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The smack of iron on iron is sickening – the sound of crunching glass, horrifying. The hair on my neck raises at the sound of tires screeching against pavement. The wild spinning on little patches of ice makes me nauseous. The Tilt-a-Whirl was always my least favorite. Funny, the things I remember at a time like this. Finally, the car stops spinning, the SUV that hit us coming to a stop. It’s a Ford. “Found. On. Road. Dead.” A fitting acronym for this brand and situation. The woman at the wheel has her head down. Unconscious, probably. I look at my sister in the driver’s seat. She’s bleeding from the stomach. The wheel had broken in the crash and it drove directly into her abdomen. I just stare.
A semi is hauling gas. The man in the driver’s seat is thinking about how his daughter’s birthday is tomorrow. She’ll be five; he and his wife picked up a pink bike with streamers. It’s icy out, he thought. Better be careful. He drove up the hill and saw the accident, no less than 10 yards away. Too late to break. What am I going to do?
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 towards us, honking. Yeah, that’s going to help. How totaled does the car look? 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. And I look to my left and there’s my sister, leaning over the wheel, possibly dead. More awake than I had been before I saw the truck, which I remember now, I jump out my door, miraculously not walking into fire. I find that her side is completely ablaze, so I start dragging her through my door, but finally comprehending the extent of her injury, decide to find someone who can help. A person walking is on his cell phone. Is he calling 9/11?. He must have, as ambulances and fire trucks finally arrived. The neighbors start pouring out of their houses with buckets of water. Buckets. Might as well use eye-droppers.
Dazed. Sirens start up, but the blaze worthy of Hell drowns everything else out. I’m entranced by the embers that were once my life. The tires on our car melt into the pavement. Two EMT’s go for each vehicle. The woman in the Ford Escape would escape with minor burns. How ironic, the Ford Escape escapes most damage. The man in the truck is unconscious; it takes three medics to get him down. Firefighters go through the majority of the flames that surround my sister’s side of the car. They call some of the EMT’s over and show them her stomach, impaled by the steering wheel. I notice the window on her door is spider-webbing and crumbling. She must have hit her head pretty hard. They dash back to the ambulance and get a saw to cut the steering wheel. Then they gingerly carry her to the stretcher behind them. I stumble forward and fall to the ground. How will I tell my parents about this?
Bright lights. Ugly polyester chairs. Tile floor. Lumpy pillow under my head. My side hurt. Where am I? Hospital. The word echoed around my head. “Krissy?” I croaked. Where is she? How is she?
“Here, have some water, Eric.” The nurse said. Who’s Eric? Oh. I am. I reached for the cup and raised it to chug it down. “Slowly!” she said sharply, adding “slow,” making her tone softer. I took small sips.
The cup empty, I asked “My sister? Karissa? Where is she?” My hands started to shake as the memories bubble up like vomit after bad Chinese food. I forced the memories down with sheer will power. That’s another thing, when was it? An hour ago? A day – a year? How long had I been asleep? The nurse’s sad face brought me from my thoughts.
“She’s in surgery right now. The doctors are doing everything they can for her.” Was she reading from a script? I didn’t realize I had been leaning forward until I fell back. At that moment, another doctor walked in the door. He looked like the kind of guy I would want to say “’sup, doc?” to, and he would probably laugh. I stayed silent.
“Nothing seems to be wrong with you, Eric, besides a minor bruise on your side from the seatbelt and a couple shallow burns on your left arm. You’re extremely lucky.” Yeah, right. Lucky? No, not lucky. I’m not lucky because my sister might… I shook my head.
“Mr. and Mrs. Cambridge, I just need you to sign here stating that…” I lost track of the conversation. The rest of the time in the hospital went by in blurs, sometimes careening out of control, sometimes 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 in a couple places. I am numb.
Muttering. My parents are talking to the doctor, a different one than the one in my room. I’m not in my room anymore, right? The waiting room then. We wouldn’t leave the hospital without… No.
All I can hear are snippets of my parents talking to the doctor. They’re off to the other side of the room. “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 now but wait. Wait…
The chairs in the waiting room are as hard as rocks. How long have we been waiting? I fade in and out of existence, my thoughts sucking me out of reality and into a whirlwind of incoherency. Nothing is organized, nothing makes sense.
Yet another different doctor is walking towards us in the waiting room, his scrub cap twisted up in his hands. That’s a 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 slowly 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 function. I’m not in control right now, not telling my legs to walk forward.
Running. Running away from this hospital, running away from this nightmare. I want to shout to myself, slap myself, I want to wake up, but I can’t. No waking up from this endless darkness. Don’t look back at her body, steadily breathing through a tube, the beep of the life support, beep. Beep. Beep. That noise doesn’t represent a heartbeat. No machine can ever bridge the gap between robotics and humanity. Stop thinking about her! Focus. Focus on breathing. Breathing and running. Goodbye to Karissa, to my life… to everything I once knew. Running. All that’s left is to run.