I was laying in bed, covered only by a light sheet. I was staring up at the ceiling as I listened to the sounds of a Saturday morning in mid July. A warm breeze brought childrens’ joyous laughter through my open window. The thump, thump, of jogger’s feet pounding on the sidewalk as they sped past our house was acting like it was just the backdrop on their morning run. I suppose it was because they didn't know how many things happened in each and every house. All the stories and tears shed because it wasn't their job to know. They just needed to run past it and pretend it wasn't there.
The sky was a picture perfect sort of blue, not too dark or too gray, just a bright sky blue. Clouds dangled in the sky in perfect alignment like someone reached from the sky to straighten them and position them like dolls. They were so puffy I wanted to reach up and grab one and shove it in my mouth. The grass was a bright green but damp from the soft hum of the sprinklers. The smell of hot cement and melting ice cream filled my nose. Within our house I could hear my mom’s long fingernails rap-tap-tapping on her keyboard as she was trying to finish up her work so she could hang out with us later. Loud singing came from the bathroom down the hall as my dad sang at the top of his lungs to the rhythm of the water splashing against the shower floor.
Sizzling and popping came from the kitchen where my brother was trying to make breakfast. A loud moan signified it wasn't going as well as he hoped. My brother's cooking was the reason I had woken up, because there is nothing better than hearing your younger brother and your mother shouting at each other right when you wake up. My mom hadn't wanted him to make eggs and bacon and suggested he made something that didn't involve fire (like a smoothie or a parfait.) My mom had eventually given up, making my brother swear he would be careful after she gave him the fire extinguisher. I got my mom’s worries. We all did. We tried to move on but somewhere deep inside we still wanted to be extra careful so history wouldn't repeat itself.
I sighed and pulled the covers up to my neck. I was in that phase where I was too tired to actually get up and get changed, but awake enough that I couldn't go back to bed. Thus, the only logical solution was to lay in bed until something interesting happened.
And that's when I heard it. The sound I never ever wanted to hear again filled my nightmares, swirled around my head for months. I jumped out of bed and raced to my door. There was no more rap-tap-tipping; no more singing. Just my brother’s angushed moaning. I told myself something else could have happened but I knew that scream and I knew the smell. The crisp, hot, angry, charred. And I knew before I even peeked out timidly what was happening. A flashback popped into my mind. A memory I tried so hard to forget and push it under everything else to never ever let it resurface. I could see the image now and I tried to push the memory out. The heartbreak and pain. But it was all consuming and soon became the only thing I knew.
The scene took place two years ago on a day somewhat like this one. The sky was blue but the grass was dead, withering under the persistent heat of an August sun. The air was more humid and the day was much warmer but overall not a bad day, or so I thought. It was around 11:00 am, but a lot of things could change in an hour and a half- a lot more than you realize.
At that moment I was in a great mood. We were hosting a neighborhood BBQ and people were just starting to trickle in. It took awhile for everyone to arrive so I sat in a lawn chair absorbing it all.
People I did and didn't know talked to my parents as they arrived, shooing off their young ones so they could have some freedom. A group of boys a couple years older than me stood in a large group talking to each other while all the younger girls and boys ran around and chased each other. Even if they didn't even know the person they were chasing, it was all the same to them.
A boy with dark brown skin and combed black hair broke off from the group of boys and came up to me. I ran up to him and gave him a hug not caring what other people thought. But my thoughts quickly turned sour when I realized this wasn't about me, it was about her.
“Where's your sister?” he asked me, trying to hide the desperation in his voice. “She's upstairs,” I told him and he stared longingly at her bedroom window which happened to be open. When she caught him staring at her, she closed the windows, lowered the blinds and pulled the window shades over the window in a matter of seconds. He sighed but did not take his eyes off the window. “Can you go talk to her? See if she will come down?” he pleaded. I rolled my eyes and was about to tell him to do it himself- that I didn't want to be involved in any of their drama- but I held my tongue when I realized It would give me an excuse to get her to come down and possibly hang out with me. We didn't do that a lot now that she was older.
So I nodded and trudged towards the house telling myself it was for his sake and not mine (even though that was obviously not true.) I passed the kitchen on the bottom floor and climbed up to the second floor where I passed my room, my brothers and my parents. Up one more set of stairs and I reached the attic my sister called home.
I knocked on the door knowing she was always in a better mood when you knocked. “What do you want?” she asked and I took that as my cue to come in. I stepped on the soft carpet gazing around at her bedroom, A large bed lay in the corner while a desk lay in the other, A large bulletin board hung on the wall but it was mostly empty now only nails with bits of pictures remained after the rest of it was torn off.
My sister's headphones lay on her shoulder while her feet tapped in a very fast rhythm on the floor. Her purple hair was in a messy bun and sat on the top of her head and a few rebellious strands covered her eyes.
She swirled her chair so she faced me, her dark brown eyes glancing over me. She crossed her hands over her chest and waited for me to make the first move. It used to be unusual for my sister to be grumpy. She always used to be the one with the biggest smile; always encouraging people. But ever since he broke up with Nolan she's been pretty sour and I'm not alone when I say I wish she would be herself again.
“Nolan wants to see you.” I mumbled. She sighed and it sounded like a mix between annoyance, frustration and sadness. “We broke up a month ago!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in emphasis. “What does he want now?” she asked.
“He still loves you,” I told her even though we had had this conversation a lot lately.
“I know, but I don't love him,” she grumbled. “And at some point he just has to accept that!”
“Well maybe if you go talk to him…” I suggested. “He'll take it the wrong way,” she interrupted.
“But if you just talk to him and tell him it's over then maybe he will be a bit more normal around you,” I suggested, trying my best to be helpful because I really didn't know anything about this kind of stuff.
“I don't think that will work. We've already talked but he still won't accept it. I'm not talking to him again until he moves on and finds someone new,” she grumbled. She put back on her head phone and turned away from me and I knew better than to try reasoning with her so I shut her door as quietly as possible and went back outside disappointed that our conversation had been so short.
“What did she say?” Nolan asked hopefully, though it looked like he already knew, trying to be as kind as possible I told him. “She doesn't want to see you, I'm sorry she wants you to get over her and find someone new.”
He nodded, his eyes glazed as he walked back to his group of friends. I sighed and sat down on a lawn chair sipping an orange soda, and for once I really wished there were some kids my age in my neighborhood. “I want it!” my brother shouted and I turned my head to see what was going on.
My brother pulled the grape soda out of a little girl's hands, causing her to cry and run to her mom. “He took it!” she shouted.
My father sighed, putting down his tongs and going over to deal with the conflict, leaving the grill untended.
“Jasper, give the soda back.” My dad commanded by sticking his hand out. “No!”. Jasper screamed, sticking his tongue out and running away. But my dad was faster, he grabbed Jasper's arm and dragged him until he was facing the girl he had taken it from who was still sniffling. “Give it to her now,” he demanded. “Fine,” Jasper sighed and my dad should have realized Jasper never gives up that easily. He took the grape soda and threw it at the girl.
“Mom!!” The girl screamed and cried. My dad's gaze hardened. “Go to your room young man!” he shouted. Not waiting for my brother to cooperate he dragged him to the house. “No. Go to your room and stay there!” he commanded, shutting the door so no one could hear his screams. Trying to comfort the little girl, my dad gave her and the rest of the little kids some paper and pencils, and then walked over to apologize to the girl's mother.
But of course the kids got bored quickly and it soon was who could throw a crumpled piece of paper the farthest. This is the moment I wished I had done something, anything at all, try to get the littler kids to play a new game. Or tell my dad to tend to the hotdogs. Or go punch the kid in the face that ruined my life. Anything at all would have stopped me from all those restless nights wondering if there was anything I could have done.
And that's when it happened. A seemingly innocent little boy crumpled a paper and threw it. It soared through the air and, even in that moment, it was as fast as any other ball of paper would have been, but every time I replay the scene in my mind it goes a million times slower as I try to stop it. But for real I just sat there not knowing that this little kid, with his ball of paper, could ruin my family. The ball of paper hit the grill erupting in flames as it fell onto the ground igniting the blades of grass. Then I did the only thing I could think of that moment because I was paralyzed in fear. The only thing that could move was my mouth. Barey stuttering the word “FIRE!!” I yelled, causing an uproar of scared yells as people tried to figure out if this was true or not.
My dad spotted the fire first. He sprinted towards the grill but an unlucky untied shoelace caused him to trip and fall right onto the grill. The grill fell over with a thud. The fire lit the house as the red flames slowly became bigger. It was then when my flight or fight instincts took over and I realized my siblings were still inside.
“BIBI! JASPER!” I yelled desperately getting my legs to work as I did the one thing I shouldn't have done at that moment. I ran into the house.
“Kaia, no!” my dad screamed, lunging for me. But I jumped over him and ran into the house. The fire was getting larger and I could feel it within the house.
“BIBI! JASPER!” I yelled desperately. I heard my brother scream as he realized what was going on. The loud, piercing scream made me want to cover my ears and crawl into a hole but I needed to
save him. Desperation powered my every move as I raced upstairs and collided with my brother. I grabbed him pulling him close and ignoring his cries to let him go. I cried into his shirt and let him cry into mine, and that's when I heard the sirens. Loud, so loud, but the best sound in the world in this moment of time. I turned around stumbling backwards when I realized the door was covered in flames which were slowly closing in. I knew I only had a matter of seconds before I was trapped in the house. But I could leave my sister. “BIBI!” I cried, lunging forwards only to be stopped by strong hands.
“LET ME GO!” I yelled kicking and clawing as tears blurred my vision and reality sunk in piercing my heart like a thousand tiny needles, each one sharper than the next. “BIBI!” I yelled trying to lunge as I was pulled out of the house. I vaguely felt the strong fire burn my clothes and scorch my skin as I was thrust into the yard and landed with a loud thud on the grass below. Smoke filled my lungs with the hot and crisp scent of an angry fire, and I sat up coughing. But BiBi was still in there. I sat up and rushed back towards the flames. There wasn't much left of my house anymore, just ominous red and orange flames. The firemen were there as they sprayed water on the house in attempt to put out the fire and firemen rushed in to try to save BiBi but it wouldn't be enough. I had almost reached the door frame when those strong hands pulled me back again, and I heard a voice whisper in my ear. “I can't lose you to,o” and I sat crying into my dad's arms finally accepting there was nothing else I could do, I had to trust the fireman.
This was another moment when I wished I would have just sacrificed myself even with just a slight chance I could have saved my sister. But I didn’t. I just watched as the flames consumed everything I knew. I cried harder when I never saw BiBi come out. I hopefully thought that she was just hurt and that she would be fine but I knew the worst had happened when they brought BiBi’s body out a half hour later, and I barfed all over my clothes- my breakfast and my lunch all over my brand new clothes. As soon as I saw her glazed eyes and burnt body I rushed to her side crying desperately hoping that by some miracle she would open her eyes, and tell me this was just a joke. That she wasn't dead, but that didn't happen. She just stayed there. She never woke up. Never told anymore jokes and it took me a long time to accept she was actually dead. The next year went by in daze. All the sorrys; apologies; getting a new house; BiBi’s funeral; and even seeing her in a casket still didn't bring me to the realization that she was actually dead. It was only when the apologies stopped and the cards and flowers stopped and everyone just moved on with their lives and expected us to do the same, that I realized that BiBi was really gone. Since everyone else had moved on, people expected us to do the same; expected us to pretend this never happened and go back to the way we were but we couldn't, because BiBi wasn't here.
I fell backwards onto the bed breathing profusely. I wiped sweat off my forehead, and took a deep breath. But this wasn't like a bad dream. I couldn't just tell myself it wasn't real; couldn't go through the day and forget about it in a month because it wasn't a nightmare. It was what happened and memories couldn't be erased, nor could feelings. I couldn't just forget about BiBi and go on being happy. I could never forget about BiBi, but remembering her made breathing hard; made tears form in my eyes; and we always had a hard time knowing what to feel.
I thought we were doing a good job. We tried to be happy and pretend we cared about what was happening in life, but we never actually moved on. We were all stuck on that one August day when everything went wrong.
But what would BiBI want us to do? Bibi’s warm smile popped into my head and I took a deep breath. She would have wanted us to be happy and remember her with a smile. So I took another deep breath, in and out, in and out, then I planted my feet on the ground, and stood up.