Fiction is nothing more than bending the truth sometimes.
|There are moments, fleeting seconds, when everything changes in our lives. One of those moments in my life came in the form of a knock at my door on October 15, 1984.
I opened the door and was greeted by two men. The youngest man wore a cop’s blue uniform. His eyes met mine and then he looked away. I could tell he didn’t want to be on my front porch. The older gentleman was dressed in a blue suit, white shirt and a tie that looked like something a grandchild might give a grandpa on Christmas Day. His gray hair and lined face gave away his age. His rugged face did little to hide his anguish as he began to speak.
“Mr. Jackson?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m Jackson, I answered.
“May we come in, Mr. Jackson?” The man in the suit asked. Then he paused and groped for words. “I’m afraid we have some terrible news."
I let them in and offered a place to sit. They declined.
“What’s this all about?” I asked. My heart raced, my mouth dried and my hands trembled. “It’s my family, isn’t it?” I blurted.
The uniformed cop finally spoke. “There’s been an accident, Mr. Jackson.”
The older man, I later came to know as Detective Sam Witt said, “Your family didn’t make it, they’re gone, Mr. Jackson. I’m sorry.”
Witt’s words clawed at my soul as he told me what had happened. Months later I still hadn’t fully accepted my loss. I still heard Witt’s voice, “Your wife and twin daughters were killed by a drunk driver.”
I tried going on with my life. Most days I just went through the motions of living. I didn’t sleep, lost weight and listened to constant threats from my boss. “You have to snap out of it, Chris. Marie wouldn’t want you to go on like this,” he’d say over and over.
Overcome by grief I began to think about ending it all. The pain, the overwhelming loss and the loneliness became more than I could bear. I never cried, even though I fought an inner battle within myself and then, I turned to Jim Beam for comfort.
During a drunken stupor on the ‘Fourth of July’, in 1985, I fell down a flight of stairs in St. Paul, Minnesota. To this day, I don’t remember how I ended up there, 400 miles from home. While fabulous colors and shapes lit the night sky, I was transported to a hospital.
Later, after I was patched up and was sober enough to understand, a doctor told me the bad news.
“You have a fractured collar bone, Mr. Jackson,” he said. Before he hurried from the room, he turned and added, “You did a pretty good job busting up both kneecaps, too. You’ll probably limp for the rest of your life, but you’ll walk…could have been a lot worse.”
I needed a drink. Instead, a nurse brought me a pitcher of fresh water and a handful of magazines. I drank the water and ignored the magazines.
The next morning, the magazines were still there. A National Geographic rested on the top of the stack. I once again ignored the magazines and focused on the ceiling for a long time, praying for a miracle…a full shot of whiskey.
The miracle I wanted didn’t happen. Then I wondered, “Why I hadn’t gotten lucky and killed myself falling down a flight of concrete steps?”
I looked over at the magazines again. I picked up the National Geographic. There was a picture of a girl, wearing a red scarf over her head, on the cover. There was something unreal and eerie about the girl. Her haunting green eyes captivated me at once. I stared at the picture and with burning, reproachful eyes, she glared back at me. She seemed to be saying, “How can you feel sorry for yourself? Look at me…look at me.”
I knew something had just happened. It was another one of those moments…a couple of clock ticks…a few heart beats. Another moment in time and my life had changed again.
For the first time in several months I felt alive again. I felt the grief being washed from my body. I suddenly stopped feeling sorry for myself and let my real emotions take control. I finally cried. I still missed my wife and two beautiful daughters, but I found comfort in the memories I had of them.
My mind and body healed. I went back to work with renewed energy and reclaimed my life. I couldn’t deny it, the girl on the National Geographic cover had brought me back from the depths of hell. I like to think it was a miracle.
Several years later, while browsing in an antique shop, I once again found myself staring into the girl’s eyes. Her picture was surrounded with red matte and had been placed in a gold frame. I took the picture off the wall, paid the clerk and carried the mystery girl home.
I found the perfect place in my home for the picture and that’s where it hung for several years. I had put it in a place where I could look into those eyes every day.
In 2002 I picked up another National Geographic. Thanks to the girl, I had also become a reader. There she was, once again in the magazine. Now I knew the girl's name. Her name is, Sharbat Gula, she is Pashtun, the most warlike of Afghan tribes. Although she is much older now, her eyes still burn with ferocity.
I’m glad they do.