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Just Letting Go
It’s so much easier to remember that game on nights like these. The air is filled with a slight chill that makes you shiver from the inside, out. The whole town is at the Tigers’ football game, cheering them on. I always loved that sound. There’s nothing better than watching your team win. A team I will never forget.
I jump up and down screaming along with the other cheerleaders and watch as the Tigers’ football team gets ready to make a play that could put them in the lead. It’s not the same without seeing a #9 jersey. The only thing flashing through my mind now, is this same moment, only 1 year ago.
It was the night of our last home game of the season. I looked over at the clock and saw that there were 4 minutes left in the game. We were only down by 3 points. I stood up with the cheerleaders and we screamed with everything we had left in us. My brother, Corey, was the running back. The quarterback hesitated to one direction, before he saw Corey in the end zone and threw it to him. The defense came running down to tackle Corey. He wasn’t tackled though, before he caught the ball. From the scream of the crowd we never heard anything snap as Corey got hit. The only thing I remember after that, is Corey not getting up. Then every girl on the cheerleading team surrounding me and giving me hugs. After that, well, I don’t remember.
“Amy… Amy… Wake up.”
My eyes fluttered open and I was in the hospital, with my mom looking over at me with worried eyes. She had her hand on my shoulder and I could see the tears forming in her eyes.
“Sweetie, I don’t want you to be scared, but the doctor just came out with some news about your brother. He’s in surgery right now, but the doctors aren’t sure if they can…” Her mom stopped short, and started to cry like Amy had never seen before.
“Is he ever gonna play football again?” I asked with a quiver in my voice and a look on my face filled with confusion and sadness.
“No, I’m afraid not. He damaged his spine.” My mom couldn’t look me in the eye. She then added, “Badly. They aren’t sure if he will—“
“Make it.” I finished my mom’s sentence, although I don’t think she heard me
I leaned over and cried into my mom’s shoulder, long and hard. I’m sure, now that I think about it, that the whole hospital could hear me. At that time I didn’t care, though. I hadn’t cried like that since I was little, when I ran to my mom because Corey had been teasing me. This time, though, I was crying for Corey and not because of him.
It was a week before I went back to school, and even then I didn’t think I was ready to face all of the kids, that would be asking a million questions. I took longer than usual to walk to school, wasting the extra time I would have before class. As I walked into the building no one seemed to stop and stare at me. They kept their conversations going as if to not embarrass me.
When I got to my locker, my best friend came over to me and stood there, waiting for me to turn around. At first I couldn’t face her. I was afraid I would break down crying, but then I told myself that she deserved to know, even if she didn’t want to.
As I turned around I could tell that she was looking deep into my eyes, which made me hesitate for a moment.
“Lexi,” I said with a quiver in my voice, “He’s gone. He’s dead. Corey!”
It was then, that for the only time since Corey had gotten injured and died, I let the tears fall because I had given up hope. I felt like I couldn’t make it through this anymore. This couldn’t be real.
Alexis stood there stunned for a few minutes, just watching me cry. Finally, she tried to talk to me.
“Aims, it’s gonna be OK.”
That name made me catch my breath for just a second. That had, and would, always be Corey’s name for me.
“You can get through this. I know that you can. I mean, we all loved your brother. It’s going to be hard, but just know that I am here. I understand what you are going through. I knew your brother too.” Alexis put on her best fake smile that I had seen so many times before, when she was hurt or lying.
“Don’t ever call me Aims, again. OK? Just please leave me alone!” I half yelled, half whispered what I said to Alexis, through a hoarse voice, and ran into the bathroom.
I looked in the mirror and saw my puffy, red swollen eyes. My face was tear stained, and my hands were shaking. Standing there I thought about how I should go back out to my friends, and be brave for them, and for me. The class bell rang and I hesitated by the door. Waiting a few minutes, the tardy bell rang and I ran out of the school, back to my house.
The rest of the day, I heard the phone ring over and over. Each message that was left was the same thing. It was the old ‘I’m sorry for you loss. Corey was such a wonderful kid. If you need anything at all let us know. We’ll be praying for you,’ kind of voice that made me want to yell at them and tell them that they weren’t truly sorry. They hadn’t spent 15 years of their life with him. None of them were there at the hospital to see him. They weren’t there to see any of it, in fact. Right then I gave up on trying – for me and for everyone.
The next couple of days I spent at home, after I convinced my parents to let me stay. Several times Alexis tried to text me or chat online. I didn’t respond. She wouldn’t be one to understand either. I knew that she knew Corey quite well, but I didn’t want company or any type of sympathy. Several of the girls on the cheerleading squad had asked to talk to me on the phone, but I always refused. It wasn’t their brother that had died, so why should they understand what I’m going through?
The next week I went back to school. This time, I was going to stay, no matter how hard it would be. I ignored everyone in the halls, not acknowledging their sympathetic looks. My friends kept away from me, watching me when my back was turned. I could feel them staring at me, and it felt like I was the new kid at school. In class I didn’t talk and when we had to get in partners, no one chose me. I didn’t mind much. I felt like no one could feel what I was feeling, so they didn’t deserve to help me. A few times in the lunchroom, I could see Alexis looking at me with a concerned expression. As soon as I met her gaze, she looked away.
I stopped going to cheer practice because I couldn’t stand the look on any of the girls’ faces. I also didn’t want to cheer for my brother’s team. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through that. After school I went home, locked myself in my room, did my homework, and didn’t come down all night. My parents would bring my dinner up to me, but some nights I wouldn’t eat anything. I hardly saw my parents anymore. I used to talk with them, but suddenly it felt like I was living in a whole different world than them.
Two weeks after the accident, there was a playoff game at our stadium. I still wasn’t myself, but for the first time in over a week Lexi talked to me.
As I was walking out from school I heard her call my name.
“Amy! Hey, wait up,” She ran up to me and looked my in the eye, “Are you going to the game tonight? I mean it’s okay if you aren’t cheering but you should at least come to see their game. I’m sure it would mean a lot to…”
Alexis’ face suddenly had a guilty look spread all over. She knew that she had come way to close to saying something that would upset me, but it was too late because I was already in tears, as she ran me into the bathroom.
“I’m sorry, hun! Please forgive me! I just… I didn’t mean too… I’m sorry.” Alexis finished in a whisper as she caught her breath.
“No, it’s okay Lexi. I don’t think I’m going to the game though. I just can’t. Not yet, at least.” Before Alexis could say anything to me I walked out of the bathroom and went home, just like I always did. My head was telling me that she really wasn’t sorry. She could’ve stopped herself from saying those things, but she hadn’t. The only thing that made me hesitate and not believe, for just a second, what my head was saying, was that my heart started to ache just a little bit more.
Later that night in my room, when my parents had left for the football game, I sat in my room, in the corner and cried just like I did when I first realized that Corey wouldn’t make it. It was right then that I remembered the last time that I had talked to Corey.
It was right before the 3rd quarter, after half time. The football team and cheerleading squad were lined up along the fence. I walked over to Corey, and we did our handshake that we had made up when we were both little kids. It wasn’t anything amazing, but it had always meant good luck for the both of us. Right before I went out on the field with the other cheerleaders, I gave him a hug, and he said the one thing that had always given me hope.
“Follow your heart, Aims,” he said with a gleam of pride in his eyes.
Corey then put his arm around me as I said, “And you follow yours,” and then he pushed me out onto the field.
Just like on that night, the words ‘Follow your heart’ gave me hope. I realized that my heart had stared to ache more because I was losing Alexis, and she truly had been here for me the whole time. I knew that she did understand, and that she was really sorry. My heart believed it, but I didn’t. I knew though, that I had to do it for Corey. I suddenly stopped crying and called Alexis on her phone. It went to her voicemail, and I only said 2 words, that I hope would mean enough to her. ‘I’m Sorry’
I didn’t go to the game that night or any for the rest of the season, but I still listened from my house, and hoped that they would win. I hoped that they would do it for the team, the town, and Corey. I didn’t join the Cheer squad at all that year, but I knew I would come back when I was ready. I wasn’t myself for the longest time, but my friends were all right with that, because they helped me through everything. It didn’t mater if I was mean, or grumpy, or couldn’t stop crying, they were all there, to comfort me. I slowly realized that Corey wasn’t coming back, but he would always be there when I needed him.
Alexis is sitting right next to me, and I turn to smile at her. She looks at me and puts her arm around my shoulder. We stand up with the rest of the cheerleaders. The quarterback hesitates to throw to the player a few yards from him, and then he finally sees the running back at the end zone. As the ball is thrown through the air, the crowd goes silent. Everything in the world stops for just a second before the ball falls down and is caught. Alexis jumps on my back and gives me a hug. I close my eyes, breath in the crisp air, hear the roar of the crowd, and see Corey’s face in my head. He’s smiling and I can hear him saying, “That’s why you always follow your heart.”