelves and scattered onto the floor. The intruder made no pretense to disguise himself; either he thought no-one was home, or he was simply too drunk or desperate to care.

David (12 at the time) was already out of bed by the time I got there. He was getting ready to go downstairs and see what was going on. Mikey (10) peaked around the door-frame, quivering eyes glowing in the darkness. I pulled my children back into the room and slammed the door behind me –

Too fast. Too loud. I strained to hear past the sound of our terrified panting. The man downstairs had stopped moving. Only for a moment though. Now he was sprinting up the stairs, the old wood thundering his arrival. This room didn’t have a lock on it, but I pressed my back against the door as I finally called 911.

The handle rattled behind me. I pushed everything that I was against the door, but I couldn’t hide. I had to speak aloud to tell the police where I was. My whole body went numb as the intruder slammed into the door. Again and again – I was in tears, barely able to get the words out. Mikey started screaming, but I couldn’t comfort him. David wanted to help me hold the door, but I pushed him away.

I kept imagining a bullet or a knife puncturing through the thin wood to enter my body. All I could do was hold on until I couldn’t, and then he was through.

He overpowered me in seconds. He kicked me hard in the stomach and I couldn’t get back up. He was shouting something – asking where the jewelry or valuables were. I was crying too hard to answer him. David tried to wrestle him off, but the man pulled a knife.

I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t hear the sirens then. The intruder was panicking – more than panic, he was practically drooling over himself in some drug induced frenzy. He rushed back and forth with indecision while I screamed for help. He was about to make a dash for it when the police loudly announced they were coming in.

I told the intruder it was over. He couldn’t get out. Anything he tried would just make it worse for him.

“I’m taking one of them with me. Tell the police the boy is dead if I’m followed.”

And that’s when he made me choose. I didn’t have time to think. I was so scared that he’d hurt us if I didn’t answer. I closed my eyes and pointed at David. My boy was screaming for me, but I couldn’t open my eyes.

“Don’t fight him,” I begged. “He’ll let you go when he’s safe. I promise.”

I didn’t open my eyes until I felt Mikey rush sobbing into my arms. We were alone when the police found us.

I didn’t see David again for three days. And even when he did come back – beaten, starved, with haunted eyes – he wasn’t ever the same. He never talked about what happened. I tried to explain that I only pointed at him because he was older. He was bigger, and stronger, and smarter – he could take care of himself better than Mikey could. It didn’t matter though. There was nothing I could say to change the fact that when our lives were on the line, I didn’t choose to keep him safe.

David started getting in trouble at school after that. The principal was sympathetic at first, but after David started picking fights they had to suspend him. He started spending more and more time away from home without telling anyone where he’s been, sometimes not returning for days at a time. It didn’t matter how much I worried; he’d just snap something like “I can take care of myself” or “but you’d rather me stay out than Mikey, right?”

I couldn’t see the end to the road he was going down, but if something didn’t change, then I knew it was going to be too late for him to turn back. There was only one thing I could think of that would convince David how much he mattered to me. If he wouldn’t listen, then my last resort was to show him.

I planned to re-enact that fateful night. I worked it out with a close friend at work. Mikey and David and I were going to be out camping when my friend pretended to attack us. It’ll be just like before, only this time I’ll choose to save David. Then my friend will run off like he lost his nerve, and David will know how much I care. I know it’s sick to play with my family like that, but it’s the only thing I could think of to make things right again.

Everything was going perfectly. David didn’t want to go on the trip, but once I forced him into the car he seemed to be getting along well enough with his brother. They were even singing with the radio together as we pulled into the campsite.

It was about 10 PM when my friend sent me the text. He was ready. Deep breaths – I steeled myself against the coming ordeal. Mikey and David looked up from the campfire to the rustling in the darkness.

My friend exploded out of the undergrowth wearing a ski-mask. He was brandishing a hunting knife like he knew how to use it. I screamed right on cue – the kids were screaming – this was going to be over before they knew it.

“One of you boys are coming with me,” my friend ordered.

“I won’t let you!” I stood in front of them, putting up a brilliantly fierce display.

“Then everyone dies.” He was holding a gun now. I hadn’t told him to bring a gun, but it was good. It felt real. I could feel both my kids staring at me. Did they suspect something? No, they couldn’t have. Shit, I knew the truth and I was still terrified out of my mind.

I pointed at Mikey, and then I closed my eyes. That was the end of our scenario. Now my friend would run away and everything would be fair –

My eyes flew open when I heard the gunshot. Mikey was cowering behind me. David had a knife in his hand – lord knows where he got it. He’d tried to rush my friend, who panicked and put a bullet in my son to keep him back. David didn’t stop though. The knife was flashing by the light of the campfire and this time my screams were real.

Two more gunshots. By the time I got to them, it was too late. My friend’s neck was sliced from ear to ear. Blood was bubbling up from a gruesome wound in David’s chest and another in his shoulder. My frantic hands eased him to the ground, but that was all I could do.

“Is Mikey okay?” David asked.

“He’s okay. You saved him. But David you shouldn’t have -”

“You made your choice, I made mine,” he said. “Now you won’t have to choose anymore.”

Both David and my friend were dead before the park rangers arrived. I didn’t know how to explain the situation, so I just told them that we were attacked and that David died defending us. It’s my fault what happened though, and it feels right for me to be sharing the story now. Living or dying, speaking or staying quiet, loving or holding back – everyday is a choice whether we notice or not. And every choice has consequences.

Mikey, I love you and your brother more than you’ll ever know. Will you ever choose to forgive me?

I received this letter from my mother on the 5th anniversary of my brother’s death. Thought I’d share it with you all so you can help me decide.

Spread the fear.
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