The Drive Home
Abby, Age 14, Somerset, KY

I set the ball to Riley. She spikes it between two girls on the other side for the final point. We win our first volleyball game of the season against the Eastview High Eagles, 25 to 11.

After the win, I walk to the locker room to change before heading out to eat dinner with my parents at Olive Garden. Slipping on my favorite pair of skinny jeans, a cute t-shirt, and my gray Vans, I stand at the mirror and look at my body. I am fifteen years old. I have slightly tanned skin, a souvenir from last summer's family vacation. I am tall, a little skinny, and my eyes are a powdery blue. My long, dark brown hair trails past my shoulders and is sometimes mistaken for black.

After saying goodbye to my teammates, I grab my bag and turn, looking for my family in the crowd.

“Jessie! You were great,” I hear my mom say from behind me.

“I can tell this season's gonna be awesome,” my dad adds.

“Thanks. Are we ready to go?” I prompt, but nobody moves. “I'm starving,” I add, trying to move things along.

After a few more agonizing minutes of small talk with other parents, we get into the car and drive to Olive Garden. When we arrive, we wait for ten minutes before being seated (which is crazy, because it is a Friday night). Ordering is easy because I know what I like: Fettuccine Alfredo, salad, bread sticks, and a glass of water with a lemon slice. After dinner, I grab the mint chocolate candy that comes with the check, a sort of parting gift from the restaurant, and pop it into my mouth. The chocolates were my favorite part of the meal when I was a kid, but now the buttery garlic bread sticks are my favorite part.

We drive home in the dark, even though it's still early, maybe a little after six o'clock. We drive for fifteen minutes.

My parents and I live in a neighborhood in the woods, concrete hidden behind a patch of cedar trees and scrub. Our house is the last in the neighborhood, behind a tall stand of evergreens nobody bothered to clear. It is a three story Spanish-style home which backs up to the city lake.

And this is what I remember. We are on the road passing through the woods of our neighborhood like we have a thousand times before. We round a corner and headlights come speeding at us. Before my dad has time to react, we all feel it: the immense impact of a large pick-up truck slamming head on into us, onto us. I feel my body slam against my seat belt while shattered glass slices my face and arms. The windshield is showering glass diamonds, raining onto my parents. The sound of crumpling – was it metal? -- fills my ears. There are flashing lights and sirens. And then darkness.

When I wake, I'm lying on a soft sheet in a small room. What happened? Where are my parents? There are lights shining down on me. People are looking into my face. I see lips moving, but no sound comes out of their mouths. I hear nothing. I feel nothing. I drift back into unconsciousness.

When I wake again, I am lying on a white bed. The room is plain with white tile and pale walls. The plainness makes me notice immediately the other person in the room. She is dressed like a nurse. A man comes into the room and tells her to leave. He looks like a doctor, but I can't be certain. He comes over to me and sits in a chair by my bed.

I can't move my body. What is wrong with me?

“Jessie,” he begins. His voice irritates me but I don't know why. I remember that Jessie is my name, so I answer with a groan.

“Jessie, you have been in a very bad car accident,” the doctor says as he folds his hands in front of him, “Your car was completely crushed by a truck. Unfortunately, your life is going to be a whole lot different from now on.”

Then it comes back to me. A truck, driving head-on toward our small car. He pauses for a minute, as if he is letting this sink in while he thinks of more words to say.

No. No! My life is perfect. I live with my parents. I go to school. I have friends. I am a normal teenage girl. I love my life. I don't want it to change.

I start to cry. It hurts because I can't move anything, because I can't change anything. My crying gets louder -- a moan, wail, and scream which combine into a sound I've never heard before. The doctor injects something into a port that is taped to the back of my hand. Immediately, I fall back asleep.

The next time I wake up, I can't tell what time it is or how long I've slept. I see him again. The same man is sitting at a desk in the corner of the room. I watch him write for a while, and then he turns toward me. A moan slips out of my mouth. He puts down his pen and walks over to my bed. I brace myself for more news. I want to know what happened to my parents. I want to know what happened to my life, the life that used to belong to me.

“Jessie, I'm Doctor Brown. Please try to stay calm. We don't want to have to sedate you again. You've been asleep for a day now,” he informs me. “You are paralyzed from your waist down. We don't know if this is permanent, but either way, your life will change.”

I stare blankly at the ceiling. I try to move my legs, but nothing happens. My thoughts are confused.

Doctor Brown goes on, “There's a man here to speak with you about very important issues. Do you think you are well enough to see him?”

I don't respond.

Doctor Brown walks out of the room. Outside, he talks quietly with a man in a nice black suit. The man is tall, with brown hair and a graying beard. His pants are slightly short for his legs, showing his black dress socks. The man enters my room and sits in the chair by my bed.

“Hi, Jessie. I'm a social worker. My name is Mr. Kepler,” he says. “I know you've already had enough bad news to last a long time, but I have something to tell you. Are you listening?”

“I'm trying,” I manage to say.

“Honey, your parents were in the front of the truck, which took most of the impact. They were killed instantly,” he says, his voice full of sympathy. “I'm really sorry.”

“No! I don't believe you---” I start.

“Jessie, please.”

“No, this couldn't happen to me! Why couldn't it happen to someone else?!” I think I am talking, but by their reaction I might be screaming.

The doctor comes into the room and touches my arm, reaching for the port on the back of my hand. Again.

There is a buzzing sound in the distance. The alarm clock goes off– quietly, because the volume is on low, but I sit up with a start. I hear my mom call my name from the kitchen downstairs, and for the first time in a long time I'm not annoyed when she calls me. My hairline is soaked with sweat, and my cheeks are damp. I rub the sleep out of my eyes. I swing my legs over the side of the bed, feel the cold as they hit the floor, and get into the shower.

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