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“It is so cold,” I complained as I walked to the bleachers, “Do we really have to stay here the whole game?” No one answered me as I trudged along trying to push through the wind. Sitting down on the bleachers, I tried to shield myself from the cold stinging my face, a futile attempt considering there was no escaping it. My mom started chatting with the other moms and my dad talked football with the men. I searched the half-filled bleachers for any familiar faces, but we were on foreign territory, in Fridley, and no one my age would come watch a football game in brutal weather like this.
We were down in the second quarter and it was not looking too good for us. The wind made it nearly impossible to throw the ball; we just couldn’t seem to make many plays. While everyone else was tuned into the game, I sat counting down the minutes until halftime; my escape to the concession stand to buy a warm snack was near. I looked at the clock as it ran down and was just seconds away from a soothing cup of hot cocoa, until I watched everything fall apart. There was my brother catching the ball, the wind roaring. He was leaping into the air, as a player drove into him, and then he was down. BUUZZZZZ! Halftime. The players from both teams walked off the field, but my brother remained limp, almost like a rag doll. Time slowed down as the coaches and medical staff rushed to where he laid. Even though I pulled my fleece blanket tighter around me, I still got the chills. This time, they didn’t have anything to do with the weather. Turning around, my mom was talking with her friends so I tapped her shoulder.
“Uhhh mom….I think Reese is…hurt.” Her eyes turned automatically to the field and she got up without a word. I couldn’t tell if she was worried yet. My dad was crouching near Reese on the field, holding up his head as if Reese were a little child. What’s happening? I don’t get it. He can’t really be hurt. He probably just rolled his ankle or something.
Minutes passed. He did not get up. My head started to spin and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. People were whispering, “He’s really hurt” or “I think he’s paralyzed”. What?!?! I screamed inside my head, didn’t these people understand that this is my brother; this is not some movie where you learn some symbolic lesson. This is my life. This is real. I started to feel the need to find my brother Gabriel and ask him what was happening, but I was glued to the bleachers and my eyes would not stray from the field. Sirens were blaring in the distance, an ominous warning. They came closer and closer and I knew they were meant for Reese. Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on? Even though no one told me what was happening, my mind was reeling with many scenarios.
Watching as the ambulance came on the field was surreal. The paramedics slowly put him on a stretcher and loaded him inside. It reminded me of loading a casket into a hearse and I could not shake the feeling that this was not going to end quickly. But I didn’t cry. It’s all going to be okay tomorrow; I’ll just wait and see.
Gabriel, slowly and steadily, came to get me from the bleachers. I was in the same spot and I did not want to get up, despite the cold wind beating down mercilessly. Gabriel gathered my younger brother, Lukas, and we waited outside the fence of the field for my dad. He was looking inside the ambulance, speaking words that I could not hear. As we waited people came near us and would give us a hug, a pat or another blanket to keep warm. Why are these people trying to comfort me? It’s not like Reese is really hurt, but inside I was shaking. The ambulance slowly left the field and we got in the car right away to follow it. I sat in the front and we had the radio on low. There were no tears and no words, just feelings so strong, that they were palpable. We stopped at a gas station and finally, Lukas spoke up, “Dad, what happened to him?” Looking back at him and seeing his face, full of innocence, made him look so little, so helpless.
My dad sighed, “Well, he broke his leg. That’s what the medical staff said. He’s probably going to need surgery.” No one said anything. Whatever, it’ll be a quick surgery and it’ll all be okay. Maybe I’ll even get to miss school.
The hospital waiting room seemed welcoming, familiar voices of my cousins almost made me feel comfortable. They lived near the hospital and came right away to be with us. I tried to laugh along with them as they talked about school and football. Oh football…..if it weren’t for football Reese wouldn’t be hurt. I had not even realized my dad was gone until he came back to the waiting room and said, “You guys can come back and see Reese.”
“Okay!” said Lukas, speaking for both Gabriel and I; we were all anxious to see him. We got up and my dad directed us to his room. Maybe my mind was so fatigued that I couldn’t think straight, but I could swear I saw tears in my dad’s eyes. The hallway was long and seemed to stretch on forever. It winded around and around and all the walls were the same bland white. There were doors everywhere, and I could hear beeping and the quiet shuffling of machines.
“Here it is,” said my dad, but he made no move to open the door, “Before we go in, you have to know that he’s in a lot of pain. He won’t be able to talk much, so be gentle.” We all nodded and were prepared for whatever would face us on the other side of that door. The door swung open and I hesitated to step in, do I really want to see? But I did not have much of a choice; the room was small and bright. I could see everything. My breath caught because there was Reese, his face swollen and tired, still in his football uniform. He was fresh off the field. His shoe and pants had been cut open from where they shifted the two broken pieces of his leg in alignment. My mom was there, right next to him, crying and reaching over to hug each one of us. Hugging her, I realized she was shaking; pulling away her face was full of concern. For what seemed like the hundredth time that night I wondered, what the heck is going on?
I heard Reese’s voice for the first time as he said in between tears, “I’m just so sad, I’ll never get to play football again.” My eyes were blurry as he said this and I looked away hoping for an escape. It was time for tears. My mom and dad crouched near the small white bed and comforted him.
“I’m so sorry, Reese,” whispered my mom. We stayed like that, circled around Reese’s bed, as if he were a little boy looking for attention, instead of an eighteen year old in unspeakable pain. A nurse came in breaking the silence, bringing in some sort of medicine to ease his pain. At this interruption my dad seemed to realize that it was 10:00 p.m. and we had school the next day.
“We have to get you guys home,” my dad said as quietly as possible to me and my brothers. I touched Reese’s hand and pulled away quickly, as if there was some kind of force that held me back. He looked and felt like a different person, like a stranger lying in the hospital bed instead of my brother. I was relieved to escape and pushed open the wooden door and trekked through the halls once more.
Our neighbors picked us up from the hospital in their red pickup truck. It was hard not to shiver from the freezing air all around me as I sat in the stiff seat. The ride was long and being tired, I didn’t talk much; I just stared out the window at the bright lights in the darkness on the highway. I tried not to think about going to school the next day. How will I explain this to everyone and act as if it’s not a big deal? I started to lose my train of thought. I lost myself in a place between sleep and the real world, and I got that warm fuzzy feeling from being lulled to sleep in a car, knowing I’ll have to wake up sometime but never wanting to. It was nice while it lasted.
When we got home I said, “Lukas, please brush your teeth and go to bed.” He didn’t need to be told twice, knowing it was not the night to complain. I peeked downstairs and saw that Gabriel’s bedroom lights were already out. As I walked up the stairs it felt as if there were cement bricks tied to my feet, holding me down. I went into Lukas’ room to say goodnight. He was sleeping peacefully. I hugged him and thought to myself, I love you. I crept to my room as quickly and quietly as possible, like a stranger in someone else’s home. I realized I didn’t have pajamas on and reached for the first shirt in my drawer. I felt the cotton of a cut off shirt and let the tears run down my face. It was Reese’s t-shirt from track, tie-dyed blue and red. I sank into my warm, cozy bed and thought of all that had happened this past day.
“It’s not fair,” I whispered. I buried my head in the t-shirt and tried to wipe away the tears. I felt a deep pang of sorrow and anger. Of all people this had to happen to, he had the most heart and motivation on the football team. Oh, how much I wanted to go back to yesterday, when all that mattered was school and boys. Now my own problems were shrinking and life was blown out of proportion because of the circumstances of the past hours. I felt guilty and naive, a little child who thinks that life is only sunshine and happiness. I should’ve known. Right when everything was going great, life stepped in and ruined what I had. My head spun and I fell asleep with my face plastered to my wet pillow and salty tears streaming down my cheeks.
Authors Note: Reese went on to have four surgeries in a week’s time, one in which they went in to amputate his leg due to complications from the break. While they were able to save his leg, he has permanent nerve damage in his foot. Isn’t life interesting? At the same time, we were both learning what it means to be pushed from our innocence.