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Life is precious. There is no contemplating that fact. When I was little I would often wonder how the life of a stinkbug could be worth as much as mine. After a second of curios thought I would reach down to squish the putrid little insect against the mesh screen of my grandmother’s back porch with my little thumb. Nana would always find me just in time to save the little creature’s life and then scold me for trying to kill one of God’s creatures.
Nana Mae was a strong-willed woman with long white-blonde curly hair that would spend most of its days tucked under her enormous brown garden hat with the green bow tied around the base. In the summers, she and I would spend hours each day in her garden, tending the budding flowers and ripening fruits and vegetables. That garden was magical, I would dance around the stone paths in my dresses, watching my skirt fill with air and inflate around me like a princess’ ball gown. Nana would light a few candles on the sides of the path so I could see when it got dark and we would sit and watch fireflies dance around the night sky on her back lawn.
Four years have passed since I last spent the summer at Nana Mae’s and coincidently, memories of my years with her were the most prominent moments in the timeline of my life that flashed through my mind as I lay face down on the harsh asphalt of interstate I-96. My arm was twisted awkwardly beneath my still body, my neck and back had knives stabbing every nerve in them. Glass pebbles were scattered around me like fallen stars, a red river flowed away from my hair towards them. Lights from passing cars on the other side of the highway transformed the glass shards into fireflies dancing around me like they had back at Nana’s.
In the distant world around me sirens blared noisily, turning the fireflies red and blue with anger and sadness, and the sound of running feet and squeaky wheels grew louder and louder. A man yelled something urgently but I ignored him and focused on the fireflies. Suddenly I was rolling over, the knives in my back dug deeper and I yelled out in pain. My arm was numb and flopped lazily from my stomach to the ground. Something lifted me out of the air and placed me “gently, gently” onto a bed. The world around me was slowly dragged away, the glass fireflies, and the red lake that had flooded around them. I saw my car a few feet away from the red, a gapping hole and spider web in the front windshield. The back was crunched and flattened like a soda can, the front of a fourteen-wheel truck was squished up against it. They think I’m dead. I panicked and started to scream when I tried to tell them I was alive. A woman next to me injected something into my arm. Everything started to swirl and melt together and soon I was back in Nana’s garden, eating dragonfly cookies and drinking peach iced tea.
I was standing on a mountain. Clouds were gathering beneath my feet, fogging out the lush green grass and flowers on the mountainside. The clouds carried me up to a higher cloud where the sun shone with a supernatural illumination. Animals of every species were clustered on the cloud, staring at me with empathetic eyes. Standing before them was Nana Mae, wearing her garden hat, holding a basket filled with fresh fruit and vegetables in one hand and peach iced tea in the other. She put everything down on the fluffy cloud beside her and strode over to me. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and breathed in the smell of honey and fresh strawberries -- she was so much lighter than I remembered. She kissed me on the forehead and spoke confidently but softly, “Every life has a purpose, Laney. You haven’t fulfilled yours yet.” I wanted to ask her what she meant but she put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes like she did when she needed my undivided attention. Then she pushed me. I tumbled over backwards, falling through nothingness. My stomach dropped but my arms stayed loosely by my side and my hair didn’t even blow in the air. I fell, further and further and further.
White lights illuminated the white linoleum cabinets and floor of an unfamiliar room. A teal floral curtain hung from a rail in the ceiling. I lay in the middle of a stiff bed, secured by tightly pulled synthetic wool sheets, and clear tubes stretched from boxy machines to a needle in the crease of my right elbow. My middle finger was clipped by a plastic clothespin that was connected to a machine that beeped incessantly. Plastered to my entire left arm was a hard, white cast that wound down to my hand, encasing my palm and exposing my fingers. Bandages pulled my face down into a scowl and a soft cushion wrapped securely around my neck.
The amount of white in the room was not only blinding but extremely aggravating. I was unsure whether I had died or had survived, the white was hinting towards death but the machines and beeping clued towards the latter. It wasn’t until my mother entered the room, flustered and fumbling with the keys of her Blackberry, that I knew I had survived. Unable to move too well, I remained motionless on the stiff mattress and watched as she sank into the teal vinyl chair in the corner. “Mom?”
Her eyes jerked open and she looked around her, after a moment she realized that I was awake in my bed and she rushed over to my bedside. She pushed a strand of hair back from my forehead gingerly, “Laney, Darling, you’re all right!”
“What happened? I was driving and then I saw Nana Mae and then my car and I was dead and what happened?” My voice elevated rapidly as I spoke, realizing everything that had happened to me.
“You were rear-ended by a commercial truck. The impact sent you through the front windshield.” Her voice quivered slightly.
“Have you told Nana Mae?” at that moment Nana was the only person I wanted to see.
Mom released her grip on her phone and took my hand in hers, “Laney, I got a call from Mary Jameson, her neighbor, this afternoon. Honey, Nana passed away last night in her sleep.”
My world collapsed around me. It wasn’t possible. Nana couldn’t have died, it was a mistake! Nana was invincible, nothing could ever hurt her. How could she die? How could she leave me like this? What was I going to do without her? Who was going to eat dragonfly cookies and drink peach tea with me while watching the fireflies and dance around the garden with me? “No.”
“No. Nana is alive. I know she is! I just saw her!” My heart was pounding in my chest and I realized I was yelling.
“I was on my way to get you from work to tell you when I got the call from the EMTs. I rushed to you as soon as I could.”
“How did she die?”
Mom looked confused by the question, “Peacefully, in her sleep.”
Tears streamed down my face. My body heaved with every sob. Mom kissed my head gently, trying to comfort me. Finally I gathered myself and was able to form a full sentence again, “When’s the funeral?”
“Next weekend. We think she would have wanted you to speak at it, if you’re up to it.”
“I’ll do it, if you think it’s what she would have wanted.” Perhaps the medication I had been given was causing me to hallucinate, but at that moment I swore I saw fireflies dancing in the corner of the room and the room filled with the scent of sweet honey and fresh strawberries.