Charlie opened his eyes, not sure where he was or how he even got there. The bright light stung him for a brief moment before the sky broadened his view. Charlie had never seen such a vivid blue sky in his life; not that he could remember anyway. As he braced his hands down by his sides to sit up, he noticed how plush the grass felt between his fingers. He looked at the ground around him and just as the sky was blue, the grass was bright green. Charlie couldn’t explain it, but all of a sudden his heart felt like singing.
“Daddy!” A voice called out.
Charlie looked in the direction of the voice and began to laugh and weep at the same time. It was Johnny, his little boy. Charlie jumped up and ran towards him. “Johnny! Oh, Johnny!” he cried. It seemed like ages since Johnny had chased his ball into the street and been struck by that truck.
Charlie couldn’t help from giggling as Johnny ran right into his arms. The two began laughing and playing together and Johnny showed him all of the beautiful things of this enchanted new place.
Sarah sat beside the bed, grasping her husband’s hand, sobbing, praying that he would be okay. Charlie had just come out surgery lasting several hours, during which time he had slipped into a coma. The doctors explained this was common, especially in cases of head trauma such as Charlie’s. While some patients only remained in a coma several days, others lasted for several weeks, and the rarest for months.
“All we can do is wait and see,” the surgeon told her.
Sarah’s prayers were laced with tears, thanking God for reuniting her with Charlie while at the same time pleading for his recovery. Her heart went out to the other families who had lost loved ones just three days prior, when two airliners led by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center. The tragic events of September 11th, 2001 would be a day Sarah knew would live forever in the hearts of the American people.
For two full days following the attacks, Sarah sat surrounded by friends and family before finally hearing from rescuers that Charlie’s body had been pulled from the wreckage. Initially she had only been told that he was in transport to St. Vincent’s and she should meet them there. She had no idea of his condition until she arrived. She learned from one of the paramedics that he was one of only sixteen people found alive. Sarah knew she couldn’t discount that miracle, but she desperately wanted her husband back.
Charlie didn’t need to verbalize his worries for Johnny to understand.
“I think Mama really wants you to come home,” Johnny said to his father.
Looking into his eyes, Charlie knew his son was right. But how could he leave Johnny now that he finally had him back?
“Won’t you please try, Daddy?” Johnny begged, squeezing his father’s hand.
Charlie agreed as he walked over to the giant oak tree at the end of the hill. Johnny told him it was the way. With a tear in his eye, he turned back to take one last look at Johnny. He didn’t need to hear the words. He knew his son loved him.
Each minute passed turning hours into days until an entire week had elapsed. It seemed the sands of time stood still and the miracle Sarah had been praying for finally arrived.
“Nurse! Come quick! Nurse!” Sarah cried.
Doctors and nurses came rushing in when they learned Charlie had opened his eyes. All were hushed, except for Sarah who began to ramble through her tears.
“Charlie, oh Charlie!” she cried. “I thought we had lost you.”
However, Charlie didn’t respond. He simply stared blankly at Sarah in return.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked the doctor. “Can’t he hear me?”
“Well it’s hard to say,” the doctor replied while checking Charlie’s posturing and reflexes. “Coma patients normally don’t regain consciousness very quickly. In fact, during the first few days they are usually awake for only minutes at a time. Some will come completely out of their coma while others progress to a vegetative state. We won’t know the chances of his recovery until we are able to run some more tests. But ultimately, time is the telling factor.”
As Charlie rounded the corner from the oak tree the wind began to pick up, chilling the air just a bit. As he walked further away from Johnny and the hill he noticed the colors around him muting and the echoes of laughter fading in the breeze until only the sounds of silence encircled him. The light grew dim and the darkness began to swirl around him, engulfing him, choking him.
Charlie grew faint and weary as the earth began to spin. He felt his knees give way as he clutched the ground beneath him. Tears of anguish poured from his soul as he begged for the light to return. Deep breaths, he told himself trying to calm down. Charlie mentally retraced his steps to figure out where he had gone wrong. He went the way Johnny had said, hadn’t he? Perhaps he was trying too hard and didn’t see the signs. Perhaps he was simply trying to run faster than he had strength. Soon the pounding in Charlie’s head subsided and his chest began to rise and fall like the ebb and flow of an evening tide. As Charlie lay on the ground an ever so slight twinkle appeared in the darkness of the sky and Charlie’s nose was filled with a familiar fragrance.
It was Sarah. He knew it. She was near, but he couldn’t see her. He heard a stream rushing by and could hear the current carrying her sadness. Charlie wanted the light to return so badly, not just for him but for Sarah too. He tried to call out to her, to speak to her, to let her know that everything would be okay. But those desires seemed liked bottled up wishes. His tongue was bound and he knew not why.
Charlie tried to breathe Sarah in, to somehow hold onto her scent. As he continued taking deep breaths he reflected on all of the things he would tell her if she were lying down next to him. As he closed his eyes he could almost see her. He closed them tighter out of fear she would fade from his mind.
Don’t worry about me, he would tell her if only she could hear him. I’m safe. I’m okay. It’s beautiful here and I’m happy. I’m with Johnny again and he loves you. He knew that if he could tell her those things she would be happy too. My sweet Sarah, he would call her. When you pray, know that our loss is only time. It is only time until I can hold you again. Until then… Charlie’s own tears seemed to wash over his entire body. He now knew the way to go and the song in his heart returned.
Sarah found comfort in the rhythms of Charlie’s heart monitor. For the moment it was all she had. Sleep had been a stranger for several days now and Sarah was weak and weary. Threads of family and friends came to the hospital to offer their love and support. In everything they said the one thing she heard most was how they admired her strength. But deep down, she didn’t feel strong. Deep down she was crumbling, breaking, and she knew it.
Sarah had been watching the news, the aftermath of the attacks and the numerous tear-stained faces that came across the screen as survivors held up pictures still hoping to find any sign of their loved ones. Sarah knew she wasn’t like them. Sarah knew that for whatever reason she had been given something they didn’t have. And yet, she felt selfish for wanting more.
The doctors had told Sarah it was uncertain as to whether a coma patient could hear, think or feel. Sarah couldn’t help but believe that if Charlie had any awareness of his current condition it would be torture for him. Charlie was never one to sit by and be idle. His idea of relaxing was finding something to do. Charlie was the light of her life and the life of their marriage. She remembered what it was like burying Johnny and how, if it weren’t for Charlie she would have collapsed. He was the strong one. Sarah reached over to the bed by her side and laced her fingers through Charlie’s.
“I’m not going to ask you to stay anymore,” Sarah said out loud just in case Charlie could hear her. “It’s not fair to you and I’m not strong enough to endure another day of what-ifs.” Sarah’s voiced cracked and the tears flowed freely. “Go home to Johnny and take care of him until I can come too. Until then…”
Charlie knew he was getting closer as the warmth of the sun washed over his face. The air was so crisp it was palpable. The echo of Johnny’s laughter resonated in his heart as Charlie broke into a sprint towards the oak tree now in sight. His love for his son filled the space of time and all of a sudden Johnny was in his arms again.
“I tried, Johnny,” Charlie explained. “I really did. No matter which way I turned, it just wasn’t right. I need to be where the light is.”
“The light is nice,” Johnny admitted.
“It’s wonderful!” Charlie agreed. “And it’s warm and all encompassing…and...I don’t know how else to explain how it makes me feel.”
“They say that is the love of our Maker,” Johnny explained.
“When I found the light again I knew. I knew that I belonged here with you, Johnny.”
“I know, Daddy,” Johnny reassured him. “And now Mama knows too,” he added. With that Johnny gently tugged his father’s arm. “C’mon, Daddy,” he insisted. “It’s time to go.”
“Go?” Charlie questioned. “But I just got here. Besides, I love it here.”
“Just wait until you see what’s on the other side of the hill,” Johnny exclaimed.
As Charlie and Johnny raced towards the top of the hill, Charlie felt Sarah’s love fill his soul and knew that it was only a matter of time until she too would reach the eventide.
COPYRIGHT 2011. Emma C Miller. Any reproduction of this story may not be made without express written consent of the author.