In the beginning it felt like a constant hallucination, his consciousness wavering between states of lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis, and fragments of reality that he couldn’t trust. It began with flashing images of dead relatives carrying out the day-to-day mundanities in places that only existed in memories. Surely I must be dead he’d think to himself. The visions continued, followed by intervals of black nothingness; a deep sinking blackness that tugged at his core, entangling his body until his senses were choked out and he was left to drown in his own breath. Eventually, voices began to penetrate the darkness. Voices he couldn’t discern. With every ounce of his will he tried to call out into the darkness but never met his own voice, just the muted tones of others dizzily circling around him. The inability to be heard terrified him. No one was able to save him and he wanted to be saved. The cycle of vivid visions and voices in the void continued to play itself on repeat until he began to reconcile that he was in fact dead and that this was purgatory or some version of hell.
During one of the visions, something strange began to happen. He was seated at his dead grandmother’s kitchen table as he had before when an awareness of his own body emerged that allowed him to interact with this other-worldly plane. A thrill of adrenaline moved through his body as he moved his hand from his lap to the smooth surface of the Formica topped kitchen table. This action appeared to catch his grandmother’s attention and she moved towards where he sat. Without a word, her eyes met his and she smiled as she poured coffee into a familiar oversized mug. He brought his hand to the mug and lifted it close to his face; close enough to smell the freshly brewed beans and faint fragrance of Italian sweet cream. As he brought the brim closer to his lips, the room around him began to slip away and the blackness emerged. And the voices – the voices were loud, distinct, and the smell of coffee lingered. Dammit, I wanted to drink that coffee.
In the blackness, he could hear her now. His mother was nearby and she sounded upset.
“I still can’t find it. I’ve looked everywhere,” she said.
He tried to call out to her.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” grumbled an indifferent voice, the voice of his father. “Here, drink some coffee.”
“I can’t do this anymore, Dom. He’s laid here three months and nothing has changed. I’m losing my mind.”
“The neurologist said he’d be here tomorrow morning to help us with the decision.”
Decision. What decision? Where am I? Frantically, he searched the darkness for their faces. Nothing, he couldn’t find them anywhere. Still, the awareness of his body, his limbs, and racing heart began to lift the fog from his consciousness. He remembered the bridge now. He felt the weight of his chest on the steering wheel as he collided into and past the barricade. He could hear the ugly sounds of metal contorting to the jagged edges of exposed rock before hitting the water, and then nothing. Silence greeted him as the darkness took over. He had been in a car accident.
He felt a tear slide down his face. Am I alive? He struggled to move but couldn’t as he listened to his parents talk without any recognition that he had woke up from the dream. He continued until his body was overcome with exhaustion. He laid there and listened to his mother’s muffled cries, a sound indicative of her being held tightly as she sobbed in embrace.
“We’ve been strong and we will continue to be strong but our options are limited. He can’t stay here like this like a forever. It’s a difficult choice to make but it has to be made.”
His father sounded tired.
His mother cried harder.
What decision did they have to make?
His father continued, “I know you want to do what’s best and carry out his wishes but if we can’t find the paperwork, we have to base our decision off of the facts. I know yesterday that the organ transplant people told us that if we make the decision to end it soon, before his organs start shutting down, his life wouldn’t have been in vain. He can save the lives of others.”
Wait a minute. I’m alive. They can’t rip me to pieces and use my body parts like some sort of Frankenstein experiment. I want to live. I’m alive. I am alive, right? Or am I still dreaming? He became overwrought with panic and could feel his heart start thumping against his chest. Then, a loud echoing beep began.
“Get the nurse, something is happening! Is he waking up?” Next the sound of hurried footsteps drift away, followed by a horde of footsteps coming closer.
“What’s happening,” his mother pleaded.
“His blood pressure and heart rate increased dramatically,” a woman replied.
“Does that mean he can hear us? Is he waking up,” his mother asked hopefully.
“It’s too early to tell. Another scan will be performed tomorrow morning and that will be a better indication of his status, but this could be a good sign. However, I have to keep his blood pressure lower because we do not want him to have a stroke.”
I’m alive. I am alive. He tried to move his lips to tell them. I am alive. He felt a warm hand on his right arm and rush of cool fluids filling the space beneath his skin. Next he heard his mother, who was at his side now, telling him how much she loved him and that everything would be okay. Then everything drifted away as he once again met the darkness.
He woke up inside a treehouse. The one from his childhood, built vicariously into the aged sycamore that used to be in his backyard. It was cool and wet inside, the smell of fresh rain and moisture still hanging heavy in the air. He knew he was dreaming this time because the old tree had been chopped down when he was sixteen years old. Sitting there, he could feel his muscles in his arms voluntarily tense and release. He waved his hand in front of his face. He smiled. Can they see me smile? What if no one was there? His heart jumped in his chest. I don’t have time to dream. I have to get down from here. I have to wake up. He began to panic. He scuffled across the floor to the doorway of the wooden structure and peered down the side of the tree. The steps were missing and the ground was much farther away than he could recall. Without a second thought, he climbed over the latched opening and threw himself out into the air. Upon impact, everything went black once again.
This time the blackness hung onto him like a heavy wool coat worn unseasonably early. He couldn’t escape it and this time, he felt pain although he couldn’t localize it to his own body. He waited for the voices as he patiently rode the waves of pain coursing through his body. He drifted along until a voice pulled at him to wake up.
“It doesn’t make sense. If he has no significant brain activity, how could he fall out of the bed,” his mother wondered aloud.
“I’ll be honest, ma’am. We’ve never seen anything like this before. As I told you earlier today, the only activity we’ve observed is occurring in the brainstem, the part of the brain that performs basic functions to maintain life. At the time of the incident, his brain activity was being closely monitored and yes, there was approximately a 78 second occurrence of significant cerebellar involvement – just enough for him to fall out of bed.”
“Fall? How does someone who hasn’t opened his eyes or lifted a finger in three months happen to ‘fall’ out of bed? People in comas don’t fall!”
“Mrs. Talbot, please calm down. As I said before, this is unlike anything we’ve seen. We’ve monitored him closely since the incident and it appears that it was a strong enough neurological impulse that caused him to roll over and off the bed. Unfortunately, now we are back at baseline but his condition is worsening. At this point we believe he will never be able to breathe again on his own.”
I’m alive! It wasn’t the treehouse, it was my bed. I can hear them. I can smell the doctor’s offensive aftershave. I’m thinking these thoughts, why aren’t those appearing on this monitor he’s talking about? He could feel his face grow hot with rage.
“I know Shaun wouldn’t want to be like this. It’s no way to live. He was always such a brilliant young man. So much promise,” she began to sob through her words.
Mom, no. Don’t give up on me. He tried to scream. No, mom. I’m here! Please don’t let me go.
“Well, Mrs. Talbot, all the proper paperwork is in place. When you and your family are ready, we can obtain the final signatures and you and your husband can choose to stay here for the process or remain out of the room.”
“Our son is a vegetable,” he heard his father say.
Fuck you dad. I’m alive.
“Dom! Don’t refer to him like that. He’s still our son.” He heard her take a deep breath and through tears she said, “I think it’s time to go through with the process.”
Process? Are they going to fucking kill me? If there is no chance, why the fuck can I hear them? How can I feel so angry if I’m a fucking vegetable? Vegetables don’t get angry!
The machine began to alarm again. The doctor assured his mother again that it was an autonomic response related to the injuries he sustained and that he couldn’t hear them. He heard their footsteps leave the room and followed by the sound of only one set return. Sounds of switches being turned flipped and lines being pulled from his body began. He wanted to howl, to do anything to tell them that he was still there, but he felt exhausted. All he could do was cry. As the tube was pulled from his throat and as he slowly began to sink back into the deep darkness, he felt a hand brush the tears from his face. Then nothing.
Until there was something. Amber light began to creep into the corner fields of his vision, covering his body in warmth as it replaced the darkness with light. He blinked his eyes open and into focus to see his grandmother standing there wiping the tears from his face.
“Don’t cry, honey. We have so much to talk about. Here, you can finally enjoy your cup of coffee.”
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