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The red and blue flashing lights found their way through the darkness with the guidance of their deafening alarm that pierced the air for a mile. The ambulance skidded to a halt at the entrance of the hospital and the back doors were thrown open. Two men jumped out and pulled the edges of the teal stretcher along with them. The scuffed and dented plastic wheels slammed against the pavement for their thousandth time, carrying their patient into the emergency room to be cared for by the women in the green scrubs and the men with the long, white jackets. The curb underneath me was cold and damp, the air stale, and the night as black as I had ever seen it. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours; no one really knows how long we sat there outside that emergency room. His mother paced back and forth, clenching her purse to her chest. Cigarette after cigarette, she burned away time and her despair, and we breathed it in. It filled our lungs and clung to the hairs in our noses. We breathed it in only once, but the taste seemed to stay there forever, though not nearly as much as it did for her. The tar clung to her lungs like the despair written so plainly on her face, and it would make every breath she would ever take for the rest of her life forced and unsteady, almost painful.

He looked so empty lying in that bed. Tubes from his throat and chest crept from under the covers, all linked to some machine only a man in a white coat had any clue of. The bags of clear and yellow fluids hanging from tall, skinny poles had thin tubes that slithered through the bed and into his veins, injecting him with artificial sustenance. Each breath that he took was more forced than his own mother's, the buzzing machine pumping life in and out of his lungs. They told us he would keep sleeping, and he probably wouldn't wake up. Cigarette after cigarette, his mother burned away the truth. The deep lines that trailed along her eyes only got deeper from the truth she burned away. She begged her God for mercy on her son, “he's only seventeen”, but her God spared no mercy. She signed her name under “DNR” with the motivation of flaming tobacco and the forcefulness of her apathetic husband.

The pine box that encased his body was lowered six feet into a hole. The crowd sobbed at the sight, holding each other for comfort and reassurance in the hope that none of this was real. His mother screamed at the scene as they tossed the dirt onto the coffin, her baby, her baby, he's only seventeen, don't bury her baby. The anguish poured from her eyes and seeped from her pores. I stood right next to the hole, hearing only the sound of rocks crashing against the coffin over the harrowing weeping of his mother. She reached for her son, throwing herself at the hole, but they held her back. Take me, he didn't deserve this, take me instead.

She lit a cigarette as I sat at her kitchen table. She burned away the memory of her son, and she burned away the memory of the three kids she had left. It was then that her little boy ran inside from the backyard, shouting happily and waving his arms about wildly for her attention.

“Look, Mommy, he's here, he came to see us!”

Perched upon the fence outside was a bald eagle, that studied the scene before it as if to take the memory with it before it spread its wings and flew away.




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