Monday, January 9, 2023

A New Beginning

Hey Everyone,

I thought I would start the New Year with a short story from last week's writing prompt, "New Beginnings". To make it more fun, I also borrowed the first few lines from a book my son got me for Christmas called "Complete the Story". It is a fun little book that gives you the first few lines of a story and you are supposed to write the rest. Some of the suggestions are pretty "blah" but I thought I would give it a try.

The premise of the following tale is based upon a supposedly true story one of the students in my class told me about. Let me know what you think.



The Family Photo

     All at once, and in a matter of seconds, three things happened that changed my life forever. Turns out it’s true what the books say: that a single moment can change your life forever.

     First, I raised my camera toward my wife and children. They were standing a short distance away, leaning against the rail above a several hundred-foot drop. Behind them, the snow-covered Grand Canyon glittered in the bright winter sunlight.

     This was supposed to be our dream trip. My wife and I had talked about coming here for over twenty years. We had never made it until now. Some other trip or location always ended up coming first. Some other responsibility, some other place to go, or some other thing to see had always caused us to push off this location. Now, we were finally here; and, it was perfect. There was no way I could have anticipated what was about to happen.

     The second thing that happened seemed equally innocuous: my children squeezed tightly against their mother and everyone smiled. It was a perfect picture - an image that remains forever fixed in my memory. My entire family standing together.

     I met my wife shortly after the worst traffic accident of my life. I had been struck by one of those reckless drivers. You know, the kind who weave through traffic at twenty miles above the speed limits, like inconsiderate jerks, not caring a lick about the safety and welfare of anyone else on the road. It was a disastrous moment.

     There I was, driving along about five miles per hour over the speed limit. Not exactly slow. But, apparently, it wasn’t fast enough for those drivers who are so impatient that they probably shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel at all. The next second, some speed demon comes zooming up beside me so quickly that I barely even register the black color of the sports car before they whip into my lane to pass the car in front of them. The rear end of their car struck the front of mine and we both went spinning.

     I remember very little afterward. I screamed, of course. And I briefly recall the image of the car behind me smashing into my own. I remember flashes of light, the explosion of an airbag, and a lot of pain. The next thing I knew, I was lying in a hospital, staring up into the face of the most beautiful, kind, and intelligent nurse I could ever imagine meeting. Two years later, that nurse and I would stand at the altar and pronounce the words, “I do.”

     The two children standing on each side of my wife were no less miraculous. After trying for children for almost five years, my wife and I were convinced we would never have any. Yet, one warm summer’s day, after years of trying, my wife and I finally gave birth to our daughter. Four years later, we would give birth to a son.

     They weren’t babies anymore. My daughter was now almost a teenager and my son was in elementary school. They were old enough to have heard us speak about taking this trip many times. They were also old enough to appreciate it. 

     It was there, at that moment, as they leaned against the rail smiling at me, that the third thing happened - the thing that changed my life forever. A bright flash of light, coming from the snow-covered mountains behind them, struck my eyes, momentarily blinding me.

     I blinked against the light and attempted to lift my hand to my eyes. When I did, I found that I couldn’t move my arm. It felt weak and heavy. I tried looking up to see what was happening but the light was so bright that everything was a blur. Finally, after about a second, things came into focus. What I saw didn’t make any sense.

     My family, the Grand Canyon, and everything else was gone. The blinding lights above me weren’t coming from the sun. They were coming from white fluorescent fixtures in a ceiling.

     I tried turning my head. It responded sluggishly but enough for me to look around at my surroundings. I was lying in a hospital bed with a variety of cords and equipment attached to me. There was some tube down my throat and there were IVs in my arms. I could hear the sound of beeping and various electrical equipment running.

     I wasn’t sure where I was or what happened. Had there been an accident? Did I have some sort of amnesia? Where was my family?

     It wasn’t until a few days later, when all of the equipment was finally detached and I was able to speak, that I learned the disturbing truth. It was one month since I had gotten into the car wreck. I had spent the last month in a coma.

     My children never existed. No one with my wife’s name had ever worked at the hospital. The last twenty years of my life had never happened.

     For a long time, I had difficulty coming to grips with the information. At first, I assumed I was on some TV show or something. Any minute my family would pop out from hiding. They never did.

     Next, I became convinced I was dreaming. The only problem was that I never woke up. Later I started to wonder if it was a conspiracy. Soon, however, after many attempts to track down my family, hiring detectives, and even receiving therapy, I was forced to accept the facts. Everything I had known and experienced in twenty years of my memory was a lie.

     It was a tough realization. Even with accepting the truth, it took years of counseling to reach the level where I could effectively interact with the world around me. Not many people could understand. How could I mourn the loss of people who never existed? How could I weep for a wife who wasn’t even real? But to me, it didn’t feel like a dream. Everything felt real. It still does.  

     The scary part is: how do I know it wasn’t? If a coma could make me dream twenty years of events that never happened, how do I know it isn’t happening again? How can I know if this experience is real? How do I know the other experience wasn’t real? How do I know anything?

     The truth is: I don’t. And I have to live with that.

     Some people tell me I should be glad. They tell me I have gotten a chance at a new beginning, something many people dream about. They tell me I should be grateful. I’m not.

     I move forward anyway. Each day, I struggle on, working to rebuild the life I lost. Still, I constantly think about those last few seconds when everything changed. And that one picture, that was never really taken, is burned forever into my mind.

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