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.”