Danny was still unconscious when the paramedics took him out of our living room. They carried him out on a hard stretcher, his head immobilized with a series of straps over his forehead and chin. The other families who lived in our apartment complex stood outside on the lawn we all shared to get a better view of what the commotion was all about. The lights atop the multiple emergency vehicles, now parked in front of our door, lit up the summer evening in intervals that flashed off and on through neighbor’s windows in alternating blues, reds, and whites. They carried his little body out to the ambulance, lifted him into the back, and shut the doors behind him. They drove away and my mother followed, leaving me in the living room with only my aunt and the horrifying guilt that I had just killed my little brother.
It had only been a few minutes earlier that Danny and I were playing in the living room as the evening was winding down. We were watching TV and intermittently pestering each other and roughhousing during commercial breaks as young boys might normally do when they are bored. Nobody was planning on anything eventful happening in the very near future.
It was late summertime in southern California and since there was no school yet, we had spent most of the day outside, as usual, playing games like Tag and Hide-and-Go-Seek with the neighborhood kids. Most of the kids we played with were a bit older than us, the bigger kids being around nine or ten, while Danny and I were around four and seven years old. After thoroughly exhausting all of the standard childhood games, including all the sub-variations of Tag, such as Freeze Tag and Cartoon Tag, the older kids showed us a new game.
The Rocket, as they called it, required only two people, preferably one would be a bit smaller than the other. Perfect, Danny is just the right size, he has no idea how awesome this is going to be! The larger of the two lies down with their back on the ground, pulls their knees to their chest and creates a little seat with the bottom of their feet. It resembled the fetal position with the bottom kid’s legs pulled in tight to the chest, ready to spring up and out forcibly. The smaller kid sat on the upturned feet, like a barstool, and prepared for launch. As the kid on the ground pushed powerfully up and out, the lucky little human projectile on the other end soared through the air and landed somewhat gracefully, and upright, about 10 feet away. The keyword is upright.
Understandably, my four-year-old brother was not too keen on being flung helplessly through the air by my feet, and he refused to let me test my launch capabilities on him. Since he was the smallest kid in the group and I was the second smallest, there was no one else I could play with. Why does he always have to be such a baby? After arguing with him for a while – as a young boy this means throwing demeaning insults his way – and trying to convince him he wouldn’t get hurt, I gave up and went inside to watch some TV. What could possibly go wrong?
Once inside however, I refused to waiver in my coercion techniques. During commercial breaks I used all of my advanced seven-year-old name calling tactics that usually worked on Danny when I wanted him to go along with one of my little schemes. I called him a wuss, a baby, a scaredy cat, and a slew of other tried and true names that kids use on one another to play on their fear of being too young to do something in life. Our mother half-heartedly scolded me from the couch on my crude behavior, but eventually it worked and he caved. They were both tired of hearing my voice. Just wait till everyone sees how cool this is…
Grinning from ear to ear because I had got what I wanted, I assumed the position in the center of the living room and my wary little brother eased his backside onto my waiting feet. The countdown was initiated… 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.. BOOM! I thrusted my legs up as hard as I possibly could, just as instructed. There was quite a bit of up however, and not a whole lot of out. He was also much lighter than I originally anticipated. Coincidentally, it’s the forward and outward motion that is truly pivotal if your goal is to get your flailing little bro to land on his feet instead of his neck…
He went straight up. He came straight down. Woah. His neck and head hit the ground first and hit it hard, followed by the rest of his body buckling down on top of him and causing further contortion of his spine. The look of shock and awe upon my face must have been laughable if you were unaware of the seriousness of the situation I now found myself in. Danny had just enough time to emit a blood-curdling scream, roll over and off his neck, grab my dirty barefoot, and sink his teeth as far as he could into it before his eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out. To this day, we really have no explanation for this unexpected biting move on his part, except that maybe it was a defensive retaliation for his sudden pain.
I was frozen in utter stupor. Mom moved like her hair was on fire. She picked up his limp body and screamed for my aunt to come downstairs and call 911. He looks dead. My brain instantly registered a massive amount of fear, took over control of my body, and made me move. It did the only thing it knew how to do, which was hide, and I did it behind the couch. I squeezed into the space and began hoping it would all just go away. Of course it didn’t work and a few minutes later my aunt and I stood staring out the front door as the flashing lights turned the corner and disappeared. He’s dead. I’m dead.
I awoke very early the next morning and slipped out of my bed in the room that Danny and I shared. Once upon a time, before I killed him. It was still dark but I could see that his bed remained empty. I silently opened our bedroom door and crept along the wall toward my mother’s room. The whole apartment was dark and quiet and my footsteps were louder than I would have liked. I peaked around the door and saw two lumps under the covers of her bed. She must have heard me and turned her head to look at me… she motioned for me to come closer and whispered that everything was going to be okay. The other lump was Danny sporting a brand new foam neck brace. It was just a precaution, as he had a few strained neck muscles. No bones sticking through his neck. She told me to get back to bed and I did what I was told.
This wouldn’t be the last time I would accidentally cause my brother life-threatening injury…