When I was a kid living on a small farm in Minnesota, my family had a dirt bike.
Actually, if I remember correctly, it was really just a small motorcycle. My (incredibly short) mom used to ride alongside my dad’s chunky Goldwing Honda, but as she got older she gradually lost interest in having a bike of her own. Because it was so small and easy to maneuver, it was handed down to us kids for a period of time. I was only about six or seven when my brother and sister used to take turns riding it around the farm.
It happened one hot July day when dad and I were out by the barn. I can’t remember what we were doing, but I think we were cleaning it. I remember feeling very proud that I was daddy’s helper that day.
“Sandy, go turn on the hose for me, will ya?”
I bounded across the yard to the back of the house, headed for the spigot. But as I reached for the knob, I heard something strange coming from the driveway.
You have to understand, from my father’s and my position near the barn, the driveway was entirely obstructed by a small grove and our house. Neither of us could have seen what had happened.
Anyway, I could hear the dirt bike’s engine, but it wasn’t roaring and sputtering about like it should be. It sounded as though the bike had been abandoned. And I was hearing something…familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
I walked slowly around the house and realized what that noise was.
The dirt bike lay at the end of the driveway near the highway, the engine stalled and choking. My sister was halfway down the driveway, sobbing as she tried to crawl towards the house. It was her far-off, somewhat muffled sobs that had resonated with me.
I ran towards her, thinking for some insane reason that she had been stung by a bee (I wasn’t exactly the most brilliant child). As I approached, I could see she was gripping her leg, her knuckles white as marble.
Her eyes turned towards me, filled with tears. She took in a deep, shuddering breath and told me in the calmest voice she could muster, “Sandy, go get dad.”
I ran for the barn, screaming for my dad. He looked at me with raised eyebrows. I was winded by the time I got to him, but I managed to choke out, “Hannah is on the ground and she needs you.”
I think it took all of eight seconds for dad to get to my sister’s side. He lifted her off the ground like a rag doll and I saw that her ankle was black and purple and swollen. He carried her to the car and drove us to the ER, my sister’s sniffling accompanying us the whole way.
She had sprained her ankle pretty bad. We were lucky it wasn’t broken, but the dirt bike was never used again, anyway. My parents always said that it had broken during that incident, but I think they were really just too nervous to let us on it again. I always was a little bitter I’d never gotten a chance to ride it.
Although this happened when my sister was 12 and I was seven, sometimes I’ll still have dreams, even now that I’m 20. In my dreams she’ll be on the ground, the leather jacket askew on her thin shoulders and gravel embedded in her golden hair. She only ever says that one phrase. “Sandy, go get dad.”
In fact, I had this dream not so long ago. But this time it was a little different.
I remember being particularly disoriented because I hadn’t even remembered falling asleep. Everything was dark and stuffy. I could smell smoke, as though the engine of the bike had caught fire.
Hannah was next to me on the ground. Usually I wasn’t on the ground with her, which made this dream particularly strange. Instead of gravel in her hair, I saw blood staining her bangs. I couldn’t see much else of her body other than that bloody blonde streak and those wide, clear eyes.
And then, just like all the other dreams, she pulled in that halting breath in an attempt to steady herself. “Sandy, go get dad.”
After that, my memory fades a bit. The next thing I remember is standing outside near a field. My head was pounding like crazy and I was stumbling around a ditch. My feet got tangled in a clump of weeds and I fell to the ground, my hands sinking in the soft dirt.
I have to go get dad, I thought. You know how sometimes your brain just doesn’t seem to work in a dream? You can’t really make coherent thoughts, you only drift through the dreamscape in a daze? Well, that’s what was happening to me. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. I couldn’t even think where my dad might be. I just crawled along the ditch for a while….
That’s where my dream left off.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed.
I tried to remember going to sleep, but I couldn’t. My eyes wandered down my arm where the IVs were connected at my elbows. I lifted my right hand to my head and gingerly fingered the soft gauze bandage.
Before I could really process where I was, my parents were next to me, their strained eyes pouring over my injuries, their shaking voices asking me if I felt okay, did I remember anything, how bad was the pain.
I looked up at my dad. His stone gray eyes seemed to have cracked and split.
“Dad…I had the strangest dream…I dreamed about the time Hannah sprained her ankle…do you remember that? On the bike…”
Dad’s face hardened into something I couldn’t understand as he left the room. My mom was in tears beside me.
I looked at her and the doctor, bewildered.
“What is it? What happened?”
My mom took my hand. She started hesitantly. I could tell that she didn’t want to explain this to me, but she didn’t feel she had any other choice.
“You and Hannah were in an accident on the highway… a deer ran out into the road, and when Hannah swerved, you guys rolled into the ditch. You managed to get out of and a little ways away from the car, but by the time the cops found you….”
My throat tightened as I saw Hannah’s sharp blue eyes once again in the back of my mind. “What happened? Where’s Hannah?”
One single sob escaped my mom’s throat as her hand closed even tighter around mine. “Hannah couldn’t get out…she…burned to death….”
My mom was still crying and the doctor was smoothing my hair with a sympathetic hand but I couldn’t hear them anymore. I barely took notice of them.
Sandy, go get dad.
Why didn’t I listen?