A winter chill had encroached upon New York. I watched the morning news as car accidents were reported throughout the city. Luckily, I lived close enough to school to walk. When I got out into the storm, I noticed that Christmas cheer had evolved into anger and frustrations from people I passed. Everyone was running late and tempers flared, thus giving into the theory of how New Yorkers really are. The holiday joy had been blown away by the bitter winds. I was running late too, being tardy for the first time all year and then late again getting home from orchestra practice. My teacher kept us longer to make sure we were prepared for the Christmas pageant coming up on Saturday. As I walked home I got a text from Mom explaining that they had left to see Tyler's game and would be back late that evening. I didn't mind. I knew they were coming to my recital the next day, and besides, I would have the house to myself for once. Mom called me one more time as they drove to the game.
“Are you sure you're going to be okay tonight, honey?” Mom asked me.
“Yes, Mom. Jeez. I’m not a little kid anymore.” I answered back coolly. “You just have a good time at the game with Dad. Tell Tyler he'd better get a double-double for me.”
“I will, sweetie. There are leftovers in the fridge when you get hungry. And hey, it’s Friday night. Call someone up or have a friend over. We trust you.”
“Okay, Mom. Thanks.”
“Bye, sweetie. I love you.”
“Yeah, me, too. Bye, Mom.” Why didn’t I just say I love you? Teenagers could be so stupid sometimes.
I made use of my night by reading a book and watching another Christmas special. This time it was Miracle on 34th Street, a homegrown, New York movie. I also sent a text to my friend about plans on Saturday: shopping at the mall to get gifts for the family. I lost track of time, though, and realized that they were running late.
“Tyler's game should have been over by now,” I said. “It must be this storm holding them up.” At first their tardiness didn't bother me. The storm, overtime, going out to eat—there was a number of possibilities. But as the TV shows passed the night away, I still had no word from them. I finally grabbed my cell and began to text.
Where R U? I sent it out to all of my family in a group text. There was no reply. I quickly took to actually calling Mom, something I rarely did. The phone rang and rang before finally being sent to voice mail.
“Hey, Mom. It's Hope. I can't get any of you. Call me as soon as you get this message. Thanks. Bye.” I hoped that it didn't show through, but there was worry in my voice in that phone call. My heart just wouldn't stop pounding.
I called again and again. All three of their phones. Nothing.
Two hours later there was a deep, penetrating knock on my front door. It startled me so much I jumped from the sofa and scrambled to the door, first checking through the glass to see who it was. Two uniformed police officers stood on my front porch. I immediately flung the door open.
“Are you Hope Kilpatrick?” asked one of the officers, a younger man, probably early thirties, tall with just a hint of gray in his sideburns. The older one stood just behind him, his eyes dark.
“What happened? Where is my family?” I asked loudly, already knowing this had to do with them.
“Where is my family?” I repeated, practically yelling at the officers this time.
“There was an accident,” the other officer finally said, a hint of grief in his words. I nodded my head to show that I understood, but for a moment I couldn't find the words.
Focus. Remain calm.
“Okay. Okay, then they must be at the hospital. Can you tell me which one so that I can get going?” My mind was whirling. I thought about stepping inside and grabbing the keys to Mom's car—or maybe they were here to take me? But the first cop stared deep into my eyes and ducked his head.
“I'm sorry, Miss, but—”
“No! You tell me where they are right now!”
The officer stepped forward and tried to place a hand on my shoulder to comfort me, but I pushed it away. I wasn’t going to accept it. I wasn’t going to accept their story. There had to be some mistake. This didn’t happen to people like my family. Not to them, not to me.
I swung around and went inside. I could hear them calling my name, but I wasn’t about to answer. I found my mom’s keys in the kitchen where she always put them. The police were in the entranceway when I made my way out again. The younger one threw his hands up in front of him, like he was trying to corral me.
“Miss Kilpatrick, stop,” he ordered, but in the slightest way. I wasn’t going to listen. I just wanted to get to them, to be by their side like they had been for me for so many years.
“Please, just tell me where they are!” I demanded back at him, but my voice trailed off and I could feel my eyes being engulfed by tears. He shook his head again. Why did he have to keep doing that? But for some reason, I knew the answer.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” his voice was about to break. “They’re not coming home, sweetie.”
Sweetie? You ring my doorbell and give this awful news and have the audacity to call me sweetie?
I went from frustrated sadness to anger in a heartbeat. I threw myself at him as hard as I could, pounding on his uniform, screaming the worst profanities I could before he restrained me up in his arms so that I couldn’t move. I just wanted to hurt him and I couldn’t even do that.
He didn't have to use the words “killed” or “no survivors.” I had figured it out on my own as I sobbed loudly against the officer. The man I tried to attack now held me like a child in his arms, as I could do nothing but weep. The drunk driver just couldn't stop on the icy roads and had slammed into my family’s car with such force that they were all killed instantly. There would be no criminal court to see the drunk punished. No trial or witnesses to make sure he lived the rest of his life in prison for killing three innocent people. He got off free by dying in the carnage he caused.
I just couldn’t stop crying as I held their picture. That wretched picture would always let me know what I once had, what was gone forever. It was such a big crossroads to encounter at sixteen years old and basically, alone.
Fate had looked me square in the face and punched me as hard as it could.