Based on a somewhat true story
I’m surrounded by black. My arms reach out into the darkness. I feel nothing but a
chilly air that makes goose bumps rise up on my arms. I wrap my arms around my skinny
frame wishing I was wearing something heavier than a flimsy t-shirt and shorts. Taking
baby steps, I move forward. Afraid of what the blackness might be hiding. Suddenly I hear a
scream, a scream that enters my bones and seeps into my mind. I tremble; I am trapped in a
cocoon of my own fear. I sink to the ground. Touching a cold hard floor. I sit there
squeezing my eyes shut and putting my fingers in my ears. But the scream still resonates in
my eardrums. I put my head between my legs. Then I am falling. My hair streaming up
behind me, bright sunlight blinding me. I see the ground rushing up towards me. I brace
myself for the impact, I wonder if it will hurt when I crash. I jolt up in my bed. It was just a
dream, I let out a sigh of relief and crash back down into my pillows.
“Zoey!” a distant voice pulls me from my dreams. I peak through my eyelids. The
bright sunlight streams through the half-open window hurting my eyes. I bury my head
under the covers. My bones feel like they weigh a hundred tons, and my brain is like a giant
fuzz ball. Last night my best friend Christy and I had pulled an all nighter. At around six a.m
after we had watched almost all the movies I owned, baked three batches of brownies and
prank-called the whole neighborhood, we decided that we should at least get around three
hours of sleep. No one wants to look like a walking zombie the next day, although I have
probably already achieved that look. . “ZOEEEYY!” the voice calls again. I groan and roll out
of bed. Half walking, half crawling I enter bathroom and look at myself in the mirror. My
hair is sticking up at weird angles and dark bags circle my eyes. A horrible mess of a
fourteen year old. I inspect myself; I realize little brown pieces of something are stuck to my
hair. As I pull a piece out, I realize what it is. I let out an inward groan. I have little pieces of
brownie stuck to my hair. Great! I throw myself under the shower, making a mental note to
kill Christy when I regain my energy. The warm water pounds on my head and shoulders. I
slather some shampoo into my hair, and watch as little bubbles escape from the foam. The
warm water slowly starts healing me by rubbing away my nightmare and grogginess. As the
last few bits of soap foam slide down the drain, I turn off the water and quickly get dressed.
Hearing shouts and screams filtering in from my open window, I peek out from the glass
and watch as my brother and a couple of his friends toss a football to one another, throwing
themselves on top of each other. I hurry down the stairs excitedly because I hadn’t seen my
older brother in two days. I couldn’t wait to see him again.
As I step out into the garden, my brother Noah sees me and runs over, wrapping his
arms around me. “Hey, little sister,” he murmurs into my ear. “It is about time you woke up,
even though I know if you could you would sleep all day.”
I can’t help grinning, in spite of the fact that as usual my brother is teasing me. He lets go of
me and shouts out to his friends, “Here she comes, the most beautiful girl in the world!”
I sigh, and flush deep red.
I hate it when my brother says this in front of his friends. I always end up so embarrassed,
but this doesn’t seem to affect Noah. I let out a little yelp as I feel the ground being jolted
from underneath me, as I am tossed onto his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.
“No!” I giggle. “Put me down.” I thump against his back with my fists but Noah just laughs
with his friends. Normally I join in with my brother’s jokes but I just don’t get what they
find so funny about being thrown on the back of a 6 foot 5 giant. He runs around the
garden with me still on his back, screaming bloody murder. Noah finally drops me on the
ground. I glare at him with the coldest eyes I can come up with. “If you ever do that to me
again you’ll be dead.” I emphasize the word dead.
“Oooh, I’m so scared!” he said laughing with his friends.
I flush crimson. I hate being laughed at. He ruffles my hair. “C’mon, sis! Take a joke.”
I turn away but I have already forgiven him. Sometimes I wish my brother was less hard to
forgive, but Noah has always been my best friend ever since we were little. Noah had taught
me how to take my first steps, how to read and write, and how to live in this world. Without
my brother I would probably still be learning my ABC’s. It is hard to stay mad at my brother.
Especially when he has the goofiest look on his face and has his shirt inside out. I watch as
him and his friends pile into the car and drive away to soccer practice. I am left sitting on
the grass, not knowing what to do with the rest of the day, except for knowing life wouldn’t
be the same without my brother.
I lie down on the grass and watch the clouds float by. They form shapes as they drift
by. I remember when I was young how my brother and I would lie down in the exact same
spot and create stories about the clouds. Sometimes a cloud would be a bucking horse or
another time a conch shell. I close my eyes and drift off into a slumber. The chirping of birds
and the occasional rumble of a car are like a lullaby to my tired soul. I let my mind wander
on stupid childish things - like what I want for my birthday or what to wear on the first day
of school. My life seems miles away; work and school dramas seem on a different planet.
School is still a long time away; summer days are still long, glorious and filled with little
moments of joy. The grass tickles the back of my neck and I feel an ant creeping up my leg. I
slap it away and stand up. I wonder if Christie is awake yet; maybe I could go over to her
house and pour some eggs into her hair as revenge. I laugh at the thought of seeing
Christie’s expression to wake up with eggs in her hair. I head into the kitchen to grab a
couple of eggs to carry out my plan. The kitchen is cool compared to the warm air outside.
The radio is playing some country music and my dad’s newspaper is on the counter where
he left it this morning. As I open the fridge, the phone rings, breaking the peaceful calm in
the air. I pick up the phone and hear a lady’s voice, “honey,” she drawls in a strong southern
accent. “Your brother has been in an accident and your parents are asking for you. Could
you come to the hospital?” I feel my stomach curl and tighten into a little ball of fear.
“What?” I manage to mumble, but I don’t wait for the lady to answer. I am running out of
the front door. I grab my bike and cycle to the hospital as fast as I can. I cycle through
pedestrians, some turn to shout at me others just stand there bewildered. I don’t stop. Tears
blind me and the wind whips them away. “Oh God” I pray, “Please say nothing has happened
When I finally reach the hospital, I run to the waiting room to find my mother and
my father talking to a doctor. “What happened?” I yell. “Is Noah okay?”
The doctor looks at me, “Your brother is in a coma.” I stare at him.
“You’re lying!” I say desperately looking at my mom hoping that she would prove the doctor
wrong, but instead she looks away.
I sink to the floor shaking. I feel empty. I open my mouth in a silent wail. Sobs rack my body.
My chest hurts. The lights are shining too bright and the smell of disinfectant and sick
bodies is too much for me. I feel like curling into a ball and forgetting everything. I sit there
dazed for hours watching as people walk past me. I see my parents speaking in hushed
tones. A big looking lady waddles and stops in front of me.
“You okay?” She asks in a soft worried tone. I nod my head slowly staring at her but not
actually seeing her. “Come with me darling! Let me get you something to drink,” she says. I
follow her down the hallways to the hospital cafeteria. We sit down at a table at the far end.
All around me the feeling of desperation and sadness hangs in the air. I feel locked in a little
box, with no air left. The lady is talking while crumbling her cookie into her steaming
coffee. I see her mouth move. I watch as her lips smack together, a few crumbs falling down
onto her napkin. She smiles as my eyes are fixed on the red lipstick stain on her tooth. I want
to reach over and wipe it away, but instead I curl my fingers around the scalding mug. Her
voice is distant like the chirping of birds through a closed window on a summer’s afternoon.
I sip at my coffee not tasting it as it scorches my tongue. She smiles the sad, quick smile you
give to someone at a funeral. Saying you are sorry but instead feeling that you are lucky that
you aren’t the one suffering the loss. She pushes her chair back, saying something else but
by now I am too lost in my pain to even hear what she is saying. She pats my head and
waddles off. I sit there staring into emptiness. Not thinking, only feeling. After hours
someone picks me up and carries me in the car. I see cars passing in a blur. I hear muffled
voices, but they’re far away. When we get home, I tread up the stairs and into my bedroom. I
lie down on the bed staring at the ceiling. My mind is blank. I keep replaying the same
scene over and over again hoping to hear the doctor say, “Your brother’s fine, just a bump
on the head.” Warm tears slide down my cheeks; my hands are cold and I shiver. I get up
and close the window. It has been open since this morning. I remember seeing my brother
playing outside. It hurts so much to think he had been running around just this morning. I
claw at my head, wanting to get rid of the thoughts, but nothing can stop them. I slide to the
ground, my head between my legs. I squeeze my eyes shut and let the dark envelope me.
I don’t know how long I slept, but when I wake up it is morning. I hear my parents
talking to someone downstairs. My back hurts and my legs feel cramped. I run downstairs
and out of the house. I couldn’t stand facing my parents, at the moment I couldn’t face
anyone except my brother. I needed to hear his reassuring words; I create an illusion in my
mind that everything is alright. I hear my mom calling after me but I don’t stop. It is early
morning and mist hangs in the air. Peace bestows the city. I run on through empty roads.
Sometimes I pass some joggers but for most of the time I am alone. The cool air seems to
clear my mind. For the first time I think of what happened to my brother’s friends. Were
they okay? I direct myself towards the hospital. I have to see my brother.
I am sitting down next to my brother’s bed. Tubes seem to cover every inch of his
body. His breathing is shallow and a long cut runs across his forehead. I touch my brother’s
hand. I hear myself talking to him. My words seem to numb my own pain. I tell my brother
stories like he used to tell me when I was a little girl or when I couldn’t sleep at night. Some
are stupid stories, others are folktales and some are true stories. I talk until my voice is
hoarse but even then I carry on talking. When the stories come to an end, I invent new ones.
My imagination never seems to run out. Sometimes I tell him my thoughts, my dreams and
my fears. I wonder if my brother can hear me; I make myself answer my own questions. I sit
in the chair with my legs curled under me, staring out the window. I have finally stopped
talking. My mind has run out of things to say. I hear someone enter the room. I don’t look
up. It is probably just the nurse. She comes to the room every hour to check up on me. At
first she tried to talk to me but I just ignored her and so in the end she just gave up. I wait
for her to leave the room, but she never does. Finally I look up and see Ethan, my brother’s
best friend, looking at me. “I thought you were sleeping” he says softly. His arm is in a cast
but otherwise he looks fine.
“I’m sorry,” he says. I stare at his face for a while before answering.
“It’s not your fault,” I say even though a voice inside me is screaming, “Why didn’t you save
Instead I remain calm and dig my nails into my palms to keep myself from lashing out.
“Everything happens for a reason,” I murmur looking away from Ethan’s hazel eyes, so that
he won’t see the tears that streak down my face.
“Not everything does,” Ethan says. He stands there awkwardly before coming to sit on the
couch next to me. He wraps his arms around me and holds me there. I don’t feel shy, instead
I sob into his shirt. He lifts up my chin and says,
“Your brother always had a way to make me laugh when I didn’t feel like smiling. I know
that I will never take his place but while he’s...” he stumbles for words not knowing how to
put it, “While he is the way he is, I think he would want me to look after you.”
I stare out of the window; Ethan looking after me would be nice after all. I nod my head
slowly to Ethan giving a hint of a smile towards him. As the sun rays start turning a light
pink, we decide it’s time to go home. I step out of the hospital bedroom and turn to look at
my brother for a fleeting second. Rays of sun play on his pale face and a faint smile lingers
on his lips. He looks almost peaceful. Watching him gives me a sense of hope. Noah is going
to wake up one day I am sure about that. We walk down the quiet hospital halls, listening to
the soft murmur of people’s voices behind closed doors. When we step out into the streets, I
let out a sigh of relief to be out in the sunshine. My brother doesn’t belong in a place filled
with death. He needs to be in a place of hope so he can wake up. On the pavement I hop
from one foot to another, thoughts bubbling in my head. School will start in just a couple of
weeks. Noah would be starting his senior year and I will be a freshman. If Noah ever comes
out of his coma, will he go back to school? I feel Ethan’s gaze bore holes into the side of my
face. I stop dead in my tracks. “Ethan,” I say “What happened in the accident?”
I see him take a sharp breath. He shoves his hands into his pocket and doesn’t look at my
face. I know I shouldn’t have asked this question, but it had been bugging me ever since I
laid eyes on Ethan. The silence is so long and cold, I wonder what I have done. After what
seems like hours, he opens his mouth and says, “Well, I messed up.” I look at him with a
questioning look. “Yeah!” he screams. “I messed up and I killed my best friend.”
He is half crying, half screaming. My jaw hangs open. I mumble some mess of words. My
mind is trying to piece together what Ethan has just revealed. I let out a half strangled laugh,
“Come on Ethan, you didn’t kill him!” I say.
“Yeah, you are right about that,” he laughs in a sardonic way, “I put him a coma.” I play with
my bracelet, chewing on my tongue.
“It was a mistake; it wasn’t your fault.” I say trying to comfort him, but he just ignores me.
“Well, what if told you it wasn’t a mistake?” he looks at me through a strand of his hair. He
opens his mouth and then closes it. If finally deciding what to say, he murmurs,
“Nice talking to you, Zoey!” Then he leaves me standing there on my doorstep, gaping.
The next few days pass in a blur. I seem to have entered a trance. Wake up. Go to
hospital. Go home. Go to sleep. I blocked Ethan’s words from my mind, building a brick wall
against them. They were caged in, but they pounded against the wall. I want to believe they
aren’t true. They can’t be true. The police have confirmed it was an accident. Ethan couldn’t
have caused it. Right? Today is August 17th, exactly 5 and a half days since my brother
ended up in a coma and exactly one week until school starts. School. I close my eyes. I don’t
think I am ready to face the swarms of “I am so sorry about your brother” and the sad looks
from the teachers. I sigh. Maybe my parents will let me take the first month of school off, but
I hardly believe that would happen. I throw on a pair of shorts and my dad’s Yale t-shirt. It
still smells of Noah. Yale was his dream, not mine. I smile when I remember how Noah had
already filled out his college application even though college was still a year away. Or more.
The doctors said that Noah’s brain is active and it is just a matter of time until he wakes
up… but when is an unanswered question. I decide to go over to Christy’s house. I haven’t
talked to her since the sleepover on that fatal day. She had been bothering me with phone
calls, emails and visits but I haven’t felt ready to face her. I walk the short distance to her
house through the back garden of our neighbors, across the little bridge that passes over the
creek that runs through our block and into her garden. I peek through the windows and see
no one in the living room. “Hello,” I call through the open doors. No one answers. That is
weird. There is always someone at the Sullivan’s house. From their Labrador to Christy’s
wacko grandmother, but today it is eerily quiet. I step inside, my flip flops slapping the
marble floor. “Anyone home?” I call again. No answer. I walk up the spiraling staircase and
towards Christy’s bedroom. The door is slightly ajar and light streams through the gap. Soft
piano music drifts in the still air. I smile. I push open the door to find Christy seated at her
piano playing Beethoven. Her eyes are closed and she hasn’t heard me. I tap her lightly on
the shoulder. She spins around screaming. When she sees me, she pulls a face.
“You scared me there ZZ!” I smile when I hear her say “ZZ.”
ZZ is my nickname. She has been calling me that ever since preschool. “So how you feeling?”
she asks. That is a question I didn’t expect her to ask. Christy never asks how I feel, except
when she knows I am not feeling well. “‘Could be better,” I say after a pause. We look at each
other for a while and then I start telling her what has happened in the past week. I tell her
about the hospital lady, Noah, and Ethan. When she hears about Ethan, she takes a sharp
breath. “There is only one thing you can do about that,” she says. “Talk to him.” I look at her
as if she was half crazy. The last time Ethan and I had talked things hadn’t gone very
smoothly. “Err, I don’t think that is a great idea!” I say.
“Why not?” Christy looks at me with a demanding look.
“Well…” I stammer “Because…” Gosh Christy could be stubborn when she wanted to get
“Alright then what are you waiting for?” she asks. “At least you can come with me?” I plead.
“Just to the door,” she says “Something’s are better done alone”.
We ride our bikes to Ethan’s house as he lives in one of the coastal houses, with
sprawling gardens right down to the waterfront and were a couple kilometers from our
medium sized suburban dwellings. I have been to Ethan’s house; it is a massive white palace.
To say his parents are well off is an understatement. When I was younger I used to be so
jealous of Ethan’s house, but now all the money and latest fashion brands are an obvious
cover up for the broken-down family that lies behind the riches and the glam. He grew up
with his babysitter, Dorota and she was more a mother for him than his actual one ever was.
When we got to his house everything was as it usually was; perfect. The lawn was perfectly
mowed and the windows sparkled in the sunlight. We left our bikes on the curb and walked
up to the front porch. “I’ll wait for you here,” Christy says and plonks herself down on the
patio love chair. She gives me a reassuring smile, and I walk up to the door. I peek in
through the glass. A long wooden corridor, just as I remember. My finger hovers over the
doorbell. I feel the butterflies in my stomach fluttering. Let’s get this over with I say to myself
and I press my thumb down. I hear the bell ringing throughout the house, and then
footsteps padding down the corridor. The door is flung open and I am standing face to face
with Ethan. “Zoey,” he says at the same time as I say “Ethan.”
“What brings you here” he asks. The question I have been dreading.
What was I supposed to say; my best friend has forced me over, doesn’t your best friend
make you do crazy things some time? Well no because your best friend is in a coma.
“Just to talk” I say with a radiant smile.
“Well come in” he says closing the door behind him. I follow him through the long dark
corridor with expensive paintings and into a large white living area. The bright light makes
me blink. He sits down on the white leather couch, curling his feet under him. He looks
scared and confused and I feel a pang of sadness towards him. We sit on opposite ends of
the couch just a few arm spans away, yet I feel miles apart inside. Silence fills the air and I
don’t feel like breaking it. So I fiddle with my nails. Ethan twirls with the iron ring on his
finger. It is awkward. Everything is. Sitting in an empty house with your brother’s best
friend, hearing nothing but each other’s breathing and staring at the blush creeping up
Ethan’s cheeks. I clear my throat.
“Ethan, what you said the other day,” I speak quickly, “it wasn’t your fault, I mean I know
you where driving and you lost control, and you can’t blame yourself for something that
happened.” I gasp for breath as I finish the last words.
“You are right Zoey, I didn’t cause it,” Ethan says, pain showing in his eyes, “but I could have
prevented it; I shouldn’t have looked at Jake sitting in the back seat, I shouldn’t have been
driving fast too show off in front of the girls in the Mustang next to ours. I shouldn’t be
feeling jealous that you care so much for your brother and that no one cares that much for
He stands up and walks to the long French windows, staring out at the sea.
“I care for you,” I say before I can stop myself “my brother cares for you, Dorota loves you”
after a moment of hesitation I say “And so do your parents, even if they show it in a different
way than others.” I watch as tears trickle down his cheeks
“It is good to hear that sometimes,” he says. I get up and stand next to him.
“You know that day when you said that you would look after me while my brother is in a
coma?” I ask “well I think my brother would have wanted me to do the same thing for you.”
Ethan smiles down at me; he was a giant teddy bear for me, soft and fragile. I realize that
Ethan had always been there for me: when I cried because I hadn’t made it on the soccer
team, for my first ballet recital and on my first day of middle school. Noah and Ethan had
always watched out for me, and now it was time for me to start watching out for him. The
brick wall that had always stood between me and Ethan collapsed to the ground. An inner
peace that I haven’t felt since my brother’s accident fills me. I watch as a seagull swoops up
in the air and caws loudly. I push open the door and step out into the garden. We walk past
the preened bushes and flower beds filled with blooming flowers, down to the beach. We
talked, like we have never talked before. It felt good to spill my heart to someone. You can’t
always keep everything bottled up inside of you. We sit in the dunes watching the sun set on
the waves. A chilly breeze picks up and I shiver.
“I should get going.” I say. We head back and I grab my jacket.
“Thanks for the day.” Ethan says and embraces me. He walks me to the door and I smile.
“Call me tomorrow okay?” I say and close the door gently behind me.
I see our bicycles on the curb. Oh God I think. Christy. I had totally forgotten about her. My
worries didn’t last long though. I find her curled up in the love seat, fast asleep with a cat
asleep on her lap.
“Christy,” I say, shaking her shoulder gently.
“What?” she says groggily.
“It’s time to go I say. Christy sits up a little dazed, shakes her head and gets up.
We grab our bikes and start pedaling home. “So how did it go?” Christy asks.
A smile plays on my lips.
“Better than expected.” I say.
Christy winks at me “I knew that Ethan boy had something going for you!”
We toss our heads back laughing. I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket; I brake and stop
my bike. I look at the caller ID, it read MOM. I pick up, but before I can say anything my
mom is screaming into my ear.
“It is Noah,” she says. “He has twitched a toe, and the doctors say he is waking up!”
I let out a shout of joy, my heart feeling ready to burst. At that exact moment in life,
everything feels right. I am care free and happy in a way I have not felt in ages. Things
would never be perfect as they were before, but I think this was as close as I would get to
perfection. At least for now.