When I was a child my biggest fear was that adults would not believe me. I would know a terrible secret and the tale would be too fantastic for them accept. They would brand me a liar and I would be outcast. I would wander lost amongst humanity for the remainder of my days a figure of pity, despair and ridicule. I would wear rags and my shame for the rest of my days. This preoccupied my thoughts every night as I lay abed waiting for the blessings sleep. I was ten and it was quite unsettling.
I took the nightmare so far that I began wearing tattered clothes and low self-esteem. I wrapped myself in them as a courageous badge of dishonor. I didn’t bath much. I waited day after day, and my exile of disgrace never came. Every night my mother would make me come in for dinner. After a day of living as the beggar prince of the trash people I would resume my status as beloved son. I ate with my family and was laid to rest on cool cotton sheets. My parents were indulging me.
My dad would come in to kiss me good night. He would reassure me that I would never be alone. He would always believe me. He, if necessary, would join me in the gutter and see me to safety. Comforted, I would drift off to sleep. I would awake refreshed and not having forgotten my fears and begin the cycle anew. Another day in the trash and then I went home to my loving family. Eventually, I figured out I didn’t have anything fear. My lies weren’t big enough to warrant my dreaded fate. The inescapable apparently was all to escapable. I gave up on pessimism. I was pleased to be disappointed. I let myself be a kid again.
Waking in the hospital after the car crash I could see the same confusion my parents had worn on staff’s faces. I had expected to be dead and seemed disappointed to have not died. Even more confusing to them was that I had been asking to see the woman I had awoken screaming about. So I could rest, they had done some research for me. While I watched General Hospital on the room’s television, they found me story after story that retold me what I already had known. Dr. Daisy Gayle, PhD is dead. I had crashed into a telephone pole having fallen asleep at the wheel. Eventually I stopped asking and we all focused on getting me well.
I read, watched TV and did my therapies, physical and psychological. I had visits from friends and family. I eventually got better and started doing all those things from home, outpatient style. The summer passed and I got stronger. Everyone thought I had forgotten my two times savior. My unshared secret, I believed I had been saved by the ghost of a woman from my past. I did and didn’t believe it. School started again. People were kind to me and happy to see me. I settled in.
I did the day-by-day thing at school. Soul and body crushing pain hadn’t changed U.S. history or my love for teaching so I soldiered through. I was able to eek joy out of the quest for knowledge and the energy of kids on the verge of becoming teens.
September came and went.
Columbus Day I found myself finally home alone for the first time. After my hospital stay, my dad had come to live with me until school started again. We had kept each other company. He helped me with my healing process from the accident and we went to a lot of baseball games. School had filled the void he left with the need to correct tests and mentor the Student Counsel. I had kept busy until today.
It was midmorning when once again I stood at Daisy’s grave. It was reassuring to reestablish the truth. I could see it. I could know it. My accident had been that, an accident. There was nothing that couldn’t be quantified or qualified with cold hard fact that Daisy was gone. She had not been there to save me, as much as I wanted it to have been her.
I took in my surrounds once again. The lush green of spring had been replaced with the warm and fading colors of autumn. The leaves were not yet falling, but would soon evacuate their trees and return to the earth. Time had passed and I was still the same. Lost and drifting through a world in which I hid, I took comfort from my daily routines. I felt myself once again to be the broken son, the garbage king, the lost boy… they were all me, and they allowed me to hide in plain sight.
Invisible, I walked down the hill and left the cemetery on foot. It felt good to walk even if I was still limping from my earlier injuries. I wasn’t sure if I was going to catch a taxi or the bus. I even entertained getting a motel room nearby and calling in sick tomorrow. No one would give me any grief. An extra day of healing would be good for me. I walked on, looking for a ride.
I paused at the scene of my accident. I found myself reflecting on two memories. One in which I plowed my midsized sedan into Daisy’s car. The other memory was one in which I dozed off at the wheel and wrapped my car around a utility pole. Both were real and right. Only the second made any sense. The second memory especially made sense to everyone else. To me only, Daisy saving me was the right and true answer. However, even I didn’t believe me on the first memory. It wasn’t possible.
I stood in the ditch by the pole and watched traffic. After a while, in the soft breezy October afternoon, I dug within my jacket and produced 16.9 oz bottle of purified water. I sipped at it lazily and enjoy the cool, bland wetness of the water. It was standing there in the midst of a day going on without me, that it all began to make sense. It didn’t matter which memory I believed was true. I was alone and would remain so until I chose to go home. The question was home to what? I didn’t even own a fish. No one would miss me today.
After I finished the water, I slipped the bottle back into my pocket. From the same pocket I withdrew my smart phone and began searching for the number of a cab company. As I waited for the poor cellular reception to return the desired number, I saw in my peripheral vision an approaching vehicle. It was a small, sporty red Mercedes and it was moving fast. It zipped by me. I could see the driver. Satisfying my expectations, I saw it was Daisy. She was very much alive. She continued passed.
As I tried to process what this could mean, another car zipped past. The Doppler Effect made my head spin to the right. The car contained four men. Their incredible speed seemed purposeful and dangerous. They were definitely following her. All I could do is bear witness. I was on foot and for the moment off balance.
The two cars rounded the corner at the end of the street and proceed up the hill. They were circling the graveyard. I could see them match her turns one for one. They were catching up too. I heard tires squeal and engines rev. They turned and would pass to my right, having completed the circuit around Daisy’s last resting place.
Where the rock came from, I will never know. I felt it leave my hand and saw it smash into the window of the black sedan containing the four men. They were startled by interaction and the car swerved. They didn’t slow but continued after the red roadster. They ignored me as a distraction. Undaunted, they pressed on.
When I heard the crash and the gunfire up the street moments later I started running and didn’t stop until I found the source of the sounds. The red car had been forced off the road by the car full of men. As I approached I could see both automobiles were empty. I could hear people talking up an alley between rows of McMansions. I followed them.
The alley was more of a small drive in which two dozen houses faced each other back to back. Cars could come and go from garages that connected to the luxury homes via back yard driveways. The alley itself was busy at times, but the design kept traffic away from the front yards of each of the homes. It created the false illusion that the neighborhood was safe. The men who were chasing Daisy meant to shatter that illusion. I disparately wanted to stop them.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I dialed 911. In minutes the followed the quiet of the neighborhood would be shattered. When the men chasing Daisy heard the sirens in the distance, they returned to their car and left. I detailed the events to the police. I kept Daisy’s name out of it while telling the story of the lady being chased, the story as I understood it. They took my statement and let me go.
I faded into the darkening daylight. No one was there to see me when I arrived home. I slumped into a comfy chair and tried to make sense of my experiences. Sleep came that night at a price, so I sat and visited with my ghosts until they were done with me. I eventually crept off to bed trying to shake a sense of dread.