“C’mon loser! Shoot the puck!”
That’s my sister Zoey for you. The youngest of four kids and she still has the biggest damn mouth. Perhaps it’s the fact she grew up with triplets for brothers. We are the bane of our mother’s existence. At some point, Zoey had to grow out of being an annoying little squirt, and I like to believe that happened when she bought me a guitar for my birthday - she knows me so well.
It’s a gorgeous summer day; seventy-five degrees and the sun is bright, just the way I like it. My brothers and I woke Zoey up as we always do with our latest rock anthem, “Wake up Little (Bratty) Sister.” It’s just a great deal of noise to our mom but Zoey says we’ll be big someday. Afterwards, Zoey and I went swimming in the pool out back. Then we decided hockey was the best means to dry off; greatest idea we had all day.
I’m still in my bright blue swim trunks and Zoey is in her bikini top and board shorts, pink, of course. Her long brown hair falls in front of her face and I’ll be damned if she didn’t grow up while my back was turned. My black hair flops over my face again.
“If you don’t get that hair cut you’re going to look more beautiful than me. When do you want to borrow my lipstick and mascara?” Zoey looks at me with an innocent face.
“And what should I be doing to my hair, oh queen of everything dramatic and fashionable?” I bow to her and wait for her to answer before taking aim with my hockey stick.
“Mohawk!” she squeaks and giggles as the puck flies past her and slides into place in the net.
I throw my hands in the air and run around her. “And the crowd goes wild! Zaryk! Zaryk!”
“When you chant your own name I can’t look at you,” she giggles.
“You know I always win right?” I smile even wider, if that’s possible.
“Only because I let you.” She punches me in the arm and runs toward her goal.
I look at her in mock horror.
“Time to clean up our gear; winner gets to take a short intermission. I believe you just broke my arm with that hit!” I rub my arm and turn to head toward my net, intent on sitting there for a couple of seconds in all my glory. I bask in the warm sun, listening to the birds chirp, and the neighbors mowing their lawns. The smell of the freshly cut grass fills my nose and I close my eyes. I hear Zoey humming to herself as she takes down her net. Days like these are the best.
I start to disassemble my gear when I hear it - the screeching.
Spinning around to see what happened, my heart leaps into my throat. All I can see is my sister’s limp body rolling off the hood of the car and crashing to the pavement. The driver stops and jumps out. Rushing to Zoey, I kneel beside her battered and unresponsive little body. Oh, God, please no.
“Call 911 dammit!” I shout at the driver. She’s only fifteen. This can’t be happening. Not to her. I look upwards towards the sky. Take me instead, please! Don’t take my best friend. I fight the urge to pick her up and hold her.
The next thing I know, my mother is screaming from the house. My parents and my brothers, Zayne and Zayden, sprint towards us. The driver is standing there with a vacant look on his face; all the while I can hear the 911 operator talking loudly on the other end of his phone. Tears stream down the driver’s cheeks and that makes me want to beat him even more for what he’s done. How dare he feel sorry about this? My sister is on the ground unable to shed her own tears and he just keeps sobbing.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see her. I looked down for one goddamn second!” he stammers, while shoving his shaky hands through his dark hair. If he keeps saying this, I’m going to scream.
It takes what seems like a lifetime for the ambulance and police to arrive. I just sit next to her, holding her hand, crying, and hoping she’ll be okay. My mom is frantic and pacing. She’s called someone; I don’t know who. Out of the corner of my eye I see my dad approaching the driver. He’s yelling something at the stranger, but my ears don’t want to register what he’s saying. Zayne is keeping his distance, tears spilling from his eyes. Zayden is standing next to me, not moving, just staring. I look around. People have come out of their houses to observe what they can. I see our friend and neighbor, Kendall, walking in our direction. She sits beside me and wraps her arms around me, squeezing me tightly. When I look at her face, I see a tear fall from her eye. The three of us played street hockey together a lot during the summer months.
I feel helpless. My mind is a mess. Everything feels like it’s in slow motion as I see the EMT’s rushing out of the ambulance. Kendall has to pull me back so they can get to Zoey. I don’t want to leave my sister; my best friend. Please don’t leave me, Zo.
The paramedics hover over Zoey, doing their best to help, and I feel like I’ve been hurled into a black hole, my vision slowly phasing in and out; my reality fading. An officer leads me to the side and I watch the driver across the road talking to another officer.
“Son, I’m sorry, but we need to ask you some questions.” His voice is deep and thick.
“Ask quickly because as soon as that ambulance leaves I’m going with it.” I have to be near my sister. It’s killing me to watch them and not be able to do anything to help. Please wake up Zoey, please wake up.
He clears his throat, looks toward what’s going on, nods his head, and asks for my description of what happened. I narrow my eyes in his direction.
“I saw my kid sister roll off that fucker’s hood and bounce onto the pavement. That’s what I fucking saw. So put the asshole in cuffs and let me go over to my sister.” I jerk my thumb towards the driver who’s still sobbing. The officer writes down some quick notes, pats my shoulder and lets me past with a nod.
I rush over with my brothers following me like shadows.
“Please don’t die on me, Zo,” I plead with her. I seize her hand and try to tell her how I feel by just holding on to her. The paramedics finish hooking her up and I watch the heart monitor blip weakly. I feel her lightly squeeze my hand. My head fills with images of us stealing junk food out of the cupboards and me teaching her how to play her first song on Dad’s old acoustic guitar. Our street hockey games were the best ever and … I fall back down to earth when all hell busts loose; she flat-lines. The monitor’s tone is long and loud. There’s no movement or sound signaling that her heart is still beating. Mom starts wailing, and when I look back at her, Dad is holding her. She’s starting to scream and fight him. Zayden reaches out and pulls her against him. She calms and sobs into his chest. Dad is now standing there, pale. His face blank. Zayne is still keeping his distance, pacing, and shouting curse words. My world ends in an instant. My chest tightens and I can’t breathe. Tears burn my eyes. Kendall reaches around me, pulling me away from the ambulance. There are calls for the defibrillator before they close the doors and I swear my heart stops beating as they speed away. I fall to my knees and watch them go.
“C’mon, Z.” Zayden lifts me up and practically carries me to the SUV.
We all pile in and head towards the scariest place I’ve ever visited, the ER waiting room. As soon as we arrive we’re ushered into a small room, the ‘quiet room’ as it’s called, but with all the sobs and tears spilled here I doubt it’s all that tranquil. The doctor walks in and I look for a sign that all is okay, or that this is one big joke and everyone is in on it but me.
“We did everything we could for your daughter Mr. and Mrs. Hunter. I’m so sorry, but she didn’t make it.” My mother collapses into my father’s arms as sobs rack her body.
“Can we see her?” I ask softly. My lips tremble a little. I won’t believe this is happening until I see it. Zoey never lets me down. She’s my partner in crime; she wouldn’t leave me this way.
The doctor directs the way to a modest room filled with gleaming metal and electronics. It feels cold and sterile. My sister doesn’t belong here.
Zoey looks like a porcelain doll, perfect, but so fragile. One touch will ruin the illusion that she’s sleeping. If it wasn’t for her pale, cold skin I might still be able to convince myself she’s perfectly fine.
I pick up Zoey’s cold hand and squeeze it, wishing she would squeeze mine back. For the first time in my life, I need a stiff drink for more than just a good time.
Kneeling down beside her, I drop my head against our joined hands. “How could you leave me like this, Zo?” I can’t hold back the sobs anymore.
Zayne and Zayden huddle next to me, one on each side. I lift my head to look at each of them. Their eyes are red and swollen, the tips of their noses red, and their lips trembling as they look at Zoey. Our mother and father stand on the other side of the bed. They’ve appeared to have lost all their color.
Mom reaches down and scoops up Zoey’s other hand and just holds it as tears fall down her face. Dad wraps his arms around her from behind and buries his face in the crook of her shoulder and I can hear him crying.
I look back down at Zoey. My life is never going to be the same. Who am I going to get into trouble with? Who’s going to make sure I look perfect for a date? She never sugar-coated anything with me and she was the best street hockey player. How am I going to live without my best friend? I can’t. I just can’t.
“I can’t let you go, Zoey. Don’t leave me.” My tears fall freely as I say goodbye to the one person who ever understood me.