“The sirens were already too late, blaring their ungodly wail in addition to the deafening roar of the planes. The bombers had snuck in under radar, dropping their torpedoes all over town. You could hear them coming, swooping to the ground in quick succession, giant birds of prey bringing death and destruction on the back of their wings, riding on the current of the wind, as they struck their mark one by one. Each hit precise, each jarring impact causing a crater wide area of destruction that snatched the lives of everyone around us.
Screaming. The thing I remember most is the screaming. I could hear it in every direction, the desperate cries of agony and loss permeating the air like some dying beast. Friends. Neighbors. Innocents. The screaming voices of loved ones and strangers alike, flooded the ebony night, and branded into the deep recesses of my mind…
I ran for the underground bunker just like we practiced so many times before. I still replay it constantly in my mind, as if I could change the past by some minor detour in my thoughts or actions. A delay. A turn in another direction. A pause. Anything. But I couldn’t alter the course nor the choices I made that night. I never saw the bomb that hit our house. It knocked me to the ground, propelling me forward and into a nearby tree where I instantly lost consciousness.
When I awakened, it was hours later. The bombing was over. A creepy stillness had overtaken the screaming, leaving a haunting desperate quiet in its wake. Nothing made a sound. No birds. No animals. Sparks from a nearby electrical pole shot into the air above me, waving in defiance, lurking and sulking, awaiting the next victim to cross their path.
My nostrils burned. The still night air reeked of destruction. The stench of oil, gasoline, burning wood and debris, metallic blood and rotting flesh, and death filled the air. It permeated everything.
Death. It assaulted my senses. I started coughing in the cloudy, dark night air. My chest constricted with the effort it took to breathe. That’s when I noticed I had pain, and an abundance of it. So much pain, unlike any I had ever felt before. I fought for control over my body.
Pain seemed to reach with clawed hands toward my consciousness, ripping and pulling. Dominant. Desperate. I could not let it reach the destination. Somehow I knew, I would die if I let the pain win.
Death was sneaky. Death was cunning. It masked itself as pain.
I was covered in blood. My shirt was soaked, clinging to my clammy skin with a heavy copper scent, and I knew from the pain in my abdomen that it couldn’t be good. There was a large gash across my left thigh that still sported the scar today. My left arm was broken. I also had a concussion. My head was throbbing and my vision was blurry, fading in and out as the pain increased.
Fight, I thought. Fight! Death would not win.
Moaning from nearby caught my attention. It sounded an awful lot like Lydia. I called out for her, trying to discern exactly which direction I was going to have to crawl. My head throbbed with every breath I took, making it difficult to hear and distinguish the noises around me. Vertigo hit. Between the sparks, her moaning, and my own spinning head, I was confused. I called to her again. No answer greeted me. Silence. I tried a third time.
“Lizzie?” A faint voice answered back.
She was calling to my right. With my left arm wrapped around my middle for support, I crawled over to my sister. It took only a few minutes to creep over but it was agonizing. Clawing my way slowly across the uneven earth, I made my way to Lydia. Inch by agonizing inch.
When I reached her I almost fainted at the site of her wound. She had a section of her abdomen blown open by a large piece of debris, still protruding, and mixed with intestine. She was making a funny gurgling sound when she breathed, her chest rising and falling quickly.
“Lydia, it’s me, Lizzie. You’re going to be fine. We’ll get a doctor and find mom, she-”
She interrupted me. “Mom’s…dead.”
I stared at her in shock. I wasn’t fully comprehending.
“How do you know?”
“Saw…her…go,” she responded, her voice weaker.
“Oh God,” I whispered.
I didn’t know what to do. There was blood everywhere. How did I stop the bleeding when I couldn’t tell exactly which organs were involved and where her injury was located? She was bleeding out fast, much too quickly for me to stop it. I suddenly realized she was going to die. Right in front of me. There was nothing I could do. Frantically I held my hand up against her stomach, but stopped when I saw her wince in pain.
Mom would have known what to do. She was a nurse. She had taught me first aid. Right now I could remember nothing. Not a damn thing. I wished she was there. Oh mom. Mom…
Fatigue was starting to set in. Behind the fatigue a numbness marched quickly behind. The numbing crept into my mind. Fight! I had to fight and stay awake. No death, not tonight.
I blinked my eyes rapidly, trying to restore my befuddled thoughts. Fight it Lizzie! Struggling, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. I couldn’t help it. The harder I fought it, the more my head hurt until I finally succumbed. No, not now. No…
We both fell asleep. I woke up in a panic, calling for Lydia frantically until I heard her answer. Fainter and fainter, her voice faded as her body declined. I took her hand trying to comfort her as best I could. Squeezing it from time to time, I talked constantly, hoping my voice distracted her from the pain and gave her some small measure of comfort. She had to know she wasn’t alone. In her final moments, I wanted her to know I was there.
“Lydia, can you hear me? I wanted to tell you…I’m sorry.”
“It’s…ok…Lizzie,” she whispered, hardly loud enough for me to hear.
“No, Lydia, listen. I’m sorry, for always causing so much trouble. I’m sorry I always left you…to do everything alone,” I told her, my voice breaking.
I didn’t like the way she sounded. The pain was gone from her voice, leaving it sounding hollow…flat and tired. Weak. Vulnerable. I started to panic again. No death, please not tonight.
“Lydia? Lydia, are you awake?” I called, hysterically.
“Yes…doesn’t…hurt…now,” she answered, slowly.
“Forgive me Lydia,” I begged through my tears, “please.”
“Nothing…to…forgive,” she whispered.
I looked at her, so pale and fragile. “Lydia…I love you.”
She was not afraid. In the middle of all of this death and destruction, she was at peace.
“Love…you Lizzie. Always.”
“Always big sister,” I promised her, choking and blubbering with my tears.
She held on for most of the night, passing away in the early morning hours of a crimson and hazy dawn. Death had claimed her. Death had won. A thief in the night. Traitor. Enemy. Hatred welled up inside me. What right did death have to claim her?
I leaned over her broken body and started sobbing uncontrollably. I’ll never forget the horror or the finality of her death. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as I watched her soul leave her body…empty…cold and alone. I’ll never forget the way her hand slipped out of mine as the last of her strength ebbed from her ravaged body.
I cried over her lifeless form for hours, refusing to believe she was really gone. Panicking. Gasping. I started screaming, unable to stop myself. The screaming reverberated through my brain, in every corner, the agony of loss consuming me, and gutting me with its cruel finality. Shock rooted me to the spot. And still I screamed, the sound anchoring my hate in this horrid place.
My sister was gone. So was my mother. Nothing could ever bring them back. They were lost to me. Forever. Nothing could change it. But there was one certainty I could cling to. War. Through the crimson haze of blood and hatred I made a vow. Vengeance. I wanted blood. I wanted revenge. I would inflict terrible pain and suffering upon those that did this. They would pay. I would spend my dying breath ensuring their fate.
I would later learn that this solitary incident ignited a flame of hatred that fueled the refugee movement. In that moment, I succumbed to the agony and torment, grief stricken for my mother and sister. The fight momentarily zapped from my body, I relented, releasing the pent up emotion, oozing, pouring out of me and heaping upon the tumultuous earth. Shaking, I clutched my sister’s body close to mine.
In the distance, I heard a rumble and the earth shook beneath me. Nothing would ever be the same again. Everything had changed. My cries of horrified anguish mingling with my shrill screams still echo in my brain today. They never diminish. They constantly linger. Ever present. Raw. A daily reminder that never leaves me. Always alive in my mind like an electric shock, coming to the surface of my skin, burning me like hot coals that make my fingers twitch. Reaching forward…grasping…I’m alone. And on nights like this, the memory still serves to fuel my fire, the fuel for revenge. I never let go. I never waiver. I never forget.
It’s at this point in my dream that I always awaken, the pain so vivid, so vibrantly real that I realize it’s my own screaming jolting me back into awareness, where trembling and covered in sweat, I try not to take my own life…
K.D. That’s the day I died. At least partially. Or I was reborn. It depended on your point of view. The answer didn’t matter to me. It’s the day everything changed. The day I decided I would do anything, the day I decided nothing was greater than the taste of vengeance. The taste of hatred. The taste of blood. Only one thing mattered now. One thing ruled me. One thing guided me.