“Daddy, why do stars exist?”
The night was a starry one; the dark night sky was painted with little speckles of light. We sat on the dew covered grass by the clear river and stared through the telescope, gazing at the magnificence of the sky, and admiring the fascinations of nature.
“Well, I don’t know why they exist, but my pops used to tell me this: stars shine large and bright because they represent the hopes and dreams you hold dear. If you ever feel down or sad, just look up to the stars and remember to be strong and carry on.”
I shot upwards and exclaimed, “I want to be a star! I want to shine bigger and brighter!”
“You’re already a star son. You’re my star.”
Beep. Beep. Beep. The alarm grew louder and louder. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
“Louie! Get up or you’ll be late!”
I groaned, then stretched, then groaned louder, then stretched harder. The aroma of fresh air mixed with bacon grease and burnt toast filled my room as I rolled off the bed and onto the floor. I grabbed the first clothes I could find and slipped them on.
“Lou! Just because you’re a senior, doesn’t mean you can be late!”
“Relax Dad! I’m coming, I’m coming.”
I slugged down the stairs, eyes half opened, took a piece of toast, and started heading out.
“Ee ya yater dad…” as I said with toast stuffed in my mouth.
Partly Cloudy, 72 degrees fahrenheit, and a nice breeze: the perfect fall weather. The toast seemed a bit burnt. Dad usually cooks it to perfection, but other than that, life is good. It’s my senior year of high school, I’m already committed to college, and there was nothing to worry about. At home, it’s just me and my dad. We’re the perfect team, he’s got my back and I got his. We push each other higher to new heights, we inspire each other to do better, we work together so we can never fail. He’s my best friend, and I’m his.
My mother died when I was only eight years old. She was a firefighter and during a routine rescue mission, she gave her life so the family trapped in the fire could live theirs. I wouldn’t say I’m angry at her, but I just wish she could be here with me and dad. Nevertheless, I will forever be proud of her. Dad took it pretty hard. He became an alcoholic and began smoking. I don’t think we’ve ever been so far apart than at that time. Weeks, months, and even years eventually passed and our father-son bond became tighter, stronger, and more defined. I convinced my dad to give up drinking and smoking, but he had been doing it for so long that the drastic consequences and prolonged usage were catching up to him. I could see his figure getting skinnier, I could see his muscles getting weaker, I could see that his time was cutting closer and closer.
It hurts me to think of this, but you can’t escape reality. I like to not think about it. I say to myself repeatedly, “He’ll be fine, he’ll be fi–”
“Bro, what’re you doing?”
“Ow, my ass. Guess I should look where I’m going, huh?” I scoffed.
“Damn right you should.”
“Leo! What’s up bro?”
That’s Leo, my brother from another mother. Football player, jock, not-that-bright, you know, the stereotypical athlete in every story. But the thing that makes him different, is that he’s bright enough to understand that giving up is not an option, that we weren’t born into this world to just give up. That’s how we’ve became friends. Our ideology is just too similar.
“Dude, there’s this sweet party tonight. You down?”
“Uh, I gotta run it by my dad first, I’ll let you know tonight.”
“Whatever you say Lou, don’t wimp out though. See you tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll see you.”
When I came home from school that day, dad wasn’t there. I checked every room and he just wasn’t here. I didn’t think much about where he had gone, so I figured he was out.
I thought to myself, “I don’t think he’d mind if I went out.”
Off to the party I went, without a regret in thought. I had Leo pick me up. As I was walking outside my house to his car, I noticed that there weren’t any stars out sky was blank. It was empty with no stars in sight. It was a starless night.
It seemed as if the night lasted forever. Leo dropped me off home and I realized all the lights were off.
“What the hell is going on? Where is dad?” I whispered under my breath.
I stepped in the house. It was pitch black; empty as if it were a dark void of nothingness.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Four missed calls? I don’t remember my phone ever going off.
“Is this the son of Daniel Longheart?”
“This is he. Who is this? What’s up?”
“I’m terribly sorry to inform you, but… but your father has been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer…”
My life froze. Everything became blurry. Everything became muffled. I could hear the doctor keep talking, but I couldn’t make out the words. I didn’t know how to react. How the hell am I supposed to react to this? My eyes blurred more. Tears ran down my face. I wiped them, but I kept crying. I can’t just stand here, I have to go see him.
I sprinted out the door.
“Leo! Leo! Come back! Please come back!”
“What the hell ma–. Dude, what’s wrong?”
“Take me to the hospital. Now.”
We arrived at the hospital.
“Lou, are you okay?”
I didn’t answer. I ran into the hospital.
“Move! Move! My name’s Louie Longheart. Where’s my dad.”
No response. He was pale and extremely skinny and was covered in tubes and wires.
A tall, slinky man came in. He had glasses, a pointy nose, grey hair, and was wearing a white jacket.
“I’m sorry. If only we had found out earlier. If only we had diagnosed him earlier. The cancer is… it’s incurable. The cancer cells have already spread to 90% of his vital organs. I’m sorry, but he has little time left.”
“What?! How can this be?! How can this happen!? You can’t do anything?! You’re a doctor! Do something! Anything!”
“Louie. Lou–.” He said as he coughed up blood. His voice was cold. It crackled when he spoke.
“Dad! I’m so sorry. I’m so so so sorry. I should’ve been there. I should’ve been here.” I mumbled unable to hold myself together. Tears ran down my face.
“No Lou. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for doing this to you. Oh, your mother would have killed me for making you cry.”
The room was cold and quiet.
It was a starless night,
“Son, I’m sorry for leaving you.”
“Don’t say that Dad. You’ll fight through this, like we always do.”
“You always manage to look at the bright side Lou. Son, be strong, carry on, don’t give up, keep pushing, keep fighting.”
His voice faded. Faded until the room was completely silent except for the long, tasteless beep of the monitor. Tears ran down my face.
It was a cold starless night.
The TV played lowly in the background, “For today’s forecast, it will be a high of 35 degrees fahrenheit and a low of 17, cloudy and no sun. Bundle up Philly, it’s gonna be a cold one!”
I lie there, silent, in the cold bed. It’s been months. Days and nights have passed. Dreams and nightmares have come and gone. Yet, the restless guilt that I feel, remains.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
“Dude, you haven’t been in school for weeks. People are starting to ask about you.”
“Cool. Let them ask. I don’t care.”
“Lou, I can’t just let you rot. Get out of bed.”
“What’s the point in getting out of bed if life knocks you back down?”
“Man, what happened to you Lou. You know what you do if life knocks you down? You get up and punch life in the face. Life doesn’t control you, you control life.”
“I control life huh?” I thought to myself. If I could control life, I wouldn’t be in this hollow, empty house by myself.
“Get up Lou!” as Leo screams while barging into my room. “We’re going somewhere, now.”
“How the hell did you get into my house.”
“Don’t worry about it. Now, let’s go.”
We drove and drove and drove. Hours passed, but no words were exchanged. The sun started to sleep and the moon started to waken. The car stopped. We weren’t at any distinct place, but the place gave me deja vu.
“Lou, we’re here. Come on, follow me.”
Reluctantly, I followed. We walked through the woods. We came to a field with a large river cutting through it.
“Come here and just hear me out.” Leo said.
The grass was wet with dew and the clear river reflected moonlight.
“Life is like water, it flows in one direction. And like life, sometimes there are indirections and blocks in the river that clog the water and stop it. This is where you are. But eventually, the water rises higher than the blockade and gets back on track, higher than it was before. This is what you need to do. You need to rise up, and overcome this obstacle that has been placed in front of you. That’s what your dad would have wanted.”
His words hit me hard. They hit me like a truck and stuck onto me like glue. I stared at the water. It was clear and reflected the image of the sky. Stars stretched across the sky and shined brighter than ever.
I looked at him in awe.
“We weren’t born into this world to just give up.” we both said.
The stars don’t just represent my hopes and dream. They represent the hopes and dreams of everyone I hold dear: my mother, my father, and even the hopes Leo places on me. I hold all these hopes and dreams on my shoulders, and will forever carry them throughout my life.
I’ve always wondered,
Why do stars exist? Why is it that we humans are able to see them with our naked eye even though they are thousands of miles away?
Stars are the desires, wishes, goals, dreams, hopes, and ambitions that we hold. And the reason we’re able to see them is because we are meant to see our aspirations so that we don’t stray away from our main purpose in life. We are meant to strive in life, not to give up.
It was a starry night. The night sky was blanketed by billions of bright, shiny stars.
To my family, I love you all.
“Be Strong, Carry On”
Have You Eaten?
The tantalizing smell of homemade gravy and meatballs penetrated my nostrils as I stepped into the vestibule of my grandmother’s house. As my feet crossed the threshold, the blend of tomatoes, garlic, and herbs mingled with the familiar scent of Downy detergent, producing a slightly odd, yet weirdly comforting combination. Nan’s blood thinners make her consistently cold, and the warmth of her home always envelops me as I depart from the biting winter air. It was a humble home, but perfectly suited for Nan and I.
“Have you eaten?”, my Nan called out to me from the kitchen. It is the mantra of every Italian mother, and I knew, no matter what my response was, she would hound me until I ate something. 15 years of living under my grandmother’s roof had taught me it is better just to accept a meal. I was nothing if not well-fed in this home. “Not yet Nan!”, I called back to her.
I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. I had been living with my grandmother since I was 2 years old, when my parents were killed in a car accident. I knew nothing else except life with my grandmother. I loved dance more than anything in the world, and I had been dancing competitively since the age of 8. I also worked at the local hospital, providing amenities to family members in the various waiting rooms. Most people described me as responsible, strong, and a hard worker, though I am not sure I would agree with some of those terms. Roseanne Cafaro, my grandmother was a 100% Italian. Most of what she said daily sounded like a quote from a Youtube video I had once seen called “Things Italian Moms Say”. She was a constant worrier, her life overwhelmed by anxiety, but she always put her family before everything in the world.
Wearing just a leotard, tights, and spandex shorts from dance class, I entered the spacious kitchen to find my grandmother at the range, stirring the gravy in that large 34-quart non-stick pot which she loved so dearly. As expected, she sported the red, green, and white apron which I had bought for her last Christmas that read “It’s gravy, not sauce.” She did not have a recipe for the gravy, but if she did, her heart and soul would definitely have been one of the ingredients. The feeling of familiarity overcame me.
“My word, Carmella”, Nan exclaimed, using my full Italian name, “you are going to catch a cold in that outfit!” She delicately sprinkled the pecorino romano into the excessively large pot before coming over to give me a light kiss. After draining the tortellini and scooping some in a bowl, she doused it with her magic gravy and topped it with a hefty, perfectly round meatball, like only Nan could do. Despite the fact that I had eaten just an hour prior, my stomach grumbled at the sight of my favorite meal as it came closer to me. The aroma was so strong I felt as if I had already taken a heaping bite. I took a seat at the small, darkly stained wooden table and devoured the bowl in minutes as Nan continued to perfect the gravy.
We retold the events of our day. I described our competition pieces for that dance season, which we had begun learning at the 6 hour rehearsal I had come from. She told me about the episode of Dancing with the Stars that she watched while I was gone.
I knew I should be grateful. I knew how much my grandmother loved me and how much she did for me daily. But at that moment, I couldn’t help but feel a little bored. Every single day was the same. It was a never ending cycle of questions from my grandmother. I envied those that lived a normal life, with normal parents, in a normal situation. I desperately wanted more freedom from my grandmother. I deeply resented how controlling she was of me and my life. Her pestering just drove me out of my mind sometimes.
We continued like this for several minutes, Nan describing what she did while I was gone and asking me a thousand questions about dance. The background noise of David Muir on World News Tonight continued indefinitely throughout the whole conversation. “Weird aftertaste”, I thought to myself as I digested the gravy which I had just consumed ravenously. It was definitely not an appetizing taste in my mouth and I got up to grab a Snapple from the box which my grandmother always kept in the refrigerator before taking a seat back in my wooden chair.
A feeling overcame me before it happened. I just had a feeling.
“They got a 10 from all three judges, even Len!”, Nan beamed as she continued to tell me about her favorite couples dance on Dancing with the Stars. “And their costumes were just brilliant so sparkly and –”, she stopped. Suddenly, the wooden spoon she had been holding clattered to the floor. Nan’s face went white as a ghost and her body seemed frozen like a statue for a few seconds. I knocked over the wooden chair which I sat on as I hurried over to her, but I did not get there in time and she collapsed to the floor as if she were a puppet whose strings had just been released. Her limp body lay helpless on the cold white tile floor as I ran over to her.
Sometimes I had questioned why I took a babysitting course at Riddle Hospital when I was 10 years old, since I never used anything I had learned in the course while I was babysitting. It actually came in handy here however, and I sprung into action. I checked my Nan’s pulse, present and strong. I could feel her chest move as she inhaled and exhaled constantly and regularly. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank the Lord”, I said, and immediately kicked myself. Nan said I should never take the Lord’s name in vain.
I hurriedly grabbed my phone and dialed 911. My extended family always suggested I take up a career in medicine; they thought I would be good in high pressure situations. I was surprisingly calm considering the woman who had raised me was unconscious on the floor in front of me. The operator was comforting and informed me that help was on the way.
The wait for the ambulance seemed eternal. I held my grandmother’s head in my lap and I sat stroking her soft hair as I saw the flashing lights outside of her home. Finally, help had arrived. The EMTs told me I had done a great job in responding to the situation and got her situated on a stretcher before carrying her out the front door.
Before heading out to the ambulance, I set the house alarm and locked the door. I knew my grandmother would not have wanted to leave the house insecure, even in an emergent situation such as this one. It was always better to be safe than sorry, she always said. I sat holding Nan’s hand the whole ride to the hospital. The 10 minute drive seemed never ending.
My stomach dropped like an anchor in the ocean when the doctor informed me that Nan had a heart attack that day. I felt my own heart shatter into a million pieces as I realized how ungrateful I was being before the incident happened. The doctors took her back for a procedure to break down the blood clots in her blood vessels. Thrombolysis, I think they called it, though I was not very focused as they were describing it to me.
And once again, I was waiting. Waiting to hear that she was out of the procedure. Waiting for the doctors to tell me that she would be alright. Waiting to see my beautiful grandmother and hug her harder than I ever had before. Waiting to thank her for everything she had done for me and everything she would continue to do. I was waiting.
It was a long wait. I paced urgently around the hospital waiting room which I had spent so much time in as a volunteer. I snapped, “No, I do not want your stupid coffee”, when the volunteer on call had come around asking if I wanted any refreshments. I knew I should have maintained my composure more, but all the space in my brain was consumed with worry about whether or not my Nan would be okay. After eons had passed, the doctor appeared in her light blue scrubs and took me up to the hospital room where my grandmother would be staying for the next few nights. A weight lifted off my shoulders when the doctor reassured me that she would be completely fine. I graciously thanked her and went to sit by my grandmother’s bedside.
I put my head down on my hands on the bed to the right of my grandmother. I must have fallen asleep because I awoke to the feeling of Nan stroking the hair at the back of my head. Without even seeing my face to know that my eyes had opened, she lovingly said “Hi, Ella.” I picked my head up to look at her. She smiled warmly, as only Nan could do. Then, utilizing the mantra of the Italian mother, she asked me, “Have you eaten while I was under?” I had my grandmother back, and I could not have been more grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day
I think the room was dark, but if it wasn’t, it felt like it was. Outside of the house, the sun shone brightly and the air blew across the green leaves on the stubbly trees. Unfortunately I was inside the house, the pit of demise and deterioration. Grammy was still Grammy now, but she was certainly slower to say the least. I remember her explaining to me that she had to thicken the water she drank or she would choke. “How do ya like that?” she joked in her satirical, Grammy tone we all loved. It was definitely a bittersweet feeling, more so bitter on the inside but covered in chocolate of being able to see Grammy until she inevitably slipped into the night. In spite of her jokes, the shadow of sadness still cast itself around the room, dancing and playing with my emotions. I wasn’t alone with Grammy here, my aunt and my dad had come up to the room we were in to look through memorabilia and other nostalgia-inducing stuff.
Nostalgia is only a good feeling only after a year or so following the death of a loved one. Before a year, however, often the “good times” we had together feel painful, as it sets in that there could be no more of these “good times”. It is only after a year that these “good times” truly become good times and golden memories. Golden memories I remember include going to the movies with Grammy and my brothers, Sean and Colin, and always, without fail I tell you, going to Burger King or McDonalds either before or after. The Muppets movie was probably the best time that we went, although Jack the Giant Slayer with my then-7ish year old younger brother was good too. It must have been the way she looked at me and I looked at her when all the violence and age inappropriate things Colin seemed to be fine with that made a forgettable movie (Jack the Giant Slayer) into an unforgettable experience. Even though that was amusing in its own right, nothing beats Grammy saying “fart shoes” in a Fozzy Bear interpretation.
Grandpop, on my mother’s side, took us out to eat too. He took us to a wider variety of fine establishments, such as Burger King, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut. Following the passing of Grandmom, who died of Parkinson’s and was Grandpop’s wife, Grandpop and Grammy- who is on my dad’s side if you haven’t caught on- went out to dinner quite often. They went to the same places as they always took me and my brothers and would talk about things that are still unknown to me. I always thought of these little dinners as good things for them both. I was at least able to understand their need for companionship. What I haven’t mentioned yet was that Pop, grandfather on my dad’s side- you probably picked that up already- passed away before I was born. On a side note, I have the same birthday as Grandmom, which is pretty cool. But enough about me; I’m not supposed to be the subject of the story.
My father lost his father admittedly early and I was always told that Pop would have loved me. Obviously he would be forced to as my grandfather, but I understood what everybody was talking about. From the stories I heard, he never took anything too seriously and was always one to crack some jokes to lighten the mood. Aunt Ginny once told me that Pop said “Let’s get this show on the road!” when he was terminal, a true comic. My father, as fate would have it, lost his sister Julie before I was born as well. The circumstances behind Pop’s death were never revealed to me, but I gather it was must have been a disease of some sort. Aunt Julie, on the other hand, passed away in a car accident. Maybe that’s why I have an unfounded phobia of driving. Beginning to attempt to understand the amount of pain my family went through before I was born has definitely been daunting, and I never feel as if I can truly understand that pain. Not to mention myself again, but my birth, which was supposed to be some beacon of light or whatever my mom called it, was anything but. Trust me, I was an absolute terror as a child. Crying and eating were my two favorite activities and only activities for that matter. As I grew up, I became less of a monster and gained some sympathy, but I was still ignorant to the scars of the past. It wasn’t until that dark room that the light hit my eyes.
The wind was probably still whisking across the trees in tranquil harmony, but time froze when Aunt Ginny handed me that card. This card, this small, insignificant piece of some sort of paper, would open the flood gates of feelings and enlightenment onto the whole ordeal of the past. The card that was handed to me in that dark, unpleasant, foreboding room happened to be the last father’s day card my dad ever gave to Pop. The announcement of what the card actually was slammed me in the chest and clogged my throat. Actually reading the card stabbed and jabbed at my eyes with hot daggers, trying to vampire the tears out of my sockets. I wanted to give in, and I would have, if I was alone. But I wasn’t alone, and my dying grandmother certainly didn’t need to see her self-proclaimed favorite grandson sad or depressed in any sense of the feeling- much less bawling his eyes out.
The card, which I felt obligated to read for whatever reason, wasn’t just blank with a signature at the bottom, no it had words. Real words. “Dad, I just wanted to…” I cleared my throat, hoping the lump would fly away like it was a bird in the wrong nest. “…thank you for…” The fire behind my eyes began to trickle across the border from mentality to reality. “…being such a good dad…” There it is, full out tears dripping down my cheek. I tried to wipe them away quickly, before Grammy could see, but she eventually detected my dismay and motioned in my direction before I could get it together. Nobody else but her seemed to notice or care- as they shouldn’t- and my stomach dropped with the feeling of disappointing her. Digging deep, deep, deep, inside of my soul I found every speck of whatever willpower I had to pull it together for her sake. I don’t remember how long exactly it took me to do so, but I did eventually and was able to speak without cracks breaking my tone. After said recollection of my wits and continuing with the visit, it was eventually the time to say goodbye. This would be the last time Grammy would see anyone while she was alive, and I am grateful to have been able to say goodbye with a smile of solace on my face instead of the subdued grimace of withheld hurting. The last time I saw her, however, she was asleep. Breathing heavily with the sound of a clogged nose she was there, unmoving, peaceful. My brothers and I shuffled into the room, one by one, in age order, as we always did, kissed grammy on the cheek and each said a final message- something suggested by my dad. I solemnly whispered, “Happy Mother’s Day, Grammy.” That night she passed away.
By: Haley Flambaum
A Friday night that I had two years ago, May 13, 2016, was not like the Friday night my cousin, Jamie, had. My friends and I were having a sleepover. That night we had went out to dinner at California Tortilla. Concluding the night we went to my friend Sam’s house. There we talked about our weeks while watching movies. It was a normal Friday night.
Jamie’s Friday night had played out different then she had expected. She expected the night to be a fun, to go to a date party, off campus at the University of Delaware, and have a good time. After that, she expected to go back to her dorm and have a good night sleep after the night she had.
I was asleep on the floor with two blankets wrapped around me. At around 6 in the morning I noticed my phone was ringing. I did not put much thought into why someone was calling me at 6 in the morning, so I decided to let it go. A couple minutes later my phone rang again. I was in too deep of a sleep to answer it.
My cousin, Jamie, was leaving the party she was at. It was a late, dark night. She was attending a date party off campus with her friends. As she was leaving she took one step onto the street and a car going 30 mph hit her, straight on, with no hesitation.
A few hours later, I woke up and checked my phone. I saw that my mom had called me several times and texted me several times. The texts said, “Call me when you wake up. It is important. Jamie has been in a very bad accident.” Immediately, I sprung up from the floor and ran into another room with my phone. I was not sure how to feel at this moment. “How bad was the accident? Was she really that hurt?” I thought. My trembling fingers typed my password quickly, but shaking. I went into my recent calls and clicked the name “Mom.” My heart was beating out of my chest.
She answered and it was as if all happiness had been ripped out of my body and replaced with a frightened feeling. She told me that her and my dad were on their way to a hospital in Baltimore. She said that the accident was so bad that they had to fly her to Baltimore. She said, “Jamie has been hit very bad. She suffered from several bone injuries and head trauma.” And then, one of the worst things she could have said came out of her mouth. “Jamie is in a coma. They do not know when she will wake up.”
I woke Sam up and said, “I have to go. My cousin has been in an accident. I need to go.” I went home and just sat in my room. I was in shock at what my mom had just told me.
I went home that day shaking and in pain because I did not know what was going to happen. When my mom and dad came home that day I saw something very rare. A teardrop glided down my dad’s face as he said, “She is going to be okay. Right now it might not seem that way, but she will. I promise.”
A few days later, my mom took me to Baltimore. Patiently waiting during the drive, I was nervous to see my cousin. My mom had told me throughout the car ride that she was different. She said that she does not look herself. As we pulled into the parking lot of the hospital nerves were running up and down my body. I did not know whether to be scared, nervous, or happy that she was alive.
I walked into the room and I was speechless. Her body was still and lifeless. That body that laid flat and still not knowing whether it would wake up. I stared at her and hoped that I would get a reaction back, but I did not. Her hair was scrambled everywhere like a nest. I stepped into the hallway because I could not bare the sight of her. I broke into tears. My aunt gave me a big hug and told me, ‘It is going to be okay.” She then broke into tears like I had.
A few days later, we received scary news. My family and I were informed that my cousin had to go into a 12 hour brain surgery the next day and her head would have to be shaved for the procedure. A speechless reaction hit me again. I thought, “This can not be happening. She is too young. This was not supposed to happen to her. A 12 hour brain surgery, no young adult should have to go through that.”
Throughout that night, I tried to forget about what was happening. I went to my friends house to try to distract me. I got food with them and just had a normal night with them trying to let the distant memories fade through.
I was blessed to receive amazing news the next day that Jamie was okay and the procedure went very well. No problems were present throughout the surgery. After everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, things were starting to change. A long 2 weeks later, she was woken up from her coma. She had to stay in the coma for those 2 weeks because her brain was swollen.
2 years later, Jamie is at a 95% recovery and she is back in college. 95% is her being able to comprehend almost everything. Her hair has grown back to around her shoulders. Her speech is normal, but her speech can be faint sometimes and she can live her live like any 20 year old should.
When thinking about the number 13, I have perceived it as an unlucky number. I have heard about Friday the 13th and all these superstition stories that cause the number 13 to have a bad name. I had experienced an unlucky Friday the 13th. It was this day where the superstitions were in my perspective.
May 13, 2016
Until Next Time
By: Rachel Collins
“We need to talk.”
Those famous, dreadful words. The ones that hit you like a truck. The ones that grip your insides and pull them straight down out of your feet. I was grocery shopping for my mom, looking forward to the home-cooked meal she was planning to make that week, when those words popped up on my screen under your name.
“Can you come pick me up?” you added.
I didn’t even respond, I didn’t need to. I skipped the last couple items scribbled on the grocery list, a bright orange post-it note, and checked out with an old cashier, who I rolled my eyes at while she took 6 hours to ring up my food. The grocery cart rattled over the pavement as it began to drizzle lightly from the sky. I sloppily stacked the thin plastic bags in my trunk before hightailing it out of the parking lot. I needed to drop off the groceries at my house before I came to get you. My mom would have been pissed if I didn’t get the frozen food back into the freezer as soon as possible. I threaded the plastic handles on my arms and carried as many bags as I could without having to make a second trip back to the trunk. The flimsy plastic began to tear and break as I stumbled through the door, hitting all the walls on the way into the kitchen. I released the heavy bags to the floor with a thud, unloaded the frozen items only, and jumped back into the driver’s seat. I hesitated, staring at our messages for a second, and decided to answer you after all, just to make sure you knew I was coming.
“On my way” I replied before I pulled out of the driveway, slick with rainwater.
The sky was dreary and grey, and it was raining a little heavier as my cherry red Jetta flew down Route 1. It’d been three and a half songs since I got in the car. That’s almost ten minutes if you assume each song is about three minutes in duration, and it felt like I had been sitting in that uncomfortable leather seat for decades. I ended up in your long winding driveway around five songs later. I don’t even know how I got there without crashing considering I was driving so mindlessly preoccupied by your text. I drifted slowly down the asphalt, not even hitting the gas. I could just make you out carrying a white picket For Sale sign near your garage, and once you caught sight of me you ran back inside.
I felt my heart stop beating for a second. I automatically remembered a couple nights before when you were upset and you felt like your parents weren’t telling you something. You felt like something wasn’t right.
“Don’t worry!” I had said, “Worst case scenario you’re moving back to California. That’s highly unlikely, ” I laughed, “so just don’t worry and ask them about it later.” I continued, trying to be optimistic and make you feel better.
My eyes began to flood with tears and a lump formed in the back of my throat making it feel like I couldn’t breathe. My heart felt like it was about to burst and shrivel up at the exact same time. I blinked my tears away as you came back outside and over to the car.
“Can you just wait here for a sec?” you said as I rolled down the window.
I stared back at you with a mixture of panic, sadness, and what-the-hell.
“Sure,” I replied.
You ran back inside and I was back in my head. I rested my forehead on the top of my steering wheel and took a deep breath. All I wanted was to understand what was going on. Maybe, I thought, the For Sale sign was from when you bought the house a couple months ago? I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t what it seemed, but I knew.
You trotted out of the garage, punched in the code and got in the passenger seat. You grabbed my hand in yours and squeezed it a little bit. Your hands were always so warm.
“Can you please tell me what’s going on?” I demanded with pleading eyes.
“Can we just wait ‘til we get back to your house?” you requested.
The drive back to my house was around 9 songs in complete silence other than the radio and the pouring rain. I felt your big brown eyes glancing at me the entire ride, and I refused to turn my head slightly to the right to see you. I would have burst out into tears if I had. When we got back to my house, the groceries I had left out were put away. You said your hellos to my mom and sisters with a smile, and I gave them a wide-eyed look of concern as we went downstairs to the basement. With every step, my heart pounded. You sat me down on the couch, kissed me, and said, “It’s pretty worst case scenario.”
Finally, the tears I had been holding down for the last hour came streaming down my face with a heartbreaking sob. I cried into that little nook between your neck and your shoulder for hours. You apologized a thousand times even though I knew it wasn’t your fault, and eventually got me to stop crying. You could always make me feel better. We stayed together until late that night and then you left. I shut the door behind you, my eyes blurry with salty tears, and I sunk to the wood floor. That was the first time you left until you left for good; when I stood outside the airport doors with you and told you, “Until next time,” but that next time never happened.
My mom and my sisters ran over to me and I tried to tell them through my tears that you were moving, and they didn’t even say anything, they just hugged me. They took me up to my room and lay with me in my bed. They brought me food (even though I wasn’t hungry) and let me cry to them and talk to them. And even though you left, they will never leave.
As soon as the yellow school bus stopped at the junction of Lincroft Drive and Brookstone Drive, I sprinted off the bus and began my walk home. It was the perfect October day. The temperature was comfortable, the trees were a magnificent burnt orange color, and planters of brightly colored mums lined the patios of all the houses on the street. I crossed the street and walked up the freshly paved driveway of number 19 Lincroft Drive and used the pin pad to open the garage door. As per usual, I removed my shoes and placed them on the shelf before entering the kitchen.
“Hey mom, how was your day?” I inquired.
“Hey it was good. I have to go upstairs and start recaulking the shower area. Make sure you answer the door when the twins come home, alright?”
“Okay. Try not to have too much fun with that” I laughed.
My mother gestured to the food she left on the coffee table before grabbing her caulking materials and walking up the stairs. I relocated myself in the family room and turned on Modern Family with the intent of catching up on the last two weeks worth of episodes. I munched on a handful of pretzel sticks and some grapes until the doorbell rang. I looked at my phone. It was much too early for the twins to be home. Confused, I waited for a second, debating whether or not to answer the door. The doorbell rang a second time and this time I hustled to the door. I unlocked the deadbolts and flung open our brown front door expecting to see the twins. Instead, my eyes instantly met a gun in a holster and a pair of shiny handcuffs fastened to a utility belt.
“Hello sweetie. I’m an officer with the Burlington County Police Department. Is your mommy or daddy home?” the officer inquired.
“Yes sir. MOM YOU NEED TO COME TO THE DOOR,” I shouted while miraculously holding back an eye roll. Who did he think I was? An 11 year old little girl?
I heard the patter of footsteps as my mother raced out of her bedroom and down the steps.
“What is it? Did you hurt yourself? Oh….” she said as she rounded the corner.
“Good afternoon ma’am, my name is Officer Thomas and I’m with the Burlington Township Police Department. Are you Mrs. Sarkozy of 19 Lincroft Drive ?”
“Yes that’s me, how can I help you?”
Why was there a police officer at my house? To arrest my mother? No that was simply impossible. She never drove above the speed limit and would never do something bad enough to get arrested. Was it the new shed my parents put in the back corner of the lot? That didn’t make any sense either because that’s a township problem not a police one. Completely stumped, I sat there trying to fathom why this officer was in my foyer and not doing more useful things such as handing out tickets to the idiots who blow through the stop signs at the entrance of the neighborhood.
“Here are the papers. You have 30 days to respond. Good luck on your lawsuit ma’am” he said as he turned on his heel and walked out the front door.
Lawsuit? My heart sank and I stood completely frozen by my mother’s side. I finally looked up to her and all the color in her face had completely drained. She immediately picked up her cell phone and started dialing my father’s office.
“Hi Barbara its me. Can you transfer me to Nick’s office phone?”
“Oh hello Mrs. S! I’ll do that right away”
My mother waited for a minute, impatiently tapping her foot and running her hands through her thick black hair.
“Sorry, Nick is talking to some intern right now. He asked if he could call you back later”
“Please tell him his wife needs to speak with him now”
Another silence penetrated the room.
“Hi Mrs. S. I’m transferring you to Nick’s line right now. This might take a second”
“Thank you so much Barbara, have a great rest of the day”
She began pacing in circles again and fluently cursing out the envelope while she waited for my dad to pick of the phone.
“What’s up? I was talking to John, my new idiot intern who apparently can’t work a printer” my father laughed.
“Come home the second you can get off work.”
“I know you miss me and all, but I have work to do.”
“Nick I’m serious. The police came and handed me an envelope full of court papers. The people from the last house are suing us over some water damage and the stone in the front of the house.”
“Stop screwing with me. This better be a joke.”
“Why the hell would I call you in the middle of the day and make a joke about this?”
“Call the attorney, and I’ll come home as soon as I can.”
The line went silent and my mother ripped open the envelope and proceeded to the dining room.
Two hours later, my father pulled up in the driveway when the twins and I were playing basketball. He ripped the key out of the ignition, left the car doors wide open and sprinted inside.
I woke up early on Friday morning. Of all nights to relive that day, my brain decided last night was the best time. I rolled out of bed and walked into my siblings’ bedrooms and flicked on their lights. I proceeded into the kitchen to eat my breakfast and pack my lunch. My dad sat in the armchair in the family room sipping an espresso while my mother scrambled to to pack the twins’ lunches. I grabbed my tennis bag from the laundry room, extracted my jersey and pulled it over my head.
“Match tonight?” my father asked.
“Yeah it’s against Brookline at home.”
“Well if today goes alright then maybe your mother and I will finally get a chance to go.”
“Right well don’t worry about that. I’ll probably come home in between. Maybe I’ll see you then?”
“Maybe” he sighed and continued to sip his espresso.
As I sat on my phone responding to texts, my parents put on their suit jackets, wished me a good day and started their drive to the courthouse. When my brother and sister finally made it down the stairs, we all walked to the end of the driveway to catch the school bus. I took my usual spot in the back row of seats and put my headphones in my ears. Hopefully nobody would bother me this morning.
The bus pulled to the front of development and stopped at the stop sign. Multiple cars flew threw the intersection which was not too brilliantly placed at the top of a hill, making a turn a virtually impossible feat especially on a foggy morning like today. Where were the cops now? Oh right I forgot… they’re too busy delivering court papers to innocent families. Maybe that was a little harsh, I thought to myself. I glanced out the window again and stared at the magnolia tree shadowing over the development’s sign. As bare and dull as it looked, green leaves were starting to bud out of one of the branches.The rest of the trees looked the same way. It was as if they were teetering on the edge of a metaphorical fence… to give up and die, or to fight through and live? I gave some more thought to these trees before the bus lurched forwards and thrust me back into reality.
I tried not to think about the lawsuit on the ride to school. I made a mental note of what had to be done today, but the nagging feeling of uncertainty left me running through even the most improbable scenarios. If I was as good at making up these endings as I was memorizing my biology notes, then I would have been the next Darwin, I chuckled to myself. Fortunately, we finally reached the school and I was grateful for the temporary distraction.
8 long periods and another bus ride later, I descended from the school bus steps and stepped onto the sidewalk. Despite the bleak morning weather, it had warmed up considerably and the sun was shining on the backs of our necks as we leisurely walked down the street.
“Keep your mouths shut and don’t ask stupid questions you two” I said as I turned onto the driveway
“What if it went bad, then what do we do?” my brother asked.
“I swear to god, I will smack you if you don’t stop talking. Do not speak unless spoken to. Am I clear?”
“Yes” he muttered.
We all removed our shoes and placed them on the rack before crossing the threshold of the house. I walked into the kitchen followed by the twins and saw my parents sipping tea in the family room.
“It’s finally over” my mom announced. I turned to face my parents. They looked exhausted, but ecstatic. Although they looked considerably older than they did just a few years ago, the twinkle of energy that had been missing for so long filled my parents’ eyes for a fleeting second. They had done it. Finally the plaintiffs had finally been caught in their dishonesty and the truth had quite literally set us free. The darkness that had been hovering over our house for years finally cleared and for what seemed like the first time in forever, the sun shone through the windows. Relieved, I sat down thanking the universe for an answer. For four years we sat waiting for answers. Why us? Why now? How is this fair? The fact of the matter was that it was not fair and it never had been. For years we carried the emotional and financial burdens of a supposed “crime” that we did not commit. For years we hoped and prayed that our honesty would shine through. For years we waited for some form of closure. And nearly 4 years later, our prayers had been answered.
A Tale of Two Cousins
Throughout their lives, Johnny and Ben shared a close relationship as cousins. They were two months apart, both fifteen years old. Johnny and Ben talked on the phone nearly every day, cracking jokes at each other and talking like nonsensical fools. They both acted like typical young teenagers; extremely immature and often jibed at each other, making inappropriate jokes for the sake of the laughs.
Although they shared this common bond, their physical traits and characteristics were polar opposites. Johnny was tall and lean; he was extremely smart and came from high values. Ben, however, was short and chubby. He was not a good student in school and he had practically no talents.
I found myself standing in the middle of the parking lot, marveling at the enormous ship directly in my line of view. My heart dropped. Today was the day I had been anticipating for nearly a year. Nothing could ruin this trip — or so I thought. It was my grandparents’ anniversary, and the whole family had gathered for a celebration aboard the glorious cruise ship. Racing ahead, I reached the entrance to the security room, leaving everyone else in the dust.
“Hurry up!!!”, I screamed across the parking lot, very impatiently.
Eagerly, I slipped my way into line, and waited for the rest of my family. After what seemed like hours, they finally caught up. My whole family was there: both my sets of cousins, my uncle and my grandparents. After our belongings were thoroughly inspected, we finally made it to the entrance of the ship. I was breathtaken at the beauty of my surroundings. This was going to be the best week ever!
At first, I was shocked at the little amounts of space we had in our rooms, but eventually I was able to adjust to it. The housing assignments had been made prior to the trip. I was with Ben in room 128, the girls were together in room 129, and all the adults were in rooms 130 and beyond.
The first day mostly consisted of us getting situated and unpacking our belongings. We were about to embark on a weeklong journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the Bahamas. I shoved my crumpled clothes into the drawers on my side of the room and threw the rest of my belongings on the foot of my bed. I chose the bed on the left side of the room, closest to the window. The first few days of the cruise were enjoyable. Ben and I got along as usual, as we played basketball together and went to compete in the video game tournaments too. Everything was going smoothly; that is until we made the bet.
By our fourth day aboard the ship, we finally reached the Bahamas. The boat was docked in a harbor, and we were allowed to explore for the day. Sometime in the middle of the night, the leg of the bed that Ben was sleeping on had collapsed. The bed was on a slant and obviously not stable enough to be used. Instead, we had to pull out the sofa bed, and one of us would have to sleep on that.
Rather than argue about who slept on what bed, Ben decided to propose a bet with me.
“If you make it the rest of the vacation without making a fat joke, I will sleep on the couch bed”, he offered.
I took that bet, though I knew somewhere along the lines I was bound to slip up and lose the bet. Our whole friendship was based on making fun of each other and cracking insensitive comments about each other.
Throughout the day, I found myself traveling between the pool, the beach and the buffet. Somehow, I had been able to hold in all the jokes I had in mind. It had been a long day; the sun had drained the energy out of me, so I went to take a nap. I opened the door to room 128 and found my place in the remaining bed and quickly dozed off.
I was jolted upright. Opening my eyes, I found Ben hovering above me. He had an angry look on his face, and he immediately pushed me off the bed. I fell to the floor helplessly, as I was outmatched against his strength. Ben didn’t say anything else, he just walked out of the room and disappeared into his parents’ room for quite some time.
I was angry and upset, so I walked out into my sister’s room. She was sharing a room with our other set of cousins, James and Alexa. James and I got along well, but we were not nearly as close as Ben and I were. James was heavy, but he was also tall and muscular. He was the oldest of the three boys, but not by much. After I explained the sequence of events, we all agreed that it was nothing serious. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
I found my father waiting at the door, with a concerned and worried expression on his face. He grabbed me by the arm and told me to come with him, as if I had a choice. He led me to his room where I found Ben standing facing me. I took a seat on the edge of the bed and gave him my full undivided attention.
“Why did you punch me in the face?”
I was in shock. Where did this baseless claim come from? Why would he suggest such blasphemy? I quickly jumped to defend myself. I would never lay a finger on Ben. He was my best friend, why would he intentionally lie? Quickly, word spread throughout the entire family of these claims. I denied them and explained what had happened, between the bed, the bet and the push. I was angry. Why would Ben betray me like this? What was he trying to accomplish?
These claims grew louder and louder. Ben’s parents began telling everyone that I did in fact punch him. They exaggerated their lie more and more each time. First, it was a simple push, then it was a shove, then it was a punch. The inconsistency in itself should have been enough to discredit their claim, but this was something that was not all too uncommon. My best friend had turned against me. For what? Why?
To this day, Ben still sticks by his allegations. That fateful day has caused a rift in our relationship. Maybe it was for the better. After all, you can’t expect positive feelings from hanging around negative people.
While no one will never know for sure what truly had happened aboard that cruise ship; I have just presented my version. However, if you were to ask Ben what happened, it would look completely different. It would look a little something like this.
Johnny was there laying on the bed. He had verbally attacked me once again. I felt an anger build up in my stomach and I decided to confront him about the situation. I gave him a slight tap to wake him up, and he ended up flopping onto the floor. Suddenly, out of nowhere he threw a fist to my face. I felt betrayed. Why would Johnny betray me like this?
I was upset, so I decided to seek parental guidance. I didn’t know what to do after my cousin had punched me extremely hard in the face. After all, I was just trying to defend myself.
The tale of two cousins ends right about here. Johnny and Ben stopped talking to each other, as they both believe they were betrayed by the other. Johnny upset because he thought Ben was lying. Ben was upset because he knew Johnny had punched him. The truth of the events will never truly be known, but one thing is for sure. Johnny has been happier without Ben in his life, and Ben is happier sans Johnny. While the two of them did indeed get along, they were always holding each other back. After all, you can’t expect positive results being around negative people.
A Typical Salvage Mission
A misty haze set in over the town. Steel towers loom over the once fertile land below, now left empty. In the barren wastelands are the scavenger-types, the ones searching for something, anything they can turn for a profit. The guilds of the city had no use for them, so they were forced to go elsewhere.
Skati leads a pack of scavengers through the destitute fields. A harsh smog makes it difficult for anyone unaccustomed to the treacherous underworld to make it through. One more crater for the crew to pass through before they reach their target: a 23rd century mining ship long abandoned and forgotten since the great war.
The ship stands rusted and hiding beneath a cape of fog. The glow of the city, though mere miles away, is barely visible on the horizon, just as the roar of the factories is barely audible. Small scout vessels hover overhead shining their spotlights down on the empty environment.
“Get down!” a burly man by the name of Yngvarr shouts.
“Hey, what’d you do that for?” Raphael comments as he is pushed off the path by Yngvarr and drops the apparatus he had been tinkering with, and it shatters revealing small chunks of chrome.
“Just quiet ‘til it passes,” he responds hurriedly. They stop moving and cower next to a small cliff as it passes through shining its laser and slicing through the smog. A bright yellow light moves throughout the crater, gliding effortlessly along the path they had been following.
“That was too close,” Skati muttered.
“Hey, keep your men in line, Skati.” Yngvarr makes an offhand comment to her.
“Cut Raphael some slack, we needed someone to work the computer systems once we’re on it.”
“Well we had Luna for that—” Yngvarr gets cut off
“Now you know as well as anyone else why we couldn’t do that this time, there’s too much risk with her. Let’s drop this for now and get the mission taken care of,” Skati’s voice commands respect from even her closest of friends. She holds a resent to the Coalition, just as everyone else does, for they denied her movement to the colonies, instead opting to let her rot along with the scum and villainy that is lower Earth.
Yngvarr is quiet now, all that can be heard of him is the drumming of his boots pounding into the crusty ground below. The three of them are accompanied by Adande, a rather reserved individual made famous amongst scavenger-types for his ability to get near anything off world.
No more than 30 yards away stands the remnants of the mining vessel. Its large drill, rusted and dented, lay face down in the earth below. The ship features damage from an improper reentry to the atmosphere as well as quite a few scars from the war.
Scouting ships are zooming through the sky in every which way. Their beams of light shredding the landscape. They had a tendency to track and find scavengers in the outskirts. Those found were often never seen again.
Skati calls the group to the base of the structure. She and Raphael would look for anything mechanical in the ship, while Yngvarr and Adande searched for materials of value.
The storage bays appear to have remained largely intact. Yngvarr lumbers over to a pile of minerals and starts filling his pack. Adande is apprehensive, he has not seen these green crystalline objects before, which unnerves him.
“Help me get enough of these, someone is gonna want them,” Yngvarr asks for assistance.
“Those things look like Emerald, they’ve been an extinct for at least a hundred years. If we bring these back, people will start asking questions that I won’t have the answers to, that’ll delegitimatize our entire operation.” Adande mentions.
The money they would get for this could get him the treatment Luna needs, or better yet, it could get them off planet with no questions asked. Yngvarr puts several more in his bag as Adande moves into another room. Wind gusts can be heard through the old, thin metallic shell of the ship.
Raphael and Skati meanwhile are working on salvaging a portion of the old computer system within the vessel, it would fetch a fair price on the market. They hear footsteps outside, followed by a flash of bright yellow light in through an opening.
Yngvarr hears gunshots and sees the yellow peeking through the walls.
“Stand down!” A voice echoes thunderously.
Yngvarr reaches for the wrench he had been wearing on his belt, he moves back towards the entrance and peers out. Multiple scout ships are parked outside, watching for his any movement. Yngvarr slides open the door. He darts out holding the wrench above his head and charges at an officer standing collected and calm. The officer unfazed as Yngvarr attempts his escape. He glances to see Yngvarr and raises his gun. Thunderous claps echo through the fields. Two shots hit Yngvarr rendering him unconscious. The officer drags him over to the cruiser along and locks him up next to two others also unconscious.
Hands and feet tied, even the most basic movement is restricted. Yngvarr was stripped of everything, his clothes, his tools, and his hope. Wounds and scars line his torso, reminding him of the torture they had done to him in the war. He now sits alone on a chair, cold and clammy. A light relentlessly blinds him.
The sound of a door closing startles him and someone begins bombarding him with questions, “Who are you? What were you doing outside of city limits?”
Dumbfounded, he stutters, “I, I am Yngvarr Byrnes, a merchant, if I had my bags I could show you my ID’s.”
“That wouldn’t be necessary.” The voice continues questioning him, until it has had enough of him. At which point the light goes dark and he is left alone in the cell, with rags to act as clothes for the time being.
He sits silently in the dark, until a door opens ushering him into a mess hall where rations of MRE’s are passed around amongst large groups of the Coalition’s captives. Yngvarr sees two familiar faces across the hall, Adande and Raphael. Making his way over to them, he is visibly upset of the circumstances. His left fist is swung into Raphael’s jaw, blaming him for their capture.
“Hey, knock it off, beating each other up won’t solve anything.” Adande admonishes him. “Besides, it wasn’t him, and you know it, who isn’t here with us?”
He takes a step back, apologizing for his rash behavior, muttering under his breath, “No, she couldn’t have.”
Skati is off, she sold out. A friend and companion for four years to Yngvarr, and she just betrays him to save herself. Seething with anger, all that brings him solace is the fact that Luna was not with them. She will live out her days in the relative peace of the urban underworld, they had become adapted to. A bell rings and they are ushered onto crafts heading away to do menial and torturous work.
Life Not According To Plan A
I woke up. Where was I? What happened to me? I looked around the room, everything seemed really bright to me. As my sense of hearing started to come back to me, I heard a bunch of beeping sounds. As I began to try moving around, the beeping became more frequent. Panic took over my body, as I tried to stand up but could not. I began screaming. “Help! Help!” Eventually someone came to my aid, and that is when I learned the most devastating news of my life.
Life was great. I was a senior in highschool, and everything seemed to be working out for me. I got into Duke, where I was intending to pursue an engineering degree, and upon graduation work at the company my dad owns, who make prosthetics. Additionally, I had the three best friends of all time, we did everything together. Not to mention my girlfriend, we had been going out for over a year, and we both got into the same college. Not to mention, I was also the high school quarterback, and the hero of our town when we won the football state championship.
However, that all changed. I remember the day perfectly, it was Friday, the best day of the week, and I had the best night planned ahead. My friends and I were going to go to an EDM concert that night , after it ended we also heard of a party that night we were going to attend, I could not wait for a great night.
Beep Beep Beep, it did not take long for me to get out of bed. As soon as I got out of bed, I completed my morning ritual. For 5 minutes I would stretch after I got out of bed, then after that I would take a shower. After my shower, I ate my breakfast sandwich and drink my green tea with lemon and honey. Then I quickly brush my teeth and style my hair before heading out the door.
Once, I get to school I usually hangout with my friends, because we have some of the same classes. School itself is not very boring to me. First period I take AP Physics, that is probably my favorite subject. Then I have AP Calculus next period. Most of my friends are in that class, so we usually have a good time, mostly talk about how our weekends were. Those are some of the best stories. After math I have english which is also a fun class. At the end of the day I have my gym class where I lift, so I don’t have to when I get home. This Friday, once school ended I bolted out of school to get home, I could not wait for a great night.
My clothes for the concert were set. I had a red bandana, jeans, and a basketball jersey. My friends and I agreed that we I would drive because I lost in poker the previous weekend. Once it was 6:30, I left my house to pick up my friends. The concert was at the electric factory in Philadelphia, so the drive was going to be a somewhat long one. We listened to some EDM before the concert so we could get the adrenaline flowing. This night was going to be great I knew it.
Once we got to the “City of Electronic Sound”, I could feel the energy. When we walked in I immediately let the beat of the music take control of me, even my friends started to dance too. We were having the best time, the girls, the beats, and the adrenaline had me in a trance. Once the music ended, I felt myself drenched in my own sweat and out of breath. But the night wasn’t over. Once the music ended my friends and I sprinted to my car, so we could make the party, the night was going to be great, even after the concert.
We showed up to the party, and everyone was having a blast. However, my parents did not know that I was going to a party after, and texted me wondering where I was. I told my friends I had to quickly go, I had a little bit of alcohol but did not think that it would affect me too bad.
I was driving home, going a little too fast for driving at night. For some reason I thought I heard a crow cry in the distance, and turned to look for it. I must have driven off of the road when I was distracted. As I laid there the last thing I saw was a blue light shine down on me.
While I was awake in my hospital bed, I had not realized it at first, but I was handcuffed to the hospital bed. I considered why I was handcuffed until an officer walked into the rom. “Sir you are being arrested for reckless driving, property damage, and driving under the influence.” Then he read me my miranda rights, and asked me if I understood them. The only thing that I could muster was a nod. Briefly after the police officer left the doctor and my parents came into the room. All my parents said to me before they left was “we are disappointed in you” and left. The doctor however was not as brief he slowly began to tell me what happened to me, and finally said that I would be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life. After that there was fast beeping and tears.
I spent the next four months in jail. Everything was taken from me in a brief instant. My college career, gone. My friends, gone. My girlfriend, gone. My parents, gone. The only thing left to my name, was a criminal record.
The life I lived after the accident was simple. I owned an apartment in Ames, Iowa, it was one of the least expensive ones I could find with the money that I have. I lived off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s almost nothing fun for me to do anymore, no more football, no more concerts, and no more friends. I knew absolutely no one there. At least, I would prefer that for the shame I have.
It was a normal day, at Walmart. That’s where I worked, not many jobs want people with a Dui, and are paralyzed. I work in the clothing department, I help with restock the clothing, and let people into the changing room. I felt kind of sad today when some kid asked his mom “why is he in a wheelchair?” I heard her reply “He lives an unfortunate life son.” Instead of feeling upset by that comment I actually felt a fire rekindle inside of me, my competitive edge, something I have not felt in a while.
After work, I went to the park and take in the scenery, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the small things in life, the beautiful green trees, the bright blue sky, the beautiful songs of the birds. However, the most beautiful thing was the phoenix I saw at the park every day, it inspired me to continue every day. Today however, I came up with a brilliant idea. I was going to create something that would help people like myself, so they don’t live an “unfortunate life” like myself. I used the knowledge from the classes I took in highschool, and tried to apply those concepts to my disability. It was that moment that I made a prototype in my head, that i would try to make. The key would be obtaining capital for my project which would take a few years of smart investing. I went back to Walmart and quit my job, I left with $10,000 dollars to my name.
For the past two years all I have done in my life was buy and trade stocks, trying to gain capital to start my company. Every day I woke up at 5 am to read up on the stocks so I am ready to trade right when the market opens. After the market closes I research up and coming companies that I can invest in. My biggest return on an investment was $173,000, from a new technology company. I was close to my goal sitting at $833,712, but December 3rd 2023 was the biggest crash ever. I lost all but $3,000 dollars, less than what I started with. It took weeks for me to recover, I knew that I could not go back to Walmart. But my debt only continues to increase, and is at $12,000.
I needed a home run stock. Instead of sulking I decided that I would never make the mistake
I made ever again. Waking up Friday January 23rd 2024 I did not know that I would make the biggest decision of my life. I invested all of my money in a penny stock company. It was a company that I had a lot of confidence in for their ability to efficiently assemble vehicles, I sensed that a car company would buy them. At the end of the day, as I was watching the news I saw that Ford would purchase the company for 367 million dollars, and I slowly came to the realization that I was the owner of 1% of the company.
With over three million in capital I knew that my company would do great. I went around hiring other disabled people so they could benefit from my company’s success. We began working immediately. We were going to make something that aids to help people with paralysis able to walk again.
After three frustrating years, the company’s capital was getting low. I desperately needed some miracle to happen. For some reason, in our product it would try to attach to the wrong neurons in the brain. I couldn’t figure it out. I discovered that certain metals can connect with the damaged neurons and help the person walk, but the connection wasn’t there. As I did my daily ritual of watching television after breakfast, I came across animal planet, where they were talking about certain animals brains, that’s when it finally clicked for me. I immediately began working again.
After being awake for over 30 hours began to be really hard on me, it was the 50th hour that I finally finished my product. Pure joy and satisfaction engulfed my body. I thought that I had done everything correctly so that my product would now work. I put on the gear, and activated it. I was able to walk! I continued to feel that burning feeling in my body, the feeling I got on the park years prior. I immediately took my company public to begin making more. Soon it would be that tens of thousands of people would be able to walk.
1 in 2.4 million, that number had been drilled into him long ago by parents, coaches, teammates, trainers, and anybody else who knew of Gabe Locke’s debilitating fear of flying. 1 in 2.4 million are the odds of being in a plane crash, which adds up to about less than 90 per year, not all of which end in fatality. It didn’t matter to Gabe. It wasn’t so much a fear of death, but a fear of being in the sky in a closed cabin with no control of the outcome, that’s what really affected Gabe.
It wasn’t just a fear of flying, Gabe also had anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. His anxiety affected his eating and sleeping habits, sometimes getting panic attacks for days at a time where he wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t leave his house.
The odds of a high school athlete in the United States playing division 1 basketball are just .9%, yet Gabe had achieved that. Gabe was recruited by most of the top schools in the country despite his fear of flying, and decided to go to Northwestern, mostly due to its proximity to his suburban Chicago home. The odds of playing in the NBA are 1,860:1, just .05%, but Gabe had achieved that too, well, sort of. He was about to, maybe.
Gabe had starred in high school, making varsity his freshman year and slowly earning minutes as the season progressed. He was a 6’4” point guard, lightning quick with a smooth shot and tremendous vision, seeing plays develop before anyone else did. He had the talent to play in the NBA, everyone knew it. He played on the top AAU circuit’s starting the summer before his sophomore year. The older kids had more size and strength but Gabe had more skill than almost anyone. It just came easy to him.
Something that didn’t come easy to Gabe? Flying. Getting on a plane didn’t just irk him or scare him. It didn’t just give him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was fine when he walked into the airport itself, it didn’t bother him. He could check in his bags, go through security and sit at the food court, enjoying donuts or whatever he was in the mood for. It was when he sat down at his gate when the feeling started. First it was just that feeling in his stomach, but suddenly they were about to board. First class brought nausea, “Group A” is when the sweats and shaking started. A full blown panic attack would always soon follow.
Gabe had made it through high school without ever really having to fly, and very few people knew about his fear. While at Northwestern, they accommodated him accordingly. He tried to get on the team plane more than once, but he just couldn’t do it. There were ways to fix it, most of which involved lots of psychologists and medicine costing a lot of money, which his family didn’t have. So they made due. He missed a lot of extra class to leave early for road games, taking a bus, train, or car, whatever was easiest. Easiest is relative though, he missed a lot by not being on the team plane. He often was by himself while the rest of the team was on the plane, occasionally accompanied by a manager or two. The anxiety was also dealt with. When his panic attacks hit he simply alerted a coach, and that would be it. He would take his medicine and it would run his course, and he would return when he felt well again. His teammates and coaches knew about his fear and anxiety, but it was kept quiet otherwise. Gabe and his family took great lengths to ensure it was kept underwraps. They didn’t want to deal with any publicity that would come from it, but mainly they were afraid of how it would affect Gabe’s chances of playing in the NBA one day.
A NBA player being afraid to fly would be a new one. NBA teams travel so much, and only take a bus from city to city maybe twice out of 41 away games. That’s 40 or so times Gabe would have to get on a plane, or find another mode of transportation that would transform a three or four plane ride to a full day trip. His family was afraid that it wasn’t realistic, but Gabe always held out a sliver of hope.
People knew of his fear and of his anxiety, but very few other than his parents understood the true effect it had on him. Most thought it was just a fear of flying, and he’d get over it and NBA teams would be able to accommodate him until he did. The lack of true understanding of his problems is what allowed Gabe to be selected in the 1st round of the draft by the Chicago Bulls. He was a NBA player, well almost.
The five months between the June draft and the October season opener could not have gone worse for Gabe’s NBA aspirations. Gabe and his agent, George Bass, thought it was imperative that there were accommodations in his contract ensuring proper mental health protocol and treatment. They wanted mental health professionals to check up on Gabe, not team doctors who knew about physical illness, not mental. The team refused to guarantee such requests, basically telling him his performance would determine accommodations. Gabe and George couldn’t accept that, but they did. It made Gabe a millionaire, and he was about to be a NBA player.
Training camp started in early September, and Gabe was ready. His talent was undeniable, he was not just going to be a NBA player, he was going to be one of the best to ever play. And then his first panic attack hit. He knew it would happen sooner or later, it had been a few weeks since his last one. It was a bad one, two days of seclusion and fatigue, but he had experienced worse. Normally that would be it and he’d get back to his normal routine, but he was a NBA player now. He had missed two practices so he was fined and forced to sit the first preseason game. This wasn’t like college. He tried to make the team understand it was like an injury, like how his teammate with a strained shoulder had to sit out two weeks. But the team doctor cleared Gabe because he was fine physically. It was after this same thing happened multiple times; a panic attack followed by seclusion followed by a punishment, that Gabe realized this wasn’t about him achieving his dream anymore, it was about getting rid of the stigma that came with mental health problems. Gabe heard it all the time, he was “a headcase” or “selfish”, very few understood what panic attacks and anxiety meant.
Gabe wanted to make a change, to make a difference when it came to mental health. He refused to play until the team guaranteed mental health professionals would evaluate and treat him. The team didn’t want to make special accommodations for someone most thought was crazy. The Bulls soon traded him to the Sacramento Kings, giving Gabe some hope that it would be different elsewhere. It wasn’t. His reputation preceded him, after one panic attack he was fined and suspended. He was eventually released, and Gabe wasn’t sure he even wanted to play in the NBA again after how he had been treated. But he still loved the game. He didn’t play very often, but the few times he did his talent was still there, still always the best player on the court.
After two years of treatment and advocating on behalf of mental health he wanted to play again. He didn’t want the NBA, not after the way they treated him. He went to a tryout for the London Lightning, a team in the NBLC, the National Basketball League of Canada, a league where they bus to most games. He was out of shape, not having played seriously for over two years, but still he was immensely talented. He made the team out of the tryout, training camp started up shortly after. The team knew about his anxiety and were understanding. He had a strong panic attack early in training camp, three days of seclusion and fatigue, and after arriving back to camp was examined by a mental health professional, giving him the all clear. He wasn’t punished.
Knowing that he was going to be treated fairly eased his tensions, his panic attacks have happened less often throughout his first two seasons in Canada. Almost never having to fly helps too. Gabe is the best player in the NBLC, having already won MVP twice and even winning a championship. Gabe feels sorry for the NBA, sorry that they are missing out on one of the best players in the world because of their refusal to fix their mental health protocol. Gabe is happy in Canada, he has medicine to treat his anxiety and mental health doctors to help him through his rough patches. He’s not in the NBA, but he’s doing what he loves and is at peace while doing it.
And Then Nothing
Sleep was no longer a break, a time for mental recovery. It was done out of necessity. Adrian’s body and mind craved the feeling of nothing, where anything could happen in the world around and it would not affect him. It was pure blissful ignorance. For a brief moment, he was surrounded and enveloped by nothing, but it was never permanent. Each loud sound of his alarm was life knocking at his door, urging him to keep moving, keep thinking, keep working, keep living. Some days, this inevitable message blessed him with motivation. More often than not, however, the knock would pound his head into his pillow. It was as if life did not want to be lived, at least not by Adrian.
* * *
He slid his thumb between the keyboard and the screen, pushing the laptop open, revealing the 23 overlapping tabs across the top. The shallow, blue-ish white light blended well with the flashing cable TV news and the stagnant iMessage conversation. He had flooded his room with sensory stimulants, it an attempt to get his mind to move faster. He couldn’t settle for thinking about three assignments at once, or four, or five, or ten. An invisible force compelled him to open more tabs, as if it were his life’s purpose. Each assignment started, or task required, was a lump of snow on his already massive snowball that was speeding exponentially down a hill that did not have an ending, at least not one that he could foresee.
Adrian knew that he was not alone in this abyss. He saw his classmates getting blackout drunk on shots of Smirnoff, and getting high off the weed their brother got from college. Yet these are only temporary releases, and soon enough, life’s brutality returns just hours later, stronger than ever. What was the point of giving himself such a tantalizing taste of freedom only to be forced back down to earth? Why even make such a fruitless attempt to escape life’s grasp?
A typical night of homework and studying devolved into a chaotic, torment of thought in Adrian’s mind about life as a whole. Questions whirled around his head like a tornado, always coming back at the speed of sound while never receiving an answer. He was fighting a battle for his own psyche, struggling to maintain control of his own thoughts. Each idea spiraled into question, a regret, a dark thought, complete nonsense, another question. They pushed against the walls of his skull, an internal conflict demanding a resolution. Yet Adrian could not find one. How could he? What could end such nuance, chaos, and activity, nearly instantaneously?
Almost unconsciously, his legs picked him up and walked him down toward his parents’ bedroom, absolutely oblivious to the possibility of them waking up and seeing him. His mother’s dresser creaked as he opened the drawer, but met no reaction from Adrian or the two sleeping in the bed next to it. As he came back to his own room, he unveiled what he had taken. His right hand wrapped around the carefully designed plastic grip. His thumb ran over the small switch, moving it back and forth, flirting with danger with every other click. Finally, his forefinger gingerly crept over the trigger.
A mixture of adrenaline and pure fear rushed through his veins, all over his body. The future’s unknown stood daunting over him. As much as he desired to break free from the reigns of life, he couldn’t imagine the idea of not existing. He would see nothing, feel nothing, experience nothing, be nothing. He was in awe of his sudden grasp of power over his own being. Holding a lethal weapon ironically gave him a sense of security, while he was still afraid of what his future held. Ultimately, Adrian had to make a decision. He didn’t even care about the real life implications of such an action: his family, friends, community. Anything that was tangible meant nothing to him anymore besides what was pressed up to his temple. He was no longer present in this universe as his index finger increased its pressure on the trigger. He existed in somewhere altogether different, or nowhere. It didn’t matter to him anymore. He tightened his hold on the gun. And then, there was nothing.
* * *
Adrian’s eyes were met with light as they opened. This was not the light of heaven, nor was it light from the fires of hell. It was only the sun peeking through his room’s east-facing windows. While his original intentions of the night before had never been carried out, the confusion and darkness that had plagued his mind had been lifted. He had made a decision regarding his own fate, giving himself a sense of empowerment. It was his life that he was destined to live, and no one, and no thing, could take that away from him.
* * *
I wish this was how Adrian’s story ended.
* * *
He was sitting in his first period class, in a desk about three feet from the door. He typically preferred this seat in class, because it meant being the first to leave. While determined to learn the Spanish future perfect tense as it was taught by his teacher, it was difficult to remain focused. Screams echoed in his head, the high-pitched shrieks rattling his eardrums. Was this a remnant of the storm that wracked his mind last night, or was this altogether different? The shouts and cries sounded louder, reverberating throughout the classroom. As the intercom crackled, with voices indistinguishable, the door opened to a man without a face, holding a semi-automatic rifle.
The bullet shattered Adrian’s skull, and his brain turned into a state of violent anarchy. The physical pain in his head was incomprehensible, yet miniscule compared to the psychological trauma that occurred. The gunshot had pushed him off a cliff. He was robbed of his sense of his empowerment over his own life. His fate was manipulated by the simple click of a trigger. His neurons flashed like lightning, but their messages found no recipient, no resolution.
This wasn’t a feeling of nothing. This was a hellish nightmare of having his life stolen from his by a man with no face, no known motive, no higher purpose other than maniacal insanity, ripping the life out of his heart, his brain, his soul, with a device that would do the same to fifty others in a matter of minutes. He may be memorialized, his image lined with flowers and candles, showered with thoughts and prayers, but ultimately, his name would just letters on a gravestone. His life, his unlived life, which was stolen from him in just a loud sound and a flash of light, would be wholly forgotten.
“Why’d he do it?” Ryan faintly heard the surgeon say.
“Because he loved her.” replied the nurse.
With that, Ryan was overpowered by the anesthesia and she fell into a deep sleep.
Ryan awoke in the hospital, but was no longer in the surgeon’s room in which she had fallen asleep, instead she was in a nursery. She was surrounded by nearly fifty sleeping newborns, except for one who was screaming at the top of her lungs. She walked over to the crying baby and read the name on the tag, Ryan Worthy. It was Friday, February 4th, 2000, nearly sixteen years before Ryan had fallen asleep. It was the day of her birth. She examined the crying baby wrapped in the bright pink blanket obviously irritated by something. In the bed beside baby Ryan’s slept her best friend of sixteen years, Evan, who was tucked into a deep red blanket. Ryan laughed as she recognized that even then Evan had been the the calm child, the one who didn’t cause a fuss about every minute detail of life. She looked back at both infants and was amazed how these two tiny, individual babies would soon become inseparable best friends. The thought of growing up without Evan crossed Ryan’s mind and she could not imagine going through the hell that would be an Evanless life.
Ryan exited the nursery to find a doctor talking to her parents in the hallway looking through the window at the newborns. As Ryan got closer she recognized the tears streaming down her mother’s face and her father’s attempt to comfort her while he was clearly on the verge of tears himself.
“What does this mean doctor?” asked her now crying father.
“Ryan has a congenital heart defect of the aorta which will affect her heart’s functionality throughout her life. She can not be operated on now because she is much too young and we cannot yet determine the severity of her case. But for most of Ryan’s life she will undergo treatments for this deformity and may eventually need a transplant.”
With the doctor’s diagnosis, everything went black.
Ryan was back at her elementary school recess yard watching kids playing games and laughing with their friends. She noticed one short, blue-eyed, blonde girl in the corner of the playground with a pail of sidewalk chalk sketching a heart on the pavement. It wasn’t one of those cartoon hearts, Third Grade Ryan knew much better what an actual heart looked like. The well-thought out diagram included a slew of detailed valves and arteries. Attached to Third Grade Ryan’s waist was her brand new heart monitor. This was the first day of school that Ryan had been allowed to return since she had first gotten her heart monitor. She remembered her animosity for the heart monitor and her fears of her classmates’ responses. Ryan watched as the young version of herself moved on to sketch the aorta with her brand new bright pink piece of chalk. The aorta had always fascinated Ryan, it was the part of the heart that supplied the blood to the entire body. It’s so vital that it’s the only reason a person can live. When Ryan was young, her parents had told her she was lucky, her aorta may not have been completely healthy, but it was functional enough to sustain her life. Ryan doubted that the little girl had ever completely believed her parents attempts at comfort. Third Grade Ryan was now halfway through shading the aorta on her diagram when three fifth grade boys approached her.
“Guys, come look at robot girl over here,” screamed the first boy. The other boys quickly ran over to Ryan. When they arrived, they stood directly on top of her almost finished artwork.
“Robots don’t have hearts silly,” said the second boy leading the other two boys to erupt in laughter. The same boy grabbed Ryan’s brand new piece of chalk from her hand, threw it down onto her heart drawing, and stomped on it spreading the chalk dust across Ryan’s hard work. Third Grade Ryan burst into tears as the boys watched, amused of their successful attempt to torment the robot girl. Suddenly, Ryan saw another short, blue-eyed, blonde kid run across the recess yard. It was Third Grade Evan responding to Ryan’s bullies. Although he was only an inch taller than Ryan, and much shorter than the fifth grade boys, he managed to chase them off. After the boys were completely out of sight, Evan returned and hugged Ryan.
“Don’t worry about them,” he said as he bent over examining the dusty drawing. Evan scooped up the chalk dust and spread its remainders on top of the aorta, salvaging the diagram and completing the section of the aorta that Ryan had been incapable of finishing herself. Ryan smiled back at him. “There, all better” he said. Evan had came through once again.
Ryan was now back at home in her room where she saw a Freshman version of herself screaming into her pillow. She remembered this day like it was yesterday, the day of her terminal diagnosis. That morning, the doctor had told her that her fifteen years of treatments hadn’t worked and she would need a transplant within the next year, or she would die. Ryan was in shock and hadn’t spoken a word to her mother on the ride home from the hospital. When Ryan had arrived home, she finally processed the news. She ran to her room, locked the door, and planted her head into her pillow. She screamed and cried and screamed again until she heard a school bus pass her house. A few minutes later she heard a knock on the door, it was Evan.
“Are you alright?” Evan asked from the hallway.
“Go away!” Screamed Freshman Ryan, the tears evident in her voice.
“I’m going to sit here until everything is alright.” replied Evan in his calm voice.
Ryan recalled hating this response.Why did Evan have to be so perfect? Of course everything wasn’t alright. She was going to die. It was the worst day of her life and Evan was still attempting to improve it. Why couldn’t he just let her have a horrible day? Ryan watched as Freshman Ryan cried herself to sleep. About an hour later, after he was certain Ryan had fallen asleep, Evan stood and walked away.
Ryan found herself in yet another new atmosphere, but this was much different than the day of her birth, a day at recess, or the day of her terminal diagnosis. For the first time in her random stream of unconsciousness, she did not see a past version of herself, but instead a driverless bright red car driving down her street. She could barely see it through the thunderstorm. The car turned out of her neighborhood and entered the ramp to the highway, the dreaded trip towards the hospital that Ryan had taken a million times before. The car sped up, 40-60-80-100-150 miles per hour approaching the hospital exit. The car inched towards the exit ramp, but didn’t slow down. It smashed into the divider and the world once again went black.
She was now in her church, the Church of Saint John of God, surrounded by many of her classmates and family friends dressed in all black. She panicked of the thought that her procedure hadn’t worked and this was her funeral. She walked towards the front of the church and saw her parents sitting quietly in the front pew, holding back their tears. Next to them sat a girl in a plain black dress with a single patch of red on the left chest. The girl was clearly yet another Ryan, but her spirit was unrecognizable. It was as if she had not slept in weeks, all of the energy had been sucked out of her and lost forever. Ryan recognized this spiritless version of herself in horror. After a life in and out of hospitals, throughout constant treatments, and even after the day she was informed of the terminal nature of her disease, she had never seen herself like this. Ryan couldn’t look at the stranger anymore and turned her attention to the service. If this wasn’t her funeral and she had lived, presumably against her will after viewing her emotionless corpse, whose funeral was it?
Seconds after the thought crossed Ryan’s mind, Ryan’s father, Mr. Worthy was called to the podium. He slowly inched towards the front of the church and laid his prepared speech on the podium while trying to remain composed. He began to speak, “He was the most kind-hearted, lovable, generous person I have ever known. He served as the light constantly pulling our family from the sixteen years of hell that was our daughter’s heart defect. He did what nobody else could for us, but most importantly, he did what nobody could for her, his little sister. His last act of selflessness leaves us all forever indebted to him and we will forever cherish his memories. He left a letter…” Ryan’s Dad took a long pause and Ryan watched her father lose the little composure he had left. “…he, he left us a letter in the car that day.” Mr. Worthy moved to read to the letter.
“Dear Mom, Dad, and Ryan,
I want you to always know that I love you all. But I can’t live knowing that my sister died next in line on the waitlist for a transplant. So for you, Ryan, I want to leave my heart.”
He didn’t have to read the remainder of the letter. Suddenly, everything came full circle and Ryan was back watching the car, her bright red Kia, speeding down the highway. But this time, the driver had a face. That face, which was now seconds away from crashing into the divider and being lost for all eternity, was the face of her best friend, her twin brother, Evan Worthy.
Ryan finally awoke, three days after her transplant, restrained to a hospital bed. Her parents were sitting beside her just as they had been throughout the entire process. She looked at them both and saw the look of hopelessness in their eyes. Ryan screamed. For the first time in her life, she would have to live without her hero. Although she was finally cured, her heart, Evan’s old heart, was missing the aorta.
Years since death: 33
Cause of Death: Car crash
Condition of the corpse: Fair
“Are you ready to start the first trial run, Doctor?”
“Hit the power,” responded Dr. Singh.
The coffin lowered slowly into the vat of boiling water. Dr. Mary Singh stood with her team of assistants behind a glass window having the controls in hand. Her chief of staff pressed a button releasing a plethora of different types of chemicals into the water. They all watched slowly as their dreams were close to becoming a reality. The coffin hit the water, and not before long, it was fully submerged. All the team could do now was wait. And wait they did.
Oliver Timmons was a high school senior. The year, 2017. Oliver came from a poor family in inter-city New York and grew up without the luxuries of life that some of his friends had. He attended school, but was always looking for opportunities to skip because he did not care much for his education.
Oliver was looking forward to senior year, because he planned to move south and start his own landscaping company once he received his diploma. From the time he was little, Oliver knew that he would use his hands in life instead of his brain. Towering in at six foot-four and 265 pounds, Oliver found working with his hands easy and useful.
In late October, Oliver’s school, Bethlehem High School, was having its yearly homecoming weekend, and Oliver did not want to go to the dance. He always thought dances were expensive. Between the clothes, flowers, and tickets, Oliver could never afford attending. But this time, his mom encouraged him to go for senior year.
“C’mon Oliver!” said Oliver’s friend John.
“I don’t know man, I never even got my license.”
“Driving ain’t that hard. We’ll teach you.”
“Fine, but if I’m not good, you’re taking over.”
Oliver got into the car that night. Even as a senior, he had never learned how to drive since his family did not have a car.
“Ight man take it slow, Peter’s after party doesn’t start until 11,” said John.
“Like this?” Oliver murmured while rolling out of the parking lot.
“Not bad rookie.”
Oliver’s nerves settled. He actually began to enjoy it. Driving never really seemed to be an issue for Oliver since he lived in the city where he could take the subway to the school. But this feeling was one that he had never felt before. It was the feeling of freedom. With the windows rolled down and wind rushing through his hair, Oliver felt so… alive.
“Look out!” said John in the passenger’s seat. Speeding towards the boys was a swerving car, probably one of a drunk driver.
“Steer off the road!” John screamed. But Oliver did not. He froze. And the speeding car hit them at full speed right in the middle of the four-way intersection.
“It’s a good thing that car just missed us,” Oliver said in a sigh of relief. “We are really lucky.”
“Any change in vitals?” asked Dr. Singh.
“No, not yet.”
At that moment the coffin began to tremble. With a curious look on the scientists’ faces, everyone moved closer towards the glass. At that moment, a large fist, that of a 265 pound man, punched through the wood of the coffin, and not long after, a body emerged from the depths of the water.
“What…what happened to me? Why do I look so young?” Oliver said while looking at the reflection through the glass.
“Welcome back into this world Oliver. My name is Doctor Mary Singh, and you are what we have all been waiting for.”
“What is going on and why did you steal me from my life?”
“Steal you?” replied Dr. Singh. “You died. Thirty-three years ago in a car accident to be exact.”
“Thirty-three years ago… my senior year of high school?…I didn’t get into any car crashes.”
“Quite on the contrary, Oliver. You were hit while driving on the Friday night of your homecoming. We took your body from that crime scene years ago. You have been dead for over three decades.”
“I don’t understand. That car never hit me. I have been living my life all of this time. John and I are still best friends. I got married. I have two kids!
“No, you don’t. John died that night too. Whatever life you think you have been living was just from the brain stimulation we have been giving you.”
“That’s right, Oliver. We kept your brain active while your physical body was deceased. That way, you could come back and fulfill your task.” A large man approached Oliver and stuck a needle into his neck.
“My task…” Oliver began before collapsing to the ground.
Oliver woke up slowly in the darkness of a cage the next morning thinking that this revival memory had just been a crazy nightmare. It was not until he looked at his arm that he realized that this nightmare was a reality. When Oliver was 28, he got a long scar across his arm due to a miscommunication in a landscaping job. When his arm looked like that of a youthful 18 year old, reality set in.
“Let me out!” Oliver screamed. Half of his life had been a lie, and there was nothing he could do about it. But how could it have happened to him? Oliver thought back to the night of homecoming. That long, dreaded night, that he had been forgetting over the years. He tried to remember, but everything was blurry. He recalled driving a car without a license and going to a party that he did not have fun at. Oliver also remembered getting into a fight with John that night and not making up until they were both drunk at the same bar four years later. He pictured the crying faces of each of his children on the days that they were born.
That was when he began to cry. Uninterrupted with his thoughts for hours, he just sat there. Then, he started to hear some voices. They seemed to have been coming from right outside the cage, but Oliver could not be sure. The one thing he had definitely heard was the rumbling sounds of metal. They were all armed. Oliver stood up and began to make as much noise as possible. Before he knew it, there was light and he could start making out faces.
“Come with us,” they said. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Who are you people?” Oliver asked.
“It doesn’t matter now. If you want to live you better follow us.”
Oliver began to run with them. It was not long before the alarms began to sound and the building went into lockdown. Then, Oliver heard the sound of the doctor’s voice on the loudspeaker. “Don’t let the savior escape!”
At this point, Oliver was even more confused, but he just kept running. As they turned a corner they stumbled upon two guards awaiting their arrival.
“Put your hands up!” yelled one of the guards. “We do not want to kill you, Oliver.” But it did not matter. The biggest of the men that Oliver was running with fired two bullets, each with perfect aim at the two guards.
Oliver was horrified, “Let’s go,” said the big man. They made it out of the building to find a getaway car waiting for them. The men went into the car with Oliver, and the driver flipped three switches to get the car into the sky. Oliver felt nauseous at this point. Flying cars and talk of a savior. He could not take it anymore.
It must have been twenty minutes of silence in the flying car before it finally landed by what seemed to be an abandoned warehouse. They all walked in. “What the hell is going on?” said Oliver.
“Oliver, your life is more important than you know. That’s why The Strife wanted to bring you back.”
“Yes. The strife is a secret organization of scientists that do unethical experiments without government intervention for personal gain. It was founded by Dr. Singh just before you died and has been running its terrible tactics ever since. We formed our team just after your death because of your mother to stop them.”
“What does my mother have to do with this?” said Oliver.
A different man stood up. “Your mother was running a private investigation into your death since she had a strange feeling that something was wrong with what had happened. When she asked us to help, we thought that she was just another paranoid mother clinging onto any hope that her teenage son was still alive. It took us three days before we went back to your grave and realized that the dirt wasn’t how it was left at the funeral. In the middle of the night, we dug up the coffin only to find out that it was empty. Our discoveries of The Strife and their tactics led us to form the team and we have been resisting ever since.”
“Resisting what though?” asked Oliver skeptically. With that, a huge sound erupted of shattered glass and a full swat team from The Strife emerged into the warehouse. Dr. Singh walked in just after the invasion.
“Do you know what day it is Oliver?” said the Doctor in a meticulously chosen tone. “Well you haven’t been alive for thirty-three years so I’m assuming that you don’t. Today is Sunday.”
“You’re a sociopath” said Oliver.
“Maybe,” she responded. “But at least I have saved humanity. You have forty days and then we shall all be free.”
Out of the busted window, a single goldfinch flew into the warehouse and landed on Oliver’s shoulder.
The sun is rising slowly, and beating down especially hard. The air is humid and the grass I lay on is turning brown. I open my eyes and lazily rise to an upright stance. My nose twitches as I catch a scent of a rabbit which scampers past me. As the scent lingers in the air, I feel my body become alert. I haven’t had a sufficient meal in weeks, and it is taking a dramatic toll on my body. My ribs and bones are visible, poking out of my sides, and my glossy red coat is now dull and brown.
It has been about a month since I saw my owners. Everyday I wake up looking for them, but my good spirits have begun to diminish over this past week. It has been oppressively hot here in Kentucky, and I miss the refreshing coolness of my old home. We were taking a walk down by the creek, like we always do. I was investigating the waters when I heard an engine roar. I turned to see my owners speeding down the road, away from me. My heart shattered.
A squirrel scurries down from a tree; I lower my body to the ground. Waiting a moment to determine the squirrel’s path of action, I stay perfectly still, and then I pounce. The squirrel takes off through the grass field and I take off right after it, dodging trees and bushes. I feel my collar get torn off my neck. The chase seems to go on forever, until suddenly, we reach a road. I stop dead in my tracks, as the squirrel gets away, weaving in between cars wheels. A green car slows as it passes me, and pulls off to the side of the road; I quiver in fear. A man, tall and blonde, gets out of his car. His voice is deep. He looks at me pitifully, and says, “what are you doing here.” Opening the car door, he doesn’t take his eyes off of me. My fur perks up as I become increasingly wary about the situation. As frightened as I am, a feeling of hope rushes over me as well. We pull back onto the road, and the coolness of the vehicle puts me to sleep.
I wake up to a deafening barking and snarling. My mind flutters as I cower into the dusty corner behind me, stuck behind steel bars, with newspaper shavings covering the floor. A woman approaches me, her face lacking any emotion. She throws food and water in front of me and carries on down the line of cages. The line seems to never end. I pounce onto the food bowl, finishing and licking it clean in a matter of seconds. Eventually, I am taken outside for a mere two minutes so I can go to the bathroom. The idea of this being my new life begins to haunt me.
Days drag by. People come and go. Puppies are adored, and I am ignored. Once dogs have been here for too long, they seem to disappear. I am scared of what is to come. My mind occasionally wanders back to my old owners, but I know the truth. It is no use to waste my time thinking of them. I lay on my back in my cage when a man approaches and declares, “You’re getting a second chance buddy.” My ears perk up as I see him approach me with a needle. I drift to sleep.
My eyes open when I am exposed to the chill of the outside air. I turn in my cage after hearing a roaring sound and see an enormous plane getting further and further away as we head towards a car. After a long car ride, we arrive at a farm, with a barn and a massive plot of land. Animals wander everywhere. My heart beat increases, but is painfully halted when I see those dreaded steel bars align walls of cages. My head falls to the ground.
Weeks go by. My body is slowly adjusting to the cold temperatures. More people visit me here, and I have learned to enjoy the human presence, even if it doesn’t result in a new home. I am playing with the newspaper crumblings under my paws when I hear a girl ask about “the dog in the cage in the corner”. A worker puts a leash on me and we head towards the field. I see a girl, short, with dark, long, hair. Next to her stands a man and woman, bundled up in layers to protect them from the freezing air. I lock eyes with the girl. Her eyes study me, and I see her big, brown eyes light up as I run towards her. I nuzzle into her legs, absorbing her warmth and wagging my tail uncontrollably. We spend the entire day together, going on walks, eating treats and playing in the field. I am attached. My body moves in rapid rhythm with my wagging tail, my eyes are filled with admiration, and my heart full of hope. It begins to get dark and I notice the girl arguing with her parents while a worker stands by. Before I have time to process it, my leash is given back to a worker, they are gone and I am trapped yet again, behind bars. I whimper in my cage, the coldness overcomes me and I feel completely distraught. I go to sleep, destroyed.
The next morning I hear a familiar voice approaching my cage. I jump up inquisitively and peer through the steel bars in my cage. The girl walks towards me, a collar and leash dangling in her hands. My tail wags violently, slamming into the hard walls which surround me. She unlatches my cage, and I break free into her arms. Her parents are in the distance laughing with workers and signing paperwork. Soon enough, I am in the car, warm and snuggled up in her lap, peacefully listening to the reassuring sound of her voice. I glance out the window and watch everything move past us, everything is blurry. I shut my eyes and await the arrival of my new home.
Everyday I wake up in a big, warm bed. A bowl of food always awaits me when I rise. Afterwards, I go on a long walk. The rest of my day is full of playing with toys and my owners, eating biscuits and meals, chasing bunnies and squirrels, and sleeping. My new family adores me and although it was a long and exhausting journey to find them, I would not want to spend my life with anyone else.