I have to focus on my breathing, that's the only way that I know I'm still alive.
In, out, in, out.
Though my lugs are getting oxygen, it feels like the movement in my chest is almost mechanical. I fleetingly think of when I would watch lifeguards train each other at the public pool by my house when I was a kid. Their mouths would interlock on the dummies that they practised on, and others would count as the dummy's chest rose up and down with the lifeguard's exertions.
The mechanical feeling is gone. Now, my brain instructs me, now you breathe. The strain on my lungs is heavy at first, like a toddler weak in the knees and about to take its first few steps. I know I can make them work, I've been doing it all my life and have never thought about it before, so why is it so hard now?
"She's breathing...own...the night," a voice comes in and out from somewhere beyond my line of sight. I strain against the darkness that encompasses my surroundings; my new world, but nothing happens.
My lungs are stronger now that they know that they'll have to settle for the real thing. Nothing artificial will be aiding them any more. The fresh oxygen rattles my throat, but gives me a sensation of being free from the grasp of something frightening; something that if it were to grip me it would never let me go.
When my eyes finally open, I almost mistake the darkness of the hospital room for the darkness that has invaded my space for so long. I swallow, trying to not move my neck and only my eyes to observe my surroundings. Out of the corner of my eye on the right, I can see several monitors with weird lines on them. A constant beep signals that my heart is working properly. Out of the corner of my other eye, to the left, I can see a drip half-full with liquid. Looking down as far as I can without moving my neck, I can see what looks like dozens of wires connected to my arms, hands, and chest.
A deep breath escapes me and ends in a moan of pain and a shudder. My body is momentarily out of my control as I wait for the shuddering to stop. When it does I can finally start to think properly. Why am I here, and how did I get here? My eyes close instantly, trying to picture what happened to get me here, but all I see is darkness. I open my eyes and feel a tickling sensation behind them as a tear wells up at each corner. The world becomes blurry in an instant. My hands clench together, tightening the wires and the white blankets in their grasps. Though my strength is limited I pound down on the bed at my sides.
I don't need to remember the sight of my sister in the emergency room beside me to know what has happened, I can feel the memory coursing through my veins like a type of heroin made to destroy one's heart along with their soul. The image of her smiling in the front seat before the accident shocks me like lightning, an intense momentary shot of pain and light that takes you by surprise. Except this type of lightning does not have any thunder to count away, just to see how far away the storm is getting. No. This lightning will forever be striking me, not caring if I've had enough or if there is no need for it to be present in such an obviously tumultuous storm of regret, disaster, and never accomplished dreams. This lightning strikes in the same place and it will never stop.
They let me out of the hospital two days early so I can go to Anna's funeral. I have a concussion and a pierced lung, though they fixed that with surgery. I've been in a sort of coma for about a week. Jorge called several times after I woke up, but no one passed me the phone.
My sister's body, being in full contact with the front of the taxi when it hit that other car, was all mangled. It was a miracle she even made it to the hospital. The taxi driver died too, but he wasn't as strong as Anna because he was pronounced dead at the scene. My parents tell me all this shortly after they found me in my room covered in tears, slobber, and mucus. They said I had terrified them. I refuse to look in a mirror yet, for fear that I'll see some sign of my sister in me.
It's hot out and the back of my black dress clings to my neck. My black hair is pinned up into a messy bun with loose strands adjusting themselves against the sides of my face and neck with sweat. The soil is wet from last night's rain and every one is well dressed. My dad is holding me around my waist, knowing that I can't put all my strength out into the world just yet. The sky is a bright blue that reminds me of the coastal waters that Anna and I once got lost in while searching through magazines. Maybe if I hold my hand out, then she will be here. She will tell me that Brazil was amazing; that she met a cute boy there that she can finally bring home to mom and dad. But the air beside me is just as stifling hot as the air around me. There is no one there.
Lacy and Brandon come to my apartment after the funeral. They got out of the accident even better than myself with just a broken leg or arm. The door is unlocked so they enter of their own accord, knowing that the world outside of myself barely exists to me. I am packing my suitcases. My parents will be picking me up soon since they want me home until everything is back to normal. Of course, if we even have the same idea of what is normal any more.
No words are said as Brandon hugs me from behind. Lacy's throat gives a loud hiccup before she starts sobbing freely behind us. I let Brandon tighten his grip around me, while I stare at the green shirt in my hand. I watch it intently as my hands begin to tremble. A few drops appear on the clean surface of the shirt, so I look up, blinking away the tears that are now in free-fall from my eyes. I gasp loudly as the pain shoots through my numb exterior, making me shudder like once before.
"Shh," Brandon whispers, his voice almost lost in the mourning storm around us.
We all stand there, for what feels like hours, trying to understand how this happened.
Then my parents call up from downstairs and I dislodge myself from Brandon, Lacy, and everything that was once Anna's and mine.