The Kiss Of Death
Twelve years ago, on a Sunday in mid-August was when I felt the deepest fear I’ve ever known.
My father, my brother, and I were moving my grandmother from her little apartment in Riverview back home to Campbellton. A drive that I was familiar with, and on a good day, nice weather, no traffic, you were looking at four hours to make it from point A to point B.
The day’s plan was for my father to drive the U-Haul with all my grandmother’s belongings, my brother to take my father’s work truck, and for me to ride with my grandmother in her little red civic. Easy peasy.
We spent the morning loading all her stuff in the U-Haul and then we drove out of the small apartment complex parking lot like a three-vehicle convoy. We were highway bound.
The drive wasn’t an easy one from the get-go. My grandmother was visibly anxious, but I couldn’t blame her. Who could? That apartment had only been her temporary home at the insistence of my grandfather, whose intensive cancer treatment regimen demanded him to be closer to his doctor, who was a stone’s throw away across the chocolate river.
He battled as valiantly as a man could. For nearly a decade he underwent treatment. But eventually, there was nothing left for him to give, and he passed away.
My grandmother married him at 16. She had never been without him. Never even learned how to pay a bill. Needless to say, she felt lost and old, like a relic from a bygone era. And going back home to be close to her sisters was the only logical option.
But to deal with her anxiety, she chain-smoked with the windows up to keep out the cold. One after another with production line accuracy.
I kept my lips sealed as my head pulsated from second-hand smoke. Her brittle fingers shook like the onset of Parkinson’s as each cigarette reached her mouth. It was heartbreaking to watch her in that state. A wonderful woman who had treated me with nothing but warmth and love since as far back as my memories could travel.
I just wanted to make her laugh. Calm her down. And let her know that things were going to be okay. We’d all be okay.
But as Murphy’s Law dictates, things can always, and I mean always, get shittier.
This came in the form of my brother, who was driving the black Ford directly in front of us. He began to swerve back and forth over the solid yellow line in strange rattlesnake movements like he was stone-cold drunk, even though all we had that day up until that point was a couple cups of coffee.
This was the absolute last thing her anxious mind needed to be witnessing and processing.
I laughed, and acted like he was pulling a practical joke, because everyone in the family knew that the man joked to no end. A hill he would gladly die on. Some were outrageously funny, others were just outrageous. And this one, to me, seemed to be the latter. But I showed no sign of distress, because I could feel her watching for my reaction. And I felt if I began to slip, then she would slide right past me off the edge of the world.
But in my bones, I was worried. It was strange behaviour, even for him.
Then, the horror that I had been fearing since the swerving began a half-hour earlier presented itself in shattering fashion.
On route 126, still about two hours from our destination, my brother swerved into the left lane, but this time he stayed. And an SUV travelling at 100 km/h met my brother, with what I suspected was the kiss of death.
I screamed his name and my grandmother followed suit as I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. “Wait here.” I told her, then I took off running towards the truck. A parade of onlookers already gathering. Death and destruction peaking interest like nothing else on God’s green earth.
Smoke was rising from the hood of the truck, and inside where it engulfed my brother. I was standing at the door, pulling on it with all the strength I had, and ever would have. Even in that close proximity, I could barely see him behind the thick, cloudy veil.
The door didn’t budge for a while. It seemed like a lifetime in my panicked state, but it was likely only thirty seconds or so. Eventually, it flung open, nearly throwing me to the asphalt as I staggered backwards, trying to regain my balance.
I called his name several times before he came to. He was floating in that purgatory state between consciousness and unconsciousness. Eyes open, but not looking anywhere. Or at anything.
That empty face broke me, but there was no time to stand on ceremony. So I unbuckled the seatbelt, helped him out of the truck, and it wasn’t long before the EMTs arrived to put him on the stretcher and take him to the nearest hospital.
After a series of tests were conducted, he only suffered a concussion and was discharged from the hospital the following morning. The passengers of the SUV were also fine, shaken up with a few cuts and bruises, but nothing life-threatening.
A terrifying experience, but one that ended much better than it could have.