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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Amerena

Drunken Memory

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Time is the enemy. Each tick of the clock takes away one more breath. I’m empty; a hollow body without a soul that’s been cast away by somebody else’s recklessness. Yet here everyone stands, waiting by my bedside, waiting for me to wake up from this nightmare. I want to tell them to stop wasting their time. My soul left the minute the car hit. Only the physical remained, broken and beaten at the side of the road.

Familiar voices drift in and out. I pick up bits and pieces of conversations. Today’s dinner menu is chicken, carrots, and mashed potatoes. They order a plate for me.

“Just in case”, my mother sighs.

I was trying to get back home; I knew I shouldn’t have been walking so late at night. I should have called for a ride. No, I have to tell myself. It’s not my fault…it’s his. His and the alcohol that was on his breath as they cuffed him. The last thing I remember was a loud smack, as I felt my body bounce from the hood to the ground. The sound of bone cracking on the asphalt; and then everything went black. It’s a lie what they say about a bright light, at least right now anyway.

I had my whole life ahead of me; a scholarship to Boston University, a girlfriend whom I love, and a family that gave me everything I needed. I’m nineteen years old. I had plans to make, dreams to finish. I can’t believe it’s over so soon. I hope my family and my friends can recover from this tragedy. I know I won’t. I don’t think I’ll live to see another day.

I’m angry as I watch my body slowly fade away. I place my hand on my mother’s shoulders, wishing that I could stop her from crying. I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry for what he did. I’ve never seen my father cry; not even when his arm broke in three places in a not-so-friendly game of touch football. But today, he can’t fight back tears. It's hard to see your only son drift away like this. It’s hard to know that you may not be able to say goodbye.

I plead with myself to fight through, to wake up. I pray to God for one more chance. Is it my time? Am I stuck in limbo, waiting for a decision to be made? The clock keeps ticking for me. There is still breath in my body. There’s still a chance, isn’t there?

The doctor enters the room, carrying a neon orange clipboard, trying to keep a brave face for my family. There are dark circles underneath her green eyes from having been up all night, spending most of her time running tests, trying to find a way to save me. She knows the chances, and she knows they aren’t good. She gives this news often, she thinks she should be used to it by now, but the patient is never this young. A nurse in dark navy scrubs follows behind. She changes the IV bag and takes my vitals.

“No change”, she says grimly.

“We aren’t giving up” the doctor adds. “I have a son his age.” Her eyes meet my mother’s. “I’m not giving up”, she repeats. She and the nurse exit the room. I see a glimmer of hope in my mother’s eyes, and I pray it’s true.

My girlfriend, Katie, frantically enters the room. She had to catch a red-eye flight to Boston from Georgia. We had met our Freshman year of college in Philosophy 101. She was a small-town girl from Blue Ridge, Georgia. I thought her accent was cute and her dark brown eyes and hair made her look like Daisy Duke. I once bought her the shorts as a gag gift on Halloween of last year. At first, she laughed and tossed them in the drawer, but she wore them one night this past summer on a trip to the beach. I can’t remember if her face was redder from the sunburn she got that day, or from when I let out a wolf whistle as she walked down the stairs in front of me.

Katie and my mother embrace, both beginning to sob quietly. They had formed a close bond over the past year we had been together. Mom used to joke that we’d make cute grandkids one day, and I had secretly hoped we would. Katie takes a seat near my bed, kissing me on the head as my mother updates her on the news.

“The doctor’s not sure if he’ll come out of the coma. It all depends on these next forty-eight hours. They said he’s not bleeding internally, but there still may be some brain damage. Nothing left but to wait.”

Katie nods as she runs her fingers through my hair. I long to feel her gentle touch, her warm skin. I miss these simple things. I wish I could kiss her one last time.

I concentrate on the steady beep of the heart monitor, the sound of the ventilator that’s been supporting my breathing. I focus my mind, trying desperately to wake, to scream, to move, to do something to show that I’ll make it through.

There is a knock on the door as a fully dressed male officer enters the room. “Mr. and Mrs. Marshall?”

My father stands, clearing his throat, and wiping his tears, mustering up some strength. “Yes, that’s us.”

The officer reaches out his hand. “I’m Officer Kendrick. I was the responding officer. I wanted to check in on Josh. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. Thank you. He’s…well…we don’t know. He’s not bleeding internally. There may be brain damage, but right now…” my father’s voice trails off.

“I’m sorry,” Kendrick replies, “I know this may not be much, but just know that I will do everything in my power to make sure the bastard who caused this suffers. Please, let me know if there is anything I can do.” He hands my father a card.

My father shakes his hand. “We appreciate it. Thank you for trying to help my son. I know you did all you could. Without your CPR, Josh wouldn’t have had a fighting chance.”

“If it were my son, I’d hope the responders would have done the same.” He turns to leave, but pauses, he walks towards my mother and meets her gaze. “My prayers are with you. God won’t let someone as young as him, as blessed as he is, go so soon.”

My mother rises from her seat and hugs Kendrick. “Thank you,” She says softly through her cries. Kendrick bows his head to my father as he leaves the room.

The room turns silent and I take a seat on the edge of my bed, staring at my body, watching as machines keep me alive. I feel a hand touch my shoulder, and I turn to see my grandfather. My eyes meet his. His muddy brown eyes are wet with tears. He knows it’s too soon.

I stand, shaking my head, I plead. “I’m not ready yet Gramps. I can’t go. There’s too much left to do. Don’t take me just yet.”

He nods. “I know you aren’t ready, Josh. One life was due tonight, but it isn’t yours anymore. I’m here to tell you that.”

“I don’t understand Gramps, what do you mean? Who took my place?”

My grandpa sighed. “The man who hit you tonight. Well Josh, he…he took his own life. He just couldn’t face what he did. When the cops told him you weren’t going to make it, he hung himself in his holding cell. He traded his life for yours.”

The world seems to stop around me. The sound of the clock, the exhaust of the ventilator goes silent, and soon I notice everyone is frozen. “I’m going home?”

Gramps smiles, and I realize the tears in his eyes are not from sadness, but joy. “You’re getting one more chance, Josh.”

I don’t know how to feel. On the one hand, my life has been given back. On the other, another man’s life has been taken. Another family has been broken. “But Gramps, what about the other man, what about his family?”

Gramps’ smile fades. “He and his family have been hurting for a while. Alcohol had been his escape for so long. This was inevitable. Some people are unable to be saved. His soul has been dead for a while. It was his time. Not yours.” He puts his hands on my shoulder. “Now, go. Time for you to go home. Be with your family.”

I nod and walk towards the bed. “I’ll see you again Gramps.”

He smiles. “Be good and tell your mother I love her.” Before I can say another word, he’s gone. It’s time for me to go back home.

Katie let out a cry. “Josh’s hand, he squeezed my hand!”

My father leaves the room and rushes for the doctor. He reaches the desk, out of breath. “I need Doctor Scott! I think he’s waking up!”

The nurse drops what she is doing and runs to grab Doctor Scott from a patient down the hall. My parents and Katie back away from the bed as Doctor Scott rushes into the room. She and a nurse immediately start checking my vitals.

“All normal,” the nurse says.

Doctor Scott takes my hand. “Josh, can you squeeze my hand?”

I put forth all my energy and am able to squeeze her hand. She smiles and looks at my parents. “It’s a good sign. Now, waking up from a coma isn’t like waking up from sleep. It may come slowly but this is important. He’s taking the first step.”

My mother smiles for the first time in twenty-four hours. “Should we try stimulating his brain? Maybe read to him?”

Doctor Scott nods. “That can help. You may notice his eyes begin to open. These next few days will be very important.” The voices start to trail off, and everything goes black.

***

I can hear my mother singing my favorite childhood song, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, muffled at first as if I’m underwater and she’s on land. My eyes slowly open as the singing becomes clearer. I see my mother smiling. I see Katie asleep at the foot my bed and my father stirring cream into a brown mug of coffee. The smell of the fresh brew fills my senses and I notice the ventilator is gone. I smile at my mother. Her eyes light up.

“Josh, you’re back!” She cries.

She throws her arms around me, squeezing me tight. Katie wakes suddenly and my Dad drops the mug, sending coffee and chunks of ceramic across the floor. They join my mother in the embrace. My body feels weak, so it takes all my energy to hug them back. I pull back from the hug and face my family, my eyes filled with tears. My thoughts are racing. My memories of the last several days seem to be fading. But before they do, I whisper in a strained voice,

“Mom, Gramps told me, to tell you he loves you.” She begins to cry, but I smile and hug her once more. “Don’t cry Mom. I’m home.”

©2020 Danielle Cooper

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