With Peyton working as a valet at a local hotel and taking his hospitality classes with Ames at Lakeview Tech, my dad doing more traveling, and my mom returning to her volunteer projects, I often had the house entirely to myself after school. I started to feel that sadness again, creeping up each afternoon as the sun went down. I tried to fill it with Big New York or Miami, watching back-to-back-to-back episodes until my eyes were bleary. Even so, I always felt a rush of relief when I heard the garage door opening, signaling someone’s return and the shift to dinner and nighttime, when I wouldn’t be by myself anymore.
Then, the day after Valentine’s Day, my brother left his job at the regular time, a little after ten p.m. Instead of coming home, however, he went to visit an old friend from Perkins Day. There, he drank several beers, took a few shots, and ignored the repeated calls from my mother until his voice mail was full. At two a.m., he left his friend’s apartment, got into his car, and headed home. At the same time, a fifteen-year-old boy named David Ibarra got onto his bike to ride the short distance back to his house from his cousin’s, where he’d fallen asleep on the couch while playing video games. He was taking a right from Dombey Street onto Pike Avenue when my brother hit him head-on.
I was awakened that day by the sound of my mother screaming. It was a primal, awful sound, one I had never heard before. For the first time I understood what it really meant to feel your blood run cold. I ran out of my room and down the stairs, then stopped just outside the kitchen, suddenly realizing I wasn’t sure I was ready for what was happening in there. But then my mom was wailing, and I made myself go in.
She was on her knees, her head bowed, my father crouching in front of her, his hands gripping her shoulders. The sound she was making was so awful, worse than an animal in pain. My first thought was that my brother was dead.
“Julie,” my dad was saying. “Breathe, honey. Breathe.”
My mom shook her head. Her face was white. Seeing my strong, capable mother this way was one of the scariest things I’d ever endured. I just wanted it to stop. So I made myself speak.
My father turned, seeing me. “Sydney, go upstairs. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I went. I didn’t know what else to do. Then I sat on my bed and waited. Right then, it felt like time did stop, in that five minutes or fifteen, or however long it was.
Finally, my father appeared in the doorway. The first thing I noticed was how wrinkled his shirt was, twisted in places, like someone had been grabbing at it. Later, I’d remember this more than anything else. That plaid print, all disjointed.
“There’s been an accident,” he said. His voice sounded raw. “Your brother hurt someone.”
Later, I’d think back to these words and realize how telling they really were. Your brother hurt someone. It was like a metaphor, with a literal meaning and so many others. David Ibarra was the victim here. But he was not the only one hurt.
Peyton was at the police station, where they’d taken him after a Breathalyzer test had confirmed his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. But the DUI was the least of his problems. As he was still on probation, there would be no leniency this time and no bail, at least at first. My father called Sawyer Ambrose, then changed his shirt and left to meet him at the station. My mom went to her room and shut the door. I went to school, because I didn’t know what else to do.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jenn asked me at my locker right after homeroom. “You seem weird.”
“I’m fine,” I told her, shoving a book in my bag. “Just tired.”
I didn’t know why I wasn’t telling her. It was like this was too big; I didn’t want to give it any air to breathe. Plus, people would know soon enough.
I started getting texts that evening, around dinnertime. First Jenn, then Meredith, then a few other friends. I turned my phone off, picturing the word spreading, like drops of food coloring slowly taking over a glass of water. My mother was still in her room, my dad gone, so I made myself some macaroni and cheese, which I ate at the kitchen counter, standing up. Then I went to my room, where I lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, until I heard the familiar sound of the garage door opening. This time, though, it didn’t make me feel better.
A few minutes later, I heard a knock on my door, and then my dad came in. He looked so tired, with bags under his eyes, like he’d aged ten years since I’d seen him last.
“I’m worried about Mom,” I blurted out before he could say anything. I hadn’t even been planning to say this; it was like someone else spoke in my voice.
“I know. She’ll be okay. Did you eat?”
He looked at me for a minute, then crossed the room, sitting down on the edge of my bed. My dad was not the touchy-feely type, never had been. He was a shoulder-clapper, a master of the quick, three-back-pat hug. It was my mom who was always pulling me into her lap, brushing a hand over my hair, squeezing me tight. But now, on this weirdest and scariest of days, my father wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back, holding on for dear life, and we stayed like that for what felt like a long time.
There was so much ahead of us, both awfully familiar and, even worse, brand-new. My brother would never be the same. I’d never have another day when I didn’t think of David Ibarra at least once. My mom would fight on, but she had lost something. I’d never again be able to look at her and not see it missing. So many nevers. But in that moment, I just held my dad and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to make time stop again. It didn’t.