The first thing I noticed was not the darkness. I had lived in darkness all my life. I was blind, so…no, it wasn’t the black void that caught my attention. It was the absence of sensation. Not just the absence of pain, which I was fleetingly grateful for, but I felt nothing. For someone that relied on her other senses to ‘see’ the world, it was terrifying. I would have screamed if I could have found my voice, but even that was beyond my reach.
I had no way to measure time in my void, where I floated with only my consciousness. I knew this wasn’t a dream, because my dreams are always vivid. How can a blind person have vivid dreams, you ask? Because my dreams aren’t just my subconscious telling me stories. In my dreams, I can truly see. Not through my own eyes, of course not, but through my mother’s eyes and more recently through my father’s eyes. I really hated dreaming, though, because it was invariably a nightmare. My father had become the monster he’d promised my mother on her deathbed he would not, so seeing through his eyes wasn’t a pleasant experience.
In one way, I suppose the void was still better than living in reality. I was free of my father here. I took as much comfort in that as I possibly could. It helped me live though the endless nothingness, but I knew I would go completely insane if something didn’t change. I struggled to extend each of my senses beyond the edges of the numb expanse that had become my home.
"…in a coma for weeks." "The doctor says she still has brain activity that suggests she’s not a lost cause, but I don’t know how long they’ll keep her on life support." "Well, isn’t that what you’re here to decide? Since she’s a Jane Doe, the state has the responsibility to decide if we waste valuable resources or pull the plug and let her die with a little dignity."
"…in a coma for weeks."
"The doctor says she still has brain activity that suggests she’s not a lost cause, but I don’t know how long they’ll keep her on life support."
"Well, isn’t that what you’re here to decide? Since she’s a Jane Doe, the state has the responsibility to decide if we waste valuable resources or pull the plug and let her die with a little dignity."
I would have flinched if my body was in my control when I finally found the one sense that I could push beyond the void. My hearing. For a long moment, I was just so thrilled for any kind of stimulus that I didn’t really hear what they were saying, didn’t process the words. When I did finally think over their actual words, I began to panic. In the background I heard an odd, erratic beeping sound.
"Gentlemen, I thought I requested you not discuss this in the presence of my patient. You’re upsetting her."
"Gentlemen, I thought I requested you not discuss this in the presence of my patient. You’re upsetting her."
Yes, you’re upsetting me! I don’t want to die, with dignity or no. I wanted to scream that at the top of my lungs and the erratic beeping turned wild. I would realize later that it was my heart monitor. Now, however, I was just praying my angel would send them away. He couldn’t be a doctor, not with a voice like that. His words were like smoothly ringing brass bells.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Cullen. We have to make a decision soon. It’s been three months and she hasn’t shown any signs of waking…" The voice trailed off as the speaker moved away, as if leaving the room. I didn’t calm down. They had left me alone again and I needed to know what they were saying. Three months? I had been in a coma for three months? My last memories were of my father, reeking of alcohol and other substances, coming home after a night out drunk to find me listening to my mother’s old records. Everything was black after that. Suddenly I was glad for the blackness, because I knew that my father had put me in this coma, had nearly killed me like he had killed my mother. He might still succeed, if those men talked my angel into letting me die.
"I’m sorry about that."
My angel was back. I heard the beeping smooth out in the background.
"Well, that’s the first positive reaction I’ve seen. You’ve had me worried you were going to slip away from us."
I wanted to tell him I was here. The void was still black but now it was filled with noise. I guess I was hearing the sounds of the machines keeping me alive. The sharp hissing was close, probably a ventilator. I could hear muffled voices in the hallway beyond my room, hear the squeak of shoes past my door. I still couldn’t feel anything, but I wasn’t alone in my void.
"Don’t worry, my girl. We’ll figure something out, I promise. I’ll come back later and check on you. I might even bring my son with me. If you’re with us, then he’ll know for certain and we can make some plans."
My angel wasn’t giving up on me! I heard my heart monitor change rhythm again and I heard a gentle chuckle.
"Well, if that isn’t proof enough…"
And he was gone. I didn’t hear him leave, but I knew he was gone. I prayed that he would keep his promise and return. People didn’t keep promises, but surely angels did? Time would tell, time that I could now count with each hissing, artificial breath my ventilator made. I was on breath number four hundred and sixty something when I fell into a perfectly natural sleep state.
I was dreaming again. Though I suppose I should call it something else. It was walking in a mind that wasn’t my own, like I often did with my father. Since my mother died, I hated falling asleep. I was lucky that I only seemed to dream when my father was at home, but to be forced to follow him through a usual routine of drinking himself into a stupor and then collapsing on the couch was bad enough. When I had been lucky, he had passed out and I was able to drift into natural sleep. When I was unlucky, he would watch TV. On the good nights, he watched infomercials and sometimes a football game. On the bad nights, well, he pulled out the box of videotapes he had hidden in the hall closet. I had learned quickly that I really could wake myself up from my strange mind-walking dreams if I was horrified enough.
But this time my dreams found me in the mind of someone else. Not my mother, of course, and definitely not my father. Neither of my parents had ever seen like this. Everything was in perfect clarity, down to almost microscopic detail. I didn’t know light was so beautiful. Maybe both of my parents were nearly blind themselves. But then he moved and I watched as the world moved around him. My parents never moved that fast either. I expected the edges of things to blur as he flashed from one side of a tidy office to another, but the clarity remained. He was pulling books from bookshelves so fast the transition from shelf to hand barely registered. I wished, not for the first time, that I could actually read the letters on the spines of the hundreds of books on those shelves.
My mind-walking never included sound, but I could always tell when someone was talking or when they were listening. I felt him tilt his head as if hearing something important. Suddenly he was out of his office and moving down the hallways of a hospital at a fairly normal pace. Any time there was no one to see him, the white walls flashed by. He didn’t take the elevator. No, that would have been too slow. He went from the top of the stairs to the bottom, as I watched at least six floors flashed by, in an instant. Had he even used the steps? Surely he hadn’t leapt down the stairwell?
It wasn’t until he swept into the Emergency Room that I realized my dream walker was a doctor. He surveyed the chaos, noticing several patients, as if gauging their wounds. Each blood covered gash was clear to him, every bruise that wasn’t covered in cloth. Inside my own mind, I shuddered. This wasn’t as bad as my father’s porn collection, but I really didn’t want to be here. When he strode into a room bustling with frantically working nurses and doctors, I saw a child’s broken body and wanted to cry. She couldn’t be more than five, her tiny limbs jerking with pain.
It was hard to watch as my doctor swooped in and scattered two of the nurses in his haste to help the girl. The girl’s injuries were horrendous, the left side of her body scraped raw, compound fractures and a mangled left arm. I watched the doctor’s vision focus very briefly on the blood dripping to the floor and then flash back to the arm. There was a flurry of motion as he accessed and directed the people around him like a conductor with an orchestra. As horrible as it was to watch the girl’s pain, it was also amazing to watch the doctor and his team work to put her back together. My dream walk took me as far as the operating room. I was both relieved and sad to wake up, back to the senseless void. To distract myself, I pushed my senses outward again to find my hearing was still working. I counted another sixty two hissing breaths before I slid mercifully into a dreamless sleep.
"…not getting anything, Carlisle."
As I pushed myself out of the void once more, I heard another angelic voice.
"I was so sure she was with us this morning. Her heart went crazy when they started talking about removing her from life support…" My angel doctor trailed off when my heart monitor began to beep erratically again.
No, I’m here, I’m here. See, my heart’s going crazy again. I thought how odd that a heart monitor would be my only communication tool.
"Wow. Okay, now we’re getting something." The new, deeper voiced angel spoke again and I felt relief.
"Oh, that’s good. Is she coherent?" Carlisle, for that must be the name of my angel doctor, sounded very excited. I wondered how this new angel would know if I was coherent, since no one else seemed to know for sure. Well, beyond my crazy heart monitor.
"That is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard." The new angel snorted softly and I gave a mental sigh. So, he didn’t think I was coherent? Well, that could be good or bad. Maybe they would take me to heaven with them, I thought in dark amusement.
"Ah, so she’s not?" The doctor echoed my thoughts. He sounded very disappointed. Almost as much as me. I really wanted someone that would at least talk to me, even if I couldn’t talk back. The void was getting unbearable, even with the invasion of sound into my darkness. I heard a soft hiss then, as if someone had spoken in a whisper too soft for anyone to pick up. Except maybe Carlisle, because he responded to that hissed whisper.
"Amazing! It’s such a shame we can’t…" and the doctor trailed off into a hissed whisper of his own. I wanted to grimace in frustration. It was a shame they couldn’t what? Save me? I vaguely heard my heart monitor going wild again. Did I mention I didn’t want to die? Then again, what kind of life was this, lying in a hospital bed communicating via heart monitor with my angel doctor? Death might be kinder. All my dreams came crashing down around me. I had finally escaped from my father just to end up actually like my mother had. Dead.
"No. I won’t allow it." Carlisle’s voice was raised now. I had the sudden urge to grit my teeth. He wouldn’t allow what? I had always hated when people talked about me like I wasn’t there. It’s amazing how often people assume that handicapped people can’t understand plain English like ‘normal’ people. I may be blind but I am not deaf, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
"Sorry." The other angel’s voice was closer to me now, as if he had come to the edge of the bed.
"My name is Carlisle Cullen and this is my son, Edward. I’m sorry we’re talking around you. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you." Carlisle’s warm voice calmed my frustration and I wanted to smile. He really had brought his son to meet me. It was an awkward introduction, though. Hadn’t the man this morning called me a Jane Doe? That meant they didn’t know who I was. That thought should have disturbed me, but instead it flooded me with relief. Maybe that meant my father couldn’t come claim me. If I had to die, at least I wouldn’t have to hear him grumble about the cost of the funeral. God forbid he spend his hard earned money on my final resting place. Mom still didn’t have a headstone.
"Your family must be worried sick." Edward’s comment seemed more like a confused question than commentary. I wanted to snort with laughter. My mother had been my only real family. Once my father had killed her, I had been alone. Except for the horrible nights when he remembered I was still alive. I would have shuddered to remember them, if I could. It might have been surprising that it had taken him this long to put me in the hospital, but I was very good at keeping out of his way. Obviously he couldn’t be bothered to bring me to the hospital himself, since they didn’t even know my name.
There were more hissed whispers then and even a low growl from somewhere near my ear. I wanted to cringe away from it, but I was stuck in black void land with nothing but my ears connected to the outside world.
"You’re neck is broken. You’re paralyzed from the neck down. I’m sorry if we left you without stimulus for so long, but we weren’t sure if you were…alert." Carlisle was talking loud enough for me to hear again and I was listening more to hear the sound of his voice than his comments about my body. I was very interested, of course. It explained my inability to move. But shouldn’t I still be able to move my mouth, wiggle my nose or lick my lips?
Carlisle continued. "We believe you’re in what is called a ‘lock-down state’, not a true coma. It means you’re mind is working, but something’s messed up the connections between your body and your brain. You’ve been through an awful trauma, my girl. It’s my hope that you will be able to fight through it and come back to us."
Come back to what, I wondered? I might as well be a vegetable. I was supposed to be in school right now, a real school for the blind that would have kept me away from my father for seven months out of the year. It had been the greatest joy of my life when my guidance counselor at the tiny school for the blind in Forsythe, Maine had told me I’d gotten a full scholarship. Now I had nothing. I finally understood the conversation I had overheard when I first found my ears. I was a ward of the state, an unknown child with no background that no one would want even if I did regain my other senses. I would be a burden on anyone, just has I had been a burden on my mother and father; a burden that had driven my father to drink and thus my mother to her death. Perhaps the man had been right. Best to let them pull the plug and die with what little dignity I had left.
"No. Leia, don’t give up yet." Edward’s voice was gentle, whispered in my ear. Ah, so he really must be an angel. He knew my name and he knew I was ready to give up. Could an angel read my thoughts?
‘Just take me with you when you go back to heaven, that’s all I ask.’
"I’m no angel, Leia. No wings, no halo. I’m just…different." For some reason his words were full of scorn, as if he didn’t like who or what he was.
‘You can hear me?’ That thought shattered my despair and suddenly I felt hopeful. If I had one person that I could talk to, maybe I could keep the black void from driving me insane. Or perhaps it already had and I was just dreaming. I hadn’t realized my imagination was that creative.
"You aren’t insane, Leia. I can hear you. I promise I’ll come and visit you if you promise not to give up. Let us try to help you." His words were spoken in a voice like velvet, almost hypnotic. How could I say no to him?
"Wonderful. Now, what’s your full name sweetie and where are you from?" It was Carlisle’s voice this time, and I felt the edge of panic.
‘Please don’t tell my father where I am!’
"It’s alright, Leia. Your father will not touch you again." Edward’s voice again, the velvet edged with steel now. He hissed something at Carlisle and I thought I might have heard another low growl.
"I promise you, you’re father will not get away with hurting you, Leia. Unfortunately, your witness will mean nothing to the state, since Edward can’t exactly tell them he pulled it from your head. So, we will keep the details between us right now, I promise." Carlisle voice soothed me and I felt comfortable answering Edward’s questions. He asked several before answering a few of mine. By the time he and Carlisle left, I knew I was at a hospital in Furs, Maine. That was almost three hours from Forsythe. Carlisle said that one of the nurse’s had nearly tripped over me in the parking lot. How nice that my father had been thoughtful enough to drive me all the way here and drop me off after nearly beating me to death.
Edward had left the television on. His thoughtfulness gave me hope that he really did plan to return soon. So instead of listening to the hiss of my ventilator, I listened to Andy Griffith reruns. One of the nurses came in about an hour later and turned the television off, muttering something about wasting electricity. I sighed mentally and went back to counting my breaths. It was better than counting sheep. Only one hundred something and I was drifting back into another dreamless sleep.