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Somewhere in the Gray
It all started with green shoelaces.
Look back two months, and you'll see me, a girl with sand-colored hair and too-freckled cheeks rushing to school. Her pace is quick and her brown eyes are frantic, she knows if she doesn't hurry she's going to get a tardy. And another tardy means detention for this girl. She's wearing her favorite pink Converses. Her green shoelaces come untied, and she groans irritably. They are always coming untied. If she was smart, she would have gone back to the white shoelaces the shoes came with, but she didn't. She's a sucker for neon.
She quickly forgets her shoelace and looks at her watch. She looks at her watch instead of looking at the street she is about to cross. She trips over her perfect green shoelaces. Instead of seeing the car speeding towards her, she only sees that it is 7:29 and she is definitely getting a tardy.
And, just like that, the girl is smacked by a forest green SUV.
Time slows as the chaos begins. The SUV screeching to a halt. People dialing 911. A woman screaming.
And, a mangled fifteen-year-old girl lying face down in the street.
Just like roadkill, only different.
At least roadkill has the good sense to die.
It was blurry, then black. My eyes closed for the last time. Darkness consumed every corner of my vision as I freed myself from my broken little body. I became weightless, floating up into the blue, blue sky like an abandoned balloon. I drifted higher and higher, watching the mess I'd created get smaller by the second. My body quickly became too tiny to see. I became immersed in clouds, seeing nothing but the stunning whiteness. Then I was above them, resting in complete serenity. I looked towards the sun. It was burning brightly, brighter than I had thought anything could ever be.
That was when I fell.
I plummeted down the earth. I was drowning, sinking like a stone. I longed for the sun, the placid sky, the billowy white clouds....
"She's got a heart beat!" The EMT proclaimed. Relieved gasps broke out in the small crowd. "She's going be okay!"
I spend everysinglesecond wishing he was right.
"Poor girl."A petite doctor with a blunt blonde bob frowned at the clipboard that carried my fate. She exhaled sharply. "Brain dead at fifteen."
She walked away, her black heels click-clacking against the speckled linoleum. She was probably talking to them right now. I wondered how they would take it. Mom would be a wreck. Dad would try to stay strong, like always. Bobby would be sad, there'd be no one left to annoy at home. I don't know how Charlotte would react anymore. Ever since she went to college, things between us have been so distant. It's like I don't even know her any more.
Soon, they came into the small hospital room. Mom rushed to the bedside whispered in my ear, saying things like "I love you", "you're going to be okay", "I'm so sorry" and other soft words, too quiet to be audible. Dad pulled up a chair for my mom to sit in. He rested his hand on her tiny shoulder and stared at me. Well, I guess it isn't really me anymore. The body in the bed. I, the real Jordyn, was floating somewhere in the hospital room, keeping a watchful eye on the bones and flesh that used to be mine.
I stared at my body. There were thick white bandages wrapped around my head and my arms were bruised and scraped. My eyes were closed. I looked just like I was sleeping, except for the fact that my mouth was closed. I was known for sleeping with a gaping mouth.
Mom sat, holding my body's hand, all night. Dad seemed to prefer to keep his distance. He would sit in the chair across the room, or go out to get coffee or food for Mom, none of which she accepted. He would often meander out into the hallway, to call relatives and friends.
That morning, Charlotte arrived. She appeared in the doorway of my room, her arms folded across her chest. She was dressed in an edgy outfit, and her painfully blue eyes were lined with black liner and mascara, making them look even more striking. She looked like a super model who should be on a catwalk in Paris or Milan, not the Charlotte I thought I knew, who was obsessed with blue cotton candy and slept with a night light.
Mom was slumped over in her chair, fast asleep but still holding my hand. Dad was sitting a chair in the corner, staring at nothing in particular. He didn't notice her in the doorway, staring at my body. Her cerulean eyes were full of something I couldn't put into words. They held so much anguish, so much profound emotion, it scared me a little. I had never seen her like this.
"I didn't believe it." She said slowly. "I didn't actually believe you when you said that my little sister was living on machines." Her voice wobbled dramatically. Tears sprung from her eyes.
Dad broke from his daze, getting up from his chair. "I know."
"She's so little." Her tone edged on hysteria. "She's just a baby."
Dad wrapped his arms around Charlotte's thin body, and she began to sob.
"I just can't-" She sniffed. "I just can't even believe it."
"I know, I know." He cooed. "Shh..."
Her sobs slowly quieted, becoming soft whimpers.
Charlotte walked to the other side of my bed and pulled up one of the maroon plastic hospital chairs. Her small, dainty hands clasped mine.
"Is that you, Charlotte?" Mom said drowsily, her eyes heavy with sleep.
"Hi, Mom." Her voice was an inaudible whisper. Fresh tears sprung from her eyes.
Everyone looked at me then. All this staring was making me self-conscious, I had never been the center of attention in my life. But really, how could I ever have been? I was bland compared to my sparkly sister, with her big dreams and bubbling laughter, and Bobby, who was always loud and outgoing, always in the spotlight.
Me, on the other hand, had always been Just Jordyn. I was pretty, but not that pretty. I was smart, but not that smart. I was funny, but not that funny. I had assumed the position of forgettable middle child, and I was perfectly comfortable there. I truly was happy as a clam.
"Where's Bobby?" Charlotte asked, slicing the silence that had settled over the room.
"Bobby chose not to come." Dad said softly. "He wants to remember our JoJo like she was."
Charlotte nodded. "I thought the same thing at first." She said. "But then, I needed to see her. I needed her to know how much I love her, and how much I missed her after I left..."
She looked like she was going to cry again. "I shouldn't have left her. Or I at least should have called more... written letters...emails..."
"Jordyn knows you love her. And she loved you too." Dad said.
"Why are you talking in the past tense?" Mom quipped. "It's not like she's dead. She could come out of it, she's always been a strong girl."
"Marcia." He said gently. "The doctors have said this is a permanent condition. You know that."
"The doctors don't know anything." She mumbled to herself. I could tell how desperately she wished she could believe her own words.
They all left that night, after fiercely persuading Mom that she needed to rest. Once everyone was gone, there was absolute silence broken only by the rhythmic beeping of my machines.
For the first time since everything fell apart, I looked at myself.. I would forever be an awkward teenager, not the sophisticated woman I'd always dreamed of becoming. I filled with an overwhelming sense of agony, realizing the sad fact that I'd never go to college or see Paris or graduate high school or have a wedding or go to prom or get old and wrinkly or have babies or get my license.
Fifteen and a half years of living is not nearly enough to time to experience the things you are supposed to experience. The majority of my life had been spent in Franklin, Indiana, a standard-issue suburb where the main attraction was Oakwood Mall. I hadn't done anything.
Live like each day is your last. I had heard that so many times. Why didn't I listen? Why did I spent so much time worrying and anticipating? Why couldn't I step out of my tiny box?
Life, I've learned, is fragile. If only I had known.
The red head nurse turned off the light. As the darkness settled over the room, my hopes vanished, leaving nothing but severed dreams and hollow space in their wake.
Mom was back that morning, looking just as bad as she did when she left. Charlotte came with Mom, looking more like herself. She wore no makeup and her wet hair was in a french braid. Instead of edgy clothes, she just wore baby blue sweats and a NYU sweatshirt. She carried a stack of Seventeens, Teen Vogues, and Cosmos. Slung over her shoulder was a bag of things from my room: my stuffed pig who I had named Bubbles when I was five because I was obsessed with the power-puff girls, my picture frames full of snapshots of Annie and I, my Ipod, and my array of nail polishes. Mom positioned herself in a chair by my bedside. Charlotte plopped beside me on the bed and began reading the magazines out loud. The minutes trickled by, and suddenly Charlotte paused, looking up. "Annie?"
Standing awkwardly in the doorway was the girl who knew all my secrets, the girl who I had lemonade stands with so many summers ago, the girl who I talked to on the phone all night when her dog died, the girl who taught me how to do a handstand, the girl who was going to be my maid of honor.
Her blue eyes shot from Charlotte to me. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. She just stood there, looking like a child who'd just been told there wasn't really a Santa Claus and that her whole family was just hit by a train.
Mom, sensing how overwhelmed Annie felt, pulled her into a gentle hug. A silent tear slipped down Annie's tan cheek.
"C'mon over. I was just reading her some magazines. You can too, if you want." Charlotte offered. "I'm sure Jordyn would love it."
Annie's lips curved into a tiny smile and she slowly walked over. She crawled up on my bed and found herself a little perch by my feet.
Charlotte handed her a magazine. Annie looked at her hesitantly, than took the Seventeen and opened to a random page.
"Looking to heat up your winter wardrobe?" She began in a shaky voice. "Boho tribal prints are what's taking the fashion world by storm, and we'll show you how to incorporate this runway trend into your own closet..." She stopped then. The tears that drowned in her eyes blurred the words. Annie put down the magazine, closed her eyelids and curled into a tight little ball at the foot of my bed.
No one said anything. Charlotte bit her nails. Mom stared intently at something on the floor. The fragile silence was broken by Annie, whose quiet sobs filled the empty room.
After a while, Annie calmed down. Her eyes were puffy and her nose was red, but she still looked exactly as I remembered her. I guess that was because it had only been two days since I saw her, but it felt like a lifetime. Her eyes were the same cerulean blue, her skin had the same bronze glow, and her shiny blond hair still skimmed her angular shoulder blades. Her face was still small and child like, and she was still bony and thin. Everything had changed, but Annie was the same. That's how it had always been. Through winters and summers, good times and tough times, and all the years we'd been best friends, we'd grown up and changed together. She'd always be familiar to me.
When Charlotte and Mom went to get lunch, Annie stayed behind. At first she just watched me. She listened to the beeping machines that kept me alive.
"Jojo. Listen to me."
She paused, as if waiting for a response.
"You're my best friend. I have always loved you, even when we fought or I pretended to hate you. I just need you to know that I am going to miss you, so, so much. You have no idea how much." Annie bit her lip and climbed off the bed. She walked on shaky legs to the doorway. She was about to leave when she turned around. I could see the fresh tears the pooled in her blue eyes.
I heard her quick footsteps as they echoed down the hall.
I wanted to run to my body and shake it until I woke up. I wanted to peel open my eyelids. I wanted to plant screams in my throat that would bloom so loudly the whole world would shake like Annie's trembling limbs.
I wanted to rip those machines out of the wall. I wanted to put an end to those brain-splitting beeps that refused to quiet. I wanted to tell everyone to put themselves out of their misery and just let me die.
I used to think life was something black and white. But now, poised somewhere in between life and death, things changed. I realized that I was somewhere new. Not black, not white, but somewhere in the gray.
Mom came every day, from two to five o' clock. Each day she would do nothing but hold my hand and occasionally stroke my hair.
Charlotte came down on Tuesdays and Sundays, always bringing magazines and hair products. I liked her visits the best, she would twist my mangey, long hair into fancy updo's or crazy braids. And she didn't just stare at me with a hollow, sad look on her face, like Mom did. Mom wore that expression so much I worried her face was going to freeze like that.
Dad came once more, and that was just to talk to the doctors. Not once did he come near me. He only looked at me in quick glances.
The person I most wanted to see was Bobby. I wanted him to talk excitedly about Star Wars or skate boards or Nascar, whatever his current obsession was. I wanted him to flick peas at me and tell me I looked like a dork. I wanted things to go back to how they were, or at least as close as they could get.
I didn't know how many days it had been since the accident. The days began to bleed together, the light and dark blending to a shade of gray gloomier than I felt. I guessed it had been about three weeks.
One cloudy day, I heard my parents talking in sharp whispers outside my room as Charlotte read me Cosmo Girl.
"...it's time......our baby girl... I can't... we must... it's right....I can't... will be tough…but...saving lives...would've loved that...I know…but....I can't...the right thing....you know it..."
Then I heard muffled sobs, obviously coming from Mom.
They were finally letting me go.
I didn't know how to feel.
It was the day. The day I would die.
I was...Sad? Maybe a little. Scared? A bit. Happy? No. Definitely not.
That morning, Charlotte shuffled into my room wearing a black dress. Mom followed, wearing a black skirt and a black blouse. Dad followed, in a black sports coat.
And, lastly, was Bobby.
He had grown. His hair was longer. Whether it was due to the height increase or the shockingly solemn face, he looked so much older. I wanted to tell him to stop growing and stop looking so damn serious.
He too wore a black sports coat and khakis. They all were dressed in their finest to watch me die.
The blonde doctor came in with them. "I'll give you all a few minutes to say your goodbyes." She said grimly, and then turned to leave.
"Will it hurt?"
She spun around to see Bobby, his lower lip slightly quivering, looking expectantly up at her. "No, don't worry.. She'll be completely at peace."
He nodded quickly, and she left.
"We can say goodbye individually." Mom said quietly. They all nodded in approval.
Dad was first.
"Jojo." He nearly whispered. "Even though your time with us was brief-" Tears sprung from his eyes. My dad--the man made of steel--was crying. "It will be thankful for it and treasure it always. You were such a star, and you would have saved the world if you were given the chance. I have no doubt of that." He kissed my cheek. "I love you, Jojo."
I didn't know if I could handle the goodbyes. I had just witnessed my father break into child-sized pieces, how could I do that three more times?
Charlotte appeared in the doorway. She strode to my bedside slowly, already crying. "Oh, Jo." Charlotte said, sitting down. She put her head in her hands and began to sob.
Two minutes or two hours or two years past, I'm not sure, before she looked up with a determined face and grabbed my hand. "Don't worry Jojo. I won't let you do this alone."
Bobby came in and sat down next to her. She sniffled, coughed, and left the room. Bobby looked at me for a couple minutes, his eyes brimming with tears.
"I'm sorry I said you were a terrible sister. I didn't mean it. You're actually a really good sister." He smiled sadly. "Like when you didn't tell Mom it was me who spilled the Pepsi on the rug. Or when you helped me make Cindy a Valentine without teasing me about it. Or how you played Go Fish with me for hours when I was sick. And you made me soup."
Tears slid down his round cheeks and landed on the white hospital sheets. "I love you, Jordyn. I'm sorry I was such a terrible brother."
I wanted to squeeze him until his insides popped and tell him he wasn't terrible, but really the best little brother anyone could ask for.
Mother glided in noiselessly and stood behind Bobby. She looked like a ghost, a shadow of the person she used to be. She wrapped her bony arms around Bobby's shoulders and squeezed. His tears landed on her sleeve.
Bobby got up abruptly. His chair skidded along the floor with an alarming screech. My mother's arms unwound from his neck and fluttered nervously to her lap.
"It's not right. It's not fair" He muttered, so quietly I wondered if I imagined it.
Mom stood, her feet planted solidly in the place they had been when Bobby left. She gazed intently on the floor. My mother, who held me when I cried, who force fed me green beans, who told me to go to sleep at ten o' clock every night, had broken into a million little pieces before my very eyes. Bobby's words kept spinning in my mind, like a song I couldn't get out of my head. It's not right. It's not fair. It's not fair.....
"I'm sorry. I just...can't." She whispered as she sped out of the room.
My room was quiet for a while. I drowned in the silence, because thinking about it was too, too much.
The blonde doctor came in, with the stocky tan nurse.
"Alright." The doctor said gently. "I guess it's time." She looked reluctant to begin.
Both women turned to see my tear-streaked sister, running to my side. Without another word, she climbed up on the bed and laid next to me, intertwining my fingers with hers.
Charlotte closed her eyes fiercely as the doctor turned off my machine.
I immediately thought of everything I would miss about life, like the smell of Mom burning our Thanksgiving dinner, the way Annie and I always told people we were twins, the sound of Bobby's booming laugh, the feeling of drinking hot chocolate after being in the snow, they way my dad still brought me home lame presents from every business trip, the sound of Charlotte singing at the top of her lungs in the shower, the smell of the school cafeteria (old hot dogs and stickiness), and the feeling of my summer-warmed skin against a cold sprinkler. I decided these were the only things important enough to take with me from my life. Everything else could fade, becoming faraway memories.
Charlotte stroked my hair. The beeps of the machine quickly became farther apart as I felt myself rise once again.
"I told you I wouldn't let you do this alone." Charlotte whispered close to my ear. Her voice, and her whole body, trembled as she stroked my hair.
From that moment, that florescent-lit hospital room became nothing but a memory. I soared upwards, the miles of sky disappearing behind me. All my anger and hopelessness evaporated into the puffy white clouds. I smiled as the bright light consumed me, swallowing every sound.