By: Kristyn Garza
Pain. There’s red, searing, blistering, hot, ripping pain. My eyes flutter open, brows furrowing in exertion and I can’t see a thing. The radiant fluorescents blind me and I blink away the foggy haze that is clouding my mind. I’m keenly aware of a beep beep beeping coming from somewhere to my left, its steady rhythm sounding like a booming drum pounding in my skull as if to warn me, though my thoughts are too muddled to interpret as to what. As my eyesight clears I’m looking up at a white popcorn ceiling with bright flickering lights. I try to wiggle my toes that are so numb from the frigid stale air that reeks of disinfectant and latex, but I am only able to manage a twitch. I use my hands, which are laid neatly on either side of my body, to try to pull myself up but I vainly grasp at thin, rough sheets with weak fingers that shake from the effort. I am now conscience of a tube that is crammed down my throat and my eyes widen in panic. I try to look around but I can’t move, my neck has been braced and I can now feel the web of tubes and wires that lace my body. My breath quickens and tears begin to fill my eyes as I silently scream, help me, someone please help me!
I sense movement to my right and hear a wooden chair grate against the floor accompanied by the sound of someone’s breath catching and a moment later—a sob. Then I see him. My dad is hovering over me, shaking arms trying to keep me from moving, eyes spilling over with despair and he smiles. “You’re okay”, he breathes, lips trembling as a new spout of tears ruptures forward, “You’re going to be alright my baby.” I stare up at him with questioning, frightened eyes but I can’t say a word. I grab at him, imploring him to answer me though he can’t hear a thing. He tries for a smile but only manages a weak grimace as he takes my quivering hands in his, “You-you were in a car accident hon. Some drunk rammed you from the side an-and the car flipped…”, his voice broke and he looked away shaking silently, “Baby you had a rollover. The car tipped and you, you were crushed.” I closed my eyes and suddenly I could see glimpses: the radio playing Twenty One Pilot’s “Goner” as I sing along so blissfully unaware then a crash, the feeling of being frozen in time then bang, the crunch of my head on the roof of my Sentra, the feeling of being cut over and over by shards of glass that are flying around like we’re in a tornado, seeing red from my own blood mixing with the earth as the whirlwind finally comes to a stop nearly three hundred feet from where I was just moments ago, my blood mixing with the damp glass covered dirt that readily soaks up what’s left of my draining life, then complete and total black as I hear the faint sound of sirens in the far, far off distance.
I begin to cry, hot tears streaming down my face, collecting in my neck brace and I can feel my face burning from how badly I want to scream. My dad strokes my damp hair back from my tear soaked face and tries to comfort me with a hug so light and awkward I felt like I’d shatter at any moment. “Don’t worry my baby, everything is going to be okay now. The good news is that you’re alive.” He kisses my forehead and I feel almost at peace, like I’m back home watching Parks and Rec and laughing with him as we veg out with leftover pizza and Dr. Pepper. He strokes my face like he did when I was a child who’d woken from a bad nightmare and needed a kind hand to fix all my troubles. “I should go get the doctor and let him know you’re awake. I’ll be right back hon”, as he stands and moves to go he turns back and murmurs, “I love you.” I hold up my right-hand thumb, index, and pinkie to sign I love you back.
As the door clicks shut behind him I sink into the bed feeling somewhat tranquil, in a state of bleary calm. As I stare at the wall that has doctor’s charts and calendars with patient schedules, I feel a sharp pain stab me in my chest and suddenly my breathing quickens and I begin to shake. I furrow my brows in confusion and grab at my stinging sternum with a shaking hand, my legs leaping rhythmically in jerking motions uncontrollably. The tube in my throat prevents me from screaming but my entire body begins to howl in torment as it convulses and thrashes. Daddy help me! No one can hear me. I feel a boiling hot fluid building up in my chest and I have an unbearable feeling of drowning, though I should be perfectly fine laying comfortably in my hospital bed, awaiting the doctor to come tell me that I’ll be fine, that I’ll be able to go home with my dad in a week, that I’ll graduate high school in a month, that I’ll go off to college, that I’ll meet someone nice and get married, that I’ll have a family, that I’ll grow old and live my life and—live. Because I’m fine.
I feel the scorching fluid rise and begin to bubble out the sides of my mouth, shoving against the tube that is blocking its route of escape. I try to cough and spit and yank at the tube to come out of me but I have no control anymore. Help! Help! My eyes bulge and the veins in my neck threaten to burst open with how much is spilling out of me, foam rolling down my face and staining the white cotton sheets red. Red. I try to claw at my wires, try to roll out of bed and crawl for help but my body ignores my plight and begins its own throes thus leaving me staring wide-eyed at the popcorn ceiling I’d just woken up to moments before, my body thrashing to the rhythm of an unhinged beep-beep beeping monitor in overdrive. My dad bursts through the door with a doctor and an army of nurses barreling into each other to get to me but I already know. My dad is held back, screaming and straining to get to me but the doctor orders him out of the room as he pulls out his many medical devices, vainly thinking he could possibly help me now. A millisecond later and the chaotic room is filled with the stagnate sound of a long, somber, continuous beep. My body stills and relaxes, my hospital gown and sheets covered in my own internal scarlet. My eyes stare into nothing and blackness creeps into my vision until I fall into a cold slumber with the sound of silence except for the whimpering cries of my father as he sinks to the ground in anguish.
I awaken to the sound of hurried feet scraping against the linoleum floor and the hushed, grim whispers coming from all corners of the room. I open my eyes and see a legion of doctors and nurses that have descended upon my space, tainting it with unsolicited intrusion, all with clipboards in hand that they furiously scribble pointless observations onto. The only source of silence is coming from the corner of the congested room in which my father sits, staring at me from afar, eyes cold and distant…so very much unlike him. My brain burns with memory: memories of being cradled in a football hold as my father turns on ESPN, of the feeling of my dad’s strong arms holding my blankie-covered, four year old body as it thundered raucously in the middle of the night, of sitting on the couch being taught how to play poker at the age of nine on a rickety old TV table, of my dad making a sour face at being forced to attend my choir concerts but smiling from ear to ear as soon as my foot touched the first step of the stage, of my dad taking pictures with me before taking me to my first Homecoming.
All of this came rushing back, straining my brain that throbbed and stabbed little knives of pain into my conscious. I sat up, surprisingly without difficulty and tried to smile reassuringly at him, but I felt something was horribly wrong. No one stopped, no one jumped for joy that I was better, that I was awake, they all just kept milling around the room, zipping in and out of the hallway and barking orders at each other. “Hello”, I tried to say, but my words were not heard by anyone as far as I could tell. “Hello?” I looked down at myself and saw to my horror that I could see straight through my hands that were balled up into fists that scrunched and hugged at my queasy stomach. Tears began to fill my eyes that threatened to spill over in a rushing torrent of grief as realization dawned on me. “I’m dead”, I whisper, half to myself, half to some unseen force that has put me in this position. I jump out of the hospital bed and stumble onto the cold, tiled floor. Everything is cold. I turn back around to see myself lying lifeless and open-eyed while nurses check my body, though the action is futile at this point, and I finally understand why my father had looked so sullen before: I was wrecked.
My body was covered in blood that had already managed to crust over, making my hospital gown cling to my twisted body that was bent at awkward angles from the convulsions, and dry film from the scarlet froth that inevitably took the breath from my chest covered my agape mouth and percolated down my neck. I covered my mouth in horror at what this new reality was. “I’m dead”, I said again. My fingers dug through the strands of my sable hair, tugging at them, making me want to scream. I look around at the circus that continues around me, oblivious to my plight and an involuntary sob escapes from my quivering, blue lips. A doctor somehow made his way to my father through the chaos of the horde and bent awkwardly to address him directly, “I’m sorry for your loss Mr. Ramirez. After intense evaluation, we’ve discovered that your daughter had some internal bleeding that was missed during her scans, thus causing her to drown due to her lungs being filled with blood from the blunt trauma she endured from the accident.” My dad made no indication he was listening but the doctor trudged on, no doubt calloused to this sort of reaction, “We’re going to clear the room to allow you your goodbyes, then we can give her to your funeral directors in preparation for her arrangements. Now, another colleague of mine will be waiting in the hall to hand you her death certificate, this must be registered within five days from now Mr. Ramirez. Do you understand this, sir?” My dad takes a long while before slowly nodding his head, all the time never breaking his gaze from me. The doctor looks pleased with his response and lays a tentative, awkward hand on my father’s shoulder, “And again, I’m so sorry for your loss”. The doctor gathers his clipboards from the wall and, along with the rest of the physicians, hastily retreats into the hall, no doubt moving on to the next patient like I never existed, forgotten in an instant.
My father is left in an eerie silence. For what seems like a century he is still, watching me like I’ll get up at any moment and scream psych! and we’ll laugh uncontrollably like we used to, but I don’t. Even though I try to will myself, to plead with myself to wake up, to get up and walk over to him and say, “Daddy I’m so sorry”, I don’t. I don’t. His slouched frame finally gives and he begins heaving and blubbering, his hands shadowing his weathered face so consumed in grief it makes my heart ache with every raspy, shaking breath he takes to continue his wailing. His wailing for me. “Oh, daddy”, I sob, rushing over to his side, collapsing to the floor next to his old man shoes I so often made fun of. “Moria”, he cries, shouting for me to awaken, to live. “I’m here daddy, I’m right here”, I choke out as I take his hands in mine, crying uncontrollably, feeling like my heart has turned to stone. He doesn’t feel my touch. He doesn’t hear me crying out louder than him. Silence slashes through the stale air that now smells of something retched, though I have a feeling I know from what. He haltingly stumbles out of his chair and tumbles onto my lifeless body, leaving me staring after him on the cold floor, tears beginning to dry on my face. I see him take my lifeless hand in his and he kisses it furtively with a sorrowful face that is so scrunched in pain I fear that this look will permanently consume him, forever altering his appearance.
I slowly make my way to his side, crying silently as I do so. I want to scream. I want to scream so damn loud that the entire world shatters so that everyone can know this pain. My pain. My father’s pain. I sit on the stained hospital bed on top of my lifeless body, directly in front of my father. I stare into his red rimmed eyes and will him to look at me, to see me. “Daddy”, I whisper, “I’m still here.” He lets out a sob and buries his head in my ebony curls. “Dad!” Tears of red hot anger and frustration begin to tumble from my already tear soaked eyes. “Dad. Dad…don’t just sit there God damn it! Look at me! Please look at me! I’m here! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” I’m pounding on him with all my might and yet he doesn’t ever flinch. He doesn’t know. “Please, please see me.” I’m crying uncontrollably. My tears are blurring my vision and the room is spinning with angry swirls of darkness. “I’m scared…Daddy I’m so scared.” I try to take his hand like I used to when the darkness consumed me in a nightmare of mine but he doesn’t feel me. He continues to sob into my hair that no doubt still smells like our home: sandalwood and vanilla. The dark is creeping in even closer now. It’s spilling from the corners of the room and bellowing into the center, climbing like a smog that strikes fear into my heart. My dad lifts his head and takes my face in his hands. “I will forever love you, my Moria, my baby.” He kisses my head and lays me back down with shaking hands.
With trembling legs, he moves to stand and go, though reluctantly so. “No”, I breathe, “Dad, no, please stay with me.” I try to reach out to him, to hold him back, but I recoil when the darkness moves hungrily closer to me, surrounding me. I stare at my father’s retreating figure and I’m angry. I’m angry that he can’t see me. I’m angry that I died. I’m angry that the driver from the accident was so stupid. I’m angry at the world for doing this to me. But most of all, I’m angry at myself…for being so damn scared. In a panic, I scream to no one in particular. “Help!” Silence. I’m almost consumed by the darkness; it’s at level with my chest now and is slowly creeping up my neck. “Hello?! Someone…anyone…please…help me!!” The darkness is almost about to suffocate me, though I’m tilting my head back like a young girl about to drown in a deep pool, desperately trying to delay the inevitable. “Please”, I whimper, “Please help me! I’m so scared. I— I don’t want to disappear!”
As I take my last breath, the darkness about to devour me completely, the room explodes in a giant orb of luminescence made of rays of pure energy. And I feel…light; a heavy, leaden burden lifted from me. And I am, in a word, warm. The darkness is gone and in its place, there is a presence of light that is touching everything in the once dank and hopeless room. This light is turning everything a brilliant translucent color of purity. I feel no fear. I am free. A gentle voice speaks, though I know not from where it comes from. It says, “Do not fear Moria. You are indeed free. Your time has come to release your hold on this world, to release your hold on your father.” “I don’t understand. I don’t have a hold on anything. Please take me as you wish.” The color of the room brightens to a gentle pastel as I feel the voice smile sadly, “I’m afraid that is why the darkness came in the first place. You should have returned home the moment you ended but you didn’t, you stayed. That was your choice. You chose not to let go. There is no room here for those who have already been ended. You must release.” I turn to look at my father who’s frozen as if suspended momentarily from time. At that moment, I know what this voice says is true. I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to stay. “Daddy.” The voice speaks, “Do not be saddened by this parting, for it will not last. Think of this as…until next time. I know you will be with him again and he will readily come to your side again.” I don’t want to go, but I know what will happen if I stay. I’ll eventually disappear and then when the time comes for my dad to go, I won’t be there to greet him. I would never want to leave him all alone. “Okay, I’ll go. This is what’s best for him. However, I can’t help but ask…can I just say goodbye? A proper goodbye? Please. He needs this. I need this.” The color of the room turns a soft blue and my father begins to move again, unfrozen, but he stops, seeming taken aback. The breath catches in my chest when I see him turn around and stare wide-eyed at me. He sees me. “Moria?” His pained face breaks into a beaming smile that brightens his whole appearance even though fresh tears are now pouring from his eyes, I feel that they aren’t from sadness. I can’t keep from smiling back, from ear to ear, “Yeah dad, it’s me.” He moves forward and hugs me, “My Moria!” I hug him back, knowing that this is the last embrace I’ll have for a while.
I nestle my face into the crook of his neck and inhale his smell of detergent, Polo Blue cologne, and vanilla. “I love you daddy”, I whisper into his graying ebony hair that’s the exact same shade as mine. I feel the tug of the voice, beckoning me back. I pull away enough to look my father in the eyes, eyes whose green effervescence always soothed me and managed to keep the monsters in my head at bay. “I have to go now, daddy. I’m being called back, but I needed to say goodbye to you.” He shakes his head vigorously and begins to sob, “No, Moria, don’t go.” His hurt face pains me but I know I must go. I’m finally ready. I finally understand. “I have to daddy. I know you don’t want me to go, I don’t want to go either, but I’ve already gone. Don’t you see? Now I have the lovely pleasure of waiting to see you again and when I do, daddy, I swear that it will be the happiest day of my existence. For now, though, I do have to go. I’ll always be there, waiting for you to join me, but until then, I get to see you live the rest of your life in happiness with me kept alive in your thoughts.” He hugs me tightly and shakes with tears, “Okay baby. If that’s what needs to happen then okay. I’ll miss you! I love you Moria.” I hug him fiercely as the tug begins to feel like a strong pull, “I’ll miss you too. I love you daddy! Goodbye.” I pull back and kiss his forehead, the room exploding in multicolored light. We release and I am pulled back into the corner of the room that is sparkling with light. I see my father waving goodbye to me with a sad but accepting look on his face and I know in my heart that he’ll be okay. Everything will be okay. I give myself to the pull and I am welcomed in a warm colorful embrace with just me and the voice, going home. I feel good. I feel free. The nightmare is over. I’m going home.