“She continues to show increased activity,” I heard the doctor inform my parents as I drifted in the foreign, gray land of conscious unconsciousness. “She should wake up any day now.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” My mother replied distantly, her voice hollow and tired after over month of pain and worry.
I could’ve pushed through at that point if I’d wanted to. I knew I was regaining control, and in a moment, with deep concentration, I could’ve commanded my eyes to open, my systems to come back to life, my brain to wake up. The ugly truth was that I didn’t want to come back. I was terrified of coming back. So I didn’t.
“I can’t believe our Laya would do something like this,” My father had whispered nearly five weeks previous, the night of the accident. It was one of the first things I heard when I entered the world between life and death. My mother just sobbed. They both stayed with me all night, crying and praying. In the morning, a doctor came in and informed them that the passenger in the other car had died.
“What does this mean?” My father asked numbly over my mother’s tears.
The doctor hesitated. “If your daughter survives,” he started, “Then she’ll have to...” but he started whispering and I couldn’t hear the tail end of his sentence. I suspected it wasn’t good.
A week later I heard a familiar voice speaking to me. “We messed up, Lay,” my best friend cried. “I messed up. You told me you were driving and you couldn’t drink, and I didn’t listen. I made you. I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry.” She audibly wept for several more minutes.
When her sobs eventually came to a stop, she spoke again, her voice a scared whisper. “It’s bad, Lay,” she admitted. “They gave me community service for my punishment, but if you wake up you’ll have to go on trial. The family of the passenger--his name was Derrik--they’re devastated.” She paused. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. To warn you? You probably can’t even hear me.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “If you can, just know that I need you. I really, really need you. It doesn’t matter what happens, okay? It doesn’t matter if you get probation, or even if you have to go to juvie for a few years. We’ll work it out. I need you. Your family needs you. Please, we all love you. I love you. Just come back. Please just come back to us.”
Her words both scared and comforted me. I hated knowing that I was responsible for someone’s death, that I would have to face the consequences if I came out of my coma. His family is devastated, she told me. How could I ever face them after what I had done? On the other hand, it was a relief to know that my best friend and family would always be there for me, no matter the terrible mistake I had made.
The days passed by slowly after that. The voices came in a sort of pattern, the doctors, my parents. When my Sunday School teacher came in and played my favorite gospel music I felt unworthy and sick. Still, I could tell that my body was recovering even if my soul wasn’t. I wasn’t fully conscious, but I was aware that I was healing and that I could wake up soon.
Three weeks after the accident, there was shuffling around as a group entered my room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wong,” a doctor started, “I’d like to introduce you to the Wentworths.” The voice paused. “Derrik’s family. They’ve come to see your daughter.”
Fear gripped my soul, and for once I was glad I was unable to see or speak. I heard introductions and solemn discussion for nearly an hour, it seemed. Eventually, a soft, kind, feminine voice whispered in my ear.
“I want you to know that my husband and I forgive you,” she breathed, choking on her words. “I know you were misguided. I hope you will come back and get a second chance.” She seemed to hesitate. “I have to warn you that my son Jay may not feel the same way. He was very close to Derrik. But he’ll come around eventually. It’ll take time, but he’s a good young man. I hope you get the chance to repent and become better, my dear.”
I felt stunned by her kindness. Before I had time to recover, I heard a deep, masculine voice speak suddenly. “May God help you recover,” it spoke, and then was gone.
I thought we may be done for the night, but a few minutes later, a chilling whisper came into the darkness. “When you killed my twin brother,” it quietly raged, “You killed me. I hope you never come out of that coma. It’s what you deserve.”
It seemed as if my entire being froze with those words. The voices around me faded; the world grew darker and more distant.
“Her heart rate is lowering!” I could barely make out. “I’m calling Doctor Smith right now!” The rest faded into silence.
I felt numb after that day. Could I ever really face myself again if I went back, knowing that I was responsible for someone’s death? That I had ruined the life of his family? My parents probably hated the monster I had become, though they would never admit it. How could I live knowing that I had failed them? I would be punished by law if I woke up. I would lose all chance of a normal life. It almost seemed easier to die, to accept my fate. Perhaps Jay, Derrik’s brother, was right: I deserved it.
Six weeks after the accident, the point came when I knew I had to decide. The gray melded into two different tunnels; one dark and one light. I had to wake up, or give myself to death.
I was turning toward the dark tunnel when a voice spoke. It was different than the other voices I heard. It didn’t come from outside, but from somewhere within.
“You have a second chance,” it said.
I hesitated. “Derrik?” I asked after a moment. I had never met him in my life, but somehow I knew it was his voice that had spoken.
“You have a choice, Laya,” he continued, not answering me. “The choice that I didn’t get. Choose to live. Choose to live for me.”
“But how can I live?” I cried. “I will never forgive myself! Your brother will never forgive me! Things will never be the same.”
“My brother will forgive you eventually,” he said softly. “I forgive you.”
I felt shocked. “How? How can you say that? I killed you!”
Derrik paused. “I’ve learned a lot since I’ve died. Listen, we don’t have much time left. I’m sure things will be very hard for you, but you need to take courage. There’s still time for you to turn your life around. You can do so many things to help situations like this from happening again. But, the choice is yours.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry. I have to go now. You know what you have to do.”
“Wait!” I called, but I felt his presence leave my mind. I took a shaky breath.
You must decide now.
I thought of everything that could happen if I woke. I could go to jail. Be discovered. Be hated or threatened by an angry brother. Live my life in solitude, without a job or family. But, wasn’t Derrik right? Didn’t I have a duty to share my story to honor him? To beg others to not make my mistake?
The future was unknown, and scarier even than death. But I knew what I needed to do.
Summoning all of my courage in my soul, I opened my eyes.