A time-travel story and a love story
|On my sixteenth birthday I woke up screaming, in terrible pain, pain that felt like my insides were being ripped out of me.
My mother told me I wailed like a wounded cow. Never having heard one, I can't say if that's accurate. The part I do remember is that I kept yelling about "something sucking out my heart,"
Meanwhile, in between my complaints, I thrashed about on the small single bed in my bedroom, writhing like a snake suddenly exposed to light. I moaned, groaned, screamed, cursed. I made more noise than a tortured gorilla, which was my dad's way of retelling about my suffering, although I doubt he'd ever had any experience with gorillas.
At one point my body arched off the bed, flung itself back down, then twisted from right to left, which sounds to me almost like a description of someone who's been taken over by the devil. Luckily, my parents didn't call a priest, presumably because we weren't Catholic. They watched, paced the floor, fretted, threw guesses back and forth about what plagued me, accused each other of causing it.
Another outflowing of bellows, a body jerk as I contracted into a fetus position, an elongated stretch with a full extension of all limbs, feet kicking, hands sawing, another long piercing shriek that must have rattled the windows.
Neither of my parents had ever seen anything like it. I'd never been a sickly kid, never had a day of colic. They grew wrinkles that night, so they told me, wrinkles and white hairs.
"Get it off me. Get off of me," I yelled, although nobody was close to me.
When my father bent over to ask if I'd taken drugs, I answered with a negative -- as clear and distinctly as if my organs weren't turning saumersaults inside me, as if knives weren't stabbing me in multiple directions.
With the lucidity of that response, Dad took another look at the sweat on my face, the contortions of my body, shook his head, then ran out of the room to find something that would fix it, even though, of course, he had no idea what that would be.
The way my mother told it, Dad returned in a minute with a bowl of ice cubes, a hot water bottle without any water in it, a stack of playing cards, and a tube of that muscle cream with euclyptus oil. I suppose he thought I had early onset arthritis and after a little rub of the paste I'd be playing a game of gin rummy with him. Of course Mom wouldn't let Dad try it. She was positive I was dying.
Mother had already felt my head, of course, attempted to take my temperature until I broke the thermometer with my spasms. She'd tried to get in touch with the pediatrician, the one I hadn't seen in several years. A fast food pizza parlor had taken over the doctor's phone number.
Finally, after my screams pushed my parents into hysteria, my father put his hands on his hips, glared at my mother and said, "We have to take him to the hospital."
"He's going to die. I know it. He's going to die," my mother chanted over and over.
My father had decided that my appendix had ruptured, I had some rare disease -- probably inherited from my mother's side of the family, or I was suffering from the overabundance of vitamins in the water system. Later on, he also theorized the cause to have been genetic mutations and malfunctions that hit teenagers at puberty, but he didn't come up with that for several years.
Meanwhile, poor mother had turned into a quivering mess. By the time the ambulance arrived, Dad said they thought she was the patient. They tried to treat here, but she ran about the room screeching, "He's going to die. don't bother with me. My son's going to die."
The medics froze when they heard a burst of noise from the bedroom, my screams anchored them to the real problem. They dashed in, caught me in a midair convulsion, shoveled me onto a stretcher, and attempted to secure me down -- though not before I accidentally knocked one of them in the nose, caused him to bleed all over the sheets of my bed.
As they wheeled me out of the bedroom, my mother spotted the medic's blood all over my pajamas, blood that hadn't been there a moment before. She'd been semi-incoherent when the medics arrived, she totally lost it at that sight. I vaguely remember the scene. She attacked the blood-speckled medic, tore at his clothing, ripped a seam of his uniform, almost gouged out the man's eyes. Dad pulled her away, but she fought like a wild woman.
After the medics deposited me in the ambulance, one of them returned to the house and gave Mom a shot to calm her down. I guess it helped, later when she reached the hospital, she seemed better, at least I think I recall her kissing my forehead and talking gently.
But as the siren blasted and the ambulance sped off down the highway, one of the doctors poked me with a needle to start the I.V. On my left side, the medic weighted down my arm and put such pressure on it I thought I was about to explode. The two actions hitting me at the same moment increased my screams and body contortions. I believed the men were torturing me, in some kind of a Frankenstein-like perversion. Tied down as I was, I didn't have the space to writhe against the pain they inflicted, but I remember I fought against the straps that bound me, rolling back and forth, side to side. At one point I grabbed at the I.V. attached to the back of my hand and tried to yank it out, but the medic physically restrained me, forcefully tied down my hands until I was completely immobile. I think their voices throughout were trying to calm me but in my panicked mind I heard them taunting me, urging me to struggle harder. My only outlet at that point for all the anguish and rage I felt was to scream, I did so in such a piercing manner, high-pitched, hysterical, incensed, it hurt even my ears. Immediately, they plopped the oxygen mask over my face, I passed out.
At the hospital I was placed in a private room, not because my parents had money or good insurance, but because the staff didn't want me to disturb the other patients. Two doctors -- must have been a slow day at the hospital -- came in to see me. They acted like they wanted me to diagnose what was wrong. I told them "a monster was eating my insides." Dad told me later they suspected I'd done drugs, though I swore I'd never touched them.
The intensity of the pain continued, flung me about even in the hospital room with straps across my upper and lower body. I felt like I'd been sucked into a horror story, didn't know what was happening to me, but knew it was bad, figured I'd never get out of it. I remembered Mom at the house saying I was going to die. At one point I asked Dad to get a priest for me. He laughed, but his face grayed, he got down on his knees, started praying.
The hospital ran test after test. They wheeled me to strange rooms, machines growled, groaned, pushed me forward, back. The doctors said they didn't think my appendix was bad, but couldn't find anything else wrong. The tests for drugs came back negative, the beeping machines said my organs, despite what I kept saying, functioned normally. Yet my blood pressure had gone dangerously high, sweat coated every pore of my skin, my screams continued. The doctory said I was a mystery.
They kept me in the emergency room throughout the night, my parents stayed at my side, probably wondering if it would be the last night we had together, but I didn't die. Of course, you know that. Believe me, I hurt so bad I wanted to slip away, wanted to go to a place beyond pain, where screams, the ones I was emitting, didn't echo throughout empty halls.
I think at some point, my body wore out, My voice left me, Without the screams, although the pain was a periodic shark attack which ripped, gouged, and battled my sanity, I finally slipped into asleep. When I woke the next morning, the pain had gone. My stomach growed, my bladder needed emptying, my back hurt, my muscles ached, but I was alive, and apparently recovered.
They let me go home, but for several months insisted I return for check-ups. Nothing illuminated that period in time, nothing bad turned up. My body seemed as healthy as any other sixteen-year-old.
And then, a year later, it happened again. My parents didn't wait that time, no question about drugs, about whether muscle cream would fix me. The ambulance came, I ended up in the same emergency room with the beeping machines, the growling, grinding machines that scooted me forward and back, the blood tests, the doctors with their puzzled faces peering into ears, throat, probing my body, prying here and there, accusing me of various self-inflicted scenerios. Finally a catheter inserted, then prepped for an operation. They decided to go for my appendix, remove it even without proof it was inflamed.
The operation went well, no complications, except that while I was under the anethesia, I saw as clearly as one sees the fingers at the end of their hand, a young girl standing beside me, a beautiful, red-headed girl of nine or ten. I didn't understand why she was there in the room with the doctors. It made no sense, yet I was glad she was there. It felt right.
Even stranger than her presence in the operating room was the fact that she had wires attached to her limbs, silver wires that stretched from her body to mine. Each time she moved her arm, I could feel it, the resistance as it tugged at my arm.
I tried to speak to her, tried to ask her why she was there, and why we seemed connected, but I couldn't move my lips, couldn't communicate at all. Perhaps, if I could have spoken, she would not have been free to answer. For she must have been an illusion, what else could she be? Yet, her eyes watched me, guarded me in some way. Green eyes, green like grass, like spring leaves. Vivid. Deep. Compassionate. Her eyes looked bigger than they should have. Her head seemed delicate, small. But despite her youth and size, the girl held strength in that gaze. She held me to her, prevented me from floating off to another dimension, to death, I think.
I know it sounds as if I dreamed her, fantasized her presence. I'm sure I was frightened. Hospitals wear the smell of fear, of death, of pain. The memory of the operating room with white, ghostly doctors crowded about me, masked, eyes staring, hands holding evil, torturous-looking knives . . . Easy to see how someone could build an image to sustain him. But I don't believe that. I know now she was real.
Throughout the entire operation I felt her by my side. I know she watched over me, made sure everything went well. How could that be when she was only a child? It made no sense, yet it happened.
After the operation, when I came to, I saw my parents, their faces streamed with tears. "It's a miracle," my mother said.
"Thank you, God," Dad said, his hands once more steepled in prayer.
It was good to see them, good to know I'd made it through the operation. But the girl was gone. My eyes searched the room, feeling her in the air, yet not seeing her. I tried to sit up, but pain stabbed at me, a new pain. The incision. My skin protested. My body felt weak. Limp.I stilled, searched again without movement.
"Where is she?" I said. "Where did she go?"
Of course they didn't know who I was talking about. My mother's hands writhed once more with worry. Seh thought my mind had flown.
"It's all right, son. The worst is over now," my father said. He patted my hand, called out to the nurse, buzzed the station for help.
"Darn, why isn't there someone here when you blasted need them?" he said, bolting up to go fetch a doctor.
A nurse met him at the doorway. Dad turned about, she followed, picked up my hand, scanned the machines. "What's the problem?"
Before my parents could answer, the surgeon entered, his eyes sweeping over us, stopping to rest on me. "Nurse?" he said, his eyes glancing at the monitors all displaying healthy greens.
"What's the problem, Mr.Baker. What's wrong?" he asked.
"Charlie woke up asking about a girl, wanted to know where she'd gone. I don't know what he's talking about. Is he all right?"
I wanted to listen to the conversation, but the room felt hazy, sleep fought my attention. I closed my eyes, heard the doctor speak about the side effects of anethesia. "Don't worry, it will go away. He'll be fine," I heard the surgeon say.
I missed her. I wanted to dream about her. She was too young for me. It was ridiculous the way I felt. Yet her absence was like someone had taken away my most valued possession. No, that's wrong. It wasn't like I felt I owned the girl. That's not what I meant, but somehow, it was like she'd become an extension of me, an arm, a leg. Someone had stolen away part of me, I felt bereft.
I went home a few days later, pain mostly gone,. The doctors were never sure the problem had been my appendix. Yet, maybe it was, they said. "I'm sure he'll be fine now."
I felt wobbly, felt like something extremely important had been taken from me, but I don't think the feeling was about the loss of my appendix. I still missed the girl, those green eyes watching me, the connection I'd felt.
I stayed in bed longer than the doctor said I needed to. My parents didn't fuss about it. They went about with smiles on their faces. Dad said we were all going to start attending church as soon as I felt better. Mom kept kissing my forehead, asking if I felt all right.
I assured them I was getting better. I guess I was. I'd finally accepted my loss. Accepted that it was only a dream, an illusion. Yet at night I still believed she was out there, kept stretching my arm, reaching for her, wanting her back, yearning for the connection between us.