First there was nothing: no seeing, or hearing, or feeling. A complete and awful nothing.
Then comes the seeing. It's always the first to come, probably because without it, I would be dead instantly. Somehow, blindness is the most crippling condition I can imagine; without sight, I wouldn't have any way to get that nothingness, that total void of anything, to be something again.
Then the feeling comes. There are so many things to feel in the few seconds when I'm flying, but fear, and excitement seem to devour all else until they, and what I see, are the only things that matter.
I don't really know why, but the hearing always catches up with me later, right at the end. When I touch back down, all my other senses are momentarily paralyzed; after being useless to me for so long, the few moments I allow them to exist are a stretch, and they tend to recede back into nothingness rather quickly. But by then I can hear. The loud roar of engines, the gasps of on-lookers and my beating heart. This can't last long either, though; my brain tires easily of recognizing sounds. In moments I become nothing once again.
It hadn't always been like this. Life, that is. Once upon a time, I had an nice, perfect life: normal parents whom I could always count on, a protective older brother who sometimes found the time to play with me, an obedient-yet-friendly family dog named Roger, a clean, if slightly large home, toys, games, books, friends…and, of course, Claudia. My life was just the way I wanted it. My plans for my future consisted of growing up. Life was simple.
And then there was the accident. Mom had been driving, so she blamed herself, but I knew it wasn't her fault. Dad had complained of a headache, so he had fallen asleep; he blamed himself, but I knew it wasn't his fault. Martin, my older brother, hadn't been around, so how could anyone blame him? Somehow, he managed to find a way. But I didn't blame Martin. And Claudia had just been so small…
I reached forward, barely able to reach her back, even in the enclosed distance of the SUV my mother had rented while our car was getting repaired. I liked the new car; it was bigger than anything I'd ever rode in before, and shiny, so very shiny. Everything was black and leather and in perfect shape.
"Don't touch that, Elizabeth", I remember my mother telling me as she glanced into the review mirror. "Remember, this isn't our car, Hon; we have to give it back nice and new, just how we got it".
She couldn't, of course, tell what it was I had been reaching for; she was busier concentrating on the road. The primly folded map sat in the back-chair pocket mockingly as I pouted. I couldn't read where it was for, but that added even more mystery to the folded piece of paper. Where did the lines go, and what did they mean? I hadn't a clue.
Still pouting, I looked around the interior of the car, trying to find something else to amuse myself with.
Being only five, there really wasn't much I could reach, let alone entertain myself with.
Suddenly I remembered Claudia.
At three, she was a tiny child. She was also somewhat of an oddity. Whoever had heard of a three-year-old who could sit quietly during car rides? And not throw temper tantrums?
Claudia had always been special, really; even as a baby she'd been much calmer than me. She was sweet tempered and just as sweet looking; her hair was blond, her eyes big and blue, and her face round. She was such a beautiful child, I knew; everyone had always said so.
For this very reason, I'd never been able to do anything against her, never be mean to her. I'd loved her.
Of course, she was sleeping. There didn't seem to be anything that would've interested her either, so she's gone to sleep.
I knew I should probably mimic her, but for some reason, I couldn't pass up the chance to be in a strange new car, and actually have a look around. I felt there was much still to explore, even if there was really no way of me seeing any other inch of black leather confined as I was in my seat belt.
I remember deciding that it couldn't hurt to take it off, just for one second. Could it? The piece material that Daddy said would keep me safe "no matter what" was just…so small. How could it really be so special?
I didn't realize it then, but I did now: the smallest thing could be by far the most special, the most important. I was too small then to know this, of course. To a child, being small is a disability, almost always bad. I know now, though, how wrong that really is…
Daddy wouldn't notice if I took it off; he was asleep. Mommy was concentrating on driving so I didn't think she'd notice either. And it would only be for just a second…
I hadn't noticed that Claudia, my darling baby sister had woken up, and was watching me intently, eyes big and innocent. If I had, I might've reconsidered my next move.
I reached down, and, very carefully, I unbuckled my seatbelt, my restraint. I held my breath, waiting for someone to notice what I had done. Neither Mommy or Daddy started screaming, or even looked at me.
I smiled widely as I stretched, feeling my total freedom of movement in the confined space of the snazzy new car. It felt so good to move, to not have my muscles all squished and cramped up in a little ball.
And then I noticed Claudia…
I was so pleased with my newfound freedom that I had to share it with someone. I looked around once more, this time noticing how Claudia was awake.
Earlier, when my seatbelt was still on, I wouldn't have dared take it off had I known Claudia was watching. I wasn't always as angelic as my innocent sister, but I wasn't a bad or mean child. And I always felt the overwhelming need to protect Claudia from anything and everything. I wouldn't risk her seeing me do something so bad, so daring.
But after the deed was done, how could I deny myself freedom? How could I deny the person I loved the most this amazing feeling?
"Shhh", I mouthed, placing a finger in front of my mouth. "You want to be free too, right, Claude?"
She smiled widely at me and nodded, her face trusting and happy to be included in this adventure.
So, quietly I reached across the seat between us and unbuckled her seatbelt. Unfortunately for us, it made a loud "click" noise as it popped open.
I remember holding my breath and then cringing slightly as my mother turned her head to look at us, confusion on her face. When she saw me, sitting at the edge of my seat with my hands around Claudia's buckle, her face contorted with worry.
"Elizabeth! But your seatbelt back on! Your sister's too!"
Hearing the urgency in my mother's voice, I had hurried to complete the first part of her instruction. She was still looking back at me expectantly when I saw something through the windshield of the car.
The truck seemed to move in slow motion.
"Mommy!", I screamed, "LOOK OUT!"
She spun around to face the front when suddenly there was an almost deafening noise, and we were all flung forward.
It didn't take too long for the ambulance, police and fire truck to get there. When they did, we were all rushed to the hospital. I'd been glad to leave, feeling more than a little sad that we'd never made it to the zoo, and that the shiny new black car that didn't really belong to us was all ruined.
And then I'd woken up in prickly clothes, in a strange bed, in a strange room. My arm was bandaged and my head hurt. Mommy was sitting in a chair, her head resting near my elbow on the bed.
When I'd woken up, she'd started to stir, almost as thought she could tell I wasn't asleep. When she looked at me her eyes were tired, red and puffy. There were a lot more wrinkles around her eyes than I ever remembered there being and there was a cut on the side of her face that she'd tried to cover with her hair.
"Mommy-", I'd begun, wanting to ask so much.
"Shhh, baby", she'd cut me off gently, "everything's going to be alright"
I hadn't believed her, though; she just looked so sad.
"But Mommy, where's Daddy?" I'd asked her anyways.
"Oh, he's getting some food with Martin. Mr. and Mrs. Davis were kind enough to drive him here after he was done playing with Jeremy."
"But what about Claude?", I asked, worried, "Did you leave her alone?"
That would be the first, but not nearly the last, time I'd see my mother cry. It was devastating and very scary.
"Mommy?", I'd asked, my voice small, "What's wrong?"
"Oh baby" she answered between sobs, "I tried to get her to stay with us…I really did…but she's gone, baby, she's gone to be with the angels now" She smiled at me, but it was watery and fake and now I knew why. Now I wished I didn't.
"It's alright, baby, please don't cry", she soothed me, even as tears continued to stream down her face, "Remember how we always said she was an angel fell from Heaven? Well now she's gone back to be with Him, baby. Now she's gonna be happy forever".
Forever. It didn't seem like a happy word. It sounded long and dull and…endless. I couldn't help but wonder how my baby sister would get along for so long without me. And then, even as tears started to stream down my face and my mother hugged me close, I remembered that it was because of me she'd have to.
No, I'd realized almost immediately, it was all me. If anyone's at fault here, it's me. My little sister is dead, and it's because of me.