After my fall from grace, time got all confused. I remember darkness, a lot of pain, some garbled voices, a flash of a person’s face here and there, and a lot of blood. It was like when you fall asleep during a good movie and you try hard to stay awake and pay attention, but you can’t. Oh, except the pain part. Lots of pain. I felt like all the neighbor kids were standing around hitting me with baseball bats. They would stop for a minute, then when I tried to figure out what was going on and who was talking to me, they would start in again.
That whole business went on for what seemed like a year or two, and finally I felt like I was being dragged out of the bottom of a lake. I heard roaring in my ears, which turned into a high pitched ringing. Above all the ringing, I heard people calling my name. At first, I thought it was kids at school cheering me on because they saw the great stunt I had done. Then I recognized my mom’s voice.
“Charlie, Charlie,” I heard her calling over the ringing. I opened my eyes and immediately regretted it. My mom began dancing around the room, and there were three of her. Trouble was, there were three of everything. The whole room was jumping up and down, and my eyes began watering. I closed them to keep from getting sick from the motion.
“Charlie? What’s wrong?” I heard her saying to me over the ringing. A hand touched my eyelids and pulled them open. A man in a doctor’s clothes shone a bright light into my eye and then closed it.
“It looks like he is having some blurred vision,” the doctor said. “Probably some swelling of the brain.” There was a pause, then the doctor’s voice came back to me.
“Charlie, my name is Doctor Maxwell.” The voice came over the ringing as if he were sitting in a canoe about to go over a waterfall. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I fell,” my voice croaked out. “I fell off a scaffolding.”
“Yes, that’s right, honey, you fell a long way,” Mom said to me. “But we are going to get you well. We’re going to take care of you.”
“Did Lu get the video?” I asked weakly.
Mom and the doctor talked to each other for a second before she responded.
“Yes, Lu got the video,” she said. “That was a really stupid stunt for the two of you to pull.” I could hear the tears in her voice.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “Guess I have my guardian angel working overtime.”
She paused, and then I heard her choke back a response.
“Yes, dear, you sure did.”
“Charlie, we are going to put some drops in your eyes and then cover then for 24 hours,” the doctor said. “You hit your head when you fell. We have to give your brain time to heal itself. We will see what it is like in 24 hours.”
“Is that why my ears are ringing?” I asked.
“That is called tinnitus, Charlie. Yes, that’s also because of the head trauma. You also broke your arm and dislocated your shoulder. But all in all, I would say you are a very lucky boy.”
“I don’t feel lucky.”
I heard them laugh, Mom a little nervously, and then the doctor responded.
“Anyone who falls 50 feet off a scaffold and lives should consider themselves lucky.”
They put some drops in each eye and covered my eyes. I listened to the sound around me; the people walking and talking in the hallway, the equipment beeping around me, the television in the next room. All of this, of course, over the annoying high-pitched whine that continued inside my head. Finally, the drugs they had given me kicked in and I went to sleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night. I assumed it was the middle of the night, but I couldn’t be sure. My eyes were still covered but it was quieter out in the hallway and there was no TV on next door. Everything seemed the same except for one big difference. Someone was holding my hand. It took me a moment before I recognized the rough, strong grip of my father.
“Dad?” I whispered.
“Shh,” he said. “Just relax. I’m here.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said, and relaxed. My father was gone a lot, but it felt good to know that when I needed him, he always made sure he was there. I held onto his hand and my face was wet with tears beneath the bandages.
I woke up a while later, and my Dad was gone. I also noticed that the persistent ringing was gone as well. I listened to the quiet around me for a long time before I realized that I heard someone whispering.
“Is someone here?” I said aloud, and my voice came back louder than I anticipated. With the ringing gone, my hearing had suddenly become pretty good. No one answered, but the whispering continued.
I lay still and paid attention to what they were saying but couldn’t quite make it out. It was as if you were sitting in a theater and your friend three rows away was trying to whisper to you. You heard all the other noise around you, but really had to concentrate to make out what was being said.
Finally I was able to distinguish two particular voices that were clearer than the rest. I heard the words “passion” and “knowing,” or at least I thought I did. Then I heard four words very clearly that made the hairs of my neck stand on end.
“Bud Landry must die.”
The voices quieted down, but I could still hear whispering as a soft roar in the distance. A while later, I heard my Mom enter the room.
“Good morning, Sweetie,” she said, and I breathed a sigh. She paused and said, “Are you all right?”
I forced a smile, relieved to not be alone. “I’m just glad that you are here. Where’s Dad?”
There was a long pause. “Honey, he couldn’t get away from work. They wouldn’t let him leave the oil rig.”
Puzzled, I frowned. “Mom, he was here last night. He sat here and held my hand.”
She put her hand on my chest. “Charlie, that’s just the medication. You know your father would be here if he could. But he’s in the Gulf of Mexico. Besides, how would you know it was him if you can’t see?”
I shook my head. “He was here, Mom. He held my hand. He told me to relax. I know my Dad’s hands. I heard his voice.”
Mom could hear the tension rising in my voice, and I heard her pause again.
“Okay, dear, let’s not worry about it right now. Let’s just get you well. The doctor will be here in a little while to take the bandages off. And then we’ll see how you are doing. How are you feeling?”
I told her that the tinnitus had left my hearing, leaving out the part about hearing voices. If she didn’t believe me about Dad being here, what would she think about someone whispering that Bud Landry must die? She was glad to hear about the hearing.
She told me that the next-door neighbor had volunteered to take care of Lisa, my two-year-old sister, and that she was feeding our three-year-old German shepherd, Ralph. She also told me that Lu had been calling her several times a day, asking for updates on how I was doing. I also learned that I had been unconscious for three days before I woke up.
“Wow, that must be a new world’s record for me,” I said. “I don’t think I have ever slept for more than 12 hours at a time.”
“Well, just don’t make it a habit,” she said. I heard someone come in while she was talking and realized that the doctor had arrived. I suddenly got nervous about what would happen when he took the bandages off.
“OK, young man, let’s see how your eyes are doing,” he said, more to himself than to me.
“I hope they are doing good,” I said quietly.
“Fortunately for you, 14-year-old boys have a history of recovering quite nicely from accidents, including falls from scaffolding, even if they were showing off,” he said. I could feel the scissors snipping the bandages away. He pulled the gauze from around my head and gently pulled the pads from over my eyes.
“OK, we’ve lowered the brightness in the room so there won’t be as much of a shock to your eyes. What do you see?”
I opened my eyes slightly and slowly. The dancing people and room had minimized to a slight shaking, and after a long moment, everything came back into focus. I looked at the doctor, then at my mother’s face. I could see worry lines across her face, and it looked like she had been crying. She also looked very tired, and I immediately regretted everything I had put her through. Having a two-year-old, being pregnant with another and then having your teenager fall off a scaffold was bad enough. Doing it while your husband was away made it more than bearable. I vowed to myself to save her from having to visit me in the hospital ever again.
“A little shakiness, Doc, but my eyesight’s pretty good,” I said, and forced a smile.
“Very good,” he said, smiling. “We’ll have you come see me next week to make sure, but I think you are on the mend. I don’t see why you can’t plan on checking out of here pretty soon.”
“Today?” I asked hopefully.
He smiled thinly, then shook his head.
“Let’s give it one more day to be sure. But tomorrow’s a pretty good chance.”
Mom leaned forward smiling, as the doctor left the room.
“Isn’t that good news?” she said. “You get to go home tomorrow!”
I nodded, smiling back, but somewhat distracted. I knew that I needed to get out of the hospital for her sake more than for my own. And so I didn’t tell her about the strange shadows that I saw moving in the hallway outside my room.