After a long six hours of being stiff, confined, and locked in the car, I finally got a breath of fresh air. I grabbed the tote bag of library books that I had eagerly picked out a few days before to read in the car. I hopped out of the truck, my feet landing with a thud on the pavement. My eyes darted back and forth because I didn’t know where we were. The recognizable “Burger King” logo was the only thing that brought me comfort, being in such a different place. I didn’t recognize the roads and buildings; even the license plates were different. Still, I was relieved that I could finally stretch my small legs, and I began to limp across the parking lot. My dad called out from behind me and asked why I was limping. My small body, consumed with anxiety and hunger, was able to muster some sort of response letting him know it was because my foot was asleep.
We bustled into the Burger King somewhere between Baltimore, Maryland and Orlando, Florida. My sister and I rushed to find a table that could seat all five of us. My dad used the bathroom while my mom ordered our food. We found a nice spot. Overtop our table was a glass dome-shaped ceiling. I gazed into the clouds, trying to make shapes out of them. While I was mesmerized by the fast-changing clouds, my mom returned with our food. We had set my baby brother on the end of the table and fastened one of those sticky placemats in front of him. He was just a year old, so my mom just pulled apart some fries for him to eat rather than buying him his own meal. My dad glanced up, and he noticed the sky getting darker. He quickly checked the radar and realized a storm was coming down south. He rushed the rest of us to finish our food so we could get moving.
The storm had not yet reached us, but we had to stop. All of us had just eaten a late lunch, so we all had to use the bathroom. As we got ready to stop, we passed a Mexican restaurant. This caught my small blue eyes, because atop the restaurant was a huge, multicolored sombrero. After we all took our turns, we stumbled back into the truck like a clown car and went on our way. I took one last look at the huge sombrero, which was now lit up. I don’t know how I didn’t notice that before. I felt as if I were to close my eyes and open them, it would start spinning. With great force, I shut my eyes, counted to three, and then opened them. I was disappointed, I could no longer see the sombrero, as it was far in the distance. However, the storm had finally caught up to us, and it began to rain.
Both my siblings were fast asleep. I tried to keep myself entertained by trying to make shapes out of the raindrops on the window, just like clouds in the sky. I settled in for a long drive ahead of us. The storm had caused traffic, and there were cars all around us. My mom, who was now driving, positioned our car in the far-left lane, since we didn’t have to get off anytime soon. Once I realized that I would be stuck in the car for longer than my parents had anticipated, I got settled in. I adjusted my travel pillow, gazed out the window, and watched a large white tractor-trailer drive by.
Suddenly I was snapped out of my rain-induced trance as my dad started yelling urgently at my mom. I saw my dad lunge toward the steering wheel; he threw his large hand on the horn. Before I had even grasped what was going on, I could no longer see the rain droplets but fast-moving mixes of green, brown, blue, and gray. The glass window behind us shattered in, covering my siblings and me in shards. Confused and unsure about what exactly had happened, I burst into tears. My sister, somewhat unfazed, just looked disoriented as she was aroused from her nap. My brother was still sleeping. Sobbing, I realized that we were just in a car accident.
The same white tractor-trailer I had seen while I was gazing out the truck window was what hit us. It had sent us off the road, spinning for the trees. Within seconds my dad was talking to a stranger who was standing outside the car. She quickly announced that her daughter in the car was on the phone with 9-1-1. The woman was getting drenched because it was pouring outside, but she was there to help. My dad was stuck in the passenger seat, but he told the woman to help us. She promptly opened my door; library books spilled out onto the wet grass. I quickly told the lady that we needed to get them—those were library books. She kindly told me that it was okay, but I needed to get out of the car. Since I could feel the sharp shards of glass from the shattered window on my seatbelt, I was scared to unbuckle. I was worried that I would cut myself on the glass that was loosely lying there. I told the lady that I was scared to cut myself. She reached across my lap to undo the restraint. She pulled away moments later and told me she couldn’t reach it, that I had to do it. Still crying, I reached in between my seat and the car seat, which my brother was still fast asleep in, and quickly undid my buckle.
I stumbled getting out of the car since everything was thrown about. The library books that were once stacked nicely in the bag were scattered across the floor. The crumpled-up fast food bags looked as if someone had just tossed them through the window, and the inside of the truck looked like everything just came out of the washing machine. I stumbled around the car, toward my parents. I saw an older man coming from the highway. I guess he came to help. When he saw me crying, he reached out his hands. He wanted me to go to him. I immediately turned around and got closer to my parents, because they told me never to go with strangers. I stood by my mom, who quickly told me to get away from the road. I walked back as far as I could, gently rubbing against the brush behind me. It was a prickly bush, and it got stuck in my leg. As I turned to look behind me, I quickly realized that just after the first line of trees, the ground just dropped off. Maybe twenty or fifty feet below lay all our things that were once neatly packed in the back of the car. When we were spinning, the back must have come undone and all our luggage went flying down the hill. From above I could see my sparkly Little Mermaid bag lying in the trees.
When she realized how close I was to the edge, my mom pulled me back. Sirens blared in the distance. Shortly after, one police car pulled up. The officer explained to my parents that we were in the middle of nowhere, and the closest hospital and firehouse were over an hour away. He happened to be the closest police officer to us, but his patrol car was full of white wicker boxes with files. He offered his car to us as a place to stay out of the rain. We quickly climbed in. My dad, a firefighter, was holding my sleeping brother. As he sat in the car next to me, my dad took the officer’s flashlight and shined it into my brother’s eyes. I knew what my dad saw was not good. He was quietly talking to my mother, who is a nurse. He mumbled things I couldn’t understand. What I didn’t know then was that my brother’s eyes didn’t react to the light, which they are supposed to do. Since his eyes didn’t do that, my parents both knew he had a brain bleed. Both my parents were clearly worried. They knew he had to be flown via helicopter to the nearest hospital.
Finally, the ambulance arrived. My mom quickly took my brother to them, as my dad stayed with my sister and me. The firefighters quickly made the assessment that my brother needed to be flown to the closest hospital. He needed to get there fast. My parents decided that my mom would go with him. More police cars came, and eventually, there were enough seats for all of us to stay dry. After my mom finished speaking with the paramedics who would be taking care of my brother, she quickly came over to us and explained to my dad that they wouldn’t let her fly in the helicopter with my baby brother. My parents start arguing with the firemen, saying that she had to go with her son, but they eventually agreed that we would all meet him there. My brother was quickly flown away, and we headed to the hospital in a cop car with lights and sirens.
A short car ride later, we arrived at the hospital. Once we were there, my sister and I were separated from my parents. Since we were shaking and soaking wet, a nurse gave us extra clothes and took us to the bathroom. Both the nurse and my sister came into the bathroom with me. I made them both turn around so I could use the bathroom. Once we were dressed in dry clothes, we met back up with my parents. My dad was getting his leg checked out, and when the doctor was done with my dad, she pulled the thorn from my leg. I was terrified of the nurse coming toward me with the sharp object. I was crying and trying to pull away from my mom, who was holding me down. After she got the thorn out, the doctor asked us if we were hungry, to which all of us said no, except my four-year-old sister. They swiftly brought her a sandwich and chips, which she loudly ate in the corner of the room.
When my sister and I were separated from my parents once again, the nurse stayed in the room with us when my sister finished her sandwich. When she was done, the nurse told us to follow her. We got into an elevator with her and went up. We exited the elevator and followed her as she instructed. This floor was clearly no place for kids to be, and some lady made that very clear when she walked by us. In a yelling whisper, she told our nurse that we weren’t allowed to be up there. My nurse replied by saying that my brother was dying.
I wasn’t sure if I had heard her right.
My brother . . . was dying?
Before I had time to think about what the nurse said, we went into a room. In the room, the lights were out, and both my parents were crying. They didn’t even have to say anything for me to know what was happening. The doctor spoke up and said that my dad could hold my brother. Before I knew it, we were all gathered around my dad, who was cradling my fourteen-month-old brother, crying and saying our goodbyes. This was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry, and for some reason that made me cry harder. Looking down at my precious baby brother, seeing the noticeably large divot in his head, I cried out, “Please do not forget me!” I repeated this over and over, sobbing louder with each repetition.
“Please don’t forget me!”
“Please don’t forget me!”
“Please don’t forget me!”
The doctor interrupted, saying that it was time. We watched him turn off all the loud machines, except for the one that showed his heartbeat. I turned back to him and kept repeating, “I love you,” begging him not to forget me. I turned back to the doctor and asked him if my brother was gone yet. He told me not yet, so I quickly spun back around and continued my chant.
“I love you!”
“I love you!”
“Please don’t forget me!”
As my family sobbed around them, the doctors regretfully informed us that my brother had passed away.
My parents had to call all our family and friends to inform them that Josh had passed away. Each phone call was worse than the last—my parents cried harder with each one. They repeated the same line every time: “We were in a car accident, and Josh didn’t make it.” My grandparents and some of my dad’s firehouse friends booked the next available flight to South Carolina. They were there within hours. We got a hotel room, and the nurses walked us over. There was only one bed. My parents put my sister and me to bed, but they stayed up. My sister fell asleep quickly, but I started sobbing once again. I was scared to close my eyes. I didn’t want to close my eyes. I was terrified I was going to die. My brother closed his eyes and took a nap, and he didn’t wake up. I didn’t want to die. As I sobbed, my parents tried to console me, but I kept crying that I didn’t want to die.
And I didn’t.
I struggled with finding meaning to life after this event. The older I got, the more I began to accept and understand. As unfortunate as it was, it made me who I am today. I wholeheartedly believe that God has a plan for everyone, and everything happens for a reason. A year after my brother passed, God blessed my parents with another opportunity to have a child. A short nine months later, my baby sister was introduced to the world. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my baby brother. But I know that if he hadn’t passed, I would have never had the chance to meet my sister. This unfortunate event led me closer to God and my family, and it makes me live each day like it’s my last. I am never guaranteed tomorrow, and that resonates with me wherever I go. But all I have to remember is, “For I know the plans I have for you,” Jeremiah 29:11.