30 Days, Day 6: Meet Janine

Day 6: An explosion knocks you to the ground, and you struggle to catch your breath.

I really, really disliked family dinners. I disliked them to the point of making it a goal to volunteer for every holiday shift and hourly time slot that fell on a relative’s birthday. But, I couldn’t get out of the last one,  and when I did, everything changed forever.

My brother Rich had called me about a week earlier to tell me about a new girl he had been seeing. “She’s amazing Jake.” he gushed. He went on to tell me how they had fallen in love in a matter of weeks, and that he had asked her to marry him…and she said yes. Of course she said yes, I had thought, you’re loaded. But, I resisted the urge to point out the obvious and instead said, “Congratulations man! When’s the big day?”

As it turned out, the big day was only about a month away. She wanted a small wedding with only a few friends and family, something my over-worked under-socialized big brother was all too willing to accommodate. After the wedding, they planned to fly to Santorini for just a “little getaway”. Just a little multi-thousand dollar getaway, but that’s none of my business.

Then, he informed me that our mother was throwing him a congratulatory dinner party at my parent’s house on Saturday. Now, typically, if my family wants to have a get-together, they text me. No one bothers to call me because I usually just let it go to voicemail and follow up with a text like, hey sorry my phone was on vibrate. I only ever answered the phone for Rich, because he was the one that annoyed me the least; so, he knew that by calling and asking me on the phone, I’d be put on the spot. I agreed to come to dinner, and as we hung up, immediately tried to think of some way to get out of it.

Unfortunately, just the previous month, I had used food poisoning to get out of my father’s birthday dinner, work obligations to get out of a wake (I know, I’m going to Hell), and just a week ago, I used a seasonal cold to get out of my mother’s retirement party. I felt that I couldn’t legitimately use any of these excuses twice within a 60-day period, and thus, I resolved to go. Plus, my brother always brought the good whiskey, so, the night wouldn’t be a complete bust.

A few days later, I found myself walking up to my parent’s door. I knew by the cars outside, the laughter already resounding from the house and the fact that I was a staggeringly uncalled for 45 minutes late that they had already started without me. All I could really hope for is that they were not already through the alcohol.

My mother materialized to open the door just as my fingers were enclosing on the handle. “JAKE!” she yelled, her normally pale cheeks flushed with what I could only assume was the alcohol I was meant to use to get through the night. “Hey mom.” I said quietly. She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed so hard that I almost dropped another testicle. “Everyone!” she yelled sloppily, “Jake is here!”

My brother was the first to come out, a short glass of amber heaven in each hand. “I didn’t think you were going to make it bro!” he said, handing me the glass. “Was that an option?” I said, taking the cup and swallowing most of it in one swig. He elbowed me in the shoulder and I spit a little whiskey back into my cup. “No man, it wasn’t an option. Come on, I want you to meet Janine.” I raised an eyebrow. “Janine? What year was this woman born, Rich?” I asked.

“1984, as if it’s any of your business.” I turned to see a tall, slender woman standing in the doorway. She was beautiful, with skin the color of deep cinnamon, chocolate brown eyes and and a stare that immediately told me I had no place in my own parent’s home. “I’m sorry. It’s just…Janine isn’t a common name for someone born in our generation.” I said, feeling like a complete idiot. She smiled and looped her arm through Rich’s. “I suppose not. You must be Jake, your brother has told me all the absolutely horrid things to expect out of you.” she said pointedly. I glanced at Rich, who had a very uncharacteristically nervous look on his face. Just as I opened my mouth to speak, my mother teetered back into the room. “Dinner!” she said.

We sat at the gigantic dinner table, a motley crew: my mother and father, both a bit drunk and both wearing the equivalent of pajamas; my brother and Janine, two regal looking human beings that looked like they got lost on their way to the Met; my sister and her husband, who were both strict Mormons and really disliked the fact that my parents were drunk; and me, a 30-year-old Target Team Member. In front of us were burgers fresh from the grill, potato salad, tossed salad, salad that I didn’t recognize and a weird bowl full of hot dogs (who puts hot dogs in a bowl? My drunk mother, that’s who). We were all digging in, and for a moment, looking at this insanely opposite group of people, I felt okay. I felt like I had made the right decision by coming.

And then, it hit.

A loud boom shook the floor, and my father reached out with both arms in the parental reaction that’s usually reserved for vehicular near-accidents. “What was that?” my mother whispered. My father shook his head.

BOOM.

The chandelier shook, and my sister’s husband Paul rose from his seat and pointed out the window. “Look!” We all turned to look behind my father at an angry plume of smoke rising from the wood line. Everyone was silent. “Maybe it’s just a transformer?” Rich said quietly. My mother squinted her eyes. “Richard, Transformers aren’t real.” she retorted drunkenly. Rich looked at me and then rolled his eyes. My father looked at us, straightening his chair. “Probably a hiccup with the power like Rich said. Let’s everyone just eat our…”

He didn’t finish his sentence.

A flash of light and the sound of a million thunderclaps rushed through my brain as an explosion rocked the house from it’s very foundation. I was thrown like a rag doll through the air, my back slamming into something hard. I fell to my knees, struggling to breathe as dust and shrapnel surrounded me. I began to cough, every breathe burning like fire in my lungs. I felt strong arms around me and opened my eyes; Janine was in my face, talking, but I couldn’t hear what she said. Her lips were moving, but all I could hear was a high pitched tone. I shook my head and finally she began to make sense.

“….dead, Jake, Jake! Jake they’re all gone, they’re all buried, there are…something is out there. Jake listen to me, we have to move!” I blinked and looked around, but my family was nowhere to be seen. It was just Janine and I, and blasts sounding in the distance.  A shrill, scream-like whistle came from outside of the house, and Janine’s eyes widened in terror. “Jake, now!” she pulled me to my feet and we stumbled through the rubble.

It felt like it took an hour to get from the front of what use to be the house, to the back. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house, into the clearness of the air. I needed to breathe. Just as we reached the outer border of the house, Janine stopped abruptly, her body rigid. I touched her shoulder, my legs shaking from lack of oxygen. “Janine…” She stepped to the side and I breached the wall, my feet hitting the oddly perfect grass outside the house.

The last rays of sun shone through a blood red sky, dotted with ships of  indiscernible origin. Smoke rose from the city skyline, visible over the ridge behind the house. My parents had bought this house because of the view of the city, because they had the view but none of the noise. But this view…this view was terrifying. I was aware that I hadn’t been breathing, and took a deep breath as Janine grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face her. “Jake, we have to move.” I struggled to comprehend what she was saying. Everyone that cared about me was in that house, stuck under tons of rubble, dead in a moment. “What…what will we do?” I managed, tears springing to my eyes. She stared into my soul just then, the depth of her brown eyes overwhelming.

“Survive, Jake. We will survive.”