Dear World: The Night Glass Shattered On A Dirt Road

Dear World: The Night Glass Shattered On A Dirt Road

The ability to see our lives as stories and share those stories with others is at the core of what it means to be human.
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Anisa Bills


Recently, I was fortunate enough to take part in an international narrative movement. "Dear World" is a traveling photography project that uses words written on individuals' skin to facilitate the storytelling of millions. They are currently embarking on a college tour across the planet, and my college, Florida Gulf Coast University, was lucky to be one of the many institutions to experience it.

As a writer, I enjoy and am accustomed to, storytelling. But my storytelling is usually through a means of pen-to-paper methods. When I first heard about this event, I was incredibly intrigued by its concept. I really wanted to take part in this movement, but I had no idea what story to tell. I didn't think I had anything important to say, not in just a few words at least. The program leader who supervised and facilitated the event at our school, Casandra, was wonderful. She helped me dig deep to find a moment, a memory, that impacted my life a great deal. When I was finished speaking to her I had seven words scrawled on my arms with black Sharpie: "The sky was crying that night, too."

To explain what these words mean to me, I'm going to go back in time to ten years ago. Dear World, this is one of my many stories...


It's late, at least 10 o' clock at night.

While elbow-deep rolling dumplings in a basin, my mom gets the phone call. Wisps of her coily, raven hair pulled back into a tight ponytail at the base of her neck, her hands heavy with the sticky concoction of water and flour. She fumbles to wipe them clean with a washcloth and then nonchalantly fishes the blaring device from her apron pocket. I sit on a bar-stool nearby swinging my legs underneath me, waiting for dinner while I skim the pages of the third book in the "Maximum Ride" series.

In the background, my sister and brother argue about what channel to change the television to. My sister wants to watch Disney. My brother prefers Cartoon Network. I have just turned the page to chapter six when my mother’s shrill and confused voice grabs my attention.

I look up from my book.

Concern lines her face, the cell phone pressed desperately to her ear. She speaks quickly and I can barely catch her words. Her lips spit out impatient questions.

I am more interested now and place my novel down on the counter, my finger still wedged between the pages keeping my spot.

Before she hangs up, she’s already moving. She tears off the dirty apron and abandons the dumplings entirely, shoving her feet into slippers. She's frantically calling our names. Telling us to put on our coats and shoes. My siblings push themselves off the couch and approach slowly and hesitantly.

"What's wrong?” My voice seems small and unimportant in the face of the urgent situation.

"Your father was in a car accident,” she huffs breathlessly, snagging her keys off the foyer table.

And we run. Time stands still and speeds up at the same time. My feet move quickly but not quickly enough. I gulp, and my senses jump to life, almost accelerated, intensified.

A digital picture has been taken of the world around me. Suddenly everything is put into focus. The once fast-paced ever-changing environment slows to a stop in a millisecond. The sink faucet left on dripping in a rhythmical pattern, my Maximum Ride book falling from my hands. Things I would never have noticed before transfix in razor-sharp detail. Eating mattered so much a moment ago, choosing the right TV show did too. The irrelevant tidbits of everyday hover, awaiting something. Maybe a filter to make the ugly image of the truth easier to look at. Or maybe for the image to be erased entirely in denial. Or maybe just edit out the bad news completely.

A sort of adrenaline floods my veins and tingles my nerve endings for the unexpected and almost thrilling event. The walls run by in a slow-motion blur as we all fly to the garage and pack into the silver Honda. My mom drops the keys twice before getting them into the ignition.

The whole drive I am shaking. Even though the heat blasts, a cold still seeps up my spine. We cut across lanes and speed at least ten miles over the limit. I grip my seat belt, praying we don’t get into an accident before we can reach my dad's.

Up ahead I make out lights. Red lights, yellow lights, orange lights, blue lights shrieking wildly into the dark, desolate night. Flashes of the neon hues spin intensely as we get closer and closer, becoming brighter and brighter and making my head hurt.

The Honda skids to a stop beside the chaotic scene on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. My mom jumps out of the car and dashes into the chaos.

I tentatively climb out of the backseat next and my siblings follow. The colorful sirens of the emergency vehicles and the moon illuminate the pitch black dirt road and murky waters of the canal.

My jaw drops at what I take in next and I almost fall to my knees. My dad’s black BMW. I hardly recognize it. Lying on its side, only three feet from the canal, the windshield and windows have been smashed in and the whole thing almost completely crumbled inside.

I want to run away. I don’t want to be here. I want to go back to just a few moments before when our only problems consisted of figuring out which TV show to watch and how my book ends. Judging by my siblings’ faces I can tell they would agree.

I crane my neck around all the adults milling around to find my dad. Some men approach his car with a large noisy machine that resembles pliers and rumbles like a chainsaw eating away at the car doors. The roaring metal beast terrifies me and I don’t understand its purpose until they pull out a man with a large frame and long legs from inside the dilapidated vehicle.

“Daddy!” Someone screams. “Daddy!”

My sister tugs on my wrist and I realize the voice belongs to me. My eyes sting. I run the back of my sleeve over my cheeks and it comes back wet. Tears had escaped my eyes and were streaming down my face. My lip quivers out of control. My little brother, only six, confused and naïve and unaware of the severity of the situation stares wide-eyed at me. He must finally understand because he begins to sob. My sister, older than I and struggling to comfort us, chews on her lip to avoid crying. She turns twelve tomorrow. Happy Birthday.

We all huddle together and mumble soothing words to one another.

Not far away, two teenage boys who look to be in high school stand with their shoulders slumped over and hands stuffed into their pockets. They converse with police while the officers jot down information on legal pads and gesture towards another wrecked car near my dad’s. The boys have foggy reddish eyes and slow speech. One of them wears a green t-shirt with a skull design. The other has a pierced ear and scruffy brown hair that he constantly runs his fingers through nervously.

They don’t have a scratch on them.

I’m knocked out of my train of thought when I notice my dad stretched out across a gurney, his body limp. A shredded button-down shirt halfway untucked from his creased slacks hangs onto his torso for dear life. One of his feet lacks a shoe and I have a sudden desperate urge to find it for him. His arm bends kind of funny and a gash on his right cheekbone gushes blood.

His eyes remain open wide as if too shocked to look anywhere else but at the sky.

As the paramedics wheel him to the ambulance the police instruct him to promise us he's alright. He repeats the words stiffly, almost robotically, and I know he's lying. He can’t even turn his head to us. A neck brace stops him from doing so.

A few moments later we pile back into my mom’s car to follow him to the hospital.

My mom begins to talk. Despite her throat being clogged with her own tears, she rambles on about any and all details of the accident. The teenaged boys had swerved into his lane and hit him head-on. My dad wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. His car almost slipped into the canal. He gained consciousness long enough to call the police, and then my mom.

I stare out the window and imagine my dad driving down the road when a set of headlights veers into his lane, temporarily blinding him. His airbag explodes into his face, his lip busts, and nose swells. I think about how the two boys escaped without a scratch on them. Words I am not allowed to say burn on my tongue. My blood boils and heart pounds in my chest.

A digital picture has been taken of the world around me. Suddenly, everything is put into focus. The once fast-paced ever-changing environment slows to a stop in a millisecond. But the Earth will still resume turning. After that millisecond of oblivion that the camera clicks, everything unfreezes, and life goes on. The car engines of the drivers beside us, peaceful and happy, unaware of the terrible scene that just unfolded. While the air inside our car, thick with gloom.

My brother still quietly weeps beside me. His tiny arms wrap around my stomach. A cold rain begins and fat gray droplets pelt the window, obscuring our view of the outside.

"Look," I whisper into his ear. "The sky is crying tonight too.”

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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Working With People Who Are Dying Teaches You So Much About How To Live

Spending time with hospice patients taught me about the art of dying.

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Death is a difficult subject.

It is addressed differently across cultures, lifestyles, and religions, and it can be difficult to find the right words to say when in the company of someone who is dying. I have spent a lot of time working with hospice patients, and I bore witness to the varying degrees of memory loss and cognitive decline that accompany aging and disease.

The patients I worked with had diverse stories and interests, and although we might have had some trouble understanding each other, we found ways to communicate that transcended any typical conversation.

I especially learned a lot from patients severely affected by dementia.

They spoke in riddles, but their emotions were clearly communicated through their facial expressions and general demeanor, which told a story all on their own.

We would connect through smiles and short phrases, yes or no questions, but more often than not, their minds were in another place. Some patients would repeat the details of the same event, over and over, with varying levels of detail each time.

Others would revert to a child-like state, wondering about their parents, about school, and about family and friends they hadn't seen in a long time.

I often wondered why their minds chose to wander to a certain event or time period and leave them stranded there before the end of their life. Was an emotionally salient event reinforcing itself in their memories?

Was their subconscious trying to reconnect with people from their past? All I could do was agree and follow their lead because the last thing I wanted to do was break their pleasant memory.

I felt honored to be able to spend time with them, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on their final moments, moments that might be better spent with family and loved ones. I didn't know them in their life, so I wondered how they benefited from my presence in their death.

However, after learning that several of the patients I visited didn't have anyone to come to see them, I began to cherish every moment spent, whether it was in laughter or in tears. Several of the patients never remembered me. Each week, I was a new person, and each week they had a different variation of the same story that they needed to tell me.

In a way, it might have made it easier to start fresh every week rather than to grow attached to a person they would soon leave.

Usually, the stories were light-hearted.

They were reliving a memory or experiencing life again as if it were the first time, but as the end draws nearer, a drastic shift in mood and demeanor is evident.

A patient who was once friendly and jolly can quickly become quiet, reflective, and despondent. I've seen patients break down and cry, not because of their current situation, but because they were mourning old ones. These times taught me a lot about how to be just what that person needs towards the end of their life.

I didn't need to understand why they were upset or what they wanted to say.

The somber tone and tired eyes let me know that what they had to say was important and worth hearing. What mattered most is that someone who cared was there to hear it.

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A Few Birthday Thoughts

Goodbye teenage years, hello twenties!

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So, it is looking like I am about to leave my teenage years behind. I think that I want to reflect back on this time in my life and think about what I want to keep with me in my twenties and maybe some things I can let go. My teenage years have been full of love from my family and friends; hard work to make good grades in school and creating art. I developed several great friendships that I have held on to across the miles even though I went to college 14 hours away from our previous home. I am so thankful for the friendships I have made in college as well.

It seems like friends you make in your childhood and younger years can really stand the test of time. Maybe it is because when you became friends you were truly who you were. Everyone was genuine and didn't put up walls to protect themselves. You got to know someone on a deeper more personal level more quickly than if you had met later in life. I also think we laughed even more as children and that always creates good memories to look back on. So I think in my twenties I will try to hang on to the "childish" way of making friends. I will try to show my true self and will accept them for who they are, and we will laugh....a lot.

I think a good thing to let go of is always trying to make dead-end relationships work. When we were children on the playground and we tried to play a game together or jump rope and it just wasn't working, we would run off and find someone else. It was easy. It was just natural. Now sometimes I find myself trying to stay in a relationship by being overly nice, giving gifts, trying to find what pushes the persons "good" buttons. I might spend so much time trying to figure this person out that I leave out more solid relationships that are worth my time. So in my twenties, I will try to be more realistic about who to spend my time on. Some people are just never going to stand the test of time. I can continue to be cordial but won't let them rule my time and thought life.

As children, we loved our parents and siblings and would show love to them in a myriad of ways. Maybe it was hugs, pictures on the fridge, good night kisses, playing games, or just quality time spent together as a family. Starting my twenties, I am mature enough to realize the value of these people in my life. Thankfully, I have always known this. I was never the type that was embarrassed if someone saw me walking with my Mom or Dad or being dropped off in the Mom Van somewhere. I always knew these people loved me more than anyone else I was about to meet. But in my twenties, I plan to keep up with my family even when I am eight hours away from them. We are never too old to need the love of family.

As weird as it is to say goodbye to my teenage years, it's honestly helped me to soak in the precious moments of everyday life and treasure them even more. Every year when birthdays come around, it always serves as a reminder how quickly the days, months, and years fly by. I think that has been one difficult part of this birthday season. It's hard to say goodbye to the past, without a clear map of the future. But, I must remind myself that this is why growing up is a beautiful thing- as we live life and experience new things, we are better prepared for what the future may hold. Everything that I have experienced in my 20 years has served an important purpose- to make me into the person I am supposed to become. Yes, life is always changing and so am I... and change can be hard. Very hard. But one thing to remember is God is always constant. He will never change. No matter what number is on your birthday cake, He is always there...the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the Rock that we will always be able to cling to. Isn't that a wonderful thought? Even if we don't know what's in His plans for us in the coming year, it's important to make Him a part of our plans. Rather than worry about change, let's embrace it all- the good and the bad- and look to the Lord to see how He will guide and shape us.

Teenage years- the time has come. I must say goodbye to you now. But, you will never be forgotten. I will hold your memories in my heart forever. Twenties- I am excited for all that awaits me.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9

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