You think you know exactly what to do when you’re in that moment. Then that moment comes, more abruptly than you could ever imagine, and all former expectations evaporate as your life flickers before your eyes.

You are quivering – paralyzed by terror, regret, guilt, and memories. You catch your friend’s glance as the atmosphere rotates behind you, and then vanishes.  You want to speak, but your mouth is enfeebled. The fear in your friend’s eyes echoes yours and time stands still for the briefest of moments. It is 9:00 a.m. on a colorless winter day in January.

Muscles you did not even know existed stiffen as that undesirable target narrows in through tunnel vision.  The image vanishes as a white effervescence emerges and showers you with knifelike particles and a mysterious powder that burns your skin.

The piercing sound of your friend’s scream sends shivers down your spine and you scramble out of the vehicle just as sudden and unexpectedly as the accident had occurred. Your chest tightens and your breathing becomes stifled. You dial your parents and there is no answer. One friend is lying on the ground on the jacket that you took off to comfort her as you shiver. There is blood. Your other friend flees the scene immediately to notify your parents who are less than a mile away. Isn’t it funny how that happens? So close to your destination, yet galaxies away.

Before you know it, you are being placed in a wheelchair in the emergency room. Across the room you see your two friends through cloudy, teary eyes and feel a gut-wrenching sense of guilt overcome your entire body. Your world becomes a haunting, phantasmagoric nightmare. As the doctors help you into the bed, you weep violently. Your mind is a film reel, with the scene of the disaster replaying incessantly on the backs of your eyelids. It is 11:00 a.m. in Calvert Memorial Hospital.

Policemen bombard your hospital room. While struggling through the pain, they force you to walk one foot in front of the other in your thin, scanty hospital gown and follow a flashlight with your dripping eyes. They draw blood from your trembling arm as you drift into that obscure place between consciousness and slumber. As your eyes open, the nurse presents you with pain medication, ice for your wounds and an additional blanket for warmth. You use it to shelter yourself from the catastrophe.

You are released from the hospital room with a stack full of papers, your arm in a sling, a swollen eye and mouth, and countless airbag burns. You stumble a few steps out of your hospital room, still protected from the world under your delicate, white blanket. Unfortunately, that blanket does not veil your eyes from the images to follow. Your friend’s mother is positioned outside of a room a few doors away from yours and you shuffle timidly across to her. She perceives the sorrow and guilt in your body language and makes an attempt to reassure you. You tell her that you want to see your friend; she sighs and warns you that it is an unpleasant sight. “It appears much worse than it is. Don’t panic,” she assures.  You nod.

The door is cautiously nudged open, and you begin to wail. You are told she is on copious pain medications and she is not quite conscious of the atmosphere or her condition. You faintly recognize her, due to the excessive blood and bruising of her frightened face.  You whimper and gasp for air while repeatedly muttering, “I’m sorry,” to the fragile body lying in front of you.

The nurses escort you out of her room where your other friend appears. You both observe one another’s bruises, bandages, and bloodshot eyes and reach out for an enduring embrace. You walk together to the waiting room where there are familiar faces appearing morose upon your emergence. They anticipate details of the occurrence, but you are only capable of sobbing. They console you as you await the condition of your wounded friend. The nurses send you home to rest and insist they will send frequent updates. It is 4:00 p.m. and you are forced back into an automobile.

You pull into your driveway and see the mangled remnants of your red Toyota. It has been dislodged and towed away from the tree that dissevered it into pieces. You roll your head away from the catastrophic sight but your eyes cannot seem to veer from the path. You finally step inside your home where you are greeted by your affectionate sister who heard the news and hurried over. Your mother is immobile from recent surgery and bawls at the sight of you. You embrace each other for what feels like eternity. Your dizzied and exhausted body collapses on the couch and your mind leaks grief out by the pounds.

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