If anyone, including him, thought now everything was sorted out, they didn’t expect that he had to reconquer his body piece by piece. It got easier with every proceeding but at a cost of a whole lot of strength. But he didn’t give up.
His mother came the second day after he returned to the world of the living.
“There you are”, she said, when she walked into the room as if she had been looking for him the past few days, and he couldn't have been found. “How are you?” Now she walked around his bed, took his face into her hands, and looked him over.
“Fine”, he replied, moving his head around so that his mother released her grasp and finally took her hands down to release her son’s head. “Well, under the circumstances. Mom, … please.”
“I see, you make progress”, she went on, while she sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to arrange his stuff on the hospital’s bedside cabinet. “I couldn’t come earlier. You know, your father and I have some work to catch up from when you had your accident. The doctor—what was his name again?—anyway, he said, you could come home at the beginning of next week, maybe Tuesday. So I guess, we can agree, that I don’t need to come back before Tuesday when I pick you up.”
And then, there was silence. No more words, inevitable to speak out.
Some moments passed. Then, his mother stood up and said: “Alright then. See you on Tuesday. And do the best you can to be ready by then.”
His mother was always on the go and sometimes unempathetic, but he knew that she loved him and wanted him to get well soon.
It didn’t take as long as expected to regain full control over the body again. It was more like over-length sleep paralysis. The doctor explained to him, that he didn’t have the so-called “locked-in syndrome” and therefore, it was not big of a surprise that his body needed time to fully wake up and recover from that immediate and radical shutdown. On the weekend he felt way better and could move normally again, but they said, it would be good to stick with the original plan and let him stay for observation until then.
Eventually, it was Tuesday. The breakfast, the nurses brought every morning, was minimalistic but not as bad as the cliché. And then, in the course of the morning—the nurses started to prepare the lunch—his mother showed up. They signed the papers and got into the car. After about a week, he saw the eastern mountain range of Anchorage again. But they drove in the opposite direction down the East 15th Avenue. Before they could get very far, when they headed towards the crossing of Lake Otis road, he asked: “Mom, can we stop by Fire Island Bakery real quick? The food wasn’t that bad, but I’d love to have real bread again after a week of hospital food.”
“Fine”, she agreed and turned left.
Back in the car, after they passed Fairview neighborhood and then Cordova Street, the side roads started to be simply A-Street, B-Street, and so on. A few miles further downtown, his mother turned left into Minnesota Drive, and he was able to see Westchester Lake on the left and Westchester Lagoon on the right, where people went ice skating in the winter. A minute later, she stopped the car at the family’s driveway in Wildwood Lane.
His dad was home too for dinner, so his mother went straight to the kitchen to finish it.
“Gareth, dearie, could you please bring the plates to the table? Dinner is ready!”, she shouted from the kitchen only minutes later.
His father headed right to the table coming from the living room when he saw his wife and son coming from the opposite direction, their arms filled with plates of steaming food. Once the plates were on the table and the family members seated, they would have prayed when he was a child, but it had been more like a ritual for children to be thankful and devout, so that faded, when he grew older.
“I’m glad, we have you here again, son”, his father broke the silence and made Gareth involuntarily look up from his plate where he had been occupied with carving the unmanageable meat. His mother wasn’t a bad cook, she just didn’t like meat, so she never intended to get it as perfect as everything else she prepared.
After dinner, Gareth wanted to go upstairs, but his father stopped him.
“Your phone”, he said and held it out to him. “You lost it during the accident. And your mother forgot it when she went to the hospital to check in on you.”
Gareth took the phone and passed the dresser with the family portraits—which, much like in the song by P!nk, looked better than it often was by the time the pictures were taken— which he had to circumnavigate to get to the stairs. Suddenly, he stopped. He stepped a few steps backward, looked closer to a certain picture showing him and a somehow familiar green-eyed girl hugging each other intensely, and eventually took the picture frame from the dresser to inspect it even more. Who was this girl? He knew her. She wasn’t his sister—that was for sure.
“Dad …”, he started, unsure how to ask without sounding too stupid. “Who is this girl?”
The addressed sighed. “The doctor said, it might happen. But the amnesia will fade away in a few more days, he said. That’s why you’re certified sick for the rest of the week. This is …” he stopped a moment, thinking. “… your girlfriend.”
“You don’t like her, do you?”, Gareth tried to remember.
“That’s true. But … when you said, you really love her with all your heart and might get old and someday start a family with that young lady … we want you to be happy, son. It’s about time, but finally, we understood that.”
Gareth just stood there, surprised. He needed some time to process that. A few days ago, he woke up in hospital, realized that he was imprisoned in his own body, and had to reconquer it piece by piece. And now, he was a lucky guy, because he had a—undoubtedly good-looking—girlfriend he had been—shamefully—unaware of.
“Excuse me please”, his father brought him back down to earth “but I have an important phone call to make.” That came in useful to Gareth to go upstairs to give a thought about his new old girlfriend. He couldn’t remember that he had a girlfriend nor any details of the accident—just facts he was told. Sure, these were side effects of the accident, but that didn’t make it less embarrassing and confusing. What actually happened there, that finally knocked him out that hard? Nobody told him more about it than that an accident happened in which he was involved in some way.
So he took the phone from his pocket, where he had put it only a few minutes ago and googled for local newspaper articles from that day. He actually found some, describing the victim, a nineteen-year-old boy of good family whose parents were both local middle-class businesspeople, but had to admit that by the time of writing it was still unclear how the accident could have happened. And the police didn’t issue an official statement yet.
Gareth flung the phone over the bedsheets in dissatisfaction like he used to skip stones over the water when he and his dad walked down the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail when Gareth was a young boy. But Gareth couldn’t resist for long until he turned the phone’s screen back on to search for answers to a completely different question. His fingers tapped and swiped until they found the address book and scrolled down, and suddenly … stopped. There was this face again. The green-eyed girl.
He tapped on the contact and then the button with the phone icon. It rang. But nobody answered. Finally, a computer-generated voice told him that the person he called wasn’t available at the moment, and he should try again later. He put the phone down next to him on the bedsheet, sank down next to it, and stared at the ceiling.
Who was this girl? The memories came back slowly. But every time he wanted to speed up this process, he felt that image fading. He spent a lot of time with her. So they probably had been … were friends. Good friends? But why couldn’t he remember her being his girlfriend? He seemed to know her very well but at the same time, he knew nothing.
The phone rang. It was her.
“Hi Gareth!”, she shouted excitedly. “How are you?”
“I heard, you were in hospital and are back since today”, she went on.
“There’s so much to say, to ask”, he stopped her. “Can we meet … in half an hour … at the Rustic Goat? I can get there by foot. My car is not repaired yet.”
“Sure. Yeah, we haven’t seen each other for about a week. Of course, I missed you! See you then, bye. I’m really looking forward to it!”
The Rustic Goat was a modern restaurant and bar unlike most other restaurants in Anchorage and therefore popular with young people. And unlike most businesses, it was in reach of a neighborhood—more precisely, his neighborhood, Bootleggers Cove.
When he got there, she sent him a text, saying, she was upstairs where most of the tables were located whereas in the basement there was the bar.
When he reached the last few steps, she waved her hand and shouted his name. He blushed and walked towards her, unsure how they should greet each other. She then pulled him closer, her mouth bridged the distance between them, and finally kissed his cheek.
They sat down.
“I haven’t ordered yet”, she said sipping on her water.
Just minutes later, the waiter showed up to ask them what they’d like to drink.
“Have you had dinner already?”, she asked her boyfriend. He nodded, and she told the waiter to just bring a little dessert to their drinks.
“So your father called me and told me, what happened.”
“Yeah, I still have no clue, how the accident happened.”
“Some kind of amnesia, hmm?”, her eyes showed worries.
“It’s called ‘retrograde’. See? Why can I remember that but other details are gone for good?”
“Give it some time. That’s only temporary, right?” She said it like she wanted to uplift him, but he could hear that she was scared. Even amnesia couldn’t wipe out the long time, they knew each other.
The waiter brought their drinks and dessert.
“Hmmm!”, she tasted the first bit from the small bowl. The next time, her spoon moved some mousse from the bowl, she moved it towards his lips. He opened them slightly and the sugary sweet passed them.
“What do you think?”
“Delicious!”, he agreed, and they both couldn’t suppress a smile.
He then spelled her to pass the spoon to him, and he fed her in return. Soon the dessert was emptied. She folded the arms on the table and waited a few seconds until she shared with him: “News flash: Do you remember the college, I applied for?”
He nodded even though he didn’t remember.
She didn’t notice it.
“I thought, they’d never take me. Turns out. I was wrong”, she said excitedly.
“Amazin'“ He hugged her spontaneously. “See, you’re just too good not to be taken! You constantly underestimate yourself. Now, the world acknowledged your talent again in a while … Talking about school … did you play hooky? For me?
“Sure. What did you expect? After my boyfriend was between life and death, and for some more days unavailable.”
“Don’t ruin your grades for me.”
“We’re almost done with this year and college is already safe. So what? But you’re right: I should go if I don’t want to miss my favorite club, which starts …” She looked at her phone and widened her eyes “… in ten minutes”
The high school wasn’t far. It was part of the neighborhood where Gareth lived. So he companied her until they arrived at the building with the eagle painted on the wall which could be seen when coming from the expressway. From there, it was only a few steps for him to get home.
The Fire Island Bakery is a real place in the airport heights neighborhood in Anchorage. When you go there the first time and tell them, you'll get a free cookie. Check it out: https://fireislandbread.com/