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Good-Bye, Never Neverland MAG
Five years ago I wrote a letter to a man we'll call J.C. I had never met this man or seen his face, but from the moment I heard his name, I knew I hated him. At the time, he was 17 and I was not quite 12, but I felt it was necessary to write him a letter. I remember the disapproving frown on my mom's face as I handed her the two pages of scribbles and exclamation marks. To my dismay, she refused to mail it. Apparently two wrongs don't make a right, and the use of colorful phrases like “freaking idiot” and “complete loser” only made me look like the bad guy. To say that I stormed out of the room would be an understatement. I was beyond angry. But I had a right to be – this was the man who plucked me from Peter Pan's Never Neverland and forced me into the real world. Because of J.C., I was an 11-year-old going on 80. The moment his car collided with my body, my childhood ended and reality began.
While that day may now seem like a distant memory, I clearly recall the beauty of that pristine winter morning. It was the first day of January, and I didn't mind the crisp, cool air because it was accompanied by a comforting blanket of snow. In the hours that followed, I felt as though that blanket wrapped around me and pulled me into a deep sleep undisturbed by the sirens, the screaming, the snap.
When I woke up in that strange hospital room two weeks later, I couldn't turn my head to look at my new environment, and although I could see, there were two of everything. I knew something was terribly wrong, but I wasn't sure what. I soon learned that the reason I couldn't turn my neck was because a teenager had guzzled can after can and inhaled joint after joint, then decided to get into his car.
At first I was too confused to understand the impact of what had happened. Nurses and doctors rushed in and out of my room, scrambling papers, pills, and blood samples. At one point they ran out of places to take my blood, so they shoved a tube up my arm and into my heart. Over time I started to grasp the fact that my life wasn't going to return to normal. I wouldn't be that happy-go-lucky girl anymore, the one who would go to sleep every night without a single worry.
Days turned into weeks, and my neurologist decided to put a “halo” on me. Oh, the irony. It sounded good, but in reality a halo was a heavy, metal contraption drilled into my head to support my neck and skull. Until then, I had never given much thought to halos and angels and God, but once the weight of the metal halo hit me, I realized that throughout my life, I had only been going through the motions of my religion. Still, years later, my friends and I joke about how I am a “bad Jew,” but they don't know that I lost my faith because of the accident.
I remember the morning after my mother explained the effects of my brain damage. The nurse came in like she had every morning, but this time, I counted the pills she was feeding me. As she mixed all 17 crushed pills into applesauce (I hadn't yet learned how to swallow them), I began to understand that I would be stuck with them for the rest of my life.
I knew I was angry with God, but it wasn't until I looked in the mirror that I stopped believing. On my twelfth birthday, my closest friends came to the hospital to celebrate with me. Thankfully, I was surrounded by an incredible support system – family, teachers, friends, and even strangers who happened to care – but I had difficulty appreciating these people because I was so worried about how they would react to the new me. On the morning of my birthday, my mom helped me get ready. We had to cut my favorite pink shirt so it fit over my halo, but I didn't mind. What upset me most was the face in the mirror.
I was expecting a change, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. This was the new Erica – empty, crossed eyes; sunken, hollow cheekbones; a sad, dead frown. Looking back, I wish I could have smiled at the face staring back at me and appreciated all those who were there to help, but I was selfish and angry. Although I pleaded for them to let my friends stay a little longer, the doctors cut my birthday party short because visiting hours were over. That night, I didn't cry. I yelled. At God. And I didn't feel guilty. I felt numb.
When I was finally released from the hospital, I tried to keep myself occupied; whenever I was alone, my mind would flash back to J.C. I didn't know who I was angrier at – J.C. for causing all of this or God for letting me suffer. Weeks, months, and then years passed, and soon I was a quiet, nervous little freshman. As time passed, I had transformed into a typical moody teenager, but all the doctors, medical problems, and anger had stayed with me.
I took each day as it came and went through the motions until the morning of the trial. After three years, I was finally going to see the man who changed my life. As I waited outside the courtroom for the judge to call me to the stand, I imagined looking J.C. in the eyes and telling him in excruciating detail how he had turned my life upside down, how he had hurt my family, how he had hurt me. But when I sat down on the cold wooden chair in front of the jury and the rest of the courtroom, I couldn't find him. I had no idea what J.C. looked like, but I knew he would be the only scrawny teenager in the room. As my lawyer spoke, I scanned the sea of faces. Then my heart stopped, my blood went cold, and my hands began to tremble. Sitting in the back of the room, with his face buried in his hands, was J.C.
I don't remember those hours I spent in the courtroom, but I do remember the judge dismissing me and the moments that followed. A man with gray hair and a crooked smile politely approached and asked if I had a moment for his client. As I looked at my dad and saw his purple, infuriated face, I realized that the client was J.C.
He was exactly as I imagined – short and scrawny, pale, and nervous as a two-year-old who knows he has done something bad. As he approached me, we locked eyes. Tears streamed down his face, and I realized that this was the first time I had ever seen a boy cry. He opened his mouth, and a hoarse, defeated voice spoke what sounded like an apology. In my mind, I knew what I wanted to say to him, but something happened inside me, and my conscience took over.
I smiled at J.C. and, choking back tears, told him it was okay and that I had forgiven him. I told him to take what he had learned and go on with his life. I told him not to worry about me; I was okay. I told him the opposite of everything I had written in that letter three years before. I don't know why I did this, but I'm happy I did.
J.C. made a mistake, but I know it happened for a reason. Before he broke my neck, I was breaking apart my own life and didn't even realize it. I was taking every day for granted, and if it wasn't for J.C., I would have continued living this way, empty inside. This chapter was finally over, and though I could never go back to Never Neverland, I knew that things would be okay.
I still take pills every morning, I still see the scars when I look in the mirror, and I still have memories when I close my eyes at night, but these remind me of the strength inside me. The day my world collided with J.C.'s was the day I began to live, and I wouldn't change a thing.