My friend Dawn, a photographer and host of the blog “The Day After,” posted this beautiful photograph on her site a few days ago. It so captured my attention that it eventually inspired a short story – a Christmas story, if you will. She has given me permission to use her picture for my story post – and for my upcoming book of short, short stories and poetry, which will also include “Going Home.” Be sure and go over to visit her site and enjoy all of her other terrific photographic work.
“I have a family somewhere. I must have. I can feel it. Admittedly, I don’t have a clue where they are, but I’ve made up my mind that I’ll find them.” I spoke the words somberly as Dr. Randall sat looking at me. I’d been thinking those same words over and over for weeks, but that day, I’d decided to say them out loud. They sounded good, but they sent a shiver of fear coursing through me.
“But you’re sure you’ve had no flashes of memories since you regained consciousness?” he asked.
“None,” I responded, shaking my head. It still hurt when I moved it to any extent. I winced, and he walked over to the wall-mounted light, slapping up my latest x-ray for us to look at. He pointed to an area we’d been discussing for the past two months. “Well, this is encouraging, Peter (my choice of temporary names we’d resorted to since I had no identification on me.)
“This area right here,” he said, running his index finger around in a circle over one spot on the picture of my brain. “It used to be covered in heavy shadows, if you remember.” I nodded.
“But those shadows are gone now. Yesterday’s CAT scan confirms what I’m seeing here – that the bleeding has stopped completely, and the last of the old blood is cleared away. The tissues look like they are almost normal again.”
“Then why can’t I remember anything?” He sat back down, relaxing in his chair, his hands on the two armrests. “We don’t know, Peter. As I told you earlier, with memory, it’s sometimes as much an emotional recovery as a physical one that’s required for complete restoration. By the way, any idea yet why you chose the name Peter?”
I shook my head. “The frustration is almost unbearable, you know. It’s now my constant companion, and I fight really hard to keep it from driving me crazy.”
He sighed and straightened in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I can only imagine – albeit that imagination is helped along considerably by all the research I’ve done and the other amnesia patients I’ve worked with.” He sighed again. “And I always find myself a little frustrated as well. I want to remember for them, if you know what I mean.”
I nodded. “Yes, I can understand that.”
“I struggled terribly the first time or two that I worked with amnesia patients. All the textbooks and clinical studies didn’t prepare me adequately for the emotional trauma in the patient – or the emotional turmoil that the attending physician can find himself in. But – ” He smiled suddenly. “The really good news is that in every one of the twenty cases I’ve been associated with, the patient regained either all or most of his memory.
“There were two patients whose memories for certain segments of life remained fleeting. But even those two people were able to recognize close family and friends again and were able to return to their normal occupations – one with a short period of re-training in some complex work that his job required. So the future looks bright, Peter. And, as I’ve said several times already, keeping a positive attitude and positive thoughts can make a world of difference.”
“I’ll keep trying, Doctor,” I said on a sigh as I rose to go.
“And don’t discount prayer, my friend. Pastor Patterson, who’s been visiting you and praying for you, has seen some pretty heavy-duty miracles in his ministry.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
“Oh, have you changed your mind about the online search?”
“Not as of this morning. I understand that, considering I was found beaten up out in a field, the police naturally had to run my picture through their data base. And I don’t mind telling you that I heaved a huge sigh of relief when that didn’t turn up anything. But I still can’t bear the idea of seeing my picture plastered all over the internet with a plea for someone to tell me who I am. Just the thought of how vulnerable that makes me has been too much to deal with. But … my resolve on the subject is beginning to weaken. It’s almost Christmas, and although the townspeople have been very hospitable to me, I don’t want to feel I’m the object of charity at some family’s Christmas gathering. I want to be home for Christmas!”
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I added, “In fact, I got to thinking about the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” so much that I went on a search for it at the library yesterday. I found a holiday CD with that song as the first track. I’ve already played it a dozen times.”
Dr. Randall’s eyes lit up. “That’s good; that’s good. Keep playing it. Something within the deepest part of you led you to that song, and who knows what keys it may hold to open doors for you.”
As I put on my coat, I asked one more question: “Now that the bleeding has stopped, can I start working around the farm for the Morgans? They’ve given me free room and board for five weeks now – ever since I got out of the hospital.”
“I’d say you’re fine to do a little work, but keep it to just three or four hours a day for the rest of this week, and we’ll see how it goes. If the headaches get worse, stop and lie down a while.”
As I left the office I felt lighter than I had for weeks. At least I would be able to repay Edgar and Becky Morgan for their kindness in taking me into their home when I had no place to go – no money – no extra clothes – not even a name. But someday ….
The following Tuesday, I rode with Edgar over to Stockbridge for supplies. About a mile before we reached the city limits, we crossed a railroad track. Out of habit, I glanced both ways, and when my eyes swept left, a jolt of recognition forced me to suck in an audible breath. About a hundred feet beyond the crossing, the track made a wide curve to the right, winding around a small hillside. On either side of the tracks, the banks were snow-covered, and a thin blanket of snow lay between the rails like confectioners sugar forming a pattern over the long trail of railroad ties as far as my eyes could see.
“I’ve been here!” The words were out before I could consciously think them.
“What’s that?” Edgar asked. “You remember somethin’?”
I grabbed his shoulder, “I’ve been here Edgar! I’ve been down this railroad track. Would you pull off the road for a minute?”
“Sure,” he said, navigating the truck over to the wide shoulder and coming to a stop. “But, Son, you know as well as I do that train tracks can look pretty much the same all over the country.”
“No, Edgar,” I said, shaking my head. “Not this time. I know these tracks and that curve. It hit me as soon as I saw it. I’ve been around that curve on a train going down this very track!” I spoke the next words through a catch in my throat: “Edgar, this train track goes around that curve and leads to a place that knows me. A place that knows my name; knows who I am, Edgar!”
I got out of the car and walked several feet along the track. It was bitter cold, and I knew I couldn’t keep Edgar out here very long, but I also knew I had to ride down that track. I walked back and got into the car, looking at the old man, whose eyes clearly showed his worry on my behalf.
“You and Becky have been so good to me, Edgar, and I know I can never completely repay you, so I really do hate to ask for more, but I need to ride down this track from this point to all points south until I come to my home. Could you possibly loan me the money for a ticket?”
I could see confusion and turmoil in his eyes. I could almost hear him thinking, what would Becky tell me to do? That thought must have worked because suddenly he smiled at me. “I don’t mind loanin’ you the money, Son, but I’ll do it on only one condition: you have to make me a promise that if you get where you think you’re goin’, and it ain’t what you expected, then you’ll come back here to us.”
“Edgar, you old coot. That’s exactly the kind of thing Becky would say.”
He grinned. “I know it. And that’s how I know it’s the right answer.”
“I promise I’ll come back and let you and Becky know what I found. That’s the best I can do. If that’s not good enough to get me a loan, then I’ll just have to walk the track.”
Edgar shook his head, knowing he was beaten. “You’ll get your loan. We’ll see if we can get you a ticket from the train office here in town.”
I was scheduled to leave in two days, so I stopped in to let Dr. Randall know what had transpired. He was excited and encouraged me to pursue the plan.
Becky held onto me in a tight hug the morning I left for Stockbridge. And she did, indeed, say exactly what Edgar had said to me. I gave her the same promise. With tears in her eyes, she just nodded that she accepted it as the only promise I could make right then. I was so indebted to them that it seemed I’d never be able to repay them, and that weighed heavily on me. But if I could ever get my life back, surely I could make enough money to do something for them in return.
Edgar was riding the train with me for the first two stops on the destination. That would put him off at Stone’s Quarry. He had a friend there who did business in Stockbridge and would give him a ride back. As we prepared to board, my stomach quivered. My hands shook. I forced myself to take a slow, deep breath and stepped onto the platform. Once we were seated, I leaned out the window to watch the last activities of departure.
As the train lurched into motion, a scene flashed across my mind: big people in heavy winter coats – surrounding me. I held tightly to a hand – someone much taller than I — but — who? I strained to see who held my hand so comfortingly, but the image vanished as quickly as it had come. I shook my head in frustration. “Somethin’ wrong?” Edgar asked.
“I just had a flash of memory. I was on this train – evidently as a child, because I was holding tightly to the hand of someone much bigger, but I couldn’t see who!”
Edgar patted my arm. “Well, you know what Doc Randall said. Don’t strain. Let it come easy-like.”
Since we had boarded the train on the far north end of Stockbridge, we had to travel almost three miles before we came to the curve. There was a small platform between our car and the engine, and I had arranged with the conductor to have permission to stand on that platform as we rounded the curve so that I could see clearly. For some reason that mattered to me. The train company had frowned on that plan, of course, out of safety considerations, but my personal plea to the conductor, once he understood my problem, resulted in his compassionate agreement to my request.
As Edgar and I walked toward the door to exit the compartment, a brief conversation flashed through my memory. “But where’s Grandmama?” I heard myself asking. “She will not be riding the train, Peter. She’ll be at the station to meet us at the end of our trip.” I tried to see who spoke to me, but there were no images with the conversation at all. Had it been my mother? Surely it had. But what did she look like?
By that time we were standing on the platform, and Edgar was holding onto my arm – whether to comfort me or to keep his balance better I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter. His touch did comfort me. He spoke: “Peter, I know you’re excited … and I guess I’m excited for you. But … Son … I just don’t want you to get your hopes up too high. Train tracks can look the same in a lot of places …” His words hung there for a moment, and then I glanced at him and reached to pat his hand. My eyes immediately returned to watching us round the curve, but I answered him, my voice strong with a confidence I had not experienced since waking up in the hospital.
“Don’t you worry, Edgar. Around this curve and down these tracks is a place that knows me. These tracks are taking me home, my friend.” I glanced back at him with what I know was a giddy grin on my face. “Just like the song says, Edgar: I’ll be home for Christmas!”
~ The End ~
© 2013 Sandra Conner