Two years of my life were ripped away from me in a breath. I woke up, but my waking was so swift and so gentle, it fit seamlessly into the thought that preceded it. For a moment, I was horribly confused as I could not figure out how I went from my home, to this hospital room. My head throbbed as I tried to remember how I had left River, if I had managed to ask him the question that had been on my mind for a long time.
"Jessie?" The name jarred me and I realized that I had closed my eyes again. I opened them and saw a familiar face, one I hadn't seen in a long time. I found myself speechless but my face screwed up as I tried to place this person who was suddenly crying.
"Doctor! She's awake!" This woman screeched, her thin fingers skittering up to her lips. There was a rush of people into my room and I was suddenly buffeted by noise and energy. When there was a stranger before me, shining a light into my eyes, I found my voice.
"Where am I?" I asked. My voice came out raspy, as though it had been in disuse. But it was mine, I knew it.
"Jessica, you were in an accident." The man, I assumed at this point was my doctor, told me. My heart shuddered in my chest and I looked over at the woman from before, still crying in the corner. I caught her eye and she looked as though she were being pulled forward by my gaze, a balloon buffeted by the wind, but a stern nurse held her string.
"Where's River?" I asked, feeling a pulse building behind my eyes. The woman looked confused, and then frightened.
"Jessica, look at me." The doctor ordered. Obediently, my head snapped back and I stared at the man. His face was round but carved with lines. I couldn't tell if he was old or young.
"Is River okay?" I questioned. The doctor ignored my question and began palpating my neck.
"Do you know your name?" He asked as he moved down to my shoulders.
"Jessica McCarthy." I answered.
"When were you born?"
"How old are you?" At this I had to stop. I closed my eyes as I fought with my memory. Time seemed cloudy, nebulous. But I remember I was going to turn eighteen when I met River. And I had been with him for two years.
"I'm almost twenty?" I wasn't sure about the date, only that it was getting cooler outside. When I answered, the doctor's hands paused and they seemed to have simply stopped. As though they were a part of a machine and could cease movement entirely.
"Do you know the date Jessica?" The doctor asked. I sighed, I was getting tired and it was becoming harder to think.
"No, is it autumn?" I felt silly that I didn't know the date. But in our house, there were no clocks. We were free and scheduled our days around our moods. My panic started to rise again as I thought of River.
"Where is River?" I demanded.
"Who is River?" The woman from the corner squawked.
"Who are you?" I shot back, irritated by her presence. She sucked in a breath so sharply, I for a second thought she had popped herself.
"Do you not know who that is?" My doctor asked.
"Was I not clear in my question?" I snapped. I was extremely tired now, as though I hadn't slept in a long time. But I had woken up only a few hours ago.
"That is your mother." He replied softly. I felt a wave of guilt and turned my face to the side.
"I'm tired." I murmured. The balloon took up crying again, wheezing and whimpering liquid helium. Again, another transition and I slipped away.
I expected to wake back with River, I really did, but instead it was to my now darkened hospital room. I surmised that I had only been asleep for a few hours, as the balloon lady was slumped over in a chair in the same outfit. However, in the far corner of the room, a light glowed and I saw a man reading beneath it. I was once again stuck with a sense of familiarity and, seeing the weariness in his face, took him to be my father.
In the moment I was able to study him, I wondered briefly how he had ended up with my mother. He was tall, I could even tell from how far he had to hunch over to get his book under the light, and had large hands. His hair was, at one time, a dark and luxurious sable – he was the one to gift me that trait – but it was now salted with brilliant silver threads. I remembered, now, that he was always a quiet yet formidable man, the stable ballast to my mother's anxious and flighty nature. And I remembered that I was once, Daddy's Little Girl.
"Daddy?" Immediately, the book snapped shut and my father turned toward me. He rose, and indeed he was still the giant I recalled, and hesitated.
"Jessie?" My name held a thousand questions, and not a one of them did I know how to answer. Instead, I just smiled softly and nodded. My father advanced, careful not to wake my mother, and came to my bedside.
"How're you feeling Jay Bird?" He questioned. I was thankful, in a weird way, that he managed my nickname with such ease.
"Tired, oddly enough. I feel like I haven't slept in ages." I said and let out a wistful sigh. My father smiled under his salt-and-pepper beard, and I pondered when he had gotten so old.
"The doctor's told us that you wouldn't enter a sleep cycle while in a coma." He replied. I was shocked, and slowly the scene from earlier began to make sense.
"How long was I in a coma for?" I felt cold, my fingers could barely move and my heart had sunk back in my chest.
"Two years." The words fell out like pebbles, cold blue stones that dashed across my blanketed legs. My time with River, I was in a coma?
"No." My retort came out in a defiant whimper and I covered my face with my hands. "No no no no no!" I started sobbing and my father leapt forward to embrace me. As he rocked me, I felt the dim presence of my mother, her anxious breathing and her eyes snapping questions and accusations.
"Get the doctor Janet. For God's sake don't just stand there." My father barked. Over my cries, I heard her walk away. In the back of my mind I knew I didn't want to deal with the doctors, but I couldn't stop crying.
There was no way the last two years with River was a lie.
"This is completely normal. Most of the time, a coma only lasts a few days, but Jessica was gone for two years in only a moment. She will adjust, although you may want to keep therapy open as an option." Another doctor, a neurosurgeon or coma specialist or whathaveyou, was babbling to my parents, ignoring me completely. My mother nodded eagerly at his words, her face visibly drinking in all the nonsense he was telling her. My father sat at my side, quietly holding my hand, his thumb resting over the inside of my wrist. He was keeping the time with my pulse.
I wanted to rant at the man, that it hadn't taken a moment. I spent some seven hundred thirty days in a blissful paradise with the only man I would ever love. It hurt to think on him and I flinched. My father responded by lightly squeezing my hand, anchoring me.
"We will want her to complete a psych eval before we discharge her, as you recall that she had some unusual brain activity while in her coma state. This will be in addition to her physical therapy, of course." I straightened as he said this and it caught his attention.
"What do you mean, unusual brain activity?" I questioned.
"Well, normally, a patient in a coma state does not respond to any stimuli and will not enter into a sleep cycle. You know, REM sleep and all that." He spoke in what he thought was casual, a way to reach across his obviously vast knowledge to impart some form of wisdom on us lesser creatures, but he just grated on my nerves. A man who had probably been picked last for kick ball, as River would have said.
"And I did?" I prompted. The doctor made a show of sighing and shaking his head, as though he was at a loss on how to explain this to me.
"In a way. The part of your brain associated with REM sleep would activate as well as other parts of your brain that we can only estimate were responding to whatever your dream state was dredging up. Dr. Wells has hypothesized that this may have led to vivid dreaming and might explain the persona you call River." He answered. I flushed as he made the reference to River and looked away.
"Is that the reason why she doesn't remember us?" My mother inquired, successfully moving the doctor's attention back to her.
"With traumatic brain injury, memory loss is always a typical symptom. However, it is possible that it is temporary, since she was able to recognize her father." The doctor answered. I didn't gainsay him, didn't inform him that I had merely used logic to deduce that the man reading in my room late at night was my father. I didn't stop the pain that broke across my mother's face.
"Therapy would help that." The doctor said, nodding and patting my mother's hand in condolence.
"When will the physical therapy start?" My father's voice rumbled out of his chest.
"Oh not before the day after tomorrow I'm sure. We only have one physical therapist on staff right now and Dr. Andrews wants to finish Jessica's examination before giving the order." The doctor answered. My father nodded and then turned to me.
"Then maybe you should get some more sleep, right Jay Bird?" His visage was solemn and his blue eyes were streaked with grey, like veins of marble. River had said that my own dark blue eyes had a ring of steel that made them glow in low light.
"Jessica?" I realized that I had drifted and I startled back to reality. I let out a breath and tried my best to look exhausted, which wasn't difficult. The doctor slapped the top of his knees and stood sharply. My mother almost seemed horrified to be left alone with me.
"Right. Get some sleep Jessica. Good night." He said and turned to leave my room. My mother murmured her goodbye before retreating to her chair next to my bed. Next to my father, she looked small, fragile and sharp, like a very thin piece of glass. Such a dangerous image for a balloon woman.
"Did you need anything Jess?" My father asked after the doctor had left my room. I shook my head and he moved over to the chair he had placed next to my mother. He put his arm around her and I watched him gently fold her into his side, enveloping her in his vast presence. As her face relaxed, I turned my back to them and stared at the wall.
That was my first day back in the real world.