“You know how in movies, when the hero is running towards death but he doesn’t know it, and you’re thinking: ‘How can you be so stupid?’ Well, my story’s kind of like that. …
My name is Nick Riley. I grew up in a little town in Minnesota called East Meadow. It was cold and it snowed a lot. All through my childhood I knew what I wanted to be. An artist. My parents wanted me to become a lawyer or a doctor, but I didn’t care. My older brother Jacob wanted to be an architect. When I was old enough I wanted to get out of there, and away from everything I knew, even though I loved my family so much. I had been looking at the same scenery for nineteen years, so I needed a change. I started sending out applications for art schools all over the world. After some time the results came back. The Copenhagen Design School in Denmark had accepted me. It hurt to leave my family, but I knew it was best for me. Faster than a blink of the eye, I was sitting on the plane, ready for take-off.
That was three years ago. I was supposed to graduate the following year from the design school, but I didn’t want to leave. It was better than anything I’ve ever imagined. I met some really nice people, who now are my best friends. They all tried to teach me Danish, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Meanwhile my brother Jacob had moved to Rome to study old architecture. He loved it so much there, that he couldn’t bear to leave. The city was amazing, he told me. I wanted to go and visit him and see Italy, but I couldn’t leave my school, even for a little period of time. It was my home. And not to mention the little fact, that I was broke. All my money went to the tuition. The winter was long and cold, but I didn’t mind. We Minnesotans don’t get cold that easily. When the season finally started to fade into spring, I got an email from Jacob. He said he had time in the summer to come and visit. This news was amazing. I missed him and couldn’t wait to see him. I even made a calendar, counting down till the day of his arrival. Surprisingly enough, time flew. We had planned I would pick him up from Kastrup Airport in my big old Chevy Truck. I had gotten it from a bad car dealership. It cost a small fortune to get the car into shape, but now it works properly - most of the time.
While I was driving to the airport I thought back to when I arrived here for the first time. The culture shock, the new currency, the people. It was all so different, but my friends helped me understand the way things worked. When I pulled up against the curb, I was filled with joy. I hadn’t seen him for a year and finally we would be reunited. I ran into the airport, as quick as I could and raced to the arrival area. I waited almost half an hour, before his huge grin appeared in the entrance. I remember hugging him tightly, standing in the way of other newcomers on their way to their beloved ones. No matter how much I loved living in Copenhagen, I still felt lonely. But with my big brother in town, my life seemed content again. In the background I heard someone yelling. I thought it was someone screaming at an attendant. We walked toward the entrance, but this time the yelling was close by me, so I looked back. For a split-second everything was silent, and I realized what was happening. One moment later Jacob threw himself over me, and the last thing I remember before I closed my eyes, was the fire engulfing us. The ceiling crumbled and fell from above. A yell. A scream. An explosion, roaring, tearing me apart.
When I woke up everything was fuzzy. My head hurt like Hell, and I was sore all over. I saw a woman come towards me in a white uniform. She was holding a tray of food. I slowly realized where I was. “Ma’am?” I asked. “Am I in the hospital?” She slowly nodded. “What happened?” My throat hurt as I spoke. “This may be hard to hear Mr. Riley, but you were in an accident at the airport. There was a bombing. It was a terrorist attack. You were one of the lucky few who survived. You were in really bad shape, but we managed to save what we could. You’ve been in a coma for over a week now.” My head was spinning “Where’s my brother?” I asked. “Your brother?” She looked at me questioningly. “I’ll find out sir.” She walked away. I looked at my body to see the damage. I could only see some bruises. I tried to move my right leg, but I couldn’t. I tried my left leg. Nothing. I must be under sedation, I thought. I concentrated with all my strength, but I couldn’t. Panic started rising up in me. What had happened to me? And where was Jacob? The nurse reentered and looked me in the face. Her eyes were kind but she looked unsettled. “I don’t know how to tell you this, sir. But I’m afraid your brother didn’t make it.” “What? He died?” My throat started swelling, the lump in it growing. My eyes watered. “How could you let this happen? You’re supposed to save people! This can’t be happening..” I started crying hysterically and when she tried to sedate me I let her. I felt like my heart had been ripped out. I wanted to escape, away from this terrible world.
When I woke up, everything seemed pointless. Why him? Why did he have to go instead of me? The nurse came in and I had to ask; “What happened to him?” She looked up and mildly said, “He protected you, when he threw himself at you. His brain suffered severe damage and by the time we got him to the hospital, there was nothing we could do. He was already gone. In a way, it was a peaceful way to go. He looked very happy. He had saved his brother.” I was tearing up again. Just the thought of him made me want to hug my knees and cry until it all went away. But I couldn’t hug my knees and it wouldn’t go away. It never would. “What happened to my legs?” Her face filled with sorrow when she was about to answer. “I’m afraid this will be a big chock for you. You will need a lot of support from your family and friends, through all these traumatic events.” She said softly. “You didn’t answer me. What happened to me?” “You can’t walk anymore.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Your nerves were severed harshly, meaning you will have to use a wheelchair when you’ve healed.” “What? This doesn’t make sense. I can’t live like that. My legs work. They have to!” This was all too much to bear. It felt as though my chest was being trampled on. “But I can’t…” I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I broke down and started weeping in front of her. She bent over and hugged me tightly till I fell asleep in her arms.
My parents flew over here for the funeral and stayed for three months to help me get back on my feet. Literally. We mourned in all that time. This tragedy shook our family to the core. It was like there was no life left in any of us. We loved him so much. Eventually my parents went back to East Meadow, and I started school again. My friends held great moral support and that meant the world to me. I still question the attack. It was the second 9/11. How people could tear people apart, kill themselves and leave everything in wreckage, I don’t understand. That was the worst day of my life, and will always be. They killed the most pure soul on the earth, and got away with it.
A year later I’m sitting in front of my brother’s grave. My eyes are burning. The pain in my chest is unbearable. I miss him so much. Everything we had together was destroyed, in the matter of a second. I can’t believe he’s gone. I lay a red rose on his tombstone and pray for his soul. He didn’t deserve this fate. Even though it was a bolt from the blue, he still died a noble death.