And by the end of a heartbreaking year, she might be forced to realize “normal” in the conventional sense of the word is the one thing she may never achieve.
“Every heart sings a song incomplete,
until another heart whispers back.”
It took one glance away from the road, one look at the guy racing me, one second of distraction… I tried to brake. Braking too late, braking too hard as I groped for the wheel to redirect my path. The front driver’s side of my car collided with his passenger’s side, metal crunching against metal. My door crushed inward, and jagged steel punctured my leg. Blood sprayed upward and to the side, coating the crumpled door in new paint. Like a bucking horse, the rear of my car lifted high off the ground.
I lurched upward with the swaying of the vehicle’s weight.
My body off the seat.
Feet ripped from my tightly-laced Converse sneakers.
Knees pressed against the underbelly of the dashboard.
Chest above the steering column, the back of my head hitting the sun visor.
Then I came back down with the vehicle, the front of my head slamming against the steering wheel.
Blood trickling down my forehead as if this moment were in slow motion when all I wanted was for it to be over.
Suddenly, the airbag deployed and punched me in the face, and I thought I’d slip into unconsciousness, a welcome relief. But the sun glared off the hood of the car, awakening me. My eyes bulged, refusing to blink; my dry throat hitched with an inability to scream.
And I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe.
The brake pedal sheared off the floor board.
Definitely too late to brake now.
The car, still moving forward with a force more powerful than gravity, veered off the side of the road.
For one split second, the feeling of freedom bewitched me, the weight of the world disappearing as my car and I took flight. I’d always dreamed of flying, but not like this. I blinked. Then I wanted to cover my face, to place my fists over my eyes so I wouldn’t see green streaks through the glass, trees waving to me in my peripheral vision as I tumbled and spun with the car. But I couldn’t. Because my fear-frozen hands were occupied, bending the plastic and steel frame of the steering wheel under my terrified death grip as I held on with everything I had. If I let go now, I was a goner for sure. I wondered if I was a goner regardless. Would my life flash before my eyes any second now? A primal scream escaped my lips, my uncontrollable paralysis disappearing, but then I froze at the thought of being shocked into silence again. Because I needed to do something, do something, do something. Then the car
made a touchdown,
spiking in celebration,
slamming on its side,
(How was this happening? Was my car really as light as a football?)
And the doors sprung open, the car screaming that it was done.
But I wasn’t.
In one last convulsion, the seat rammed forward with the force of the landing, ejecting me from my seat. I smashed into the windshield, head first. A shattering of glass pierced my whole body in the process, and for the second time today I was flying, all on my own. As I sailed through the air, I felt like vomiting, but blood leapt from my mouth instead. I spied the car still rolling, then I squeezed my eyes shut. Shock froze my heart, made it stop and go to sleep.
Then the asphalt slapped me awake.
I imagined this was what jumping to your death from a tall building felt like. Tumbling across the pavement, I landed face down in a heap of mud, grass, weeds, rocks. I opened my eyes timidly and stared down at the blood surrounding me. My stomach turned, and I quickly averted my gaze. I needed to focus my mind on anything besides the sight of my blood. I inhaled deeply, hoping to center myself. The field where I landed smelled of smoke, metal, hay, and if I didn’t know any better, freshly turned graves. I sighed. If anything, the scents made my panic worse. I glanced around anxiously, searching for something, for anything that could help me.
Then I saw it: a shiny black spider hung upside down from her carefully crafted web, and she had a red hourglass mark on the underneath of her abdomen. I knew that sign. My time was up. For a brief moment, I wanted to laugh at how an hourglass is filled with sand and how my body felt full of sand, weighted down. My head spilled grains of fear. Time was running out. A small leg of the spider touched my hand, not threateningly, but reminding me to move. Do something.
But I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream. So I shifted my gaze instead, forcing myself to take in the scene. A mistake. My blood oozed out of my body faster than a waterfall. The thought made me think of when I visited Ruby Falls in Tennessee one summer. The 145-foot high waterfall was 1120 feet underground, and on our tour, the guide said they still didn’t know where the source of water came from. The memory seemed odd at a time like this, but I didn’t know the source of where all my blood came from, either. Water slipped down my cheeks, completing the metaphor.
I blinked away the tears and peered toward the smoke. Dad’s car looked like one giant, crushed soda can, the wheels still spinning. Suddenly, the vehicle burst into flames. My ejection was a blessing and a curse.
Did I still want to live? If I survived, I doubted my life would ever be the same.
My thoughts turned to Bo, the kid racing me.
Where is he where is he where is he? Please, God, let him be okay.
I prayed he wore his seatbelt.
I hadn’t meant to forget that safety feature when I decided to drag race another student home from school today. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for making wise decisions. Being forced to move to a small town three hours away the summer before my senior year sucked, but this? A gazillion times worse. If I didn’t die now, my parents just might kill me.
I tried getting up to look for him but winced instead. The shock of the accident receded and panic set in with the pain, rifling through me now. Every part of me hurt. My nose must be broken. Bones must be broken, lots of them. I cried out as if my heart had broken, too.
How long will it be until I bleed to death? I looked at my skin, now a red bodysuit, patches of it missing, ripped off by the pavement. Blood covered every single inch of my arms, the scrapes visible through my tattered shirt. I couldn’t get a good view of my legs, but I sensed more blood oozing out there, gaining speed like the car had before I wrecked. I could feel that my body was shattered, feel wetness on my stomach. Laughed at the absurdity of it all. I spilled my guts to Lindsey, my girlfriend, while we ate ice cream last night, our last date. Now Iliterally spilled my guts. God, I’m such an idiot!
I cried now, wanting to scream for anyone to help, but no sound came. No one came. We were on a deserted highway. No cars rushed past; no screeching sirens heralded our rescue. Instead, wild sunflowers towered like angels, their heads nodding like a cheerful welcoming committee to the afterlife. My heart thudded dully in my aching chest. Only wheezing breaths now. Head spinning. A sour taste in my mouth. Tears behind my closing eyelids. A painful lump in my throat around my bobbing Adam’s apple.
Then a sharp intake of breath.
Fear didn’t grip me now. Fear moved me.
Told me to do something.
Using all my strength, I slid my hand into my jeans pocket, praying my cell phone hadn’t fallen out or broken into a million pieces. Trembling, I dialed 9-1-1. When the operator asked what my emergency was, I opened my mouth to speak but gagged on the words instead. I couldn’t remember who I was, or why I called, or anything.
Frozen, I focused on the fluffy clouds dotting the perfect blue sky, one looking eerily like an angel stretching his hands toward me. A light radiating from the strange cloud blinded me. I squinted and gritted my teeth, fighting a wave of dizziness. Warm blades of grass surrounding my pounding head pressed against my face. Time slowed, and darkness closed in on me like the heavy curtains signaling the end of a performance. I pulled in a fragile breath, praying it wouldn’t be my last but thinking maybe it’d be easier if it was.
A TV played quietly in the corner of my hospital room… not that it mattered, since I couldn’tsee the screen. Doc said an optic nerve slammed against my brain in the car accident, resulting in some serious damage. The doctors thought my loss of vision to be temporary, but after five full days of total darkness, I was losing hope fast.
Despite all my injuries, I’d taken a three-hour ambulance ride to Grand Haven today because Dad had to start work at his new job here. Apparently, I couldn’t screw up anything else for him.
Day one of being stuck in North Ottawa Community Hospital, and time slowed to a crawl. My drag racing earned me a total of twenty-four stitches across my left leg and abdomen, staples in the top of my head, a broken nose and left arm, temporary blindness—fingers crossed—a major blood transfusion, internal injuries that included a battered liver and spleen, eight broken ribs, and deep bruises and cuts covering the entire length of my body.
On top of all that, they’d set me up in a room with some kid who’d been in a coma for two months, so now I had nothing to watch and nobody to talk to. Mom did her best to keep me company, but the way I constantly felt her swarming my bed made me nervous. Claiming fatigue, I encouraged her to go set up our new house while I rested. Now, I shoveled the last bite of bland chicken and stale bread into my mouth, trying not to vomit. This was my first taste of real food, if you could call it that, in five days. Up until now, all I had were ice chips following my emergency surgery, and my IV of course. Already I’d lost eleven pounds. I hated to think of how much weight I’d lose in muscle while wasting away in this hospital room for the next month or so. Inhaling deeply, I hoped to calm myself, but the combo of disinfectant in the air and the way my stitches pulled along my abdomen with the breath almost caused me to vomit all over again.
I heard the door swoosh open.
“Checking in on me already? I think my fever’s gone down a bit now.”
Someone yelped in a high pitched voice. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize Conner had a new roommate.” A girl.
Oh my gosh. New roomie is h-o-t, even with his broken nose all bandaged up.
Hot? “Are you talking about me?”
“Huh? Yes, you’re Conner’s new roommate, I guess?” Hot? What am I even thinking? My best friend is in a coma! Who cares about Mr. Hottie? He’s probably gay anyway. The good looking ones always are. Ugh, what’s wrong with me these days? I like Conner.
Sounds like somebody needed a valium. “Whoa, take it easy. You okay?”
She cleared her throat. “Um, yeah.”
I forced myself to smile, groping for the button on the side of my bed to sit all the way up in case I needed to make a run for it. “Sorry, I thought you were my mom coming in. I’m Nate, new in town. They transferred me to this hospital today.”
Nate, that has a nice ring to it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Olga.”
She sounded about my age. I wondered if she was as pretty as she sounded. “Olga has a nice ring to it, too. I’d shake your hand, but, obviously, I can’t see a thing with these bandages. I’ve got this temporary blindness thing going on right now.”
And that would be why he’s still talking to me. Oh well, bonus! I can stare at him all day, and he won’t even know I’m a creeper! I hope he can’t hear my heart pounding. Gah! Shut up, Olga. You love Conner, remember? “Wow, that… stinks.”
Okay, this girl was kind of… different.
“Pretty much sums up the situation. I drag raced another kid on my way home from the last day of school. I’m the one who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and flew through my windshield, but the other kid is the one who died. Can you believe that twist of fate?”
I stared into the darkness, trying not to be swallowed by it. If I hid behind my reckless attitude about Bo’s death, then maybe I wouldn’t feel like I died, too.
And I thought I had problems. “I’m sorry to hear that. Sounds like you’re lucky to be alive.”
“Um, yes, I think so,” she said, and I heard her scuff her shoes on the linoleum.
Everyone ignores me on a daily basis, but the one day, one day, I want to be left alone, the nurses give Conner Mr. Talkative as a roomie.
I laughed at the girl’s honesty. “Sorry. My mom says I suffer from verbal diarrhea. But Helen Keller said character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Anyway, you probably want to visit with your friend. I’ll shut up now.”
“Um, yeah, thanks.” Who do you think you are anyway, the town troubadour?
I let out another laugh. “Ha! That’s a good one. Most people don’t even know what that word means. You must’ve rocked the Verbal on your SAT.”
Now she laughed, nervously.
“Huh? What word? Thanks?”
As if I don’t get enough mocking at school already.
“No, troubadour. Is Grand Haven looking for one of those? Because I had this street performing thing with a guy back home, something we liked to do for fun on the side.”
The room dissolved into silence for a minute.
“I didn’t say anything about a troubadour.”
She said the words slowly, cautiously.
“Yes, you did. I heard you loud and clear, even if I can’t see a thing. You’re not one of those people who treat blind people like they’re deaf too, are you?”
I heard her drag a chair to her friend’s bedside. I felt her looking at me even though I couldn’t see her.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I said that out loud. That sailboat boom must’ve hit my head harder than I thought. I’ve been in such a daze these past two months; I can’t tell if it’s sadness over Conner’s coma, or if I’ve suffered permanent damage myself.” Just shut up, Olga! Or Mr. Hottie will suggest a nice padded room for you the next time the nurse walks in.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins as she referred to me as Mr. Hottie again, and I decided to call her out on my new nickname, even though I knew I should keep my lips sealed. “You think I’m hot?”
My body tensed. “So I’m ugly?”
“Uh.” She cleared her throat. “I think I’m gonna read to Conner.” I heard her fumbling through a bag.
“What did you bring to read?” For some reason, I couldn’t stop talking to her.
“It’s a novel by Timothy Zahn called Dark Force Rising. It’s the second volume of a Star Wars trilogy he wrote. I finished reading volume one to Conner last week.”
“Hmm, Star Wars, eh? I don’t know why, but I pictured something completely different, like some bodice ripping cover.”
She snorted. “Oh, great. So your first impression of me is I’m some bimbo incapable of stringing more than three words together without giggling?”
Although I have to admit, I’d pick up a bodice ripping novel if this guy was half naked on the cover. Oh my gosh, why did I think that? What’s wrong with me? Conner’s not even out of the woods yet, and I’m crushing on the new kid in town?
I expertly felt around for my glass of water and took a sip, trying to figure out this chick. “Why do you keep talking about me, to me, in the third person?”
“You said you’re crushing on the new kid in town, and I know I can’t see and all, but the only new kid in here is me, right?”
She sucked in a breath. “What? Are you high on hospital meds or something? Is this some kind of twisted joke?”
Olga sounded as confused as I was.
I took a deep breath. “Possibly, and no.”
“Look, I don’t know why you’re messing with me, but you’re starting to freak me out.”
Freaking her out? What did I do? Goosebumps broke out all over my body.
I angled my face in her direction and tried to sound sincere because it was clear to me now I dealt with one huge batch of crazysauce. “Sorry. I’ll really shut up now.”
Yeah, you do that, and don’t forget to take your dose of Ritalin tonight! Oh, great. I need to pee. But if I walk down the hall, there’s the chance of running into Toe-touch Tammy visiting her dad, and I already had enough of her at school today. Thank God it was the last day of actual classes. Ugh, I should not have drunk that second cup of coffee from the hospital cafeteria on the way in. I really do need to get a grip on my caffeine addiction.
I shook my head in frustration. “Look, Olga. I’m all for shutting up, but that’s gonna have to work both ways, all right?”
“What are you talking about? I haven’t said a word.” Her voice was quiet.
Why is it that if there are freaks within a mile radius, they find me? Maybe I should call a nurse to check on him. Maybe he needs a nice sponge bath to calm down. Baths always relax me. I could offer to help. Ugh! Seriously. What’s wrong with me? Yes, he’s hot, but he’s also a freak. You’re at the top of the class, Olga. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out you should stay away from him. Read to Conner, and forget about Nate. Or maybe I should get another coffee first. I must be suffering from sugar withdrawal. That’s why I’m having all these thoughts. Or maybe I need therapy like Mom suggested.
I placed my hands over my ears, longing for the hours of quiet boredom I had all day. The walls closed in on me, the room getting smaller by the second. “Go to therapy, visit Conner, drink some coffee, or go to the bathroom. Whatever you do, try to shut up for like two seconds. I can’t believe I apologized to you for talking too much.”
“Excuse me?” She sucked in a deep breath but hesitated before saying anything else for a few seconds, and I basked in the silence. “Do you need me to get a doctor for you? Or some pills?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, my stance of defiance, and winced from the pain instantly shooting up my ribs. “You’re the one who needs pills! You never shut up!”
“I barely said a word.” I better get out of here.
Was this girl sniffing too much glue or something? The sound of a chair scraping against the floor alerted me to the fact that she was getting ready to leave. I wished I could see her. “Oh, really? I suppose some other silly girl who sounds exactly like you rambled on about giving me a sponge bath?”
On second thought, maybe he needs an exorcist. Can he read my mind or something?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I laughed, bitterly, and winced in pain again. “Read your mind? Are you messing with me? Because I’ll have you know teasing a blind man like that has got to be on a top ten list somewhere for how you know you’re a douche bag.”
“I’m not messing with you! I didn’t say anything about a sponge bath.” I thought it. I swear, this guy must be the devil or something. Get me out of here now! But is it safe for me to leave Conner unattended with this guy in the room? Maybe I should press the nurse call button. But what would I say? Maybe I am the one who’s crazy. Maybe I’m imagining things. I’ll call Mom when I’m done here, tell her I need to see that shrink after all.
I didn’t know if she spoke out loud and was still messing with me, or if I really could read her mind somehow. She sounded frightened, sincere, even if she was crazy. Before I could offer a reply, I heard the door swish open again.
“Ready to get those bandages off your eyes?” the doctor asked.
I sat up straighter in bed, too fast, and dizziness washed over me.
“Are you kidding? I’ve been counting the seconds.”
And honestly, I couldn’t wait to look this Olga chick in the eyes the next time we crossed paths and see if she really was as crazy as she sounded.
“Hello, Olga. How are you today?” my new doc asked, gently guiding my body into a wheelchair.
“Oh, you know, the usual. How’s the fam doing? Did your wife like the book you bought for her birthday?” Her voice jumped, her words quick and high-pitched.
I felt movement, and I only hoped the motion was taking me far away from the weird girl in my room.
“Yes, she loved it! Already read the whole thing though, so I’ll have to stop by The Bookman again soon for another recommendation.”
“Any time, Joe. Take care.”
Her words echoed off the walls, and I could tell we were passing right by her now. I tried to ignore the goosebumps appearing all over my body, the feel of my heartbeat speeding up. Weird. Suddenly, I didn’t want to leave her anymore. The desire to reach out and touch her hit me harder than the impact of Bo’s car, but I swallowed the urge.
“You, too. See you soon,” Dr. Joe answered.
After I heard the door shut behind us, I asked, “What happened to that girl in there? She said something about a sailboat boom knocking her in the head.”
I kept my voice calm, uninterested, even though I desperately wanted to know more about her.
“I don’t know if that’s any of your business.”
I held up my hands in surrender. “Fine, but whatever happened, you might want to do a brain scan. She was acting really strange.”
“Well, if I had to give a brain scan for every person who acted strangely, I’d be a very rich man.”
He chuckled. “Well, I guess that depends on what you define as rich.”
“I define rich by counting all the things I have that money can’t buy.”
The doctor snorted. “That’s a deep thought, kid.”
I shrugged. “That’s just how I roll.”
I’d always been a thinker. Confucius, Plato, Aristotle… those were my heroes. One day, I hoped to join the ranks of the greatest philosophers of all time.
I heard doctors and nurses scurrying down the hall, probably with a crash cart, racing again to bring back someone from the dead. My last thought before Dr. Joe ushered me into a new room was I’m lucky to be alive, but I didn’t quite believe those words yet.