John sat there looking up into the vastness of space. The stars glistening like tiny diamonds in the deep ebony. Heíd never been faced with a decision like this before. And it wasnít like he was wishy washy when it came to decisions. He had always been a man who knew what he wanted, and when he wanted it. He never believed in shades of gray, just solids and absolutes. Night was night, day was day, and never the twain shall meet. But here he was siting on that rock, and as far as he was concerned, for the first time in his life, he was stargazing at noontime. He looked down on the flowing river, whose only evidence of existence was the trickles of moonlight swirling through itís steadily moving waves, and its low roar. He often came here to think, well, he came often after he had arrived in this place. Heíd been here for 5 years now. It wasnít easy getting used to at first, but he had adjusted. This river had helped him in that adjustment. Itís strength and consistency had been a crutch for him while he made his transition to his new life. In Johnís former life, he had been a successful business man. People looked to him to make the tough decisions, and he relished it. It gave John a great sense of satisfaction to know that in his world, the sun rose and set on his word. He had had a loving wife, of 26 years. Camille was a strong and capable woman, and he had no regrets about the time he had with her. Out of his marriage came two sons, who were the apple of his eye. All grown now, he had once hoped that they would follow in his footsteps so he could turn over the business to them on day. But now, he couldnít tell you what they looked much less what career paths they had chosen to follow. He had ideas and images in his head about what they were doing, what they looked like, what their ambitions were, and how they felt about him, but that was it. It had been 5 years since he had seen them last, but he had some queer sense of reassurance that his sons still loved him, even in his prolonged absence. He closed his eyes and listened to the river, maybe hoping to absorb itís intensity, and gain some inspiration on what he should do. Should he stay, or should he go.
Camille had always been a private person, not one to hit the high society social circles that other women in her position might. She had been raised in a humble environment, her father working two jobs and just barely making ends meet. Camille had loved her father very much, but their relationship wasnít as close as she would have liked, but then, how close can a father and daughter be when you only see each other a few hours out of the week. Camille used to tell John, when they first began to date, that her favorite memories of her father were when she, he, and her 3 brothers would sit around the kitchen table on Sunday nights and play cards. It was the only time any of them were able to shut out the reality around them and just have a good time. She said that her father didnít complain often and was grateful for what they had. But when he did complain it was always the same lamentation; it wasnít necessarily working so many hours, he was content with providing an honest living for his family, while their mother tended to the more domestic needs. His complaint was that after all those hours he worked he never had much to show for it in the end. "Donít get me wrong", Camille would say. "Itís not like we were living in a shack in the seedy part of town. We always had what we needed. I just knew that he would have loved to have given us more, without having to budget down to the penny from paycheck to paycheck." John and Camille had met in college. She was an English major, and He was majoring in Business. He hadnít come from money, but he hadnít come from the same scene that his wife did either. His upbringing was more along the lines of upper middle class. Johnís father had been a successful store owner, and his mom was the local librarian. He had been raised with two main ideals imbedded into his head. 1. You determine your own success, and 2. Youíre never successful unless you have someone to share it with. It was with those ideals streaming through his head that lead him to enroll at the local university as a business major, and subsequently meet his wife. After college John and Camille married, and he followed in his own fatherís entrepreneurial footsteps, opening his own company. It wasnít long before John parlayed his two store operation into a national chain. From there, life began to change for Camille and himself. He tried to include her as much as he could in his work, bringing her on every business trip, taking her to every company party, but that just wasnít the life she wanted. Camille loved the security that he offered her and their sons, but deep down she missed those card games on the kitchen table with her own father, and wanted her children to have those same experiences. They rarely argued, but when they did, that was more or less going to be an issue. Usually the argument was summed up by her as, "We make enough, why canít you spend more time at home with us?" He used to tell himself that she just didnít understand the pressure of running a major corporation, and that if he left it to anyone else, they might not have the security they do now. When it came to work, he believed in the old adage, "if you want it done right, do it yourself". They would fight, make up, and he would try to pencil more time in his dayplanner for his family. That of course was before the accident. If he had known then what he knew now, he may have just shoved that pencil and that dayplanner.
He shifted around on his rock and glanced down the wooded path that led back to his home of 5 years. It was a very nice cabin, almost old world style. Equipped with woodburning stove, indoor pluming, and a rocking chair on the porch. It was more quaint than what he had always been accustomed to, but he loved it. When he would have an honest moment with himself, he would admit that this was more of his idea of a dreamhome. Something nice, simple, and serene. Everything that his former grind wasnít. When he ended up here, 5 years ago, after the accident, it took some time getting used to his new surroundings. He was in a life where you were kept awake all night by sirens, traffic, and other sounds of the city heartbeat. Now he was in a life where you were kept awake by deafening quiet, occasionally interrupted by the sounds of crickets fiddling. In those early days he had to keep reminding himself that this was his life now. After six month had passed, he finally resigned to the truth that he would never be going back. It was only after finally embracing this notion of permanence, that he began to appreciate his new existence, and the beauty and peace around him. He knew it was clichť, but he had always worked so hard, never taking a moment to just slow down, take a breath, and just look around you. Not just observing your surroundings, but receiving those surrounding into you and making them part of you. He had never accepted that fleeting scenery could have any sort of affect on his condition as a person. But after arriving here, he finally took that moment to himself and consumed all that his eyes saw around him. In his former life he saw colors as black, white, red, and blue. Now when he gazed and contemplated his surroundings he saw raven, ivory, sanguine, and cerulean. He had never been the type of man to sit idle for more than 3 minutes. Now he sits for hours staring at the rushing river, maybe physically idle, but mentally busy exploring both the world around him, and the world within himself.
It had been 5 years prior to his moment on that damp rock. He had just attended a company party with his wife, and two sons. Camille had been as gracious and cordial as ever. Only he could appreciate how much effort it took her. It wasnít that she was a snob, or that she didnít value each of the companies employees. In reality, she admired them because they were her from her world. She just hated being in large social situations. They just werenít her and she was too honest of a person to put on any sort of mask. John loved her honesty and forthrightness, but it did get them into a few verbal scraps. The night of this party was no exception. He couldnít at the present time remember what the details were that led up to their argument forcing them to leave the party early, afterall, it had been five years and none of that mattered now. He just remembered their angry exchanges on the way home that night. He remembered their two teenaged sons sleeping in the back seat, and he remembered taking his eyes off the road for a minute. Three hours of socializing and social drinking later was all it took. His lapse in driving concentration allowed the car to merge into the wrong lane coming around the bend. He knew that bend in the road like the back of his hand, and could have driven in his sleep. It was just too bad that oncoming car hadnít been as familiar with it. The last thing he remember of that night was seeing the headlights flash in his eyes and churning the wheel to avoid the car. All the rest is a mist of swirling colors and images. Images of bright lights and doctors. Now he finds himself here, in his pseudo-paradise, living alone. His solitude only interrupted by the occasional visit from his friend, Stephen. John tried not to dwell on the night of the accident too often. The blurred memories and impressions were too terrible to think about, and the reality of it was that none of it mattered now anyway. He was here, and nothing was going to change that. He had accepted that, he was fine with that. At least it had been fine, now he had a decision to make.
Earlier that day, Stephen had stopped by to pay him a visit. John had met Stephen while hiking down the riverside one day. The two men sat in the living room of Johnís cabin and tossed back a couple Tangueray martinis while they talked in front of the flickering fire place. They laughed at each otherís BS stories for awhile, just as they always did when they got together. The laughter died down and Stephenís face made a sudden change, going from jovial to sober. "Youíve told me about your old life, your family," Stephen said after downing the last of his drink. John just nodded his head in acknowledgment. John had been experiencing a peculiar sensation through his body the last few days, like some impending disaster was just right around the corner, and he got the queer impression that maybe Stephen was now the messenger. Stephen shifted back in his chair and asked, "Do you ever want to go back?" John just sat silent for a moment and let the question sink in. It had been a question he had dabbled with now and again many times. John loved his life here, the tranquility and satisfaction he enjoyed through his new insights and self discovery. But at the same time he missed his family. He would love to see his wife, and sons again; see how they looked and how they turned out. He still worried though, that they would resent him if he ever returned.
When the thoughts of rejection would creep in he always had that peculiar reassurance in his mind that they did still love for him and wish that he would come back to them. It was almost like a gentle whispering somewhere in the back of his mind. These are the thoughts that passed through his head when Stephen asked him that simple yet involved question. "Well," he pushed again, "would you?"
John came back into himself, his surroundings coming back into focus and replied, "I donít know. Itís hard to say. Iím at peace here now. Probably more so now than I have ever been at any time in my life. I do miss my family, though. But whatís the point in even talking about this? We both know that there is no way I can go back, so why even discuss it." He lifted his glass to his lips and took in another sip. He let the gin soak on his tongue for a moment, his mouth felt dryer than the vermouth in his drink. That question had caught him so off guard that he wasnít sure now if it was the booze in his system making him feel slightly light headed.
"Youíre wrong of course, so it is worth discussing."
Johnís head snapped up and he just stared dumbfounded at his Stephen. When he finally got hold of his tongue again, he shot back, "What do you mean, Iím wrong? Which part are you referring too." The flames from the hearth reflected and danced in both their eyes, as they just sat and stared at each other.
Stephen broke the silence first. "You can go back, itís not too late yet."
"Not too late! Iíve been here for five years. Donít you think if I could have gone back I would have. This place is home to me now, no, itís more than that. This place has become a paradise to me now. And I let it become that because I had accepted the reality that I could not go back." He could feel his emotions rising. How dare this man come in here and upset him like this. What was he thinking? What could possibly have possessed him to insinuate something of that sort?
Stephen kept his facial expression straight. "Let me just talk to you for a moment. Calm down, have another drink, and just listen. In fact, Iíll get it for you. Another martini?"
"No, make it a double shot of scotch."
Stephen walked over to the liquor cabinet, pulled down the bottle, and poured the drink. He carried the glass over and handed it to him and sat back down. "Alright, now Iím going to ask you again to just sit quiet for a minute and listen to what I have to say." Stephen took a sip from his own drink and then began. "Okay. Now Iím telling you up front, that youíre going to have two choices, and whichever choice you make, that will determine everything. The obvious choices Iím offering you, of course, are either staying here, in the new life youíve created for yourself, your paradise as you call it, or going back to your former life. Returning to your family, possibly your job, and everything else entailed. But know this, whichever choice you make, it will be permanent. Thatís it. If you choose to stay here, that will be it. If you choose to go back to your former life, then you can never return here. You will have no memories or recollections of your life here. However, if you choose to stay, then you will keep all your memories of both lives, but over time the memory of your former life will begin fade."
John could feel the room spiraling with each word that entered into his ears. These new revelations were hitting him like a ton of bricks. He was rapidly ascending and descending on a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions. He was happy in this life here. He had accepted his new life and had finally found contentment, and now this. "IÖ.IÖ" He couldnít bring himself to speak.
"Itís okay. You donít have to decide now. You need to have time to think it over. But listen John, you only have three days to make your decision. If you donít decide, then the choice will be made for you. Iím giving you this opportunity to determine your fate."
"Three days? Thatís all after five years? I only have three days to decide? Why?"
His friend smiled and said, "Youíll just have to trust me on this one. Eventually youíll know why. But for now, you have to decide which of your realities you want." John just gazed at Stephen dumbfounded. "Iíll leave now. I know this is going to be a hard decision to make, and youíll want to be alone to think things over. Iíll come back in three days, then you can let me know of your decision." Stephen got up from his seat. He paused, looking down at his friend. "If itís any consolation to you, either way youíll be happy. Itís just a matter of determining where, and which kind of happiness you want." He turned and walked out of the cabin.
John was so deep in his thoughts that he barely even noticed that his friend had left. He had to get out of that cabin. He had to get some air and go somewhere he could think. He pulled the weight of his body up, which at this time was just hanging on his frame, and wandered out the door heading to his rock by the river, to think.
So here he is now, sitting on that damp rock, feeling his butt go to sleep. He sat there silently weighing his options to determine his fate. He chided himself for not immediately going with what would seem to be the obvious choice: go home and be with the family. Thatís what seemed to be the right thing to do. If this opportunity had come sooner he would have gone in a second. It isnít the he didnít want to go back, he desperately wanted to go back. He loved his wife and missed her terribly. He missed the way she carried herself, the sound of her voice, and the way she looked while she lay asleep next to him. He missed his sons, and the activities they had shared. But he was a different person now. By name and physical appearance he was the same; but in every other sense, that other man had already died and gone on while this one was born in his stead. He couldnít go back to the grind of his job, at least he didnít think he could. The words, "you wonít remember anything" echoed through his head. If he went back would he resume to be that person, and would that mean the man he is now will die? Either way he couldnít escape the feeling that he was about to kill, even if it did mean giving life to another. He had his reasons for not wanting to go back too, most of them selfish. He was carefree here. He was only responsible for himself, and those responsibilities were minimal. He labored in his gardens, he ate, he studied, he walked through the woods surrounding his cabin, and he pondered life. John was so confused now. More so than at other time in his life. Why was he able to go back now, after five years had gone by? Why not earlier? He was able to quench the shameful feelings about not being there for his wife anymore by justifying in his mind that he didnít have a choice, that there was no returning. Now that justification just collapsed like the house of cards it was built on. What made things different now than they were a year ago, than they were five years ago. He still had the sensation of some great impending event, and he was surprised as he discerned that it was something other than his current dilemma. He was sure it all fit together, but he wasnít sure how. He could feel the sense of urgency that Stephen had relayed to him. These where the thoughts still swirling through his head as he got off his rock and walked from the river back to his cabin. It had been a long day, he just wanted to hit his pillow and dissolve into it.
He spent most of the next day just sitting in his living room, staring deep into nothing, hoping some inspiration would just float through him or pop out of the walls, making this decision easier for him. The same went for the third and final day. He sat in quiet contemplation, while the range of his emotions and sensibilities battled each other. There were even battling factions within each side. His sensible and rational side, on one hand, arguing that his current situation is only as real as he made it, but lacked substance. On the other hand, it argued that if he did go back there was the chance his family still might not accept him back after his extended absence. On the other side, his emotions battled fiercely as to what mattered more, him being happy or his family. "What was that?" John jerked up suddenly, his ears piqued by the sound of a voice, a womanís voice. He jumped up and ran for the window, looking to see if there was anyone outside calling him, but there as no one. He slumped back down in his seat, worried that his inner-conflicts may have caused him to blow a mental gasket or something. He heard it again, it was definitely a womanís voice, but it wasnít anything audible, just vocal tones. It was more of aÖ, well it was aÖ; he struggled to determine what the voice might be saying. The tone had a melancholy quality to it. There was a definite whimper in the tones. Somehow, he was hearing the gentle weeping of a woman. A woman he could not see, touch, or smell, but real all the same. There was a familiarity in that voice that alluded him. He just couldnít seem to put his finger on it. He attempted to shrug it off. His mind had to be playing tricks on him. Was his guilt so strong that he was actually creating the saddened voice ofÖ, suddenly it came to him. His memory of that voice came back with a flash. It was her voice. He was sure of it. In his minds ear, he was hearing his beloved wife weeping. He knew what his choice was now, what it must be. His heart had already decided, it had just needed a way to convince his mind. In all his self-haggling and squabbling over what he wanted, it hadnít occurred to him what his wife must want. He couldnít consciously allow his wife to go on living her life alone, and weeping. He couldnít quell his own sorrow in his petty justifications and rationalizations. He had set his mind straight. He had to go back. This life had become as real and as precious to him as anything, but he now knew it was only shadows and illusions. Johnís real life resided back with his wife and children, and he knew it. He could deal with the fact that these memories would fade, as dreams often do. But he is a prudent man, and he recognized that in his nature itís better to let dreams go than to avoid his real life and calling as husband and father. He stood up, went to the phone, and called his friend. "Come over, Iíve made my decision."
John and Stephen stood next to the roaring river, staring into the ebb and flow of its current, watching it taking sticks and other debris along for the ride. "I have to ask you," John turned to face Stephen, "why now? Why after all this time?"
His companion smiled and replied, "Everyoneís moment comes at some point. Some come sooner, some come later. This is just your moment."
"What do I have to do?"
"Just jump in and let the river do the rest. Nature will take its course."
John took one last look around. He bid his rock silent farewell. He turned to Stephen and shook his hand, firmly, placing his other hand on Stephenís shoulder. "Thanks for being my friend, for helping me adjust in the beginning, and for always being there. Iíll miss you."
His friend looked at him. A marked smile curled on his lips, as he replied, "No, you wonít."
Stephen gave John a hard shove, sending him into the strong current. Instinct took over, and John fought to try to keep his head above water, striking his arms at the lapping waves, while kicking his legs trying to stay afloat. The riverís flow was just to strong, subduing all his attempts to fight. He stopped moving his arms and legs, put his head back, and let the river take him. He could no longer feel the frigid water enfolding his body. At this point he actually couldnít feel anything. His whole body was numb. John felt his head start to tingle and go light. He saw his surroundings start to go distant, like he was falling away from himself. He was blacking out. John kept his eyes open, watching the swirling images in front of him float up until they were far out of view, until finally, everything was dark and silent. No noise, no light, no river, no swirling images, no John.
At length, the silence was broken. John thought he heard the softness of a womanís voice. It was distant and muffled, but it seemed to him that the voice was gradually coming closer, becoming clearer. Yes, he could even start making out words. It sounded like the voice was calling his name, and something elseÖ.what was that? Doctor? Yes, the voice was saying Doctor. He noted an urgency in the voice. Something was wrong, someone was calling for a doctor. He hoped no one was seriously injured, but he doubted that if someone was yelling that intensely for a doctor. He suddenly became aware of his body, it was as if he was floating back into, like he had left it for a time. But he knew that wasnít possible, he was here, nowhere else. Then it hit him, where is here? "Where am I." He thought. He strained to remember anything. The last thing he remembered was getting into the car after the company party and driving home. But how did he get here? The voice finally became crystal clear, and he could make out every word the voice was saying. "Doctor get in here, his hand moved, and his eyes are fluttering! Heís coming too! Heís actually coming too!" A bright light suddenly flooded the darkness.
Sitting in a private hospital room, Camille, Johnís wife, and their two sons were talking, as they often have done over the past 5 years. Johnís elder son glanced over at his father. Did he just see what he thought he saw? He looked again. He leaped to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over, and pointed to his father lying in the bed. "Oh My! Mother, his hand is moving! Look quickly, Iíll be damned if his hand isnít moving!" The other two sprang from their chairs, spilling their beverages on to the hospital floor. They rushed over to the animated hand, a hand hadnít so much as twitched in five years.
"Nurse, get in here, quick!" The younger son yelled. A nurse ran in and saw the manís body stirring. She ran over to the intercom next to the bed, slammed the button and barked, "we need the doctor in here now! The patient is reviving!"
The doctor strode into the room and over to the bed. "Watch out please," he asked as he pushed his way past the stunned and excited faces of family and staff. He took a penlight from his pocket. Gently sliding open the eyelid of his longtime patient, he aimed the light and flashed the beam into his eyes. "We have pupil response. Heís definitely coming out of it."
The family had spent much of their time in that small private hospital room over the last five years, ever since the accident. Long recovered from their own injuries, they devoted their time to their father who had been bed ridden in a deep coma ever since that night. They would talk to him constantly. His sons would tell him about their lives, their careers, and their love for him, even though he wasnít with them. They felt that somehow their reassuring words might pierce through the catatonic void their father was in and bring him back. Recently giving up hope that he would ever recover, they had signed the documents permitting the doctors to cut off his life support. They began making the arrangements three days prior. Tonight was supposed to be the night. It was this occasion that the three had gathered together for. They were only hours away from the deadline when his hand moved. The previous night, after the final arrangement had been made, Camille had spent the night by his side, holding his hand and weeping. Still holding on to her hope that he would come back to them and that they could be a family again.