Matt opened Anna’s hospital room door and looked in. She was alone with her eyes closed.
“Oops, sorry,” he said quietly, turning to leave. “I’ll come back later.”
But she instantly opened her eyes and said, “Matt, I’m not sleeping. I was just resting my eyes and praying. I’m so glad to see you. Thank you for coming back today. I wanted to apologize for getting mad at you yesterday. You were gone when everything finally calmed down around here last night, and you didn’t come back.”
“You don’t need to apologize to me, Anna,” Matt explained. “I deserved every bit of your anger, and a whole lot more.” Matt had spent a restless night in his Mobile hotel room after the previous day’s conversation with Anna. He kept reliving the wreck in his mind, and wishing he had gone back for Jackson before it was too late. Always the thoughts ended up the same – it was his fault, and Anna would never forgive him. He couldn’t blame her. He couldn’t forgive himself either.
He assumed that Anna’s aunt and uncle stayed with her all night, so he had waited until visiting hours started this morning before coming to the hospital again. He didn’t want to upset her, and it seemed like that was all he had done on the previous day.
While he was walking toward her room from the elevator, he had seen some nurses at the desk down the hall, but otherwise the hall around her room was totally empty.
Anna’s words brought him back to the present. “Matt, you’re my friend. I can’t stay mad at you, and you should know that. We’ve got to stick together. We owe that much to Jackson’s memory.”
“You look good today, Anna, considering all you’ve been through.”
“You must mean that I didn’t look good yesterday. Thanks a lot!” For once, she was teasing him, instead of him teasing her. However, he took her words seriously.
“No, that’s not what I meant,” he explained with a startled look on his face.
“Matt, lighten up. I was only joking,” she told him. “The nurses got me up early this morning. They helped me take a bath and wash my hair. I feel a lot better. I even got to see myself in the mirror. It was quite a shock, I must admit. I can’t believe you even recognized me out there in the bayou.”
“Well, if it weren’t for all the yelling in the water, I might not have recognized you,” he joked back, but it took an effort. He was not in a joking mood, and didn’t feel like being jovial with her this morning.
“Matt, it’s me, Anna. Remember me – the one you used to make fun of all the time? I’m the same girl that I was before the accident, just a little worse for the wear.”
“Maybe I’m not the same guy,” Matt told her flatly, without enthusiasm or explanation.
Anna seemed to consider his choice of words for a minute before speaking. “Maybe not,” she finally replied. “The death of a person close to you can be life-changing. I ought to know. It was overwhelming for me when I lost my parents. But this time it’s different.”
“Different how?” Matt asked. “Jackson’s gone, just the same.”
“I don’t know, just different. I don’t feel totally overwhelmed and alone this time, maybe. Sure, I miss Jackson. I dreamed that he and I would eventually get married and grow old together. Now I know that wasn’t God’s will for my life. But somehow I’m OK with that. As much as it hurts to loose Jackson, I can trust God to make all things work together for good. I guess by faith I’m learning to trust God to take care of me.”
“That sounds a little naive, Anna. How do you know things don’t just simply happen without help from God? What evidence do you have to prove that there’s some ‘Heavenly Authority’ up there orchestrating the whole thing?”
Matt watched her hand reach up to the leaf on the necklace, as she said, “I just know, Matt. I believe, and I pray that someday you will too. The Bible calls it faith – believing without seeing. Although I may sometimes see more than other people.”
He studied her for a minute, neither of them saying anything, as she looked at him. He remembered having a similar conversation with Jackson on that last night on the train.
Here was Anna, battered and scarred, telling him the same thing. Her face was still purple on one side, with a nasty black-eye to go along with it. Her hair was clean, but hung limply down past her shoulders. She did not appear to have any makeup on, although he wasn’t sure she ever wore very much. Her broken arm was in a cast, and her broken leg was in a boot. An IV was inserted in the unbroken arm.
He suddenly realized that looking at her had distracted him from what she had been saying. As he watched her, she continued to finger the leaf on the chain around her neck.
Eventually Anna broke the silence, “I don’t know how else to explain it, Matt, I just have a peace about what happened on the train and afterwards. I think we were in the presence of angels. And if I’m right about Andriel being an angel, then you and I are two of the fortunate people in modern times who can say they actually saw an angel and lived to tell about it.”
“And if you’re not right,” Matt continued the conversation sarcastically, “then I’m one of the unfortunate people to have rescued a lunatic from the bayou when I was searching for a friend.” The hateful words unfortunately came out with all the bitterness that he felt inside.
Matt watched Anna’s chin quiver over the harsh words. He had first intended them to sound like a joke, but they didn’t turn out to be funny. She looked away and said, “Maybe you should go now, Matt.”
“Anna, I’m sorry. I was trying to make a joke.”
She didn’t say anything.
“You don’t believe me when I tell you about angels, so it’s no use talking to you.”
“I’m trying to believe. But with the whole ‘angel-Samuel-Andriel’ thing – it’s not easy.”
“Maybe you should just stick around here for a while and keep your eyes open, Matt. It might surprise you who you see. You probably already saw him and didn’t even know it.”
“I didn’t tell you, but I had a visitor this morning just before you came in. Samuel was here. He said he stopped by to see how I’m doing. He told me I was healing nicely. He left just seconds before you opened the door. In fact, you probably passed him right outside my door.”
“You mean the old guy that took care of you in the bayou? He was here in the hospital?” Matt pointed toward the door.
“Did you see him? He was really nice. I hope you met him,” Anna said.
“When did you say he left?” Matt asked.
“Just seconds before you opened my door. You must have passed him in the hallway outside. I think he was even trying to tell me you were coming to see me,” Anna explained.
“When I came in no one was outside your room except a couple of nurses at their station,” Matt told her quietly, not wanting to argue with her any further, but also not wanting to play along with her delusions. If she wanted to believe in the myth of her being rescued by angels, then that was her choice. But not him, he needed concrete evidence before he was going to believe it.
“But he left just as you were coming in the door,” she said, confused about how they could have missed each other.
“I didn’t see him,” Matt answered quietly.
Anna looked at him for a few minutes before saying, “He brought my clothes to me,” pointing to the T-shirt and pajama pants on the chair. Then Anna asked, “Matt, do you believe in God?”
The question was not what he wanted to think about at the moment.
She asked again, “Matt, do you believe in God?”
Matt knew she had asked the critical question. If he believed in God, then why was Jackson dead, because God could have prevented it? If he didn’t believe in God, then what was the whole point of this world and this life? There surely must be more to life than the few years that were given a person on this earth.
“I don’t know anymore,” he admitted, more to himself than to her. “I just want Jackson back. I just wish I could go back to that night and rescue him like the woman told me to.”
“Are you sure she told you to ‘rescue’ him?” Anna asked, remembering what Samu-el told her. She was careful not to mention Samu-el’s name, however, since Matt was tired of hearing about him.
“She might have said ‘find’ him. I don’t know any more. Why do you ask?” Matt answered lamely.
“You told me Jackson probably hit his head and died when the train first crashed,” Anna said.
“Right, that is very possible.”
“Well, I would think an angel would have already known that Jackson was dead.”
“So you’re saying she wasn’t an angel?” Matt asked, confused.
“No, I’m asking you to consider why an angel might tell you to go find someone who’s already gone to Heaven. It obviously wouldn’t benefit the person who was dead. So it must be for the benefit of the person who was searching.”
“I guess that makes sense, Anna, in a strange sort of way. What are you getting at?”
“The only logical explanation for her words is that she told you to find Jackson for your own benefit, not for his. Therefore, it was not your fault that Jackson died, nor was it the result of your slowness to find him, because he had already gone to Heaven by then. Maybe she wanted you to find him spiritually more than physically. I don’t know anymore. It’s too confusing. Maybe when you get it figured out you can tell me.”
“Maybe,” he answered thoughtfully.
Anna’s words had Matt thinking. Maybe Jackson’s death wasn’t his fault, after all. Maybe there was more to this ‘God thing’ than he first imagined. He promised himself to spend some time considering it later.
For now, he planned to enjoy spending time with this beautiful young woman named ‘Anna’. He smiled as he thought of ways to win her affection and her attention – flowers, visits, cards, meals, presents, movies, and his list went on and on.
I wonder what Jackson did to win her affection? he wondered. That was never clear to me. Maybe if I keep trying I’ll be able to figure it out. She’s certainly worth the effort.
Did he just sit around mooning over her, and falling on her every word? No, that’s not what I remember.
He did pay attention to her, and defend her when idiots like me tried to attack her. Security – maybe that was the big attraction that she saw in him. I can be defending of her too, as long as she doesn’t look like too much of a target.
He promised himself that he would not attack her or try to make jokes at her expense. He knew she never appreciated it when he did that in an attempt to get Jackson’s friendship. Truthfully, he knew Jackson never really appreciated it either. Now that he thought about it, he could not come up with even one good reason for attacking Anna, other than the fact that she always seemed like such an easy target.
No more, he promised himself. From now on, I will be defending her, not making jokes at her. Then we’ll see if she might consider dating me.