Here is the fifth and final of my five entries for the week. As always, may the Idol gods be kind and generous...
I watch the nurse come into the room and check on the patient in the bed. The machines beep, ping and whir in some sort of electronic symphony. The nurse, a kindly looking middle-aged woman, humming some song I couldn’t identify, made some notes on her chart, checked the machines and bustled out of the room leaving me alone with the body in the bed before me.
It’s a surreal thing to be standing in a hospital room looking at yourself lying in a bed just a few feet away from you. The body in front of me has a waxy, corpse-like complexion, a bluish tint to the lips and has so many lines and tubes hooked into it that it looks more machine than person. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to get into the face of the next person to walk through that door and demand that they look at me, demand that they fucking see me because I’m standing right here. Whatever that thing in the bed is, it’s not me. I’m right here!
“Hard to believe you’re looking at yourself, huh?”
I jump, startled and turn to see an older black man sitting in a chair by the door. He has a neatly trimmed gray beard that frames a kind face. He’s wearing a nicely tailored suit and wire-rim spectacles. I guess I’d call him distinguished looking.
“Y- you can see me?”
“I’m looking at you, ain’t I?” He asks. “And I’m talking to you too, huh? Name’s Tom.”
“I-I’m Jeff,” I say. “I’ve been standing here like forever, trying to get somebody to notice me.”
“Nice to meet you, Jeff,” he says. “And yeah, that tends to happen to people in your… condition.”
“Well you’re not dead, kid,” he said. “But you’re not alive, either. The dead got it better if you ask me. They don’t got to hang around waiting like we do.”
“What do you mean?”
“The dead are dead like BAM,” he snaps his fingers at me. “They just go where ever it is the dead go. But people like you? Caught in that in between place? You got to hang around and wait.”
The man stands up and smiles at me. I look at the still figure in the bed, shaking my head and try to deny it.
“Yeah, it takes a while to wrap your head around it.”
He motions for me to follow him but I look at myself lying in the bed and am reluctant to go.
“Trust me,” the man says. “You’re not going anywhere.”
I slowly follow Tom out into the hallway half-afraid that my body will simply disappear if I’m not there to watch it. Nurses, patients and visitors all hustle by us on their way to where ever they were going, doing the business of the living. It’s interesting to see that though they apparently can’t see us, everybody walks around us as if we were standing there, taking up space in the hallway. Tom looks over at me, amused.
“They can’t see us,” he says. “But they can feel. Not exactly us, mind you. But something in their brains tells them they need to walk around this particular spot.”
I nod distractedly as I watch the people walking by us. I feel my anger rising, my jealousy. This isn’t fair. The accident wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the one who was driving drunk. And yet here I am anyway. This is just not fair.
“Life isn’t fair, kid.”
I look at him, ready to lash out but the look of sympathy and compassion on his face are enough to stop me in my tracks and make me swallow the biting words that were on my lips.
“What happened to you,” he says. “It just ain’t right. But there’s not much you can do about it except accept it and move on.”
“What if I don’t want to move on?” I ask. “What if I want to go back.”
He smiles warmly and puts his hand on my shoulder.
“There is no going back,” he says. “You either move on or you sit here, in this hospital like me. And aside from the nurse’s dressing room, this is a pretty boring place, let me tell you.”
I laugh in spite of myself. “How long are you stuck here?”
“Until they decide to come fetch me, I suppose.”
“Are you like me?” I ask. “Is your… body still here hooked up to machines?”
He shakes his head. “No, my family pulled the plug a while back. My body’s gone but I’m still here because I didn’t go when they called.”
I suddenly felt myself pitying Tom. Not dead but not alive and stuck in this fucking hospital for eternity. And I thought I had it rough.
“Now look, kid,” he says. “You’ll have one opportunity to move on. I can’t say when because they’re about as reliable as the cable companies but you’ll just know. You’ll feel when it’s your time.”
He nods his head. “Yup. You’ll feel it,” he says and points to the elevator at the far end of the corridor. “And when you do, get your ass to that elevator and move on from this world. Enjoy your afterlife.”
I sigh and shake my head. “I just don’t know,” I say. “I’m not ready to go, Tom.”
“None of us are, kid,” he says. “But when our time’s up, our time’s up. Nothing we can do to put it off or get out of it.”
I think about it for a moment, still fighting back my anger at the injustice of it all. All I can do is shake my head.
“Why don’t you come with me then?” I ask.
“Can’t,” he says. “The elevator ain’t for me. When yours comes, it’s for you and you alone.”
“I just don’t know if I can do it,” I say. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go yet.”
Tom shrugs. “That’s up to you,” he says and smiles. “Your decision to make. Good luck, kid.”
He turns and starts to walk off.
“Where are you going?”
He turns back and smiles at me. “Shift change. Locker room should be full of nurses.”
I laugh and watch him walk down the corridor until he turns a corner and disappears from sight. The smile falls from my face and I walk back into the room where my body is. I have some thinking to do.
I don’t even know how long I’ve been sitting there, staring at my lifeless body with a million thoughts running through my head. Minutes? Hours? Days? Time seems to move differently when you’re caught between the world of the living and the dead. I’ve watched nurses and doctors come and go. I’ve seen my mother and sister come in, tears spilling down their cheeks as they hold my lifeless hands. My dad is there too and though he remains stoic, I can see that his eyes are red and puffy. I want to reach out, hold them and comfort them but I can’t.
Eventually I’m left alone with myself and in the darkness of the room, I feel something sudden and powerful, compelling me to get up and step into the hallway. It’s the elevator. My elevator. I stand and slowly step out into the corridor. It’s well into the night and the hall is virtually empty. Three nurses sit at the duty station but of course, pay no attention to me.
At the far end, there is a loud ding as the elevator doors slide open, bathing the alcove in a blindingly white light. Voices, smooth and seductive call to me from inside the light. A shadow steps out of the elevator car and beckons me forward. My feet begin moving toward it seemingly of their own volition. The light, the voices and the music I can hear are hypnotic, intoxicating. This is it. My time on this world is done and I am leaving forever.
“No,” I say out loud and stop myself from moving. “I’m not ready. I don’t want to go.”
I feel the disappointment emanating from the shadow that was waiting for me. With the sort of effort it takes to run in wet sand, I manage to pull away, turn around and walk the other way. My walking eventually gives way to running. I’m screaming with rage and frustration as I bolt past my room and down the hall, turning into an adjacent corridor and sprinting for all I was worth. I went crashing through the double doors at the end of the corridor and found myself in a room shimmering with a silver light. I feel my body tingling for a moment and then my skin feels like it’s on fire. It hurts. The pain is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. The torment I’m suffering is powerful and agonizing. I open my mouth to scream…
… and open my eyes.
I’m staring at the ceiling of the hospital room. I can hear the beeping of the machine and feel the bed beneath me. A smiling face comes into my field of vision. The kindly older nurse who’s been watching over me.
“Well look who’s back,” she said.
A few days later, after a million different tests, I am cleared to be discharged. I finish tying my shoes and stand up for the first time in I don’t know how long. The doctors tell me I’d been in a coma for several months. But it had only felt like a matter of days to me. My parents had been as shocked as I was when I came out of the coma. I could see in their eyes that they’d all but given up any hope. It made me wonder how close they’d come to pulling the plug on me, leaving me trapped like Tom. I’d called them earlier telling them that I wanted to walk home and that I’d meet them for dinner later. The sun was high overhead, it was a warm day. I wanted to get out and enjoy the afternoon.
Stepping out of the hospital, I walk along the street, breathing in the air and simply taking in the world around me. It sounds totally trite and cliché to say but after living through what I had, the world just seems different. The smells are richer and sweeter. The colors are more vibrant and I just feel more alive than I think I ever have before and I am just seeing things in a completely different light.
I’m looking forward to my life, anticipating the challenges and the joys it holds in store for me. I sat in my favorite coffee house sipping a drink and eating a blueberry scone as I mentally composed the list of things I would stop putting off and do with my life.
Jesus, I sound like a walking Lifetime Channel movie.
I finish up and headed outside. I need to see about my job and my apartment before heading over to my parent’s place this evening. I wait at the stoplight next to a couple of little girls and their mom. Their laughter and giggling makes me smile. I’ve never thought about having kids of my own but who knows? Maybe one day. I just need to find the right girl.
The light changes and I walk into the crosswalk.
It’s the squealing of tires that draw my attention first. I look up and see my reflection in the chrome grill of the bus.
There was no elevator, no music, voices of welcome or bright, shining light. There was only the darkness waiting to swallow me whole.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36B: Artifice. Thank you guys so freaking much for keeping me in the game this long. I have no idea what to expect this week so I guess you'll find out right along with me! Thank you SO much for your support over these crazy months!!!