Authors: Jordan Sonnenblick
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This book is dedicated to everyone who has endured childhood abuse or neglect.
You can't change your past, but you can control your future.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014
It only takes one annoying little noise to ruin a perfectly good death scene. I was floating, bodiless, through spaceâor timeâor some formless realm. I wasn't feeling any of the physical pains or discomforts that we all feel without noticing, not to mention the huge ones that I, in particular, should have been suffering. I wasn't even aware of the mental agony of walking away for the last time from two new, doomed friends. I felt nothing but an endless expanse of warm light all around me.
And then came the friggin' beeping, once every second or so. The sound seemed to be coming from incredibly far away, as though my head were wrapped in layers of cotton or something. I was pretty sure it had been going on for a while, gradually annoying its way into my awareness. I tried to turn my head to locate the sound, but the smallest attempt at movement made me so dizzy I decided to just be still and concentrate on my senses.
I smelled burning hair. Burning hair, and some awful mixture of cows, mud, and smoke. I wanted to open my eyes and see where in the world I could possibly be, but even through my closed eyelids, everything looked too bright to handle.
My hands. My hands were at my sides. I could feel cool fabric against the backs of my fingers, and all the way up my arms. There were cold thingsâtubes or wires of some sortârunning along my forearms. I was in a bed. Yikes! I was in a hospital.
The beeping sped up.
“Honey, what's happening?” a frightened female voice asked. “Is he awake?”
“Easy. Take it easy, sweetheart. You heard the doctors. His brain scans are completely flat. People with flat brain scans don't just wake up.”
My father, the optimist.
All of a sudden, I was shaking and shivering all over, so hard that I could feel my teeth smashing against each other, my mouth filling with blood as my incisors slashed the inside of my left cheek. My body arched, but apparently there was some kind of restraining belt across my chest that kept me from flying completely up and out of the bed.
“Nurse!” my father yelled. He was a strong yeller.
Footsteps pounding into the room, at least two sets. Too many voices for me to sort out. A clink as somebody banged what must have been an IV pole off the frame of my bed, and then a lone female voice saying, “This will settle him down. It's the strongest dosage of antiseizure medication I'm allowed to give him, at least untilâ¦”
Whatever drug she put into my IV must have been super fast-acting, because right in the middle of her sentence, a warm toasty feeling spread up my arm, and throughout my whole body. I'm not sure whether I stopped shaking as soon as it reached my head, but I am sure I stopped caring.
Sometime later, the beeping worked its way into my world again, along with the muffled voices of my parents. This time, I didn't even try to move. Even breathing was an effort, so I just listened. I figured they were probably talking about me. I admit, I kind of wanted to hear my parents sobbing and crying about how their only son was lying here twitching.
Dad was talking in a defeated monotone. “It was right after high school graduation. He was going to work at the steel factory in the fall, as soon as a job opened up in the welding department.”
I lay there, thinking,
High school graduation? What's he talking about? I'm only fifteen. I'm a sophomore
“Then came the big concert andâ¦”
Dad stopped talking. It almost sounded like he was too choked up to speak.
“You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, honey,” Mom said.
Dad launched right back into his tale. He's pretty abrupt. I have manners, but don't ask me where I got them from. “Do you know why I went to the concert?”
“I don't know. You've never wanted to talk about it.”
“I was excited about the music, and the party aspects of it. I was fifteenâwho wouldn't have been? But that wasn't the main thing. My brother had a girlfriend. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He was crazy about her. That's why what happened afterward doesn't make any sense.”
He paused again. I couldn't believe this. My parents weren't talking about me at all. They weren't even thinking about me.
“Anyway, he came home one day in the beginning of August saying he had bought two tickets to this amazing music festival in New York State. I was so excited. I started talking a mile a minute about how great this was going to be. One last trip as brothers before he started his grown-up life and everything changed! That was when he laid it on me: the tickets were for him and his girlfriend. I begged him to take me with them. I said I'd buy my own ticket with my lawn-mowing money. I knew Dad would kill me if he remembered to, but half the time when Dad was angry, we could just get him crocked and he would forget all about it. Anyway, it didn't seem to matter, because my brother didn't budge. He said he was really looking forward to this trip with his girlfriend, and it had to be just the two of them. I tried everything I could think of to change his mind. I argued. I yelled. I threatened to quit the band. I pouted. I refused to talk to him. But then I got really scared: What if the reason he wouldn't take me was because he wasn't planning to come back? That seemed possible. As hard as our parents were for me to deal with, they were a million times harder on my brother. They got on him for everything. I almost wouldn't have blamed him if he wanted to head out with his girl and just keep going.”
“But you did go, honey. So what happened?”
“That's the strange part. I've never figured out why, but all of a sudden, about a week before the concert, my brother just showed up after work one day with a third ticket and told me I should start getting my camping gear together. I asked him what had changed, and all he would say is that he wanted to give me the best weekend of my life. I've spent the last four decades wondering whether I should have known what he was going to do, right then and there.” Dad stopped talking and broke down in heavy sobs. I heard a chair squeak, which must have been Mom moving closer to comfort him.
My name is Rich Barber. If you want a snapshot of everything you need to know about the first fifteen years of my life, this is a pretty good one. I am lying in a hospital bed, while three feet away, my father can't get over something that happened forty-five years ago.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 15, 1969
They say we all come into this world naked and screaming, but most of us only have to do it once. The second time I did it, I was fifteen years oldâor negative forty-five years old, depending on how you look at things. Like a newborn baby, I was immediately hit by a flash of blinding light as soon as I opened my eyes. Unlike a newborn baby, I was then hit by a Cadillac.
Fortunately, it was a pretty slow-moving Cadillac, so I only spun maybe fifteen feet through the air before landing in a nice, grassy ditch by the side of whatever road I was on. It still hurt, though. Believe me, there's no such thing as getting gently hit by a Cadillac. The car's front bumper had nailed me in the right hip, which now pulsed and throbbed with a strange kind of burning ache. I lay on my back in the ditch for a while, catching my breath, smelling the sun-warmed soil around me, feeling the vegetation against my bare skin, and wondering where the heck I was.
I was afraid to open my eyes again, because the first time hadn't gone so well. But then a shadow and a chill passed over me, and a soft voice said, “Hey, are you okay?” I couldn't help it: I looked, and forgot all about my hip for a moment. The most beautiful girl I had ever seen was kneeling over me. She had long, dark hair parted down the middle, huge brown eyes, incredibly tan skin, and a look of shocked concern on her face. She was maybe a few years older than I was, and had on some seriously weird clothing: shorts, a tie-dyed T-shirt, tons of beaded necklaces that were hanging almost down to my face, and a fringed leather vest that actually was brushing up against the skin of my chest.
BECAUSE I WAS NAKED. Holy cow.
My first rational thought was that this had to be a dream. I blinked several times really fast to see whether I would wake up. When I stopped, the beautiful girl in the retro outfit was still there, and now she was reaching down to brush my hair out of my eyes. She looked so kind and so worried that I had my second rational thought:
Good God. I'm dead! That's what this is. The blinding flash of light, the car, the flying-through-the-air part, and now this gorgeous hippie supermodel waking me upÂ â¦ it all makes sense. Now she's going to hand me a harp and a pair of wings
“Um,” I said, “are you an angel?”
Her eyes widened. “No. I thought you were.”
Wait a minute. Why would anyone think I was an angel? With great effort, I sat up. This allowed me to hunch over so I wasn't quite so exposed, which was a good thing, because as I got a look around, I realized my accident had drawn a crowd. There were tons and tons of young people in a rough circle around me, pointing and saying things like “Far out!” The bottom of the ditch was a foot or two below ground level, so I was looking up at the road. From what I could see, we were in the middle of nowhere, but for some reason, there was a massive traffic jam all around, anyway. That was probably why the Cadillac hadn't completely smeared me into the pavement. Speaking of which, it was pulled over right next to me, and two guys who were dressed pretty much like the girl were huddled alongside the passenger doors, whispering frantically to each other. One looked about her age, and I would have guessed the other one was a tenth-grader like me. If one of them had been driving when the car hit me, I wondered why they weren't using a cell phone to dial 9-1-1.
I suddenly realized another incredibly weird fact: Every single car I could see was incredibly old, but looked new. I mean, the styles of the cars were ancient. There were Volkswagen Beetles like the original Herbie the Love Bug, gigantic rectangular American muscle cars and sedans like the one that had almost killed me, Scooby-Doo-looking vans, and a wide assortment of other oldies that should have been rusted throughâbut somehow they all looked like they had just been freshly painted.