Wendy Lam Trash Way Up High
Strutting in my chunky heels through the aisles, I fix my hat into the correct position on top of my kept bun. A heavily built man ruffles his huge newspaper and disregards any idea of personal space. The headline on the newspaper said, “Radiation Workers Way Up High”. I wonder who they’re talking about I think to myself. As if he read my mind, he stops me in my tracks to say,
“This article.. man it’s so crazy.. it’s saying’ that people like you that work on these planes are exposed to so much radiation… you couldn’t make me work here even with an actual good salary.”
Sipping on his large and scalding cup of coffee, he basically belittles me while chuckling to himself. I give a passive laugh as a response. Do people even think about what comes out of their mouths? I wonder to myself while straightening my pin.
In a muffled and frog like voice he croaks, “Welcome aboard passengers, my name is … we will be departing in a matter of minutes from… the exits are to your… if you have any questions please ask our lovely assistants.” I tune out the voice of the pilot while attempting to cater to all the cranky passengers. All of them must have conveniently had sticks shoved right up their asses today because they all seemed to forget common courtesy. Commands were shot left and right all while multiple babies were crying and hollering. As I went to assist one passenger the other would tug on my jacket to ask when the flight would be taking off.
With loud, bustling passengers comes copious amounts of trash. Like a grimy waterfall, junk begins to trickle out of the can. Starting with a big sigh, I compress the rubbage down into the bin. I can feel strands of my hair escape bobby pins whilst I push down. All during the act, a dainty and elderly woman is tapping on my shoulder. Her petite frame and organic frowning face greet me once I turn around. I immediately conceal my germ infested hands behind my back as if I was a child who was caught doing something naughty. “Hi,” she utters with her thick southern accent. “I just wanted to say you’re doing a great job,” she continues, “but, it’s such a shame you ended up here since you’ve probably never recieved a better education, right?” My body fills with hot steam from my toes to the top of my head. Unsure if it was condescending or unintentional, this woman was the exact opposite of what I needed to deal with on this flight. Eyes blinking, she waits for a reaction then continues on with the stories of her children and grandchildren. In return, with the same southern hospitality, I encouraged a return to her seat. You’d think having a job where you’re thousands of miles in the air could give you an escape from the crazy in the South, but it seems to have followed me all the way up here too. As I passively fix my hair, I swallow all of these interactions and try with all my might to remain professional. I must remind myself why I’m even here and that their words are not personal. This is my current job because it’s the step I need to take to accomplish my dreams. I have my masters degree, damn it ! I’m working my way up to be a Senior Analyst of this whole airline, none of these people even have the slightest stinkin’ clue. But, how did all of the people on this flight manage to coincidentally have their panties in a twist? Why me of all people? I’m pretty sure I’m a good person, I’ve done nothing to th-…
“Miss… Miss? You never gave my section hot towels!”
Note to self: Having an inner monologue on the job, is not successful and there is not enough time. I unfreeze from my internal thinking to fulfill the passenger’s wishes. I adjust my jacket and say,
“OF course, sir, my apologies.”
As I attempt to gracefully walk back to the container of hot towels, the same hefty man who had belittled me, jerks his hand. The next thing I know, I feel a stinging feeling and the smell of a mocha all over my blouse. Every head swiveled around after the instinctive cry I let out due to the
that was showered upon me. I excuse myself and confirm that enough is enough. Whilst changing out of my blouse, I figured I simply cannot solely just calm myself down anymore. The flight is basically over and I need to relieve myself of all the past hours of inconvenience. Before the flight comes to an end and the passengers exit the plane, surely I must serve them one last time in the best, most courteous manner. I grasp the trash bag and throw on a big smile.
“Hi, Ma’am you’re trash?
Oh yes sir, you’re trash?
Safe to say all the trash was collected and also safely exited the plane. As I loosen my feet from my chunky heels, I wave goodbye with a smile of relief.
The Broken Clock
By: Nick Savarese
The clock above the door was broken. A black minute and hour hand both extended themselves statically to produce a time of 4:05, but I referenced the digital clock on my desk to see it was actually 9:34. I sighed immensely while gazing out the window, wishing I could open up the sealed glass in order to better listen to the gentle pitter-patter of the raindrops descending in the warm spring nighttime. Then, a gentle tap upon my right shoulder, which was just strong enough to take me out of my trance, beckoned my attention. After turning away from the window, I saw a fellow doctor stood before me.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he maintained steady eye contact while bowing his head slightly. He finally turned and exited the room when he saw my attention shifted to the elderly woman in the bed beside us. That doctor had been caring for the woman throughout the duration of her stay, but tonight I was to tend for her upon her personal request. The woman’s eyes attracted me from across the room. They drew me in closer to her. It was difficult to take notice of the ugly wrinkles across her skinny body, which had dramatically shrunk compared to what it used to be. It was difficult to take notice of her thinned hair and pale skin. It was difficult to take notice of the darkened bags around her eyes. It was difficult to notice these things because her eyes radiated vibrantly to outshine the other characteristics of her appearance that made her ugly. Those bright eyes communicated with me; I felt as if I knew them so well. Those bright eyes seemed to tell me, “I’m ready.”
I paced the room, past the bed that the woman lay in, and stepped outside. Other doctors and nurses occupied much of the hallway, but it seemed unusually quiet- even for a Sunday night. Eventually, after trudging with heavy footsteps, I came face-to-face with the rest of the woman’s family.
They knew very well the unfortunate news- the only news- I had to deliver at that given moment without me saying anything. The youngest in the family, Adam, stepped forward hesitantly and silently followed me back to the room in which his weakened and tired grandmother waited.
Adam was seventeen-years-old, an intelligent student, and a sociable, kind-hearted peer. He often walked swinging his arms proudly, extending his reach almost all the way up horizontally and then back down. His walk itself had a little spunk to it too, and he usually looked to be stepping to an imaginary beat dictated by the nodding of his head side to side. However, as much as this confident walk made a person forget about Adam’s short height and tiny stature, there was an essence of carelessness to it. Similarly, there was a bit of laziness apparent in Adam himself too. Most skills needed to complete jobs or tasks came naturally to him whenever he worked, studied for a test, or played a sport, but he always did the bare minimum and rarely took risks or stepped out of his comfort zone.
I aimlessly shuffled some papers on my desk and opened an empty tab on my computer monitor, standing with my back to the bed that Adam knelt beside. His grandmother began the conversation by explaining how much pride she took in him.
“Whenever you were the topic of discussion with my friends, I always had a new challenge or feat that you overcame to tell them about. You most certainly have the potential to reach great heights, Adam. However, you have to make the climb at some points along the way by yourself. Teachers, coaches, and advisors will not always help you take the first step. Initiative is a very special characteristic, and much great potential can go to waste without it.”
I then turned around towards them, and I saw Adam had an earnest look in his eyes. Those eyes appeared to have such strength and power, but there was also something missing in them. His grandmother must have spotted this something, which I could not entirely identify, since she paused before expanding upon her thoughts.
“Put it this way, Adam… Hear me through…. Sometimes in life, mowing the lawn isn’t enough. You’re expected to trim down the grass; it’s what you’re told to do. Sometimes in life, however, you have to go beyond that, and you have to pull the weeds. Your back will ache, no one else will want help you, you’ll get dirt all over yourself, and you will feel as if you are accomplishing nothing during the process since the weeds will only grow back again. But that is all okay. After all, experiencing failure and discouragement is the first step to success since you can learn from initial mistakes and pursue beyond early setbacks. And I assure you, once you do finish pulling the weeds, and your back pain fades away, a feeling of satisfaction will overwhelm you. You’ll be able to stand back and admire how much nicer the yard appears, all thanks to your extra work. And this rare satisfaction- independent success- only arises from taking initiative.”
Adam nodded carefully, leaned into his Grandmother to whisper something that I did not hear, and exited after giving a prolonged hug. On his walk out, swinging his arms a little bit less than usual, he carried the heavy promise that he made with his grandmother just then to pull the weeds throughout his life.
Adam’s older sister Arlene floated into the room a long minute later, and she had an empty look in her eyes. Her freshman year at college was just starting to wind down and finish up, but she was still struggling to find her place in the crowd. Arlene was studious like Adam, but had always been much more soft-spoken and not as noticeable. She maneuvered graciously like a ghost whenever I saw her, but always seemed to know where she was headed. A thick mound of luscious and long hair sat upon her head, which often drew one’s attention away from her face. Because of this, it was hard to notice her eyes despite how wide they were. Arlene had a set of very wide eyes, which seemed to always be observing and scanning, but from a distance away.
Arlene barely took notice of me when she entered; I am not sure she even batted an eye my direction. She dragged a chair over to sit beside the bed and reached out to hold hands faintly with her grandmother, who lay flat resting her head upon her pillow.
“Arlene,” her grandmother started, “I know how hard the first year of college has been for you. Not academically, you have always been so intelligently gifted, but socially. I’m glad I have always been there to help you get through long lonesome nights, but I’m afraid you won’t be able to turn to me much longer.”
What am I doing? I thought. I should seriously leave. But I didn’t. I don’t have the right to be here, listening to their conversation. But I convinced myself otherwise.
Oh, how curiosity kills.
“I have tried teaching you this numerous times in the past, but with silly stories that all grandparents love to tell that may not have the clear message. So let me say it again and directly, Arlene, everyone is shy. It doesn’t matter if a person’s voice can be heard from a mountaintop, or if a person makes about as much noise as crickets in the nighttime; everyone is shy, at least to begin with. The moments we choose to speak up in, and the people we decide to immense ourselves in conversation with, and what those conversations are about, all define our character. Before we decide when or why or how or with whom we use our voices, we are shy.” Watching intently, I noticed Arlene’s eye contact fade away as her eyes drifted towards the clock above the door. After a moment, her focus returned to her grandmother. “I’m telling you this, Arlene, because you are very independent. Not everyone develops to become an extrovert, and you should not stress over changing that, especially if you’re more introspective. Someone like you thrives off a few personal connections, not numerous strained ones. So just be patient, Arlene, and you’ll find your way. Just, please promise me, that you won’t continue to stress over it or let it beat you down. I’m just afraid you’ll force yourself into a messy situation if you let it bother you, that’s all.”
And so Arlene’s fingers slipped away from the grasp of her Grandmother’s palm, and she floated out just the same as she came in. Except on the way out, she bore the new promise to accept herself for who she was. In addition, hey eyes sat just as wide as before, but a miniature twinkle seemed to shine in the dead center of her pupil.
Finally, I stepped beside the bed myself and stooped down on one knee as Adam had done earlier. Before doing so, however, I surveyed the room. The clock above the door caught my attention. 4:05, it read. The damn thing was still broken. After this, when finally level with the grandmother, I easily became lost in her eyes. I knew those beautiful eyes so well, and did not want to believe that this was the last time I would see them. But I did not look away in denial, and finally succumbed to accepting the tragic idea of death.
“Son,” she spoke softly. “I cannot begin describing how wonderfully blessed of a life I have lived- largely due in part to you being in it. You made my job so unbelievably easy as a mother, and I am sure that I have learned more from you than you have from me. Beyond that, you have taken great care of the family you have now. Your kids have many more years to come under your guidance, even if it does not seem like it, and I can only ask that you continue to love them as much as you have loved me. Can you do that?”
My throat was dry and I could not find words. Instead, I pathetically mouthed, “of course.”
“I know you can.” Then, she reached up with an unsteady, shaking hand and placed two fingers on my lips for a brief moment before bringing the hand back down to where it lay before.
Slowly and carefully, she closed her eyes shut one final time- but not in defeat. No, I certainly did not see defeat anywhere within them. My mother’s eyes, rather, had never looked so alive.
Our season was a constant story week to week of being underdogs. No one respected us as a unit and feared our lack of size as a school defined how good of a football team we were. This allowed for us to have fueled motivation each day at practice to get better and better. We had a will to compete and be the most prepared for anything as possible. This clearly translated to the postseason, physically dominating each team we played. For me, it was a big deal we kept winning. With each week won, was another week closer to being able to play. I suffered a broken clavicle bone on the first play of a game versus Upper Darby. I was truly devastated because I was having a unique experience of helping the varsity team as a junior. The seniors that led that team really helped me understand the importance of togetherness on the team and how it plays a major role in how we won those playoff games. They also stressed the weight room and how that was the deciding factor on if we could win a game or not. Knowing this helped me to get stronger because I was motivated to get as far and even farther with my senior class.
This year, was much of the same as underdogs. Despite being the three seed in the 6A District 1 playoffs, we were still overlooked for many games. For example, after shutting out the CB West Bucs the game prior, our defense got no recognition because of how strong North Penn’s offense is. This only led to more motivation as a senior because we did not want this to be our last game together. All week we prepared for anything they could possibly do and acted like this was just another game, but we all knew it was much more than that. This is because North Penn ended last year’s seniors historic run. It was time for vengeance.
Earlier in the game we found ourselves down 35-7 with 9 minutes left in the third quarter, and all hope seemed to be lost from everyone in the stands. The crowd started clearing the bleachers, leaving the eighteen degree weather behind them. Although some fans left, we knew there was still hope. Our entire season has been built on the idea of belief. The belief in each one of us, our preparation skills, and everything we stand for. Then, something magical happened. It was as if a mysterious power rose in all one hundred and seven jaguars on the field. We knew it was now or never to come back from this.
We scored on a short run that started a roar from the sidelines and the remaining, freezed fans. Our defense returned to our regular ways of flying around like an angry pack of wolves. We force them to punt. The ball seemed to exist in the air and float for hours as it came down into my hands. Once I caught it, I cut left to find blocks. I feel the beginning of a cramp in my right calf, but nothing is stopping this comeback at this point. After gaining about 20 yards and making a few defenders miss, the momentum started to change in our favor.
A big run allowed us to score in two plays, which helped a lot with time purposes. At this point, it is 35-21 with the whole fourth quarter to play. After that touchdown, we kick off to them and again, something crazy happened. The eleven jaguars on the field flew down the field and swarm the running back who was all world and “never fumbled,” but he didn’t have the oneness on his side. The ball popped out and we jump on it. There are punches being thrown in the bottom of the pile where the refs cannot see anything. Vulgar words being thrown around hurt way less than the pinching and kicking and cleating they are doing. We clear the pile, holding the football. In six plays on offense, we score again, allowing the MOE to erupt with cheer, and the thrill of hope. I look into the crowd to see my family. When I look it is so hard to see now, because the same fans who left earlier, came back to witness this comeback. I knew right then, that we were going to win this football game. 35-28 now. The blackshirts, what the defense calls ourselves, take the field for the biggest drive of our short careers in high school football. If we stop, we can have a chance to win. The clock reads 4:23 and time was running out. First play, run: no gain. Second play, run: short gain. Third down. They drop back to pass and my heart sinks with fear,… It is coming to me
Before they have a chance to throw, the blackshirt d-line gets through for a key sack that forces them again to punt. We try to block this punt, but miss. Luckily, the punt was not so good and we get decent field position. The offense takes the field and the call is Trips Right Rocket Screen West. This is the first time we have ever called this in a game, but I knew that the preparation each day in practice would help in the success of it. The play is to go to to me and I line up in my stance, nervous for anything that may come my way. “Green Green ready set Go” and my legs take off and my brain turns off for what seems like an all or nothing play.
I cover about six yards horizontally and catch the ball with blocker in front of me. As the ball reaches my hands i cut left again back to where I started. Only this time, both calves really start to cramp big time. I felt as if I needed to amputate both of my legs because of the sudden shock it gave me. Inly, there is nothing stopping me from finishing the play and helping the team. With each step, more willpower to stay up and run comes onto me and I hear all of my brothers screaming my name, but mostly my breath, the sound of my heavy breathing is overwhelming and before I can even think about what to do next, I get hit and fall hard to the ground. Now finally not moving, my legs feel rock hard and unable to move. I think about staying down, but having the team waste a timeout for an injury would result in a negative future position we may without a timeout. I get up, and feel all pain rush through my legs but I rush off the field and get stretched. Avoided that one.
The very next play, we score on a long pass pay, and we decide to go for a 2-pt conversion for the win. This decision was made because of the momentum we carry at the moment. As the ball is snapped, our quarterback fakes a handoff and dashes to his left. We dives through two defenders much bigger than him, and if you could have guessed, made it in. We take the lead with 40 seconds left in the game.
The crowd continued to cheer and cheer, even as the other team moved the ball at will against our stingy defense, but the clock just kept on ticking. There was a time out, and we huddled on the 30 yard line and talked strategy. We talked for about a minute in strategy then realized all we needed to do to stop them, was band together and play together. If there was a picture of that huddle where all eleven of our breaths forming one large cloud smoke, it would be hung up and placed in the dictionary under “Teammates.” We ended up winning the game, but the game was far from being forgotten.
As a senior, every game is not to be taken for granted, but there was never a time in that game where we lost hope, and even though we will be taken as underdogs the next weeks following no matter what, it would be dumb to count the 2017 Jaguars out from any game.
I was boarding the plane for the second time that year. My mom, dad, and twin sister Haley were all on our way to my grandparent’s house in Florida. My grandparents, Mimi and Eddie, had a house down in Florida and it was the perfect size. Two bedrooms and a kitchen with just enough room. The kitchen to my sister and I was amazing. There were two stools and my sister and I thought they were just for us. The spun around in a circle, I pretend to be on the teacups ride in disney and spin until I almost threw up. I always thought the wall of the kitchen was neat because it looked like a diner where there is a big rectangular space for the food prepared by the kitchen to be picked up. There was also a pool in the apartment complex and that was an added bonus. We went to this little condo twice a year.
My sister and I were used to boarding planes. We hand the lady our ticket, she scans it, we go on the plane, and find out seats. My sister always sat with my mom because she was “problematic”. She threw up on planes so she was difficult. I walk down the aisle of the plane looking for my seat.
“Look for 36A it is a window seat,” my dad said. I loved window seats because I liked watching the ground get smaller and smaller as we rose higher. I would always try to find the school when we were on the plane, but I never found it.
“Yeah, I know dad!” I shouted back, trying not to pay attention to my dad who assumed I had never been on a plane before.
All I can think about is my games in my little pink backpack. I had been on a plane before and I knew what I was doing, so why did my dad care so much about where my seat was. I knew I was fine. My DS, my coloring books, and my polly pockets all sound lovely right about now.
“My little chihuahuas on Nintendo Dogs are running away! I have to get to them.” I screeched to my dad.
“Where is my seat?” I said to my mom.
“I don’t know Syd, I don’t know.” My mom told me in an annoying tone.
I started to think that maybe 36A was not my seat. I could not find it, so it was definitely not my seat, or so I thought. As we were walking down the aisle we dropped of my problematic sister and my mom. They were always at least a half of the plane ahead of my dad and I because I did not want to hear my throwing up sister.
“I found it dad!” I shouted across the plane. I found my seat, but a tall, big boy was sitting in it. He reminded me of Danny Tanner: skinny, tall, and lengthy. I felt my eyes water when someone was in my seat and something was not going according to my plan.
“Look who is in the seat.” Whispered my dad to strangers around him.
I heard various stranger whisper around me, seemingly excited about this stranger in my seat.
Everyone around me was whispering in excitement to each other about the mysterious man. Confusion filled my little brain on who this string bean of a man was.
“It is Michael Phelps!” Shouted my dad to me.
I had no idea who this Michael Phelps boy was. Why was he getting all the attention? Why was I not the center of attention? He was not Zac Efron, so who was he? My dad then continued to blab in my ears for what seemed like two hours about who Michael string bean Phelps was.
Now, after my dad informed me, I know that Michael Phelps was a swimmer and he was very good.
“This is my daughter’s seat but you are welcomed and encouraged to stay I will make her find a new seat.” My dad said to, his lover, Michael Phelps.
My dad was obviously fan boying over this big boy and told him he can stay in my seat. Luckily for me, but unfortunately for my dad, Michael Phelps apologizes for being in the wrong seat and got up to find his correct seat.
Although I was being a brat about someone being in my seat, I met a great mentor and athlete in the action. Every swimming event on T.V that Michael Phelps is in I can not help but think about the time I was six and cried because he was in my seat on the plane. I always wonder, Does he remember me and the incident? My dad would say yes, only due to the fact that I was making a huge scene on the plane because of the big boy.
Struck like a Bat
Dave and Tom grew up in the same small neighborhood just outside Wilmington. Just along the intersection of Harvey lane and Phillips drive, the two youngsters spent the majority of their childhood and adolescence living across from one another. The two would still remember each other for the many years to come.
Dave lived in Wilmington ever since he was born. He had brown hair like his mother, had blue eyes like his father, and had a little sister who would torment him from dawn to dusk. On the other hand, Tom moved to Wilmington when he was four years old, but had no memory of his previous home. He had brown hair like his mother, had blue eyes like his father, and even had a little sister who, you guessed it, liked to torment him. From the apparent similarities, the two boys instantly became friends shortly after Tom moved.
Dave and Tom both had a passion for baseball. Every Friday after school they would set up the bases in the center of the intersection of Harvey and Phillips, and invited the other neighborhood kids to get enough for two different teams. They would play all evening, stopping the game whenever cars had to go through the intersection. Dave and Tom were without question, the best baseball players in the neighborhood. Dave was an exceptional pitcher, while Tom’s best hit at the plate went all the way into the next neighborhood. The two forced themselves to be on opposing teams in order to make each game fair. The games were always close, often resulting in ties due to Dave and Tom’s similar level of skill. This was how things were for years.
One day, when Dave and Tom were both ten years old, they saw a white truck turning on Harvey drive, heading towards the intersection. The two boys and the rest of the neighborhood were playing baseball in the intersection and were getting ready to temporarily stop the game for the truck to pass. Dave and a couple other boys picked up the bases while Tom collected the bats and balls. The truck passed by with the industrial smell of gasoline lingering behind like a slow runner. Most trucks usually pass the intersection, however this truck stopped next to the curb. Once the vehicle had stopped, five men emerged from it and began removing the large contents that were transported inside the truck. Dave, Tom, and the other kids were confused why these men were carrying furniture until they noticed a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn of one of the houses. Soon after, a sharp navy blue Ford Explorer comes up the road and parks adjacent to the truck. Out of the car emerges a family: a husband, a wife, and a daughter. Tom took a longer look at the girl. She had long brunette hair that just passed over her round shoulders where a light pink bow rested in between each thin strand of hair. A cream colored blouse and light blue long skirt cloaked her. The new family went with the movers into their new home; Tom was the last to return to the game. Tom returned to Dave.
“Hey man, what’s with that new girl?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know, I think they’re moving into the Clarks old home” Dave replied.
“I thought she was very pretty” Tom said.
“ Yeah me too.”
That was the end of that. The two returned to the other kids playing baseball, and they continued until the sun set. However, Tom wasn’t playing as well as he had been known to play, he wasn’t hitting as many homeruns, was slow when running the bases, and his team lost to Dave by seven runs. Tom kept looking at the Clarks old home.
The following day all the neighborhood kids came to the usual spot in the street, the bases were set up, and Tom and Dave chose their respective teams. Nothing unusual occurred during the game, it was still neck and neck between Tom and Dave. Tom was up at bat, getting ready to swing at one of Dave’s fast balls, when he suddenly felt a foreign breeze scuttle against his shoulder. He turned around and saw the new girl, the one who had just moved into the neighborhood.
“Hey guys, I’m Claire, I just wanted to see what was going on.” the girl said to the entire group of ten year-old boys. Claire was wearing a yellow blouse this time, with a white bow that rivaled the white of baseballs. Tom couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“We were just playing some baseball, we play about every Friday” Dave responded.
“That’s cool! My only knowledge of baseball is watching the Phillies on TV” she said with a little giggle.
“Would you like to play with us?” Tom asked almost desperately.
“No thanks, but I’ll watch for a bit.”
Tom immediately blushed until his cheeks were as red as the Phillies themselves. Why would he think that she’d want to play with them? “She’s a girl” Tom thought. Claire took a seat on the sidewalk next to her grey mailbox. Tom had trouble concentrating, he was next at bat. He took his stance, planted his feet in the ground best he could and swung, miss. He swung again, miss, and again, miss. Tom never struck out before in his life. He looked over to Claire, and saw that she was looking at the pitcher that just struck out the batter. Jealousy of Dave struck Tom like a bat. Claire looked at Dave with astonishment and awe. It almost seemed that Dave was showing off to Claire. Tom became furious, how could he do that in front of Tom? “I’ll show her” he thought. Tom was determined to not be made a fool the next chance he had at bat.
After the rest of his teammates had a chance at bat, Tom was back at the plate, ready to show the neighborhood that he was a big deal. He planted his feet a little firmer, stood a little taller, and swung as hard as he could to the pitch. The bat struck the ball vehemently and sliced through the air like a knife. It directly bashed Dave in his left stomach and he fell to the ground with a sickening thud. All of the neighborhood kids, including Claire rushed to his aid.
“Oh my god Dave are you alright?” one kid said. “Are you hurt?” another asked. An ocean of dark blue and purple swelled Dave’s stomach. “Tom, why did you hit Dave?”
“I didn’t mean to” Tom replied. Tom wasn’t actually sure whether he meant to hit Dave or not, though he usually never fails to hit home runs. He looked over to Claire, she had a look of disgust on her face. Claire ran to her home to get her parents. Her mom took Dave into their home, and Claire turned and shut the door. The kids went from looking at Claire’s front door, to Tom.
“We don’t think you should play with us anymore.” one of the kids said to Tom.
“Guys it was an accident I swear!”
But the kids already started picking up the bases and left for their respective houses. Tom didn’t know what to do with himself, so he just returned to his own home. From that day on, he isolated himself in his home, watching the rest of the neighborhood from the window play the tradition he and Dave founded. He saw Dave prosper and win every single game without contest. He became the Babe Ruth of the neighborhood, which appealed greatly to Claire. Tom closed the window shade and secluded himself in his own isolation.
Why I Can’t Listen to “Wind Beneath My Wings” Anymore
I was still enveloped in sleep when my mom knocked on my door. “Hey Meg, I need you to wake up,” she said. I figured I had overslept and was making us late to school. I stretched and felt the edge of my bed dip as she sat down. I apologized and told her that I would be up in a second, rolling away from her, searching for more sleep. What she said next immediately woke me up and took hours to sink in. “Valentina’s dad died in his sleep last night. The hospital was moving him to another room and he had a heart attack and died.” This conversation along with the description of the days following it were really difficult to write down.
The pallbearers took their place on either side of his casket. My mother nodded in my direction and I stood up, I needed to get to the front of the altar. The pew I was sitting in had one of those air vents at the end, with the slots that are just big enough to catch your high heel. I remember being worried that my heel would get stuck causing me to twist my ankle. When I stood up, I looked down and smoothed out my black dress. I stepped over the vent and took a deep, shaky breath. The clicking of my heels filled the spacious room as I walked to my spot.
I thought back to the night before; I had noticed how large the church was at the viewing that night. The line to greet his family members wrapped around the inside of the building. It started at the church doors and snaked to the left; the painfully slow walk brought you past multiple poster boards. It was chronological, starting with pictures of his family on the beach in Finale, Italy. It made me smile to see he had had that mischievous smirk from a young age.
It must have been that mischievous smirk that made his parents send him to America when he turned sixteen. The people surrounding him in pictures changed and I started recognizing younger versions of people I knew. There was the classic ‘80’s mullet and white turtleneck’ picture of him that his wife and her sister had swooned over when they first met him. As I continued to walk, there were memories that I had partaken in over the last four years. The pictures from the three proms my brother had attended with his daughter,Valentina; the pictures from my brothers graduation party and the pictures from the various shows he watched his daughter and I perform in. The breath in my throat hitched as I thought about all of the pictures he would never take. There would not be a picture of him eying down my brother before he took Valentina to her Senior Prom. There would be no picture of him smiling with my family at Valentina’s graduation party, and there would be no picture of him hugging Valentina after her last high school performance. After walking through Massimo’s life, I reached his family members standing in a line. I consoled them, feeling their loss as if it was my own.
My spot was at the front of the church. I was standing there, clutching my binder of music, waiting for the pianist to walk towards the piano. I knew my eyes must have been wide; my nerves must have read all over my face because everyone I made eye contact with seemed to nod with encouragement and a slight smile. I remember thinking I couldn’t do it. Those words almost flew from my mouth, but as my eyes scanned to the front row, I caught Valentina and her little sister, Lili’s eyes and the words escaped from my mind. In that moment, I could not believe how selfish I was being. Valentina’s mother, Sonia, had asked for one thing: for me to sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” and that was what I was going to do.
The song was difficult to get through and to this day, I have not looked at the music or listened to it. During the song, my voice, usually strong and sturdy, was shaking and quiet. I kept my eyes turned down and focused on the lyrics. When I was finished, I finally looked up to see Sonia smiling at me with tears streaming down her face. I sensed the gratitude in her eyes. This was the first time in four years that I really acknowledged how much I loved her entire family and what they all meant to me. The funeral was over and those in attendance were sent off to grief in their own ways.
I still feel the hole that Massimo left last January. I feel it when I walk past his old pizza shop. I feel it when I hug my own father. I see the hole he left too; I see it in his daughters’ eyes when they smile. I’ve seen it cross Sonia’s face- only briefly- before she swallows that pain again. I am thankful to have had him in my life for those four years and it is because of Massimo that I live and love everyday like it could be my last. I grant forgiveness and never think twice when I am asked to spend time with my loved ones.
Thank you Massimo.
Under the Apple Tree
After a long day at work, John E. McLuffey sat down on his old rickety sofa, drinking a cup of Jasmine tea. He could imagine the wilting flowers blooming as he held the exquisite piece of fine china towards his mouth, but it was short-lived as the stench disappeared with the tea. He stared at the old clock that displayed 1 o’clock and then at the photograph of his wife when they were in their 20s, remembering his life with her before she died. However, something seemed was bothering him as he glanced at the window from time to time, to the beat of the old clock. It was almost as if there was something outside of the window; something that was waiting for him. Glancing back at the clock and laying back on his sofa, John started to drift off…
It was a bright Sunday morning when John decided to visit the nearby park. He heard about the park’s beautiful scenery from a group of bothersome women when he was at the supermarket searching for vegetables. Only a month ago, he lost his beloved wife Mary when she died of a sudden heart attack. They were on their way to visit their newlywed son and daughter-in-law when Mary started to complain about a meager pain she felt in her chest. It was a rainy day, so John focused on driving and had told her that it might just be her eagerness to meet their son. His attention quickly turned back to the road when an abrupt yellow light arose from the traffic light, and he slowed his car down to a dreary halt. Once the traffic light turned to a steady red, he glanced back at Mary, only to see her lifeless body sitting in the passenger seat of the car. He did not think much about it when he came home on that day, but the house felt hollow without Mary’s presence.
Walking into the park at night-time, he instantly understood what the women meant. Even with the dimmed lighting that the park lampposts provided, he could still see the outlines of the forestry that grew on the park borders along with the shrubs on the edges of the elegant brick trail. However, there was one part of the park that glowed brighter than its surroundings. Walking closer to the mysterious glowing light, John realized that it was not the park lights that were glowing but a beautiful girl sitting on the bench that sat behind an apple tree below a single lamppost. She appeared to be holding a book while playing with her smooth golden hair with her other open hand. He slowly inched closer to the girl in curiosity like a moth being drawn to a fire. When he neared the edge of the glowing light, the girl noticed his existence and appeared to be in shock.
“I’m sorry for disturbing your readi…,” John apologetically whispered to the girl before she interrupted him.
“Who are you? What do you want from me? Don’t take a step closer to me until you answer my questions!” the girl shrieked with horror written on her face.
John stopped in his tracks and fear became to overtake him. He had not spoken to anyone for the past month since Mary’s death and was unsure how to respond to the girl’s response.
“Look, I only came here for a night–,” he hesitantly responded when he proceeded to walk closer to her.
The girl dropped her book and began to run away from John. However, in that moment, John’s attention was drawn to the sound of the book thumping on the road. He caught a glimpse of the book title before instinctively chasing after the girl.
How to Grow an Apple Tree
John’s body was about twice the size of the girl’s body, and he easily overtook her speed within seconds. John grabbed the girl by the shoulder in an attempt to calm her down but a sharp screech drained from her mouth when he did. Using his other hand, he covered the girl’s mouth to stop the deafening cry as they both tumbled down on the tiled road. That was the last time he saw the girl move. As they fell, the girl’s fragile head hit the concrete like a watermelon being dropped from a counter. In one moment she was running for her life and in the next moment, she was lying cold on her back, eyes wide open. The appearance reminded John of Mary when she died on that fateful car ride, and he remembered his promise that he made with her. He slowly carried the body and placed her underneath an apple tree that he found nearby. He clasped the dead girl’s hands around an apple while closing her eyes.
“Goodbye Mary,” he hesitantly whimpered before strolling home with another decaying apple in his hands.
Before John could reach out to grab his teacup laid in front of his sofa, he heard sirens from outside his house. Slowly picking himself up from his seat, he accidentally knocked over the teacup from his desk and stared at the shattered pieces of the luxurious china. Gazing at the spilled blackened tea for a moment, he was interrupted by the banging sounds from his front door.
“This city belongs to me! I need a corrupt cop to let me run my businesses. What do you think I am paying you for, bringing good cops into the city? My brothers are sitting in jail right now, and I need someone to get them out” says Raven, head of all the crime in the city.
“Look, I understand what you need. I know of a guy who you will be satisfied with. Corrupt to the core, put him on your payroll, and he will let you run free,” Congressmen Nigel replied. Congressmen Nigel was elected with the help of Raven; Raven paid for his campaign, and he illegally bought votes with bribes.
Officer Diablo arrived at the police station and told the deputies to release Raven’s brothers. They all looked at him and were bewildered. They released the brothers, and they ran out. Diablo winked at them as they ran out.
“What are you all looking at? There’s a new sheriff in town, and there’s going to be some new changes around the city. You can already probably tell what those changes are from what I just did. Anyone care to object?” Diablo told all the deputies with a very devilish face and voice. His presence in the station made everyone else uncomfortable, and for some reason, terrified them. No one raised their concerns. Diablo went to visit Raven who instantly paid him. They became friends, Raven would be allowed to run his crime businesses, and Diablo would be paid handsomely. Diablo asked Raven where his brothers were, and Raven said that they found a new girl to “toy” with. They began to have drinks, and after a couple of hours Raven’s brothers, Ramiel, Asmodeus, Dagon, and Azazel, arrived and became they familiar with one another.
It had been forty days since Diablo arrived in the city. Raven was doing as he pleased, and Diablo was making more money than he had ever before in his corrupt life. He was on patrol, he still did his job from time to time, and that was the first time he saw her. He, being a cop, found out all her details and began looking for ways to see her. Her name was Hope, and she was the purest thing in the world. He knew he would have to hide his dark side from her to get close to her. That’s precisely what he did, hide his dark side from her. When he spent time with Hope, he became a different man. The criminal inside of him turned human, and he was kind and rational. Hope brought out the best in him.
One day, they were together in a park for Hope’s birthday. When Diablo was occupied with something, Raven’s gangsters attempt to kidnap Hope, thinking that she was someone else. They try to get away, but Diablo chases them down and beats some of them up until Raven runs in and apologizes for taking the wrong girl. Diablo is furious while Raven yells at his men and they leave. When Diablo goes to drop Hope off at her house, Hope tells Diablo what she wants for her birthday, “I want you to save the girl that those gangsters were trying to kidnap,” and she leaves.
At this point, Diablo is confused. He doesn’t know whom to please, his girlfriend or his best friend. After long pondering, he decides in favor of his girlfriend, and save the girl from being kidnapped. After a long fight between him and the gangsters, he takes the girl back to Hope and presents her as his gift to her. Hope and Diablo find out that her name is Mary. She tells them a long story of how she was visiting her sister from another city, and when she landed at the airport, her sister, Kara, didn’t show up. She began searching for her for the past couple days without luck. She then tells Hope and Diablo that she got a phone call from someone, and when she answered the phone, her sister was talking. Kara told Mary that four guys had kidnapped her and they had tortured her for the past forty days. She told Mary where they were keeping her, and when Mary came, it was empty. One thing that she did she find was a disk that was a video of all the brothers torturing her. The disc, she tells Hope and Diablo, is the reason Raven was trying to kidnap her. The four brothers were Raven’s younger brothers, Asmodeus, Ramiel, Dagon, and Azazel. Mary then breaks down, and Hope tries to comfort her. After some time, Diablo drops off both of them at their houses and goes to meet Raven.
“DIABLO WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!!”
“Alright calm down, I had to do it for my girlfriend,”
“She has evidence that I need right now!”
“Ok book airplane tickets and I’ll send her away after receiving the disk.”
It was a short and brief conversation. Raven felt like he could trust Diablo, and Diablo wanted to gain his friendship with Raven back. Diablo picked up Mary and took her to the airport. Before sending her inside, he asked for the disk. Mary looked him in the eyes, trusting him, and gave him the disc. As Diablo walked back to the car, Mary ran out crying, “Diablo, please I’m trusting you. I have no faith in anyone but you to do justice. Those animals, look at what they did to her, watch the disk, and understand the pain my sister must have gone through for forty days. Please, just please help,” and with that, she turned and walked back to the airport. Diablo was never more confused in his life. He realized something when Mary said forty days; Kara was kidnapped the day when he came into the city and let Raven’s brother go free. Raven had said that his brothers had found a new girl to “toy” with. He walked back to his car, and instead of going directly to Raven, he drove back to the police station and sat down. Meanwhile, Raven was frantically trying to call Diablo and find out about the disk. Diablo wasn’t having any of it and wasn’t picking up. Raven sent some of his gangsters to pick it up, and when they arrived at the station, Diablo didn’t move.
“Where’s the disk?”
“Where’s the damn disk?”
Finally, one of them spotted the disk on the desk and went to pick it up. Right before he picked it up, Diablo smashed his face. With that, he proceeded to fight them all. He fought all of them and told his deputy to drop them off back at Raven’s hideout with a message. The deputy said Raven, “There’s a new cop in town, and his name is Diablo! Tell your brothers to hide; he’s coming after them!”
Raven screamed at his brothers, “You bloody fools, if you’re gonna do something to a girl, then just do it, why the hell are you videotaping them you, idiots. Go, leave, go into hiding until I find a way to fix this mess.”
Diablo changed completely. He went after Raven’s brothers like a lion hunting deer. He and his men looked through every house, club, and building in the city to find them. Diablo placed checkpoints at every port, highway, and other entrance into the city so they couldn’t escape. Raven, meanwhile, was going crazy; he wasn’t able to do anything, and he was still scared that his brothers would get caught by Diablo at any time. The crime rate in the city dropped to nothing as Diablo didn’t let Raven, or any criminal, do anything that they shouldn’t be doing. During the search, the body of Kara was uncovered. The doctor was unable to perform any post-mortem as the torture was too extensive and vicious. Diablo went in front of the press and told them exactly who committed the crime, “It was Raven’s four brothers: Ramiel, Azazel, Asmodeus, and Dagon. If anyone has information on their whereabouts, call the hotline. We need to bring them in.”
A few days later, a phone call was received at the hotline that informed the police of the brothers’ location. Diablo, along with the SWAT team, busted into the hideout and arrested all four of them. Diablo gave the evidence to the defense lawyer so he could present it in court. On the day of the trial, everything went wrong. The disc with the video was erased, and a blank disc was shown. Even Diablo didn’t know, but the defense lawyer was on Raven’s payroll. Without any proof, the judge was about to close the case, but Diablo asks for a one-day extension to bring more proof.
That night, Diablo, full of disappointment, had a couple of drinks. Out of nowhere, Raven’s men attack Diablo in hopes of killing him, so he doesn’t produce any evidence in court. Diablo fights them off but takes a beating. The next day, Diablo arrives at the courthouse, and Raven begs Diablo to give him the evidence.
“Gimme a number I like,” Diablo says.
“$1 million?” *shakes head*
“$2 million?” *shakes head*
“$10 million?” *shakes head*
“$25 million?” *shakes head*
“I’d have to give up all my net worth, and take up loans on top of that to pay for that! Please, buddy, don’t do this, please,” Raven begs.
“I’ll see you inside.”
“So what evidence does the defense want to provide to the jury?” the judge asks.
The prosecutor looks at Diablo and asks him to come to the stand. He proceeds to say, “Judge, and the jury, the day that Kara was kidnapped, there was not four people, but five people. I was that fifth person, we all collaborated and planned to kidnap, abuse, rape, and murder her. We showed her hell for forty days. We liked the feeling that we’d get seeing Kara scream.” While he was “confessing” the brothers were screaming at him the entire time calling him “liar,” “mental,” “idiot.” They rush the stand to attack him, but the law enforcement in the building hold them back.
“Judge, we are all bravely accepting this crime as our own. Now, are you brave enough to give us the death penalty? It’s never been done before, but what kind of message will it send to the rest of the country, if men can get away with murder, just sitting in prison for life. Show us, and everyone like us, that there is and will be a punishment for men like us.” During all of this, Hope is sitting in the audience crying, and all the deputies look shocked.
After a few hours, the jury reconvenes and hands out the sentence. The head juror responds “Guilty” to all the charges pressed. On top of that, the judge sentences them all the death penalty, and Diablo is satisfied, knowing he got justice for Kara. As he walks outside, the women look down on him and call him names. Hope runs up to him crying asking him why he put it on himself, and the deputies look at Diablo with a newfound respect, but at the same time, sad for what had to happen to get justice.
Mary sees on the news what’s happening, and immediately calls Hope to find out what happened. Hope told her what happened to the disc she gave to Diablo and says that it was the only way to get justice. Both of them start crying, and Mary remembers she has another copy of the disc and immediately sends it to Hope who broadcasts it to the local tv station. The judge sees the program, and the whole city understands that it was just the four brothers that committed the heinous crime. Everyone recognizes that Diablo was innocent, and the judge orders the immediate release of Diablo. Ramiel, Dagon, Azazel, Asmodeus are all put on the death row and are put down.
A few days later, before Diablo walked into the police station, he stood in front of the flag, saluted it, and walked inside the station as a new cop who found his way.
Told You So – Kaci Donegan
From the second you turn 16, the only thing you can think about is driving. Well, by yourself that is. Of course having your permit is fun, but the idea of getting into a car without your mother screeching in the front seat every time you go half of a mile over the speed limit sounds absolutely blissful. Getting your license is the first step on the road to adulthood as a teenager. This is the first time you are finally able to experience the independence you have been waiting your whole life for.
“Come on Mom, stop worrying! I will be completely fine, I’m only going up the street.” I added trying to convince my mother to pass along her her old, beaten down, grey 2010 Honda Pilot.
Finally, after weeks of begging, the words I have been waiting the past 16 years for.
“Well I mean… I guess it’s fine.” my mother slowly let out. You could tell she had automatically regretted her decision within seconds of sharing but before she could change her worried mind, I grabbed the lanyard off the table, kissed my mother goodbye and off I went.
I hopped into the car with a slam of the door behind me and seconds later the car was on, I was not wasting anytime. The motion of twisting the keys to turn on the ignition and feeling the vibrations of the car just felt so right. This was the moment I had my very first taste of freedom. I quickly threw the car into drive and pushed my foot down on the sensitive pedal almost just as fast. I looked up at my mother across the yard. I could tell exactly what she was thinking based on her facial expression and that thought was clearly “What the hell have I done.”
The car started to smoothly roll down the long driveway and it had hit the asphalt road with a fast but gentle bump. Once all four tires had hit the street, I began to drive slowly and cautiously through the neighborhood until my mother could no longer see me. Once the reflection of my mother had eventually disappeared from my side mirror, I began to feel a new nervousness I have never felt before. I looked to my right at the empty nylon fabric covered seat and realized, I am actually alone.
The idea of being alone was never fitting for me so in the efforts to block out my nervousness, I had picked up my two best friends to calm my nerves. As one hopped into the passenger seat and one into the back, the car felt a lot less empty and my anxiety levels had dropped by a thousand. Now instead of overthinking about the driving decisions I have made, I could now distract myself with the gossip my two closest friends never failed to have.
“So where do you guys wanna go? I mean I have the car for awhile.” I said to my friends hoping they would pick somewhere fun for us to spend our night.
“What about a valley ride? First one with your license!” My friend sitting in the passenger seat suggested. The first thing I thought about when she said this was my mom. She has constantly told me over the years to not go back there, that nothing good can come from joy riding through the valley. I have been told a countless amount of times to steer clear of the windy and narrow backroads, considering the plethora of accidents that have happened back there, with a majority of them being fatal. Knowing that my mother didn’t like me driving these roads just as a passenger, I’m almost positive she would be furious knowing I drove through them myself. But just as I was about to suggest something else, I hear my other friend shout from the back.
“Oh my god, Yes! Let’s do it, it’ll be so fun!” I looked around in panic, what was I supposed to do? Should I abide by my Mother’s wishes, or take the risk and do what my friends want? My mind was coming up with a million different scenarios on how this plays out. Would my friends be mad if I say no? Would my Mom ever find out if I went? Too many thoughts were going through my head but I knew I needed to decide fast. Within seconds I had realized I had made my decision.
“Alright, valley ride sounds good!” I said nervously enthusiastic. We started on this long road that seemed to go on for miles. Each side of the road seemed to have barricades of trees, on the left was a group of trees that were building up the hill and on the right, a group covering down the hill. The sun shined through the trees allowing a blinding light to hit you directly in the face every few feet or so depending on the time of day. Eventually, after a few more minutes of driving down this road, we had reached what was said to be the entrance to the valley. Smithbridge Bridge.
This bridge is a long, wooden, crimson red bridge, that is raised over the 4 feet of rocky water known as the Brandywine River. This bridge is rather narrow, so living around here for awhile you know the unspoken rule of one car at a time. My turn was approaching, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small gravel side road I could use as a bail out. I watched as the next few cars took turns, passing through the bridge. I slowly inched forward, getting closer to the bridge and closer to the gravel road. It was finally my turn. With a small pump on the gas, my legs moved before my head could tell them to. I sped up and passed the gravel road and drove on to the bridge.
Driving through the rickety old bridge, the only thing I could think of was my Mom and how mad she would be, but once I passed through the other side all of my nerves seemed to have vanished. Since I was no longer nervous, I began to stop being as cautious as I usually was and I began to pick up speed. The windows were down, the cold crisp air hitting me in the face, and blowing through my hair as I went faster around the curves of these narrow back roads. The music was blasting and my friends and I were screaming the lyrics in unison. The first time I have ever driven alone and I felt as free as I had imagined since the day I turned 16.
After driving around and sightseeing for the past ten minutes, we ended up getting lost in the series of windy roads. We drove by giant mansions, barns of animals, and fields of grass and trees that seemed to go on forever. I had turned a random left and found myself on a very narrow, hilly road. No other cars seemed to be on this road so I began to speed a little more. We came to an intersection but with the adrenaline pumping from the speeding, wind, and music, the stop sign just became a blur. I blew through this stop sign without a second thought and within seconds I felt this immense impact.
After the initial hit, I was in shock. I could not piece together what had just happened so without even thinking, my first reaction was to see what hit me. I looked to my left and out the window to see a dented black car swerving to the opposite side of the road. As it skidded across the road, the force of the turn was so strong, it began to flip. There I was sitting in a car that is slowly going down a hill watching this black SUV flip over, smashing every side on the ground until it was back and right side up again. Once the car finally stopped, my next reaction was to see if everyone was ok. I try to get up but I feel this sharp pain shoot up both of my legs and my arms. I turn my head to see two of my best friends, lying there.
“Guys! Guys! Are you okay?” I scream as my voice cracks through the tears I am trying to hold back. But I hear no response. I am trying to get up to go to them but my body is rejecting every movement I try to tell it. I have no other choice but to just lay there. My mind is a boggle of the events that just took place and I can not seem to focus on just one. It becomes harder and harder to think and after awhile the exhaustion began to hit. I could no longer continue the effort of keeping my eyes open and eventually everything just went black.
Over top of me was a man in a blue dress shirt. I tried to move my head to look around and figure out what was going on, but I was caught between two foam-like blocks, unable to move. I stayed there staring endlessly and the multiple shiny metal shelves filled to capacity of medical supplies. I tried to remember what had happened, I knew there was an accident but the details were pretty hazy and it hurt too much to try to recall all that took place.
“Oh it seems she’s awake, you can talk to her but she may have a concussion so do not overwhelm her.” I heard the paramedic say, but I wasn’t sure who he was talking to.
“Okay, thank you so much,” I heard a comfortably familiar voice say. I wasn’t able to completely put my finger on it since it was so difficult to think, but once she came over to me, I had never been so happy to see her.
“Do you have any idea how hurt you could have gotten? You could have been killed. I specifically told you not to drive around back there.” my Mom said as her voice cracked through the words while trying to hold back tears. Usually when my Mom tells me I told you so, I roll my eyes and get annoyed but I have never been so happy to hear “I told you so” this time.
Change Is Ahead- Morgan Zebley
“Ding, clonk, whoosh.” My grandpa looked up and saw the golf ball he had just hit fly over the light blue sky. The hot, summer sun blinding his vision as he looked down the course to see just where his ball had landed on the bright green, golf turf. This is the same way he spent every Sunday afternoon for as long as I can remember.
It is Monday, September 3rd 2012, and we celebrate this day the same way every year. My family and I would all celebrate Labor Day at my grandparent’s beach house. Every year the day plays out something like this: we go to the beach during the day and then at night all the adults hang out together and I will get stuck babysitting my younger sister. It is so unfair. Labor day weekend this year was just like any other, uneventful. So after the long weekend of being at the beach we all traveled back home.
My grandpa on the other hand, spends his labor days a little bit different. Instead of going to the beach with everyone else, he likes to go golfing with his neighbors. He golfs all of the time, almost every weekend. And when he came home that night after a long day of golf, everything seemed fine with him. But then all of the sudden the next morning he woke up vomiting and he thought to himself “I’m not sick and I don’t remember eating anything bad”.
This is when he knew that something must have been wrong. “My stomach” my grandfather said.
“Something is definitely wrong” my grandmother responded to him, “I am taking you to the hospital.” He was having abdominal pain. This was not normal for my grandfather since he was rarely ever sick. My grandma then rushed my grandfather to the emergency room where, little did we know, he would ended up staying there for the next four months.
I did not know this at the time but this would begin a pivotal moment in my life. Before this event had occurred I was not very into spending quality time with my family. My family is very close and when I say close I mean my whole extended family hangs out every weekend to watch football or have some kind of a family dinner. At the beginning I was not very fond of events like these and I would spend most of the time in my room or isolated from everyone, just sitting there playing on my phone. But this event had sparked something in me that, at the time, I did not know would end up changing my life.
As my Grandma rushed my Grandpa to the hospital my mother received a phone call from my Aunt Tracy. “Something has happened to Dad” my aunt exclaimed into the phone. Her loud voice echoing out of my mom’s phone.
“What do you mean something happened to Dad” my mom questioned as she ran over to grab her car keys.
“I don’t know, Mom called and sounded scared, I am going to meet her at the hospital” my aunt shouted into the phone.
As my mom went running out of the house she called back to me, “Look after your sister while I am gone, I will call you when I know something.” To a tweleve year old child, this is a very scary thing to witness. I had never seen my mom so panicked and stressed out when we did not know for sure what was going on. And this is the moment I began to worry.
Later that night when my mom finally came home from what felt like an endless day at the hospital, my sister and I ran up to her simultaneously asking her, “what is going to happen to Grandpa?”
My mom took a deep breath in and exhaled loudly, then began to explain in simple terms, so that my sister and I could understand what was going on with my grandfather. My mom explained that the doctors were running many tests on him in hopes of figuring out what is wrong with him. She added how she had come home only to shower and grab clothes so that she can go back and stay with my grandparents at the hospital.
That was the first but not the last time that she was going to spend the night at the hospital with my grandparents. And by doing this she gave me the unspoken responsibility of stepping up and becoming a bigger part of our family life. My family dynamic at this point took a major turn since my mother was rarely home to do things around the house and cook. I in this moment realized that I needed to step up and help out my dad since my mom was not always around to do so.
We received nightly updates on my grandfather. And one night stood out above all others to me, the night that he almost didn’t make it. The day had been particularly gloomy and it began to rain a little. This was a couple nights into my grandfather’s stay at the hospital. My grandfather took a turn for the worse when he began to have difficulty breathing. My grandmother first noticed this while watching his heart monitor go from pulsing lines to a nearly flatlining. Quickly she began panicking, my grandmother than ran out into the hallway looking for anyone who could possibly help my grandfather. “Help, help, help” she yelled rushing out into the crowded hospital hallway.
As the doctors came rushing in one of the nurses asked my grandmother to step out while they shocked him with the defibrillator. “3,2,1 clear” the doctor yelled as the sparks flew out of the defibrillator. At this moment my grandmother was on the phone with my mother who had just recently returned home for the first time in over twenty four hours.
“It is your father” my grandmother sobbed. “He is getting worse, he — he can’t breathe.”
As my mom heard the words that my grandmother spoke, her lip began to quiver and a single tear shed from her eye. I remember this night so well because it was the first time my whole family went to visit my grandfather. It was the first time my sister and I got to see him since he had fallen ill.
Staring at my grandfather through the glass window, my sister tapped my mom and said “what is that thing on his face.”
My grandfather had been put on a ventilator to help him breathe since he could not do so on his own. He then stayed this way for many more months and through numerous procedures to help him breathe on his own again.
It is so hard to see someone you love so much in such a state of helplessness that they can not even do the basic everyday things like breathing on their own.
This was a very stressful time for my family; there was the constant fear if my grandpa was even going to make it through the day or not. At first there were almost ten separate moments where it was questionable whether he was going to make it. My grandmother basically lived at the hospital since she never wanted to leave his side. And everyday my three aunts and my mother would rotate shifts so that someone was always there with my grandma and grandpa.
When my grandfather was first admitted into the Intensive Care Unit, he was put on a ventilator since he could not breath right by himself. And many of his vital organs such as his kidneys and his pancreas shut down. After going through a bunch of tests my grandfather was diagnosed with Necrotising Pancreatitis. My grandfather then stayed in the Intensive Care Unit for the next four months before he was released to go to rehab at the Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Center.
Looking back on this event I can see now how it has positively impacted my life. I am now, more than ever, involved in family gatherings and enjoy spending time with all my family members. I️ have learned to cherish the moments that I️ have with my family since we never really know when that person will be taken away from us. My grandfather has and always will be a big part of my life and I️ am the way I️ am because of him. I️ have realized how fortunate I️ am to still have all my grandparents living and have my family members live within an hour away. This has impacted me in a very positive way and I️ will forever cherish these moments that we spend together.
By: Eric Burns
I was auditioning for a new piano teacher and I had just finished playing the ending measure of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.” I turned around, looking for his reaction. It was a familiar feeling, turning around after finishing a piece. It made me think back to the last time I had turned around after playing for someone.
I had just finished playing the final chord of Yann Tiersen’s “Comptine d’Un Autre Été: l’après-Midi.” I lifted my hands slowly off of the piano keys, but kept my foot on the pedal and allowed the sound of that final chord to fade away and ease into silence. After finishing the piece, I turned around to see my grandmother sitting on the couch in the living room. Her eyes beamed, conveying more feeling than words ever could, and she was smiling at me.
The song I had just played was from a French movie called “Amélie,” and although it was simple, and I had learned it as early as third grade, it rarely disappointed its listener and my grandmother was no exception. In fact, she fell in love with the piece. Whenever she came over to our house to visit, she would always make sure that I played it for her.
This is precisely what made me fall in love with the piano. Through the music that I played, I was able to invoke emotion in other people. From a technical perspective, this piece from “Amélie” was truly nothing spectacular. The left hand literally plays the same four chords for the entire piece and the melody that is played with the right is also fairly simple. With this said, however, there is something unmistakably beautiful about the piece. It is very dynamic in that it stimulates the mind, but is still very calming and relaxing. My grandmother felt this and she understood the effect that this piece had.
Then, there was Mr. Thomas, a man who understood the piece in a different way. After my previous piano teacher moved to China, I had an audition with Mr. Thomas in order to become one of his students.
After my audition, I turned my body around fully, moving my feet to the other side of the seat and angling my body towards him to indicate that I was finished and prepared to receive his comment. He looked at me. His eyes, untelling and still, stared into the floor. He did not speak or move for a few seconds as if his mind was still processing the music and he had not yet decided what he was going to say.
“Was he pleased?” I thought.
Then, his blank stare ended suddenly and he spoke. His first words gave me my first insight into his thinking.
“How did you memorize the middle part?” he said.
The question was not unusual, nor was it inappropriate. However, it was a pointed question, one that you know has some kind of underlying meaning. I knew that it had been directed toward a few mishaps that occurred in the middle section.
“Really?” I thought, “Your first comment is going to be about those few minor mistakes that I made in an entire five minute piece.”
I knew I had played a few notes wrong in the middle section, and Mr. Thomas was entitled to pointing it out, but it was not some huge problem in my mind. Because I had listened to the piece played by Rachmaninoff himself, I knew that there were some serious conceptual problems with the piece, specifically with the beginning. When Rachmaninoff played his own prelude, it reminded me of the ringing of solemn bells. I could picture Rachmaninoff being inspired by such a powerful sound. However, when I listened to myself play the beginning section, I could not hear the bells as distinctly as I wanted to. That distinct melody that drove the piece was not entirely present and consequently, my performance of it suffered.
That is what I wanted Mr. Thomas to point out. That is what I found important in music. The similarity of the piece to the sound of bells is what made me fall in love with it in the first place. I wasn’t really all that concerned about that right-hand transition that I failed to make in the middle section. Small technical problems were not prominent in my mind. I found it unfair that he reduced my entire performance, which I had worked on for months prior, to a few small technical mistakes. However, I took a step back and considered why he might be starting off with a question like that.
“Maybe he’s just trying to fix some things that he thinks can be pretty easily fixed first,” I thought.
These two technical mistakes were fairly simple fixes in my mind, and I considered the possibility that he just wanted to get this problem fixed before continuing.
So, I answered his question about how I memorized the middle section and I offered some personal insight into why I had made a few mistakes in that section. Following this, he suggested some strategies to fix these technical issues. I listened and then replayed the measures with the issues. I practiced the measures multiple times until they were fixed.
I replayed the piece from the beginning for him. This time, from a technical standpoint, the piece was practically seamless. From beginning to end, I played every note and chord correctly and with clarity. However, I still could not get that melody in the beginning to sound like the ringing of bells. All I wanted to hear while playing that piece was those bells. I could picture the darkness and solemness that the sound of the bells would convey, but I was not able to create it. In my opinion, the beauty of the piece was not in the complicated nature of its structure, but rather in its ability to instantly change the mood in a room. Some songs carry a certain amount of power, and this song’s power lied in the melody of those bells.
Mr. Thomas looked at me, and his head nodded in approval.
“Very good work.” he said.
I thought to myself, “How could a man who is so knowledgeable seem to completely ignore this obvious problem?”
That is when I realized what Mr. Thomas’s purpose as a teacher was. Mr. Thomas was a very experienced and well-respected teacher. His students were always excellent performers and were capable of playing very advanced pieces. However, with this said, Mr. Thomas seemed to have lost the emotional connection to the music he played and listened to. He seemed to miss the entire purpose of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.” That solemn feeling that the opening of the piece conveys is remarkable when the piece is played well. When I listen to Rachmaninoff play his own piece, I can picture him hearing the chimes of the bells in Moscow as he wrote this prelude. Mr. Thomas didn’t seem to see that image. He analyzed the piece from a theoretical standpoint, seeing it as a technical piece that would further my ability to play more advanced songs. He seemed to appreciate music for its complexity and structure, rather than the emotions it can invoke in people.
After receiving the compliment, the minute hand on the clock had reached the twelve indicating that my audition time was over. Mr. Thomas told me that he would be delighted to have me as a student and that he would send my mom an email. I thanked him for accepting me as his student, pretended to be happy, and then I left.
I opened the car door and sat down in the passenger seat. My grandmother looked up from her phone and said, “So, how’d your audition go?”
“Well, it went pretty well,” I said, not lying entirely because Mr. Thomas was indeed satisfied with my performance.
“Do you know when you’ll hear a decision from him?” she responded.
“I already did…he said he would take me as a student.”
“Honey, that’s great! When are you gonna start?”
I thought to myself about how I would tell my grandmother, the woman who wholeheartedly supported my piano endeavors, that I didn’t want to take lessons anymore. I had that sunken feeling, knowing that if I delayed telling her I would only feel worse.
I said to her, “I don’t think I want to take lessons anymore grandma.”
That look in her eyes that followed had a clear meaning. They were not disappointed eyes or angry eyes, they were sad eyes.
She responded, “Well, well why? I mean, you’re so talented and you’ve put all this work in to get to this point. You can’t just quit.”
I explained to her that I was just finished with taking lessons, I wasn’t actually going to stop playing the piano. It’s like it didn’t matter to her though. All she saw was the recitals that she would no longer attend, the practicing that I would no longer have to do, and the commitment that I was losing.
When I arrived home, I took a seat down in my living room. I took a deep breath and looked at the piano in front of me. I thought of all the years I had put into piano. All the time that I had spent memorizing notes, repeating difficult sections, and perfecting my performances. For my grandmother, it was as if all of that was going away.
I got up, walked over to the piano, and sat on the bench. I didn’t turn, but I could hear the wooden floor creek near the fridge, indicating that my grandma was standing in the doorway in between the kitchen and the living room, watching me. I allowed my left hand to hover over the piano keys, preparing to play my grandmother’s favorite song from the movie “Amelie.” My fingers gently pushed down on the keys as I played the opening chord softly, but clearly. Then, as I switched to the second left-hand position, I got lost in the music. When I played, I didn’t think about the transition my right hand made to shift to a higher octave or about the tempo of one section relative to another. I didn’t really even think that much; instead, I felt the music. I felt the the comfort that was the result of my familiarity with the piece. I felt relaxed by the serene nature that the monotony of the left-hand created. Most importantly, I felt the bond that I shared with my grandmother through music.
I played the final chord of the piece. I turned and my grandmother looked at me and smiled.
Sweat dripping down his wide, six-foot body, Richard slowly trudged up the dusted pathway with his daughter, Sophie, pursuing closely behind. They had just finished a five-day rafting trip on the freezing Colorado River and were now tackling the challenge of hiking out of the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Consisting of surreal views and intersecting, beautiful, creeks, this trail was famed for beholding one of the most amazing hikes on the West Coast. On this Father’s Day, the summer heat beat down on the two, greatly contrasting with the chilly rapids experienced over their last couple of days. Richard thought that this was the most perfect way that he could spend his day: enjoying a difficult but exciting six hour hike with his daughter, of whom he has tried to share his love of hiking with. At 13 years old, Sophie was an adventurous girl, typically exploring the local woods with her father on the weekends. However, unlike her confident and risk-taking father, she tended to be a little more reserved, fearing hazardous maneuvers and perilous trails. So as the dark, ominous clouds in the distance started to slowly roll in, Sophie’s body expression changed from fatigued to anxious, and she started to pick up her pace.
“Dad, look at those clouds,” Sophie exclaimed, fear clearly setting in.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. By the look of it, I assume it’s just a passing storm.”
Not more than thirty minutes passed before ferocious winds battered the canyon walls as rain drops hailed down on every square inch of the ground like bullets firing from a machine gun. At this point, Richard and Sophie completed only half of the long, winding, trail, with at least another three hours remaining before reaching the top. Soaked and exhausted, Sophie started to fall further and further behind her father. Richard, taking note of her slower pace, matched hers to encourage his physically strong daughter to keep up. Due to their now slower speed and the intensity of the raging storm, Richard, who normally would not worry about such events, suddenly became overwhelmed with the thought that they would not make it out before sunset. He peeked up at the fading blue sky, realizing that he could not see the sun, as it was on its way westward behind the canyon walls. To make matters even worse, Richard realized that the most narrow – and dangerous – part of the trail was approaching. Peering at the rest of the trail, Richard put on a determined face and continued to plow forward.
“I’m so tired Dad, can we rest?” Sophie proclaimed less than thirty minutes later as she sat down on a jutted-out piece of bright angel shale covered by a granite overhang. Before any words could leave Richard’s mouth, a quick yellow flash blindly struck a part of the long stretch of bright angel shale a couple hundred yards away. Shuddering, the two stared off into the distance, catching their breaths in silence as the rain continued to pour down around them. Richard knew that this resting location, enclosed by the rugged and claustrophobic canyon walls, was not the best place to take a break, for flash floods were common during storms. Meanwhile, Sophie began to fiddle through her backpack, fingering away an empty water and two granola bars until she found the perfectly circular black rock she was looking for. Given to her by her father when she was just a toddler, this rock, also called the Vishnu schist, was one of the oldest pieces of rock in the world. Like every trip that she went on, Sophie brought it along with her for good luck. She rubbed the cold rock, praying that she and her father would make it out soon as the wind around her swirled with an increasingly maddening pace.
All of a sudden, a great roaring sound permeated throughout the canyon. Richard heard the abrupt snapping of fragile logs, smashing of giant boulders, and rushing of frigid water before he saw it. He could not believe that this was happening. In a matter of seconds, a wall of rapidly accelerating water pummeled into them as they were swept away down the trail. Grasping onto a rock sticking out above the surface of the muddy water, Richard hauled himself up. Adrenaline rushed through every vein of his body as he frantically looked down the crooked trail for his daughter. When he finally saw her lying face down on an elevated log with blood gushing over both her legs, a sickening fear grasped his heart. A few minutes later, after the sudden mad rush of water slowed down, Richard sprinted down with the pace of a lion.
“Help Dad!” Sophie shouted, pain obviously setting in.
“Ok Sophie, I’m right here. Everything is going to be alright. Can you move your legs to sit up?” Richard shouted as he approached her limp body.
“No, it hurts too bad,” Sophie mumbled behind clenched teeth. The blood continued to gush out, so Richard took off his drenched shirt to wrap around her battered legs in order to lessen the bleeding. Fortunately, the rain storm seemed to quickly dissipate after the flash flood, as the skies started to clear up. Exhausted and scared, Sophie started to feel light-headed. Looking for her lucky rock, she reached for her behind her for her backpack, only to realize that it was no longer there. She nervously looked at her brave father, noticing that the waters stripped him of his backpack as well. Negative thoughts scattered her frantic mind. No map, no satellite phone, no food, no water. Two broken legs. In the middle of a small side canyon. In the middle of the Grand Canyon. With no foreseeable help on the way.
“Sophie, look at me. Are you ok?” Richard asked after he observed numerous phases of Sophie dazing off and coming back to reality again. Stars glittered the now nighttime sky, although the oncoming darkness obscured far-distance sight. But that wasn’t the worst of their situation. Being an avid hiker and watching plenty of I Shouldn’t Be Alive television shows on Animal Planet, Richard knew that the amount of blood Sophie was losing was probably putting her in a hypovolemic state. If she didn’t receive any medical attention soon, enough oxygen wouldn’t get to her tissues and her organs and brain would shut down completely, resulting in death. I have to do something. Come on Richard. Think, think, think. Every second hesitated was another second closer to Sophie’s death. Her eyes were closed as slow, raspy breaths flowed in and out. Time was ticking. Ok, I have two options. Either run to the end of the trail where a ranger station could help fly in help or wait with my poor daughter until rescue finds us. Faced with this extremely difficult decision, Richard panicked. Who am I kidding? I can’t leave Sophie alone for hours. Who knows how long it would take me to reach the top, considering the flash flood probably destroyed the path. But what if she becomes unconscious with no help at all on the way? There’s no way I will sit here watching my daughter die in front of my eyes. With that thought, Richard said a quick prayer to whoever was looking after them, slipped a silent goodbye to Sophie, and sprinted up the dark sodden trail towards the exit of the canyon, another eight miles away in the now pitch-dark canyon.
DAD! Where are you? GET ME OUT OF THIS WATER! HELP ME! Sophie’s eyes flashed open as adrenaline rushed throughout her body after her vivid nightmare. The morning sun tinted the sky a light pink. Looking around for her father, she realized he was no longer there. She groaned in gruesome pain as she attempted to sit up on the elevated granite rock. Her head still pounded like the thunder shaking the ground earlier the day before. Wait, is that my head or… Looking up at the sky, Sophie saw a miracle. A red chopper, humming not less than two miles away. Screaming with every drop of energy remaining in her determined body, Sophie let out a powerful, “HERE! I AM RIGHT HERE!” The morning sun scorched down on her tormented legs with a misery only known to those in hell. The helicopter seemed to be heading towards her, but in Sophie’s delirious state, she wasn’t so sure. Again, Sophie screeched, “PLEASE HELP ME!” At last, the helicopter descended in the humid canyon air to a flat, safe spot a couple hundred yards away from her. Before passing out into a state of cold unconsciousness, she foggily remembered seeing four, old men wearing button-down shirts with shiny backpacks plastered with “University of Minnesota Geological Research.”
Huh, where am I? Groggily waking up from what felt like a year’s nap, Sophie tried to sit up in a daze on the soft bed sheets under her body. Prying herself up on the snug pillow behind her, she looked around the odd room to get a better perspective of where she was. The sound of strange beeps and the smell of disinfectant clued her into realizing that she was in fact in a hospital. To her surprise, the calendar in the corner said September 6th, which would be three weeks after she and father had started their trip. All of a sudden, the two metal doors five feet away from the foot of her bed flew open as a young male doctor strolled into her room.
“Oh, glad to see you’re awake! Let’s get you some real food and water. How are your legs feeling?” the doctor asked, happy that she was conscious.
“I’m fine,” Sophie said bluntly, “Where is my dad?” Suddenly, the doctor’s expression changed. The jubilant smile of his disappeared into a grave frown.
“After finding you in your comatose state, the park rangers sent out a rescue team to search for your dad.” The young doctor gulped and hesitated. “I’m sorry to say, but they found him dead lying on a long stretch of Vishnu schist. They say it was from dehydration and lack of food, for he wasn’t found until a week after you.”
No words came out of Sophie’s mouth.
“Here. The researchers that saw you also found two backpacks on a sand bank down near the Colorado River,” the doctor slowly said as he handed over her blue Osprey backpack. Pawing through the remnants of her original load, Sophie groped a familiar, smoothly curved figure. Hands quivering, Sophie slowly removed the special rock from her backpack. She held it close to her heart, as a single tear splashed onto the warm, black surface.
Shingles were simultaneously torn off of the roof of my small rancher home along with shredded strands of the chalked white cedar panelling that once enveloped the sides. My chest flinched forwards watching every fragment of scrap crash to the ground. I stood with my feet just behind the neon caution tape, but it was nearly impossible to keep still. Despite the excitement of moving on towards bigger and better things, my heart was stuck in the past. As the claw ripped through another layer of debris, memories flooded through my mind and dripped down to my heart.
I could picture the swiveling chair that sat just next to the front door in my mind, so clearly as if it had actually been sitting right in front of me. The chair that was the scene of being held by my grandmother while being read stories to late at night, the location where I would come home from a long day on the beach to see her sitting in that chair reading a book, and eagerly asking for the details of my day. I remember our small kitchen with pastel blue kitchen chairs, which we had to always in carry two more from the dining room to seat everyone around the three leafed round kitchen table. This home had been my childhood, a house that birthed my most fondest life memories. My eyes flinched open again looking towards my mangled home. I worried in fear that the memories would soon, too, be gone with its wreckage. But, beside me stood the very people that allowed this house to become a home, and they were the constant that would travel along with me from the old home into the new house.
The tiniest bedroom in the house, just under the patio awning, belonged to my uncle. Living a newly laid back retired life, his whereabouts were always predictable to anyone who knew him. If not found perched upon a black cast iron patio set chair in the back of our lawn leaning his head back in slumber, a trip over to the Cape May marina was where his nights were spent along with close friends. I remember the silence he created in our home when waking up in the earliest hours of the mornings for fishing trips. He never woke one of us up, he never made a sound even when walking upon the creaky carpeted hallway floor. His room was dark, but even still, left you with a feeling of contentment. It was always tidy, and the bed was always neatly made no matter the time of day. At the end of the bed lay a wooden rack holding a dozen or more fishing rods, all varying in size, shape, and color. On Saturday mornings he would take us out on boat rides to look for dolphins and swim in the ocean along the shoreline, which was my most favorite part of the summers. Our house didn’t define him, he had defined our house as a place where traditions were followed and memories were made.
My room was nestled in the front corner of the house, but it was a room I never had to myself. Wooden bunk beds painted white rested close against the right wall. The top had belonged to my brother, until he had outgrown the weight for the safety of me being below him on the bottom bunk. So, the top was then left to me. I loved hearing the whizzing of the cars in the slight summer breeze along New Jersey Avenue during the late night as I lay my head inches from the top corner of the window. These sounds and voices of laughter never kept me awake, in fact, they assisted in me falling asleep on the steamy hot summer nights. The top bunk was like my fortress, a place where I was invisible to those below me. The best night’s sleeps of my life had been in that top bunk, because of the inability of me to hear what is happening below. The creaks and slight sounds that occur below from late night bathroom breaks and early morning rises were undetectable to me. Each morning I would wake up to the sight below of my grandma, in her light blue pajama pants and worn white shirt with the image of a fishing boat across the front as she would swing her legs over to the side of the bed just after peeling back the covers perfectly. She would sit just as that, with her legs dangling over the side, looking down at her feet for a moment to wake up before reaching over to the dresser to grab her hearing aids. She would then proceed to gracefully tiptoe out of the room, closing the door behind her without a peep. My brother would emerge from underneath the bunk around an hour or so later than she, but instead, was not as cautious. He would wake up with the covers violently torn off of the bed and sprawled across the floor. He banged around in the bottom drawer searching for a shirt to throw on before exiting the room to travel towards the kitchen to devour a chocolate chip pop tart, as he did every morning. This room was a haven that I always escaped to to reflect on the wonderful days I had during the summers, many of them being momentous times. I was uneasy with the thought of never experiencing one of these mornings ever again.
My eyes reemerged from underneath of my eyelids, shedding light on the further demolishment of my home. A single tear slid down my blushed cheek, but this time the tear hadn’t been out of sadness. I had come to a realization despite the sorrow of seeing my childhood shore home being torn down, my favorite place in the world, that this was not an end. These people who surrounded me were a constant in my life that would not and could not be changed by a new home. At this moment I realized that it is not the size of the home that matters, but the endless love of the people inhabited in it and the cherished memories which filled the space that made me fall in love with our little white rancher. A bigger home only called for room for more memories to be made. So I closed my eyes one last time and thought to myself, “The greatest beginnings emerge from difficult endings, and this certainly was not the end.”
17 November, 2017
Day 14,604. The seconds and minutes continued to tick by on the surface of the thin digital screen. 40 years, he thought to himself, I’ll never be able to wrap my head around it. To him it felt more like 40 days. That was because this was now the 40th time he had been awakened to assess the status of the craft. It was all rinse and repeat at this point; he’d awaken to a loud buzzer and suddenly his pod would swing open. He’d stumble out, dazed and confused, and it would generally take a minute or two before he could fully remember exactly where he was, and why. If you were put to sleep for a year at a time, you’d understand. The light in his cabin would already be on and he’d gaze into the mirror directly across from his pod. He’d never age a day. Not once did he find this odd or intriguing, as it was the whole point of sleeping in the pod. Cryogenics, he thought to himself after his first awakening, I don’t know how those brainiacs back home did it, but they sure struck gold with this one. Still, however miraculous this technology was he could not decide whether it was a gift or a burden. It made this whole trip possible. Without it, I would be home right now.
Sometimes he would put his hand up to the mirror, testing if what he saw was indeed true. It was always cold to the touch. Everything on this damned ship is cold, he would mutter in his head. He would say it out loud, but there were no other living beings awake on the ship to hear him, so what was the point. Even after doing it 40 times, he still felt like he was snooping around the house while everyone was asleep. While this was in fact exactly what it was like, the cryo-pods saw to it that nothing would startle and awaken the 12 other crewmembers on board the ship. They would remain frozen in time for the duration of their journey. Only one crewmember, the captain, was needed to run the annual diagnostics. Unfortunately for him, the badge emblazoned above his left breast labeled him as the captain. He would much rather be in a constant state of rest than to be subjected to this lonely routine.
Still, he could not help to think that somewhere far behind him, beyond the countless, beautiful stars that illuminated the vastness of space, lies his home, his friends, and his family. They would all be old now, as they were not protected from the passage of time as he was. He was unsure if they were still waiting for his return, but he had hope. Hope. The word danced around in his head. They were all hoping for their return. Eagerly awaiting for the day that their ship re-enters the atmosphere to bring them the news of their salvation. Hope. It’s what this had all been about from the start. Of course he had not seen this from the beginning, or cared to see it, but he had had plenty of time to realize it now.
He remembered the meeting where the announcement was made. Dozens of veteran astronauts, all willing to risk their lives for the greater good, were packed into a cavernous conference room. The head of the agency stood at the front of the room behind a large podium, holding in his hands a list of all who had been accepted. Cameras from major news stations all across the world lined the outer edge of the room, with billions watching from home. “Men, women, heroes,” began the agency head, “I would like to thank all of you for your service. You are all well aware that only a select few of you have been chosen to undergo this daunting mission. For those who have been picked, you know the danger that lies ahead.” He was nervous and anxious, sitting in that conference room surrounded by his peers. He questioned whether he had made the right decision by joining the program, whether this was actually something he wanted to do. Did he want to spend his foreseeable future so far away from home? Distant from everyone and everything he had ever known? It didn’t matter now. His name was the first called.
The room erupted with applause and suddenly all of the cameras were focused on him. He could feel that not only the room, but the entire world, was in
. In an instant, his face became one of the most recognizable across the globe. He had little recollection of what happened after, shaking people’s hands, posing for pictures, getting interviewed. What he did remember was the excitement building within him. The pride at having been picked. The opportunity to save the world; he could not wait.
That was all propaganda though. Looking back he could see that clearly. He was a tool to be used to calm the masses, perhaps even delay the inevitable. There was little left in the world for people to hope for, so he and the rest of the crew would become that hope. Few remembered when the sky started turning black, when the coastlines flooded, or when the reserves deep underground ran dry. His grandparents would tell him about places where one could go to see exotic animals. Those places were gone now, as were the animals. For most people in the world, even weather was seen as a constant threat, an enemy that no one could fight back against. Hurricanes destroy coastal cities while wildfires set ablaze the few forests that remain. Droughts ravaged crops across the world, leading to mass starvation. The sands of the desert still expand day by day, encroaching on the savannahs and jungles that dried out long ago. No one knew how much longer they had, but everyone understood that it wasn’t enough. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and a plan with astronomically small odds of the mission succeeding mattered little when the fate of the world was on the line.
“Are you scared?” talk show hosts would ask them. Being the captain, he’d always be the first to answer “of course not” and smile confidently at the camera. He didn’t even have to lie. The whole crew was on top of the world. Touring major cities, waving to thousands as millions more watched from home, they were living their dreams. They had become the most prominent celebrities on the planet. This particular host was really probing them with questions, and playing up their responses to get as emotional a response from the crowd as possible. “So, why did you brave men want to do it?” Their answers were all predetermined, fabricated by those working behind the scenes. Anything to make them appear as courageous, patriotic, and honorable as possible. “I mean,” the captain began as a charming grin crept across his face, “who wouldn’t leap at an opportunity like this? The world needs to be saved, we’re just stepping up to do what’s right.” He was shortly followed by one of his companions, who talked about the duty that all individuals have and how anyone would do the same if given the opportunity. “Ohhhh who do you think you’re all fooling?” the host jested as the crowd began to snicker with amusement, “they’re trying to act all modest!” addressing the crowd now, “they’re trying to act like they’re not heroes!”
Now at the time he had thought little of that statement, and others like it, but now it lingered in his thoughts. They were not heroes, not yet. They had done nothing, accomplished nothing, saved no one. Modest, he thought, what was there to be modest about? Publicity events like those were meant to build character, to contribute to the aura of being heroes. Even if they hadn’t truly done anything to earn the title, everything possible had been done to make it seem like they had.
He remembered getting separated from the rest of the crew the night of that particular interview. He did not take the usual ride home, as he was pulled aside by none other than the head of the agency. The chatted briefly before climbing into a limousine escorted by numerous police cars. On their way out, they were mobbed by dozens who saw them and recognized them instantly. They reached and tried to touch him, to grab his coat or even pull a potential keepsake out of his pocket. Some just wanted a picture with him. The guards kept them all at bay and allowed the pair to proceed uninhibited.
He remembered looking at the raindrops rolling down the window, listening to their patter on the vehicle’s canopy. The red and blue lights of their escort glittered off the moisture and enveloped the back of the limousine. The details of their conversation were now vague and and largely forgotten, but the bright lights and tall buildings of the city center still stuck out to him. The prosperity and liveliness that permeated from the environment nearly made him forget the dire situation facing everywhere else. An accident on the road ahead forced their convoy to turn and take a different route. It was then that the agency head actively tried to get the captain’s attention. It was something about a contract. His eyes started to wander back out the window but the official snapped him back to attention. He thought little of what he saw in that short glance, but now it remained prominent in his mind. Here he saw houses decaying. Apartments overcrowded with families that struggle to feed their members. Garbage lined the streets, and homeless people hung around in the alleys. The head of the agency wanted him to sign a contract, what it was for he could not recall. I probably signed my life savings away on that sheet of paper. After he signed, the agency head sat back, content, and began to work on his tablet. As they stopped at an intersection the captain glanced back out the window, and saw a little boy standing in the rain. The child, whose tattered clothes were drenched by the downpour, almost seemed capable of seeing straight through the tinted windows of the limousine. The captain could the feel their eyes lock, and for a second it was like he knew what the child was thinking. He understood who was in that car. The captain was this boy’s only hope. There was a sparkle in his eye that contradicted his ragged and dirty appearance. As the vehicle pulled away, the captain knew that the boy was still staring, watching him until the vehicle completely disappeared from sight.
Eventually the day finally came. People everywhere crowded around their TV’s and tablets. Streets were lined with people gathering in celebration. The crew was located deep underground in a massive complex, being suited up by technicians for the final time. Tension was high everywhere. It seemed like everyone on the edge, yet brimming with excitement. He recalled bouncing around the building, talking to and interacting with everyone he could. He could not contain him enthusiasm. Why was I so eager to leave? he wondered in retrospect, did I think it would be better up here? Was I not happy with my life on Earth? No, that was not it. The same propaganda had worked on him too, that same indoctrination. They had convinced him, quite easily, that there was hope.
He recalled waiting for the door to the outside world to open, for them to make their final appearance before the world. The doors began to part, and the bright summer sun poured in, bathing the crew in blinding light. Emerging from the building, they were crushed by the deafening sound of cheers and applause. He still wondered why they let people get this close. They walked down the runway in formation, a single row being led by the captain in the middle. It had been intentionally choreographed to look like something straight out of a movie, something to appear on posters and advertisements for years to come. He gazed up at the ship, awestruck by its immense size. That was to be his home for the duration of this trip, however long that was to be. It ain’t all that much from the inside, he wished he could tell his past self. They reached the ship and were swarmed by reporters, desperate to hear their final words before they disembarked. “Is there anything you would like to say to the world before you leave?” one asked. He thought for a moment, then looked directly into the camera and said, “We will return.” He then took in one last deep breath of crisp, fresh air, put on his helmet, and then disappeared into the ship as the door sealed behind him.
We will return. At the time, he actually believed that. Now he laughed at the thought, the notion that this wasn’t a one way trip. He had once held onto the belief that one day their ship would come hurtling back towards Earth with solutions to all of their problems, that their salvation was something realistic, and right around the corner.
His heart swelled as the countdown reached zero. The rumbling grew even more immense and he felt the craft lift off of the ground. Before he knew it, the ground below them was fading away, evaporating into a thick fog never to be seen again. Never, he thought. Oh, how he wished he could see it all again. The rolling green hills, the waves crashing on the beach, pillowy clouds in the sky. The world had given them up to ensure that peace and stability could survive at least one more day. As the people below watched their ship hurtle towards the stars, they were satisfied with the dream that one day everything would be ok. Because of the men on that ship, hope was not lost.
Leaning further back in his chair, alone and far from anything that could be called civilization, the captain couldn’t help but let that young boy on the street creep back into his mind; the desperate optimism in his eyes. That’s why they were on this mission. It did not matter if they ever managed to return or not. What mattered was the idea that they might. They were never meant to be real heroes. Their acts of heroism were not meant to be tangible. Everything that they were supposed to do had been accomplished before they had ever left orbit. They were symbols that united the entire world for a moment and brought hope to billions who had been living in misery for far too long. While he may not be able to save the world, this might be as close as he could get. The computer finally stopped running; the annual tests were complete. He shut everything down and took one last, longing glance out into space. Maybe this is all worth it. He wandered back down the hallway towards his pod and prepared to climb back in. He quietly slipped into the pod, flipped the switch, and began to relax as the air around him chilled. As he drifted into his annual slumber, he thought to himself, maybe I am their savior after all.
The workouts were never ending. The coaches’ loud booming voices told us to get back on the line and complete another set. What was it that I enjoyed about the shortness of breath and rigor of wearing my legs out for 3.11 miles? And why would I sign myself up to struggle for 26? Reflecting upon my high school cross country memories made me nostalgic. While I had the chance to be team captain and run varsity, this sport was anything but easy and what most would consider fun. So what was it about long distance running that made me stay with it?
It was the support I received. My dad was always cheering- his voice was distinct from the hundreds of other parents yelling from the side of the course. When I barreled up the daunting Rose Tree hill, trying not to let tears spill out, he was there encouraging me every step of the way.
It was the loud singing and screaming of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone” on the bus ride home from every race.
It was the girls who I had formed an unbreakable bond with- we were family.
It was this new sense of confidence that I had gained.
It was the feeling of empowerment after I completed a 6 mile run.
There was something about exerting every last bit of energy into that full blown sprint across the finish that kept me coming back for more.
April 15, 2013 was the day. And I had exactly 5 months to work up to it.
5 months left
Now that I had graduated college, I had more time on my hands. Why not train for a marathon and do something that would keep me in shape and bring me some joy? This would allow a much needed break from my busy lifestyle and the high expectations my parents had for me to get a steady career. While I had made the decision to participate in the marathon, it was a rude awakening once I began to pack on the mileage. It had been almost 2 years since I’d gone on an intense long run, or let alone, seen a track. Other than running, strength would be another component I had to work to improve. My exhausting days at the gym would consist of never ending planks, deadlifts, and benches. I had learned that weight training prevented running related injuries, and I was going to do everything to try to make sure this was the case for me.
It would take time to readjust to this active lifestyle. However, if there was one big change I’d have to make, it wasn’t the fact that I would have to amp up my gym trips from zero to three times a week. It was that I would have to watch my diet. I am all for food and a good hearty burger or milkshake. I needed to limit my trips to fast food chains and put my time and effort into compiling a new list of power foods. Avocados, nuts, granola, and chocolate milk would all find room on my grocery list. If I was going to put my mind to this, I was going to go all the way. I was transforming my lifestyle, and my diet was included in that process.
1 month left
Just like that, there were 30 days left. I had gotten back in shape and regained my strength, thanks to my demanding workouts and weightlifting sessions. As I put all my strength into the weight, I brought the bar to my chest, inhaling sharply. Using my momentum, I pushed it back up with everything I had left. Clanking the bar back onto the rack I laid there heavily panting with the smell of rusty metal filling my nose. My life had been running on a tedious cycle that revolved around working and training for the marathon. Time had flown by, and I had managed to hit the gym 4 times a week since I’d made the commitment to run the marathon 4 months ago. My diet took a turn for the better and I saw how the healthy foods I’d been consuming were improving my progress as an athlete. However, there was a bigger question behind all this: was this enough to prepare me for the big day?
1 week left
1 week! With time quickly ticking away, it was time for me to wind down and mentally prepare myself for Monday. Hydration week had begun, and it was time for me to get all the necessary fluids into my system. Soon enough, I’d be lining up to run the 26.2 miles, a distance that had once seemed impossible to tackle. As of now, I needed to lower my intensity and go on a peaceful run. I went to to my usual running trail, a place that I had come to know inside out in the past few months. As I arrived to the trail, the fresh spring breeze blew through the woods, tickling my neck and sending chills down my back. The sun was shining, peaking out from behind the tall oak trees, and creating a perfect filter. Taking a deep breath, I looked onto the long trail that seemed to have no end, and started on what would be my last long run before the big day.
0 days left
Today was the big day. I prepared myself a hearty breakfast consisting of avocado toast and fruit. I got my race clothes, packed an extra pair of clothes, and threw on my lucky race watch. I packed hearty pistachios, crackers, gatorade, and lots of water. It was time to for me to start on my three hour drive. With perfect timing I’d arrive at my destination by the afternoon, leaving me time to prepare myself for the race. As I started the engine, I pulled my phone out and turned up my pump up playlist. “Since You Been Gone” blasted on the speaker as my car happily bounced down the road.
Cruising along the countryside with the windows down, the refreshing spring breeze filled the car. I took a few deep breaths and felt my anxiety slip away. It was going to be a good day. I was an hour into my drive when I almost halted the car in the middle of the highway. I had forgotten my marathon registration forms! Attempting to contain my frustration on the road, I exited the highway and turned into a gas station. I was furious, but I wasn’t going to let this race slip away from me just yet. I would go home, get my papers and try to make it back in time.
Still scolding myself hours later, I had managed to make it back to the marathon site in one piece. Cursing under my breath, I rushed out of the car and made a beeline toward the entrance where the registration was. It was a far walk from where I was parked, and I was extremely tight on time.
The race gun went off and the gigantic mob of runners started for the long race. I was too late. I could feel myself fuming, as I had just lost the chance to prove myself. I felt frustrated and upset. How could I have so carelessly forgotten to bring my registration forms? In bad spirits, I decided to head home and not stay for the race. I wasn’t going to cheer on others and watch them carry out their dreams if I couldn’t do the same myself. I gathered my belongings and walked out. Jamming my key into the ignition, I started on my way home. It was going to be a long ride home.
Three painstaking hours later, I arrived home safely. The sun had disappeared and clouds rolled in, darkening the sky. All of a sudden, it began to drizzle, and before I knew it, there was accompanying thunder and lightning. With every clap of thunder, a new thought popped into my mind. My Grit. My Passion. My Goals. Every little thing I had trained for would have to wait. Maybe God was telling me to wait for next year’s marathon. Attempting to simmer down, I snatched the bag of pistachios off my counter, and settled in onto the couch. I was fully bundled up in my blanket, only leaving a little hole for my eyes. I reached out for the remote and flipped on the tv that lit the dark room. My jaw dropped as my eyes scanned the screen.
2 Explosions at the Boston Marathon. At least 3 dead and 100 injured as explosions ripped through the finish line on Boylston Street.
A high pitched buzz reverberates around my brain, almost diluting my senses. I can’t think. I can’t process the enormity of what happened. Faces I don’t recognize stare at me with passing concern as they slow their cars to gawk, but I barely notice. I glance at my hands, white knuckled and bloody, and note that they are still clamped on the steering wheel. A deflated airbag lays limply on my lap, but is no longer white, and instead is streaked with red. The police arrive, then people who live nearby, all asking the same questions over and over again. “Are you ok?” “What happened?” Or maybe they aren’t, and those questions are just echoing inside my head. That ringing, that damn ringing is driving me crazy. Suddenly, everything goes black as I slip into oblivion.
I’m not sure how much time has passed when the black becomes blinding white. I open my eyes and glimpse around me, willing them to adjust to the sudden light. I am laying among white sheets, staring at white walls, and hearing footsteps on white linoleum floors, the sickening smell of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic overwhelms me. I hear coughing, ringing telephones, and hushed discussions. I scan the room for someone, anyone to tell me where I am. I see only monitors, the small window behind me, and a curtain dividing the room in half, so I attempt to sit up, only to be met with a pain that engulfs every inch of me. I put a hand up to hold my throbbing head and am surprised to see the thin plastic tubes that emerge from the back of it.
I hear the squeaky footsteps of an approaching nurse, but resist the urge to try to prop myself up. “Glad to see you’re awake,” he says with a bright smile that crinkles the corners of his brown eyes. He fusses over the monitors and IV bags that surround my bed. “What happened?” I croak. Was that my voice? His bright smile fades and is replaced with deep wrinkles of concern and furrowed eyebrows. He takes a deep breath and says “I’ll go get the doctor.” As he turns to leave, I croak, “Hey- where are my parents? Do they know?” He doesn’t stop walking, but he looks over his shoulder and smiles. “I’ll get them, too.”
Minutes feel like hours as I lay surveying the room, trying to occupy my mind. I study the pattern of the blue chevron curtain to my right, which separates me from the patient whom I share the room with. I wish more than anything that I could see on the other side of the curtain, just to have something new to look at. It feels as if it has been three hours since that red headed nurse had told me he would get someone to tell me what was going on with me, though it has probably only been twenty minutes. Come on, I think to myself, what is taking him so long? How long does it take to grab a doctor? Why am I even in the hospital? These, along with other questions, swirl around my brain until the throbbing of my head evolves into an acute stabbing pain. I close my eyes in a futile effort to dull the sensation, but snap them open when I hear hushed conversations muffled by the heavy indigo door. I strain to catch the conversation, willing myself to hear everything. “Car…lost consciousness…traumatic brain….stay…”. I prop myself up in bed, grunting slightly with the effort involved. The conversation stops. The metallic handle of the door turns slowly, cautiously, so as not to wake me. “I’m up” I inform my visitors. A man fills the doorway, a man so large he looked like he should be a football player rather than a doctor, but his white lab coat and identification tag that reads “Dr. Steven Shieh” leave no room for doubt.
He takes heavy steps toward me, reaching out to shake my hand. My small, smooth hand seems to be swallowed by his impossibly enormous ones. He releases his grip and sits heavily on a swivel chair next to my bed. “Do you remember what happened today?” He asks with visible concern written across his face. I struggle to recall the details of this morning, but only remember bits and pieces. “My memory is a bit spotty,” I explain, “I don’t know how it happened, but I know I was driving to school and got into an accident,” Dr. Shieh nods slowly, sucking in a deep breath before explaining the details of the accident. “That’s ok. Sometimes in accidents like this it’s hard to recall the event. You were driving to school and were hit head-on by another vehicle. The other driver was texting and swerved into your lane. You had no time to pull over.” I take a shaky breath. I still cannot believe that this is happening to me. It’s as if I’m in a dream, a dream I can’t seem to wake up from. I am told that I have been asleep for a day and a half. “We still need to do some tests to assess you properly, but it appears that you have suffered a concussion at the very least. Suddenly, the redheaded and freckled nurse from earlier, RN Gabriel, props open the door just enough to step halfway in the room and nods at Dr. Shieh. The two seem to exchange an entire conversation in that nod, a conversation in a language only doctors and nurses seem to understand. Dr. Shieh pats my leg sympathetically, and rises from his swivel chair with a grunt.
The next few hours are torturous as I am poked and prodded and tested for various injuries. The only one that reveals an abnormality is an MRI, confirming Dr. Shieh’s suspicions of a concussion. When the airbag deployed, my brain slammed against the inside of my skull and is now swollen and bruised. RN Gabriel explains the typical course of action for a concussion to me, which includes resting the brain and not engaging in any type of stimulating activity. “So I can go home now?” I ask with a hint of excitement in voice. Dr. Shieh chuckles at my request as if I am a child that has said something ridiculous and says with finality, “No, Harper. You have to stay for a night of observation.”
“Is that really necessary? I have a concussion, not a brain tumor.” None of the doctors chuckle this time. This time, Dr. Shieh’s steely blue eyes fix on mine as he informs sternly, “we understand that this is a very emotional time for you. However, we know what we are doing and need your trust and compliance until we have determined whether or not it’s safe for you to return home.” I nod slowly, realizing I need to place my trust in a team of people who obviously know more than I do.
The clock on my hospital nightstand reads 1:18 am, though it feels much later than that. I’m exhausted and drained, but everytime I try to close my eyes, I’m haunted by the memory from that dark Tuesday morning. The pictures behind my eyelids seem to flash in rapid succession. Headlights coming toward me. The airbag. Red at first, then black. In addition to this, the mechanical noises from machines and the squeaky footsteps from sneakers on waxed floors fill my ears, keeping me from sleep. Do these people ever go home? Unexpectedly, the door swings open and a hospital bed is wheeled in by two nurses. At first, I think the bed is empty, but that is only because the patient is so tiny. The only giveaway to her existence is a bundle of blue blankets. A nurse moves the curtain aside to let the bed through, apologizing to me for the disturbance. I smile weakly, fully aware that sleep would elude me tonight. One of the nurses checks the patient’s vitals while the other nurse checks mine to “kill two birds with one stone,” as he put it. They are way too cheery for this time of night. I try to see into the other side of the room, to see who I share a room with, but the chevron curtain is closed once again as the nurses shuffle noisily out of the room.
The night drags on forever, but eventually the black fades and a dazzling light show of oranges and reds dance across the ceiling as the sun rises. My head is pounding, as it did all night. The ringing in my ears has dissipated, but that provides little consolation. I roll onto my side and study the pattern of that blue chevron curtain that separates me from the only other patient I have seen so far, willing it to open.
“Good morning” Gabriel chirrups. “Sleep well?” Fantastic. He fusses around with the various machines I am attached to, one being a plastic IV bag filled with a clear fluid. “What’s that for?” I inquire, “I have a concussion, why do I need an IV?” He smiles cheerily before explaining, “Well, this is Toradol, a pain killer. It’s to help reduce the pain from the headaches and body pains from the accident. Now, I need to check on your roommate if you’ll excuse me.” I nod my head in comprehension. He opens the blue chevron curtain and crosses the room. I watch him as he fusses with machines identical to mine, but the room couldn’t be more different. My room is bare, save the window behind me. Hers on the other hand, is decorated brightly with pictures of mandalas, done carefully in colored pencil, taped to the wall, sitting on the window sill, or propped upright on the counter. The room has books strewn across a counter, books I have read. I strain my eyes to read the titles, but this prompts a wave of pain that blurs my vision and forces me to retreat to the comfort of my pillow. At first, I think he or she is still under the covers, but I realize that their head is completely wrapped in blue bandages, giving the illusion that they are still wrapped in blankets. “Good morning, Quinn. You did really well last night, but there were some complications and the surgeons were unable to complete the surgery,” Gabriel explains, much too cheerily. Then a voice, a girl’s voice, responds scratchily, as if just waking up, “the bandages? Can they come off?” “Not quite yet.” Gabriel responds curtly. “You have a new roommate though. I think the two of you should meet.” His hand swept across the room, pointing to me. She twisted the corners of her mouth into a weak smile, a smile that said hi, nice to meet you, but we won’t know each other after today. I return the smile, and seeing that his work is done, Gabriel exits the room, leaving the curtain open.
Visiting hours start at 11, so I still have a while to wait before my mom comes. I glance over at Quinn, who is sitting indian style on her hospital bed busily coloring in one of those new adult coloring books. She looks about my age, despite her childish frame. I can’t see her hair, which would have covered up her etched jawline and ears, which are decorated with tiny earrings in the shape of birds mid-flight. Her nose is sprinkled with tiny freckles, making her bright blue eyes shine. She lifts her head up from her work to look at me. “Enjoying the view?” She asks sarcastically. I look away, ashamed of my lack of manners. “Sorry, I guess I’m just happy to actually see another girl my age.” She closes her book and slowly, methodically, puts the colored pencils back in their box. “I have been here close to six months. I have a brain injury too, and they can’t seem to fix it, so here I am.”
The two of us spend the rest of the morning talking about our injuries and how we got them. Nurses come in to check on us every once in a while, exchanging knowing looks when they see we have been talking, but we don’t mind. The curtain remains open up to visiting hours.
“Are your parents coming?”
“No,” she answers abruptly. I sense that she doesn’t want to be asked about them, so I don’t press the issue and allow the awkward silence to persist.
I glance at Quinn, who is staring out the window, observing the raindrops outside our window. Then, Dr. Shieh comes in, clutching his clipboard. He adjusts his Rolex before saying, “Good morning, Harper. How did you sleep?” he doesn’t wait for an answer as the question is a mere formality, which is good, because I didn’t sleep at all. Dr. Shieh has me do the same cognitive tests as yesterday. I am helped to a sitting position on the edge of my bed and try to stand up to walk heel to toe. It feels like a vice is being tightened around my head, like someone is trying to crush it. Dr. Shieh holds me upright and I lean heavily into him. It feels like I’m on a little fishing boat in the middle of a thunderstorm. The world around me bobs up and down, and I tell Dr. Shieh I need to sit, but he asks me to try anyway. I tentatively place one foot directly in front of the other, but tip over, about to capsize. Dr. Shieh tightens his grip on me and maneuvers me closer to the bed. I sink into it, grateful for its stability and for Dr. Shieh being here to help me.
“Dizziness is common for concussions, but with the severity I’m seeing with you, I am going to order surgical intervention,” Dr. Shieh informs me. He hurriedly scribbles on his clipboard and hands it to a passing nurse. “Why do I need surgery? I have never heard of a concussion requiring surgical intervention. My dad is a surgeon and has never operated on a concussion.” Dr. Shieh closes his eyes, as if gathering the strength necessary in order to deal with me. “I have been doing this for many years now, so you need your trust.” He noisily lifts himself out of the swivel chair that seems much too small for his hulking frame, leaving Quinn and I. My head is spinning. The thought of a surgeon digging around in my brain paralyzes me. I look over to Quinn, so small in her bed, coloring contently with blue bandages still wrapped around her head. “Quinn, does it hurt?” I call out to her. “They give you medicine to conk you out. You have some trippy dreams and by the time you wake up again, it’s over. You’ll feel sore for sure, probably have an itchy throat too. I’m just used to it at this point. I have had three procedures.” I swallow hard, feeling panic gripping my stomach with its sharp claws, but feel a sort of comfort in knowing that she is here and can offer me advice.
The rest of the day I talk with Quinn about surgery and life in general in between endless tests and evaluations. Around five o’clock, Gabriel comes in and tells Quinn she can take off her bandages. She asks for the curtain to be closed and I try to be understanding. She and Gabriel are behind the curtain for around fifteen minutes speaking in hushed tones. I poke at my hospital meatloaf and mashed potatoes in disinterest, waiting for the curtain to reopen.
After what seems like an eternity, Gabriel draws open the curtain, smiles at me curtly, checks my vitals, and leaves the room. I turn my attention to the other half of the room to see Quinn. She is laying in bed with her head resting on the pillow. “Like my luscious hair?” she jokes, rubbing a few stubbly chocolate brown hairs on the sides of her head. “They shave it all off before surgery. And here’s where the incision was.” She turns over onto her other side, revealing a spiral shaped scar, which is prominently peach colored against her dark scalp. I don’t want to show it, but this scares me. Are they going to have to cut all of my hair off? I can’t take my eyes off of her head, though I try. As if she can read my mind she says, “Sorry Harper, but they’ll need to, to do the surgery.”
“Why do I even need surgery? I have a bruised brain. I mean Dr. Shieh probably knows more than I do, but in health class we lear-” I am cut off by her eyes darting towards the door, as if signalling to me she has something to say that she can’t say with the door open. I ask a nurse to close the door so I could sleep, and look back over to Quinn, who is no longer smiling. “Something’s going on here,” she says.
“I’m not quite sure, but you’re not the first roommate I’ve had. I had one before you, she didn’t come back after her surgery.” I don’t believe her. I think she is making this up to scare me more than I already am, but her stony expression tells me that she is dead serious. I listen intently to her description of the odd behavior displayed by the hospital staff, not quite sure how to feel.
“I think they’re keeping us sick.” She says with finality.
“Why would they do that? There would have to be a reason, right?”
The conversation is making me feel like I just stepped back onto the boat. “I don’t know, but why haven’t your parents come yet? I still haven’t seen mine. Why do you need an IV? Why do you need surgery? Did they ever give you a real reason for it?” she exclaims, finally winning me over. I chuckle as I say, “Even if there was something going on, what would we do about it? You have had three brain surgeries and I have a concussion. We aren’t exactly the A-team.” She looks offended and rubs her scalp as if just remembering she’s had surgery. “Well, they’re going to do a surgery on you, right? Did you wonder why? Even I know concussions don’t require surgery.” I think back to health class two years ago, when my health teacher taught about concussion recovery. Surgery was not included in the lesson. I swallow hard. The more we talk about it, the more it makes sense. “Every time I ask why I need a surgery or an IV, I am dismissed with the same ‘Trust us, we know what we’re doing’ bullshit.” I try to control my breathing. “Well, if they don’t need to do a surgery on me, then why are they? There has to be a reason.”
“Well,” Quinn begins, “we will just have to find out.”
“We look for information, tonight before your surgery.”
Day shifts to night as we formulate plans and theories of where we might find incriminating evidence, keeping our door closed so that nobody hears us. “How about we ask Gabriel? I’m sure he might know something’” I suggest, hoping for a way to get the information before my surgery. “No, we don’t know if he’s in on it too. Everyone who works here is probably in on it.” We sit in silence for what feels like an eternity, eating the turkey sandwiches and chips brought to us by Gabriel and another nurse I don’t recognize, when suddenly Quinn inhales sharply and exclaims, “That’s it!” After a quick glance at the door to ensure it’s still closed, she studies her IV tubes and slowly, methodically, disconnects the tube from the needle in her hand. The IV machine starts to screech, but Quinn knows how to silence it. “Seen them do it about a thousand times” she says proudly. She sits herself up, moving quickly now, and hops to her feet. She sways slightly, and looks like she might fall over, but regains her balance and smiles broadly. She moves over to my side of the room to undo mine as well. As soon as I’m disconnected from my medicine, my headache vanishes. I look at her smiling face in amazement. I sit up carefully. A vice grips my heart as I fear that I’ll be overwhelmed with dizziness and headaches, but none come. Quinn helps me to swing my legs over the side of my bed, her smile wild with excitement. I know that I need to stand, but I hesitate, feeling as though I will surely collapse. Quinn nods at me, encouraging me to trust her. I gingerly put more and more weight on my feet. Quinn supports me under the arms, pushing me forward, and for a little while, I expect to feel like I’m back on my sailboat, but I don’t. I’m standing up and Quinn lets go. I take one step, then another and feel no pain, no confusion, no dizziness. I let out a chuckle of disbelief. I need no further proof of what Quinn has said.
“So what’s the plan?” I ask Quinn. She looks up at me and I realize just how short she is. I’m not tall by any means, but she’s no taller than four foot eleven. “At midnight tonight, we’re going to go to where the files are kept. I have seen them drop them off in the room right off of the receptionist’s desk. It isn’t far. It’s just down the hall.” A flicker of hope lifts me from my gloominess. Am I really going to do this?
Midnight comes and we slip silently out of our room. The hospital, I realize, never sleeps. Machines form an orchestra of beeps and whirrs that echo throughout the nearly empty halls. Our feet, covered by the socks given to us by the hospital pad along the cold, white floor. I feel vulnerable as we duck behind corners to avoid being seen. “Quinn, this is a bad idea! We should go back before we get caught!” I whisper with urgency. She whips her head around to look at me. Her face, once brightened with excitement, was now stony in decision. “No one is forcing you to come with me, but I have been here far too long to give up now.” She doesn’t wait for me to respond. We see the receptionist’s desk, mere feet away. We see the nameplate on the desk, but see no one behind the desk. Quinn peeks her head left and right to ensure we won’t be seen and scurries like a mouse in a kitchen and ducks behind the desk. I do the same. My heart is pounding so loudly I fear that we will be caught because of it. Quinn nods her head over her left shoulder at the door, which looms over us. A feeling of dread overwhelms me. We are not supposed to be here. Quinn nods and raises her eyebrows at me as if saying, “It’s ok. We can do this. Are you ready? I nod, my heart tha-thumping deafeningly loud now. Quinn puts her hand on the doorknob and turns it agonizingly slow. She begins to lean into the door slightly, pushing it open. First a sliver, then a crack, and finally a small gap in the door allows us to squeeze through. Motion sensor lighting comes on, illuminating four walls covered in gray filing cabinets. Quinn’s face is no longer stony, but is filled with childlike wonder. She glides across the floor as if in a trance and puts her hand on a drawer marked L-McD and pulls it toward her. She pauses and glances at me over her shoulder and whispers, “I have wanted to know why I was being kept here for weeks. I can’t believe this is it. Once I read this and find something I can use to prove that something’s going on here, I’m going to go home.” The way she said the word “home” lifted me up and the deafening tha-thumping of my heart quieted. We really are going to go home I think to myself. Quinn returns her gaze to the file on her lap and opens it. A picture of a girl with long brown hair and freckles spotting around piercing blue eyes stares back at me. Quinn I realize with a shock. Behind the picture is an entire book’s worth of information. Information that could set us free. Quinn tries to start to read it, but I put a hand on her shoulder and she looks at me with understanding. No words need to be exchanged between the two of us. Quinn tucks the file under her arm and we stand up and make our way back to the door. My heart begins to hammer against the inside of my chest again, threatening to burst out. Quinn puts her free hand on the door handle and opens it first a sliver, then a crack and then… the door is flung open with the force of a hurricane. My eyes widen in terror as I stare into the eyes of the man I once trusted. My heart is no longer pounding against my chest. I don’t think it’s beating at all. I take a shallow breath as Dr. Shieh bellows, “And what are you two doing sneaking around here?” We try to escape the many pairs of grabbing hands. As I attempt to push past a nurse, a sharp pain spreads through my neck, but not the kind that comes right before a headache. I put my hand to where I feel the pain and clasp my hand around a needle about an inch in diameter. I pull it out quickly and look up at Gabriel in shock. “What is this?” I ask groggily, beginning to feel inexplicably tired, but I receive no answer, only looks of mock pity and triumph. A scream pierces the hallways, echoing around me. I glimpse over at Quinn and notice through my fog that she is being carried away like an old mangled blanket, only one arm being held and the rest of her dragging limply on the floor. One of her earrings falls out of her ears, the birds laying limply on the floor, no longer in mid-flight. I drift away.
My eyes snap open as I look around me furtively. Where am I? Where is Quinn? I feel the scratchy cotton sheets under me and the draft from the brisk autumn air entering through the window behind me. Gabriel enters the room without a warning knock. “Where’s Quinn? Where did you take her?” I glare, daring him to answer me. He smiles the way he always does and chuckles to himself. “Must have been quite the dream you had last night. Is this Quinn a friend of yours?” He cocks an eyebrow as if he has no idea as to what I’m talking about. I nearly scream. There’s simply no way I dreamt all of this. He informs me that I should get ready for surgery. Fresh scrubs are handed to me and I am unhooked from my IV so that I can change my shirt. The door closes so I have privacy to change in.
Tears of frustration threaten to fall, but I blink them back. Sitting on top of my bed, I wiggle into my pants, doing everything I can to avoid having to stand on my own. I pick up my socks, but fumble them and watch as they fall to the floor. I sigh and swing my feet over the side of my bed and let my feet touch the ground. I figure it’ll be easier to put my new socks on while sitting on the floor at this point. I blindly feel around under my bed for the sock. Instead of the cotton I expect, my hand brushes up against a smooth, flat surface. I reflexively pull my hand back to my body. What was that? I lower my head and peer under the bed. I lock my eyes on the glossy cover of a book, strewn as if forgotten.. My fingers clamor around under the bed, trying to grasp it. I stretch my arm out as far as it will go, until I’m laying on the floor with my entire arm up to my shoulder under the bed. I close my hand around the corner of the book and pull it to my lap. The title reads, “Mandalas: Coloring book for adults” I gasp, and hurriedly put my socks on, anxiety creeping into the corners of my mind once more.
Three soft knocks on the door reverberate throughout the room, which feels empty without Quinn in it. “Come in,” I croak through the lump in my throat. My mind is whirling as the door opens slowly. Dr. Shieh’s burly frame fills the door, followed closely behind by Gabriel. I feel my face flush as all the blood in my body seems to rise to the surface. I harden and push Quinn’s coloring book in front of me for him to see and ask boldly, “Where is she.” Dr. Shieh does not look confused as Gabriel had. His mouth tugs at the corners into a sick, cunning smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners like he had just heard a joke. “I have no idea who you are talking about,” he answers, while smiling maliciously. I could have sworn I heard him laugh. A tear slips down my cheek as I realize we have failed.
“Now, let’s get you prepped for surgery.”
Chris pushed the gas pedal just a little bit so that the car would start moving.
He finally moved out of the driveway where he once found himself constantly. After sitting there for about an hour, midnight seemed a bit late. Even though the cold, airy night had a swishing breeze that felt like heaven, this night felt colder, so Chris kept the windows up. The neighborhood lights that were always on were dim tonight, blurring far sighted vision for Chris. Tears were dry at this point, most of them fell on the steering wheel since Chris’ head had lain there for what felt like an eternity. But now his head was raised and did not move out of position. His eyes were fixed on the road, hands gripped on the wheel.
The neighborhood was yet to cease, but the stop sign was in sight at this point. Chris knew his route, he had driven it a numerous amount of times at this point. From his position, you turned right onto the road after the stop sign. Then you would keep driving straight for awhile, but there were a bunch of strange, winding intersections. After about three miles, there was a light that you would turn left on. Once you turned, you traveled straight for awhile once again, this time, about 6 miles. This is where you turned right onto Valley Road, the only street name Chris could remember.
Chris took his first left after the stop sign, then proceeded to press down on the gas a little harder. There were no streetlights along the road, the only source of light the appeared on the road were the headlights; not even the sky showed any light. Everything went dull with Vida just two hours before. All was supposed to be okay, the TV blared out a familiar movie that Chris was obviously not paying attention to. The only thing Chris was paying attention to was Vida, her beautiful face. She wasn’t anything special to anyone else, but to Chris, she was everything, but she wasn’t healthy. On the outside, everything was just how it should be, but in her head, the chemical imbalance was outrageous. Her mood was determined by what she saw when she would open her eyes, and for most of her life, it was not pleasant. Her father was a drunk, moved out of the house after she was five years old. Her mother was clinically depressed and would have constant thoughts of suicide. Vida would tell Chris about all of this because Chris was all she had at this point. There had been incidents in the past with her and her friends or boys, and of course Chris knew of them. Guys would take advantage of Vida, take her body for their pleasure. Her friends would call her a whore, sex doll, slut, and many more names that crushed her. She had attempted suicide at least 3 times in the past year, thinking that nothing was worth it until she met Chris.
Chris pressed harder on the gas pedal
He was always there for her, but this night was different. Chris had felt a connection that he knew would never be broken. His heart was attached to this girl he had only known for such a little time. The TV went gray and the signal was lost all of the sudden. The power ended up going out inside of her house, letting the silhouettes being the only thing that both Vida and Chris could see. The room was silent, the air was full of romance. Chris leans in to kiss Vida and she accepts. Lips were touching and swooshing, but Chris felt like it was the right time to go a little further. His hands reached over to her body, she resisted. He reached even closer and her lips began to quiver. As his hands finally reached her, she jumped away. Her face went pale, her head hit the back wall. A stream of blood ran down the back of her scalp and went down to her shoulders.
Chris pressed down on the gas pedal even more.
“Stay away, please don’t hurt me!” Vida exclaimed.
“Hurt her? Why would I hurt her?” Chris didn’t even think of the other guys that had abused her in the past. “Did other guys touch her like this? Am I the reason for her pain?” Chris saw the tears running down her face and tried to calm her down. She began to scream.
“Rape! Rape! Rape!”
Chris did not know what to do. His hands were frozen, mind was running. Vida had saw Chris as a monster. He didn’t mean to hurt her, that was never his intention. He ran. Physically ran out of her house and into his car.
Chris pressed even harder on the gas pedal.
These moments were haunting Chris down the winding road. The trees above him curled over and covered his car. Chris had never hurt anyone like that in his life. There were too many tears that filled the floor, covering the shattered heart.
Chris pressed harder on the gas pedal. 60 miles per hour.
The rush, the adrenaline, the pain, the tears, all of it was coming together. Chris didn’t notice what was happening
He pressed harder on the gas pedal. 70 miles per hour.
The stop signs showed green, there was no chance of the brakes being used. His foot was glued. Chris swerved onto Valley Road, where the car rode on two wheels. Valley Road seemed to quiver with the ghostly precipitation evaporating back into the sky, fogging the view of what was to come. The trees lingered above the road and the leaves covered the sky. Riding on the edge of the road, the car slowly shifted back into it’s normal position.
Chris pressed the pedal down to the floor. 80 miles per hour.
No actually plan of what was to come, he just closed his eyes. Time seemed to slow down to the millisecond. Every thought of Vida filled his head, following the thought of his car. The car that his father had bought for him. The car that had gotten him to school everyday, where he was with his friends and got a suitable education for college. The car that would take his life into success. Chris thought of his family that had loved and cared for him for eighteen years. Chris had to open his eyes. He ripped his foot off of the pedal, but it was too late to hit the brakes. Valley Road curved off to the right, but the steering wheel was straight. A full 80 miles per hour, driving off-road into a tree. The car bounced like a tennis ball jumping off of a wall. Chris’s mind thought of one last thing before his final breath. “I’m sorry.”
The car finally stopped.
The rain trickles down the window of our tiny apartment. As I stare below at the dark concrete. Waiting to see him return. The minutes feel like hours ticking by, as the drops of rain slide down the window, much like the tears sliding down my face. I lift myself from my position in the window seat, the seat where we had sat together, reading, talking, stealing kisses, and sharing in each other’s presence. Why do these memories seem so faded? It’s like every memory is faded, maybe even tainted. I look around the apartment and realize how much of a mess it is. I begin to walk to the closet where the broom and pan, along with other trinkets and random coats that did not fit in our normal closet, are stored. I reach in, wrapping my fingers around the broom handle and pull it out along with the pan. I walk into our kitchen and begin to sweep up the broken glasses and plates.The back and forth of the broom into the pan almost lull me. I lift the pan and dump it into trash bin. It’s a routine that I have ingrained in my everyday living, something so familiar that it doesn’t seem wrong. I begin to walk out of the kitchen to clean up the rest of the room, when a sharp pain strikes my foot. I tense, fisting my hands and biting my lip. Trying to numb the familiar pain. I walk on the heel of my left foot, hobbling over to the cramped bathroom. I sit on the toilet lid and lift my foot up. The scarlet liquid seeps from the cut on the bottom of my foot. I sigh and reach for the bloodstained cloth on the side of the sink. I run it under cold water and press it to my cut wiping away the reminiscence of blood, but it doesn’t sting like it used to. The cut would scar, it was deep enough to recognize. I reach for a band aid and seal the fresh wound. I stand and look in the mirror at a girl I do not recognize. My face is pale. The deep purple around my eye has yet to fade, as well as the cut on my lower lip that stings whenever I ate or drank. My eyes are bloodshot, not from being intoxicated by some substance, but from him. From the sleepless nights filled with sobs. I haven’t seen my eyes the same green, since I first met him.
I was walking down the street, my doc martins scuffing the pavement while I kicked a stray stone. I had my headphones in as I walked to the beat of the music that filled my ears. I began to turn a corner, when I ran into a hard wall. I thought I was gonna fall flat on my ass, when suddenly, fingers wrapped around my arm and gripped tight, preventing me from falling. I looked up and saw blue. That beautiful stranger with blue eyes deep like the ocean, harsh and yet so soft. They were dark and mysterious and they held so much that I wanted to know. “Hello?” I shook my head. “Hello?” The stranger was talking to me. “I’m so sorry,” I became flustered and shook my head looking down at my feet. “It’s okay,” he laughed. I looked up and again was drawn to his eyes. I fell for those eyes.
My thoughts are interrupted by the door slamming shut. My head shoots towards the sound. I slowly walk out of the bathroom, following the sound of grunts. He stood near the entrance, struggling to take his shoes off as he stumbled around losing his balance, having to grip the wall to remain standing. I stand in the dark debating what I should do. I make up my mind and walk into the kitchen, get a glass and fill it with water, along with an advil out of the almost empty bottle on the counter. Suddenly, I feel arms around my waist and the strong stench of alcohol. I jump at the feeling of not knowing if his touch is going to be good or bad. He takes the water glass from my hands and puts it to his pink lips. I cast my eyes to floor. I can see his shadow move around me and feel his tall frame surround me as he takes the advil I have laid out for him on the counter. I feel his fingers touch my face and I flinch away. He grips my chin and angles my head towards him. I tense. He searches my face for something, but I could only focus on his eyes. They were blue, but not the same blue I had loved, they were red, indicating to me that he had been drinking. But I still love these eyes. I relax and he kisses my lips. Then stumbles off to our bedroom, leaving me to clean up the mess.
Cry No More
There was always a screaming baby on the plane, an inconsolable little demon spawn that just absolutely refused to shut the hell up despite holding its mother’s constant attention. This flight’s little gremlin child, of course, was right across the aisle from Alex. And it was bawling already. The plane sat on the runway, inched along the concrete like glue sliding down duct tape, the dull roar of the engines only punctuated by the shrill airhorn of infant shrieks.
Alex wiped the specks of spit off her cheek and shifted toward the window, trying to shield herself from the unsanitary raindrops of disease spraying from the child’s mouth. She sighed loudly, audibly. She let the air hiss past her nostrils like steam from a train and hummed from the back of her throat, indicating her displeasure.
Alex knew she needed to sleep. She had a very important meeting in (she checked her watch for the fourth time) exactly seventeen hours and thirty-seven minutes, a very important meeting indeed in which she would finally present her ideas on the new Japanese business model to Mr. Koch. It had been a full two weeks since Paul Griffin had presented his plan and, quite frankly, Alex was surprised Mr. Koch was considering it for that long. It had been more than a bit drab, after all, and it simply wasn’t fair for one business model to get more representation and consideration than another. She prided herself on her sense of fairness, Alex did. When she was the only one in her undergraduate class to get into Wharton despite practically everyone applying, she knew it was because her application was simply better, more well-rounded, more interesting than her friends’; she did more clubs and more volunteering and more tutoring than her friends, after all, and those kinds of things of course made all the difference; those interactions were clearly far more impressive than a boring generic old 4.0—everyone had that. When she divorced Richard in the midst of business school after two years of marriage it was obviously because his sitting on the couch all day collecting unemployment wasn’t the most flattering; and to be perfectly honest she had better things to do than look after him after work every day; and they’d been to counseling a few times to try to work it out but at a certain point Alex decided it wasn’t worth the distraction and the money and the effort anymore and so she signed the papers and was free and that was that. So she wasn’t about to just let Paul Griffin swoop in and prevent her fair chance at the Tokyo promotion, even if he had thirty years’ more experience.
Which was why she needed sleep to sleep now—if she showed up to the presentation disheveled and twitchy from too much caffeine, well that would absolutely ruin her chance at impressing Mr. Koch and snatching the promotion’s six-figure salary. She’d taken sleeping pills before boarding—how else would she guarantee alertness and focus in Tokyo—but they weren’t kicking in. Her eyes were forced closed in an impossible attempt to ignore the banshee-shrieks, but sleep did not come.
Because the goddamn baby wouldn’t stop crying.
Alex glanced over her turned shoulder, narrowing her eyes, examining the incompetent mother. Grey sweatshirt of some high school no one knew, yoga pants, Converse sneakers. Mousy brown hair—disheveled. No ring. No bags, no bottle, no distractions for the child. Clearly not well-off, yet she sat right across from Alex in first class.
“Is it yours,” she asked, pitch dropping on the last word.
But the baby’s cries drowned her out.
“Is it yours??” she asked again more sharply.
Looking up, the mother’s half-hooded eyes were filled with exhaustion. She returned her gaze to her child. “Yes, she is,” she said quietly, barely audible over her daughter’s wails.
“Hm.” Alex made a sound of dissatisfaction and annoyance, as if hearing a confirmation of negative suspicions. She turned her back to the young mother as the plane accelerated, engines roaring to full volume. The moment the wheels left the pavement, the baby’s shrieks reached a higher pitch and intensity, immune to her mother’s halfhearted attempts at quieting her.
Alex sighed loudly again, wanting the mother to hear. Some people just don’t have common courtesy, she thought. The least she could do is get her daughter to shut up so the rest of us can get some sleep. This is a redeye, after all. She leaned forward and reached into her bag, rummaging around for her sleeping pills. The ones she’d already taken clearly weren’t working, and the little monster across the aisle showed no signs of ending the assault on her ears. She swallowed two more quickly, dry. They’d work faster that way. Forcing her eyes shut, she tried to ignore the baby’s cries. Eventually, sleep found her, and the child’s shrieks faded away.
Planes fly. Planes do not fall. This one did, though.
Alex’s eyes half-opened. Stomach in her chest. Her head spun, vision shook, ears rang.
Alarms blared, crimson lights flashed, everyone screamed. With a hiss, oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. Still dazed and drowsy, Alex reached up to grab hers. Her hands, heavy with sleep, struggled to snap the elastic into place behind her head.
Shaking off sleepiness, Alex glanced around. Everyone fumbled with the masks, tears streaming down their faces. Screams of fear permeated the cabin. Prayers were frantically recited. People clutched their loved ones and held on tight, as if that would save them from their impending doom.
But one cry was absent for the first time. The baby girl across the aisle, held loosely in her mother’s arms, was strangely silent. Alex glanced up at the mother. A thin line of blood streaked down her forehead. A suitcase was flung open in the aisle below, its contents strewn across the floor. Despite the chaos, the baby did not cry.
Alex inhaled sharply. Of course. She can’t breathe. The oxygen mask, Alex thought, she needs the oxygen mask. No flight attendants were in sight. No one else noticed, no one could help the little girl but herself, Alex realized.
She unbuckled her seatbelt. She took a deep breath from the oxygen mask. Rising from her seat, she swayed, struggling to keep her balance as the plane freefell. Alex leaned across the aisle. She reached up to the dangling plastic, her fingers brushing against it once. Twice.
Finally, she grabbed it. She stretched it down toward the girl. She wrapped the elastic band around the back of the girl’s tiny, fuzz-covered head. It was barely tight enough to stay in place. Alex reached up again, leaning further across the cluttered aisle to reach another mask for the mother.
With a sudden jerk, the plane rightened.
Alex fell. All went black.
…And now, on to Flight 972—the news that everyone’s been talking about…
…a technical malfunction leaves two dead and more than thirty injured…
…New information has been released…
…one of the victims, it’s been revealed, a 2-month-old infant…
…oxygen mask blocked the airflow…the manufacturers testifying today in court…
…And now the name of the second victim, who authorities believe was actually trying to help the infant, who officials previously identified as Gracie West…
Brian Koch glanced up at the mention of that name. Reading the headline, he sighed audibly, then reached for the remote. He had a meeting with Paul Griffin to get to, after all. What a shame, he thought as he turned off the television. That girl had so much potential.
By: Sophie Busenkell
Bit by bit, I inched out of the changing room. I was nervous, yet excited; I wanted my friends and family to love this dress just as much as I did. “Oh, this is the one,” my mother whispered, barely audible and close to tears. She had said this about two other dresses already, but this time I agreed with her. Taking slow, concise steps, I made my way to the center of the room. This room was breathtakingly beautiful. It was strewn with vibrant floral patterns and lit with deep red hues. While I continuously spun in circles to show off the details of the beautiful fabric, my mind wandered.
In a little less than a year, I would be in Hawaii, marrying the love of my life. I remember the day we met like it was yesterday, and I’ll never forget it. As I was sitting in my gate at the airport, ready to visit my family for the holidays, we made eye contact. That’s what caught my attention: his eyes. They were a startling, captivating green. He was young, in his early twenties, as was I. I knew there was something special about him the moment we locked gazes, but I figured we’d never see one another again, so I quickly forgot. An hour later, I crouched into my narrow plane seat, and awaited take off. My eyelids became heavy, and I started to doze off, before all of the passengers were even loaded.
Suddenly, I heard a light, friendly “Hey.” It was him.
For the entirety of the flight, we talked. We talked endlessly, discussing a plethora subjects, learning a substantial amount about one another, despite the fact that we had just met. It turned out he also was also heading home for the holidays. He sheepishly asked for my number and I gave it. For the next few months we kept in touch, and eventually started dating. Slowly but surely, we fell in love.
Finally, I regained my presence in reality and began to study the impeccable artistry evident in the dress. Eggshell white, lacy, long-sleeved, and elegant, there was no dress that compared. I slowly brushed my fingers along the extrudes of the lace, noting the exceptional details. Having examined the dress to my fullest, I raised my head to once again to see my smiling friends. As my eyes left the view of the dress, and reached the view of my small audience, I noticed something was off.
First, it was the curtains. The vibrant floral print that they once displayed transformed into different shades of grey. I then noticed everything around me slowly transform as well, in a random order. The boutique, my friends, even myself: everything was losing it’s color. Everything was either black, white, or some shade in between. After a brief moment of confusion, it hit me.
“No,” I whispered softly to myself. “No, no, no”. With each “no”, my volume escalated. As my smile turned to a frown and a single tear rolled down my cheek, everyone around me seemed to realize what was happening. Their smiles gradually faded, too.
One of my friend asked anyway, with a clear indication of fear in her tone, “What’s wrong?”
“He… he… I can’t see…” I couldn’t gather my thoughts to provide a complete answer, but these fragmented murmurs appeared to have confirmed their predictions, nonetheless.
“I’m so sorry,” they all said repeatedly, as if it actually consoled me.
“We’ll be leaving now,” announced my mother to the salesman, hurriedly. She ushered me into the changing room, and left me to take off the dress. I managed to do it, but very lethargically, with tears blurring my vision. I gave the dress one last look of admiration as it hung from the wall and exited the room. No one said a word since my mother announced our departure. Everyone was too filled with shock, and, understandably, unsure of what to say in this situation. My mother guided me, once again, out of the store and into her car; my mind was elsewhere. Only what seemed like a few moments later, I was dropped off at my house.
“I love you, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” she yelled as I got out of the car. I was too overwhelmed to reply.
“Stay strong, hun,” was the last thing she whispered before driving off.
Immediately, I noticed his car was missing from the garage; it must’ve been a crash. Now, all that was left was a singular, colorless car. I stood in my driveway, motionless, and began to reminisce on the memories that were born in that dusty, broken down Chevrolet. All of the late night drives, impromptu, ear-splitting concerts, and even minor fights that we shared in that car flooded my mind.
He left the door unlocked, as he usually did. I walked through the doorway, dropped my purse and jacket on our spotless wooden floor, traipsed up our steep stairwell, and collapsed on our bed, fully clothed. My body was limp; I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to anyway. I didn’t realize I was crying until warm tears gathered in a puddle on my pillow. I stared at my ring, glistening like my tears, and laid in silence.
See, in this world, you’re born into black and white. You’re not familiar with the idea of color. When you find your love, your world is then lit up with shades of all kinds, introducing you to the beauties of the world. However, when your love dies, the world returns to turns black and white. He passed away a month after we were engaged, the day I went shopping for my wedding dress.
Dear Alexis – Matthew Hwang
Although both of the windows were wide open, I was still dripping in sweat as humongous cardboard boxes consumed my room. I peered out of the window, trying to occupy my mind as I half-heartedly packed my things, and was immediately overwhelmed with the beautiful and clear blue sky…
As soon as I knew it, my things had been packed. Walls that were once filled with posters transformed into a pink canvas, my white desk had become barren, and bits of masking tape that were crumpled up together scattered the hardwood floor. When I stood up to clean the mess of masking tape I had left behind, I noticed a small red, white and blue flag that hung on my door. I admit, I had forgotten all about that multi-colored flag; perhaps it was because of all the pain and memories it brought whenever I stared at it. I quickly walked to the door, took down the flag, folded it neatly, placed it into a cardboard box and taped it shut as I tried to stop the tears from rushing down my face. I quickly returned to my duties.
I was relieved after all the boxes, with the help of my mom, were taken out of my room and into my SUV. The sky that had been originally light blue was now transformed to a pale orange. I was exhausted after the numerous hours spent packing and deciding what was “essential” for college. It was at that moment, as I closed my bedroom windows, that my mother walked in with the most important object in my entire life: a dusty black tape recorder labeled “Alexis” with a thin strip of beige tape and sharpie. I had never seen this particular tape recorder before, let alone tape recorders in general. My mother handed me the foreign object, told me to press the “play” button when I was ready, and left after closing the door behind her. I gingerly sat on my blue bed, looking at what my mother had given me. It clearly belonged to my father; he usually collected and cherished these ancient artifacts from his childhood. I wondered what he had recorded on the black machine, preparing to cry as thoughts of my father rushed through my head. Finally, after collecting myself and mustering the energy to press the “play” button, I listened to the recording.
“My dear Alexis… if you are hearing my voice right now, I am probably dead and you are getting ready to leave your mother’s side. First of all, I want to say ‘Congratulations’ to my dearest daughter who is moving out of her home. I know that you will ultimately become a beautiful woman who will give back to the world when you enter adulthood. In addition, I know you will eventually have children of your own, whom I will unfortunately be unable to see… but rest assured, I will be watching upon them from Heaven.This is a very big time for you, and therefore, as a father, I would like to touch upon some things and lessons that I have learned throughout my entire life…
When I was no older than 5, I had many aspirations. Many of my peers wanted to become astronauts or the President of the United States; I admit that my career goals were not that different from those of the other students in my class. However, even through all these aspirations, I remember a dark shadow… no… two dark shadows, in fact, loomed over me in my path; they were my mother and father. Everyday, from the day I was born to the day I was sixteen, my parents fought over different topics. These fights were often drunken arguments filled with hatred and blood. These fights escalated every single day, and finally, my father had snapped. On my 16th birthday, my father had walked out on our family and we soon found ourselves trudging through financial struggles that threatened us with crisis. My mother never really had a stable job in her life before, nor had she attended college. Eventually, she had found a job working at the local McDonalds as a fry cook but her paycheck alone wasn’t able to support the heaps of alcohol, cigarettes and her own child. So, I made the hardest decision in my life: one that would contribute to the death of millions and millions of people.; I had decided to enlist in the army.
The training required by the army was terrible. We were required to trudge through mud, drown underwater without mouthing the word “uncle”, and run marathons without stopping to walk everyday. The army men mocked me for my inability to do these tasks. They spat in my direction, hit me, and bullied me. But that wasn’t even the scariest part of joining the army; the most frightening part was that I was used to it. I would never tell you how I received those scars and unhealed wounds when you pointed at them and asked why they were there, but they were from my father, the one of two people who were supposed to protect me, nurture me, help me… And for some reason, I found myself sobbing and sobbing, every night and day, from the brutality only given by the army men…
In the duration of those brutal and cold months of training, I contemplated on whether or not I should commit suicide. In fact, on one fateful midnight, I had planned to kill myself using a rifle stolen from the army barracks, committing suicide and ending all the pain. But, something extremely strange happened. A woman’s voice… in fact, a nurse ran up and screamed ‘Don’t do it!’. It was a culture shock to hear somebody who actually cared… someone who actually thought I mattered in this great big world. Upon being frozen in time, I remember that she had taken the gun from me, slowly dropped it on the ground, and stared at me. It was only then that she had slapped me on my bruised face, and had woken me up from a state of euphoria. This woman turned out to be your mother…
In short, your mother and I had left it all behind: my mom, her parents, the army, and all the scary shadows that have made themselves apparent during my lifetime. For the first time in my life, I had felt true happiness. We moved into a small rented house with chipped wallpaper and creaky doors. I went back to college to study business as she continued to become a nurse in a local hospital. Although our living situation wasn’t ideal, it didn’t matter; we were together, and that was all that had mattered. Two years after we had met, we had a baby, and her name was Alexis….
My dear daughter, if you are still listening to this, then I would like to say that I am so proud of the accomplishments you have achieved, and what lies ahead in the future. My precious, beautiful daughter…
You may be wondering why I am recounting all of these stories to you. However, please trust that there is indeed a moral to all of the aforementioned events… That lesson is to forgive and love. Forgive the people who have harmed you in any way. Forgive the people who told you you were never going to make it, that you would always be a weak girl who had an even weaker father… and I also want you to love. Even if it is today, tomorrow, or forty years from now, I want you to love. Love your future spouse, love your mother, and most importantly, love the life that you live in now. At the end of the day, life will always be a precious gift. Even I, the weak soldier in the army and a victim of child abuse also learned to love and forgive those people; and in the end, I had found true happiness.
I really cannot say anything more than what I have already told you, but I will say one more thing: I love you. And should you pass on that affection to other people is entirely up to you.
Signed by the weak soldier in the battlefield…
Tears rushed down my face as I heard my father’s voice for the first time since he had died. Two years ago, we had originally planned a vacation in France for a couple of days, and we went to a restaurant for dinner. I was never prepared for what was about to happen next…
I vividly remembered the shouting and screaming as my dad had protected my mother and I from the bullets flying towards our direction. My father screamed at us to “get down” as multiple people around us were being hit by the anonymous shooter. I was sixteen at the time, and although I was young and innocent, I was subjected to see the horrors of mass murder first-hand. All of these memories had flooded my head, and eventually, I could not take the pain of it all anymore. I had fallen asleep.
The next morning, I had decided to open up the cardboard box once again, and carefully placed the tape recorder on top of the flag. After sealing the box once more, I said goodbye to my mother, hugged her, and drove away in the gray SUV going towards the pristine blue sky.
Dedicated to the victims of terrorist attacks.
A haphazardly constructed shelter stood on a hill. Down the hill and across a small, unending stream sat a simple village ruled by a Great One, who existed only to receive the compliments and gifts the people of the village bestowed upon him. Inside of the shelter, hidden in the shadows, Little One huddled around the dancing flames, fighting to calm the perpetual tremble that pervaded Its body. The flames tickled Its skin, as if to suggest the presence of warmth, but withheld complete satisfaction. The little hairs on Its arm stood erect as if they were reaching toward the heat, desperate for relief from the agonizing chill. Despite the tower of woolen covers and patchwork overlays fortifying Little One against the constant draft, the cold persisted. Across the stream, Great One sat on His throne of comfort, surrounded by luxury and pleasure. Little One could almost see the heat enveloping Him, like a mother embracing a child. His rosy cheeks and the burgeoning beads of perspiration were conditions to be desired. He did not need such overlays nor flame, for He glowed of health and joyousness. “Why must I suffer from the cold while He does not?” Little One wondered.
It was then that a tremendous rumble invaded the silence. Little One jumped slightly, only to realize that the noise originated from Itself from whence the sound came. A search through the cupboards would prove futile, as countless others had, and so Little One braced Itself against the emptiness. The pain of hunger is unknown to all but those who have experienced it; to live with ceaseless hunger is to know the deepest degree of despair. The twisted knots in Little One’s abdomen pulled tighter with every breath and every movement until the overwhelming pain forced Little One to the floor, propping Itself up against the wall. Across the stream, Great One sat surrounded by mouthwatering substances. Without even lifting a finger, sustenance was brought to His lips. His bloated abdomen rumbled with digestion, and traces of food lingered on His face, hands, and body. “Why must I suffer from hunger while He does not?” Little One wondered.
After a few minutes of contemplation, it dawned on Little One how lonely It was. Countless days succeeded one another, bringing nothing but monotony and hopelessness. Little One must have once had a mother and father, but It had never known them. Neither did It know the comfort of an embrace or the unspoken support of a kiss. Little One was the sole occupant of the dwelling, and no visitors had graced Little One with their presence in Its distant memories. Little One was forever left to wonder in isolation. Across the stream, Great One was visited by many acquaintances. Laughter was frequent, reverberating loudly against the walls. Some bestowed upon Him warm embraces, and from a few, a kiss. And as He sat on his throne, isolation was often sought out instead of dreaded as He grew tired of complacencies and gossip. “Why must I suffer from loneliness while He does not?” Little One wondered.
Suddenly, as if an apparition, Wise One arose from the darkness and reached out Her hand, saying, “You must suffer from cold, Little One, because you are strong enough to bear the cold. You must suffer from hunger, Little One, because you are willful enough to live with hunger. You must suffer from loneliness, Little One, because you are resilient enough to recover from solitude. You must suffer, Little One, because others cannot.” And with that statement, a wave of light permeated the worn and forgotten shelter, enlightening Little One to the truths which Wise One told. After a few glorious seconds of realization and surprise, the light diminished and Wise One had vanished. Little One, however, could feel the light within him still, buzzing with a euphoria unbeknownst to Little One until this time.
Across the stream, Great One remained ignorant and naive of such truths. He remained sitting on His throne, above all who stand alongside Him. Little One swung open the door as if it weighed but an ounce and walked down the hill confidently toward the water’s edge. Little One slowly slipped Its feet into the stream, one at a time, carefully, as if not to alert the village people of Its presence. And from that stream that forever separated civilization from the inhabitant of the shelter, Little One took one last glance at the self-proclaimed Great One, and then proceeded to turn away from the opposite bank forever. Its suffering will continue, and the suffering will be as brutal as it was before. But It will bear the suffering alone and with a happy heart, knowing that It must bare what others cannot.
Cold, hungry, and alone, Little One stood in the middle of Its humble abode, small and insignificant. “Why must others suffer from naivety, while I am enlightened to the truth,” Little One wondered. And It lived a fulfilled and happy life of suffering, while Great One and others like Him lived their’s unfulfilled in ignorance.
Realization of a lifetime
This tragedy gave Jim a new perspective. He now viewed it as a gift. The realization of a lifetime.
Jim quickly got ready for work. He is a big wig for “Runners of America”, which is only the biggest and most successful shoe business for runners world wide. His hobbies include running, researching how to run more efficiently, and training his young son, Chase, for his marathon days to come. Ever since he was born, Jim knew that Chase would be an amazing runner as well.
Chase’s first word was “run”. Every morning, he would get up, and run around the house four times before breakfast. Then, he would sprint to the car, and hurry into school, racing his friends along the way. As a little boy, he loved how excited his dad would get when he saw him run. He loved the pride he felt when his dad would race him. He loved the bond they shared when talking about running.
As Chase grew older, he began to change. Ninth grade was an important year for him. His dad had already signed him up for the school’s track and field team, along with a travel team to get him recruited by colleges. Meanwhile, in school, Chase’s third period was art. Even just the second week into school, he would fast walk to art class and get his things before everyone else. His eyes would light up as he swept his paintbrush on the canvas. He was in awe of the endless possibilities there were to draw. Jim couldn’t wait for Chase’s start of high school. He could not wait to see what the future had in store for his athletically gifted son. It was perfect timing, too, because Jim was training for his most intense marathon yet.
Chase started to take his time when walking to the locker room after school. He went through practice and did what he was supposed to do, but it wasn’t the same. He no longer stayed after to run extra sprints. He no longer got up early in the morning to workout. He still had passion and drive, but it was no longer for running.
“Why didn’t you run this morning?” Jim asked, with his eyebrow so high you would’ve thought someone was pulling it up with a string.
“You know, it was just a crazy morning, and I’m still sore from practice yesterday,” Chase stuttered as his eyes stared at the ground and refused to make contact with Jim. All they ever talked about was running. When they ran, how they ran, how fast they ran. It was the topic of conversation, every conversation. Chase began to feel like that they had nothing else in common. When Chase got home from school that day, he was excited to continue his secret masterpiece. He went into his closet, moved over the shoes, unwrapped the sheets, and took out his canvas. He had been working on it for weeks, always finding another detail to add. Painting was soothing to him. It kept his mind at ease, and helped him relax. He listened to The Beach Boys’ album on repeat, and sung every word to ‘Surfin USA’. He didn’t hear the keys open the front door, or the foot steps up the stairs. As he belted out the last line, “Everybody’s gone Surfin’, Surfin’ USA!” he opened his eyes and was in shock. “What am I going to do?” Chase thought in panic.
“I can’t tell him. How could I?” Chase’s thoughts flooded his brain, and as he opened his mouth he couldn’t even get out any words. Then Jim spoke, “Why aren’t you at track practice? You have a meet tomorrow, it’s required that you go to practice the day before a meet. You’ve never missed a practice, have you?”
Chase’s stomach started to churn. His heart was beating out of his chest and he couldn’t even think of any excuses.
“I haven’t been to practice since last monday.” Chase whispered cowardly.
“And why is that?” Jim replied.
Enough was enough. It was already an awful situation being put on the spot. Chase knew he would have to tell his father eventually, but he figured that he would at least have the luxury of picking the time and place, and thinking about what he would say.
“I just can’t do it anymore. It’s not fun for me, it’s a chore, and I hate it now, I quit the team.” Chase blurted out. He let out a loud sigh of relief. Jim couldn’t even get out any words. He had nothing more to say. The next cold months would be brutal for the Jones’. “How was training today dad?” Chase would ask.
“Fine.” Jim looked down at his plate and continued to silently roll around his vegetables. This had become the only interaction Chase and Jim had now, in addition to the occasional “Can you pass me the salt?”. Chase knew that quitting the track team would upset his dad, but he did not expect his dad to completely shun him.
Jim was in the last stretch of his training for his most important marathon yet. He was trying to secure a big deal with the sponsors, to allow his company, “Runners of America”, to be the face of the event. He would be up against over 23,000 of the best runners nationwide. Jim knew his odds of winning would be extremely low, but it was crucial that he placed well, as one of the top runners there.
It was a beautiful sunny morning in Massachusetts. The sky was pure blue and crystal clear. The only thing louder than the hums from the birds, was Jim’s heart. Jim, his wife Terri, and Chase eagerly drove into the city, and got Jim ready for the race. Number 3579 in the Boston Marathon. He anxiously started to stretch, as Chase and Terri found a spot on the sideline to cheer him on. Although Chase and his dad’s relationship had been strained, Chase was still excited for his dad. He knew how much this meant to him.
The race started out very hectic, and as it began, it looked like a herd of gazelles running through the city. Jim was absolutely invigorated by the atmosphere; signs everywhere, endorsements left and right, and so many talented runners. He was starting to get tired near the end of the 20th mile, but he continued to persevere. He finally looked up to see the finish line! He had done it! In less than one mile he would have finished the Boston Marathon and place as one of the top runners! The excitement and momentum was the only thing fueling his speed, as he raced towards the finish line. There was less than half a mile when…
A piercing sound flooded over the city. Jim heard a faint noise, that continued to get louder and louder as he regained consciousness. Chase and Terri were cowering over him. Shaking and bawling, Chase grabbed his father and stared down at his leg. An agonizing scream sounded, as Jim started to regain feeling in his body. He looked down to see a pool of blood, and only the end of his kneecap. Then there was the pavement. All he could see through the black fog was crimson red splattered on everything in sight. The screams and cries, the traumatized faces, and the police and emt’s fully submerged the area. His brain flooded with thoughts and realizations of the last events. He started to become lightheaded and lose his vision.
Jim slowly woke up in a hospital bed. Chase and Terri quickly jumped out of their seats to talk to him. Neither Jim nor Chase cared about their fight anymore. Chase wrapped his arms around his dad so tight, Jim could barely breathe, but he didn’t even care. He just wanted to embrace his son.
The next months would be extremely difficult for Jim and his family. With Jim in a wheelchair life was very different than before. He couldn’t do much on his own, and had to have someone change his bandages three times a day. Running had been like breathing for Jim, and this realization was almost unbearable. He started to completely isolate himself, and was absolutely miserable.
After a few weeks of giving his dad some space, Chase decided it was time for him to become alive again. He moved his easel, paints, and paintbrushes into his dad’s room. He found Jim, sitting near the window (as usual) staring at the sunset that he used to adore when he went for his daily run. Chase came in and set up his things, placing one easel in front of his dad and one in front of himself. He started to paint, and Jim quietly stared. For the first couple of days, Jim simply stared at his blank easel. But, he started to look forward to Chase’s company everyday. “C’mon dad, just try it, you might actually enjoy it.” Chase encouraged. When his dad did not reply, he walked out of the room and rolled his eyes. Nevertheless, as he came back in, there it was; Jim was painting. Strokes of orange, and pink and yellow covered the canvas; it was his perfect sunset. “It’s not much, but I do feel better.” Jim whispered. Chase and his dad painted everyday after that, and it became something that they both looked forward too. Jim saw Chase’s paintings, and realized why he loved to paint so much. It made him happy. He quickly realized that he shouldn’t have pushed Chase to run, and should have pushed him to simply do something that would bring him joy. As they painted, they talked about their days and laughed, just like old times. They finally regained the bond they had before Chase quit track, and before the marathon. Except this bond was even stronger. They had been through so much together, and they vowed to never let their differences get in the way again. This tragedy gave Jim a new perspective. He now viewed it as a gift. The realization of a lifetime.
When I was younger the words “Colorectal Leiomyosarcoma” meant very little to me. The only connection these words held were with a man named Mike. Mike was one of my dad’s best friends, and to this day, I have never met a kinder, more wholesome man than him. He was the kind of man you could always rely on, always putting others before himself.
One day my dad and I were driving on Route 202 when he got a phone call. This was before you could pair your phone to your car, so I could only make out a few mumbles coming from the other end. Almost immediately, my normally loud, extroverted dad went completely silent.
On my fifth birthday my grandparents gave me a Razor Scooter. I immediately opened it, disappointed to realize there was no way I could ride it on the carpet of our family room, and moved on to open the next present. Meanwhile, my toddler brother was sitting on my mom’s back positioned right next to the abandoned scooter. I heard a gasp and turned around just in time to see my falling brother’s head connect with the sharp edge of the scooter. The next few moments were a blur but I will never forget how much blood came gushing out of his head that night. Next thing I knew, my parents and grandparents were on their way to the hospital with my brother and Mike was walking through the front door to stay with me, determined not to let this ruin my birthday.
Mike told my dad he was sick pretty early on during his diagnosis. Even for a 35 year old man “Colorectal Leiomyosarcoma” was a lot to digest. In layman’s terms, the tumor grew between the cell walls of his colon, making it inoperable. If you met Mike on the street, you would never know he was living with terminal cancer.
Not long after the razor scooter incident, my grandmother needed a knee replacement. With my grandfather and all three of her kids working full-time to support their families, there was a subtle panic that no one would be able to care for my grandmother while she healed. Without hesitation, Mike was eager to offer his assistance. Bringing her meals everyday and keeping an eye on her so our daily routines would not be compromised, Mike cared for our grandmother when he himself was terminally ill.
At ten years old I had never seen my dad cry. Through family funerals, dead pets, and close calls I had never seen my dad shed a tear. I thought he was invincible, the stereotypical idea that nothing could get to him, so when I heard a strange noise come from the front seat of the car that was not quite a sniffle but definitely not a regular breath, I got scared. I knew Mike did not have long to live, and I knew whatever he had been told on that phone call was not good news.
When I was eight, my entire family went to Disney. Two weeks before take off, my parents seemed to forget that we could not bring along the part of our family with four legs and a tail. Our dog suffers from Napoleon Complex and due to this, finding someone to watch her would take more work than planning the trip itself. When Mike heard of our predicament, he was once again quick to step up and spend most of his week looking after our territorial mutt so we could enjoy our time.
After working up the courage to sneak a glance at my wavering father, I saw a single tear run down his cheek. I panicked and abruptly adjusted my gaze to the road ahead. Before I could process what was happening, the crumbling man sitting next to me swerved into the closest parking lot, threw the car into park, and let his head drop into his hands. I knew this meant my fear was confirmed but could not begin to fathom what to say to make this easier for him. It was his job to console me, not the other way around… what could I do? After I stopped thinking and regained my awareness, I noticed the car had already been put back into motion and my strong father had returned. While we have talked about Mike all the time since we received the news, we have yet to speak about what happened in the car that day. Today, the words “Colorectal Leiomyosarcoma” mean that we may have lost an inspiration, but we definitely gained an angel.
It All Happened So Fast
By: Rachel Elison
Quack, Quack, Quack. My iphone alarm blares in my ear.
It’s summer, why is my alarm going off so early, I think to myself. In a daze and confused, I pick up my phone, only to realize that it’s eleven o’clock, and I have thirteen missed calls and twenty text messages. How could I have slept so long? It was Made in America day one, something I had been looking forward to for weeks and our train was leaving in an hour.
“Mom….Mom….MOM!” I scream from my room. I scramble around to find my outfit and get ready as fast as I can. Where is my makeup? I stumble into the bathroom and take a quick look in the mirror. Oh great it looks like a truck just hit me. Why are my eyes so baggy? Eye shadow, check, foundation, check, highlight, check, lip gloss, check. I take one last look in the mirror and shrug. Good enough.
With a smile across my face and not a worry in the world, I make my way downstairs, only to be interrupted by my mother as she asks, “What do you think you’re wearing?” I look at her with a look of both confusion and annoyance and then look down at my royal blue skater dress and white socks with red stripes. “You do know it’s raining and the it’s about 50 degrees outside.” I again look at her with utter shock and disgust because it’s August and how can it possibly be this cold and miserable out. Sure enough, I look out the window only to see the worst weather of summer. The skies are gray and swallowing up any hope of sunshine. There are dozens of clouds moving slowly and menacingly across the sky. The trees in the far back of my yard shudder in the wind. I shiver just thinking about how cold I’ll be in my dress and now I’m in a bad mood. I begrudgingly grab my bright red matte rain jacket and put on my bright white converse and sprint to get out the door. Before I can make my escape, my mother stops me, gives me a kiss and says, “Have fun, remember to be safe and I love you.” I am too annoyed to answer back as I am not only late but now I’m cold as well.
I get in the car with my friends and my phone immediately starts to blow up with texts from our other friends who left earlier.
“Where are you guys?”
“Hello the train is about to leave.”
“Hurry up you are going to miss it.”
The texts I receive from my friends who had already made it to the station put us in a panic. There were seven of them and four of us and we were all supposed to go together. “Quick park here, go go go”. We whip into the first parking spot we see. We all swing the car doors open and pile out of the car. Without even making sure we have everything with us, we sprint to the top of the platform. What feels like twenty flights of stairs is only one, but it seems to take us forever to make it to the top. The top is close but not close enough. Suddenly, steam fills the air and the sound of metal grinding on the tracks fills our heads. The train is leaving and we aren’t on it!
We take a moment to catch our breath and look around at each other. I begin to pace back and forth, scratching my arms, trying to keep my calm as the four of us try to figure out what to do next.
What if we can’t find them?
What if they don’t make it there safely?
What if we don’t make it to the concert?
All of the ‘What if’s’ are going in and out of my mind rapidly.
We are in Malvern, on the Main Line and we are in unfamiliar surroundings. We are not Main Line kids, we go to public school and we only really know people from Garnet Valley. We are dressed in cheap, generic red, white and blue colored clothing, made up of tops from Forever 21 and bottoms from H&M. The kids that are standing around us and staring us down all seem to know one another and all seem to be wearing much nicer, much pricier outfits. Their clothing has fancy monograms and labels like Vineyard Vines. They seem to all know one another and be part of the same crowd. They seem to be country club kids and we didn’t fit in. While they dressed high class, their behavior was more low class. The longer we stood there and watched these kids make fools of themselves, the happier we were to be standing on the other side of the tracks from these kids who thought they were invincible. Jumping up and down, singing, laughing, and acting silly in their antics, they were taunting each other by yelling “train” and waiting to see if any of their friends reacted. If a friend did react, they taunted this person even more.
Unfortunately, as they would soon find out the hard way, the constant yelling at each other about the train coming would fall on deaf ears when they needed the warning for real.
Capturing the moment. Something that absolutely must be done anytime you and your friends go out. Capturing our smiles and laughs on this awesome summer day, despite the weather. As we switch through people to make sure we get a picture with all of our friends there, our photo shoot is suddenly cut short. We are standing on the edge of the platform, the ground below us is painted a faint yellow. Red lights flash and although not familiar with train stations we figure that it will be best if we step away from the platform. While we heed the warning that the yellow line represents, we are the only ones who move back. The others continue to laugh and yell and act foolishly.
“The Train’s coming, Train… Train… TRAIN!”, the kid’s on the platform yell, but it seems hopeless. This is no longer a joke, but I seem to be the only one who knows that.
The train seems to be coming fast, faster than usual. The whole world around me stops, but the train continues on its fateful path. It is not stopping and I know that it’s out of my control. I feel so helpless, but scream out as loud as I can, “Move! The train is coming!” But these silly, preppy kids did not know me so my voice didn’t matter to them. It was as if I was silent.
I shut my eyes and turn my back as the wind from the train forces my body to turn away. I feel like I am being turned around and around and cannot stop. The train has passed and now there is only silence as one person lays on the ground. No one has said a word. I turn back around and my jaw drops to the ground. I am frozen in fear.
The platform is now red, drenched in red. My eyes start to tear up, but I am motionless and speechless.
“He’s not moving”
“Someone wrap his head.”
“Someone call someone.”
It all happens so fast. I want to help but will anyone let me help? I feel helpless and in shock. I cannot feel my arms and legs as if I have been hit by the train. Everything seems to be happening so fast.
The lights begin to flash again, but this time they are blue and red. The cops and ambulance have arrived at the train station, but it feels like many hours have passed, even though it’s only been a few minutes. I feel as though this kid saw his last sight, laughed at one last joke, sent his last text and spoke his last words.
Everything happened so fast. One moment everyone is laughing and the air is filled with excitement and in the blink of an eye it is filled with an eerie silence and sadness. It easily could have been me standing too close to the edge of that platform, ignoring the yellow line. Many things went through my mind in those moments that seemed like hours. One of my biggest thoughts was about my mother and how concerned she was for me even though I was mad and acting like a jerk when I left. I wiped the tears from my eyes and texted my mom. “I love you.” was the text I sent her after seeing this kid breathe his last breath.
It’s my little sister’s field day. Everything is winding down, the sun is not so hot as it was when the day began and the frantic energy of the sweaty little t-shirt-clad bodies has dissipated a little; most have abandoned the relay races and moon bounces in favor of the ground, where they sit and scan for four-leaf clovers and eat water ice. Their sun-pinked faces are all sticky with it. It looks like Sophie is just about the only kid of the field with any energy left. She’s also the only one in whom I’m really invested, plus I’m not interested in helping the kids lugging half-empty water jugs across the field, so I meander over to “supervise” her event.
She’s racing a short, stocky little boy with curly hair and thick glasses. He looks tired but as soon as I say “go” it’s clear that he’s putting up a fight, blasting off the starting line with surprising determination. Sophie’s legs are shorter but they’re moving faster, keeping pace with him. I see something in her eyes, a hint of malevolence, and she bears her teeth and I know what she’s going to do even before her leg darts out to the left.
The little boy falls to the ground with a thump of finality and Sophie crosses the finish line a few seconds later, remorseless. I stand there for a second, stunned and almost impressed, before a kid I barely recognize – he’s from the grade above me, I think – jogs over to where Sophie’s opponent lies, sprawled across the grass, chest heaving dramatically. Mortified, I shuffle over to the scene.
The little kid gazes accusingly up at me from the ground. “Yikes, I…” I glance at Sophie, who’s staring at her shoes. “I don’t know what happened. He must have tripped over something.”
“Yeah, her foot!” he protests, suddenly erect, injuries forgotten. “She tripped me!”
The older kid looks intensely uncomfortable. “Hey, hey, chill,” he tells the little kid, shooting him a look. “It was an accident.” Sophie nods emphatically. The little boy rolls his eyes and huffs, then hops to his feet and takes off.
I watch him go, then turn to the older boy. “You know that kid?”
He smiles — it’s a cute one — but he doesn’t quite meet my eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “My brother.”
“Oh, no way.” I place my hand on Sophie’s head. She’s now preoccupied with pulling apart a thick blade grass, previous incident forgotten. “This one’s mine. My sister, that is.”
“Oh, hey, cool,” he says, still avoiding my eyes. With what seems to be a good deal of effort, he raises his gaze to meet mine. He has nice eyes. They’re dark, but not a flat brown or black. There’s definitely green in there. I don’t know why I notice. There’s a long pause. “Maybe they could, uh, have a playdate sometime.”
I smile less because I find the idea appealing and more because he’d spent precious seconds searching for something clever to say and come up with “playdate.” His floundering was charming rather than off-putting, and I let out a good-natured chuckle to put him at ease. “Something tells me they wouldn’t get along.”
He laughs, and we continue to talk for a few more minutes, then more than a few. His name is Ben, I learn. I’d forgotten what it was like to find someone attractive, but the feeling starts creeping through me again, new and exciting but resoundingly familiar all the same. He loosens up nicely; his cute, stuttering charm transforms into a goofy, genuine sense of humor. I feel a twinge in my cheeks about twenty minutes in. I haven’t stopped smiling in a while.
The day comes to a close as sunset turns to twilight and the rest of the army of volunteers disassembles the world around us while we talk. Finally Ben’s little brother (whom I learn to be Jeremy) comes tugging at his shirt sleeve, and the moment has ended.
“Alright, well, have a good night,” I tell him, and consider simply leaving it at that. As he starts to walk away, something makes me open my mouth again. “Hey, Ben!”
He turns around. “May we could, uh, set up a playdate sometime.”
He grins. “Sure.” His smile strikes me again, and I realize that it’s done. The shift is complete – I’m officially into him. “Something tells me we’d get along.”
The summer we spend together is beautiful. He’s not the only thing in my life – I’m interning at law firm in the city, I spend two weeks at math camp, I apply to a few colleges – but everything that isn’t Ben feels like an obstruction. August rolls around and then mid-August (which might as well be a different month, it’s so distinct), and then mid-August turns to late August and then Ben goes to college in the city, which feels like a tragedy. We agree to make it work; I call him every night, we text during the day, visit one another on weekends. We adjust. Suddenly this is what our relationship is and we learn to be okay with it, even to like it. We have magical moments. The night we took a midnight walk through the woods near my house in late September and found our stargazing rock. The Jay Z concert we went to together. The slow dance at prom. Beautiful moments accumulate and blend together into a work of art that feels as though it must be unparalleled, as though no one has ever felt this way before. Life continues, then seems to accelerate. I get an acceptance letter from my top choice school in Boston, and Ben’s the first person I call. We rejoice together. I cry hysterically, and there’s a twinge of something that’s not joy in my tears, but if it’s in Ben, too, he doesn’t let on. At first it feels like a dream, then like the distant future, and then it’s graduation day and I make a speech about the months and years to come and I feel like I’m going to vomit up there on stage because, jeez, it’s right here. It’s about to happen. And things become different because I’m standing up there and I’m searching the crowd for Ben’s face and I can’t find him at first. I’m scanning through a crowd of a thousand faces I may never see again and when my eyes finally land on him, seated between my middle school best friend’s mom and my fourth grade teacher, it hurts to look into his eyes because suddenly he feels like a part of my past.
The following summer is beautiful like the birth of a baby, ugly and painful ad monumental. But it’s not about Ben anymore. I start to avoid calls, start to invent excuses. And with every “it’s no problem” and every “we can do this” that he spouts like a sound effect it becomes harder to look into his eyes because I just want him to get angry, I just want him to see what I’m seeing, I just want him to reach the answer before I have to say it. He’s acting like it’s no big deal that we’ll be six hours away from one another, that we’re headed completely different directions. And then he’s talking about Italy and studying abroad and he asks me how I feel, if I’d be okay with it, and I tell him he has to go, and he says are you sure, and I say he just can’t pass it up. Boston seems like a thousand light years away until Italy comes up in conversation, and suddenly my world with respect to Ben zooms out wide enough to include whole other continents and he and I become so, so small in the scope of it all.
“Look, I know it’s far away, but we’ve done long distance before. And I’ll have Wifi, and maybe our Christmas breaks will line up and we’ll get time together then…”
I can’t even bring myself to nod yes to his fever dreams anymore. It’s exhausting. I’m studying the skin on my thighs, the little baby hairs cropping up above my kneecap, eyes safely tucked away from the reach of his gaze. I’m trying to wait it out, but he just keeps talking and talking and I want to grab him and just make him see. Can’t he see what’s happening? How does he not know?
I look up, about to snap at him, because a burst of irrational anger is welling up inside me right now and I’m about to take it out on him and his stupid face. How does he not know? But then I catch a glimpse of his eyes, and our gazes interlock, and I falter. They’re the same forest green as they were two Mays ago, and just like that day, I’m stopped in my tracks.
How does he not know?
Because you haven’t freaking told him.
“Ben, I…” I take a deep, shaky breath. “I don’t think this is working.”
I almost don’t believe the words when I hear myself say them. They didn’t come out of my mouth, right? I wasn’t ready, there was a better time, there was another way to do this. It doesn’t all end right here.
The silence drags on forever. I wouldn’t be able to meet his eyes if I wanted to. I memorize the fabric of my shorts and wait.
“Yeah.” He says. I look up. His face is turned, and his breathing is steady but his chest visibly expands and contracts as though each breath is hea “Yeah, you’re right.”
I don’t want him to be here anymore, because all his sadness, all this denial, all this confusion is radiating off of him and I feel it. I feel despicable. But at the same time, I feel what he’s feeling, and it feels familiar. His heart is breaking, and this little, broken, egotistical part of me that maybe never moved on from last time feels a twinge of something inappropriate. Maybe it’s triumph, the kind you get when you solve the problem first or reach the finish line before your opponent. There’s something satisfying – or at least, less painful – about being the first to lay hands on the inevitable.
I wish he’d gotten there first.
“Hey.” I take his hand. He twitches away at first, reflexively, as though he’s touched a hot pan.
“I thought we could do this.”
I look at him and I think about prom. I think about how it felt to have his hands on my hips, an overplayed cliche droning on in the background, as the rest of the world fell away. I think about last summer, and the ice cream trips, and the concerts, and the secret excursions, and how his smile always seemed to make things better. I think about that very first day, at Sophie’s field day, how we talked and talked as the world melted around us and he became the only thing in the world, and all the time that’s passed, and everything that’s changed, and I smile.
He places his head on my shoulder. “Hey,” I say. “We did.”