Chapter 1: Blackbird, fly...

I was 21 when it happened. When I received the phone call that would change my life forever. I had been working on something important, and the phone ringing multiple times through my thoughts threw me into a fit of frustration and grumbling about the laziness of the eight other people I live with. It all seems trivial now.

The shrill ringing was a sound I never particularly enjoyed - but as I approached the phone that day, I felt something particularly ominous about it. There was a sense of dread when I grabbed it, and my hand was quivering when I picked it up.

"Hello?" I said into the receiver.

"Tay?" The voice on the other end hinted at fear, and my fist tightened around the receiver.

"What's wrong?"

"Zac's been in an accident."

"Accident?" I stopped breathing.

"He's still alive." She reassured me, "But he's been unconscious for awhile... I'm at the emergency room."

"What happened? Is he going to be okay?"

I could see her shaking her head on the other end. I heard tears in her voice when she said, "I think you all should come down here."

Alexis called. Said Zac was in an accident. We need to go to the emergency room. I don't know... I don't know.

Desperation was in my mother's eyes when we finally met Alexis at the hospital. Everyone was frantic to hear the story. Alexis was shaking and nervous when she told it.

"I... I was at the bookstore with him, and he wanted to go down to the Blockbuster at the end of the block. I said I'd meet him in a few, and when I came out of the store, he was only a few paces ahead of me...

"I ran to try and catch up, and suddenly some guy came flying around the corner and swerved straight into him.

"The doctors say he's paralyzed from the waist down and he broke some ribs... But he hasn't woken up yet."

My heart seemed to travel upwards and block my throat. It pounded so loudly in my head. The news didn't quite penetrate the surface, but I found myself unable to speak immediately. My youngest sister begged my mother for reassurance.

"What's going to happen to Zac? Is he okay?"

She said what we all wanted her to say... "He'll be fine."

And in the waiting room we waited with false homes and silent optimism. In the stillness I couldn't dream or think of anything. I stared blankly at a Hi-lites picture find for an hour. I found the feather, the needle, and the watch - but I couldn't seem to find the spoon.

"Whatcha doin'?" Alexis hummed over my shoulder. I broke out of my empty thought with a start and glanced at her.

"Wondering." I said, softly.

"He'll be fine." She said. "He'll be fine... Zac's strong."

That's what we all thought. He's going to make it. He's strong. Tomorrow will be like every other day... and today will be his next big joke.

A doctor or a nurse (I don't remember which) finally approached us with words we had all been waiting anxiously to hear. "He's awake and he wants to see you."

We smiled at our doubts and padded down to his hospital room - but our smiles soon faded when we saw him. Solemn, still, and connected to every hospital machine. He watched us come in and he made his lips smile at the sight.

"Hey..." His voice was almost inaudible, and it fell harsh against my ears. His raspy, forced breathing and the machinery were the only sounds we could hear for a while. Everyone was at a loss for words... a rare sound in our family: silence.

My baby sister walked up next to him and stood up on the stool beside his bed and said, "Hi Zac!" We all laughed, and the awkward silence disappeared.

We spent the night talking with him - my sisters went on and on about their day, and he listened; smiling, unmoving and speaking very little. My brother tried to make him laugh by telling jokes. My Dad even read him his favorite childhood bedtime stories - and even Zac couldn't deny the smile he had on his face when he was listening to those.

But later when we were growing tired, Mom took the kids home and Isaac and I stayed with him alone.

"You know," He said to us, "There's... there's a chance I might not make it through this..."

I shook my head and laughed, "Zac, you're not going to die."

He didn't respond, but looked at us with glassy eyes. It was true he was having a hard time breathing... and talking... and moving. He was in pain - where he could feel it - but in my mind then I would not believe my 18-year-old brother was facing his last hours.

He fell unconscious again, and we stayed awake by his bed until the doctors rushed in and asked us to leave. True fear was pulsing through me for the very first time that day. We sat in the waiting room with our sleeping father silently wondering for hours. Suddenly I was realizing that maybe everything wasn't going to be okay, and the downward spiral began.

Late that night, when everything grew still again and the doctors and nurses stopped going in and out of Zac's room, Isaac and I crept in, quietly, guitar in hand. The secretary at the desk must have wondered what we were doing, but no one came in or said a word to us. I never thought this was truly going to be the last time.

Isaac and I were quiet when we spoke to him, and I felt myself almost growing hysterical when he didn't respond... I was beginning to accept my defeat - but I was so scared of it my body was quivering underneath khaki and cloth.

"I know you can't hear us, Zac... but if this is your last night on earth... I'm spending it talking to you." I said, defiantly. "I don't care what the people here think."

"We're going to sing for you..." Isaac added, more softly. "Maybe... maybe to cure you of this... horrible state."

"We thought about it... and we decided on this because... it's like one of your favorite songs... and... I guess that's really all we can say about it. We... we just want you to wake up so badly."

Isaac nodded at me, agreeing. "We love you, Zac."

I glanced at Isaac, and he strummed the chords on his guitar - I followed up with the vocals.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
take these broken wings and learn to fly
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to arrive
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
take these sunken eyes and learn to see
you were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird, fly, blackbird, fly
into the light of a dark black night...

The words weighed heavily on my mind, and my heart was sinking fast. We sat silent at the end of the song, and our final glint of hope came when we were just about to leave the room, again.

Zac raised his arm, and with his meek voice he called - barely audible - "Stay."

We turned around and returned to our positions by his bedside, wide-eyed. "Are you awake?"

He nodded, but lay silent.

We stayed with him, by his side... singing songs to him... and hoping... and knowing in our heads that in the smallest hours of the morning he would be alright. We sat awake in the white sterile room wondering and praying. Doctors were in and out, but they didn't ask us to leave again... They smiled when they saw us.

I watched the run rise out of the window, and Isaac had finally put down his guitar. I had asked God that night to take away his pain - and I glanced over at his peaceful figure under the sheets... the sunlight just barely creeping in over his bed, and I thought of how it was going to be when he was well.

There was a sudden groan of pain and a flurry of doctors. It happened too fast for them to ask us to leave, and we were there - by his bedside - until his last breath. And we were the first to know when the doctor turned to us and said - "He's gone."