I opened my eyes, and quickly shut them again. The light hurt them so much that I thought I was going to either vomit or pass out from the pain. My muddled mind couldn’t make sense of where I was, and I kept my eyes tightly shut. I could feel and hear things, though. My face hurt, and there was a strange pulling sensation at the corner of my left eye and the corner of my mouth. My head was splitting, and whenever I tried to take a deep breath, it felt like my father's boots were once again plowing into my ribs. I had felt pain like this before, however, and I was able to control myself so as not to cry out. I heard voices I did not recognize, and I heard metal clanking loudly. As I tried to sort out the sounds, I suddenly felt a cool touch on my forehead. I opened my eyes just a slit and tried to see where the heavenly feeling was coming from.
A woman was standing next to me and noticed this, and she excitedly called out, “Doctor Clark, he's coming around!”
I heard footsteps running into the room, and I felt another, stronger touch. I knew this was a man's touch, and I instantly froze, expecting the sound of my father's voice to accompany that touch, and neither was usually gentle. This man, however, very softly put his hand on my head and asked, “Erik? Can you hear me?”
My voice didn’t seem to want to work, but as my eyes adjusted to the little bit of light seeping into them, I was able to open them further and further, until they were fully opened. The man in front of me instantly took his fingers, put them on my eyelids, and looked at one eye through a strange instrument. He did the same with the other eye and then put the instrument on a table next to him. He looked into my face and asked again, “Can you hear me, Erik?”
I tried to nod, but the pain that shot through my head caused an involuntary groan to escape my lips, and I clamped down on it instantly. I closed my eyes again to help counter the spinning that accompanied the pain.
“Don’t move your head,” the kind voice said. “You've hurt it badly. Can you give me a thumbs-up if you can hear me?”
My eyes still shut, I slowly raised my right hand with my thumb extended upward. Even this small movement caused a sharp pain in my ribs, but I held the gesture out until I heard the man exhale sharply. I risked opening my eyes again to see the look on the man's face, and what I saw encouraged me. There was a bright smile on the man's face, as well as one on the face of the woman next to him. I dropped my hand heavily to the bed on which I lay, and I tried to speak. The only sound that left my mouth was a croak, however. My mouth felt like I had been eating nothing but sand, and my throat was drier than dust. The man seemed to realize this, and he gently placed some small pieces of ice in my mouth. The feeling of them melting in my mouth was absolutely divine, and I eagerly swallowed the water. I tried again to speak to the man before me.
“Where am I?” I managed to rasp out.
The man gave me a few more pieces of ice before stating, “You are at my house in Willow, Erik. You had a very serious cut on your head, and we have been very worried about you.”
The thought startled me; the only person I knew who worried about me was my mother. I’d never been entirely sure anyone else even knew I existed, much less worried about me.
“Where is my mother?”
“She is still at your home, with your father,” the man said with a scowl on his face. I flinched at the look, knowing that a scowl was usually accompanied by a blow. The man saw me flinch, and his face immediately changed into a look of confusion. Then, just as quickly, a look of understanding and compassion replaced the confusion.
“Oh, no, Erik, I am not angry with you; I am angry with your father. He has no right to do this to you or your mother.” The man knelt down next to the bed and took my hand in his.
I was stunned. I was not surprised at a gentle touch from a woman; after all, my mother was always gentle with me—even touching me when my father couldn’t see. I never expected to feel such a touch from a man, though. Of course, the only man I knew was my father, and I had always assumed that all men were just like him. This man in front of me was beginning to show me that I might be wrong, but I was still unwilling to fully believe it.
“Who are you?” I asked him, fully expecting the answer to be “an angel.”
“My name is Doctor Clark. This is Nurse Williams, my assistant. We are going to take care of you until you are better.”
“What happened to me?” I remembered my father asking me about the flower, but everything after that was a complete blank.
Doctor Clark glanced up at the nurse with an unreadable look. She shook her head very slowly, and then the doctor sighed and turned back to me. “A jar fell from a shelf and cut your head quite badly; it also gave you a concussion.”
“What is a concussion?”
“A concussion is when your brain suffers a shock from a heavy blow. If the concussion is severe enough, you can become unconscious. This is what happened to you. You have been here for four hours, and this is the first time you have done anything more than breathe.” He said the last with a small smile on his face. I frowned slightly, thinking he was laughing at me.
I suddenly felt extremely tired, however, and I could feel my eyes closing against my will. I still had questions I wanted to ask, such as, “How did the jar fall on me from a shelf when it was in my father's hand?” and “Why didn't my mother come with me?” The doctor noticed my eyes closing, and he reached up and pulled up the blanket that had slid down to my waist.
“No more questions now, Erik. What you need is sleep. We'll talk more when you wake.”I tried to respond, but my mouth suddenly stopped working. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard Doctor Clark say, “Shirley, could you bring the cot and some blankets in here, please? I want to stay by him tonight in case something goes wrong.” After that, I remembered nothing else.