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Author's note: I was inspired to write this while I was taking a writing class in my school.
Morning sun shines in with overwhelming warmth, yet I can feel my bones shivering, and my head thrashing. My palms are sweaty and shaking and my nose has an obnoxious drip. It’s another fresh start, and I’m hung over.
I slowly open my bedroom door, anticipating my drooling father on the other side. As expected, the solution to his hang over was to drink some more. Now, instead of battling last night’s drink, he is drunk on today’s. He looks me in the eye sneering as he slams my body against the wall. He is smiling; enjoying every moment I wince in pain. Then, he takes his hand and jabs it against my side, slightly shifting my ribcage, demanding,
“Where were you last night?”
“I was out,” I say, twisting around to my left to escape his grasp on my wrist. I manage to get halfway down the hall before his footsteps become increasingly more noticeable. I barely reach the top of the stairs before I feel his massive hand grab the back of my neck, yanking me toward his body.
“Be specific, Christian. You think you can just come and go as you please? This isn’t a god damn hotel!” I can feel his hot, sticky breath crawling down my back. I succumb to the beating; closing my eyes and wishing him away. He must be in a good mood; disappearing after what seems like only a minute. I lay still on the floor until I am positive he has left, and then I pull myself up unto my feet and edge into the bathroom.
Another day, I think to myself, another day to get up, survive, and go back to bed.
I know its morning because my dad is awake, and Christian is hurt. Today is like every other day, one where there’s nothing I can do to help, and no one to save him. If only I were bigger and stronger, I know if I was older I would march right out there and make him stop! But I’m scared. I know I can’t help it, there’s not a thing I can do.
The darkness of my fort is so comforting; it makes me wish Christian had a fort or a safe place to turn. Maybe I will invite him in to stay awhile, even though I know he’s much older and way too busy to hang out with me. I’m just a kid, he says all the time. Too young to understand, and too young to know any better.
Since its quiet I decide to get dressed and go downstairs. I have hockey practice in an hour and I want to eat breakfast before I go. I think about reminding Christian that he has to drop me off at the rink, but I decide against it. I’m sure he’ll be downstairs soon, plus he never forgets about me.
The house is so silent it makes me nervous. I can’t see dad from where I’m standing which makes me worry more. I stand completely still for a moment and listen. It takes a second for me to actually hear it, but once I do, I remain breathing. The sound of my dad snoring on the couch is the first soothing thing of this day.
I move past him, holding my breath, and hope I can make it to the kitchen. Before I can completely get by, his eyes flash open and I freeze in my steps. His glance is going all around the room at a fast pace and I am just standing still looking right at him. A few seconds more, he is back to snoring and I smile with relief. Finally in the kitchen, I look through the cabinets for something to eat.
The cabinets are bare and the refrigerator is begging for someone to fill it. Grown so accustomed to not having food, I look past this and find something I can eat; waffles.
I pop my breakfast into the toaster and wait. Before my waffles are done, Christian appears in the kitchen; half dressed, half alive. I smile at him, and he ignores me, but I choose to pretend he just didn’t see. I hold up the box of waffles, and he shakes his head no, but mouths thank you. Since our father’s been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember, Christian and I have learned how to talk without noise. It’s quite useful. It makes me happy that he always knows what I’m saying and doing. He’s very cool like that.
Dad’s awake now, which means Christian wants to go as soon as possible. I hurry to finish my waffle, and then I begin to gather my hockey stuff. Today is the biggest game of my season, and my dad has no idea. Sometimes I wish he would hit me like he does to Christian. At least then I would know for certain that he knew I existed.
I shuffle these thoughts from my head, and head out the door. I can tell Christian doesn’t want to take me. He’s grunted the entire way from the door to the car. I hate when I need him to take me places. I’m such a burden on him.
What the hell. All the things I need to be doing today and I’m stuck taking my brother to hockey? Doesn’t anybody understand that I have a life of my own; one that might not always need to consist of taking care of them. He has no idea what kind of stuff I have to deal with. What’s his biggest worry? Remembering to pack his skates? I pull into the rink parking lot and the biggest part of me doesn’t even want to stop the car. I just want to slow down and open his door. If he hits the ground rolling, he’ll be fine. I slam the car in park and pop the trunk. Yanking his bag out, I drag him and the equipment inside. From across the room, I can see the coach, staring at me, and judging like he always does. Must be nice to be loaded with money and have a great looking wife. What a stuck up pr**k. For the most part, I feel fine. I don’t lose it until I take Alex in the locker room and help him get ready. He’s sitting there not doing anything and I snapped, “What the hell are you doing? You have practice in five minutes; hurry the hell up, Alex.” “Well, I got a problem Christian,” he says glancing up slowing, barely audible. “Yeah, that’s life. Get over it.” I ignore his problem and continue lacing his skate as fast as I can. “No really. I forgot my gloves at home, and I won’t be able to play without them. I really don’t want coach to yell at me, and I really nee-” I feel my face flush red and I become incredibly mad. Cutting him off I shout, “YOU FORGOT YOUR GLOVES? WHAT THE HELL, ALEX. YA KNOW, I GO THROUGH ALL THE TROUBLE OF BRINGING YOUR ASS HERE AND YOU PULL A STUNT LIKE THIS? WELL GUESS WHAT, PAL, PLAY WITHOUT ‘EM. OH AND BY THE WAY, GET OVER YOUR FEAR OF THE COACH. HE’S THE LAST OF YOUR PROBLEMS.” I don’t even look back as I storm out of the locker room. The coach gives me a condescending smile, so I smile back, flip him off and walk out. Once I left the rink I couldn’t stop driving. I wanted to drive as far as I could and back. I wanted to feel my tires running smoothly against the road. I just wanted to keep going. After a good 45 minutes, my phone rang. It was my buddy Tony, calling to ask if I wanted some “good weed”. I said of course, and headed over to his place to pick it up. When I got to his place, I could smell the weed burning from the driveway. I got a little pep in my step, and walked a bit faster to the door. Inside his house, Tony and I smoked a bowl and then I bought some to take with me. Getting behind the wheel of my car I could safely say I was flying high, and I was feeling good.
As I drove, I felt my foot easing the gas pedal higher and higher. My speed had easily inched into the 60’s in a 40 mph zone. I was high, I had no worries, and I was overly thrilled.
Not worried of what might happen to me from here, I continued to speed up, easing my car around bends and twists in the road. It was about 8 that night when I realized I had forgotten to pick my brother up from hockey. I was at this point about 9 hours late. Usually, this wouldn’t have bothered me, but today, I was so upset, that I pulled a quick u-turn, spinning the car towards my house. I drove 90 all the way home.
Or, almost all the way home. At the corner of Main and my road, I whipped my car around, and in that second came headlight to headlight of a huge 18-wheeler.
It’s funny how your mind reacts when it doesn’t have time to process. Instead of feeling fear, or really feeling anything at all, I began to laugh, uncontrollably. I unbuckled my seat belt, and reclined my seat. Keeping my eyes peeled wide, anticipating what was to come.
It lasted a second, and I can’t even recall any impact. I just remember thinking, “I just had a near life experience.” I never waited for the police or ambulance to show up, I just crawled through my window and walked home. I was bloody and woozy. I knew I looked like crap, and my dad would probably beat me just to add to my wounds, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be home, and asleep in my own bed.
The next morning, I surprisingly didn’t feel anything. Nothing hurt, and I could barely recollect anything that had happened the night before. I began thinking it had just been a crazy dream, and something so crazy just didn’t happen to people, especially people like me.
I walked downstairs, hoping to see my father, but instead saw my brother, sitting at the table reading a magazine. Unaware of what the time it was, I didn’t speak to him, I just sat down. He didn’t look up at me, and he acted like I wasn’t there at all.
It bothered me a lot, and I didn’t know why, and then I remembered how I treated him at the rink. I felt so bad about what I had said and how I had said it, that everything I wanted to say spilled out at once and made me sound like a lunatic. Usually when I did something like that, Alex would burst out laughing, but today he didn’t even look at me. He was still acting like I wasn’t there. So I moved my chair closer and said,
“Look, Alex, I know you’re mad at me, and I treated you really crappy, but I really am sorry, bud. I never should have said what I said, and I promise it won’t happen again.” He still didn’t say anything. I knew he was hurt, so I cut the words and reached across the table hoping to touch his shoulder.
It was then that the strangest thing happened. When my hand should have laid upon his shoulder in a comforting manner, it instead slipped right through him like he was a ghost. I did this over and over again until I knew what was happening.
I sprung from my seat, and like many times before, I dashed from my house; terrified. I ran all the way from my house to the store, which was about a five minute walk. I was at the store in what seemed like under a minute, and I wasn’t out of breath. Everything seemed really strange.
When I got to the store, I found a newspaper and flipped open to the accident report. What I learned from that page was something many people couldn’t prepare themselves for even if they were told it would happen. Right at the top of the page, in bold print lettering was my full name and a description of my car crash. It also read that I had been pronounced dead at the scene.
My hands opened and I dropped the newspaper to the floor, caught in disbelief. I felt the most draining sad I’ve ever experienced in my life, but when I tried to cry my eyes felt they had been dried up and incapable of tears. I picked the newspaper up once more and continued on. The article went on to say that there had been another person who had died. A man named Brian James had died because of my driving under the influence.
In that fleeting moment, I had never felt so bad in my life. Or what had been my life. Everything I had thought I knew had now vanished from me, and I had no idea what to think, or what to do. Anything I had ever thought to be true was now a lie. I was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it.
And then I began to wonder. If I was dead, why was I still on earth? Why hadn’t I gone to heaven? Was I destined to go to hell? Or was I caught between. I realized as I thought this that I was stuck here to finish what I started. Save my brother, and help myself.
I went to the park and sat down on the closest bench. I spent a long time looking up toward the sky, wondering what it would be like once I had finished what I needed to finish on earth. What would happen to me, and how would I know. Everything overwhelmed me; then I knew what I had to do first.
I pulled a small flip notebook out of my pocket and began writing an anonymous letter to my brother’s best friend, Jake’s family. I wrote about how Alex’s life had been so traumatized by my father’s drinking and how they were the closest thing he had to a chance in this world. I talked about how his brother, me, loved him so dearly and only wanted the world for him. And then, I begged them to save him. I begged and begged that they would take him in, and get him out of the environment he was stuck in.
When I sent the letter I prayed for four days. I slept and sat in the park, hoping they would take it upon themselves and help Alex. It was here, while I pondered my brother’s future, that I met Brian.
Brian and I talked for days. He told me about his life before he died. How he had been married for five years and had two children. How he was a terrible man when he was alive, and then he told me that he had been drunk the night of the crash, and that it was not my fault that he had died. He had been driving down the middle of the road and didn’t have time to move when I came around the corner. And lastly, he told me that the reason he didn’t move on to heaven was because the last thing he had to do was help me.
Listening to Brian, I cried for three days straight. It was during these days that I realized the weight of the world was always too heavy for my shoulders. Not everything that happened in this life was my fault, and none of it was within my capability of fixing. Never before I had spoken to him did I truly understand what was and wasn’t my fault.
I felt so rejuvenated. I hopped off the bench and I ran. I literally ran, and ran. I ran until my legs felt like they couldn’t take it, and then I ran some more. I never felt so good in my life, or my death I guess.
When I met Brian a few days later, he told me there was one thing left he needed to do. He had me sit in the grass and look up towards the sky. We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then he told me to close my eyes, as he placed his hands around them.
By doing this, Brian showed me things that I had caused. And while I would’ve believed them to be terrible things, they turned out to the most amazing things. He began by showing me what my brother’s life had turned out to be. Alex was 26, he was married, he had one son, and he was a professional hockey player. Brian told me that Alex had turned out that way because of the letter I had sent to Jake’s parents. He said that the act of unselfishness provided the most opportunities for Alex, and truly saved him.
And then, without warning, he showed me father. But not the one I died remembering, the one I had created, a sober one; a happy one. The night I died, my father started his path to recovery. He lost both his sons in one week, and couldn’t take it, so he stopped drinking. It allowed him to regain a relationship with both Alex and God, but mostly it showed him how wrong he was for the way he treated me all those years.
It was during that day that I realized the things I needed to progress from earth to heaven. The only thing I needed was to know that my family would be okay without me, and that I hadn’t caused the damage I thought I had caused. As Philip Massinger once said, “Death hath a thousand doors to let out life; I shall find one.” I think I finally found my one.