Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Killing Time

As a child, I lived in a housing development that backed up to a freight train track. I can remember the sound of the horns and then the deep rumble of the train as it got close. Of course, we were told not to go near the tracks, but being curious children, my brother and I would love exploring over them. Although I never dared to climb onto a stopped train car, my imagination went there in this story.

Summertime was almost too boring for me as a child. Without school, I had no schedule other than my meals and bedtime. Sure I had a few chores, but for the most part I was free to play outside. Once the weeks slid into July, the heat forced us into the shade. I had a buddy that moved into the house across the street when I was five. Stue, his parents called him. It sounded funny to me at first, but I got used to it plenty quick. We became like brothers, spending all our spare time together. It was the year we turned six that we became famous in our little town of Stratford, Indiana located just a few miles outside of Fort Wayne.
It all started on a Thursday afternoon. Stue and I collaborated our schedules and found that we both had the largest amount of time free just after lunch. We were very serious and wanted to pretend we were hobos for the afternoon.
“Mark, if you tell your Mom that you are having lunch at my house and I tell my Mom that I am having lunch at your house – we are free. Our moms won’t worry and we can have lunch on the train like a hobo,” Stue suggested to me as we sat under the shade of the oak tree in my back yard.
“But we don’t have any lunch.” I was a little hesitant to totally agree on the project. At first, climbing on the parked box car sounded like an adventure but now that Stue was actually planning on doing it in a couple of hours, I was starting to get a little worried that I might get in trouble for lying about lunch.
“How about you get a couple of apples and I will get stuff for making sandwiches. I think my Mom is out shopping right now and my sister doesn’t care what I do, so I could do it now and put it in my backpack.” Stue was a real salesman now that I think back on the day.
“Okay, let’s meet out back behind the shed around lunchtime.”
“What time is lunchtime?”
“I don’t know. Maybe twelve o’clock?”
“Okay, I’ll be back there at twelve o’clock.” Stue took off running in his bare feet for his house across the street.
I got up a little slower and headed for the house. I didn’t know what time it was so I went in the kitchen and asked my Mom.
“Why Mark, it is just about 11:30. What are you up to?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking about eating an apple,” I said as I picked one out of the bowl on the counter.
“An apple now will spoil your appetite, Mark.”
“Can I eat lunch at Stue’s house?” I asked.
My mother looked at me for a long second like she was mad at me. “Does Stue’s Mom know about this?” she asked.
“Yup. I think she’s making peanut butter sandwiches.”
“Okay, but you be good and use your manners.”
She turned away from me to wash something in the sink. I slipped two apples from the bowl and ran up to my bedroom to get my old overalls. They were a little short, but they fit. I wanted to feel like a hobo. I ran out the back door barefoot and let the screen door slam behind me. I could hear my Mom calling out after me but I kept running.
Stue wasn’t behind the shed yet, so I sat on the ground and watched ants crawling across a stick. After a few minutes he showed up with a pillowcase in his hand.
“Whatcha got a pillowcase for?” I asked.
“It’s got our stuff in it. I got peanut butter sandwiches, some cookies, some saltines and a bottle of water.“ Stue looked pretty proud of himself and sat there looking at me with a big grin on his face.
“What? Why are you looking like that?”
“I got a surprise.”
“Are you crazy! We can’t drink beer. “
“Why not? We are supposed to be hobos and they drink beer. Besides, no one is going to see us so how would they know?”
“I guess.” I didn’t want to ruin Stue’s excitement and after thinking about it, I kind of liked the idea, too. I put my apples in his sack and we peaked around to make sure no one could see us. We ran through a little strip of trees that buffered my yard from the train tracks. The gravel hurt our feet so we walked carefully up to the wooden ties. The train was parked and we couldn’t see anyone in sight. One of the box cars’ side doors was open slightly so we chose it for our adventure.
The floor of the boxcar was high for us so I clasped my hands together and gave Stue a boost up. He had to use all his strength to get the door to slide open more and then pulled me up after I handed up the pillowcase.  The box car was empty and pretty hot but we didn’t care.
Stue opened his pillowcase and pulled out the bottle of beer. 
“That bottle looks strange,” I mentioned.
“Why?” Stue asked holding up the bottle to inspect it. “It says ja, i, m, Jim,” he read, sounding out the letters, “Jim Ba,ee,ah,em, Jim Bee, ahm. No Jim Beam.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. My dad only drank beer from cans so I didn’t know anything about this beer.
“We don’t have any cups so we have to drink out of the bottle.” Stue announced.
“I don’t care,” I said as I crossed my legs and leaned back against the inside of the boxcar. I watched Stue as he lifted the bottle to his lips and poured the gold liquid in his mouth. His face contorted and he swallowed in a hard gulp. He started coughing and his face went beet red.
“Are you okay?” I asked. His reaction made me a little intrepid of drinking the beer.
“That is really strong beer. I don’t know how Dad drinks it. He gulps it, but it burns my throat. Here you try.”
When he put it that way, I felt like I had to prove to him that I could do it, so I lifted the bottle to my lips and forced myself to take two swallows. It was liquid fire! I gasped for air and tears flowed from my eyes.
“Aughhh! That’s crazy!” I wanted to say it was horrible, but I wanted to be tougher than him. “Are you going to do it again?” I asked.
“Yup. Just like a hobo.” He took the bottle and poured a smaller amount this time. “Yeehaw!”
I laughed at him. “Let me do it.” I poured some more into my mouth, “Yeehaw!” I imitated and went into coughing and laughing.
“I’m feeling kind of rubbery,” Stue said as he stretched his arms out.
“I’m feeling hungry. Where are those sandwiches?” I asked as I reached for the pillowcase. I noticed that my eyes moved a little slowly when I looked back at Stue. “I feel a little funny, too. Maybe we are getting drunk.”
“Well, we should. Hobos are always drunk, just like pirates.” Stue said as he took another sip.
“Hey, don’t hog it. I want to be drunk too.” I took another swallow and then bit into the peanut butter sandwich to help sooth my throat. I started giggling.
“This is a pee nut butter sandwich.” I found it too funny.
“You are stupid,” Stue said as he started laughing. “You are a nasty fart face.”
We couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing. Just when I thought I could relax and stop, I would hear Stue starting to giggle again and I would start all over. My face hurt and my belly ached.
“I need some more beer,” Stue said as he rolled over on his stomach and reached for the bottle. “Have shome more fa- fart face hobobo.” His words were sounding funny and we laughed some more.
“No, you are a poop shmeller hobobo,” I said and I took a big swallow in between my laughing. I tried to set the bottle down, but the floor seemed crooked. “Whoa, I think this train is slanting.” I laid flat on the floor and closed my eyes. I felt very dizzy.
I don’t remember anything else until I woke and the train felt like it was swaying again. I opened my eyes, but everything was dark.
“Stue?” I reached around, “Stue?” This time I said it a little louder. I heard a grunt and then felt his leg. “Stue, wake up. It’s night time.”
“I don’t feel so good. The train keeps moving,” he groaned.
“It is moving, Stue. It’s night time,” I insisted. He didn’t answer so I lay back down and closed my eyes. I was too tired to care much about anything.
The sunlight woke me up the second time, but when I opened my eyes, the pain in my head was hurting me.
“Mom?” I needed her to fix my head.
“Mark? Where are we? Does your head hurt too?” Stue asked.
Slowly I sat up and looked out the train door, to see trees flying past. “Oh, no. Mom doesn’t know where we are. I think we are lost.” I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I was terrified. Mark was looking at me in confusion.
“We’re lost?” he asked and then he too started crying. After a few minutes, we calmed down a little and just looked out the door. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe ask the police for help when the train stops?”
“But what if they send us to jail for being on the train and getting drunk?”
It was too horrible and I started crying again, which made Stue cry too. We hugged our knees and watched the countryside rolling by.
“Look, we are slowing down!” Stue said.
I watched not sure if I was happy or more scared than before. Where were we and what were we going to do here? I stuck my head out the doorway of the boxcar and looked ahead. I could see buildings that looked like a factory or something.
“Do we jump off when the train slows down or do we wait until it stops?” I asked Stue.
“I think better wait until it stops. There are so many rocks on the side,” he said.
We waited until the train came to a complete stop and then helped each other jump down. We had passed a road with some stores on it so we headed back towards that.  Neither of us had any money but we were very thirsty.  We walked what seemed like miles but was probably only one mile before we found a gas station that had a bathroom we could use.  We gulped handfuls of water from the faucet, glad to quench our thirst. Stue poured out the remainder of what we thought was beer and filled the bottle with water for later.
“So where are we?”  Stue asked me.
“I have no idea. We could ask somebody. Maybe the guy behind the counter will tell us,” I suggested.
We walked up to the line behind the counter. When it was our turn, I looked up at the man and asked him where we were.  He said the name of the town but it didn’t mean anything to me. I was not sure what I expected but I was so disappointed I wanted to cry again. Stue spoke up and asked if we were close to Stratford. The clerk looked at us impatiently and told he had never heard of it. Crushed, we left the station and walked back in the direction of the tracks.
“Look. There’s a phone. Maybe we could call home!” Stue broke our silence with excitement in his voice.
“Yeah! Let’s!” and we raced each other to the phone. I pulled the phone from the holder and listened. There was a faint dial tone.  “What’s your number?”
“I don’t know. I thought you knew yours,” Stue hit me in anger.
“I never have to call home.” I tried to excuse myself. “I’ll try hitting the 0 button.”  I pressed it and I was relieved to hear an operator’s voice.
“How may I help you?” a lady’s voice finally asked after a series of clicks.
“I am trying to call my home, but I don’t remember the number. “
“Would you like me to connect you to the Information Operator?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I just want to call home.”
“How old are you?”
“I am six. Can you tell me the number for Mrs. Jackson?”
“What is her first name?”
“Um. Stue, what is my mom’s first name?”
“I don’t know. Tell her your Dad’s name.”
“Do you have a number for Mark Jackson?” That was easy – I had the same name as he did.
“I have several Mark Jacksons. Do you have a town?” she asked.
“Yes, in Stratford.”
“I don’t show any town named Stratford in Illinois. Are you sure?”
“Illinois! No I am from Indiana. Are we in Illinois?”
“I am sorry. I am still not showing any number for a Mark Jackson in Stratford, Illinois. Maybe you could ask an adult to help you,” She suggested.
“What’s wrong?” Stue asked.
I hung up the phone. “She couldn’t find any number. I don’t know what to do, now.”
“We have to ask a policeman. Dad always says if I am in trouble to call the police.”  I picked up the phone again and pushed the 0 button again. This time I asked the operator for the police. A couple of seconds later a man answered the phone and asked me where I was. I didn’t know but I gave him the name of the gas station where we used the bathroom. He told us to wait and a police car would come and pick us up.
About twenty minutes later, a black and white police car pulled up to the gas station and we ran over. A policeman got out of the front seat and walked towards us. “Are you the boys that called for help?”
“Yes. We are lost.” Stue answered.
“Well, come with me to the station and we will get ahold of your parents. “ He held the back door open for us. We were thrilled. A real police car. He told us to put on our seatbelts and then started asking us questions. He wanted to know our names, where we lived, our phone numbers, our parents’ names and he entered everything into a computer he had in his front seat. His radio went off a couple of times and I felt like I was part of a television show.
Finally, he turned around in his seat and looked at us. “How did you get here? You are almost five hundred miles from home.”
We were dumbfounded. He might as well have said we were on the moon. Five hundred miles away! How on earth were we supposed to get back? We just sat and stared at him.
“How did you get here?” He asked us again.
Stue spoke up, “We fell asleep on the train and when we woke up we were here.”
“The train? A freight train? How did you get on that? You do know it’s against the law to jump trains.”
“We’re sorry. We didn’t know it was against the law. We just climbed on a boxcar behind my house and pretended we were hobos having a picnic.” I was now terrified. The policeman said we broke the law. I was sure he was taking us to jail.
I sat as still as I could trying to think of a way to get out of the car. We had to get away from the police. I didn’t want to go to jail.
When the policeman pulled into the police station, he told us we could go inside and he would help us reach our parents, but I just knew he was going to lock us up. As soon as the car stopped, he got out and opened the back door for us. I followed behind him but turned to Stue and mouthed, “Let’s run.” We turned and raced as fast as we could to get away from the officer.
“Hey, kids. Stop!” We heard him call us but we didn’t turn around until we were sure we had lost him.
“Why did we run away?” Stue asked as soon as he caught his breath.
“He was going to put us in jail because we broke the law and got on the train.”
Stue just stared at me again, and then tears started rolling down his face. “I just want to be home.”
The sight of him crying, made me cry too, and we sat huddled on a city bench, hugging our knees.
“We just have to get back on the train again and take it home.” I stated calmly.
“But it’s against the law. What if we get caught? How do we get back on the train anyhow?”
“I don’t know but it got us here and it’s the only way I know to get back home.” I stood up and looked at Stue. “Let’s try again.”
He stood up and started walking with me and we retraced our steps back to the train yard.  We figured that we would have to cross the tracks and get on a train that was headed back towards home. We had no idea that it might go in another direction. There was no train on the right set of tracks. We found a hidden area where there were a couple of buckets we could use as seats while we waited for the train to come. After about an hour, we heard the rumble of the train and then saw it come into view.
We ran along the edge of the tracks when it stopped on the other side of the station. No one seemed to notice us and we ran back to where there were the same types of boxcars as we jumped before. We tried to find one with the side door open, but all the train cars seemed full of stuff and closed up tight.  Finally, we got to the last car – an engine car and climbed up the steps. There was no one inside and so we decided that we would try to stay there.
“I’m starving,” Stue said once we got over the excitement of climbing on the train, knowing we could get caught.
“Hey, we still have the apples I brought,” I said reaching into our little hobo bag. They weren’t much, but we were sure happy for them. We decided to drink the water slowly so it would last. 
After sitting on the train for about an hour, we felt the jolt and then a shudder. Soon we were clipping along the tracks with a regular rhythm. The sound soon put us to sleep in spite of our fear and hunger. I had counted the number of hours that we had been on the train the first time and knew that we should be close to home after about ten hours. I wasn’t sure of the exact time when the train started moving, but it seemed like it must have been close to ten o’clock in the morning. Since the sun set close to nine, I was going to start watching for our town’s water tower about then.
We took time to have a little fun and sat in the drivers’ chairs and pretended we were driving the train, but there was no way either of us was going to touch any of the controls. We only wanted to get home.  The chairs were comfortable and the windows were big. As the sun started to set, we started scanning the countryside out the side windows, looking for anything that might look like home.  I was worried that the train might not stop again near our house, but I was banking on the fact that I saw it parked back there several times a week.
“What if the train doesn’t stop in our town,” Stue asked as the sky got darker and darker.
“I don’t know, maybe we’ll jump off,” I replied.
“Do you think we can?”
“What else can we do? I’m not going to another town again.”
We both became silent and stared out the windows.
“Look! I see the water tower.” Stue shouted, pointing to the large blue tower off in the distance. The town’s name, Stratford was printed in large black letters and even though the sky was almost dark, we could still make out the letters easily.
“I guess we are going to have to jump,” I said, walking over to the doorway.
“No, wait. We are slowing down,” Stue said. “Look at how fast the trees are going now.”
The sound of the train whistle carried back to us from the front of the train. Stue slid the door open and looked ahead. He could see the red flashing lights of the train crossing and the train slowed to a crawl, blasting away on its horn.
“We gotta jump now. That’s Market Street up there at the light and we are going farther away from our houses now. “
I looked at Stue and he looked at me. “Okay. You first,” I said.
I heard him yell and then let go of the train’s handrail. I couldn’t wait another second and jumped and yelled too. The gravel slipped under my feet and I tumbled head over heels down the side of the ditch along the tracks. I stood up and brushed off a couple of scrapes and ran back to Stue.
“Are you okay, Stue?”
“Uh huh. I hurt my ankle a little but I can still walk.”
We headed down the tracks half walking and half running. It was dark out and we could see lights on in my house as we approached my back yard.
“Mom! Dad!” I shouted, trying to not cry but overcome with relief at seeing the friendliness of my backyard.
There were cars in the driveway and then I saw the police car. I stopped Stue and told him to wait.
“Did they come to arrest us?” Fear flooded my body and I could barely breathe.
“Come on, Mark. Our parents are in there.” He pulled me into the back door, letting the screen door slam behind us.
To say that we were welcomed home would have been an understatement. Not only did our parents spend the night looking for us along with many friends from the town, but they had received a phone call from the police in the town where our train had stopped. We cried together and then stuffed ourselves with spaghetti someone brought over. The next morning, our pictures were on the front page of the town newspaper with the headline, Two Local Boys Found, Just Killing Time.
It was fun to be famous, but it was more relieving just to be home.

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.