Authors: Avery Sawyer
NOTES TO SELF
By Avery Sawyer
Copyright 2011 Laura Schaefer
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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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I don’t know if the lightning was actually there or if my brain added it afterward, when I searched it over and over for what Emily had said that night.
It was cold and dark—darker than we thought it would be. I remember wishing I was younger so I could admit I was too scared to climb. Or older, so I could say, “Not my thing, no thanks, let’s get out of here,” and not care if Em thought I was lame. She said we were supposed to go a little crazy once in a while; it was practically our duty. Pretty soon it would be too late.
But I knew it was already too late.
“What do you think will happen to us, Robin?” Em asked. She sounded as tired as she did the night we’d camped on the beach and watched the sun rise. I blinked and repeated the question in my head, trying to figure out what she really wanted to know.
“Happen to us? As in when?” My hair whipped around in the wind. The force was almost violent.
The wind doesn’t want us up here.
I could feel my ponytail loosening but I couldn’t do anything about it. I needed both of my hands to hold on. We were so, so high above the pavement. There was a rumble in the distance behind the low clouds. I shivered. The clouds felt closer to us than the ground did; I forgot for a moment which way was up.
I could smell sweet cooking grease wafting up from the restaurant below and I saw a slow parade of headlights. I knew they were too far away to help me. The drivers would never see us in a million years unless they looked straight up, and who does that when they’re trying to get home in the middle of the night? All I could hear was the whistling wind and Emily, who’d started crying. I tried to come up with something comforting to say, but words kept getting stuck in the back of my throat.
“I don’t know. Tomorrow. Next year. After that…” She waved both her hands in front of her body and I gasped.
How is she holding on?
The steel we clung to was painted magenta or purple or somewhere in between. It was supposed to look fun, like a giant toy to lure tourists off the highway, but I wasn’t having any fun. My hands were white from clutching the sides of the ladder. I had to will my fingers to unclasp one at a time as I moved one step down. One step felt like a mile.
I had no memory of climbing up the ride.
How did we get here? How?
“Do we have to figure it out tonight?” I asked in the gentlest voice I could, even though I was almost shouting to be heard. Emily was slightly above me. She wasn’t moving.
“Yes,” she paused. “I’m not coming down. I like it up here.”
“Wonderful,” I said under my breath as the purple steel swayed. Louder, I pleaded with her. “Please, Em. We have to get down.” The wind wasn’t just trying to blow
all the way to I-4; it was trying to flatten everything. There’s a reason most of Florida is at sea level.
I looked down. The headlights on the street were gone. I noticed a ribbon of ocean in the air, a fresh, welcome smell, and tried to imagine myself walking on a sunlit pier over calm waters. I tried to imagine both of us there, Emily and me. Safe.
I bit my lip, hard, as Em leaned out into the night. Her eyes looked wild and unfocused, like she wouldn’t mind one bit if the wind simply carried her away with the jet stream. I held my breath and tried to grab her arm as she pulled herself back toward me. Darkness seemed to close in on us as her face turned back to mine. Her eyes were so strange: miniature Magic 8 balls, whirling and whirling as they searched for the answer to a difficult question. She gasped for air, as if she couldn’t get any inside her lungs, as if it was rushing by too fast up there, far away from the ground.
As for what happened next, all I know is, it was bad. Terrible. I can still hear the screaming. Was it me? Was it her?
It won’t stop.
Please help me.
My head was an explosion of pain. Someone was pressing two flat irons against the backs of my eyeballs. No, that wasn’t it. The pain was deeper, in my ears. Audible, searing, unrelenting. I wanted to search for it, locate it deep within my skull, and put it out like a match dunked into a bucket of water. I wanted to push on my temples, to find a way outside of my head, outside of the shrieking.
I couldn’t feel my hands.
Where are my hands?
I tried to keep my breathing even so I wouldn’t cry out. The room surrounding me was aggressively white. White walls, white blinds. I was in a bed covered with white sheets. The lights were turned down low, maybe even off, but I could still tell somehow that it was daytime.
What happened? Where was the screaming coming from? Did someone need my help?
There was a constant beeping sound layered on top of everything. I licked my lips, but my tongue felt strange: bigger than normal. Something covered my nose.
I wanted to move my body. An instinct told me to start slowly. I moved my arm to try to touch my face—thank God, my hand was okay—and realized there was a tube coming out of the crook of my elbow. My other arm was free. I used it to explore my head. Toward the top and back I found there was a place where my hair was shaved off. Some sort of probe went right in. Into my head. I gasped, horrified.
The pain grew worse behind my eyes, but I didn’t shut them.
I kept breathing, my eyes darting around the room like a trapped animal’s. I realized the beeping had sped up a lot. Someone else must’ve realized it too, because the door to my room opened. A woman wearing green scrubs came in. Her face looked concerned.
“Hello there,” she said. Her voice was rich, soothing. My eyes went to her mouth, willing it to say more, to drown out the cacophony in my head. It didn’t occur to me that
could try to speak. I just stared at her and waited. I couldn’t figure out how to move my tongue to form a word. She pushed a button on the wall and more people came in.
“Welcome back, Robin,” she said, stepping back as the other people surrounded me and looked at the equipment on either side of my bed. Someone shined a small, bright light in my eyes. The woman in green didn’t say anything else. Now that I think about it, I suppose it was because I didn’t reply. You’re supposed to reply when people say things to you.
If you can.
I heard the other people talking, but it was like they were very far away. They were all murmuring in fast medical-sounding words that I didn’t understand.
One of the people came closer, a woman in a white coat. The others seemed to defer to her, to make way. “Robin, I’m Dr. Corwin. You’re in the neurotrauma center at Florida Hospital. You’ve suffered some contusions to your left temporal lobe as the result of a small skull fracture. The Medivac brought you and your friend in. I need to ask you some questions, okay?” The doctor’s manner was brisk, but not cold.
“Okay,” I managed to gargle out. Did that make sense? Was that the right word? I sounded like a stranger to myself. I had no memory of anything after Emily and I stood and looked up at the Sling Shot in Fun Towne.
Oh my God.
We climbed it. We were at the top.
Where is she?
Where is Em?
I tried to focus on the doctor in front of me. She said the CT scan showed my brain was a bit swollen. They had to keep a close watch on the pressure inside my skull.
“I think I fell,” I whispered. Was that right? I remembered climbing, talking, trying not to cry, grabbing, grasping, and then…nothing.
“Looks like it,” the doctor leaned in to hear me.
“I fell?” I said again. “My head…”
“We know,” said another person in the room. Someone touched my shoulder comfortingly. My vision shifted and I felt like the dimensions of the room warped. I could see everything from my own eyes
view the whole scene as if I stood in the doorway, away from everyone in it, including my body. My stomach turned and I shut my eyes. “It’ll be okay.”
“I fell. I fell. We fell. Emily and I fell.” I kept saying it over and over in a whisper. Eventually I stopped moving my lips and let the words repeat in my brain.
This wasn’t making any sense at all. I was supposed to go to the mall today because Em had a ton of gift cards with small amounts left on them that one of her aunts had given her. She was a genius at finding clearance stuff for three dollars. I didn’t want to be here. The lady, the doctor…her mouth was moving, but her words were too quiet. It sounded like she was saying them all out of order. “What?” I asked several times.
“Can you tell me what you remember?” Dr. Kerlin (Collin?) was speaking slowly. I focused on her mouth.
What did that word mean?
“I don’t know. I…”
I opened and shut my eyes, but the sound only got louder. I wasn’t actually hearing anything.
“I…I fell…?” Tears gathered in my eyes. The room looked squiggly. The walls were changing colors, yellow, then red, then white again. I tried to blink them away. Where was Mom?
“It’s alright, Robin. You can rest. We’re just glad you’re doing as well as you are. The paramedics said they found you both on the ground, unconscious. Your mother will be back any minute.” The doctor typed something into a computer in the corner of the room and glanced at the equipment next to the bed.
“Wait.” It took everything I had left to figure out the words, but I managed to whisper, “Where’s Em…ily? She…I…”
“She’s still unconscious, Robin. She hasn’t woken up yet. Try to rest; it’s the best thing for you. I ordered some medication for your IV drip that will help with the pain.”
I was sinking. The weight on my chest would never leave. It would just keep on pushing until the bed swallowed me up and I couldn’t breathe at all, ever again. I looked up at the people surrounding my bed and they receded, moving farther and farther away from me…actors on a television screen that was slowly fading. Before I shut my eyes completely, I felt two tears sliding down my neck. I didn’t have enough energy to stop them.
I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION
I opened my eyes. My room was the same but the color of the light was different, yellow-gold instead of harsh blue-white. I felt cold; had someone turned the air conditioning up? I saw a pot of flowers on a table by a window and noticed there was another bed in the room, but no one in it. Sunlight came in past the mini-blinds behind the flowers, putting stripes on the wall. I felt panicky even though things seemed more real now, less like a crazy hallucination.
What happened to me? Where am I?
I heard the sound of a familiar voice praying. I noticed the beeping machine again and the intense pain shooting through my skull made me gasp. Reluctantly, I blinked and refocused my eyes to locate the whispering.
She was sitting in a chair right next to the bed and weeping softly. She hugged her thin legs to her chest and held a clump of tissues in her hand. Her long, dark hair obscured her face, making her look like she was trying to hide. I tried to say, “Mom, I fell,” but all that came out was a croak. Less than a croak, really. How long had I been in this bed? A day? A month? I had no idea.
Her eyes widened and she looked confused for a moment, like she couldn’t decide whether to jump onto my bed or bolt for the door. She settled on the door and said, “Doctor? She’s awake!”
The pain behind my eyes settled into a throbbing rhythm, like someone was using the folds of my brain as a bass drum. It ached to breathe. Everything inside of me felt wrong, broken, out of order. There was a majorly irritating tube in my nose.
A man in a white coat came into my room and said hello to Mom, who grasped one of my hands in both of hers. He turned to me with a lopsided grin. His eyebrow hairs were shockingly long. They made him look nuts, like a mad scientist. “Hello, Robin. The good news is that your brain swelling has subsided and the tests are looking better. I’m Dr. Kline, Dr. Corwin’s attending. Let’s get that tube out of your nose.” He removed it in one quick motion. It happened so fast I gagged a little.