Written by Joanne E Galliher
Fictional story of 5,945 words
When Life is Still
I’m Dave and I’m 65, married and as ordinary as toast. Before I get into my story, which is all about ‘stillness,’ let me try my hand at philosophizing.
I propose that inside each of us, there’s Crater Lake. Most of our lives, in terms sharing feelings, we tend to float at the surface instead of diving deep into each other’s Crater Lake of deep and secret beliefs, passions, wishes and feelings. Take me and my wife, for instance, you’d think, sometime during our beautiful 46 years of marriage, we would’ve free dove thousands of times into each other’s Crater Lake. Just goes to show no matter how much two people love each other, there are no go zones. Well, I changed my mind about that, back 10 years ago; but, alas, too late. One day, my sweet wife, Lucy, showed me this photo and she said, “I want to find this in you, Dave. I want to know all your secret beliefs, passions, wishes and feelings. But now I can’t.” [image]
It broke my heart into a million pieces to hear her say that.
Oops. Here she comes. I love how she sings to me just as I wake up… “It’s a brand-new day. Everything is fine. Though it’s cloudy and grey I want you do know that the sun’s gonna shine… And out of those clouds is a God on high…”
And I adore her for being such a chatter box! “Dave, don’t you just love that smell? Late autumn’s musty, so comforting smell mixed with tantalizing, yet so innocent Honey Suckle and Jasmine.” And here’s the best part… She leans into my ear and whispers, “How ‘bout I crawl back into bed and we canoogle all day?”
How my heart screams, “Yes! Yes! Let’s do it!”
But, (sigh) my sweet Lucy has other plans.
Then, there’s that sound, I hear every morning—like many tiny cymbals clang-clapping.
“I told ya, we shouldn’t have put up these Venetian, whatchamacallit blinds! They’re nothin’ but dust-catchers! I don’t know how I’ve put up with them… Humph! Being so much trouble, almost makes my mouth dusty with curse words!”
And, right on cue, my sweet Lucy’s mouth ‘gets dusty.’ “Damn this window, Dave! First, I hafta wrestle with these whatchamacallit blinds! Then, I near get a hernia tryin’ to …” Poor Lucy. She’s grunting and groaning. “Then, I near get a hernia tryin’ to open this window! The damn thingamajigs… the catches or whatever you call ‘em are rusted in a sticking out way!”
Oh, how my Lucy makes me want to giggle with delight. I mean what she thinks constitutes a ‘dusty mouth’ is nothing at all, like… wait for it…
“Who ever invented these sorts of windows was truly nothin’ but a… (grrrr)… NINCOMPOOP!”
Uh Oh… I always hate what Lucy says, aft that, nearly every morning, all these past 10 years.
“If Josh had done, like you told him, that…” And right on cue, there’s another so Lucy, forlorn sigh… “…If only on that day, he had fixed this dang window from always sticking… (long, sad silence). “… But he didn’t have your handyman skills, – eh, Dave? So…”
Yep, there’s the same long minutes of silence that every morning slices my heart into strips. It’s de ja vu of the real start of this story. Whoops. I called that one wrong; for instead, picks a memory from left field…
Lucy says, “But, I’ll tell ya, our son sure had a lion’s courage… Didn’t he, Hon? She chuckles ticklishly. “And, he had the determination of any Salmon swimmin’ up-stream’. Didn’t he, Dave? He fought that Cancer like he was David fightin’ Goliath.” A few sniffles and more heart-slicing moments of silence… Then, Lucy, says barely over a whisper… “But that Cancer was just too big for our Josh, at eighteen.”
Then, just in the nick of time… “Oh, just smell that! Will ya, Dave?”
I think to myself, ‘Yes, there you are, my sweet Lucy. I see you, leaning out the window, just like a princess from a castle. ‘I hear you sucking in the day’s beauty, right from your toes up… I bet you could breathe in the whole sky!’
Oh, My Sweet Lucy, in her chirpiest adds, “Ah yes, there isn’t any finer perfume! That Honeysuckle smells like caramel; and the Jasmine, like lemon honey! And Dave… Oh… The Gardenias! They still infuse me with that endless passionate love I felt, when I first set eyes on you.”
“And Dave, smell the Roses? Their innocent scent kinda tames that passion, huh?” My Lucy snuggles her cheek into mine! Yes! That’s what I’ve been hanging out for, all morning! She’s whispering something that I so long to hear, every morning… “Doesn’t that smell take ya right back to our honeymoon,” she asks in a cherub, yet psaltery tone. “We were ‘our firsts’ – weren’t we, my sweet man?”
‘No! Snuggle longer, My Sweet!’ “Well, the laundry isn’t gonna do wash itself…” And, poof… My Lucy’s up and off the bed.
I know. I know. You wonder when the heck am I gonna get out of bed.
Anyway, next comes a vision that I look forward to, every morning. Funny, how I always took it for granted for our first 36 years together. With my eyes closed… I envision--Lucy wiping the sweat from her forehead, using the end of her apron. Then, I can actually hear her fingers combing and styling through her hair. She quickly gathers her waist-length, grey-speckled, Persimmon-colored hair, twisting it, precisely three times, into a French roll – Clipping it with that same hair comb I gave her, on her eighteenth birthday.
Yes! Thank you, God! This morning, she’s sitting beside me, a third time! No one smells like my Lucy –as innocent as Johnson’s Baby Powder mixed with sexy Channel Number 5. Now that’s a smell I’d work, day ‘n night, for months on end, just to get one whiff.
“Oh Dave… ‘Happy 46th Wedding Anniversary’ – You handsome man,” says my Lucy with that gorgeous girlish giggle. Ooo… She’s leaning into my face. “Dave, I’ve put on that saloon gal, fire engine red lipstick.”
Oh no, she’s pulling away from me! I can feel her tension. She growls, “I’ll show our Justine and our grandkids, huh Dave? We might be relics in their eyes, but little do they know how we’re just as passionately in love, as we were at eighteen.”
Yes! Again, thank you God! She kisses my forehead, then each of my cheeks. Oh, how I’ve always treasured those badges of her love – those bright red lip marks she always leaves on me!
And then… Wait for it… I just know, my Lucy has more sweet words for me!
Ever so softly, Lucy whispers, just a fraction off my lips – “I love you even more, Dear Dave, than all the stars that shone that night, when we first made-love.”
Yes! Her lips touch my lips! As, has happened, all these past 10 years… When her lips touch mine, I sail off, into our very own special world, as husband and wife… As eternal lovers. It’s a place, in my mind and heart where wars, worries and the occasional marriage wrangling never enter. It’s the same special place that our very first ever kiss put us, 48 years ago.
As I hear Lucy scurry out the bedroom door, I sigh. ‘Better get-in a cat-nap, before the gang gets here.’ But, just as I’m about to lull asleep…
Lucy bursts back into the room. “Humph. That Justine thinks I can’t take care of this big house! The last thing I need is for her to see how dusty those blinds are!”
She hurriedly drops the blinds making them slam down, sounding brassier than the earlier tiny cymbals. Dust flies everywhere. I swear, I feel each tiny fleck of dust tickling my face; just like a million super-miniature butterflies. Funny, how I never noticed that until 10 years ago. That was when my mind turned into a super magnet, drawing into my imagination every scent, taste and sensation. And, like I said a while ago… Starting ten years ago, I discovered that me… and yes, everyone, is a Crater Lake—of so many hidden beliefs, passions, wishes and feelings.
“There! One less thing for Justine to criticize,” says my Lucy, with a smug chuckle.
I guess I was asleep an hour… Hard to tell, since I haven’t looked at a clock in 10 years. Then, a smile swells in my heart, for I hear… “Do ya think he’s asleep,” asks Little Josh (my twelve-year-old grandson). I’ve always pictured him to look like Huckleberry Finn—unruly mop for hair and face covered in freckles.
“Hard to tell,” says Sally (my fifteen-year-old granddaughter). I always figure she looks like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
How I want to laugh; but instead I just listen.
“Do you remember what he was like, when he was awake,” asks Little Josh with curly curiosity.
“Hmm. The last time I saw him awake I was only five,” says Sally, as if ‘five’ was eons ago.
Lucy sneaks up behind them; and gathers them into her arms, showering them with noisy, slobbery kisses. Oh, how I wish I could drink them!
“Grandma,” they both protests.
Oh, my sweet Lucy. You sure know what to say. She pretends to scold them. “Hey, it’s your problem if you don’t notice that your grandpa’s awake a lot.”
She flicks their foreheads. “Go on! Give Grandpa a kiss!”
Immediately Josh and Sally, cement their feet and pull away. “Oh Grandma. Do we hafta?”
Just then, Justine enters the room. “Mom, you gotta stop making the kids do that. You know they don’t understand his ‘condition’.”
Sally chuckles with prankishness. “Yeah! Grandpa sure is ‘LIS’ – ‘Lost Inside’!”
She and Josh laugh mockingly.
Lucy angrily says, “Teach your children some manners, before I spank some sense into them!” In my mind, I shout, ‘Come on, Lucy! They’re just kids. They don’t mean any harm.’
“Your grandpa has had ‘LIS’ – ‘Locked-in Syndrome’ for the past ten years! He’s not some vegetable! He’s not deaf! He’s not dumb!”
Hearing Lucy so upset… Hearing that dreadful illness—LIS… Oh, if I could – I’d cry.
As they argue, my mind mobs with memories of that dreadful day. ‘Damn! Lucy tried to tell me to replace that rickety ladder. But me, bein’ such a tight wad… It’s my own damn fault I fell!’
What’s THIS? Not another family feud!
“I’m not gonna spoil our 46th Wedding Anniversary arguin’ with you three! OK! My Dave fell! He hit his head! His brain squished to the back, damaging his lower brain and his Brain Stem! And havin’ that Stroke in his Basilar Artery, only made things worse! No blood could get to the Pons! So, okay! He can’t move! Not even his eyelids! But like the doctors have always said: ‘He’s no idiot! He can think!’ So, if you had an ounce of decency, you three would stop treating him, as if he was deaf as a post and as dumb or dead as a doorknob!”
I bet my daughter, Justine’s tugging at her sweater, like she always does when she’s losing an argument upset. I bet her chin’s jetting out, aimed straight at Lucy. And, I bet she’s trying to hide her aggravation behind her tightly scrunched eyes. See? Even with my eyes shut, I see Justine’s Crater Lake. It’s easy when you’re forced into total stillness.
And, here it comes… “Mother,” says Justine through clenched teeth. Out comes a haughty exhale. Mother, you know how I feel about this… This obsession of yours… your insistence that Dad’s alive somewhere in that frozen-still…”
Lucy fires back with double barrel. “What? Don’t you dare say my Dave’s in a frozen-still corpse!”
‘Oh, Justine, if only you could hear inside me. I love you, darling, but I’d read you one helluva riot act for upsetting my Lucy!’
‘Damn you, Justine! Those sniffles I hear are from my Lucy! You better say something to take away the pain you just caused her!’
“Oh, Mom. You love Daddy so much. You want him to never leave you. But, Mom….”
“M-M-Maybe Daddy w-w-wants to ‘leave’ – Free himself from his still, immovable… paralyzed cage… his body.”
Wow! This is the first time, all these 10 years, that from deep inside my Crater Lake, I’m screaming, ‘No! That’s not what I want, Justine! Don’t talk about me as if I’m dead! Don’t you dare think I want to die!’
My mind screams, ‘WAIT! What the hell has just happened?’ For the very first time, after 10 long, totally still years… I SNIFFLE! Not just once – but a good two-and-a-half times!
Lucy hollers nearly deafening all of us. “Everybody be quiet!”
I’m telling you; I can just about feel her glare slap Justine. “Did you hear that? Did you see that?”
“Oh Mom,” says Justine. I bet she’s arrogantly wagging her drooped head. Then… Like some trumpet blasts, Justine hollers, “Nothing happened!”
But, little Josh hollers, “Grandpa moved his nose! He moved it almost three times! I saw it! Grandma’s not crazy! Grandpa’s not a living dead.”
Look what that little Dicken’s doing! He’s poking and flicking my nose! ‘Hey, you! That hurts!’ If I could… Boy, I’d give him an earbashing!
Well, I’ll be! My grandson’s a chip off the ole block—ME! He’s persistent and positive to a fault. “Grandpa! Do that again!”
No one makes a sound. All that’s heard is the ticking of the chalet cuckoo clock, above my headboard.
I can see my Lucy’s baby-blue eyes, in mind’s eye… begging me – ‘Please Dave!’
Damn it! I gotta do this for my Lucy! ‘Focus! Damn it – sniffle!’
“Ouch,” yelps Justine… I bet my Lucy’s shoving Justine aside. And you bet I can ‘see’ her eyes… Oh, how I love when her eyes blaze like flaming Sapphires!
She’s shaking the life out of me! “Come on, Dave! I know you can do it!”
Then… oh my God… what she says next, shakes every inch of me… I mean, if every inch of me could even shake… “Dave! Remember what you said when we saw Crater Lake for the first time? I said, ‘Look how still the water is.’ But you said somethin’ so weird to me – ‘“We’re all like Crater Lake! Within each of us, there are deep currents of beliefs, passions, wishes and feelings swirling-around way down deep. And, in life, we all spend too much wasted time just floating at the surface… just treading water at the surface—not diving into each other’s feelings.”
Show us how you remember that. Sniffle one time!”
Again, silence crowds the little bedroom and now, with everyone at bated breath… the cuckoo clocks ticking seems thunderingly loud. Then, everyone’s heart (including mine) leaps… “Coo coo. Coo coo,” chirps the wooden canary. I sniffle!
Leave it to Josh to be so observant. “There! Grandpa did it! He sniffled just like you asked – just one time!”
“Enough of this,” shouts Justine. I bet she’s man-handling Josh… He lets out a yelp. Yep, she’s twirling Josh around by his shoulders. “Look at me, Josh! I never lie to you – do I?”
I bet he’s trembling; and his eyes are saucers. I bet tears are welling in his eyes. His words quiver. “Mom, you’re hurting my arm. Y-Y-You’re scaring me. Stop!”
I know all about Justine’s Herculean grip. There was that time she fell out of our fishing boat. She grabbed a hold of my arm nearly cutting off the blood supply to my fingers. Poor Josh must feel her fingers pulsing in her grip.
I clearly imagine how Lucy’s startled eyes flame-throw into Justine’s.
Then, Justine takes charge (as per her usual, these last few years). “Mother, I won’t have you dragging my children into your make-believe, wish-upon-a-moon beam, world!”
Her perturbed pacing could make a winding tornado. “I hate your stupid hopeful, make-believe world… that Dad’s going to come out of his paralyzed prison! You had me sucked-into that false hope! I couldn’t leave Daddy’s bedside for those first two years!”
I bet she’s brandishing her finger like the sharpest saber. “I won’t let my kids feel the pain that comes, when hope and wishing, bleed a heart dry-as-a-bone! I’m still struggling to grow my ‘heart’ back! It was cleaved years ago! All my love was drained! I can barely show my love to my kids! I lost my husband, because I was drained of loving!”
Oh, my poor Lucy! Justine wouldn’t be saying said such cruel things, if I just hadn’t sniffled. All I do is cause everyone pain!
Hearing the kids yelping, I just know Justine’s again manhandling them. “Kids! Get into the car! I won’t have you around this loony-bin!”
I bet Lucy’s tensing every inch of her body. “Dave! That girl is nothin’ like our Justina!”
As if it’s again 42 years ago, I can imagine that Lucy has her face buried into her trembling hands. I hate how I cannot move! I hate how, not once, all these 10 years, I couldn’t wrap my arms around my sweet Lucy, comforting her!
Oh, my God. Look! She’s burying her face in my unmovable chest, crying.
My Lucy’s as distraught as she was 42 years ago. In between her sobbing, she says, “Oh, Dear God, I was barely pregnant with Justine when Justina died of SIDS! Oh, Dave, Justine’s not anything like our Justina! She’s so empty of love… So empty of faith! Oh, what were we thinking picking ‘Justine’ for her name? How stupid of us to ever think Justine could hold a candle to our so sweet, loveable Justina. I guess we were desperately trying to keep our Justina alive in spirit.”
I’m screaming, from the depth of my Crater Lake, ‘Oh, Dear God! Please make even a tiny tear drop down my cheek; and please let my Lucy see it!’
Oh, no! Lucy just pulled her cheek off my chest. I wish I could holler, ‘No! Wait Lucy! I know I can make a tear fall! You gotta know that I free dive deep into your feelings!’
She’s pressing her soft lips into my unmovable lips. With a sniffle, she says, “I-I I’ll get your naso-gastric feed ready.”
What a way to wake from a nap! Luct has climbed into bed with me! Her cheek’s on my chest! Her words are music to my ears. “I’m not giving-up-on-you. Justine underestimates us oldies. Little does she know just how much I know about Locked-In Syndrome! I spend hours on the computer. I’m just about an expert! So…”
Awww… Lucy’s snuggling into me! “So, my sweet man, I’m taking you to a speech pathologist. That’s my Wedding Anniversary present to us.”
Then, as she fills my naso-gastric tubing… “It won’t be long Dear, before you’ll pig-out on my pot roast, again!” Then, there’s her gorgeous giggle. “OK, so maybe I’ll have to run it through a blender; but you WILL have it!”
I bet it’s almost dawn. I haven’t slept a wink. I can’t stop rehashing Lucy and Justine’s horrible argument.
[The phone rings]
“Who’d be phoning this late,” grumbles Lucy, as she lies snuggled into me.
“Oh. H-H- Hello Justine. Is everything alright? Uh huh… Sure… Oh, Dear, I know you didn’t mean to hurt me…”
Then Lucy springs from our bed. “Oh, Justine, I’m so glad to hear that! I love you too, Dear. We’ll see you all tomorrow morning.”
[Down clunks the phone receiver]
Yes! There’s my sweet Lucy’s soft lips pressed into my forehead. “Psst. Dave... Guess you heard that.” She impishly chuckles. “That Little Josh. He’s such a peace maker.”
Again, her tender lips caress my forehead and then my lips. “That little guy is so caring! Well, Justine told me, that he told her, she just can’t take away my or your hope, that one day, we’ll somehow communicate.”
“And that’s not the only wonderful thing. Justine phoned to say with it starting summer school holidays, she and the kids will stay with us a few weeks, starting tomorrow! And, our workaholic Justine will take some of her accrued 6 months’ worth of Leave.”
It feels like Christmas, in June! It’s so wonderful having our family around us! And, it’s great how Justine and Sally are helping with my daily care. At last, my Lucy can read and garden again, instead of being a 24/7 nurse for me.
In no time, the big day comes—me going to a speech pathologist.
This is the first time in many months that I’ll be hoisted from bed and wheeled out of the house. I hate this! It’s such an ordeal for my Lucy! I could kiss every inch of Justine’s face because she insisted that Lucy sit on the porch, with a cup of tea, while she and Sally operate the hoist, plunk me into the wheelchair, sponge-bathe me and dress me. Then, it takes Justine, Sally and Josh to lift me from the wheelchair into the car’s passenger seat. They’re so kind… Not a single whinge from them.
What a fun 90-minute drive. It’s the first time, I’ve had my whole family with me, in the car, since the accident. It’s just as I’ve dreamt thousands of times, these 10 years—Lucy, Justine and the kids are singing and playing car games— “I spy with my little eye…” and more!
All that merriment seemed to give them a boost of strength; for, none of them even so much as groaned, as they lifted me into the wheelchair. Just goes to show, laughter and smiles, make tough tasks a breeze.
But, then… the minute we meet the speech pathologist, our sun-shiny feeling dampens.
Miss O’Brien (the speech pathologist) can’t look us in the eyes. “I tried to telephone you; but…” She sighs. “But all I could do is leave you a voice message. A well-meaning family shared oranges, with almost all my Stroke patients… Which caused most of them to nearly choke to death.”
She fiercely shakes her head, attempting to reshuffle her thoughts. “I’m so sorry. You didn’t drive all this way to hear about others’ problems.”
I hear embarrassment and genuine contriteness in her voice; but I bet Justine’s deaf to that. Being Justine… she growls, “So, what are you telling us?” Just as Mrs. O’Brien utters a syllable… Justine blasts, “You better do something. Do you have any idea of the obstacles we’ve endured to get here?” A barely audible “Uh,” emits from Mrs. O’Brien.
“Getting my father here, was as hard as trying to lift and move Mt. Everest! The damn manual hoist requires herculean strength to wind! My poor mother’s lucky she didn’t break her back!”
In my mind, my thought’s shouting. ‘Please my Sweet Lucy… You used to be psychic at reading my thoughts! Read them now!’
“Justine,” trumpets my Lucy. “First of all, doing anything for your father is not too much. Secondly, I resent you pleading a case for me, when there isn’t a case. I am more than capable to advocate for myself. You haven’t a clue! I know Mrs. O’Brien… And all community health speech pathologists are worked to the bone. Most have a 6 to 18 month Waiting List!”
I barely breathe, as I listen as keenly as a rabbit… I’ll be darned. Justine’s stone silent!
Interesting… Nothing but soothing empathy and neutrality fills Mrs. Obrien’s words. “What Dave… What… Each of you have endured all these past 10 years… Well, how you’ve done it without the whole thing tearing apart your family? You are to be commended. I mean that. You are the first family, with a loved one with LIS, that has met with me, ever. I usually only see the spouse or just one family member. Years of wrangling over the loved ones’ care, becomes an uncurable virus, killing all trace of family unity and love. Indeed…”
Yep, I bet Mrs. O’Brien’s aiming her deliberate and genuine eye contact into each of them, now… slowly, one-by-one. “Indeed, you are truly to be commended,” she heralds.
No wonder I feel this warm calm blanketing all of me. For, at last, SOMEONE has united my little family.
She even works some magic and squeezes me in for a Videofluroscopy. Try as I do, to swallow… Not even so much as an itsty-bitsy twitch in my throat. Mrs. O’Brien gives us all the hard word: “none of his pharyngeal(throat) muscles move.”
OK. I take that on the chin. Next up comes my big chance… My chance to show them I’m most definitely inside here. Come on, Mrs. O’Brien. Notice my ever so slight attempts at eye-blinking!
“OK, Dave. Now it’s your time to shine. Blink if you are hangin’ to communicate.” Immediately, I love Mrs. O’Brien’s enthusiasm!
I just can’t disappoint her (or my family). So, here goes! I pour all my concentration straight into my eye lids. I cheer-myself-along, ‘Blink, Dave! Blink!’ I feel nervous because you bet, I feel 10 eyes staring at my eyelids. Their stares are almost like hot lasers (so to speak).
Little do they know, that in these ever so silent minutes, I have literally tried at least a dozen times to blink my eyelids. I will not give up! I will not leave here without even half-blinking, once!
Wow! I did it! Holy shit! I did it twice!
At the same time, Mrs. O’Brien and Josh yell, “He blinked! He blinked twice!”
That darned Josh… He needs further proof. “Ask him again… Ask him if he’s hangin’ to communicate!” He has no idea my blinking is as tough, as him lifting me above his damn head!
But, to my shock, I do it! I give them two undisputable blinks! Their yelps and cheers rattle all of me! I feel as if I’ve won Gold at the Olympics!
Then, the best thing to happen to me, in these 10 long years of frozen still, isolation happens… I COMMUNICATE! Mrs. O’Brien has Lucy, Justine, Josh and Sally ask me heaps of questions. Yes! I get a perfect score of 100%! OK… All just yes-no with 1 blink ‘yes’ and 2 blinks ‘no.’ But, nonetheless, we connect!
When that excitement quiets down, Lucy asks, “Could Dave use a communication device like the one Stephen Hawking uses?” I can imagine my Lucy right now—fingers crossed behind her back and her eyes scrunched tight, like she always did when she did her Ladybug or Dandelion wishes. My Lucy’s so adorable!
“That would be fantastic,” says Mrs. O’Brien compassionately. “But…” Uh Oh. She’s stopped dead in her words. “You see, Mr. Hawking used a number of augmentative devices. He started off spelling by lifting his eyebrows, using spelling cards. Then, he advanced to hand-clicker device. He got so weak that he all he could slightly move was his cheek; so, there was a ‘cheek switch’ attached to his glasses. It so amazingly detected a low infrared beam when he tensed his cheek. Then, he had a speech synthesizer which he used until he…”
There it is again—that deafening pause. It starts a domino wave of nervous throat clearing—first Mrs. O’Brien, then Lucy and last of all, Justine. They’re damming back tears. Yes, I’m paralyzed but, like, I told you, being absolutely still, I ‘see’ (sense) other’s Crater Lakes of emotions. Indeed, they’re feeling utter hopelessness.
I’m so in-tuned with my Lucy. Like now, no one hears her barely audible sniffle… But I do. I wish Justine… or Josh or Sally—any of my family, would tune themselves to my Lucy’s Crater Lake! I’m tuned-in; but I can’t do anything to soothe her sorrow.
No one knows it; but I’m sobbing in my Crater Lake.
Wait! I’m crying so hard inside that… Oh Dear God! I feel a tear tickling my nose! Oh, thank you Dear God! You’ve made me SNIFFLE!
My grandson’s amazing! He has his ear pressed to my nose! “Everyone be quiet! I swear I heard Grandpa sniffle!”
He quickly rushes to the side of me. Geez, he must think my ear’s a microphone! He’s shouting into it. “Come on, Grandpa! Sniffle! Or at least blink! Do something that shows us you’re listening to everything!”
How I’d love to shout at him, ‘Hold on, my genius Josh! Have you any idea how much I hafta concentrate, to feel even something as slight as dust, on my nose? Give me time to muster up a sniffle or eye blinking!’
In seconds, I can feel everyone’s practically on top of me. I feel the warmth of their faces… I know that sounds crazy, but I do. Then, Mrs. O’Brien frantically wheels her chair up to me. Mmm. I like her perfume. It’s so tropical. Her hands tremble as she lightly taps my cheek. Hmmm. ‘Cold hands – warm heart.’ Maybe she’s trying to tickle out a sniffle?
You could hear a pin drop. Then, she whispers with such deliverance, “Dave…” Then her voice quakes with uncertainty. “Sniffle two times.”
Much to my own surprise, as easy as breathing, I sniffle twice! You’d think I told the world’s funniest joke… Everyone’s laughing to beat the band!
Lucy takes over. “Dave, two sniffles and, what the heck, plus two eye blinks for ‘no.’ One sniffle plus one eye blink for ‘yes.’”
“Are you eighteen?” I instantly sniffle twice and eye blink twice.
Well, I feel like a celebrity in a news’ conference… Everyone’s bombarding me with questions. Of course, I answer every question correctly.
Within in minutes, I feel something my brain hasn’t felt in 10 years… It feels exhausted! What a great feeling… tired from THINKING!
You’d think it was New Year’s Eve all over again! My family’s laughing and cheering! It takes Mrs. O’Brien a few tries to settle them down.
“Well, Dave you certainly are very much alive and thinking,” she says with exuberance. “We just need to find a way for you to communicate. And…” She sighs, as if her own excitement leaves her breathless. “I mean, there has to be a way you can communicate beyond just yes and no.”
That’s all it takes for Lucy, Justine, Josh and Sally to switch to almost a hold-your-breath silence. They’re all ears.
“All those devices that Stephen Hawking used won’t…” In my mind, I shout, ‘No! Choose your words, Mrs. O’Brien! Don’t say they won’t work! My family needs hope!’
After a long moment, she clears her throat and says, “All those devices that Stephen Hawking used are not appropriate for you, Dave.” Gee, I could kiss her! I love how she actually TALKS TO ME!
“So, there’s a way around that,” she says with irrepressible confidence. I can ‘feel’ how Lucy and the others are waiting with bated breath.
Now comes the best part of this appointment—communication solutions.
It begins with Mrs. O’Brien announcing, “There’s some miraculous things happening. They’re still in the experimental stages. And…” Her sigh quivers. “And, they’re really well… out of this world… Really mind-boggling. So…” I just bet her eyes are saucer big, filled with glistening hope. “So, how open-minded are you?” And I know that ‘you’ is intended for Lucy, Justine, Josh and Sally… and OK, me too. I wish I could shout ‘HELL YES!’ So, I do the next best thing—well, I do the only thing I can do…I sniffle once and eye blink once and I keep doing that like a Morse Code. And of course, it’s Josh who sees it! “Grandpa’s given his stamp of approval for anything to help him!”
And with that, Mrs. O’Brien tells us all about how EEG caps, Brain Machine Interface (BMI), peripheral brain and neurosurgery all are making reading the minds of people, like me, with LIS, a reality. Imagine being able to converse with my Lucy and my family!
Indeed, today feels like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one! The mood as we drive home is way beyond just celebratory! Everyone takes turns chatting with me; happy for each and every sniffle + eye blink code reply from me.
Well here it is October. Let me tell you, these past 4 months have been better than a dozen Christmases and birthdays rolled together! I’ve been ‘chatting’ with my Lucy; as well as Justine and my grandkids—Josh and Sally. OK, you might shrug your shoulders, thinking, ‘Big deal. So, you sniffle and blink your yes-no answers…’ Hey, after 10 years my life so still… With everyone, except my Lucy, figurin’ I didn’t have anything inside me… Treating me, since my LIS started, of if my inner Crater Lake—my deepest beliefs, passions, wishes and feelings were cemented… You bet my sniffle and blink communication is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Oh, here comes trouble!
“Hi ya Grandpa! Sure wish you could see my cool Halloween costume! I’m a Punk Rocker’! Hmm… do ya even know what a ‘Punk Rocker’ is?”
I sniffle once and blink once.
“Yeah, I guess if I was dressed like ‘Elvis’ you could picture that. I might just do that, next Halloween.”
Wait. What’s this? He’s leaning into me… So close, I could kiss him. Hold on. I remember when I was 12… No way would I let an old man kiss me.
“About next Halloween…,” Joel’s whisper really fades. “Let’s have our own little party—huh? I’ll figure out how to make YOU look like Elvis. I mean, you’ll hafta answer heaps of questions so’s I get your costume put together—OK?” Well, if I could, I’d smile! Instead, I sniffle once and blink once.
Then, from behind him… Here come my favorite three girls!
“You tell him,” giggles Justine. “Nuh uh. YOU tell him,” giggles my Lucy.
How I’d love to scream, ‘Somebody tell me!’
“Shoot,” retorts Sally. “This is the best news ever!” I bet her glare could cut glass. “Here. I’LL tell you, Grandpa!”
Oh, have I so enjoyed all these months of NOT being treated like a vegetable. Did you hear that? My Sally spoke TO ME!
Down she plops just inches from chest. Hmmm? I guess Justine let her color her hair again. I can smell the hair dye. Wonder what color it is THIS WEEK.
Out comes a mischievous giggle from her. “Mom let me color my hair, again. I bet you can guess the color. I mean…” She giggles again. “…We sure have gotten to know each other… Huh, Grandpa. So, as I say a color, you blink 2 times to tell me what color you think it is—OK?”
“Purple,” she says with a question. I immediately blink twice. She laughs so hard that my bed jiggles. “I love you, Grandpa! You’re the only person in this family who lets me rabbit on AND you remember everything I say!”
She drags out her next word, “WELLLL…” But her excitement then makes her words shoot out like a machine gun. “Grandpa, if you want, you can be in a cool experiment! Miss O’Brien and your specialist put you name in a cool trial! I mean… If you want to be in it. You GOTTA want to be in it! OK… It’s a little scary but Grandpa, I just know you’re super brave! They want to try this surgery… Neurosurgery. Don’t be scared—OK? It’s a way to put electrodes into your brain and voila! It reads your mind! It’ll type what you’re thinking!”
The End?? Nah… It’s THE BEGINNING, for Dave!
WHEN LIFE IS STILL by Joanne E Galliher
Short stories are like a writer's gems... They have their favorites--THIS IS JOANNE'S FAVORITE out of her dozens of short stories. I guess, that's because she loved her 30+ years as a speech pathologist!