The beeping was all I heard. That incessant, rhythmic, fucking beeping was all that existed. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know where it was coming from. Was it in my head? Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe I was being tortured with it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which would be worse. For that matter, I wasn’t sure that I would even notice the difference.
They say that all people go through hard times at some point in their life. Up until this point, I figured middle school had been it. The awkwardness, the shallowness, all the unnecessary shit just made for an awful experience. This certainly trumped that, though. I couldn’t feel my body. I was motionless; at least I think I was. I was staring into darkness. Or were my eyes shut? Maybe it was both. Maybe I was dreaming. Or perhaps my life up until that point had been a dream. Perhaps I was about to be born. I wouldn’t argue with that option.
God, that beeping! It haunted me. On one hand it was the only indicator of my mind still functioning, and on the other hand it could be an indicator of my mind shutting down completely. I prayed that time would tell, sooner rather than later.
Then there came the voices. They were lazy; slurred. I couldn’t tell what they were saying. I could only hear the pitch. I tried to sense the emotions from them. Hopefulness mixed with fear was what I gathered. I wanted to be comforted by it.
They didn’t seem bothered by the beeping. Did they hear it? Maybe it was in my head. Or maybe it was just normal to them. Who were they? Where was I?
Then I heard a word. It was fuzzy, but I recognized it. One of the voices said “car” in the midst of their unintelligible murmuring. Car. Why would they be talking about a car? Another word made its way into my supposedly conscious mind. I heard them say “red.”
Suddenly my mind was flooded with color. It was red. I saw bright red. The source seemed to be a light. It was swaying softly, back and forth. It appeared to be hanging in the air, suspended by some sort of wire. Car, red light, it was a traffic light! It was hanging above me, but moving over my head quite quickly. Or was it stationary? Maybe I was the one moving beneath it.
The voices began to become clearer.
“His car must have been going pretty fast to have done that much damage,” I heard. It came from in front of me. Was someone standing in front of me? Or maybe they were sitting.
Then, I saw it. The traffic light, anyway. It was red, but for some reason I just drove right through. My vision was a bit fuzzy; I could make out the light, and some yellowish lights beneath it, but not much else. My head spun like a top through it all. It felt like I was driving in circles.
Right about the time the light was directly above me, my car just stopped all of a sudden. I could still feel my foot on the gas pedal, but my car had stopped. My vision was blurred; I don’t think my eyes were open all the way. After that I just remember darkness. My hearing, however, remembers much more. It was a blood-curdling *bang* followed by the gut-wrenching noise of metal twisting and glass shattering. The high-pitched screech of tires sliding on the pavement blended in to create a jumble of terrifying sounds.
Then there came the screaming. It was coming from behind me. After the crunching and screeching had ceased, there was only silence in front of me. People around me were screaming, however. There was a soft crackling noise coming from around me; I couldn’t quite figure out where exactly. It felt hot, though. Fire? I’m guessing it was fire. Not that it mattered; the sound and heat became distant after a moment.
Soon sirens followed. Voices were all around me, but most notably above me.
“He’s got a pulse. Breathing is strained but present,” I heard, accompanied by the sound of doors opening, small wheels turning, and then doors closing. I was in an ambulance. The voices above me were paramedics, as I was lying in a stretcher.
There it was again. It was as if the beeping was trying to remind me of something, but couldn’t tell me what. Then I heard more voices, accompanied by a pressure on my arm.
“His blood pressure is a little high, but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about at this time,” I heard it say. It was a woman’s voice, and it sounded to be above me. A nurse, standing over me? I must have been lying in a hospital bed. There were other voices, though.
“I need some air, they crank the heat in this place,” one of them said. This time it was off to my left. It was a man’s voice that sounded like my brother, Kyle. I heard him grunt slightly, before there was a soft scraping noise. The noise was soon followed by a cool breeze. He must have been opening the window. The fresh air felt nice. The smell of the outdoors replaced the stale, sickly odor of the hospital. I had been breathing it for so long I had forgotten what fresh air felt like. They tried to sanitize hospitals all the time, to rid them of the disease. It never worked, though. You could always smell the disease, just covered by aerosol sprays.
“The service was nice,” I heard another voice say. It was a woman, my brother’s girlfriend, Lydia.
What service were they talking about? Was it a service, like, a funeral service? Shit, who died? Was it the accident? Was it me? Fuck, I didn’t kill anybody. It might have been a service for someone else. Lydia’s grandparents were very old, maybe one of them passed away.
“Hrmph,” Kyle managed to respond. He always was kind of a dick with emotional stuff like that. Their voices were back in front of me. They were lowered, definitely sitting. There must have been chairs at the foot of me bed.
“Kyle,” Lydia began to say.
“Don’t, just don’t,” Kyle said back, shortly.
It was like having the devil himself, sitting over my shoulder, taunting me.
The nurse came back in. “I’m just going to draw some blood to run some tests,” she said. I felt the prick of the needle enter my arm. It pinched, but wasn’t anything I hadn’t experienced before. As she drew blood I felt a chill, and was left with a slight metallic taste in my mouth. I have tasted it while donating blood before, but never knew why it happened.
“He seems stable otherwise. We will let you know if anything changes,” she said again. Her voice was soft. It reminded me of my mother’s. It was comforting.
She was a very strong woman. She did all she could do to stand up for herself. Unfortunately, he was bigger than her. When he wasn’t hitting her, he was yelling at her and degrading her. Kyle and I never blamed her for leaving. We understood why she did and wished we could have gone with her. He blamed us for her leaving however. As soon as she was gone, we took the place of the punching bags, me especially, though I never knew why. It was probably because I was the younger one.
We went to school with bruises, and had to tell people that we were just wrestling. I don’t think the teachers believed us, but they never did anything. It wasn’t their problem, so why would they?
We hated him. I used to hope and pray to come home from school and find that he had left, or died. A kid isn’t supposed to wish such things on their father. A kid isn’t supposed to think that way at all, but being treated like that does something to you. It fucks up your head; makes you think fucked up things.
“Could you hand me those alcohol wipes over there, please,” I heard the nurse say.
“Yup, here,” another voice said. It was a new voice, probably another nurse or student, coming from my right side. It was fairly close; there was probably a counter along the wall that my bed was against on that side. I could smell the alcohol wipes. It was a sharp smell, like a high-proof vodka; the kind of stuff that you love to hate, or hate to love for some people.
Alcohol is a funny thing. I’ve heard that it forces people to be their true selves. It removes your inhibitions. Sometimes I believe that to be true, but other times it terrifies me that I believe that. As for my father, he drank. He was always a useless drunk, but it got worse after our mother left. It became strange for him to be sober, and the booze just made him more violent. Luckily, it also made him clumsier. As Kyle and I got older and he got drunker, it became easier to escape the beatings.
As soon as I turned 18, I moved out. Kyle already had his own place, so I moved in with him. I had my own room, and spent most of my free time trying to forget my childhood. It didn’t take long to discover that alcohol helps with that. As much as I hated my father for drinking the way that he did, I found myself doing the exact same thing. I started drinking as soon as I got home from work, then started drinking before going to work in the morning. Eventually, I got fired over some bullshit, so I just started drinking all day. It was great, I was numb all of the time, and could barely remember anything.
There he was again. The devil never left.
“Well, we’re getting married,” Kyle said to me. His voice sounded somewhat different. It sounded older. It sounded tired.
That was quick. They only started dating like eight or nine months ago, right? Or had it been longer? Shit, how long had it been? How long had I been there? Hours? Days? Years? Honestly, I had no idea.
“I wish you could be there, buddy. I want you to be my best man,” he said.
I was honored, but saddened. I didn’t know how much time had lapsed, but I knew it was a lot. It must have been years. I could tell from listening to his voice. He sounded aged, and accepting. He sounded different than he did before. I’ve never been good with keeping track of time. One day, during my regular schedule of drinking and sleeping, Kyle sat me down. He was concerned for my health and wanted me to get help. He wanted me to see a shrink. To be honest, I don’t quite remember how I reacted. I doubt it was good. I do remember how I felt though. I felt like I was becoming him. I was a useless drunk; a chip off the old block. My memory gets more and more obscure after that time. I can certainly say that I did not seek the help that Kyle asked me to.
Hello old friend.
“It looks like it could be the flu,” a doctor said.
The flu? I really can’t catch a damn break, can I? I had the flu as a kid, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I got to stay home from school at least.
“His immune system is having some trouble, but we have some medications that should help.” The new doctor seemed pretty cool. He sounded some sort of European. French? Yeah, he sounded French. I wanted to ask him for some more blankets, it was cold as hell in there.
Suddenly I heard a new noise in the room. It was a baby. Not necessarily a strange noise to hear in a hospital, but in my room?
“This is Ben,” I heard Lydia say. “You’re officially an uncle.” Ben started crying shortly after, and I heard Lydia take him out of the room. A soft gust of wind brushed my face as the door shut behind her.
“Buddy, I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Kyle said. He was sitting right next to me now. “I don’t know if you’re ever gonna wake up. I don’t even know if you can hear me, but I need to say it. You can’t blame yourself.”
What was he saying? I can’t blame myself for what? I didn’t do anything, did I?
“He wasn’t a good guy.”
What the hell was he saying?
Fuck, not the beeping! Please, just let me listen to my brother!
I could hear Kyle choking up; starting to cry. He sniffled and I heard the sound of him wiping tears from his eyes. “He got what he had coming, the bastard!”
Was he talking about our father? What did he mean? What happened to him? We hadn’t spoken with him in a couple of years, not since I moved in with Kyle. Shit, wait, was that the service Lydia had been talking about? Was he dead?
No! Shut up! Just give me a second to think!
“I don’t know what brought you two together that night. I never used to believe in fate before that night. I still can’t drive through that intersection.”
What? We were together that night? I can’t remember a damn thing from that night. I remember the red traffic light. I remember the headlights shining in my face. I remember the crunching metal, the screams. That’s all I remember, right? No, I saw something else. Right before I blacked out.
It was him. He was in the other car. I saw his face, just before the accident. He looked scared. It was an expression I had never seen on him. All my life, I thought it would be satisfying to see him scared; to see him vulnerable. I thought it would be fulfilling to make him feel the way we had felt all our lives.