24. Fal en
“Emily!” Carol holered from the kitchen. My hand hovered above my
duffle bag, grasping the sweater I was about to pack. Panic set in as I
tried to think of what I could’ve done. My chest felt tight when I
entered the kitchen.
“Yeah?” I responded cautiously, my voice getting caught in my throat.
“Do you know who I just got off the phone with?” she yeled, revealing
the strained vein along her temple. I glanced around, recognizing George
and the kids were gone. Fear gripped my heart, and my head felt
tight. I shook my head.
“Of course you don’t, right? Because you never do anything wrong, do
you?” I was past trying to understand her ilogical questions, and
braced myself for her wrath. “That was someone from Stanford –“
Oh no! My eyes shot up at the sound of the school’s name.
“Oh, you do know what this is about?” she accused, stil boiling. “Do
you know how stupid I felt when this man was going on about your
visit in the spring, and I have no idea what he was talking about?! Why
did he have our phone number?!” I remained quiet. “You didn’t realy
think we were going to let you fly to California, did you? How the hel
did you convince him to invite you
– did you blow him?”
Shock splayed across my face.
“You think you are so much better than me, don’t you? That you can
do whatever you fucking want?!”
“No,” I whispered.
“That’s right - not in my house! You drove your mother to drink, and
now she’s a useless whore. I’m not going to let you destroy my family
too. You’re fucking worthless. What school would possibly want you?”
Carol’s face was scarlet while her voice grew louder. “How did you ever
expect to pay for these schools? You’re not that special that they’re going
to let you in for free.” She waited, as if expecting an answer.
“They have scholarships,” I said lowly. She scoffed. “And I was thinking
I could use my dad’s social security money.”
“Huh. Did you think I was going to let you live here and not get anything
out of it?” She let out a spiteful laugh. I glowered at her; the hate
slowly crawled under my skin. That money was because my father died
too soon, and she was going to strip me of the last connection I had to
him?! I was so furious, I couldn’t see straight. I turned to walk away
with my jaw clenched.
Then I heard the scraping of metal and her amplified rage,
“Don’t you turn your fucking back on me!”
A piercing flash of light screamed through my head as something hard
hit the base of my skul. I stumbled forward and reached for the support
of the wal, but I couldn’t find it in time. My legs gave out, and I
colapsed on the floor.
“You are ruining my life,” she grunted through clenched teeth.
“You wil wish you never set foot in this house.” I pressed my shaking
hands against the floor to push up while attempting to focus through
the blur. I let out a breathless grunt as my chest was forced back down
against the hard wood, and my arms colapsed beneath me when she
swung again. The repeated impact left me fighting for my breath, as
the sharpness settled between my shoulder blades. The room teetered
and blurred around me as I searched for the direction of my room,
knowing I needed to get there to escape her. Stil gasping, I groped at
the floor, urging my body forward while sliding on my elbows and
pushing onto my knees.
Her vulgar grunts and grumblings were incoherent. Then I heard her
growl, “You wil learn to respect me. You owe me your life for
everything I’ve given you. For everything you’ve destroyed.”
The force of her swing ripped through my lower back – I screamed out
in agony. The searing bolt of pain wrapped itself around my spine and
spiked through my head. I released a broken moan before sprawling
on the floor. The room dimmed in a blur of light as I fought for
I didn’t know how long I’d been on the floor. I became aware of the
loud stomping above me as she muttered to herself. I blinked my eyes
open. The floor rippled in front of my eyes. I closed them to fight
against the dizziness so that I could push myself up on my hands and
knees. The tender muscles between my shoulder blades twisted into a
burning knot as I strained to get up. I peered through my lashes and
reached for the wal to steady myself on my knees. I tried to focus
through the haze, my head bobbing heavily and my body swaying.
With a grunt of effort, I lifted myself up to stand, leaning against the
wal. I remained pressed against the wal breathing heavily as I waited
for the room to settle and listened for her movement. A severe sharpness
shot up my spine, leaving me breathless.
I took a deep breath to settle the nausea, determined to get out of the
house before she came downstairs. I stood stil for a moment with my
eyes closed, steadying the spin of the earth. Convinced I had control of
my equilibrium - I crept into my room and gingerly closed the door.
The flight instinct kicked in and the blood raced through my body,
overriding the pain. My heart pounded in my chest as I threw a few
more items in my duffle bag. I opened my door to listen. She was
quiet; the only sound I heard was my rapid pulse. I decided to take a
chance and left my room. I cautiously took each step that brought me
closer to the door. My ears hummed, anticipating the slightest sound.
I held my breath as I turned the handle of the door and didn’t release
it until the door was closed behind me. I hugged the side of the house,
so she couldn’t see me from her window. Once I reached the end of the
driveway, adrenaline shot through me, and I ran. The pain in my back
and head didn’t exist while the road passed under my feet. I kept running
until I was in the coffee shop a few blocks from the house.
I could only imagine what I must have looked like to the patrons and
staff of the intimate café when I entered with the duffle bag over my
arm, covered with sweat, and gasping for breath. I slid onto a chair at
a smal table in the corner and puled out my phone. I pressed Sara’s
number and listened to it ring, hoping she’d pick up.
“Emma? What’s wrong?”
“Come get me,” my voice cracked.
“Omigod, are you hurt?”
“Sara, please come get me as soon as you can.” My voice quivered as I
fought to hold back the tears.
“Where are you?” she inquired urgently.
“At the coffee place near my house.” I took a calming breath to keep
from losing the little composure I had left.
“I’l be there as fast as I can.”
I hung up the phone.
I spent the time it took Sara to arrive, staring at my hands, wiling
them to stop trembling. My breath shook with each pass through my
quivering lips. I didn’t dare look around the shop; instead I stared out
the window, searching for Sara’s car. When I saw her pul in, I rushed
to meet her before she had a chance to get out.
I winced as I settled onto the passenger seat, the pain streaking up my
entire back. I closed my eyes and let out a shaky breath. The tears
found their way down my cheeks as I swalowed against the lump in my
“Where are you hurt?” Sara asked, her voice unsteady.
“My back,” I quivered, with my eyes stil closed.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?”
“No,” I shot back quickly. I attempted to release the tension in my
shoulders and opened my eyes. I wiped away the tears and searched
for my voice. “No hospital, okay? Just… do you have anything to help,
aspirin or something?”
Sara rummaged around in the compartments of the center console,
then handed me a white bottle of Advil. I spiled some pils onto my
hand and swalowed them dry. Her forehead creased, mirroring the
pain that was evident on my face. “Do you want to go back to my
“Can we just stop there so you can get me a bag of ice? Then let’s go
somewhere where I can walk around.”
“You want to walk?”
“If I stay stil, I’l get stiff. I need to keep the blood flowing through my
muscles so that I can play tonight.”
“You think you’re going to play basketbal?! Em, I’m stil trying to decide
if I should take you to the hospital. You’re pale, and you can’t hide
how much pain you’re in. And if you can’t hide it, then it must be
“It’s because it just happened and my body’s stil in shock. I’l be fine, I
promise.” But I knew I was lying. I was far from fine. Sara drove to her
house and I waited in the car until she came out with a smal cooler
filed with ice, some storage bags and a couple of waters. She handed
me a water when she entered the car.
“Let’s go to the high school, and we’l walk the track,” I suggested before
taking several long gulps from the bottle. “I only have to waste a
couple of hours before the JV game.”
“Are you sure?” Sara asked, stil uncertain with my decision.
“Sara, I swear, I’m okay.”
I eased my body into a controled place where the quivering hid beneath
my skin. There was a deep ache in my head that trailed al the
way down my back, but the piercing pain was gone - as long as I kept
We drove to the high school and parked near the footbal field. The
parking lot only contained a handful of cars since it was stil too early
for anyone to be here for the game.
I took the cooler with me as I delicately lifted my body out of the car,
gritting my teeth through the searing pain that made my stomach flip
with nausea. Sara folowed me to the field. I filed the bags with ice and
lay on my stomach. Sara placed the bags along my back and sat next to
me on the grass. We were silent for a few minutes as I lay with my eyes
closed and my head resting on my folded arms, while Sara plucked the
grass from the frozen field. I barely registered the cold December air
with the ice on my back.
“You’re shivering,” Sara noted.
“I have ice covering my back, and it’s thirty degrees out here.”
“How long do you want to keep the ice on?”
“Fifteen to twenty minutes, then we’l walk around for a while before
we do it again.”
After another few minutes of silence, Sara asked, “Are you going to tel
me what happened this time? Em, I promise not to say anything.”
“I’m not sure if I should. I don’t want you to feel guilty if you need to
lie to your mom or anyone else for me.”
“I’l find a way around answering,” she promised.
“Stanford caled,” I started.
“Oh no,” she gasped. “You didn’t tel her.”
“Yeah, I didn’t tel her,” I breathed. “Then she told me I didn’t have access
to the social security money from my dad for colege; that it was
her compensation for letting me live there. I got so pissed that I had to
leave the room. That’s when she hit me.”
“What did she hit you with?”
“I’m not sure. Probably whatever she could get her hands on.”
I recaled the hard object crashing into my back and shivered.
“You can’t go back there,” Sara insisted.
“I realy don’t want to think about that right now. I just want to focus
on being able to play in the game tonight.”
“Em, I’m not sure that you should.”
“Sara, I have to. She’s taken everything else from me, including what I
had left of my dad. I’m playing in this game tonight,” I stated definitively.
Sara didn’t argue.
We walked briskly, until I couldn’t handle it anymore. Of course, I
didn’t tel Sara this. Then I’d lie back down to be iced. I was desperate
to defeat this pain. I was going to play in this game –
nothing was going to stop me.
When cars started showing up for the JV game, Sara folowed me into
the building. We stood by the bleachers and watched until halftime
when I had to change. I blared my music so loudly in my ears, I
couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Every so often, I’d pace in the
hal to keep the blood flowing through my muscles, mostly because it
hurt too much to stand stil, and I needed to escape it any way I could. I
swung my arms over my head and turned my neck side to side to keep
my muscles from stiffening. None of the girls questioned Sara when
she folowed me into the locker room to change. She snuck into a curtained
shower stal with me to help me change. She carefuly puled my
shirt over my head, and I clenched my teeth. My entire back screamed
when I raised my arms. Sara questioned my wel being again, but I ignored
her. I was counting on adrenaline to make me oblivious to the
pain once the game started.
The adrenaline did tunnel my focus when I was finaly on the floor,
helping me disconnect from the pain. I refused to concede to my burning
muscles and the lightning storm in my head as I dribbled down the
court, caling out the next play. Passing to the open teammate, squaring
up to take a shot, folowing through with a rebound, and charging
back to switch to defense, where the bodies bumped to gain position:
that was al I concentrated on as the time ticked away.
I was surviving on adrenaline, and that would only carry me so far. As
the second half progressed, it became harder to concentrate. I wasn’t
reacting as quickly to passes or charging for the steals as I usualy did. I
passed off the bal more, instead of taking the shot. During a timeout,
Coach Stanley asked if I was okay. I explained that I fel on some ice
earlier, and it was bothering me a little. He suggested taking me out of
the game. I adamantly assured him that I was fine and could keep
It was a close game. Probably closer than it should have been, and I
blamed myself for that, knowing I had no right to be on the court. But
I was afraid to find out what would happen if I stopped. There was under
a minute left in the game, and the lead kept changing by one with
each possession. After a timeout and about thirty seconds on the clock,
we had possession of the bal and were down by one point. I dribbled
down the court, sending the offense in motion. I passed to Jil at the
top of the key, who dribbled to the center of the paint and bounced it
to Maggie along the baseline. Maggie noticed my clear shot from behind
the three point line and popped it back out to me where I squared
up to the basket, jumped, and let the bal rol off of my fingers. The defender
jumped alongside me, swiping at the bal, which barely sailed
over her fingertips. Her arm landed on my shoulder hard, knocking
me back so my heels were no longer beneath me when I came down to
land. My breath rushed from my lungs when the floor made contact
with my back. My head bounced back, coliding with the waxed surface.
The cheers faded, and the images on the court blurred. I blinked my
eyes as the colors ran together until there was only black.
I was moving quickly, but my legs were stil. There was something
around my neck, and I couldn’t move. I heard the murmuring of voices
but no words. My eyes wouldn’t open. The cold air hit me, sending a
shiver through my body. I was enveloped with the piercing bolt that
ran along my back and into my head. Then I fel into the darkness
“Emily, can you hear me?” the soothing male voice asked. I puled back
from the blinding light as I felt a cool touch on my lid.
“Emily, can you open your eyes for me?” the voice requested. I blinked
my eyes open, squinting to keep them protected from the bright light
above me. I glanced around at the faces above me. There was
something beeping over my head, and a hum of voices surrounded my
“Emily, I’m Dr. Chan,” the soothing voice said. I focused on the gentle,
round face of the man leaning over me. “You’re in the hospital. You
took a fal during your basketbal game and hit your head.”
I groaned in admission to the pain.
“My back,” I whimpered.
“You’re back hurts?” he confirmed
“My back,” I whimpered again, the tears roled across my temples. I
couldn’t turn my head with the brace holding it in place.
“We’re going to take some x-rays to see what’s going on,” he informed
“Sara?” I searched for her amongst the faces.
“Who’s Sara, honey,” a rosy faced nurse leaned over to ask.
“My friend, Sara McKinley,” I whispered between moans. “I need
“Your aunt and uncle are on their way,” she assured me. I groaned
“Sara, please,” I begged.
“I’l see if I can find her,” she comforted me.
There were more voices, and then I was moving. The fluorescent lights
blurred above me as I was wheeled through the maze of corridors.
There was a figure at the end of my bed, but I couldn’t see a face. The
tears continued roling down the crevices of my eyes and into my ears. I
made an effort to contain the moans, but they escaped every so often
on their own.
A team of bodies wearing blue and white lifted me onto a hard platform.
As I was roled onto my back, I screamed out in agony. There was
nothing that could hold it back. A nurse gently turned me onto my side
to examine the source of my torturous cries and let out a breath.
“Her back is badly bruised,” she reported.
“Prop her on her side,” Dr. Chan directed from my feet. I slid into a
tube and closed my eyes, concentrating on breathing evenly to cope
with the suffering. The corners of my eyes were raw from the never
ending seeping of tears. I remained in that area of the hospital for a
time I could not judge, with the roling, and the clicking, and the doors
opening and closing.
Eventualy, the hands of the team eased me back onto the forgiving
cushion of the bed, supported on my side to provide some reprieve
from the torment that had overtaken my body. Exhausted, I closed my
“We’re waiting on the results of her x-rays before we know if there’s
any damage,” Dr. Chan explained to someone. “You’re welcome to stay
with her, and I’l be back when I have the results.”
“Sara?” I whispered through the grogginess. I opened my eyes when
we roled to a stop. A curtain was puled around me, concealing the
people on the other side.
“Hey honey,” the soothing voice of the nurse greeted me.
“Your aunt and uncle are here.” I averted my eyes, not finding the
comfort she hoped that news would provide me.
“Sara? Did you find her?” My tone was anxious, and her concerned expression
“She’s right outside,” she promised. “I’l go get her.”
“You can’t keep me from seeing her,” an irate voice yeled.
“She’s my daughter.”
My heartbeat accelerated, picked up by the quick beeps on the machine
above my head.
“Relax, Rachel,” George instructed firmly.
“What’s wrong with her?” she demanded heavily. I recognized her
slur. My jaw tightened. What was she doing here? How did she even
“I don’t think this is the right time to be talking to you,” George
“You can’t keep me from her. She’s my daughter,” my mother declared.
Then she went on to berate George and Carol about how they
didn’t love me, with expletives only my drunken mother could come
“M’am, I need to ask you to come with us,” a deep masculine voice
“Get your hands off me. You can’t touch me. I need to stay here with
my daughter. Get off me.” The angered voice trailed away, until it was
cut off completely when a pair of doors closed further down the hal.
“Emma?” Sara whispered, peering in through the curtains. My flittering
eyes found Sara’s pale face and her red rimmed eyes.
“Sara!” I wept, lifting my head. The movement forced me to moan in
pain, causing Sara to wince.
“Ow. Try not to move,” she whispered, puling up a chair to sit beside
me. She pressed her lips together and the line between her eyes
deepened as she searched my agonized face. “I’m so sorry.”
Her eyes filed and she quickly swiped away the tears with the hand
that wasn’t holding mine.
“I’m glad they finaly let me see you. It felt like I was waiting forever.”
Her voice quivered. “You scared me.” The tears weled in her eyes
again, and she looked away to conceal them.
“I’l be okay,” I assured her, but I knew seeing me on a hospital bed
wasn’t very convincing.
“You didn’t look okay when you were lying lifeless on the floor of the
basketbal court. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my entire
“I slipped on ice and fel down the stairs at my house,” I told her
“What?” Her forehead crumpled, not understanding.
“How I hurt myself,” I explained. “I fel down the stairs on some ice.”
“But Em, everyone saw you fal during the basketbal game - I mean
everyone,” she explained, stil confused.
“Look at my back,” I encouraged.
Sara walked around to the other side of my bed and gently lifted my
“Oh!” Sara exhaled upon seeing the bruising. “I knew you shouldn’t
have played. Have they given you anything for the pain?”
She returned to the chair to hold my hand, her face paler than when
“Mm mm,” I indicated in a negative through my pressed lips, trying to
hold back the groan that would give away just how miserable I was.
“Okay, Emily,” Dr. Chan declared, puling back a section of the curtain.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Chan,” he introduced himself to Sara.
“I’m Sara McKinley,” she offered in return.
“Is it okay if she stays in the room while I go over this with you?” he
“Wel, it looks like you’ve had a couple of injuries today, huh?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“The good news is that there’s nothing too serious. You do have a concussion
on the back of your head, but there isn’t any bleeding. The xrays
of your spine came out clear, but you’ve bruised your tailbone.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything we can do for that, and the best
thing to do is to let it heal on its own. We’re going to take the neck
brace off, and give you something for the pain. You’l need to stay inactive
for the next two weeks at least.”
My eyes widened, not prepared for his prognosis.
“Sorry, but that means no basketbal during that time. You won’t be up
for it anyway. We’l give you something to manage the pain, but you
should schedule an appointment with your doctor in two weeks to folow
“Do you have any questions?” he asked.
“No,” I whispered.
“Now, can you tel me about the bruises on your back?”
I hoped the machine wouldn’t start beeping profusely when I lied, “I
slipped on some ice outside my back door and fel down the stairs.”
“Did you fal onto your back?”
“How many stairs did you fal on?”
“Four or Five.”
“Okay,” he sighed. “Sara, could I please have a moment alone with
Emily?” I panicked when Sara left the room.
Dr. Chan sat down in the chair so that he was eye level.
“I’m concerned with your bruising,” he said solemnly. “The images
showed that you have a recovered contusion on the front of your head
“Emily, I want you to please tel me the truth, and know that I wil hold
this information in the utmost confidence. How did you get the bruises
on your back?”
“I fel down the stairs.” I tried to sound as convincing as I could. I
didn’t know if it worked, but he nodded and stood up.
“You could have received those injuries in a fal, and I can’t dispute
that. But if you didn’t, I hope that you would be able to tel someone.
“You’re going to stay here for the night so that we can keep an eye on
you and give you something for the pain to help you rest. If you need
anything, or feel like talking, have the nurses page me.”
“Can you please send Sara back in?”
“Sure. I’l have the nurse get her.”
Sara came back into the room not long after the nurse removed my
neck brace and cut off my clothes so she could slide on a hospital
gown. I tried to get her to slip my game shirt over my head, but the
movement caused me to holer, so she opted for scissors.
“Someone wil be down shortly to transport you upstairs for the night,”
the nurse explained. “I’l be right back with something to help the
“Thank you,” I whispered, finding some relief already with the brace
After she left, I noticed Sara appeared nervous, like she wanted to tel
me something, but she kept stopping every time she opened her
mouth to speak.
I watched her struggle through her silent debate until I finaly demanded,
“What aren’t you teling me?”
She pressed her lips together and looked around for the words. “Um,
Evan’s outside. I didn’t know if I should tel you while you were stil coherent
or wait until you were drugged.”
I remained quiet.
“He wants to see you.”
“No, Sara,” I shot back urgently. “He can’t see me.”
“I knew you’d say that, but I promised I’d ask. Just so I can say I did,
no Drew either, right?”
“He’s here too?”
“There are a lot of people here, actualy. Wel, except for your aunt and
uncle, who left after the doctor told them you were staying the night.”
“No visitors,” I pleaded. “No one, okay?”
“Got it,” she affirmed.
“Sara, what happened when I fel?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear
this but also surprised by the multiple visitors in the waiting room.
Sara looked at the ceiling, trying to force back the tears.
“Um, after you took the three pointer and it went in –“
“It went in?” I tried to remember the moment, but I couldn’t get past
the pounding in my head.
“Yeah, it did. The crowd was so loud, it was crazy – but in an instant it
went dead silent. You were lying on the floor, and you weren’t moving.
Coach went out with the trainer to wake you, but they couldn’t.” Sara
paused to take a calming breath, trying to control her trembling voice.
“They caled for the ambulance. The gym was so quiet while we waited
for you to wake up. I tried to get down to the floor, but the coaches and
some other adults were keeping people back.
“You stil didn’t move when they put you on the stretcher. Em, I was so
scared. I got to the hospital as soon as I could, but they wouldn’t tel me
anything, no matter who I asked. Between Evan and me, I think we
asked every person in a white jacket or blue scrubs who walked
through the waiting area. Then everyone else started arriving to wait
with us - first Drew with some of his friends, then your coach and other
girls from the soccer and the basketbal teams – I’m not sure who
“You’re aunt and uncle finaly arrived, and they were let in to see you. I
was going crazy because they got in, and I couldn’t, until the nurse finaly
came out and said you were asking for me.”
I listened to her words, unable to account for a single second of that
time, until I was in the hospital. It was surreal thinking of my unconscious
body on the floor of the gym, with everyone staring at me. The
fear and concern that came through in Sara’s voice tore at me. I
glanced at Sara’s hand shaking on her lap. I hadn’t realized that the
hand holding mine was trembling since mine was as wel.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” I whispered.
“I’m just relieved to see that you’re awake and moving,” she said with a
smal smile, but the sadness lingered in her eyes. “I should go let everyone
know how you are, and that you’re staying the night, so they can
leave. I’l be back before they move you.”
The nurse entered with a syringe. Soon after she administered the
clear liquid into my IV, the pain subsided, and the room swum around
me as I drifted to sleep.