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Just The Way Life Is
The dark night was illuminated by the backlights of cars. I slumped in the back seat, scrolling through my ipod playlist. I pulled my coat tightly around me, shivering. It was cold. My older brother elbowed me in the ribs.
I scowled. “What’s it look like I’m doing?”
We pulled up at a red light. The car in front of us suddenly honked. I turned around to see a red car speeding toward us.
All I could feel was dread. “Matt! Emma! Get down!”
Dad’s warning came too late. The car smashed the window. I felt something wet and sticky run down my face. “What’s going on?” I screamed. Then something hit my head, and everything went black.
I force my heavy eyelids open. Everything is sterile white. For a moment I wonder if I’m dead. Then reality takes over. I remember the red car. Dad yelling at us. The glass shattering. I must be in the hospital.
A young woman smiles at me. “You’re awake, honey? Good. We were worried.”
I nod. “Is Matt… okay?”
“Yes. He’s fine. But…” her voice trails off.
“What?” I ask.
“You should get some sleep,” her smile returns, but this time, it’s forced.
“Matt!” I hug him tightly. “Nobody’ll tell me anything! Where’s dad? Why can’t I see him?
His face clouds over, and he walks around the bed. “Emma,” he begins, “I wasn’t hurt too bad because I was on the side of the car that wasn’t hit. You and dad were both on the side that was. The driver was arrested Emma, he really was.”
“His window took most of the force of the collision. He didn’t make it out, Emma. I’m so sorry.”
I feel numb all over. Somehow my mind still functions. Dad’s gone. Mom’s dead also. Cancer. Three years ago. We’ll go to our closest living relative. It would be grandpa, but he died a year ago. It has to be—“Aunt Sabrina.”
It is a fact. We will never go back home to the little apartment on 24th street. Never eat Chinese takeout on the roof. Never watch meteor showers with dad again.
When I step out of the bed the next day, I nearly fall over. At last I make it over to the mirror.
A reflection looks back at me, but it isn’t mine. The girl in the mirror has a thin face, surrounded by messy brown hair. The girl in the mirror has a scar running down her chin.
I reach up to touch the scar, still holding onto hope that this is not me. But my fingers feel stitches, and every hope of ever being normal again is dashed.
Matt and I leave the hospital a week later. We’re flying alone to New Mexico, where Aunt Sabrina will be waiting for us. I have mapped it out in my mind, for I am desperate for some kind of routine to hold onto.
The airplane takes off, and I read, caught in the glorious world of fantasy, where losing parents is convenient for adventures to happen.
The plane lands in New Mexico, and all the passengers barrel off the plane at once. Matt and I wait for a few minutes, waiting for the stream to subside, and then we too step out of the plane, into the jetway.
Don’t think, don’t think. I tell myself over and over again. But it’s impossible. Everything’s happening so fast, I want to scream. How can it happen? It was so fast. I have no idea what to do, where to go, what to say. I let myself get swept up in the crowd of people and pray that someone will guide me in the right direction.
We step out into the noisy, bustling airport. I hitch my backpack up farther onto my arm, and nervously finger my stitches. The airport is so crowded. What if we can’t find Aunt Sabrina?
But of course we do, somehow. We all pile into her small car and drive, to somewhere in the middle of the desert. Cars scare me, now. It’s obvious how dangerous they are, that they can take lives in an instant.
The bouncing of the car soon lulls me into a kind of sleep. Then we stop, and my eyes snap open.
We are in the middle of the desert, with miles and miles of dust stretching as far as the eye can see. I take a deep breath and step out of the car.
The house is large, with windows placed haphazardly. The roof is slightly crooked, the porch slanted, but it is homey. I decide I like it.
Late that night, after Matt and Aunt Sabine are in bed, I tiptoe outside. The moon casts tall shadows over the desert. I tip my head back. The sky is full of tiny pinpricks of light. Stars. So many more than there are in New York.
Yes, dad died. The pain of it still throbs like an open wound. But I can get over it. Maybe that’s why Sabine took up. The desert is so wide, so beautiful, that it can wash away the hurt.
I will never forget the accident. Never forget Papa. My scar will be a permanent reminder. And there are scars inside that are even bigger. But right now, just for a moment, I can put it out of my mind. I can’t be happy, not yet. But maybe soon.
Here, under the widespread stars, cold sand tickling my feet, I can pretend that it didn’t happen. I can tell myself papa is in the house, tell myself this is a vacation. But I don’t. Because how will I ever heal if I do.
So I admit that he’s gone, and I swear to myself that I will make the most of the life that I was able to keep. And I know I can. Or at least I know I can try.
Because that’s just the way life is.