The older couple that'd adopted me as a small child nearly stayed alive until I went through most of high school. I was fifteen almost sixteen, and in the middle of my junior year when everything went sideways. Not that I was some stellar student, but I was going to school and doing what was needed to graduate. I wasn't overly close to them, but nevertheless they'd been my parents. With their age well past most of my peers' folks it wasn't like they understood me but at least they let me grow up unharmed in a nice middle class neighborhood.
And by the way, yeah it's true that drunk driving kills -- the folks were bringing me back from some high school pep squad thing that was being held at my high school that Friday night, and since they thought that sort of thing was really important to my growth we'd all piled into the car and went together as a family, as far as I know just for me to be mildly embarrassed. We all endured the 'rah-rah' stuff with young girls flipping around mid-air with pompoms and sparkling white teeth while the football team screamed out that they were going to be number one. I watched the various jocks and cheerleaders -- oh wait -- 'spirit' squad or whatever the cheerleaders renamed themselves -- shouted out how they were going to totally slay the cross-town rival team on Friday. So it must have been Thursday night in the fall since most of the games were only played on Friday. Even now all that remains in my thoughts about that particular time was that my family life was blown apart in a massive car accident that killed both of them and left me crumpled on the backseat with a seatbelt safely harnessed over me and that the belt had to be cut off before the paramedics could assess my condition. The folks were not breathing and with most of the Buick engine block pressed up against them I was glad because I would easily have heard them screaming for the rest of my natural life. As it was I still can picture them in their final moments and it's not pretty. It all ended with closed caskets and a quick funeral Mass at the same church where I'd been abandoned sixteen years before nearly to the day.
The night they were buried was when I found out that I was different.
Thus given all the circumstances, there wasn't anyone to stay with me after they died; despite how nice the couple had been they didn't have any family left from what I was told. They were pretty much the end of their lineage on both sides and they had long planted their assorted cousins and kin as they passed. I knew that over the years we'd gone to funerals of folks; I hadn't really known any of them, but nevertheless I sat passively next to my adopted parents and kept my thoughts to myself. I hadn't really thought much of it since I was a child and children rarely missed that which they'd never had. I didn't have any concept of grandparents or aunts and uncles doting on me because the people who'd so kindly adopted me didn't have any real immediate family, just various people that swapped holiday cards -- Christmas and Easter from what I'd seen on the fireplace mantel. The distant cousins who'd died over the years had been scattered around the country and at least one or two generations removed. They all were much older than me and didn't have any children for the most part from everything I knew.
The local priest from my parents' parish had sweetly offered to send one of the sisters from the school to sit with me but I refused softly, saying that I'd be fine. Had one of the nuns been keeping me company I don't have any idea what would have happened the night my folks were buried. As it was, that night was probably the oddest thing that had ever happened to me to that point in my life.
I was still banged up from being in the accident. I knew I was hurt but honestly I didn't much care. I wasn't in shock like everyone kept thinking, but I was paralyzed, knowing everything had shifted. There were parts of my body that ached horribly and there was a nasty twinge in my neck that was probably some sort of soft tissue damage. At fifteen I didn't much care, I just wanted to be at my home in my room and left the hell alone. Moody teenage hormones working their magic, I wasn't exactly an ideal patient to start.
Right after the accident, the local hospital I'd been taken to was over-run with all the people who'd been involved in the large multi-car disaster ,so when I was brought in it turned out that it wasn't hard for me to leave. After a quick examination to make sure I wasn't hemorrhaging blood or that something was sticking out of my skin, like a bone or two, the triage nurse had rapidly abandoned me in the smelly hallway chair outside an exam room to take care of some woman screaming about her broken leg, who had been screaming while still in the waiting room. There were a ton of people milling about, including the police, I talked one to of the police officers who'd come to take statements, since my adoptive parents were dead and I took the time to convince the young man that all I wanted was to be at my own home safe, not sitting in some plastic pre-formed chair waiting for pretty much nothing but time to pass. He was under the mistaken idea that the dead couple were my natural parents and that I just wanted to go home to cry or something. I let him keep thinking that since he was easily persuaded by the fake tears I let well up in my eyes, and of course I quivered my lower lip a bit. It didn't take me more than a minute to see that the cop was a pushover. I think the idea of me crying scared him more than anything else, because he offered to drop me off at home without calling anyone or questioning the doctors if I was ready to be released.
I patted his arm and went past him to the heavily posted check out desk. He mistakenly thought that I was checking out when he saw me at the desk because I stalled and asked for a map of the rooms and made the woman show me where the various points of interest were like the restroom and snack shop. I folded the paperwork from the busy woman and jammed it into my backpack that thankfully I'd thought to snag before I was shoved in the ambulance. My long sleeved shirt hid the plastic patient bracelet so thoughtfully supplied by the triage nurse and soon I was back schmoozing the cop, who thought he'd just seen me get discharged into thinking it was his idea to take me home.
I quickly took him up on the offer again, and he let me sit up front in the squad car and flashed the lights a few times to get us through the city traffic. I thanked him nicely with large Bambi eyes brimming with unshed tears so he felt special and let me go without asking too many questions, and then I went inside -- truly alone for the first time. I have to say it wasn't that I didn't care for my parents but I didn't tend to cry in front of people. I'd mourn in my own way when I was alone. I used my house key and let myself inside the dark home. The house seemed oddly quiet, but then it dawned on me I was used to the noises from people moving around, playing the radio, the TV blaring unwatched in the living room and my foster mom preparing meals noisily in the kitchen. Quietly I went to my room, slowly stripped off my worn clothing and crawled into bed without even taking a shower, and then I slept until someone hammered at the front door the following morning. Looking at the clock I figured that I'd slept for nearly sixteen hours. Shaking my head, I put on some sweats and headed to the door discombobulated by the rough wake up knock.
I saw that there was a pair of men in suits standing woodenly at the front door, and I immediately figured out that they were police of some sort, standing along with the parish priest from my adoptive folks church. I had gone with them every week, but I hadn't made any sort of bond with the priest. He looked uncomfortable but it was pretty oblivious that he was obviously trying to make me feel better from the sincere smile stretched over his features. They all invited themselves inside the house and proceeded to tell me that my adopted parents were in good hands, and that they'd make sure the driver who caused the accident was punished to the utmost of the law. I didn't care because it wasn't like I was able to do anything about it. The parish priest said that he'd take care of the final arrangements and the detectives walked around the house poking their noses into drawers and closets without asking. I didn't think to stop them because it wasn't like I hadn't done the same thing at times. Legalities aside, I wasn't overly concerned since my folks didn't hide anything and I had found myself constantly digging through things looking for clues about my past and why these people had adopted me. They weren't overly hovering or easily excited but to me it was more like they adopted me to place a check in the box marked 'family.' I thought it fitting they died together since I couldn't imagine one without the other.
The first thing I'd noticed was that the three talked about me as if I wasn't there. The priest said that he couldn't have me come back to the rectory because there was nobody to watch over me. The two detectives were middle-aged men with suits, paunches and a tired overall appearance. Just the idea of me having to be 'dealt' with seemed to upset the usual order of things for the men, and it came to me that I could speak for myself. I had just grown so used to being discussed by my adopted parents over the years, as if I wasn't there, that I hadn't seen the need to interrupt.
"I can stay here perfectly fine." I said softly.
They all stopped fidgeting and looked at me.
"Well, now, Esmeralda," began the detective with a brusque manner, but nice eyes; he didn't know that I'd been called Emmy by my parents and from the look on the priest's face he didn't have a clue either.
The other interrupted with, "We could call Family Services."
I said, "No, thank you. I am not exactly a child."
The three men looked at me like I'd sprung a spare head when they weren't looking; and was also speaking in tongues. Apparently they had an agenda they hadn't bothered to inform me about before they'd arrived. I paused and waited for someone to continue. I didn't have long to wait.
The priest said, "But you are a child." Concern etched his face as he tried to come to terms with the idea I could speak. I guess I was little more than a stage prop to him, to be moved around the house. I bit my lip and waited. Nobody else spoke while I tumbled various answers.
Sighing deeply I finally said, "So for the past three years, I can baby sit for Mrs. Shepard down the street and that's perfectly fine? But now suddenly I have to go to someone else's home and be watched? Really?"
The two detectives tossed looks to each other that I wasn't supposed to notice. I had struck a nerve with them. One or both of them must have had some teenager watching their kids on weekends when they took their wives to dinner.
The priest caught something in the glance and nodded slowly in agreement, then said, "Fine, then I'll get someone to come over later and check on you. They'll take care of all the needed arrangements to care for your parents at this difficult time."