Chopping Onions

By: Anthony Passino

Creative Nonfiction, 2019

It was an abnormally warm July night. After a long day of spending time with friends I made the decision to come home and relax. For hours, I laid in my bed watching various television shows. It was finally time to rest my eyes, I then turned the lights off and drifted into darkness. Just as I was on the brink of unconsciousness, I heard a voice ring out from the tops of the steps. The voice sounded concerned, it took me a second to realize that this was no dream and the voice that I was hearing was that of my own mother’s. She said, “tony come up here right now!”. I scrambled out of bed for the fear that something was wrong with her. When I got to the top of the stairs I noticed that she was on the phone with somebody. Naturally I asked, “who are you talking too?” She replied by saying something is wrong with Tim and he wants us to come over right now! Tim is my older half-brother, we share a mother. In my eyes, he has always been my full brother because of just how much I love him.

It was past midnight by the time I got into the driver seat of my mom’s van. She has always had a big fear of driving at night. So, I had to take the wheel, with the course set to my brother Tim’s house. The drive normally takes about 20 minutes but since it was night and there was no traffic it took a mere 10 minutes. The entire ride my mom was on the phone with Tim, asking him things like; what’s wrong honey? Or tell me what is going on Tim!?.. Seeing my mom so scared really started to get me thinking about my brother and the things he has told me about his past. It must have been years before this night, Tim told me this troublesome story about one of his best friends over in Afghanistan. Tim said that he was in a convoy of trucks, 2 or 3 behind the lead vehicle. He was the operator of a 50-caliber machine gun on the top of a Humvee. His best friend Paul was in the armored truck in front of him, Paul was also a 50 Cal operator. The only difference was that the truck Paul was on is much larger. They were driving to get supplies from a local aid site, when Paul’s truck took a corner to sharp. The truck began to roll, with Paul sitting on top. Only half of his body was out of the vehicle. When everything settled and the truck came to a rest. My brother got out of his Humvee and ran up to his dear friend Paul, only to be taken back by a sight of something so off putting and gruesome. Paul was laying there only 5 yards from where the vehicle had stopped, however this was no longer Paul.  He was now a disfigurement of what Tim knew and though to be so familiar. Paul’s head had been severed in the accident. My brother said that many locals began to come up pointing and saying things. He just watched his best friend get his head torn off and was unable to deal with the passerby’s. Tim told me that at this point he got very angry and started screaming at all of the people. Yelling things in a vulgar manner he got them to leave him and Paul alone.

We were getting close to Tim’s house, only a mile or so away. This was when my mom told me that Tim had cut himself and he wanted us there now. When she said this I was completely shocked because I didn’t think my brother was ever capable of doing something like this. After hearing this I begin to speed, the pedal almost to the floor. I rushed out of fear for my brother, the only thing that slowed me down was two round-abouts that were put in our way on purpose. My mother and I finally made it on to his street, we pulled up to his place. There were no empty spots close to his house, so I had to park down a little ways. My mom told me to stay in the car because, she didn’t want me to see Tim in a state of distress. She got out of the car and as I watched her slowly make her way up to his house, she stopped… I have never see my mom act like this before, it was like something had grabbed her heart and had a violent grasp on it. Standing there for a second I see her raise her hands up to her face and with a loud and troublesome gasp she lets out a sound that sounds like a whimper but much louder. I could not stand seeing my mom in so much pain.

It was my turn to see what had made her so unsettled, I got out of the car, the air was so warm, and the dew was already beginning to form on the grass. I walked up to her and said, “mom it is going to be okay I promise”. I looked to Tim’s house and I saw him sitting on the front steps of his house with his arms out in front of him. At this time I did not have my glasses, so it looked as if nothing was wrong. I knew that he had tried to hurt himself but, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. This time the tables were turned... I told my mom to stay there, “I’m going to go talk to Tim” I said. As I approached the front steps, the picture started to become clearer. I looked at him and a weird feeling came over me, something I have never felt before or since. I felt so helpless because I had no idea what I was going to do or say to him. I was now in talking distance with him, this was when I got the full picture. I see his arms, seven or eight large gashes ran down the length of his arms. His pants were completely soaked from the leaking. The blood was flowing down the steps from his veins like a small stream where it gathered in a small depression in the cement. The next thing that I noticed was a razor blade pocket knife that he was holding in one of his hands, he had the knife up against his other arm ready to end it all. His face was as white as a flourishing daisy. His lips were a light peach color. His hair actually looked halfway decent, only part of his colic was sticking up.

At this time my brain was like an egg over-easy. I had no idea what to say. The only words that I managed to get out were “hey dude”, hey man he replied. I asked “are you okay?” replying to my statement he said yeah I’m fine, you didn’t have to come. I told Tim that “I was his brother and that I will always be there for him”.  Our conversation was not very expansive from this point on, a lot of time was spent looking at Tim’s arms and thinking of what to say. How could I help? I asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, he said that he should stay home and that he had some superglue inside that would work just fine. Tim was a first responder over in Afghanistan so he had a decent amount of medical training. My response to superglue was kept silent only thinking, yeah maybe that will work. A few minutes passed, the blood flow began to slow down, almost stopping completely. Just as this happened I looked over to the street and saw my mom starting to walk up.

I cannot speak for what my mother was feeling but, she talked to Tim in a very stern voice almost like if she was mad or angry. She asked him what happened and told him that we needed to go to the hospital. Tim then held up a small business card that stated “SUICIDE HOTLINE”.  He began to explain that he had been on the phone with them for the past two hours, they were no help at all he said. After standing there on the front porch for about 10 minutes I convinced my brother that we needed to leave and go to the hospital. My mom said, let me get something inside to wrap your arm up with Tim. Walking In to the house she was greeted by my nephew, Tim’s son Ben. The little 5 year old asked my mom where his daddy was. She grabbed a towel inside and then returned to the porch. As she wrapped my brothers arm up she told me that I have to drive him to the hospital and that she was going to stay there.

As soon as she was done wrapping Tim’s arm I got into the van and pulled it up. She helped him into the passenger street. As I pulled away I saw her walk back into the house to take care of his three kids. Tim and I’s conversation was very casual on the way to the hospital, we listened to a local rock station and talked about different bands that we both like. The hospital is in the heart of downtown, about 5 miles away. I have never wanted to get to any to place more than I did that night.

Once we were out of his neighborhood, I slammed on the accelerator with all my might. Speeding down one of the main streets we were getting closer. Every light was red on the way there, I paid no attention to the color of the lights but , I did pay a lot of attention to how my brother was feeling. Constantly asking him how he was doing and if the bleeding had started again. We were within a mile from the hospital when he lifted up the towel, right as he did this I looked over. The street lights were flickering by leaving orange a tint on the entire passenger side of the car. His arm began to gush blood, it looked as if it were turning inside out. He put pressure on it. We pulled up to the hospital emergency drive through. A fast action nurse was on scene. He rushed up to the car and patched up my brothers arm with gauze. He asked him several questions about what happened, when he asked my brother how it had happened Tim replied with it was an accident. He was then rushed into the hospital and I went to park the van. I was entirely too stressed out, as I was walking in I smoked a cigarette in record time. Just as I was putting it out, a parking attendant said that this is a non-smoking campus. I told him that I do not care and that my brother just tried to kill himself. That sure shut him up.

I walked into the hospital and asked the nurse at the main desk where my brother was, she pointed down a long hallway with a sign labeled “Trauma Center” I found my brother in the same area where I went years before for a broken arm. I stepped through the curtain and saw my brother there talking to a nurse. She was asking the basic registration questions. She left after gaining information about my brother’s identity and insurance. This was when Tim told me a story that I will never forget. He began with saying that he has only told one other person this story before.

He said that it took place during his last deployment to Afghanistan. He was working perimeter security. He was in charge of who came and who left. One day a car was approaching at a high rate of speed. Protocol was to fire a warning shot into the air before turning on the sirens. The car did not stop. After this the alarms began to fill the air, Tim then instinctively fired two shots into the car, shattering the windshield the vehicle came to a stop. He walked up to find a father and a little boy in the car. The boy had a bullet in his leg and was bleeding out. The father was out of his mind yelling and screaming at my brother and his first sergeant who was in charge. Tim said that the father and son were now out of the car, the father would not calm down. Tim’s first sergeant then pulled out his pistol and shot the father point blank in the head. The father was dead before he hit the ground. However the father did not hit the ground, he fell onto his son and died.

I have never heard anything more real than that story, I had no words to say only nodding and saying short phrases like “wow” and “that is insane”. The doctor then interrupted us and the real questions began to start. He asked my brother if he was on any drugs, Tim said yes then looked at me in a way as if he had let me down. The Doctor then asked my brother what happened to his arms. Tim replied by saying it was an accident that occurred while cooking dinner. He said he slipped while he was chopping the onions.