"Come on, slowpoke! I'll race you to the top!
|Joey & Me
It was the day after Christmas and fresh snow covered the ground like the inside of Mom’s old freezer.
Joey and I could hardly wait to get out our new toboggans.
"Out of my way, small-fry," I yelled, pushing him behind me as I ran for the front door.
"Mom.... Billy's pushing me again!"
I forced myself to stop, and then held the door open for him as he struggled not to bang his new sled into the wall.
"Hurry up, would ya?" I teased.
We pulled our small toboggans to the corner of Pine and Fir Street, and then looked up at the highest, steepest hill in town.
It was early morning and there was no traffic. The sun glittered off the snow like radioactive fallout. Blinded, we trudged up the hill.
“Come on, slowpoke,” I yelled. “I’ll race you to the top.”
It was the start of a perfect day for sledding.
"Oh, yeah?" Joey challenged.
“Yeah!” I yelled back.
“All right, then," he said. "On your mark!”
"Get set!" I screamed.
"Go!" we hollered together.
I let Joey have a head start. I grinned as he took off running, giving it everything he had through the soft deep snow. He ran like a waddling goose with rubber boots on. Poor kid, he’d do anything to beat me just once.
However, I thought, it was not going to be today.
I took a deep breath and smelled the fresh crisp air, and then took off after him.
I passed him laughing and even gave him a stiff straight-arm knocking him to the snow. He yelled something, but I didn’t stop to listen.
The cold air burned in my chest with each heavy breath, but I kept pumping my legs like a machine until I finally reached the top.
Exhausted, I plopped down in the snow alongside the road and waited for Joey. He was only about half way up the hill and still struggling. I heard him huffing-and-puffing and watched as his little legs kept slipping with every step he took.
Joey always tried to do everything I did, but at seven-years-old, it was just impossible for him to keep up. I couldn’t tell him that though, because it would hurt his feelings and he’d probably wanna clobber me. That’s one thing I can say for him, he wasn't afraid of anything.
“Throw me the rope to your toboggan, Joe,” I said climbing down to meet him, “and I’ll pull you up.”
He tried his best to throw the rope, but both his feet slipped out from under him and he hit the ground hard again. I heard him groan with the impact. The fight was gone out of him as he slowly started sliding down the hill on his belly.
I climbed down a bit more and snagged the rope. “Grab hold,” I yelled. “I’ll haul you to the top.”
He barely managed to latch onto the back of the toboggan with his gloved hand. I yanked the rope and dragged him the rest of the way up.
We both took a short breather. “Nice going, doofus,” I laughed. “I bet'cha can’t beat me going down the hill either.”
“I could beat you anytime I want, Billy,” he said, angry, and out of breath. “Just because you’re eleven doesn’t mean you’re faster.”
“All right, all right,” I said, throwing a little snow into his face. “I was just teasing you anyway.”
He stood up and brushed the snow from the front of his clothes.
“What do you think?” I asked him, looking down the hill and studying the bumps and dips—trying to figure the smoothest route to take.
“Geez, I don’t know…it looks awfully far down,” he said. “Do you think it’s safe?”
“Safe? We ride down this hill on our bikes all the time,” I said. “What’s the difference? ‘Cept now it’s just covered with ice and snow.” I poked him in the arm. “You’re not turning chicken, are ya?”
“No!” he said stubbornly. “If you can do it, so can I!”
“Look,” I said, “if you stay close to the side of the road, all you’ll have to do is jump off into the snow bank if you get scared. Piece of cake!”
“Are you going to stay close to the side?” he asked.
“Heck, no,” I said. “I’m going right smack down the middle of the road as fast as I can.”
“Me, too,” he said boldly. “Just like you, Billy, right down the middle.”
I smiled. “Really? Right down the middle, huh? Well, we’ll see about that.”
I prepared my toboggan for takeoff. I lined it up perfectly in the middle of the street, and then climbed on. Joey copied my every move like a shadow.
“Are you ready?” I asked him.
He nodded, bravely, but I could tell by his eyes that he was scared. I could already picture him smashing into the snow bank before he got halfway down.
“All right, then. On your mark!” I yelled, and I could hear the rustling of our winter clothes as we moved into position for takeoff.
“Get set!” shouted Joey.
The intensity and excitement heightened as we sat upon our shiny new chariots.
We pushed off, screaming the last word together.
We started out side-by-side, flying down the hill like two Olympic stars. Our smiles were frozen to our faces, and the cold wind slapped us so hard that tears welled up in the corners of our eyes.
Being so low to the ground, it felt like I was moving a lot faster than I actually was. I imagined I was already traveling at unknown speeds down some Olympic toboggan course.
I tried leaning a little to the left, and the toboggan went left, obeying my slightest command. It crossed my mind then, that Joey didn’t know how to steer a toboggan. We hadn’t talked about it before, and our sleds were brand new.
Just then, a large truck and trailer pulled out into the intersection at the bottom of the hill—Wal-Mart boldly printed across its side. A choking fear gripped me. I immediately turned my toboggan toward the snow bank at the side of the road, crashing in a white cloud of snowy dust.
Quickly, I jumped up to see if Joey had turned off as well, but what I saw made my heart drop into my boots.
There was Joey, jetting down the middle of the road—ice and snow kicking up behind him like a snowplow. He was heading straight for the semi-truck, and screaming all the way.
“Oh, God, he can’t stop.”
The truck moved on through the intersection, totally unaware of the small child barreling down the hill.
“Jump!” I yelled. “Joey, jump!”
I started running down the hill after him, yelling at the top of my lungs.
“Stop! Joey! Jump!”
But he never heard a word I said.
He entered the intersection at top speed.
I can’t remember ever being so scared in all my life. I watched helplessly as he slid under the moving truck and trailer.
From that point on, everything was in slow motion.
I struggled to hurry down the hill, slipping and falling—yelling and screaming. All I could think about was my little brother and how much I loved him. How was I going to explain this to Mom and Dad? I pictured us all at the funeral, heads hanging down and crying. I felt something warm spread down the front of my pants and legs.
“God no, please, not Joey,” I kept saying as I ran. “Please, God!”
The truck drove on through the intersection without even slowing down. I could smell the diesel fuel. I stopped and waited for the rear end of the trailer to move out of the way.
I was so scared.
As I entered the intersection, I saw his toboggan turned on its side in the middle of the road.
“I beat you!” Joey said, standing up alongside the road with a triumphant look on his face. “I beat you—beat you good!”
I ran to him and crushed him in my arms—holding on to him for dear life.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, trying to push me away.
“I thought you were dead!” I yelled at him. “I saw you go under that truck, and—”
“Naw, I’m fine,” he laughed. “I slid underneath like it was a giant bridge. It was really cool! Can we do it again?”
He started back up the hill, then stopped and looked at me.
“You look scared out of your mind,” he said. “What’s the matter, chicken?”
Then he laughed so hard he fell down in the snow.
“Ha, ha,” I said, sarcastically. “What's so funny?”
“You wet yourself!” he said, pointing to the front of my pants. “You wet your pants!”
He couldn’t stop laughing.
Wordlessly, I turned and walked away, leaving him there. I walked over to get my toboggan, emotionally exhausted. I felt drained—washed out. I just wanted to go home.
Joey came running up alongside.
“Come on,” he said, “I’ll race you back to the house and you can change your pants.”
Throwing snow in my face, he took off running.
This was one more race he was going to win. I didn’t care anymore. I just felt so relieved to know that my little brother was still alive.
As I slowly trudged home, my wet pants began to chafe my legs. I had a feeling everybody in town was going to hear about it sooner or later.
Joey stopped and turned around, throwing another snowball at me. “Come on, slowpoke!” he yelled.