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The Earth's Heartbeats

Thump, thump, thump went my feet as they hit the ground, beating a rhythm that fell into step with my own frantically scurrying heart. Exhilaration burned my lungs in lieu of oxygen, rich in the air, irresistibly tangible. The smell of the salty ocean played through my long streaming hair as I ran along the shore. The crisp autumn breeze slapped my exposed legs, which were beginning to groan with pain, begging me to have mercy on the already aching limbs and muscles I was pushing to their breaking point. But whenever I paused to catch my breath or slowed my brisk pace by a fraction, the vivid images and sounds of the day’s earlier events came rushing back to me in full force: the screeching of tires upon the road, people yelling and jostling others in their fear, the sickening crunch of shattered bones, and my brother Vince, his face ashen, falling. Falling… Falling… Falling…

Vince and I were walking home from a track meet at noon when the world shattered. A truck rounded the corner at break neck speed and the driver lost control; it tipped precariously and spun toward a young boy, his innocent eyes wide with shock. Using reflexes born from years of sprinting, Vince had made a hairpin dive, pushing him aside. The truck fell exactly where the boy had been and caught Vince with its full strength. My brother’s agonized yells still rang in my ears, imprinted in my mind.

“Don’t think of it, Alana,” I ordered myself through gritted teeth. “Concentrate on the goal and just run.” I bit my lip fiercely as tears began obscuring my vision and pumped my legs faster; hoping that I could outrun that terrible image and expel it from my memory. But it clung tightly as barnacles latched onto a ship’s bottom, weighing me down.

A sob was wrenched from my gut before I could stop myself and I found it difficult to jog in a straight line. My legs told me to continue on, but my brain already succumbed to the battle happening inside me. Before I could stop myself, I had flung myself down on the sand and allowed my emotions to flow freely down my face, feeling a burden being relieved from my shoulders.

Vince was taken to the hospital immediately, but the events following were blurred, their impressions not distinct. I briefly recalled mom weeping, doctors whispering in the corridors, and me feeling a dull sense of shock. The unreality had been… deafening. I could not think properly, kept praying that it was all a dream and I would be waking up, that I could turn back time. It was a rude awakening of the hardships life brings even though it has been decked in flowers and hollow words. The moment that stood out vividly like a firework across the night sky was when the doctor tending to Vince had informed us that the accident left my brother’s legs permanently paralyzed. He would never be able to walk again, his price for his act of bravery.

I stared at the physician, horror etched across my face. Who did this man think he was? Didn’t he see the pain he was giving my brother? Track was Vince’s life and telling him that he would be confined in a wheelchair was like ordering the sun to stop shining. Running was a bond that we shared, a love that inflamed both of us. Next thing I knew, I had dashed from the room, pushing bewildered people in my haste, and flung open the hospital doors. A gentle breeze greeted me and, without any other thought, I pounded down the street, as far away from that hateful place as possible.

Alana…

My tears subsided as I looked up, my faced caked with sand. “Who’s there?” I whispered. I stepped closer to the water and the waves lapped at my sneakers. I inhaled deeply the smell of the ocean, thinking I could never get enough of it

Come Alana, come, the wind murmured in a beguiling voice, soft and tempting, a tender hand caressing my face.

Removing my shoes and socks, I wriggled my feet into the warm sand and let out a contented sigh, closing my eyes. I wished that I could lose myself into nature’s sweet serenade, a perfect concoction of weaving melodies full of high and low. Without knowing, I spread my arms as though I was a bird about to take flight. I was afraid to move, afraid that I would lose the wonderful sensation that coursed through my body, sweet as ambrosia yet bitter like poison.

Tentatively, I opened them and waded deeper into the water, feeling my feet being tickled by the currents. I plunged, then resurfaced, shaking salt from my hair. My heart was being pulled in all directions; I didn’t know whether I should laugh or weep.

A mournful cry ripped through the air. It reminded me so stunningly of Vince’s pain-filled yell when he was trapped under the truck that I looked up in shock. A gull soared across the painted canvas of brilliant gold and scarlet, its wings tilting every so slightly to move in whatever direction to fulfill its whims. Flying toward the boundary of heaven and earth, the bird became a mere speck in the horizon. Long after it had disappeared from my range of vision, I gazed after it. “Take me with you,” I said quietly.

The sun, draped tapestry of crimson and indigo, was driving her chariot to the western gate, creating a breathtaking kaleidoscope. What would it feel to race across the never-ending stage that stretched across the sky? The fluffy clouds skimming my feet and, flowing behind me, the vast blanket of night as the silver lady lit her candles. I would dance so beautifully without the worry about anyone watching or criticizing. But could I leave mom and Vince?

I pushed my way through the water, back to the shore. I had completely forgotten about Vince, of his disability. I imagined him right now, staring blankly at the hospital wall, feeling dead and apart from the rest of the world. Wondering what there is to live for.

Straightening up, I retrieved my sneakers and made my slow progress home. Behind me, night had already spread his wings and began making his odyssey…

“How much further Alana?”

My arms ached from pushing the wheelchair and I was breathing rapidly. I stopped, clutching a stitch in my stomach before starting once more. “Not much.”

The wind whipped my hair like the sail of a boat. Vince stared sulkily in the distance and I glanced at him, full of concern.

It was a week after the incident. He had become touchy about his recent confinement and prone to violent mood swings. When he first returned home, Vince tore up all his posters of famous athletes and tossed away all of his track trophies. Mom asked me in an undertone to understand what he was going through and to help in way possible.

That was exactly what I was doing.

The sand was treacherous on the wheelchair and caused it to veer off track. I skidded to an abrupt stop. “Here we are.”

Vince scowled at the expanse of deep blue before him. I found myself gazing at him, trying to find beneath the anger a trace of the brother I had lost in the accident. “What are we doing here?” he yelled. “Let’s just go home.”

“Close your eyes.” I said gently.

He looked up at me in disbelief.

“Just do it.”

Reluctantly, Vince shut his eyes.

“Now what do you hear? Don’t open them.”

“I hear, the splashing of the waves against the coast, birds singing through the sky.” Vince screwed up his face. “I hear the gentle heartbeats of the earth around me. It’s going shoomp, shoomp, shoomp.” Tears were rolling down his cheeks and he tilted his head up. “And I feel the sun rays against my skin. Angels are lifting me up and I can feel the wind flapping against my skin just like on the track course.” He broke off with a sob, then whispered in a voice constricted with emotion, “I feel more alive and aware of my body.”

Gently, I squeezed his shoulders and grinned. “You can open your eyes now.”

Vince shook his head vigorously. “I don’t want to lose this feeling.

I threw back my head and laughed. “Vince, nothing is ever going to rob you of your sense of life. Nothing.”

He looked up at me and smiled. I had done my job and received the reward I was after. “Come on,” I said, readjusting my grip on the handles. “Let’s go home.”



Thump, thump, thump went my feet as they hit the ground, beating a rhythm that fell into step with my own heart and with the whirring of my brother’s wheelchair.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

purpleflowers said...
Aug. 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm
I like the way you framed the story with the first and final sentences.  Although the premise is based on a tragedy, the story sends out the positive feeling of hope.  
 
WritingMyEscape replied...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 12:07 am

"But I know, somehow, only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars."

Martin Luther King Jr.

 
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