* * * *
Now, two weeks later, everything about the accident was so clear, so real. I remembered the gasoline smell, the smoky haze as I passed out, and the sound of sirens blazing in the distance as I regained conciousness a few minutes later. There was a sharp, searing pain in my arm, my leg, and my back that kept me from moving. I tried to scream, but couldn't. Then my eyes darted towards the back seat...and I caught a glimpse of long golden hair, stained with blood.
"Arista!" I had managed to cry, but she didn't answer. I continued to cry for her as the ambulances came, as we were rushed to the hospital, as we were wheeled in seperate directions--but she never opened her eyes, never even moved.
I was treated for a broken arm, two cracked ribs, and a long but not life-threatning gash along my chest. In a week I was aloud to get up, and the nurse took me to see Arista. She had, I was told, shattered both legs, and her skull had actually been split. Now she was in a coma in intensive care, and no one was sure when, if ever, she would wake up. But if by some miracle she came out of this alive, she was almost sure to have suffered some brain damage, and would never be able to walk again on her own.
The news was like a red-hot razor ripping through my body. Those beauiful dance shoes that her grandmother had given her, and that she had so loved, would never again be worn. For the next week I sat by her hospital bed, fighting a battle inside myself and with God. This was all my fault. And there was nothing I could do now to change it.
Sarah, too, did not hesitate to blame me for everything. Because of her job, she couldn't spend all her time sitting by Arista's bed, but when she did come, late at night and early in the morning, she wouldn't speak to me, or even look at me. Eventually I left her alone with the remains of our beloved daughter, now a sleeping beauty, to go sit in the waiting room outside.
One afternoon I sat by her bed as usual, praying and begging her to wake up, when a movement caught the corner of my eye. Her eyelids fluttered gently, and then were still. The sight of it was enough to make me go crazing with hope, and I knelt down right there and prayed, promising God that if he let her live I would never touch another drop of alcohol again. For a moment there was nothing, but then her eyes suddenly flew open...and they were the same crystal-clear blue as they had always been.
"ARISTA!" I screamed, and hugged her to me, carefully but firmly. She looked for a moment almost as if she didn't recognize me, but then she carefully touched my hair with her little hand and whispered, "I love you, Daddy."
She shouldn't love me, after all I had done to her. Even when the nurses and doctors came flying in and shoved me outside to the waiting room to do some tests, I sat, huddled in the chair, sobbing into my hands. Arista didn't know; she didn't realize that I, her beloved, trusted father, had done this to her.
Then I ran to the bathroom and threw up just as Sarah, who had gotten a call at work, walked in. Silently she sat me down again and put her arms around me, and that was how we waited, for hours, for the doctors to tell us of Arista's condition.