Illustration by Meg Chang
When it hit me, the impact was shattering and it turned my whole life upside down. I didn’t see her coming, but I felt it. The intensity sent charges whipping through my body, entering my toes and shooting into my brain, jerking my insides as the wave crashed over me. The car came so quickly, but everything after was slow and quiet and calm. My ears filled with the melodic screeching of metal against metal as the worn-out brake shrieked at the realization that it had failed. I could see vibrations coursing through the air. They matched in perfect unison with the steady, yet pounding, beats of my heart: ba-boom…ba-boom…ba-boom. The easily mangled frame molded with my midsection, like two pieces of clay being manipulated by the artist into a prize-winning sculpture. Smoke clouded my vision and entered my lungs, forcing my mouth to drop open in a desperate hope to intake oxygen. My newly purchased winter tires cried out as the asphalt roughly tore them apart, each wheel sliding unnaturally sideways, before suddenly gliding into a somewhat graceful series of pirouettes. My dance partner, the other car, tangled elegantly with me, swung along beside and then came to a stop yet I could still hear the music playing. It was a classical piece, very intimate and moving. I closed my eyes while taking in its beauty. The sounds of crystals sent my eyes whipping open again. As I glanced to my left, shards of glass were sent flying in all directions. I smiled at the twinkling and shimmering appearance of the peaceful weapons, and continued to smile as my head jolted forward. Hammering into the steering wheel. Tearing the muscles in my neck. Knocking out my sight. Everything went black.
“Hey, Buddy! How’s it going?” Andy sang, as he stumbled clumsily through the front door. His black leather jacket sat snuggly on his fit physique. His sandy brown hair was all tousled and disheveled, like he had been driving with the windows down. Andy glanced over at me with joyful blue eyes and smiled, while his tongue played with the half melted mint in his mouth.
“Oh, pretty good. Can’t complain. How was your night?”
“Man, the girl I was just out with…Bethany, or something exotic like that, was a total whack-job!” He laughed while reflecting on the night’s events. “So first, I picked her up. And so, I go to the door and then, being the gentleman that I am, I opened her car door, right?”
“Mhmm.” I humoured him, while actually transfixed on the romantic comedy that was playing on the screen 10 feet from me. Secretly, they are a guilty pleasure of mine.
“Well the girl goes getting all crazy on me, starts smacking me in the face with one question after another. I mean she just didn’t shut up.” He continued mimicking in a girly voice: “Who do you think you are? Think I’m incapable of opening a car door by myself? Been without a guy for twenty-seven years, I think I can handle it thank you very much.” Andy finished his impersonation by looking to me for the reaction he was aiming for. So, like a good roommate, I obliged.
Releasing a visceral chuckle and dropping my jaw in utter shock, I replied, “Andy, that’s crazy. Please don’t tell me you actually went out with this chick?”
“Jay, if you saw the legs on her, you would’ve too! I tried to reason with my screaming ‘rational self’ that her maniacal nonsense was just an endearing independent quality that Beth-oh whatever, possesses.” He sent me a wink, and I laughed at my friend’s amicable conclusion.
“What happened after?” Now, slightly more interested in his riveting story than in the two moderately talented actors that were suddenly arguing in front of me.
“We arrive at the restaurant, L’Homard de Rouge-“
“You mean ‘Red Lobster’?” I purposefully corrected.
“Yeah, that’s what I said. Anyways, we get our table and the waiter brings us the menus. All is well. Suddenly, she shrieks! I mean full-on chimpanzee, wild homeless-man kind of shriek. And I, obviously, jumped a little. Being all like ‘Ya babe? What’s the matter?’ And then she’s all like ‘Oh, my God. This is so embarrassing, but the waiter keeps on looking over here. I think I remind him of one of his ex-girlfriends or something. That happens a lot.’”
At that, I was fully involved and my entire face displayed my confusion. I squinted my eyes, cocked my head to the side, and stared at Andy. “What? Are you serious?”
“She is insane,” Andy reassured me. “And that’s when ‘SOS’ started flashing in my mind.”
“So you left her at the restaurant then? She probably ended up having dinner with the waiter!” My amusement couldn’t be stifled anymore.
“No, we had dinner. She is studying accounting at U of T, but wants to chase her dream of being a ballerina, has serious over-confidence issues, hates her ‘ex-BFF’ Lindsay for not taking her to the Celine Dion concert, and her New Year’s resolution is to lose 3 pounds. Weird girl.” Andy seemed unaffected by her obvious signs of delusional behaviour.
“Killer legs.” I enjoyed feeding his shallow mindset.
“KILLER legs.” Andy smiled and wiggled into the spot next to me, lighting up as the two film lovers patched up their differences at the top of the Eiffel tower.
“This is some good material, huh? Maybe you should be writing some of this down. Make Betha-whatever a proposal like in this movie and those beautiful walking sticks could be yours forever, Andy.” I felt eyes drilling into the side of my head, but chose to ignore it. “Think about it, you’d never get bored with a chick like that and I wouldn’t mind a third roommate. My hip’s a little sore from your intense grip, so another person in between us could be quite nice.” My comment was a joke, but the whack I received from Andy across my head was not.
My eyes opened slowly this time. My head rolled back off the steering wheel and flopped against the headrest. The feeling of my body twisting sideways woke me up and caused me to become aware once more. Blood began rushing to my head and I started blinking continuously in an effort to wipe away the fuzzy black spots that filled my vision. A cold breeze blew against my neck. I shivered. My stomach woke with a tingling sensation, like the time I rode the coaster at our town’s theme park “Wonder World”. I never went on the upside-down loop rides I thought as the car spun over into the air. I felt as though I was strapped into the ride of my life. It rolled, and rolled, and rolled in a seemingly endless cycle. Upon landing, the car came to a stop resting on its roof, with me hanging, still buckled in my seat belt, my legs dangling limp above me. My mind processed that I was in pain, yet my nerves did not pick up that sensation. I looked through my peripherals to see the driver’s door had fallen away during our somersaults causing an isolated metal fragment that held on to push itself down harder on my chest. Struggling to breathe, my body tensed up and my nostrils began to flare; I got more and more infuriated. As my pulse quickened because of my reddening temper, my adrenaline kicked in. I had never done drugs, but if I had I know it would have felt exactly like this. I could not form one solid thought. My lack of function really drove me mad. My mouth closed, tasting the sweet sugary saliva that had built up around my dry tongue. I concentrated while this sea of dessert cascaded down my throat, and warmed my chest. It felt better. That’s when I stopped breathing; everything went black.
The little girl standing in front of me had quite the stubborn demeanor. Hands placed firmly on her hips, feet spread apart to secure maximum balance, eyes squeezed shut into slits, and mouth held closed, blown up with air, as she held her breath. I swear she threw this same tantrum every week. Allison was a very outspoken and sassy child. I loved it. She kept me on my toes.
“Allison Burnett, what have I told you about doing that? All that is going to get you is a headache and sore cheeks,” I said in a singsong voice that only bugged her more. Is it pathetic that I was too afraid to look at Allison? Those big brown eyes held so much fury that I think even a cafeteria bully would think twice before asking her to empty those dress pockets. There were loose strands hanging from the collar of her red and black checkered dress, probably because she tugged at it routinely, feeling too closed in and proper. Allison’s bouncy, fiery red ringlets danced exuberantly as she hopped up and down, highlighting her pale, yet flushed skin and making her look like a walking, talking porcelain doll.
“James, you are being indescribably unfair.” Allison’s lower lip began to quiver. Now I shot a hard glance her way. I was still her role model, and needed to stand my ground.
“Hey! You are to call me Mr. MacIntyre. Look Allison, all I am asking you to do is colour a picture, alright? Every single student is doing the same thing, and you’re in grade two for goodness sake, how do you not like to colour?” I laughed in disbelief, recalling the second grade. My hands were in those crayon boxes like they were my mom’s hidden cookie jar.
“Colouring is so dee-meaning. I believe poetry would be a betterer choice. Plus, my mom said that all pictures are a reminder of past mistakes.” Allison ventured, taking on an elongated stance, imitating her mother. I couldn’t help but congratulate this funny girl for her attempt at negotiating, even if her methods were questionable. She was feisty; I’d give her that. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you that?”
“Hmm, well I don’t remember her too much, but when I was little my dad told me that pictures were a special tool for capturing moments. An expression of endless possibilities.”
“Oh. I think my mommy was right. Your mommy probably would’ve said the same thing if you could remember. Was she sick?” she sighed. Little kids are much more perceptive than many people assume.
“Yes, she was.”
“Did you sing to her? My mommy sings to me when I feel icky.”
I smiled. “No, but I still talk to her. Maybe tonight I will sing.” She beamed. “All right, Allison. You may write a poem about recess, BUT I want you to recite this to the class once you are finished. Deal?” I stuck out my hand, extending a peace offering to a, probably wiser, 7 year-old. Allison thought for a moment. After what felt like a very long time, she smiled. Obviously pleased, Allison met my hand with hers and gave it a forceful shake. As I walked alongside her back to her desk, we passed Billy Hamilton who was in the midst of filling in a purple polka dot on the back of his green elephant.
“See what I mean, James?”
I cocked my head back and let out a loud laugh, inhaling a sharp breath when I stopped.
The oxygen barged into my lungs, kicking down the door and running into the room with only seconds to spare. I sucked in the sweet, delicious, velvety air, savouring its healing qualities with each draw. Carefully, I lifted my heavy lids and blinked for a couple minutes, readjusting to the light. I tilted my head to the right and noticed a single red-robin, perched on a nearby lamppost. The flaming colours jumped out at me and I became mesmerized by the boldness of this bird. I thought of Allison and my heart gave a shudder as I recited her poem in my head:
“The bell rings and the children groan, cause recess time is done.
But one by one we form a line and know that we had fun.
The next day I know will be brand-new, and nothing like the last,
No looking back, only moving forward and always running fast.”
When I turned back to look, the robin was gone and just like that, I was alone again. The ringing in my ears increased and I realized that I could hear no sounds, except my own thoughts. The buzzing must have been maddening, but I didn’t focus on it because as I peered up at my dangling legs I was greeted with my femur bone protruding straight through the skin on my leg. I knew that I should have been devastated at this point, however, I didn’t experience fear. Oddly enough, I was easily distracted from my leg by a flake of snow that floated onto the asphalt beside me and melted into the earth. Then came another. And another. And another. Suddenly, a light blizzard crowded the sky, glazing everything in white, descending from the heavens. A man holding a trident flew down from between two clouds and pointed his mighty staff at me. Everything went black.
“Eat your stew, James. All of it.”
Look at her, pointing that index finger at me so seriously. I don’t have to eat my stew if I don’t want to. Besides, look at daddy’s plate; it’s completely full, and the squished face look he is wearing proves more than a dislike. Am I not old enough to decide what goes down my throat? Nine and three quarters is practically an adult. In a few years I’ll be hairy and orange looking like Uncle Jerry! Mommy is a horrid cook. She knows it. I know it. Even Max knows it. Poor guy is taking one for the team tonight. Ew, his tongue is so yucky! Don’t laugh…don’t laugh…don’t laugh! Gosh, my hand is ticklish. Hey, looking at this again, it kind of looks like those mud pies I make at the beach each summer. Wow, who knew mommy would take cooking inspiration from me? (Sighs) I’d rather eat a mud pie right about now. Oh no, please don’t give me that look! Why does she always do this to me? Look at those eyes, so full of the need to please her baby boy, and the upcoming sheer disappointment when she sees that I hate the meal. Okay James, you are one of the men in this house. It’s time to prove it. Just close your eyes. Think of a hamburger from McDonalds and get it down! That’s it. Pick up the fork. Now, stab a piece of the brown stuff. Bring it to your mouth. OH! I’m going to be sick! (Gagging) Giggling slightly this time, there she goes again with the index finger!
His staff was golden and a song of peace was playing harmoniously around him. A blinding light shot into my eyes, forcing me to whip them shut. When I dared to open them again, the man was not holding a trident, but a large needle. And the music slowly molded into the steady stream of a siren. I flinched at the cold embrace of the metal poke to my chest. Realizing that the man wanted me to breathe for him, I tried, but could not send the message from my brain to my heart. It was like each limb, each muscle, each nerve had become disconnected from my mind. As I worked harder and harder to bring my body parts back to functioning order, the thoughts became less and less clear. I became more and more drowsy. Why is he running to the…come back…where is he going…I feel like…
I have really missed that index finger. Everything went black.