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The smack of iron on iron is sickening; the sound of crunching glass, horrifying. The hair on my neck rises as tires screech against pavement. The wild spinning on little patches of ice makes me nauseous. The Tilt-a-Whirl was always my least favorite ride. Funny, the things I remember at a time like this.
Finally, the car stops spinning, and the SUV that hit us comes to a stop. The woman at the wheel has her head down. Unconscious, probably.
I look at my sister next to me in the driver's seat. She's bleeding from the stomach. The steering wheel broke in the crash and drove directly into her abdomen. I just stare.
A semi is hauling gas. The driver is thinking about his daughter's birthday tomorrow. She'll be five – he and his wife picked up a pink bike with streamers. It's icy out, he thinks. Better be careful. He crests the hill and sees the accident just 10 yards away. Too late to brake.
I'm drifting out. I know that I desperately need to get my sister help, but I'm so tired. My head lolls. I catch a glimpse of a semi heading right toward us, honking. Yeah, that's going to help. How calm I can be in the face of death?
I wake with a jolt. The heat is what roused me, along with the sound that accompanies huge explosions on TV. I'm confused. What show am I watching?
Then I feel the heat. And I smell the gas. Our car, on fire. I look to my left and there's my sister, leaning over the wheel, possibly dead. Suddenly more awake than when I saw the truck, which I now remember, I jump out my door, miraculously not walking into fire. The driver's side is completely ablaze, so I start dragging my sister through my door, but realizing the extent of her injury, I decide to find someone who can help. A person walking by is on his cell phone. Is he calling 911? He must be, since ambulances and fire trucks are arriving.
The neighbors start pouring from their houses with buckets of water. Buckets. They might as well be eye-droppers.
Sirens start up, but the blaze worthy of hell drowns everything else. I'm entranced by the embers that once were my life. The tires on our car melt into the pavement.
Two EMTs approach each vehicle. The woman in the Ford Escape will escape with minor burns. How ironic: the Ford Escape escapes most of the awful damage.
The man in the truck is unconscious; it takes three medics to haul him down. Firefighters control the flames that surround my sister's side of the car. They call the EMTs over to show them her stomach, impaled by the steering wheel. I notice the window on her door is spider-webbing and splintering. She must have hit her head pretty hard. They get a saw to cut the steering wheel. Then they gingerly carry her to the stretcher.
I stumble and fall to the ground. How will I tell my parents?
Bright lights. Ugly polyester chairs. Tile floor. Lumpy pillow under my head. My side hurts. Where am I? Hospital. The word echoes around my head.
“Krissy?” I croak. Where is she? How is she?
“Have some water, Eric,” the nurse says. Who's Eric? Oh, I am. I reach for the cup and raise it to chug down.
“Slowly!” she says. I take small sips. When the cup is empty, I ask, “My sister, Karissa, where is she?” My hands start to shake as the memories bubble up like vomit after bad Chinese food. I force them down with sheer will power. When did it happen? An hour ago? A day? A year? How long have I been asleep?
“She's in surgery now. The doctors are doing everything they can.”
Is she reading from a script?
Another doctor walks in. He looks like the kind of guy I would could say “S'up, doc?” to, and he would laugh. I stay silent.
“Nothing seems to be wrong with you besides a minor bruise on your side from the seatbelt and a couple minor burns on your left arm. You're extremely lucky.”
Lucky? No, not lucky. I'm not lucky because my sister might …
I shake my head.
“Mr. and Mrs. Cambridge, I just need you to sign here stating that …” I lose track of the conversation.
My time in the hospital passes in blurs, sometimes careening out of control, sometimes standing still. Waiting and rushing forward through time.
Walking. My dad on my left, my mom on my right. We slowly trudge down the eerily quiet hallways. Or is that just my hearing? My left arm is bandaged. I am numb.
Muttering. My parents are talking to the doctor, different from the one in my room. I'm not in my room anymore, right? The waiting room. We wouldn't leave the hospital without ….
All I can hear are snippets of my parents talking to the doctor.
“Your daughter … surgery … internal damage ….”
I tune the rest out. I don't want to see my mom's face saturated with tears, my dad's face hard as stone, cold as ice, his eyes betraying his agony. Nothing to do but wait.
The chairs in the waiting room are as hard as rocks. How long have we been waiting? I fade in and out, my thoughts sucking me into a whirlwind of incoherency. Nothing is organized; nothing makes sense.
Now another doctor is coming toward us, his scrub cap twisted up in his hands. Bad sign.
My dad is holding my screaming mother back, tears running down his face. Did I hear something about life support?
“No brain activity.”
Mom crumples to the floor, shaking. We walk to the room she's in. My dad is supporting my mom, though he can hardly walk himself. I should help, but I can't make my limbs work.
Running. Running away from this hospital, running away from this nightmare. I want to shout, slap myself. I want to wake up, but I can't. No waking up from this endless darkness. Don't look at her body, steadily breathing through a tube. The beep of life support, that noise doesn't represent a heartbeat. No machine can ever bridge the gap between life and death.
Stop thinking about her! Focus. Focus on breathing. Breathing and running. Good-bye to Karissa, to my life, to everything I once knew. Running. All that's left is to run.