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Unintentional Secrets

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I averted my eyes from the peeling white paint;—from the white and black, laminated photograph;—from the fake, faded purple roses;—from the tattered pink ribbon;—from the crisp Autumn leaves, dead, molded on the ground;—from the name etched into the wood: Hayley Grace Benson;—from the dates marking her birth and death: April 14, 1996—May 17, 2007 to the letter written in my handwriting;—my words scratched into the paper, giving reasons. Reasons for insanity. Confessions of the things I never told anyone about the night I killed my little sister, Hayley. Not my parents. Not my two sisters. Not my two brothers. Not any soul on Earth knows. Only me.
Things something I have been ashamed of. Things I buried underneath my grief. Things that if I spoke would burn my throat and stitch my lips shut. Things then even as I knelt in front of Hayley’s memorial cross, five months after the car accident, I could barely mumble the words with no one to hear them.
I blinked my eyes looking over to the cross once again. I saw the reality of what I did: I killed Hayley. I killed my little sister. Written below Hayley’s name was the truth: Killed in car accident by older brother. The words were red. Hayley’s blood. I blinked once more the words vanished. The truth stayed.

I broke my gaze from the cross. From Hayley. I looked up to the sky. Searching for answers to the questions, I didn’t even know how to ask.

The moon shone through the dark tree branches, staring back at me—Hayley’s smile lighting the night. The stars glittered against the black canvas of the night sky—little trickles of hope. The woods stood quiet and dark, unmoving. The road coiled itself around the land. Only the distant sounds of the crashing waves of the grey Maine ocean could be heard.
Only my heart to beat quickly, spreading the truth through my blood. My soul. Only my ears to be broken with the harsh sound of reality. Only my eyes to be blinded with the destruction created by one simple, devastating mistake.
My mistake.



The road before my half-silted eyes looks like an oily, black snake, stretching itself across the land. The car in front of us goes around the curve, which curls around the thick line of dark pine trees, and disappears over the hill. My eyes close heavily from lack of sleep; from lack of energy. I rub my hand over my eyes to wake myself up.

I quickly turn my eyes away from the road, only for a second, to glance into the rearview mirror at my little sister, Hayley, who sleeps soundly in the backseat. Her head rests on her flower-printed pillow; her pink ballet duffle bag sits beside her in the seat. Her blonde ringlets of curls fall over her face, shielding her closed light blue eyes.
My eyes close again, my head slumps forward. l snap my head upward when I feel the car go off the curve, off the road.




My falling asleep at the wheel is something I could never forgive myself for. Each time the memories of the night crept into my mind, I would run through the hundreds of what if scenarios: What if I told Hayley no and didn’t go pick her up;—What if I had someone else go get Hayley;—What if I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel;—What if help had gotten there earlier;—What if Hayley lived;—What if I died. But in the end none of those were the truth. Nothing would bring Hayley back. Nothing. She was dead. It was all my fault. I was the one driving the car;—I was the one who fell asleep at the wheel;—I was the one who watched Hayley die.

I watched Hayley die.

That is something I never told anyone about the night about the night I killed my little sister, Hayley. Not my parents. Not my two sisters. Not my two brothers. Not any soul on Earth knows. Only me. Something I have been ashamed of. Something I buried underneath my grief. Something that if I spoke it would burn my throat and stitch my lips shut. Something then even as I knelt in front of Hayley’s memorial cross, five months after the car accident, I could barely mumble the words with no one to hear them. Only the emptiness of the woods. Only the moon and stars glistening against the dark, cloudless sky. Only the distant sounds of the crashing waves of the grey Maine ocean could be heard.
Only my heart to beat quickly, spreading the truth through my blood. My soul. Only my ears to be broken with the harsh sound of reality. Only my eyes to be blinded with the destruction created by one simple, devastating mistake.
My mistake.



I press down the brakes. The car heads straight for the line of trees. I cut the wheel away from the trees; the wheels slide in the mud. The right passenger side of the car slams into a tall pine tree. My body jerks to the right. My wrist snaps under the pressure. Glass from the window sprays across me; it left behind crystal prisms pierced into my skin. The sound of Hayley’s whimpering enters my ear. Oh God, Hayley. What have I done? I think. With my left arm I push myself upright. I twist my body around, closing my eyes at the bloody sight that is now Hayley. Hayley’s blonde curls are drenched, dyed, with blood and sprinkled with shards of glass. That was the first thing I noticed when I looked at Hayley: the amount of blood that covered her. God, how much blood there was? It makes me sick. Hot bile rises in my throat. Suffocating me. It seeps through the edges of my mouth. It runs down my chin, staining my already ruined shirt. Her blue eyes, which I hold with my grey ones, pleading, are wide with what: Fear?—Panic?—Pain?—Death? A mystery clouds her eyes.
“Jake,” she breaths. Whisper. Tears stream down her cheeks, leaving behind tracks of light pink in the crimson. “Help me.”
Hayley’s last words. To me. To anyone.
Her eyes close. Her chest stills. Her body lays there, unmoving. Her head lolls to the side.
“Hayley!” I scream. I reach my injured wrist between the space separating us. I grab her hand. Cold.
So cold.
Lifeless.


Hayley died ten minutes before the paramedics arrived. I could still remember the feel of the paramedic’s Latex-gloved hands as they pried my warm fingers from Hayley’s cold ones. I still remembered that I thought absently: Wait, Hayley is allergic to Latex. But that didn’t matter. Hayley was already dead. She died right in front of my eyes. My soul as the witness to her death. I was the only one that could have saved her. But I didn’t; I couldn’t. I failed her. I failed myself. I failed everyone.
The coroner told my family this: Your daughter/sister died on impact. She felt no pain. She knew nothing about the wreck. It was all a lie. Hayley didn’t die on impact. She felt pain. She knew everything about the wreck. But they weren’t there. They didn’t see her bleed to death;—the life leave her eyes—her soul escape her body. They didn’t kill her. But, I did.
That night I looked death straight in the eyes. It scared me. And at the time I was glad it wasn’t me that died. For only a split second, though.
I killed my little sister, Hayley.
And I was glad I wasn’t the one who died.
That is something I never told anyone about the night about the night I killed my little sister, Hayley. Not my parents. Not my two sisters. Not my two brothers. Not any soul on Earth knows. Only me. Something I have been ashamed of. Something I buried underneath my grief. Something that if I spoke it would burn my throat and stitch my lips shut. Something then even as I knelt in front of Hayley’s memorial cross, five months after the car accident, I could barely mumble the words with no one to hear them. Only the emptiness of the woods. Only the moon and stars glistening against the dark, cloudless sky. Only the distant sounds of the crashing waves of the grey Maine ocean could be heard.
Only my heart to beat quickly, spreading the truth through my blood. My soul. Only my ears to be broken with the harsh sound of reality. Only my eyes to be blinded with the destruction created by one simple, devastating mistake.
My mistake.

I sit on the white, stiff bed in the white, sterile Emergency Room cubicle. The white, paper-thin curtain is pulled across the glass door, for privacy. My wrist is now wrapped in a red cast. The cut on my forehead is now stitched and bandaged.
Hayley is in the hospital somewhere.
I am sure.
But she isn’t living.
I know.
The curtain is pulled back. Behind its cover is my mom. She stands with her face reddened by anger;—a tissue is crumpled in her fist;—tears stream down her cheeks. She takes the ten steps that separate us. Her blue eyes, Hayley’s eyes, stare straight through me, glowing with anger.
“Jake,” she begins through clenched teeth. “Hayley is dead.” She draws her hand back and slaps me across the face. I touch my hand to my face, instantly. Tears brim my eyes. But not from pain. But from shame. Shame of what I had done. Shame of the pain I had caused my family.
My mom turns away from me and walks back out the door. She leaves the curtain open. Open for the whole world to look in. Open for my whole family to look in. To see the guilt on my face. To see what I have done: I killed Hayley.
My older brother, Michael, leans against the wall with his arms crossed, shaking his head. My dad stands next to Michael with his arms around my older sister, Hannah, and my other younger sister, Mackenzie who are both crying. My younger brother, Jeremy, stands a few feet apart from them looking lost. They don’t look at me. My mom walks past them swiftly and disappears down the hall.
The nurse walks by slowly, giving me a small, gentle smile when she sees my family outside. She closes the curtain, closing out my family; closing out the world. I lay down on the bed feeling drained and tired.
To no one in particular I whisper, “Oh God, I know. Don’t I know it?”


I hastily wiped away the tears. I licked my top lip, salt melts onto my tongue—the taste of guilt fresh as the memory of Hayley’s death. With a shaking hand I ran my fingers through my dark hair.
I glanced up at the picture of Hayley tacked onto the cross. Her smiling face meets mine twisted with guilt. I traced the outline of her sweet, round face;—of her small, round lips;—of her huge, round, blue eyes;—of the patch of freckles that ran across her cheeks and nose. The picture was taken last autumn in school. The picture was printed into the yearbook. The picture all of her classmates would remember her by.
I glanced down to the letter for one last time. The words that were written in my handwriting;—my words scratched into the paper, giving reasons, blur together. Reasons for insanity. Confessions of the things I never told anyone about the night I killed my little sister, Hayley, that they will know. They will know soon. Too soon. Dear Mom, Dad, Hannah, Michael, Jeremy, Mackenzie, it read.


I want to say I am sorry. Sorry for the pain I have caused each of you. For taking Hayley away from you. For never saying sorry. I want you to know I love each of you. I wish it could have turned out differently. I wish Hayley lived instead of me. No, I do not blame you guys. I promise. I saw the look in Hayley’s eyes; I heard the pleading in her voice. She wanted to live. And I let her die. I watched her die. She tried to hold on. She really did. But I sat and watched her drift away. I am sorry I didn’t save her. Maybe things would be different if I had. So I guess this is it. I had to do it. I couldn’t take the guilt anymore;—the pained look in your eyes;—the hatred I feel toward myself;—losing and missing Hayley;—knowing the truth of what happened. I feel and am full of life;—my lungs spread oxygen through my body;—my heart pumps blood through my veins;—my mind swims with thoughts. But I still feel empty. Even the guilt does not fill me completely. Hollow.
I am so sorry.
Please forgive me.
Goodbye.





Love your son/brother,





Jake


I tacked the letter onto the cross behind Hayley’s picture. I held the guilt inside me until tonight, when I came and knelt in front of Hayley’s memorial cross. The suspect returning to the scene of the crime.
I watched Hayley die.
I let her die.
I killed her.
I was happy, for a split second, I was the one who didn’t die.
These are things I could tell myself then. But not to accept them. Only to acknowledge the truth.
I stood up and brushed myself off; I turned away from the cross. From the past. From the pain.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered;—to myself?—to Hayley?—to my family? The weight of the world lifts itself off of my shoulders. My body felt weightless. My heart heavy. A single tear traced itself down my cheek.
Ready to let go of everything, I walked up the small embankment. I walked away from my old self;—from Hayley.
The black marks that once were on the road have now vanished. No traces were left of our path to destruction. To the end. Only the memory I had of it.
I looked over to my right and saw the glare of the car’s headlights. I smiled. This is it. The car inched closer. My shadow stretched itself along the road. My soul caught in the yellow glow. The car’s headlights blinded me. The car hit me on my right side. I went numb.
My shadow vanished from the road.
My soul evaporated from my body.
From life.
I was finally free.





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