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It was evident that autumn was beginning in Parkwood. Crisp, colorful leaves began to float to the ground, creating a crunchy blanket under footsteps. The once too-warm Tennessee air was fresher, cooler - perfect to blow through your hair. It was the just the kind of day I needed to get back into training.
As dawn approached, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, greeting my eyes with dazzling light. I awoke with a start that morning at 5 a.m. to begin my first day of conditioning for soccer. Now, most people in their right mind were still asleep, but this day was the beginning of a winning year; I could feel it! My heart raced as I rose from my bed, hair in all directions, glasses askew. The second my feet hit the floor, I visualized my cleats sinking into the lush, green grass. Running to the bathroom to clean my teeth (gotta have my winning smile ready!), I nearly tripped on one of my mother’s cheesy romance novels, but my skilled reflexes sprung into action. An airbrushed model desperately clutched an absurdly muscular man and gazed up at me with an intense glower; I took her stare as an act of jealously, and my confidence hit the roof. Already I knew this season was going to be exciting!
My reflection smiled back at me when I glanced into the mirror, confidence oozing from every pore. My body was muscular, toned from hours of strenuous weight training and running; but at the same time, my turquoise eyes radiated the beauty I inherited from my mother. My hair cascaded past my shoulders, auburn with strands of golden sun. But most importantly, I was strong.
“Strong like an ox. Fast as a cheetah. Strong like an ox. Fast as a cheetah,” I chanted forcefully. Power and self-assurance surged through my veins.
After hurriedly but wholeheartedly donning my uniform, a blazing red and white jersey that screamed power, I high-kicked my way down the stairs. Bam! Bam! Bam! Each footfall cheered me on like the crowd’s stomps of excitement.
“Good morning, honey. Did you sleep well last night?” My mother inquired, her lunch bag grasped in her hand. Her sky blue eyes drifted quickly from my eyes to several other places around the room, her attention wafting through the air.
“Fine! Great, actually. Haven’t slept that well in a long time!” My anticipation for the day ahead was evident in my voice; a quick, high-pitched squeak peeked through my tone. “You know, I just --”
“Wonderful. Well, I’ve got to go. Love you, dear.” As usual, my mother’s bogus enthusiasm faded almost as quickly as she hustled through the front door. Annoyance tried to creep into me, but I fought the coming feeling with thoughts of the coming day.
Grabbing my backpack, I sprinted out the door, anxious to get to my car. Coming closer, I slowed down; the gentle breeze felt incredible as it blew across my face. How wonderful it will feel flying through my hair as I jet down the field! The anticipation was killing me!
Foot on the brake. Key in the ignition. Reverse. Turn. And put it in drive.
The silver paint on my new Lexus IS350 gleamed in the sunlight as I guided the car down the freeway. I had to admit, being the DA’s daughter wasn’t half bad sometimes. Despite the “sorry-I-can’t-make-it” calls all the time, having nice things at least tried to cover up the scars. As it was every other year, I would hand my soccer schedule over to my dad, who would then proceed to say, “I’ll come to as many as I can, Janey. I promise.” And every year he was the same no-show dad at all the games. Never would I forget the first game he bailed out on me; I was eleven-years-old, brimming with naïve happiness and innocent confidence. I knew he would be there. Seconds ticked by, and they turned into minutes. Soon, my body halted, and my thoughts took over; my teammates rushed around me as I stood stationary, my eyes anxiously searching the bleachers for any sign of my father. Finally, my eyes fixated upon my mother, sitting alone, reading a novel. Tears flowed down my face as I ran off the field, horrified that I had placed my heart, my trust, my passion to the vile, uncaring businessman I call a father. From that day forward, I never trusted a word he said. I couldn’t trust him. I tried to push the painful image out of my head. I will still play my heart out, no matter what.
Eventually, my excitement began to rise faster and faster, and I felt my foot press harder and harder on the gas pedal. My adrenaline was pumping. Windows down, wind rushing, music blaring, bass thumping. I was unstoppable, invincible, powerful -- just how I would play on the field.
“Strong like an ox. Fast as a cheetah. Strong like an ox. Fast as a cheetah.” My body was numb to the world around me as I lost myself in encouragement.
But then everything changed. And everything happened much too fast.
I was flying. So was he. I tried to brake, but it was too late. Swirls of red, blue, silver, and green whirled past my eyes in a fury. I wasn’t going to be able to miss him.
“STOP! STOP! STOP! My God, PLEASE! ST--”
Violent scraping metal and screeching tires overpowered the music on the radio and the positive thoughts in my head.
I awoke to a wail of sirens. My entire body was numb; all I could feel were the tears falling down my face. Blinking through a blur of sadness and confusion, a hazy figure appeared overhead.
“Jane? Jane Barker? Honey, if you can hear me, please say someth--”
Again, complete blackness.
But soon, colorful visions and pictures floated around my mangled brain. Brilliant lights gleamed in all directions. Trees and birds and clouds and flowers popped up around me. I felt as if I were floating, and complete comfort encompassed my body. Looking around, I realized I was on the soccer field. My teammates appeared around me, a ball at my feet. Cheers and shouts thundered down upon us from the stands. Here was my chance! Faster and faster I ran towards the goal. My heart pounded furiously as I came near, sweat pouring down my face. The goalie prepared herself for battle, but my adrenaline told me she didn’t stand a chance. I pulled my foot back, ready to kick the ball with the force of the gods, and then…
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
An alarm sounded, and my eyes popped open. Soft voices let me know I was back to reality. I wasn’t sure rather I wanted to be here or not.
“This isn’t right. A girl this young shouldn’t –”
“There’s nothing we can do. We’ve tried everything.”
Without warning, the pungent smell of alcohol and sterilizer filled my nostrils. Beeps, ticks, and the sounds of hurried footsteps entered my ears. Looking over, I recognized a heart monitor was guilty for waking me up. A needle pierced my hand, but thankfully, I couldn’t feel it. I knew where I had to be. I knew they were here to help. But my first instinct was to run away and run away fast.
In my mind, I pleaded: move your hand. Nothing. Shake your leg. Nothing. Wiggle your fingers. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Without further ado, I let out a blood curdling scream. This could not be happening to me. I was born to run, to sprint, to move, to feel. Yet, here I was, faced with nothingness.
“Jane. Jane, calm down. You’re okay. You are at Ridgelake Hospital. Your parents are here, and we will do whatever it takes to comfort you. Now take a deep breath, and --”
The door to my room burst open, and my mother frantically ran in, clearly frazzled. Her husband sauntered in behind her, Blackberry in hand. Hands and arms and fingertips and lips gently met my cheeks and forehead. Still in a daze, I lay back silently, accepting the loving gifts. As much as I thought my mother never cared, at least she was somewhat acting like it.
“Hey, kiddo. How’re you doing?” My father attempted to care, but I lay there emotionless, staring at the wall.
But despite the fact that he was never really there for me, that I never felt his love, I still loved him deeply. He was still my father, and coming so close to death made me suddenly reach out to my parents even more. My life was going to change, I knew it; but at the same time, I realized I couldn’t change the past. I had to accept my life the way it was - appreciate it, learn from it, and develop from it.
Now I know what it felt like when I, the self-proclaimed unstoppable force, met an immovable object, reality. I wasn’t as invincible as I thought I was, but I wasn’t weak either. I was going to say “hello” to my new life and “goodbye” to the old me.
Ironically, what didn’t kill me, only made me stronger.