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Pain and Progress

Time passed. I could feel it in my stiff spine and rigid knees. I was awake and ice cold. The air rushing into my lungs burned and tasted like molten black licorice. My eyes stung, and my skin was overwhelmed by the blood rushing back into my veins.

Gerald had taken me out of my peaceful meadow too soon and I was furious. As my physical senses became aware I could faintly hear Richard barking orders in the background.

“Yeah I know that but I didn’t tell you to kill her Gerald. How long has her heart been stopped?” Richard sounded whiny something I found odd.

“Two and a half minutes. Look at the monitor; she is fine. Honestly, Wolfe, your lack of faith in me is insulting.”

Faith, I remember a conversation about faith and I remembered something about Richard. It seemed like long ago, but he was shot while I watched. All I could do was watch I was powerless to stop it from happening.

I tried to sit up to speak. A muffled sound made it past my lips and I was screaming again.

“Gerald let me up, I’m going to hurl!” I barely made it to the sink across the room. Poor Carol caught a bit of puke on the sleeve of her smock. “Why did you bring me back so quickly I wasn’t done?”

Gerald ignored me and continued on with his data collecting process. “Stop ignoring me; you’ve ignored me all day, God damn it, Gerald. Can’t you hear me?”

“Yes, of course. I can hear you. No one is ignoring you, Cal. You have had my complete attention but I have things to do. Calm down and relax.”

“What are you talking about. That other patient from earlier, that dead-looking woman, what happened to her?”

“Please Cal, I don’t have the time for this right now. There was no one else in here today, just you, no other patients,” Ivan insisted tossing a wad of paper sheet into the trash with more force than necessary.

“But I saw her. She was on the table and I was out in the hallway.” I pointed to the bench where I was sitting but Ivan just patted me on the shoulder and walked off.

Carol brought me a fresh set of scrubs. I changed out of my sweat-soaked clothes and splashed my face with cold water. The puncture marks on my arms and hands were still weeping. I let the cold water run down my skin until most of the blood washed away. I tied my hair back with a plain black band.

I was left alone in the small exam room, which was peculiar. Gerald usually hovered over me, recording my every move.

Resting on the exam table I mentally prepared myself to answer Geralds questions. Telling him about my peaceful meadow, the beautiful man, and the purple entity would get me a padded cell if I didn’t explain what I experienced carefully.

Gerald would carefully map my brain while I explained what I experienced. He would be silent and look clinically at me while he jotted his notes but he wouldn't believe a word. I was not looking forward to the next part of my day at all.

The door opened and I took a deep breath expecting Gerald to clap his hands together. But there was no clap. The footsteps were hard and heavy instead of light and quick. I sat up fast to see who it was. Exhaustion came over me and I fell face first toward the floor.

“Whoa, Sunshine you might need to lie down a bit longer.” Richard caught me. I was surprised to see him dressed in regular street clothes. I was sure he hung himself up in his uniform at night. I had never seen him out of it.

“Sunshine; Jesus Richard, have you been drinking?”

“What do I drink?” He asked smugly.

“Scotch, Glenlivet,” I answered with a shudder. “Ask me something else.”

“What is my … favorite pasta?”

“Linguini with clam sauce, how do I know this stupid shit about you?” I asked confused.

“You used to know all the stupid shit about me,” Richard explained in a hushed tone. The cracks in his very tall walls were starting to show. I felt uncomfortable sitting so close to him.

“Why do I remember you being shot in the chest? You’re in a white shirt and I see one thing after another going wrong. The image is old and jumbled. It's all darkness and panic. It hurts in the center of my head when I try to remember. It’s like something is stuck in my brain that wants to claw its way out.”

“You don’t remember it all, just parts of it,” Richard replied solemnly.

“You were shot, while I watched it happen?”

“Yeah well, you know I’ve been shot a few times, stabbed a couple of times too. Recently, I caught some shrapnel from an IED.” Richard lifted up the back of his polo and showed me the pockmarked patch of skin on his lower back.

I couldn’t help but run my fingers over the dime and nickel sized peaks and valleys of his keloid-scarred skin. “Yep I was standing in just the right spot, couple inches to either side and it probably would have been fatal or debilitating; either way it was a close.”

“Every time he injects me with that crap he picks away at some scab I would rather be left alone. I hope this helps me to remember something useful, but so far it just makes me feel hollow.” I rested my head on the table. I was sleepy but I knew I needed to stay awake.

“It’s the drugs. A few days off will clear your head.” Richard’s voice sounded hoarse like he had been yelling. He shifted his eyes to the floor when I met his gaze. He looked grateful. More happened today then I realized.

“We are supposed to have dinner at your place tonight. Ann’s coming with me. I should be okay in a few hours.” I pushed myself up to a seated position and tried to focus my eyes.

“No, I can stop by later to check on you. There are things we need to go over before your family arrives but you should rest you just had a rough session.”

“Can you help me get out of here? I don’t want to be in this room anymore. I want to go home, to my own bed and rest there.”

“Yeah, I think we can slip out the side door.” Richard helped me walk outside to the waiting line of golf carts.

He slid his ID card through the lock, and the little engine fired up. We took a slower, flatter path back to my cottage. The sun was bright in the sky. The cold air and the sunshine in my eyes helped keep me awake, but it didn’t clear the thick fog in my head. I wanted to go back to my shimmering man and the peaceful meadow. The pressures of that life seemed like nothing compared to my life now.

“Have you ever died?” I asked.

“No Cal, most people only get to do that once. You need me to get Gerald, really are you okay, don't bull shit me?”

“He let me die for just a few minutes. Gerald planned it. He plans everything.” I explained knowing I couldn’t share the experience I had without the context of a near-death experience.

“You were gone. I mean totally, completely gone for almost three minutes.” Richards’s voice was low and reverent at the mention of my death.

“That’s not possible. It wasn’t long enough. It felt like hours. I was somewhere else. If I could sleep deeply enough, I think I could find my way back. I can still feel all of it hovering around me.”

“Gerald will be here to look at you in just a minute, stay awake.” Richard fumbled his phone out of his pocket with one hand while he navigated the cart with the other. "Damn it, answer the fucking phone." The abrupt jolt almost sent me out of my seat. The sensation of falling made me hopeful. I was on my way back to the meadow; I just needed to fall a bit faster.

“Yes, hello Doctor Gerald please, yes I’ll wait. Gerald, hey we may have a problem. I took her home and you need to take a look at her. Yeah, I know all that damn it, just hurry up.”

I remember looking up at a cloud shaped like a topiary tree as Richard picked me up out of the little cart. The smell of his skin, I recognized it. Soap, Cologne, and just a hint of peppermint gum. He had stopped smoking years ago. He felt it was a weakness, a flaw in his character to be so controlled by something. I could see him shirtless and tanned in the sunshine, working the barbecue grill, young and happy people all around us smiling, laughing, enjoying our lives.

“We should have stayed at the lab. Stay awake for a few more minutes.” Richard patted my face so hard it stung my cheeks. He shook me. It was annoying and I tried to swat his hands away.

“Stop it. You know the Indians took me. They pulled me off my horse. I was just looking for my brother. He went to the open field with the men from town; they wanted to stop the hired men from… Father doesn't approve. He wants to live peacefully with the traders. He’s going to whip me when I get home but I don’t care. I won’t leave John out there to die; it’s cold at night somebody has to bring him home.” I could feel the tears on my face and I felt so hopeless.

“Cal what are you talking about, nobody’s going to hurt you. Nobody is going to lay a hand on you. I swear you’re fine. You’re here with me and there are no Indians like that any more honey. Wake up, keep talking to me.” Richard hugged me to him and I could feel the ball of energy in the center of his chest touch my own. A happy scene flashed in my mind.

“What happened to all the happy people? The ice and the jello shots; I made green and red. You always got beer and steaks. People brought pies and ice cream. All this used to be so easy, what happened to the sunshine?”

“You took it all the sunshine with you when you left baby. Keep your eyes open. You have to stay awake Cal.” I could feel Richard brush the stray hair off my neck; I could hear the front door opening and Gerald’s quick, light determined steps as they made the wood floors creak.

“Bring her in here Rich. What the hell were you thinking? She’s not stable yet.” Ivan was breathless and whispery. I could see him in fire surrounded by the shapes of dark charred bodies on the floor.

I grabbed Ivan by the shirt and pulled him down to me. “Ivan, let them kill me. Please, I don’t want to see it anymore. When I close my eyes, I can see all the bodies burning. Please Ivan, please kill me. I can’t do this anymore.” The despair was so real I felt like I could tear my own skin off and not be satisfied.

“God damn it, Rich, what have we done.” Ivan had a syringe ready and he shoved it in my arm. Then there was nothing but blackness.

The sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen woke me. I was groggy, and for a moment, I had no idea where I was. The window was on the wrong side of the room, and the ceiling fan blades should be walnut. I ran my hand over the back of my head; the question mark scar I expected to find was right where I had left it. I was right where I didn't want to be.

I pulled myself off the bed and went in to see what all the noise was about. Carl and Ann were in the kitchen frying up taco meat and chopping tomatoes while Richard and Gerald stood on the back porch visibly engrossed in a debate. The smell of spices and the browning meat reminded me that I hadn't eaten all day.

“Hey there, you made it back.” Carl examined my eyes before he put his hand out and helped me to a tall chair at the end of the breakfast nook. It gave me a good view of the back deck and the two men arguing on it.

“Yes, I seem to have all my faculties. What is going on outside?” I asked.

“I am sure Ivan is trying to convince Richard to let him flat line you again.” Carl had a hint of contempt in his voice when he spoke. I got the impression he did not approve of our recent drug therapy sessions.

“I’d love to go back except for this pounding headache. Have either of you died for any length of time?” I asked.

“I haven’t.” Carl turned to Ann and pointed at her with his chopping knife.

“Yes, yes don’t be waving that thing at me. I have, but I don’t remember anything. I was revived quickly. It was a drug allergy. It all happened fast. Why did you see something?”

“Somebody actually. I want to go back as soon as possible,” I explained.

“I don’t think that is a good idea. We barely got you stable today. You shouldn’t screw around with this Calynn.” Carl sounded angry. I knew he was right, but I wanted more.

“I will have to take your word for it. The last thing I remember was being tossed around in the golf cart. I lost some time today. Damn, it’s already six. I need to get ready for tomorrow.”

“Whatever you need I will stay and help you. I’ll be on site all weekend if you need me.” Ann, always willing to help was there again offering me her time.

“Thank you, Ann. I wanted to bake some cookies; Dave loves fresh chocolate chip cookies. I have to find a way to cover up my bruises too. Maybe some makeup and long sleeve shirt will help cover them.” Ann nodded in agreement as she popped a handful of shredded cheese in her mouth.

“You have recovered faster than normal Calynn. You should let them see the bruises. Do they know what you can do?” Carl had raised a valid point. I looked almost healed. I was a bloodied mess last time David saw me. How was I going to explain my miraculous recovery?

“No, and I don’t want them to know. This is going to be a fricken disaster.”

“You just need to try to take each question as it comes. You’re not accustomed to lying to your husband are you?” Carl asked.

“Not really, little white lies to spare his feelings, but this isn’t just any lie. I can’t have Dave and Matt thinking that I’m some kind of monster."

“It will work out however it works out. You can’t control everyone’s reactions to your abilities.” Carl wasn’t watching while he angrily chopped the onion in front of him. He finished with it and moved onto a lettuce wedge that needed shredding.

“You had better watch what you’re doing.” No sooner did I speak than Carl sliced into his knuckles. He dropped the knife, grabbed a dish towel and headed towards the bathroom cursing. As he brushed past me, my knuckles started to bleed. Carl stopped and took the towel from his hand; I could see that his hand was repaired.

“Calynn was that you?” He asked in amazement.

“Well, it sure as hell wasn’t me,” Ann replied coolly as she wiped the blood spotted lettuce off the counter and into the trashcan. “If you would have used the lettuce knife like I told you to, that wouldn’t have happened.” Ann stuck her tongue out at Carl; he shook his fist at her in response.

“Here hand me the towel I’m starting to drip. I thought about your cut and felt my hand heat up. I didn’t hurt but I felt a twinge of something. Let me see if I can think about fixing my hand.” I cleared my mind and focused on the image of my hand perfect and undamaged. I opened my eyes and saw that the cut was gone. Carl plopped down on the couch across from me and examined his hand and mine carefully.

“Gerald was right. His drug treatment has opened up more of your abilities. I’m grateful for your help Cal, but I am also afraid for you.”

“Ivan won’t hurt me; he had today all planned I’m sure of it.”

“I’m not. Monday let me hypnotize you. We can stimulate the same areas of your brain and maybe get similar results without having to go to such extremes.”

“Sure, if you think you can. I don’t mean to sound cocky but I’ve never been able to be hypnotized. It’s just not something I can do,” I explained.

“That’s under normal circumstances. None of us with extra abilities can go completely under but I can get you under enough to make a connection, that’s all we need.”

“They are still going at it out there. What could possibly take that long to argue about?” I watched as Gerald walked away from Richard rubbing his forehead, frustration contorting his face. Richard looked pleased, a small smile formed at the corner of his mouth. As Gerald turned away from Richard, his whole body glowed green. I looked at Ann and found she glowed orange, Carl was pearl white, and Richard looked bright blue. Looking around the room, I could see where everyone had touched a surface or leaned on the furniture. Carl looked at me with deep concern.

“What are you looking at Calynn?” Carl asked.

“Color, it’s everywhere, and nothing looks normal.” I was scared. I could feel my heart pounding and hear my breathing quicken.

“Now this is easy to fix. I want you to close your eyes, breathe in through your nose and out of your mouth, slowly.” Carl placed his hand on my arm, and I could feel calm move through me. “Is that better?” Carl asked slightly winded.

“Yeah, it’s gone now. Hot damn I can see again. God that was weird. It’s like I went blind and then everything was a bright color.” I kept looking around for more smudges of color but couldn’t see any.

“We need to work on your meditation skills. Monday first opportunity you come see me. Gerald has opened up something you may not be ready for yet.” Carl sounded concerned; I nodded yes in agreement then quickly tried to change the topic.

“What could they possibly be arguing about out there still?”

“Dinner is ready now, so they will have to stop for a few minutes.” Ann knocked on the back door window and waved Gerald and Richard inside.

Everyone found a place at the dining room table and sat down to eat. Carl didn’t mention my repair job on his hand or the colors that blinded me. He kept the conversation steered toward the weather and the local real estate market. I got the impression that his dissertation on the housing situation was entirely for my benefit.

“I would love for the guys to move closer but I can’t hope for such a turn of events. Dave would have to sell the house and find a job here, and Matt may not want to switch schools.”

Gerald behaved strangely during dinner. He looked as if he wanted to jump across the table and stab Richard in the face with his fork. Whatever they had been arguing about wasn’t over, and it was not going to be resolved tonight.

“Richard I’m curious what’s the nationality of the name Wolfe,” I asked.

“It’s Polish, shortened from Wolkowycki. My grandfather and his younger brother immigrated through Ellis Island in 1910. They were in their late teens. The man in front of them had a long last name. The registrar laughed at the man, said he couldn’t spell it, and shortened it for the guy. My Grandfather decided to say their last name was Wolfe to avoid the hassle and sound more American.”

“I have heard similar stories from other people whose ancestors had immigrated through Ellis. Too bad the registrars weren’t better educated in those days,” Ann replied.

“Ah, it worked out fine for us. My family is in the sheep business. Wolfe’s Wools always gets a laugh from people; they remember the name.”

Dinner continued with light conversation and ended without any fatalities. I helped Ann clean up the kitchen, and we put a few batches of cookies in the oven. The men gathered in the living room discussing football issues; they seemed to be waiting each other out.

My boys were set to arrive at ten in the morning on the first shuttle of the day. I would have to talk with Richard before he would leave and I knew Gerald wanted to discuss the afternoon’s test privately. Once the first oven full of cookies was put out to cool, I decided to tackle each issue out in the open.

“I know you are leaving for your weekend early tomorrow Richard. With the excitement today we haven’t gotten a chance to talk. Was there something you needed to discuss with me before my family arrives tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I need them to get fingerprints and photos for their ID cards. Julie from my office set up a packet for you. She will take it over to Janet in the early morning. Nick will be able to help get them squared away from that point. There are activities that Matt might like to check out. I’ll send Misty over on Friday night to get him for video games and pizza at the technology building. I think it’s Halo this week.”

“Matt will jump at that. Misty is the young woman from the Snack Shack?”

“Yes, and she also helps run our teen programs. She has all kinds stuff set up for the kids on weekends.”

“Great, thanks for getting that done. Let me walk you out. Ivan, I would like to discuss our test today if you can stay for a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”

“Yes, I’ll be right here, waiting to speak with you.” Gerald was still fuming over something; his anger now seemed to be directed at me. I grabbed a stack of hot cookies, wrapped them in a paper towel, and walked Richard outside. I didn’t stop until we were down the path and out of earshot.

“Thank you for getting me out of there earlier today. I hope I didn’t get you in too much trouble.”

“Yeah, you're welcome. I can handle the good doctor, don’t worry about me.”

“I had a breakthrough with Carl. He cut his hand and I was able to move the cut to my hand and heal myself. But I’m not entirely sure how I did it. I’ll have to work on it some more.”

“What, you didn’t say anything. Have you told Gerald? That’s a huge leap. Can you do it again?”

“With practice maybe. I’ll figure it out. I don’t see why but Carl was rather freaked out. He didn’t want to talk about it around Gerald; he wants to hypnotize me on Monday. Carl thinks repressed memories are keeping me from accessing the parts of my subconscious that I need to overcome the implant. Will you be back by then?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back Sunday night. Last transport of the day. Do you want me to sit in?” Richard looked puzzled by my request. I wasn’t sure how to explain what I needed him to do so I decided to be blunt.

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t have that kind of time to waste, but I wanted to make sure you would be here just in case things go badly.”

“Just in case what goes badly exactly?” Richard looked confused.

“I can do more things each time I go under. Nothing is real afterward. What I mean is I can’t tell what’s real. I know you won’t let me hurt anybody. You would stop me. Ivan won’t be able to. He doesn’t have it in him to stop me.” I watched Richards’s expression change from confusion to disgust.

“You don’t think? You think I’m going to what, kill you.”

“There is more than just the ability to heal a minor cut waiting to claw its way out. I can feel it and if I can’t control it. You have those two guys with the guns practically living in the trees over there watching me. I assume their guns are loaded for a reason.”

“You can see them all the way out there?” Richard asked.

“They both have good energy. There are two of them and they trade off day’s right?”

“Yeah but you’re not supposed to see them.” Richard pulled out his two-way and called to the man in the tree line. “Craig, did you know that the object can see you?”

“That’s a negative Sir; it’s not possible at my current distance.”

“She can see your energy, Craig. Come on down here say hello and have a cookie. You are relieved for the evening.”

“Craig is there to protect you at this point. I was not informed you had made all this progress. How long have you been able to detect energy?”

“I realized just this morning, and I had a short episode of color overload after I fixed Carl’s hand.” The man came out of the tree line and walked across the open land in front of my house; I waved not knowing how to greet him. He smiled back half-heartedly and nodded his head in acknowledgment as he seized a cookie from Richard's stack. They exchanged a few words and then Craig started back down the path toward the base.

“He’s not happy you can see him you know. What am I going to do with you? We need daily meetings to keep me informed of your progress. This is great news. It really is great news.” Richard seemed relieved as if some great shadow had moved past him.

“Did you smoke, I mean before, years ago?” I was embarrassed to ask the question, but the orphaned memory from earlier in the day bothered me. I had to know if it was real.

“Yeah we all did, but you hated it, so I quit. Why do you ask?”

“The process today. I remembered quite a few things, and I could smell spearmint gum. But then I remembered you smoked and also that you had quit.”

“Everything we… of course you would remember that I smoked, you hated the smell. Said it was a white trash vice that made me weak, so I quit.” Richard brushed the hair out of my eyes and pulled my sweater together protecting my bare neck from the cold night air. “Enjoy your weekend. I’ll see you back here on Sunday night.”

I watched Richard walk down the path for a few moments. I could tell there was no one else outside. It was peaceful, empty, and calm. Inside the house was a different story. I still had to deal with Gerald, tell him about Carl’s hand, and recap my experience in the great beyond. He may not believe me, maybe it was nothing more than the broken, twisted parts of my brain trying to tell me how to fix them, but it felt real to me.

I looked up at the stars. I tried to soak up the light that had traveled so far for me to be able to see it. The heavens intrigued me. The countless lives that go on beneath them yet no two lives on earth are the same. Even in the limitless expanse of space, I would guess that no two stars are the same. The dark matter that lives between the celestial bodies we can see delights me the most. Gerald would know all about it and wouldn’t have any problem citing recent scientific discoveries about the subject; he was too smart for his own good.

I wanted so badly to go back to my peaceful meadow and my shimmering man but I considered the possibility that Carl might be right. It’s probably not smart to go poking death with a stick. What I saw was powerful and unraveling. Maybe nothing matters in this life or maybe every moment of it does. It hurt my head to ponder the enormity of the questions I had never given any thought to before.

How it is that Gerald understands so much about medicine and death. He's had many years of practice, but he seems to be overly brilliant and too sure of his talents. “Genius is experience,” according to Henry Ford the late auto tycoon and creator of my missing Mustang. When I read the quote, the words stuck with me.

Sometimes we see genius come to people at a young age when there is no time for that wealth of experience to be gained. What if we do have many lives? What if I have spent them with the same group of people over and over again; the roles we play with each other switched around at random. How many of my lives have I spent with Ivan? How many times he has he actually brought me back from the dead.

I took a deep breath and walked back to the house. There were more cookies to take out of the oven and an angry man to deal with before I could go to bed. All I wanted to do was fall back to sleep and find the unburdened feeling I experienced earlier. In my waking hours, I’m 180 degrees away from the perfect peace I felt in that meadow.

I could hear Ivan and Carl politely disagreeing with each other as I approached the front door. I could smell cookies baking in the oven. I breathed in the hot sugary aroma and found the energy to deal with Ivan for a little bit longer.

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