Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Who Am I?

 This is a story I dreamed up based upon a childhood experience of falling into a fast moving but very shallow river and being shocked at just how powerful it was...





My first thought I remember was, “How can I get out of this water?” but it was more of an instinct than a collected thought. My lungs were bursting and the claustrophobic panic of being under water was trying to control my thinking. My head broke through the surface of the thick churning layer of foam and icy cold water. I gasped for air only to fall back under the froth. 

I tried to grab the rocks and get to a crawling position so I could try to stand but my fingernails just scratched over the surfaces of the slippery rocks. My knees were banging into the rocks and the force of the water kept dragging me farther down the stream. 

There was no chance to scream or shout for help. I could barely gulp down a breath before the splashing water covered my face time and time again. My arms and shoulders hurt from bumping into the hard sides of the rocks. Thankfully, I was wearing a lifejacket that protected my torso. The water dunked and dragged me along for what seemed like hours, sapping every conscious bit of energy out of my muscles. 

“Why was I by myself?” The thought flitted across my thoughts and disappeared. My arm found a corner of a rock to grab onto and I tried to grip it as the fast moving water spun my body around. I held on for as long as I could, but the force of the water was stronger than my grip. I remembered to gasp some air before I was free floating in the water again. My body swung wide as I kicked and thrashed to try to keep from being a rag doll tossed into the rocks. 

“Why am I by myself? Where is everybody?” I asked myself. This time when my head surfaced, I tried to look around and try to get my bearings. The water ahead was still fast moving but there were no white caps. I flipped over on my back, sucked in as much air as my lungs would hold, and held my arms out horizontally to direct my course. By stroking hard with my arms and kicking with my feet, I managed to turn around so my feet were in front of me and I could see there I was headed. The river ran straight for a bit before I could see another bend with rocks. Off to my right was a sandy stretch of land that I knew I had to try to make a swim for so I flipped over on my stomach and swam hard to cut across the fast water. When the water was only about ten inches deep, I still had to crawl and fight hard to overcome the current but I made it. Exhausted, I lay on the sand and pebbles, letting the bright sun warm my trembling body. 

The roar of the water dulled out any competing sounds and I drifted into an unconscious sleep not noticing anything but the cold feelings from the light spray that hit me once in a while when a gust of wind blew my way. 

“Karen?” I heard someone calling. I wondered who else was out here but didn’t care enough to open my eyes or move a muscle. I drifted back under the blanket of comfortable sleep, leaving the voice calling Karen alone. I didn’t know any Karens. 

A bug landed on my lip and instinctively, I reach my hand up to brush it off, moving my head slightly. A wave of pain shot through the right side of my head. 

“She’s moving. Karen. Hey, Karen.” There was that voice again. I opened my eyes and slowly sat up. I could see two guys in a raft trying to make their way over to my narrow beach. I looked around in the blinding sunlight to check for more people, shading my eyes with my hand. There was no one else. 

I watched the guys paddle hard until they landed their boat just ten feet or so from me. My muscles were still too trembly to stand. 

“Karen, are you alright? We thought we lost you,” the shorter, light-haired man said looking in my direction. 

I turned to see if this Karen was behind me but there was no one there. 

“Are you talking to me?” I asked. 

“Of course, who else?” This time the taller, broad-shouldered man laughed at me. 

“Why are you calling me Karen?” I asked them. I did notice that they were wearing the same kind of lifejacket that I was wearing. 

“Karen! We were seriously worried…” 

“Hold on, Josh. Look at her head.” He interrupted as he jumped out of the raft after the other guy gave it a good shove onto land. 

“Are you hurt?” he asked as they both knelt in front of me. 

“No, I don’t think so, just pretty tired from trying to get out of the water.” 

“Ben, I’m getting the first-aid kit,” Josh said. 

“Well, I am glad you guys came along. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of here.” 

“Wait, Karen. Do you know who we are?” Ben asked me, leaning forward to look at my face. 

I saw he had kind eyes as he lifted his sunglasses. “I have no idea who you are. Should I?” 

“Oh my god, Karen. I’m Ben and that’s Josh. We met last summer on the Colorado River white water rafting trip.” He was squinting at me and reached over to pull my hair away from the right side of my face. 

“Geez, you have a nasty bump on the side of your head” 

He turned to look at Josh who had the blue kit in his hand. “I think she hurt her head pretty badly.” 

"Well, she’s conscious and talking - that’s a good sign,” Josh said as he knelt beside me. Both of them were wearing leather sandals. I almost laughed when I saw that I was wearing similar shoes. 

“Alright, Karen. No worries. We will take good care of you.” He opened a small square packet of salve and squeezed the contents onto a square of gauze. “Let’s cover this over to keep it from bleeding more.” 

He gently placed the bandage on my head, causing me to wince in pain as he wrapped more gauze around my head to hold it in place. 

“So what do you remember?” Josh asked quietly. 

“Hey, don’t look so serious. I’m sure I’m fine,” I answered trying to relieve some of the tension in their faces. “What do I remember?” I paused for a second. “Water. Lots and lots of water.” 

“What day is it?” Josh asked. 

I thought for a second and was surprised to hear myself say, “I actually don’t know.” 

“And your name?” Josh asked again. 

“Well, it might be Karen, just ‘cause that’s what you guys were calling me, but it doesn’t sound familiar.” 

“Okay, that’s alright,” Ben spoke up. “Let’s just take this one step at a time. I’m going to get my cell phone and try to get some help.” He stood up and walked quickly over to the raft. He pulled out a bright red backpack and unzipped a couple of pockets before pulling out a plastic container. He pulled out his cell phone and tried to dial. 

“Nope. Just as I thought - there’s no signal here,” Josh spoke up, putting his hand on my shoulder. “We are going to have to raft downstream to get out of this rocky area. We have to get Karen to a hospital.” 

“I’m not sure I want to go back in the water again.” I didn’t know these guys and although they were very kind, I was hesitant to leave with them. 

“Listen, Karen. Although you don’t remember anything, we are all friends,” Ben said. “There is only one way out of here and that is down the river. Josh and I are going to do everything to make it as safe as we can. Can you trust us?” He must have sensed my distrust as he waited for me to answer with a patient look on his face. 

“Okay, I guess so. I’m sorry I can’t help much,” I answered as I tried to get to my feet, dizziness swimming over my vision. 

Both men stepped forward and lifted me by my elbows. My head was swimming and my legs almost buckled. 

“Easy! Let’s take it slowly,” Josh said as he wrapped his arm around my waist, almost lifting me. After a couple of steps, my leg muscles loosened up a little and I could walk a little better. 

“Let’s put her here in the front of the raft,” Ben said. “Hopefully, she will have a gentler ride.” 

They helped me into the raft and gave me a couple of straps to hold onto if it got bumpy. It was strange that the raft was so unfamiliar to me, even though these two men claimed I was on the raft with them earlier. I could only remember the water and trying to breathe. Ben and Josh both pushed the raft into the water with a couple of strides and jumped in. The current swung us around but they were able to straighten it out again quickly. I decided to sit low in the raft and leaned back against the side. I grabbed the straps and closed my eyes. 

“Hey, Karen, I don’t think you should go to sleep,” Josh called out to me. 

“I’m not sleeping, I’m just closing my eyes so I don’t feel so dizzy,” I answered back. 

Every couple of minutes, one of them would say something to me to elicit a response. Sometimes, they used jokes and sometimes they plied me with questions. I had my own set of questions running through my mind. How could it be that I knew so little? I had no point of reference before being in the water. How did I meet these guys? What did I do? Who were my parents? Did I have any siblings? Was I married? A quick glance at my hand revealed no rings. How old was I? Where was I and what river was this? I felt like my brain was sonar sending out pings trying to find references as to who I was. 

The rafting seemed smooth after my rough swim. We came to a wide smooth part of the river and Ben asked if I wanted a little coffee to drink. 

“Sure, I guess.” I couldn’t remember if I liked it, but I was thirsty. He hand me a thermos cap half full of a milky brown liquid. I took a gulp and cringed at the bitterness. Both men laughed and I realized that they had both been watching me intently. 

“That’s bitter!” I remarked. 

“You are so funny. We made it extra strong because that’s the way you like it - or at least you used to,” Josh said. 

“Sorry, I don’t seem to remember too much." 

“Don’t feel bad. You had a nasty bump on your head. Give yourself a break.” 

They rowed hard for seemed like thirty minutes while I tried to keep myself calm in the bottom of the raft. I could hear them talking to each other about getting to the next stop where there would probably be people to help or at least phone coverage. There was a road that led to a parking lot near the river so an ambulance could maneuver in and meet us there. My head was throbbing and the constant motion was making me nauseous, even though I didn’t remember eating anything. Ben started talking on his cell phone and got my attention. By the time we pulled up to the docking area, a few minutes later, the ambulance was there waiting with lights flashing. There were a couple of onlookers but I didn’t care. Josh tossed them a line and they pulled us in smoothly. A man in a blue and white uniform jumped into the raft and placed a brace around my neck. He was mostly quiet as he checked my blood pressure and heart rate. Once he seemed satisfied that I was stable enough to move, he motioned for another attendant to help bring a stretcher over. Ben and Josh helped steady it as they helped me onto it. I tried to tell them that I could still walk, but they insisted on the stretcher. I didn’t remember being an ambulance before, but I found it fascinating. I heard either Josh or Ben call out that they would meet me at the hospital, but the paramedic was putting an I.V. into my arm so I used my other arm to give them a wave of acknowledgment. 

Once we started driving, the paramedic started filling out the paperwork. “So what is your name?” he asked. 

“Karen Phillips,” I answered. 

“”I thought you couldn’t remember anything,” he said with a smile as though he had tricked me. 

“No, I can’t, but I heard that guy who was with me in the raft, tell the 911 operator my name.” 

“Oh, I see. Well, I will ask you the questions I have here. If you can remember anything, just let me know.” He checked the I.V. drip and proceeded to ask me where I lived, if I had any allergies, etc…but I couldn’t help him. 

The ride was only about forty minutes long and the driver only used the siren once in a while. I was impressed with the compassion of the paramedics and then the hospital staff that came out to meet us at the hospital. I didn’t mind resting in the Emergency Room as nurses hooked me up to monitors and doctors peered into my eyes with their special gadgets. They explained that they were watching for swelling in my brain. I asked them if it was all right if I fell asleep after they gave me a pill for my nausea and a pain pill. Thankfully, they said it was fine since they would be checking me constantly. 

Although I was sleepy, I was also concerned about reaching out to my family. Somehow, I knew that someone was going to be missing me, but whom? How could I find out? 

Josh woke me up and asked me if I wanted some dinner. I was a little confused as to where I was at first, but glad that I remembered him. 

“Dinner? Wow, what time is it?” I asked groggily. 

“It’s close to seven,” he answered sitting down in the chair next to my bed. 

“Yeah, I guess I am a little hungry. Thanks for coming here. Where’s Ben?” They were my new temporary family and I wanted to keep track of them. 

“He’s out in the hallway. The nurse asked us if we could try to find out more information about you so he’s making some calls on his cell.” 

“Do you guys know my family?” I asked hopefully. 

“No, just your name and cell phone. Obviously, no one is answering your phone since it is probably at the bottom of the river so I think he is trying to get in touch with the rafting company.” 

A nurse walked in and asked Josh if he was a relative. He told her that he was just a friend and she went on to tell me that I was being admitted for observation for at least twenty-four hours and that they were moving me to a room on the third floor. There wasn’t anything I could do but to agree. What else would I do? I didn’t know where I lived and laughed to myself at the irony of it all. 

“What’s so funny?” Josh asked, looking at me quizzically. 

“’Cause even if they let me go home, I don’t know where I would go - I’m basically homeless.” 

“Oh, no. You can always come to my place until we get this worked out. Don’t worry; we aren’t going to abandon you.” He patted my arm in a reassuring kind of way. 

I really wished I could remember something about him; I felt at a disadvantage. Ben walked in just as they were getting ready to wheel me to my new room. 

“How are you doing?” he asked me as he came to the side of the bed. 

“I’m fine. They want to keep me for at least twenty-four hours for observation. They are taking me to my room now.” 

“Any luck?” Josh asked Ben. 

“Not really. The main office is closed so they can’t get me any information about her until Monday,” Ben answered, moving out of the way as they pushed my bed out into the hallway. 

“Thanks for trying, Ben,” I said. 

“No worries. You would have done the same for me,” he replied with a wink. 

“So what did you end up doing with the raft?” I asked him when we were alone again in the room after the nurses left. 

“Oh, that worked out easy. I called the emergency number for the company and they had a guide who was coming down the river in another raft, pick it up. Apparently, there were two of them in the group. When you left in the ambulance, we waited just long enough for them to arrive and then hitched a ride here with one of the police cars that came with the ambulance.” He paused to get a drink from the sink, scooping up the water in his hands after a quick wash. 

‘So, yeah. At first, the police thought we were witnesses but after we told them what we knew, they wanted to keep us with you until we find out who or where your family is.” He plopped himself down in one of the brown cushioned chairs. “What a day, eh?” 

Josh was sitting on the end of my bed, alternating between listening to Ben and watching me. 

“So how are you going to find out who I am?” I asked. 

“Oh, I’m sure that when the office opens on Monday morning that we will find all the information we need. You must live pretty close by. We were only in the water for about thirty minutes before you fell out. When I called you this morning, you said you only had a twenty minute ride to get to the launch site.” 

“Oh,” I nodded my head. “That helps. What else do you know about me?” 

“Well, not too much. You had a boyfriend that came along with us last year but when we were planning this trip, you said he couldn’t make it,” Ben answered first. 

“You love animals,” Josh added. 

“Oh, geez. Yeah, and don’t forget green olives,” Ben said. 

“You guys aren’t much help. I mean like, how old am I? Do I have brothers or sisters? What about my parents?” I asked. 

“Hey, Karen. It will all come back to you. Don’t try to figure it all out,” Josh tried to reassure me. 

Ben flicked the television on and they tried to keep the conversation light for me. Josh found me a tray for dinner, but I could only eat a few mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. Even normal flavors were a little off for me, so I let them finish everything on the tray. By eight-thirty, the nurse came in and chased them out for the night as visiting hours were over. I was a little frightened to see them leave, but also relieved to be able to close my eyes. 

The hospital was pretty quiet that night. Even though a nurse checked on me every hour, she was very considerate and left the lights out, using a flashlight when she needed extra light. A team of doctors or rather a doctor and several med students filed into my small room around seven in the morning. Everyone seemed curious about my memory loss. I had nothing else to do so I went along with trying to answer their questions. I think when they figured out that talking to me wasn’t going to solve my mystery, they filed out to pester the next patient. 

I climbed out of bed, pulling my I.V. pole with me and cleaned up a little in the bathroom. When I looked in the mirror, I had to stare at my face. How could it be that I didn’t remember myself? I decided that I liked myself except for my short hair - I would have to let that grow out. A lady came in with a tray of food for breakfast and I realized that I was quite hungry. Before I was finished, another lady came in but with a much quicker and determined step. 

“Hi Karen. I’m Dr. Phelps and I am a physical therapist. We want to try a few things to see if we can’t jog your memory,” she said after she shook my hand. 

A weird sensation came over me as she stepped back. “Wait. I think you smell familiar. Can that be?” I asked. 

“Well, sure it is possible. Certain parts of your brain that were damaged the least will hopefully start working again. But I wonder why I smell familiar? I don’t ever meeting you. It might be a clue.” She sat on the end of my bed as I finished my last sip of juice. 

“Let’s think. Do you work…no wait, I remember. You don’t remember anything. Maybe I should try to figure it out. Let’s see - you were hurt while white water rafting - but I don’t enjoy that sport. You are at least twenty years younger than I am so we didn’t go to college together. I don’t know where you work, so…oh, well. We don’t have to figure it out. I’m just glad to hear you remember something. It means your brain is not swelling anymore and might even be healing already.” 

I smiled at her, glad for her optimism. Her quick smile was infectious and I felt happy just being near her. 

Ben called around eleven to say that he and Josh were trying to come in around two o’clock, but before I could finish the call, Dr. Phelps came running into my room. 

“I figured it out!” she exclaimed. 

“Hey, Ben. I have to go. I’ll see you at two,” I finished quickly. 

“Oh, I am so happy!” 

I looked at her, afraid to interrupt her. 

“When I left your room earlier, my brain kept going over why I might smell familiar. You know, was it the clothes? the lotion or perfume? or what? I looked down at your chart and saw your name, Phillips. I know a Betty Phillips who works in the pediatric physical therapy department. Just to be sure, I called her and asked her if she happened to have a daughter named Karen and she almost started crying.” 

“You think she’s my mom?” I asked intrepidly. I suddenly realized that I might not even recognize her. 

“Yes. It is your mom. She told me that she was sick with worry when you didn’t come home last night and didn’t answer your cell phone. She is on her way here now with your father.” Dr. Phelps clasped my hand in her happiness. 

“Thank you so much!” I was so relieved and worried. A mother and a father that I didn’t know. 

“Hey, don’t look so worried,” she smiled, realizing my consternation. “We understand what you are going through. I’m sure your parents will be more than thrilled to see you even if you can’t remember them.” 

"Yeah, I suppose. It’s just so weird,” I replied. 

“Let’s look at it this way. Even if your memory comes back - which it probably will, you have a great excuse to start anew. Since you can’t remember anything from before the accident, you also can’t remember your bad memories. As far as I can tell, you are not doing too poorly. You have two friends who keep checking up on you and some parents on their way. You are in excellent shape and health. That’s a lot more than a lot of people I meet.” 

Again, I felt refreshed by her presence. She was right; I was going to be alright. 









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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Desperation

This is a story I wrote fashioned around an experience I had when I was a child. I had to enhance it a little because real life is often not quite as interesting as fiction...



Sometimes, people will credit another person with the admirable quality of tenacity not realizing that their real motivation is desperation. Although they are quite similar qualities in the end, tenacity starts with determination while desperation starts with fear. One such case in point is this story told by a young girl, only nine years old, sent off to walk to school one morning…

We moved into our new home - a two-story colonial at the end of a street in a middle-class development in Portland. When my story started, I had no friends, not even the acquaintance of a neighbor or a nearby relative. My family had just moved two thousand miles across the states so my dad could start a new teaching position. It was the seventies and the economy was rough making gas prices high, jobs scarce and giving a general sense of unrest to the news. As kids, we didn’t worry too much about the economy, or how our parents’ finances evolved, but when they put us in a new school - it mattered immensely. The pressure to conform to a completely new set of values as dictated by the kids in the new school was almost insurmountable for me for the first few weeks. Dialects and common language usages would be the fodder for cruel jokes by the rougher kids.

As you can tell, this wasn’t my first time experiencing the new school routine. I was only in the fourth grade but had already attended four schools. My parents were loving, but poor and could not afford to buy me new clothes for school; in fact, my normal clothes were often hand-me-downs from my older brother. I didn’t mind wearing them at home, but sometimes the embarrassment of wearing the odd clothes to school was humiliating.

I knew that the first day of school would be the worst - they always were. This time I had to walk to school since the district decided that kids over third grade could walk. My father drove me to the school the weekend before classes were to start so that I would be familiar with the route I needed to walk. I don’t think the entire length was more than a mile long, but it seemed very long to me back then. Fearful that I might get lost and in hopes of calming my apprehensions, I asked my dad to draw me a map so I would be sure to find my way. He was so pleased that I asked, and took great effort to make a neat little map on an index card. The lines were straight and each street was marked in a clear print. He even went so far as to color the roads I needed to take with a green highlighter. There shouldn’t have been any problems.

I don’t remember too much about that first morning except that I was afraid - sick to my stomach afraid. I am not sure if I was more afraid of the lonely long walk or the actual walking through the school doors for the first time. Timing was against me, as my father had to leave for work before I would be ready for school. My mother didn’t have her own car; besides, she had my two younger brothers still at home, so she couldn’t help me. 

I am sure I had breakfast, was dressed in something appropriate and took a sack lunch as normal, but I don’t remember the details. The only thing I do remember was that it was cool and sunny when I stepped out the front door of our new house. There was no ride or bus waiting for me - just a tar road between me and the new school. 

I did have my map and I started following it. I was quite pleased with myself as I found my way out of our housing development and I think the walking calmed my nerves. The sidewalk meandered down a nice tree-lined street with old homes, much older than my home. Life didn’t seem so terrible after all and I let my guard down a little early. All of a sudden, a huge black dog came running down a driveway, barking his head off at me as though I was going to inflict damage on his home. My heart about stopped as he came close to me and I saw he didn’t have a leash.

Bits of wisdom were flying through my brain - Never let a dog know you are afraid. Dogs can smell fear. Don’t run away from a dog or he might bite you. Stand up to a barking dog to show you are not afraid. All nice thoughts until you actually have a dog facing you and he is almost eye level with you. I think I was the very image of fear defined - trembling, frozen in place, unable to act initially, with cold fear running through my veins. The prospect of staying with the dog for one more second forced me to keep moving, one step at a time. I kept my hands on my heart so he wouldn’t bite my fingers. If I thought screaming would help I might have tried, but I felt totally alone on the street. If anything, I wanted to cry and go home. The tree-lined street now looked dark and dangerous and I walked cautiously, watching for more stray barking dogs that might bite me at every driveway. I found myself looking at the trees along the sidewalks wondering if I could climb them fast enough to get out of the reach of such dogs.  

A few minutes later, I found myself in a development that didn’t look familiar. I retraced my steps after inspecting my map and not finding any clues. Something wasn’t quite right - my map didn’t match the streets exactly. I admit that I might have forgotten to pay close attention to my map when I was walking away from the obnoxious dog. Somehow, I was able to deduce that I was supposed to stay on the straight main road and then follow some turns.

I was not the type of child that even considered being frightened of heights but when I started crossing the bridge over a highway, I felt my knees turn to jelly. I had to grip the guardrail and try to ignore the panic I felt, as cars seemingly roared past me while the highway traffic was passing under me. All my years as a child hearing my parents’ constant instruction to stay off the street made me feel even more uneasy and not ready for this challenge. I could picture myself making one wrong step, tripping and rolling under the wheels of the cars. Was it tenacity that pushed me to cross the bridge or desperation? I think it was pure desperation fueled by fears shouting in my imagination. I can tell you that the desperation evaporated into wonderful relief as I reached the other side of the bridge where the side of the road gave room to a sidewalk. 

Relief is so sweet after fear loses its grip on you. My walk was calm again as I made the turns to follow the roads that led to the school. I was almost at the stage of feeling proud of myself for getting past the dog and crossing the bridge on my own. Unfortunately, my relief was short. I looked at my map and the street names did not match up with what I was seeing. I stayed calm, hoping that soon the road I was on would cross over another street marked on my map. My luck just didn’t pan out that day. My wanderings took me away from the scope of my father’s map and then nothing was familiar. Since I had no way of finding my school, I decided my best option was to find my way back home.

If only it was that easy to become un-lost. I wandered the streets for over an hour heading in a direction that I thought would bring me back into familiar territory. I was in a state of limbo - not quite afraid but not confident, either. I stopped to take stock of my situation. Clearly, my sense of direction wasn’t working, but my feet were fine and it was still a nice sunny morning. Asking someone for directions was my only recourse, in spite of the fact that my parents were very strict about teaching us not to talk to strangers. So I took up the walking again, but now I was looking for someone to help me. 

Three kids on bikes came up from behind me. They looked about my age, maybe a little older, so I tried to act nonchalant and ask them for directions to my street. All three boys said they hadn’t heard of it. Just asking them was terrifying to me and took all the gumption I could muster, so I walked on again, waiting for my fears to subside. Since there was no one else on the street to ask, I collected myself, took a few deep breaths and walked up to a house to knock on the door. I knew I was totally disobeying my parents’ and teachers’ instructions, but I had no choice.

An older gentleman answered my knock. His face was chubby around the cheeks and the top of his head was bald. He didn’t look like a grandfather - more like an old uncle. He looked rather surprised to see me but asked me how he could help me. I told him I was looking for my street and gave him the name.

“Oh, you are nowhere near there!” he exclaimed, not realizing how painful the words were to my drained nervous system. “That’s way over on the other side of the highway.” 

I stood on the concrete step, not knowing what to do. I had just forced myself to disobey my parents and now this adult couldn’t help me. What was I supposed to do? I felt like I needed to get away from him, just run down the steps and back down the sidewalk. Being lost was better than facing this aging man that smelled of cigarettes and stale air.

“Come in, and let me call your parents for you,” he said.

I wasn’t sure if I should run or step into the house. I stepped in hoping that he would help me and not be some bad guy.

“Have a seat,” he motioned to the kitchen chairs around a table filled with newspapers, ashtrays and coffee mugs. 

“No, thanks. I’ll stand right here,” I said as I clung to the side of the doorframe with my shoulder.

“How about some cookies?”

“No, thanks. I think I better get going.”

“But you don’t know the way. I’ll just make the call quick.”

“Thanks, anyway,” I said as I turned to walk out of the kitchen, praying to God that he wouldn’t follow me.

He did. “I know. I will give you a ride.” He picked up some keys from under some newspapers and was right behind me.

I opened the door to leave when I felt his hand on my shoulder. I pulled away immediately but he grabbed my arm. His fingernails were painful on my arms and I wasn’t sure if I should fight or pretend to go along with him. My mind was racing, looking for ways out of the creepy man’s grip. He was at least three times larger than I was, so I knew I had to outwit him. 

The walk from the front step to the car was torture - so much worse than facing the dog or crossing the bridge. The old man with his fuzzy sideburns pulled me along to the passenger side of his old blue car sitting in the driveway. 

“Thank you very much,” I said as I pretended to be grateful to him, but inwardly writhing from the touch of his clammy hand on my skin. I sat in the seat and pretended to reach for the seat belt. I watched him carefully out of the corner of my eye until I saw that he had gone around the front of the car. As fast as I could, I twisted around, opened the door and ran. I ran wildly across lawns, driveways, across intersections and between houses, until I could hardly breathe. I crawled behind a thick bush next to a brick house and tried to catch my breath while I watched the road. I stayed curled up in a ball waiting for the blue car to go by. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, I felt comfortable that the car was not coming and ventured out of my hiding place. I wanted to sneak from house to house, but I was afraid that some house owner might come out and yell at me, so I stuck with the sidewalk. Somehow, the idea came to me to listen. I could hear the sounds of the highway and then used them as a compass in finding my way towards home. My heart never slowed down much and I was cautious with every sound and every car that passed by me. 

About the time I saw the main road that led to the bridge over the highway, I turned around and saw the blue car about a block away, coming up behind me. I was fighting mad by now. I ran but this time, I was not going to run wild. I ran towards the main road and then made the right hand turn towards the bridge. There was a small country store off the road with a gravel parking lot and I knew it was my only hope to get away from the old man. I burst in the door and hollered for help. 

“What’s wrong, young lady?” a middle-aged woman in a brown sweater asked me.

“Please, I need to call the police. There’s a crazy man that’s trying to get me,” I gasped while I searched for a phone.

“What man?” she asked as she walked towards the front door.

“He’s coming in an old blue car. He’s been following me.” I really hoped she would believe me.

“Oh, yes. I see the blue car. Well, he’s not going to hurt you with me here.” She proceeded to lock the store door even as the old man approached.

“I am sorry sir, we are closed,” she called out to him. 

“Use my phone behind the counter and call the police,” she said to me.

“That’s my granddaughter you have in there. Let me in,” he shouted.

“Are you?” she looked at me.

“He’s crazy! I have never seen him before today. I just asked him for directions to school,” I said.

“Go home, sir. There’s no granddaughter here.”

I dialed zero for the operator and told her to get me the police. 

In just a couple of seconds, I heard, “This is Lieutenant Daniels. How may I help you?”

“I need some police to come. There is a crazy man chasing me,” I told him.

The store lady was watching me and constantly looking out the window. We could see him moving along the front of the store looking in the windows.

“Where are you right now?” the policeman asked me.

I looked at the lady and asked her where I was. 

“Here, let me talk to him,” she said walking over to me with an outstretched arm. 

“Yes, sir. This is Mrs. Fields at the Country Shop on Bellevue Ave just south of the bridge over Route 1. We need someone to come here quickly. There is an elderly gentleman that claims he is looking for his granddaughter. I have locked the doors but he is still looking in the windows. What’s that? Oh, yes. Very good, thank you very much.” She hung up the phone and looked at me. “They are sending out a car right away.”

“Thank you for helping me. I didn’t know what to do,” I said.

“Now, what’s this about getting lost on your way to school?”

“This is my first day of school and I was trying to follow this map my father made for me and I got turned around and so I stopped to ask that man for directions and he wouldn’t let me leave so I had to run and hide behind a bush and then he found me again so I ran into here,” I said in one long breath.

“I am so sorry,” she said as she gave me a hug. “What did you say your name was?

“Lindsay. Lindsay McNair.”

“Well, Lindsay, I am sorry about the old man. If you ever have problems on your way to school, you can always come in here.”

We could hear the sirens and then the sound of the tires on the gravel. We both went over to the window to watch as the cop got out of his car, leaving the lights flashing. He walked over to the crazy man and talked with him for a second. The man was waving his arms and pointing to the store. After just a few seconds, the policeman took the old man by his elbow and directed him towards the car. He settled him in the back seat and shut the door before walking over to the store door. Mrs. Fields already had the door unlocked and swung it open to him.

“Good morning, ma’am. I am going to take the gentleman down to the station. He seems to be bewildered, claiming his daughter was in the store, and then later he said it was his granddaughter. So, he is definitely off his rocker. You okay in here?” He looked at me as he asked the last question.

“Oh, sure, we are fine,” she said with a smile. “I will take care of Lindsay, right?” She shook her head in agreement, and I smiled at her.

The policeman closed the door behind him, went out to his car and then drove off slowly, leaving his lights flashing.

“So where do you live? Should I take you home?” Mrs. Fields asked me.

I told her my address and pulled out my little map from my sweater pocket to show her. 

“Oh, good. That’s just a short walk. I am sure you will be fine. Just come back here if you have any problems. Here have a little treat,” she said as she handed me a piece of bubblegum wrapped in red paper.

I was so grateful to have made my first friend in Mrs. Fields. I thanked her and left the shop, happy that I didn’t have to look back for the blue car. I faced the bridge with determination and made it almost halfway across before a rather loud truck passed me and turned my knees to jelly again.

No dogs attacked me as I retraced my map, now turned in the right direction. My house was right where I left it and as I approached it from the street, the front door looked so unfamiliar and yet wonderfully mine, at the same time. It was the entrance closest to the street so I took it, but normally, we used the back door.

I remember Mom’s consternation when I walked into the living room over three hours after I had left for school.

“What have you been doing and why aren’t you in school?” she asked, as if I had been out playing.

I wanted to cry again with relief this time, but instead I told her that I had been lost and trying to find my way home.

“But what about the map?” she asked.

She was still unconvinced, but I explained that I had turned it in the wrong direction and had to stop and as an old man for directions. I didn’t tell her about the chase and the police or the bubblegum - I didn’t want her to worry. Maybe I should have, I don’t know.



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Story of the Sapphire Necklace

This short story was an idea I developed after doing a bit of research on sapphires and their history. Of course, I love the idea of a hidden treasure and finding one myself is always a dream. I tried to create the atmosphere of people and their lives as it related to this beautiful and precious but inanimate stone...



“Going, going and sold,” the auctioneer said as his hammer struck the podium. Litza was so used to the words of the Sotheby’s auctions. Her life of studying at Carnegie School of Art was paying off as she climbed within the ranks of the appraisers. 

The hum of the room increased as the crowd got up to look over the recently sold items. One early American corner table that looked so innocuous was worth $750,000 and sold for $875,000. The amount of money people spent on rare items seemed limitless.

Litza went forward to check on the next round of items up for auction. 

“Have you seen the jewelry that Bradley has lined up for sale?” It was Bernadette, a fellow art appraiser.

“No, I haven’t had the time. Is there anything special?“ She responded after assuring herself that her table was in order.

“There is a sapphire necklace that someone said is probably the largest Kashmir sapphire outside of the Smithsonian.”

“I’m sure I’ll get a chance to look at it before it leaves the house,” Litza replied as she reached for her buzzing cell phone. 

“Hello, Mother,” she answered the phone with a wry smile on her lips.

“No, I can’t come home for lunch today. It’s an auction day,” she answered. “No problem. I never mind you calling me. I’ll call you back when this is over.”

She loved her mother and wished she didn’t live alone. If Dad hadn’t died in Vietnam, he would have been seventy years old. Litza mused on her mother. It was not easy for her to live alone even after forty years.

“The next auction will start in ten minutes, if you will kindly take your seats.” The auctioneer spoke closely into the microphone.

Litza went back to the storage room to take a quick look at the jewelry. A guard stared at her until she flashed her ID badge clipped to her waist. The placard in front of a little brown box caught her eye.

“Rare 1882 sapphire necklace from the region of Kashmir.” She wasn’t an expert in jewelry but this obviously was a special stone. 

“Do you mind?” she asked the guard as she went to lift the necklace. It was a deep peacock blue, almost as clear as glass with a velvety texture just below the surface. She ran her fingers over the exquisite stone. It was impressive at just 23.66 carats, but it was hard to believe the estimated price of $2,500,000. 

“What a treasure. What’s the history?” she asked the last question to herself as she knew that so much of an item’s worth was based on its past.

She lifted the box from the table. Lovely burr yew wood box, with box wood stringing, decoration with brass lion mask handles and brass lions paw feet. Sheraton period, circa 1780-1800, English. She knew English art as she spouted off the description in her head.

There was a bit of paper sticking up from under the velvet cushion for the necklace. Carefully, she lifted the cushion to free the paper. There were several folded papers and envelopes, some that looked old. She knew she had to go, but not before she glanced over the contents of the first sheet quickly.

“Natasha, what words can express the love you have brought into my life…” She jumped to the signature, “Faithfully and lovingly yours, Patrick Corry.”

Litza was puzzled. She seemed to remember the name from a conversation with her mother or somewhere. She folded the little letter and replaced the cushion and necklace gently in the box.

She had three minutes to spare before it was her turn to present her antiques.

“Does the name Patrick Corry mean anything to you?” she texted her mom. She set her phone to silent knowing it would be a while before her mother responded. It was her auction now!

“We will take a thirty minute break and then move on to the jewelry,” the auctioneer stated after she finished her sales. Litza walked back to the water fountain remembering to turn her phone on. The familiar little envelope was there on her phone. 

“He’s my father,” were the words staring at her.

“Huh?“ Her mother’s last name was Schumacher. That didn’t make sense. She dialed her mom’s phone. 

“Mom," she was trying not to sound impatient. “Why did you say he was your father?”

“He is my real father. I was adopted at birth,” she said simply. “Why are you asking me?”

“I have to call you back. “ Litza snapped her phone shut as she pushed her way back through the secured storage room. 

“Brad, what’s the story on the sapphire necklace?”

He looked at her in surprise. “What’s the inquisitiveness all about?”

“You have to tell me!” she insisted.

“It’s from an estate sale from Viktor Alexandrovich. His wife just died and he has been dead for at least ten years. Apparently, there are no heirs so his lawyer is selling everything off. The necklace was from his wife who escaped from Germany in the thirties. It is pretty old. There are love letters in the box authenticating its age back to the late eighteen hundreds when the first sapphires came out of India.” Brad enjoyed talking about his finds. “It will probably break the record today for the most expensive sapphire.”

“Oh my God. What if there is an heir?” 

“What do you mean?” Brad looked at her over his reading glasses with a puzzled look.

“Really,” she insisted. She wanted him to pay attention to her. “If there was an heir, would the sale go through?”

“No, of course not, but I did my homework and there are no surviving heirs. You would legally have to prove the validity of your claim. “

“Hold off on the sapphire until the end. Wait for me,” she called over her shoulder as she brushed against him to leave through the back door to her car.

“Mom,” she talked into her cell phone as she maneuvered her car out of the parking lot. “Can you get ready to come over to the auction? I need to show you something.”

“Litza? Sure. Is everything all right?” her mothered questioned in her gentle accent.

“Yes. Do you have any paperwork that shows you were adopted?” Litza knew her mother was well organized.

“Sure. I have both of my birth certificates.”

“Get them and be ready to meet me at the street in ten minutes.” Litza explained.

She pulled her car into the traffic on 72nd Street. It wasn’t four-thirty yet, so the traffic should still be moving okay, she comforted herself. Only a few blocks to Lexington. Litza honked for her mother so she wouldn’t have to find a parking space.

Her mother was already coming out the side door of her building with her purse and papers in her hand.

“Hi Mom. Sorry to rush you like this but I have to get back to the auction.” Litza apologized and excused herself at the same time.

“No, that’s alright. Do I look okay?” 

Litza glanced at her quickly. Her aqua green turtleneck and brown skirt were simple but adequate. “Sure, you look great. There’s a string of pearls in my purse if you want to add a little sophistication.”

“So Patrick Corry is your father?” Litza asked, working her way back down to the auction house through the slow traffic.

“Yes. I was adopted at birth because my real mother was Jewish and had to escape from Germany during the beginning of the war. I told you that before.”

“So your maiden name would have been Corry?”

“Yes. My mother was Natasha and my father was Patrick.”

“You are not going to believe this!” Litza was trembling with excitement. “I think we are auctioning something today from your mother and we have to stop the auction.” She wasn’t going to tell her mother the extent of her discovery until she had a chance to see it with her own eyes.

“From my mother? I thought she was dead. My father never found her.”

“You are almost right. She is dead but she only just died. She married Viktor Alexandrovich in Poland.” Litza pulled back into the guarded lot. “Come on, we have to hustle!”

“Litza.” Brad was worried. “I only have two more items before the sapphire. What’s up? Hello, Mrs. Adams.” He almost forgot his manners.

“Get this. Mom bear with me and Brad listen. My mother, Mrs. Adalie Adams was originally Adalie Schumacher. However, that’s only part true. Her birth name is Adalie Corry, daughter of Natasha Corry and Patrick Corry. She was adopted at birth!” Litza was glowing.

Mrs. Adams looked at her daughter quizzically. Why was this information important? Brad looked at her with widening eyes.

“Patrick Corry? The name on the letter?! Oh geez. We have to notify the auctioneer that the necklace can’t be auctioned today. Hold on.” He rubbed his face as he went to place a call on the house phone.

“Mom. You have to look at this,” as she brought her over to the now almost empty table. The little brown box sat waiting.

Brad came back to Litza. “You are going to have to get a lawyer to verify this right away. Mr. Heinrich said you could use the Sotheby’s guy, Mr. Fawthorp, since you are an employee.”

Litza went and made the phone call on her cell. With a smile, she approached her mother. “It’s all set. Mr. Fawthorp said he will make the phone calls and get the paperwork lined up.”

Mrs. Adam moved over to look at the little wooden box. She picked up the placard. “Two million, five hundred dollars?” she exclaimed. “Is this right?”

“Yes. This is a very rare sapphire and highly sought after,” Brad said. “You will probably want to keep it under our security until you can arrange your own. However, I think you will enjoy reading the letters included with the necklace.” He smiled and pulled up a chair for her to sit on as she started to open the letters.

******

(Dated: September 25, 1882, Written in print on the letterhead of General Redvers Crediton)

My Dearest Audrey, 
It is with great fondness that I present to you this necklace. I count myself as having won the greatest prize of all in wedding you. Take this gift as a symbol of my love that will last for generations to come. 
Your Humble Servant,

General Redvers Crediton

*****


(Dated December 10, 1910, Written on the Crediton Family letterhead)

Dear George,
Forgive me for waiting until I am on my deathbed to give you this special treasure -- my blue sapphire necklace. Although you may remember some of its history, I want to write the words myself so you have record for your children. Your father purchased the sapphire a few months before we wed. He was commissioned by the English government to check on the affairs of India, specifically in Delhi. He met miners on the streets with the stones in wheelbarrows who bartered with him for salt. The story is that there was a landslide in the hills outside of town and the poor miners discovered a deposit of the most clear blue rocks that we know as sapphires. Other English officials told father of the jewels and he picked the largest one offered. A silversmith in India who was known for his exquisite work for the Indian Royalty, handcrafted the silver setting. I am sorry for father’s death -- he was a wonderful man and made his family and our beloved England proud. He gave this necklace to me as a symbol of his love as I do to you. Carry it with you, dear George so that when this ugly cancer has taken its toll with me, you will still remember your parent’s love.

With deep fondness,
Audrey Crediton

*****

The next letter was on a small card with a colored pencil drawing of roses on the front. Mrs. Adams read the letters slowly and handed them to Litza. The red-carpeted room was quiet with only the sounds of the auction going on in the next room.

April 10, 1912
My wonderful Katelyn, Need I say you make me so proud? Take this sapphire necklace as a small token of my love. My father gave it to my mother and now so do I to you. 
Your Ever-Loving Husband,
George Crediton


*****

A thin paper with the faint impression of roses in the background opened to show a neatly written letter with small slanted words written in perfectly straight lines.


December 10, 1912
Dearest Patrick, I am writing to you to tell you of your father. The events before you were born were horrific to me. The tragedy on the Titanic is not one I wish to discuss except to say that your father, George Crediton, was the finest example of a gentleman to the very end. Ours was a short but blissful time of love and your conception was the most exciting part of our relationship. I am deeply grateful to Martin for accepting me as his bride and your father. I hold a gift from your real father, a sapphire necklace handed down through his family. The necklace is yours as his rightful son. This letter is to serve as a legal document in the event of my death.
Your Mother, Katelyn (Crediton) Corry


*****
“I guess that means she was a survivor on the Titanic. This card was written just a few days before the Titanic left Ireland.” Litza was fascinated by the letters, pausing only to look at the sapphire under the recessed spotlights in the ceiling illuminating the table.

Mrs. Adams opened the stiffer paper of the next letter. The ink was bold in beautiful, dark blue cursive letters on the Corry family letterhead, with an address of Ireland.

September 12, 1937
Natasha,
What words can express the love you have brought into my life over the past few months? You are indescribable and the delight of my eyes. I have a wedding gift that suits you so well, a sapphire necklace that my father gave to his wife, my mother Katelyn, at their marriage. I carried it as a prize possession from him, always wondering who the person was going to be that would wear such a beautiful piece of jewelry. Now I know. Wear it as a symbol of my love. I am including the penned letters my mother saved from her parents and grandparents.
Faithfully and Lovingly,
Patrick Corry

*****

“So now the necklace went to Ireland,” Litza mentioned as she finished reading the letter along with her mother. 

“Yes, but now look here.” Mrs. Adam said. “This letter has the address of Germany.” She opened the envelope stamped, RETURNED to find two sheets of very thin onion skin paper. “Ohhh” her voice almost cracked. “This is addressed to me!”


Adalie - What a pretty name for my beautiful baby. The time has come for me to leave you. Such horrible words but I will refrain my tears to speak of my love for you. Germany is no place for Jews like me right now. I fear for my life and therefore yours. Papa and I hoped to be able to raise you ourselves, but life has become too dangerous. You are going to live with a dear family who lost their baby to pneumonia. They have agreed to raise you as their own. I am leaving my beloved country, my family and my friends to find refuge in Poland. I hope to come back to you after the war is over. Never forget my love for you.
Deine Mutti,
Natasha Corry
May 5, 1935

*****


“I never got this letter. It is so sad!” Mrs. Adams said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. 

Litza was silent as she also tried to hold back the tears as she opened the last letter. 

“This one is from my father.” 

December 25, 1940
Dear Adalie,
You may not know of me as your father, but I think of you daily as my daughter. It has been five long years since you moved in with the Schumachers and I am so grateful for their kindness and for the happy life you must lead with them on their farm. Your mother was helped out of Germany by a kind lady named Johanna Kirchner, part of the Socialist Young Workers Movement. It’s because of the love and kindness of others that you are alive today. I continue to fly with the Luftwaffe but only because it is required of me. Please try to understand. I am including a letter your Mutti wrote to you before she left. Know that our lives did not work out as we planned but we will never stop loving you. I am constantly looking for your mother, Natasha Corry, but I do not know where to find her. Maybe when this war is over we can all get back together.
Yours forever and with the deepest love,
Patrick Corry

*****


“It’s all here. What a legacy, Mom! Do you think your father is still alive?” Litza asked as she stood up and hugged her mother.

“No, I was able to find him when my adopted parents gave me my real birth certificate when I was twenty-one. The Germans have an extensive record of the graves of all the soldiers and unfortunately he did die during the war.”

“What a story. That sapphire necklace holds quite a history,” Litza murmured.

“You know this is your necklace.” Mrs. Adams smiled quietly as she looked at her daughter. “It was a symbol of love passed down through my family and you are my only child.”






2016 copyright. Use only with permission.