Chapter 8: Of It All
I came to on the ground, staring up at a blue sky. The grass was slightly wet with dew, and I could hear birds chirping happily. It appeared that I had reached some sort of clearing in the forest, as trees still surrounded me on all sides. I could still hear the storm crackling above, but when I looked up all I could see was the sky, as if it was midday. I must have reached the eye of the storm. Plant life flourished in here, with all sorts of multi-colored flowers and fungi growing on the ground, an almost overabundance of wildlife. Rogue rabbits chased each other around as bees noisily sucked nectar out of flowers. I was startled by a snake slithering right over my foot, but it didn’t seem to even notice me. It was some sort of garden.
Impossibly, in the middle of the clearing stood what appeared to be an identical replica to my house. The paint and model were exactly the same, minus the driveway. Doing my best to not put too much pressure on my injured foot, I hobbled my way over to the door. I heard beautiful singing coming from inside, a song that I felt I knew somehow. Despite the strange nature of all of this, I felt compelled to go inside.
“Come in!” The voice emanated from inside the house. Could this be another trick? Another test? There didn’t seem to be any other way to go, so going inside seemed to be my best bet. I put my hand on the door handle and turned it, opening the door.
The house looked exactly like I remembered it. Pictures in the same spot, furniture not moved. Even the floorboard was chipped in the same way. “I’m in the kitchen! Take a seat at the table. I’m making dinner!” The same voice called to me. It was a higher-pitched voice, one I didn’t recognize. I took my shoes off like I always do, taking great care to not hurt my injured leg even more, and walked apprehensively towards the kitchen table.
When I entered the room, I saw a woman, her back turned to me. She had long flowing hair, and was whistling. Whatever she was making smelled immensely good, and I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since coming here. Apparently, I could be hungry even in my own mind.
I took a seat at the dining table, watching the woman. There was something very familiar about her, but I was sure I had never met her. She turned around and I could see that she was in her late forties, maybe early fifties. She had a warm delicacy to her eyes that made me feel relaxed and at ease. “I was told you like spaghetti.” She said, as she put a plate of delicious looking pasta in front of me, caked in sweet-smelling marinara with parmesan cheese just beginning to melt on top. My stomach rumbled and I gave in, taking a bite of the food. It was just as good as it smelled. “This is amazing,” I said. “Thank you.”
The woman gave me a wry smile and nodded her head. “Of course, it’s the least I can do. You've traveled so far to get to me.” She said. Her face was so familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. It couldn’t be her, could it?
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I know who you are.” I said, as I put my fork down. The woman laughed and gave me another smile. “You don’t recognize me? I guess that would make sense.”
I searched my memories for any face like her face, but I didn’t find any. It couldn’t be who I thought it was. It had to be someone else. A teacher, a doctor. An old friend of a friend. Anybody but her. My heart leaped into my stomach and my knees started shaking. Tears formed in my eyes as I looked into the eyes of the woman who I should’ve known my entire life.
“Mom?” She smiled and let loose a tear of her own. “Yes.” She said, “It’s me.” I embraced her as I started to shake uncontrollably. “Mom—I don’t understand. How?” She comforted me softly and held me tighter. “That doesn’t matter, I’m here now.” She cooed into my ear. I finally pulled away to see her face again, a face I tried to etch permanently into my imagination. I had seen some photos of Mom when she was younger, and I now saw that person through the older exterior. Somehow, inexplicably, it was really her, just as real as Dad had been.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you.” She said to me, putting her hand on mine. Her smile turned to a frown as she noticed my ribs and leg. “You’re in pain.” She said as she laid her hand on my injuries. “Let me help you.”
As she rubbed her hand across, I felt the pain leave my body. The wounds were healing themselves somehow, thanks to her. “How—"I asked in disbelief.
When she finished, I felt completely rejuvenated. There was no pain in my foot, really no pain anywhere in my body. “There.” She said. “That should make you feel better.” She sat back and let out a sigh. As she studied me, her smile faded away.
“What is it, Mom?” I asked. She tried to smile again but couldn’t quite manage it.
“It’s just so nice to see you, to see what kind of person you’ve grown into. It’s…nice.”
She spoke with measured apprehension.
“You’ve become someone who I’m so proud of.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing these words from her. My mom was proud of me.
"What is there to be proud of, Mom. I've been screwing up day after day." She shook her head in only the way a mother can when correcting her child.
"It's your strength. Your resilience. Your intelligence. We all have rough spots. But it's important to not let her our worst moments define who we are. And who you are is beautiful." Her smile faded again.
"What is it, Mom?" I managed to get out.
“It’s just that, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it happen.” She was sorry? How could she be?
“No mom, that wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t feel sorry. If anybody should feel sorry it should be!” This was my chance. I could finally apologize for everything. It really was my fault. She died giving birth to me. I could feel my pulse rising, and anger bubbling to the surface. Now, face to face with her, I had an opportunity to make things right.
Her face was pained, and she was trying to get me to stop.
“Mom, you had your whole life ahead of you. You had friends, a career, family, and Dad.
You had so much, and I took it all away from you.”
She was crying now. I could tell I was hurting her, but I needed her to hear this. I needed
to hear this.
“This is all my fault! I should never have been born, not if it meant hurting you. And Dad. I shouldn’t exist.” I felt like I had never said a truer statement in my life. I had robbed her, I had taken from her, just so I could live. And for what? A life of guilt, of anger. Of depression and isolation. It should have been me that didn’t make it, not her.
My words hung like a disease in the air. Mom was upset, but she did her best to not show
it to me.
“Do you forgive me?” I asked.
Looking anywhere but at me, she seemed to be carefully wording her response.
“No,” she said. I knew it. I knew what I had done was unforgivable. Even my own mother couldn’t forgive me.
“No, I won’t forgive you,” she continued, “because there’s nothing to forgive you for.” “What?” I said, confused.
At my confusion, her smile returned. “How could I ever blame you for what happened?”
I didn’t understand. She was supposed to forgive me, and I would be okay. Everything would be alright after that. I would finally be able to move on from this.
She continued. “I don’t expect you to understand right now, but maybe someday. The instant you become responsible for another life, nothing else matters but protecting it. Nurturing it. It’s when you realize your place in this world. Your purpose. I had to keep you safe, I had to protect you. You were my child. You are my child.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “And that’s why I’m so sorry I left you. I wasn’t there to do the one job I’m supposed to do. But I’m happy that, in spite of the circumstances that took me from you, in spite of my failure as a parent to be there for you, you became the person you are now.” She put her other hand on my cheek, and wiped away a tear. “You have to stop this. You can’t keep living your life blaming yourself. Can’t you see what it’s doing to you? You did nothing wrong. There is no possible way you could have done anything wrong. In any world.”
I started to protest. “Mom—I” She stopped me. “Say it, “she said. “I need to hear you say
it to me.”
“I did nothing wrong.” I said, timidly.
“I did nothing wrong.” This seemed absurd to me. It went against everything I had thought I’d known to be true.
“I did nothing wrong.” Anger bubbled up inside me again. How did she not understand what I had done to her? Done to Dad? Done to everybody?
“Once more.” She said softly.
“I did nothing wrong!” Surprising myself, I shouted it the last time, a whirlpool of emotions spilling from deep inside of me. It was a whole cocktail of anger, sadness, rage, sorrow. But it wasn’t really directed at anyone. It was more just cascading out from me, as if I had been holding it in for quite some time and it had been anxious to escape.
“I did nothing wrong?” I asked her, softly like her this time.
With a slight laugh, she responded. “Yes. Of course you didn’t.”
I felt relief envelop me. It was as if a long-tightened muscle had been finally eased. I let out a deep breath and sank into my chair, defeated.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Mom got up, excited. “Stay here. I’ll go bring him in.” She said.
When she came back, Dad was with her, beaming down at me. He looked alright. The two were locking arms and looked so perfect for each other. “Is she ready to go?” Dad asked Mom. Mom looked at me, also beaming. “I think so.” She said.
Mom and Dad each took a seat at the table, their hands never unraveling from one another. For a brief second, we were all together, sitting at the dining table. I knew what it was like to have my family complete. I wish I could have taken a picture of this moment, but I did my best to also commit it to memory.
Dad looked at me. “You’ve done so well. But you’re not done yet.” Mom nodded. “You need to keep going.” She pointed at the door.
I realized what they meant. I was in the eye of the storm right now, but if I was going to make it out of here I needed to go back into it.
“I can’t leave you Mom.” I said, pleading. “I don’t want to go. There’s no reason I have to leave.”
She took my hand, leaving the other still wrapped around Dad’s. “There’s every reason for you to leave. You have to. You have go out and live your life.” She said. “I know it’s not easy. But nothing that’s worth anything ever is.”
She was right. I couldn’t stay here anyway. For as real as it felt, it wasn’t quite exact. It couldn’t be. This was just happening inside of my head real or not. Dad was waiting for me out there. My real Dad. I had to get back to him. But as I looked at their faces, their warm smiles, and for a brief moment I couldn’t tell the difference between real and not real. She seemed so authentic, so genuine.
Reluctantly, I got up and started heading for the door. It was the right thing to do. Halfway there, I remembered my leg, and how Mom had fixed it. “Mom.” I said. “How did you heal me?” I asked her.
She was now standing above Dad, her hands on his shoulders. “I didn’t do anything, it was all you. After all, you’re in control here.” I remembered the flashlight, and the sword.
There it is, the truth. “Then, this isn’t real?” I asked back.
“Who’s to say it matters?” She said back. “I love you.”
“I love you too Mom.”
I turned the door knob and walked outside. The sun was still impossibly shining, and the birds were still chirping, but none of that mattered now. I had to get out of here.
By the forest, I spotted the dirt path again. I took off running, grabbing my flashlight from my pocket. Jumping into the forest, I felt the nip of the storm again at my heels, pushing me back, back to where I had come from. I must be going the right way.
I ran, harder and faster than I ever had before. Nothing was going to stop me. I pushed through, dodging falling tree trunks and lightning strikes, hearing the wind howl violently around my ears, but not even that could slow me down. I was determined.
Minutes slipped into what felt like hours before I could make out a light. It must be the way out. I pushed myself further, forcing myself not to give up. This was it. The light was getting closer. I was going to make it. A hundred feet. Fifty. Twenty-five.
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.
For a second I was floating, bathed in blinding white light. And then I felt myself plummeting. Falling, falling endlessly.
I heard noises. Metallic scratching. Electronic beeps. Whirrs. Something was happening. The next thing I knew, I snapped back to consciousness. Back to reality. The noises, once distant and mumbled, were now present and right in front of me.
I was awake.
“Her heart rate’s stabilizing. She’s waking up!” I heard a voice exclaim from above me. I slowly opened my tired, heavy eyelids and was blinded by the fluorescent lights above. I felt someone grasping my hand. Regaining my sight, the image of Dad came into view, close to me and crying. Another man was beside him, a doctor.
“You’re alright now.” Dad said. He was right. For the first time in a while, I felt truly alright.
*This is the only mention I have found of the Doctor in my mother's journal. It seems she remained unaware of his contributions, at least at the time of writing this.