Seven minutes. Seven moments. Seven would-be hours. Seven tiny slices of eternity. Seven years trying to hold back the tears. Seven sixty seconds. A hundred miniscule gasps. And five people. Left shattered on the sidewalk. Five lives ruined forever. Five broken faiths. Five crushed bodies. And seven seconds. Of blinding agony.
One thing left unsaid. Rotting in the silence. In this hollow room. The empty shadows taunting. Me. You. And all that could have been. All that isn't. All that is. The cold harsh strip lighting illuminating the bruises. The contusions. The blood. All emanating from ignorance. Our joint ignorance. And my own individual stupidity. My lack of strength to stand against the mass. Oh yes, the mass, the mass of four. Four people. Four friends. And still I would not say, would not speak out. Would not save them. A murmured whisper isn't enough. I condemned them all with my inaction. And why? Why should it all be on me? Just because I sit here. Just because I don't lie with torn flesh and cracked bones. They all had minds too. They all should have known better too. Why am I the one left here, alone, with the burden of blame? And over in my mind everything replays.
I opened my eyes, blinked and looked anew upon the world. Alive. Alive, I couldn't believe it. Glanced around, vaguely bemused. A slight trace of a smile on my cracked lips. Alive! I'd full well expected to never wake again, but to burn out slowly, simmering in the petrol fuelled inferno of that wreck. But there I was, in the back of that screaming ambulance. And later again, in the hospital, awake. And I asked of them. Amidst my pain, I asked of them. The nurses, the two of them, they looked around, avoided my eye, stared at the floor. Finally they let their gazes rest upon each other, as an unspoken decision was made. Then one answered. She was in her mid forties, greying hair, ineffectively dyed over with cheap colorant bought on a nurse's wages. Her skin, slightly crinkled, the lines showing the age and wear, not of time, but of hard work. And as I watched I'm sure I saw a new wrinkle form, just by her chin. Creasing her face into a look of sheer condolence. Pity twinkled in her average blue eyes. I'll always remember that face. And in my dreams, in my nightmares, it will haunt me for the rest of my life. No longer the face of a prematurely aged nurse, but of the reaper; of death, of the one who stole them away from me. Of mortality. And I wept. For those passed. Stolen from this life by death's ever reaching hand, clawing and ripping at their charred flesh. For those still with us, clinging tenuously to life by the thinnest of threads. For those still destined to surrender to the empty blackness of the grave.
At first I thought I had been saved. Been blessed by God. Perhaps because, although I was a fool, at least I knew that I was doing wrong. But in a short space of time I grew to understand that this was not a blessing, but a curse. A punishment for my ignorance. To relive it in my mind, with each breath, each heartbeat, each tear. To miss them each day, each hour, each minute. And to know that it is my fault. To harbour this guilt inside me, lingering and multiplying, until it drives me insane. Survivor's guilt. That's what they call it. What they tell me. Should go see a councillor, they've made recommendations, they say I'll be alright in a few months. But I don't want to be alright. Don't understand how I could be alright. As I sit by your bedside. I deserve this. I wasn't an innocent party. Not a traveller on a plane bound for distant shores that crashed down into the ocean. No, I was a part in this. And you are not gone yet. Not just yet. I am not the sole survivor yet. Give it time, give it time, always give it time. But what if you have no time? What if you spent it all on pure folly. Let it drift away in an alcoholic haze. Didn't spend it with you. Tucked away in a cabin. Alone in the woods. Walking in the park. At a fair. In town. Because all I needed was you, I just never realised it. And now I will never have the chance to tell you. And as the doctors come to switch off the machine that's keeping you alive, all I can vow is to never drink again. To never allow anyone I know to drive in that condition again. And as you pass away, I don't know how to go on. I don't even know how to cry any more. All I am is numb. Numb and empty. All because of those seven minutes. Just seven minutes, such a short journey to hell.