The first time I saw my father weep was the same day I accidentally saved my brother’s life. I was 12.
Our home was a red ranch-style building with a cherry tree in the front yard, whose branches hosted a friendly wooden swing. The driveway sloped down into the street in broken asphalt and smooth concrete to join a beautifully paved Valleyview Drive. The street fell rapidly over a low hill several yards to Canfield Avenue, where there was heavy traffic, traveling between 45-60 MPH. With a decent sized yard and plenty of room to chase one another back and forth, none of us thought much about the road nearby.
All five of us were outdoors that day. We drew with chalk, bickered, and giggled over stupid jokes. The blue 1987 Plymouth Voyager was on the concrete side-driveway next to the garbage cans. The carport was empty, which was a rare treat for us, and so we played under the gray skies of the oncoming autumn.
Our little crowd of five kids had a habit of pulling out our bikes, scooters, and skateboards to ride around, but today we didn’t want to. Except Ben. Ben was 3 years old and the youngest, so he didn’t get a chance to play with big kid toys often because we took them first. Yet, a prized treasure was his today. The Little Tikes red and yellow plastic car on four black wheels and sans brakes stood alone. No one wanted it? Remarkable! He climbed in.
His siblings, unaware, continued to chat in the carport.
I looked up to see my baby brother rolling down the driveway, two feet from our street and just yards away from the active road.
I watched the little car pop over the edge of our driveway and begin to roll faster towards the heavily trafficked avenue. My heart constricted in my chest and I didn’t realize I was running to him until I was in motion. My legs were deadweights underneath me, getting in my way as I pounded down the driveway. But the Little Tikes car was too fast.
“Ben!” I screamed at him in terror as the plastic car rushed towards the busy road. “Ben!” My throat felt dry; my second call to him was dead in my mouth. Cars passed the street, driving by at speeds I couldn’t calculate.
I saw a semi-truck round the corner towards Ben, zipping past the trees. Ben had come to a halt on the flat surface of the semi-truck’s lane. My feet pounded harder on the asphalt of our street. I was almost there.
No, no, no, I thought as I bolted into oncoming traffic.
I shoved the car a few remaining feet forward to the side of the road. The roar of the truck’s wind passed us.
The Little Tikes car tipped over into the leaves on an incline and Ben started to cry. In a blurry second my father was there, scooping my brother into his arms. I felt sick as we waited to cross the street and dragged that stupid plastic car without brakes back to the driveway.
My father couldn’t let my brother go. He carried him into the house quickly and rested on the sofa, weeping over my brother. My mother sat beside him, leaning over Ben. All of us stood there, feeling strange and scared. My heart would not stop pounding. Ben was safe, but the absolute fear of that moment stuck with all of us. My father’s tears surprised me. It was the first time I had ever seen him afraid, but he showed me a truth. I could see, in my father’s eyes, that the most terrifying thing in the world was to lose someone you loved.