The heartbeat machine beeped, over and over again. It was somehow soothing; peaceful, almost. But it was eerie, too. Foreboding. I didn’t know when or if it would stop. I didn’t know if my heart would stop if
it stopped. I depended on the steady “beep, beep” of the machine.
I put my head in my hands and rubbed them until I could see little spots of color. I wished I would fall asleep. Maybe if I could sleep, I could forget for a little bit. Maybe it wouldn’t be so painful, during those few hours of sleep. But I couldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I didn’t know if I’d ever sleep again. Since the accident, I had changed. Things weren’t normal anymore, so sleeping was out of the question. I didn’t care that Andrew was asleep, resting his head in my lap. I didn’t care that dad had gone home an hour ago, to catch some rest and take care of his wife. Let them sleep. That didn’t mean I had to.
“Ashley,” the nurse came in, looking worried. “Have you got any sleep?”
I stifled a yawn. “Sure,” I lie. “A few hours. I just woke up.”
The nurse looked doubtful but didn’t comment.
“Is she any better?” I asked after a few moments.
I said it in barely a whisper. I didn’t want to think about Kat, I didn’t want to think about her deathly pale face, her still body. I still couldn’t look at it. “Her condition hasn’t changed,” the nurse said slowly, tentatively, as if being careful what she said. She didn’t need to. I wanted the truth. I blinked away the sudden tears that had sprung up. Kat wouldn’t want me to be crying. Kat. If she had been awake, she would have taken me in her arms, wiping away my tears, and told me that everything would be okay.
And I would have believed her. I believed everything my big sister said. Why shouldn’t I? When I was little, I used to believe she was always right. Most of the time, I still did.
I looked away from the nurse, at the clock, so she couldn’t see how upset I was. 9:27pm. I couldn’t believe it had been only 12 hours since the accident. It seemed like lifetimes ago. I wondered vaguely about missing school. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. The nurse could see I wanted to
be left alone and quietly exited, closing the door softly behind her. I looked down at Andrew. He was so strong. After we lost mom, we had become closer than ever. He was the youngest in the family. The baby. But I think he’s stronger than me. He was so young. He shouldn’t have to deal with losing his mother so young, and maybe his sister now too…I could barely think the dreaded, looming possibility of Kat’s death. I knew how likely it was. The nurses didn’t say it. But they whispered together, and I knew
what they were talking about. They talked in hushed voices around me, like they thought I was fragile and would break if they talked too loud. If they told me the truth. But I saw it in their faces. It was in their eyes. They felt sorry for me, and it was because Kat was dying. I stole a glance over at Kat. Her face was blank, expressionless. It wasn’t normal. Her face was always happy, full of delight. She was always laughing at something. Mostly she laughed at herself. I always admired her for that, for being so shameless that she could laugh at her mistakes. I could never do that. Even if she wasn’t smiling, there should have been laughter in her eyes, kindness in her face. But there was nothing. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair, I thought angrily. Why should someone so young, someone so good, have something like
this happen to them? It wasn’t like it was Kat’s fault. The stupid, reckless underage drunk driver had veered off course. Kat had been walking a little ahead of me. She had run ahead because she had seen some flowers.
“Ashley,” she had said excitedly, cooing me over. “Come see!”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Maybe if I didn’t remember it, it would be like it had never happened.
But it had happened. The driver had crashed into her seconds later, before I could get to her. As much as I wanted it to have not happened, it had. I hadn’t wanted my mom to die, either. But she had.
No, I thought firmly. Kat’s not going to die. But I couldn’t deny it. Then it would be harder when it happened. No, if it happened. I was so afraid of her dying. Ever since my mom had died, I had been so afraid I was going to lose someone else, too. It was my greatest fear. I’d wince every time Kat said she was going out. What if she never came home? What if Andrew died, too? I would have never let them leave the house, but they’re both such free spirits. She could never stay in one place that long. So I let her go. But I spent my whole life worrying about her. Eat sleep, and worry about Kat. That was my life. I just couldn’t lose her too. It was just the way I was. Maybe seeing your mother’s blank unseeing eyes did it. I just wasn’t the same after that. Who would be? My family wasn’t, but the rest of my family chose to live on anyway. I chose to waste time with worry. Worrying about my dad. Worrying about Andrew. But most of all, worrying about Kat. But it turns out it didn’t matter. Even when I was with her, protecting her, she had been hurt.
It’s too hard to think about Kat as she is now at the moment, so I think of the past. Before mom died. Before my parents were divorced. I remember white Christmases, filled with wrapping paper and new puppies. But mostly I remember one Christmas in particular. There was a huge blizzard that night. The wind blew the snow every which way so that there was no chance of seeing 2 feet in front of you. That night as I watched the snow whirl around, I almost wished I could be out there to. To be free and moving around. But I was much too scared. I was so small, what if I feel into the snow and couldn’t get back up.
“Let’s go outside,” she suggested. Only my dad was still up with us, and we were all bored.
“Alright,” he agreed.
I was afraid, but I didn’t want to seem like I was, so I went. Kat held my hand the whole way out. I was whimpering when we got outside, but she knelt down beside me. She looked at me and through her eyes gave me strength. I closed my eyes and hunched over against the strong wind. I couldn’t face this monster, this blizzard. I opened my eyes, and although they watered I forced them not to close. I straightened up.
“You can do it,” Kat encouraged. Suddenly I could tell why Kat liked blizzards. It felt wonderful to be up against the wind. Kat whispered in my ear, and I put my arms out, spread wide, and embraced it. I could feel the wind on my hair, the cold air splashing against my face, the snowflakes
caught in my hair. I giggled in delight, then when I could stay up no longer, fell into the safety of Kat’s arms.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” she grinned. But in a moment she was serious. “It’s no good to live in fear. You can’t hide from it, you have to embrace it. Embrace the wind. Turn it into something good, something fun. Don’t worry so much.”
Back then, I thought she was talking about the blizzard. But now, looking back, I realized what she had meant ran much deeper than just snowstorms. She was right.
There was nothing good or fun about being in the hospital next to my comatose sister. But being afraid for Kat wasn’t going to make her safe; it hadn’t saved her from this. It was no good to live in worry for her. To live in worry of everything; to hide in the snow instead of facing the wind. To stay freezing and scared would not benefit anyone; least of all me.
Suddenly I realized how tired I was. I nestled my head against the back of the chair, taking Kat’s hand and finally closing my eyes.
And just as I was falling asleep, I felt the smallest movement in her fingers.