Here is a touching story from a fourteen-year-old girl’s first profound experience. Trauma and devastation moves to hope and a happy ending. Beautiful writing by Kayla Collins!

Everybody knows that feeling when you hear horrifying news and your heart frantically drops into the rubber soles of your shoes, but nobody expects to hear it. The deafening pattern of my ringtone shifted me from my dream to feeling around my dresser and bed searching for the source of the noise. “Mother,” I groan and slide the screen answering her with a groggy hello. The news sent my heart into my stomach. Immediately breaking the bond between my head and pillow, I sat up alert trying to understand what she was telling me. Looking at the time, I rushed into the bathroom and hurriedly flipped on the shower until it was burning lava, just how I like it. Off the phone with my mom, the tears burst from my eyes and I began mentally going through every image and moment I shared with my brother. I remembered the timbre of his laugh, the joy and sense of fulfillment in his smile, the way he wore our father’s faded and decaying Marine Corps shirt as if it were his pride and joy. An ache in my heart released as a thought generated into my head that I would have no other memories than a flat line on a heart monitor in a sterile hospital room. Nobody can witness my ridiculous sobs while I’m in here, I thought standing in the waterfall of white noise and scorching water. I pondered at the cogitation of how many clear memories I could hold onto and for how long after he was gone. The stress and anxiety was piling up as a towel wrapped around my dripping hair and sweatpants pulled up and hugged my waist. Trying to remember every word, every syllable, and every tone change in my mother’s voice telling me that my brother was in a life-threatening accident, my world started to cloud with mixed emotions. Swirls of my worst nightmares clashed together and brought me into a state of perturbation. Posthaste the feeling of terror and worry…  came hope.

Hope is like a rigid uphill mountain hike; a single stumble might bring desperation for just a few more seconds of life, but believing in oneself and having a little luck, we make it out another day stronger than before. A surge of comforting hope filled my veins as my knees hit the floor, my eyes tight forcing no tears to escape, and with each in the web of another pressed the knot of fingers to my thumping forehead beginning a set of many wishful prayers. What do I do? That tight throat, heavy gut feeling returned when I threw on my shirt and shoes and ran out the door to catch my bus, for, I knew he would want me to go to school to try and keep my mind occupied.

Trudging through the artistically painted halls of Lindbergh, everything I saw reminded me of Stephen. His joking nature was in the sound of every kid’s laugh I heard. With a pain in my heart and a fake smile on my face, I made it through one of the hardest days of school I had ever been through. It seemed as if I was numb to everything and everyone around me. The teachers still teaching and students still absorbing, but a blur and stillness washed over me like a sunrise on the ocean; consuming me until I was no longer myself. Moving from class to class, I was envious of my friends, because they had what I did not; carelessness and a calm feeling of security.

“She’s in one of those moods,” they murmured around me.

I could hear them whispering to walk on eggshells when I didn’t join in at lunch conversations, but what could be done? A simple “I’m so sorry” wasn’t going to mend anything.  My tired eyes drifted from the clock to my uneaten lunch when the insistent vibrations coming from my pocket suddenly grabbed my attention. Mother. Answer. I thought, but I knew I couldn’t bear to hear any worse news, if there even were any to be said. Briefly challenging my mind to come up with an acceptable way to greet her, the minute I tapped the green button she was already ahead of the game.

“Kayla, honey, how are you?” she questioned, sounding too rehearsed like she had been making these calls to other family members all morning. I pushed that thought out of my head and gave her a reassuring “fine” hoping it would satisfy her.

“Listen, I’m going to pick you up after school and we will go to the hospital to see him. We’re very lucky, he’s going to be all right. I’ll talk to you later the doctor is coming in. I love you.”

The beeping of the ended call rang in my ear as a vibrant smile came upon my demoralized face. The words replayed in my head “He’s going to be all right!” Relief. A pinch of some good news was exactly the glue I needed to keep myself together.

Walking into that hospital room was the first time it occurred to me how important a heartbeat was. With a brief grasp on a startlingly icy-cold silver handle, and a quick shove through the wood door I finally saw him. Breathing. Heart still beating. I almost tripped over the sound of all the thoughts running through my head when my eyes met his pale, nearly lifeless body.

“Just a broken back,” he told me. “Nothing to worry about.”

As if he could ever tell how unbearably hard this was for me to see. As he scratchily told me the details of what happened, the movie reel I call my brain unfolded the first scene. He sat in the worn out driver’s seat, driving his friend home in the pouring down rain through windy back roads after a heart breaking loss in game six of the World Series. Right then I knew the cause, alcohol; it must have been. Every major broadcasted sporting event involved the tradition of people resting on couches eyes glued to the TV screen, shoveling snacks down throats with the company of some liquor to wash it down for as long as the events lasted. Following the part where he could barely make out the twists and turns of the faded yellow lines on the road, he violently smashed into a concrete watercourse on the side of the lane. I turned my head to the raindrops racing down the foggy window attempting to escape this terrifying story when my mother jumped in to say if he were driving just about any other vehicle besides his beloved two-ton truck, he would have been killed almost instantly. Recalling all of the times we drove with the music blaring so loud it could have shaken the cars next to us in that monster of a truck, a small mental note was made to ask if it survived. I imagined my caring mother weep uncontrollably, watching as her child’s slain body being carefully peeled out of a piece of man-made Earth, like the world had stopped spinning. A frigid shiver skipped down my spine at the notion and I wiped at the well of tears forming in my eyes. I didn’t dare speak for risk of a quivering chin and an overload of tears but all I could think was how fortunate we were that he was alive.

After going through a traumatizing experience like waking up to the most petrifying news, I have become grateful for the little things and incredibly thankful for the big things. We go through life taking factors for granted, like electricity. Although expectation is that by flipping the small piece of plastic upward the light will shine from the ceiling, that occasionally does not happen in which doubt and desperation cloud our minds making us wish for a time when the light did come on. Seeing a loved one hurt to the extreme extent of being broken, breaks off a small part of one’s own self. Never will I forget the heart-wrenching feelings of the day my closest brother faced death at its eye. Accepting how unpredictable life may be, we recognized the wake up call to how precious, yet short, life really is.

Written by Kayla Collins, St. Louis, MO -2014

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