How long have I been in this room?
I can’t be sure, and it doesn’t matter, anyway. There are no clocks, no windows, no means to mark the passage of time. A lamp in one corner provides soft light, revealing grey walls, grey carpet, a grey ceiling, and the grey bed I lie in listlessly. There’s nothing to do, and I’m strangely okay with that. It’s peaceful here, alone in this sea of greys. The bed is soft and deep, pulling me in, inviting me to sink deeper, to stay here forever. Somewhere outside the room there are voices, calling to one another, maybe doing some activity or other, but I try not to listen, not to hear them, by burying my head in the piles of grey pillows on the bed. Something about the voices causes me pain.
Have I always been this way?
Visions of another time and other places pass before my eyes, clouded by grey haze. Are they memories? hallucinations? something else? How can I be sure? But they show smiles, laughter, a world outside this room: trees, cute little houses, a purring kitten, flowers, birds chirping, balloons....
It was someone’s birthday, I think. The house was decorated with a superhero theme. There was a sign in the front yard, balloons tied to the mailbox. On the back patio, we had cake, ice cream, candles, gifts wrapped in crinkling paper. Kids were running around, playing games, chasing each other, all smiles and laughter. Some of them splashed around in the swimming pool in the yard, which sparkled in the sun.
And then someone started yelling. One of the neighbors, red-faced and loud--did we invite them? I’m pretty sure we didn’t, because everywhere they go they cause drama like this. Others yelled back, telling them to get lost, that they weren’t welcome. Gifts and food flew through the air. They were standing near the pool, too close. A voice, hoarse--mine?--calling out for them to stop, to step away, and then--
An errant lobbed gift hit Aidan’s head.
He stumbled back, but there was no ground to catch him, only the water of the swimming pool, which embraced him, sucked him down to the bottom.
In an instant, the sunlight vanished and the world turned dark.
Even if he’d been conscious, Aidan couldn’t swim, couldn’t even touch the bottom. He wasn’t wearing his floaties. He was only five years old. Swimming lessons were on the list of things to get him when we had just a bit more money. Throwing this party was a bit extravagant for us, but I would do anything for Aidan, just to see that smile.
My boy. My son.
There was a mad dash to pull him out, to push the water out of his lungs, to revive him. Someone called 9-1-1. An agonizing wait, breathless, hoping, sobbing, while my boy lay on the patio, so small, so frail, bloodless and sopping wet, limp and unresponsive. One of the other parents knew CPR and rescue breathing. She tried to treat him, while someone else held me, telling me over and over again that it’s going to be okay, that help is coming soon, just breathe, just breathe--
BUT HOW CAN I BREATHE WHEN MY LITTLE BOY ISN’T?!
Finally the sirens came. Tires screeched as the ambulance pulled into the driveway. EMTs and paramedics spilled out of the vehicle, swarmed across the lawn, asking a million questions, but their voices sounded like the cicadas whirring and screaming in the trees.
“Where is he? Where’s the victim?”
We directed them to Aidan, in the care of our helpful friend. They pushed her aside, started their examination, but it was only a few moments before one of them looked at me and sadly shook his head.
They pronounced Aidan dead at the scene. There was nothing they could do, they said. He was gone, dead before he had a chance to really live.
Knock knock knock.
What’s that? Who’s there?
Knock knock knock.
A grey door in a corner of the room, near the lamp, seems to be the source of the sound. I can’t remember that door being there.
Knock knock knock.
Go away. But my lips won’t form the words. My voice doesn’t seem to work. But my limbs do, though it feels like I’m dragging myself through molasses. Slowly, I sit up, put my feet on the floor, shuffle to the door, though my legs feel like they’re made of lead. The door has a plain handle. It turns readily under the weight of my hand.
The door opens a crack. Blinding light streams through. A weak cry escapes my lips as I turn to shield my face.
“It’s time to come out.”
Who is that? The voice is familiar, but the name it belongs to floats just out of reach in the grey fog around me.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Wasn’t it, though? It was my idea to have the birthday party at the pool. But not my idea to invite the psychotic neighbors from down the street who started the fight.
“Wallowing in sorrow won’t bring him back.”
That’s true. But nothing will. So what does it matter?
It should have been me instead of him. I should have gone, and he should have lived. He had so much life--
“You’re still alive. Live, for him. He wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”
The door opens wider. There’s light, everywhere, so much light, golden and warm and inviting.
I don’t deserve this. I let my son die.
I forgot that there was light in the world, light that came from anything other than my small sad lamp. My dazzled eyes adjust, but I still can’t make out the face of the person in the doorway. The light streaming in behind them leaves their face in shadows. An angel, maybe?
“Come with me.” A hand extends toward me, and instinctively I reach out and take it.
Then, slowly, mindful of my fragile heaviness, we step out into the sunshine together.