As I knelt in the street next to the mangled wreckage that used to be my car, twisted with a pickup truck, I had just a moment to think about what I lost. As I knelt in the street, staring down at the lifeless bodies of my wife and daughter, I accepted my fate fully. As I knelt in the street, facing life in prison, an old man approached.
“If you could go back in time to right your wrongs, would you take the chance?”
I looked up into the man’s aging face, with eyes full of pain and wisdom that looked like they had seen too much, and slowly nodded.
The man pulled a silver pendant, a circle with a small hourglass within it, out of a pocket inside his coat. He handed it to me and whispered, “All you need to do is wish to go back.”
I stared down at the pendant for just a moment then glanced back up to where the man had been, but he had vanished.
Sirens wailed and people started running to the accident scene. I looked back down at my wife, at my baby girl, just lying there, motionless, and wished with all my heart to go back.
I just stared at the destruction until my vision blurred. I didn’t even notice the hourglass begin to spin as I clenched it in my bloody hand.
The 6:00 a.m. alarm blared, waking me from a strange dream. I couldn’t quite remember it, only that it was sad beyond words. I could still feel the despair sinking into my bones and settling there.
This is bound to be an awful day.
At sixteen years old, the last thing I wanted to do was wake up and go to school. I struggled to pull myself out of bed. It is so warm and cozy, and I know that today is going to be a bad one based off of that nightmare. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling fan spinning quickly around and around. It reminds me of something from my nightmare, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember what it was.
Eventually, I swing my feet over the side of the bed and head to the bathroom to get ready for school. I lift the toilet seat and urinate, splashing a little bit on the toilet seat. I start the shower and hop in when the water is finally scalding.
“Jimmy, hurry up or you’ll be late for school!” Mom yells from the kitchen downstairs. I jump slightly, coming out of my daze.
I must have drifted off again. Why is this nightmare bugging me so much?
He rush through washing my hair and body and jumps out of the shower to the cold bathroom, skin pink from the water. I grab my Seahawks towel and quickly dry off, leaving my back beaded with water as always. Rushing back into my room, I, throw on a clean pair of plaid boxers and black ankle socks. There are no clean shirts in my drawer, so I reach into the hamper and grab the first shirt I saw. I sniffed the shirt and threw it on the floor, and grabbed a different shirt. This one smells better so I throw it on and pulled on the jeans from the day before.
Finding my appearance acceptable for high school, I open the bedroom door and bound down the stairs.
“What took you so long?”
“I must have dozed off in the shower, ma.”
“You kids, always wasting my hot water. Hurry up and eat your breakfast before your brother leaves without you.”
“Sorry ma. Where is dad?”
“He had a work meeting in Portland this morning so he left early. Now, eat your eggs.”
I scarf down the scrambled eggs and sausage links mom made me and my three siblings this morning before she had to go to work. Usually dad would be sitting at the table, grumbling about something he was reading in the newspaper while drinking a black coffee and eating his breakfast.
My older brother, John, was already grabbing his backpack and heading for the door.
“Hey, wait up Johnny,” I call out as I shove the last sausage link whole into my mouth and run to the door to grab my backpack. With my hand on the doorknob, I pause, then run back to the kitchen.
“What’s going on Jimmy? Your brother is going to leave without you!”
“Love you ma,” I smile and give my mother, Lara, a peck on the cheek before rushing out the door to hop in the passenger seat of John’s beat up old Camry.
“What was that about mama’s boy?”
“Shut up and drive Johnny.”
The boys headed off to Evergreen High.
“Wake up Mr. Russo!”
I startled awake, wiping the drool off of my chin, to the laughter of my U.S. History class.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Hampton. I didn’t sleep well last night. It won’t happen again.”
“I’m sure it won’t Mr. Russo. Now class, we are starting a new unit called The Great Depression. Who can tell me what the Great Depression was?”
Mrs. Hampton started rambling on and on about some boring old history and I started to zone out again. That nightmare had been bugging me all day and now, during fifth period, I fell asleep and saw horrible images. There was a car accident and so much blood.
What is going on with me today? I need to snap out of it.
The bell rang, snapping me out of yet another daydream.
“Don’t forget to read the chapter about the Great Depression and answer the twenty questions at the end of the chapter for tomorrow.”
I filed out of the classroom with everyone else and headed towards my locker. I was zoning again, thinking about the nightmare, when I was jumped from behind.
“Hey Jimmy. What is with you today?”
“Oh hey, Amy. I don’t know. I had a nightmare last night. I can’t remember it, but it keeps bugging me. I’ll snap out of it before our date tonight, promise.”
“You better! I don’t need you falling asleep at dinner while I’m talking to you. Something like that could give a girl the wrong idea about her boyfriend’s feelings.”
“Oh you know I love you babe. Don’t worry.”
“Ok baby. I have to run to Photography or I’ll be late again. See you tonight.”
She jumped on me, wrapping her legs around my waist and kissed me deeply. I returned the kiss with vigor. Maybe I would be getting some action tonight if I can stay out of my head during our date. The bell rang again.
“Oh shit! Mr. Hesse is going to be mad that I am late. Again. Love you babe!” And just like that, the kiss was over and Amy was running down the hall to class.
I headed down the hall to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I was starving. My friend, Jasper, was at the end of the line for food. I jumped in line behind him.
“Dude, I got another date with Amy tonight. The way that girl just kissed me, I may be getting some action tonight.”
“Man, I can’t get anywhere with Krissy. I want all the dirty details tomorrow morning.”
We talked about nonsense things while waiting in line for food. This was the most normal I had felt all day. I stacked fries, a burger, broccoli, carrots, an apple, a bag of chips, and two chocolate chip cookies onto my tray and grabbed a mountain dew out of the cooler before heading off.
“What is this, your last meal man?”
“I have been so out of it, sleeping in class, nightmares. I am just starving.”
“Dude, my stomach is hurting just looking at your tray.”
Joking around with Jasper had always been a great way to cope with my problems. We became friends in first grade when I knocked out Archie Bednar when he was beating up on Jasper. We had been inseparable ever since. Our conversation went from comics and Power Rangers to girls and cars, but our friendship remained the same.
The rest of the day dragged on. I dozed no fewer than once per class, including during shop. Saws plus dozing equals disaster, in case anyone was wondering. I was going to have to start over on my big shop project, a bench I planned to give to ma for her garden, but at least I didn’t need stitches.
When the final bell rang, I grabbed my homework from my locker and headed out to John’s car. It had been a long day and I was ready to go home, get my homework done, and go on that date with Amy at 7. Johnny was taking his precious time, probably talking to his girlfriend Jeanne about their date night in a couple days.
While waiting, I leaned up against the side of the car and closed my eyes. The nightmare was still haunting me. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the lifeless eyes of a woman. They were a beautiful dark blue with flecks of gold, but in death they had clouded over. Still, she stared at me as if she were asking why. I couldn’t help closing my eyes to see them though. All I wanted was to remember what happened in that nightmare. I knew it was important, but I just can’t remem-
“Ow! What the hell Johnny!” I snap as I rub the back of my head where my older brother just smacked me.
“Wakey wakey little bro, it’s time to go!”
John cracked a big grin and jumped into the car. I followed, and delivered my brother a punch to the arm. We drove home in silence, listening to Santana on the radio. When we got home, we noticed Uncle Tony’s car parked out front. Uncle Tony lives three hours away and no one told us nthat he was coming for a visit.
John parked the car in the driveway behind their mom’s minivan, which shouldn’t be there yet, and went into the house. The scene I walked into made me forget all about my nightmare.
Mom was sitting on the couch, eyes red and puffy, cheeks wet with her tears. Aunt Jane was sitting next to her, speaking quietly. Uncle Tony was on the phone, speaking urgently to the person on the other end. My sisters weren’t home from school yet.
“Mom, what’s going on? What happened?”
Lara looked up at the boys, just realizing they had come home, and tears started a free fall down her cheeks again. Aunt Jane pulled her into a hug and held her as she started to sob uncontrollably.
What is going on? Why is mom crying like this?
“Boys, something terrible has happened. Please sit down,” Uncle Tony said, coming into the living room after ending his phone call.
Neither of us moved towards the couch, instead just stood there staring at the scene in front of us. Uncle Tony looked uncomfortable, but proceeded with the news.
“Boys, your father was in a car accident on the I-5 on his way to Portland this morning. Someone was driving the wrong way and he didn’t get out of the way in time. Boys,” he cleared his throat, trying to force the last part out, “your father didn’t make it.”
I slowly walked over to the armchair near the fireplace and collapsed into it, nightmare completely forgotten.
Dad is gone. How is dad gone?
I just sat there while mom broke down harder and John ran to his room. I just sat there, staring at the empty fireplace. Deep down, I knew this moment was going to change my life forever.
“Um, I have some homework to get done and a date with Amy tonight. I’ll talk to you all later.” I got up and started to walk up the stairs to my bedroom, in a daze. When I got to my room, I dropped my backpack on the floor and fell face first into the bed. Almost instantly, I was out.
I can barely keep my eyes open. The drugs are hitting me a little too fast. I need to stay awake for a little while longer, just until we get home. I turn my head to the right and see her. My wife. She is napping after a long day exploring Vancouver with-
I look in the rearview mirror and there she is, my little bean, Sammy. She is fast asleep too.
I dazedly look back at the road. Shit! Why is that guy on the wrong side of the bridge? Holy shit! There’s another one! What is going on?
I’m swerving out of the way of all these cars going the wrong way on the bridge, seven, eight, nine of them, before I realize that I am the one going the wrong way.
My frantic swearing has woken up my wife and daughter now. Sammy is in the back crying. My wife is screaming at me to look out. I turn to look at her. She is terrified. Light illuminates her face and I look into her dark blue eyes with gold flecks. I see her comprehension. She sees that I am on drugs and she starts screaming louder to look out.
I look back at the road just in time to see the White Dodge Ram coming right for us. Tires scream as brake pedals are slammed to the floor. But it was no use. It was too late.
The impact came. I hit the truck head on and you could hear the metal of the car twisting as it wrapped around the pickup truck. The screaming and crying stopped instantly. All I could hear was twisting metal.
And then it got quiet. Finally. All I wanted to do was close my eyes, but an intense pain in my head kept distracting me from my high. I opened my eyes to a horrific sight. There was red everywhere. Shattered glass littered the car. There was solid white right in front of me, but my door wasn’t blocked. I opened the door and stepped out.
There was a man on the ground about 25 feet away. He was bleeding everywhere and his eyes were closed. I walked around the wreckage, but my wife and daughter were nowhere to be found. I got back in my beat up old Camry and turned to look where my wife had been moments earlier.
There was so much red. So much red. Where my wife had been, was the broken frame of the car and part of the pickup truck. Mangled inside that was something else. I looked back to where Sammy was crying just a second ago, right behind my wife. I saw more red, more broken cars, and something I could barely make out.
Reality started to sink in. All that red, was the blood of the people I loved most in the world. The mangled bodies of my wife and little girl were twisted with the metal of the car. I killed my family.
I jumped out of the car and ran to the other side to try to pry them out. I needed to save them, but it was no use. Only the jaws of life could pry those vehicles apart from each other.
I fell to my knees and screamed, tears overflowing and running down my cheeks, hitting the pavement with a little plop, plop, plop. It was all my fault. I did this to them. I didn’t deserve them, but she gave me chance after chance and I blew it. I killed them.
As I knelt on the I-5 bridge, an old man approached with something in his hand.
“If you could go back in time to right your wrongs, would you take the chance?”
I looked up into the old man’s face, into his clear blue eyes, so much like my own, but full of wisdom, age, and pain.
I startled awake. It was dark outside; there was a full moon outside my window. The alarm clock read 8:53 p.m. I had missed my date with Amy.
Why did I sleep so long?
I climbed out of bed and went downstairs. Everything was dark and quiet, except for the light on over the oven. I could hear sniffling coming from the kitchen table and I didn’t know what to do.
Walking slowly into the kitchen, I found my mother at the table, already surrounded by casserole dishes from people who had heard the news. She looked up when I entered, face dry after crying all day.
“Hey baby. How are you feeling?”
“Hey ma. I’m…” I stopped. How was my mom concerned with how I was feeling when her husband of 21 years just died. She now had to raise four kids on her own. She wouldn’t be able to afford to send any of them to college and I knew that was her dream for us. She would have to work hard in order to keep the house and food on the table. And she was worried about my feelings?
Thinking about everything mom was going through and would have to go through in the years to come, on her own, finally brought tears to my eyes. I fell to my knees on the floor of the kitchen and began to sob hysterically.
Lara Russo dropped to her knees next to her youngest son and wrapped me up in her embrace. I turned my face into her shoulder and cried until the tears began to slow. Hiccups racked my body for a couple minutes before I was able to speak again.
“Mom, how did this happen?”
“Your dad was driving to Portland early. He left home while it was still dark so he could get to his meeting on time. A man was drunk and driving on the wrong side of the I-5 bridge. It seems that he was not able to get out of the way in time and the driver hit him head on. The officers told me that he,” she choked up again. “He died instantly.”
“What about the other guy?”
“He is in the hospital with severe injuries, but he is going to make it. They have him under guard so they can take him to jail when he is discharged.”
“Why did this have to happen to us?”
Mom closed her eyes and a single tear ran down her stained cheeks. “I’ve always been told that God never gives us more than we can handle. I now believe that to be complete bullshit. It was a senseless accident that could have been prevented. Baby boy, I cannot give you an answer. Bad things seem to happen to good people all too often. What I can tell you is that we are going to work through this. We are going to remain strong for each other and we are going to figure it out, just as we have always done.”
“I’m sorry mom. I’m really sorry.”
“Sweet boy, you have nothing to apologize for. Now, let’s dry these tears and see which of these casseroles we want to start eating first. I know I am hungry enough to eat my weight in carbs.”
I looked at my mom and thought that she couldn’t get any stronger than she was in this moment. Over the next week, I was going to think this same thing many times.