. . . from Part One — AWAKENING

 

Summer ended. October arrived. Jack and Tybee the Wondercat headed back to Los Angeles, but I stayed on in Cambria to enjoy the autumn weather.

The day before Halloween, I woke up feeling confused and dazed. In this state, I attempted sitting up in bed — instantly experiencing a surge of pain shooting through my neck and down my spine. A sleepy assessment revealed I could not move my head at all — in any direction! In fact, the entire upper half of my body seemed to be frozen in place. Terrified, I tried to call Jack, but couldn’t reach him at home or at work. So I called Dr. Simon’s office and told the receptionist I needed to see him as soon as possible.

“Tomorrow is the first available appointment,” she said.

“Write me in! I’ll be there!” I cried.

I was, for the first time, truly terrified. I’d had a friend who awakened one morning with two ruptured disks in her neck. God! I hope I haven’t got that! — I fretted. Trying not to panic, I hurriedly packed essentials and closed up the house. In my condition, it was a difficult task. The pain was so horrible, I worried about driving back to the city alone — four hours away. But I knew I had to leave immediately. I left a message on the phone machine for Jack, and headed out.

By the time I’d reached the first town, I pulled off the highway and wept uncontrollably. I knew cars were zipping past me, and the whole damned world was happening around me — and yet, here I sat, body in intense pain, arms hugging the steering wheel to prop up my head — and NOTHING was happening! I HAD NO LIFE. What the hell was I doing? This moment didn’t even seem remarkable, because in some way I felt as though I’d been waiting for it for so long. I wept and wept. I couldn’t continue one more moment in such a miserable life. I had to die.

“I have to die now,” I said aloud. I stopped crying. The words sounded so good, so right. I said it again, “I have to die now.” I knew I truly meant it. I drove into the little town off the highway, to a telephone booth at a gas station. I called home.

Jack’s beautiful voice came across the line into my hot, aching head.

“Hello, cutie pie!”

I couldn’t speak.

“Hey, you,” he continued, “Tybee and I are ready for you when you get here! Just take your time and go nice and slow. I checked with Simon, but he said you’d already made an appointment.”

I still couldn’t speak.

“Honey, are you okay?”

“No,” I whispered. “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

“Sure you’ll make it,” he said. “Just go slowly, take your time, don’t be too hard on yourself — give yourself some space.”

Yes. That’s right. Give myself some space.

“Sweetheart, are you listening? Put on some nice music, put the car on cruise control, take deep breaths — you’ll be fine. Just get here. I will make sure you get to Dr. Simon’s tomorrow. Okay?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Okay,” he answered for me.

There was a long pause.

“Sweetheart — Bluebird — listen to ME now,” his voice grew urgent. He only called me Bluebird when he was very serious. “Whatever it is — you can fix it! Okay? You haven’t screwed anything up! Nothing is so screwed up you can’t fix it. Do you understand? You can take care of this.”

Outside the phone booth, across the road, a harbor was filled with assorted boats — all types, all colors — some fishing, some recreational. And beyond the harbor, at the end of a great stone seawall, a massive rock mountain was planted in the ocean — several hundred feet wide and high — marking the entrance to the open sea.

What good was my brilliant mind to me now? — I wondered. It was as cold and calculating and unforgiving and immovable as that giant rock. And I was out there. Somewhere. I could feel it. I was in a tiny drifting boat — directionless — lost — going nowhere. ‘Throw out a lifeline, throw out a lifeline — someone is drifting away’ — I heard these words to a song from my childhood. I hadn’t heard that song in years. I could feel Jack’s presence on the other end of the line. Something inside me turned and focused on him. I heard the word ‘Yes.’ Yes. I will take care of it. Whatever it is, I will make it right. I do not have to die. Okay. Okay.

“Okay,” I whispered. His words had worked like magic. I felt calmer. “Jack?”

“Yes?” his voice sounded worried and determined.

“Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you, you goofball. Drive safely. Safely.”

“I’ll be careful.” I hung up the phone. Climbing back into the car was an act of sheer willpower. My left arm was too stiff to bend. I put music on the radio, pulled back onto the highway, and headed south. Twice along the way, I pulled off and cried. I couldn’t continue. My heart was breaking. But, after a torturous length of time, I pulled into the driveway. I’d made it.

He helped me into the house, helped me into bed. I lay in the darkness, staring, staring. Leaving the room momentarily, he returned with something, which he slipped into my hand.

“Maybe this will help,” he whispered, then went downstairs to make tea.

My hand closed over the object — it was the amber heart.

When he returned, I said, “I was so sure I had to die.”

“I know. You were just frightened.”

“No, no — I mean I really had to die — everything was so hopeless — no way out.”

He nodded. “You’re way too hard on yourself.” He stopped unpacking my bag, came over to the bed. “Why are you so mean to yourself?”

I looked at him — looked deeply into his eyes. Why did he ask so many questions? It made me angry. Yet, in his eyes was such sweetness, such loving care. I was not a person who trusted people easily — usually not at all. But I trusted him implicitly. I knew his perception right now was more accurate than mine. He had a clue. He could see what I could not. Why didn’t I have a clue? Why couldn’t I see everything the way he saw it? My heart hurt. I didn’t deserve to be with someone so nice — so wonderful.

“I wish — I was you.”

He smiled. “Honey, you don’t mean that. Not really.” He stepped into the bathroom, but kept talking. “Huh-uh. You’re just fine being you. I wish you could see that. You are just fine.”

“I’m not fine. Something is very, very wrong. Tell me the truth now — do you think I’m really sick? I know what all the doctors have said. And I know I’ve been avoiding the question, but what do you think? Specifically, do you think I’m dying?”

There was silence. Moments passed. He flipped off the bathroom light and returned to the bed, switching on the bedside lamp.

“Are you really sick? I don’t know. But, starting tomorrow, we sure as hell are going to find out. Really find out. And we’ll do whatever it takes to make you well. This — this living with pain every day — this has got to stop.” He looked at me for a long moment. “Are you dying?” He paused, tugged on his beard. “Of course I can’t say I know — only you really know the answer to that. But I will say this — I have always believed — when people feel like they’re dying — and at times when I’ve felt like I was going to die — it means one is making a great transformation in life. Preparing to let something go. And that, I believe, can feel like dying. So — no, I don’t think you’re dying, physically. I do think you’re getting ready to change — and you’re letting something really, really big go. You’ve been building to this for a long time. For longer than you’ve known me. And — I think you have to go for it.”

I knew he was being profoundly wise. I knew he was right. But it was hard to hear him clearly — hard to stay focused on what I was asking, on what he was saying, on what I should think next — all I could feel was acute pain. It was just a struggle to get through each moment. Life had slowed to a crawl. It was frightening. Now his voice came to me down the dark tunnel, echoing in my head. I might be going crazy, I thought. I’m losing touch with reality. Aware that he was still sitting on the edge of the bed, I sank into a deep sleep, lying in my little boat, drifting out past the rock mountain, out onto the darker waters of the sea.