My first thought is, this can’t be happening. It must be a joke . . . Someone is playing a seriously sick joke on me!
A second thought comes disjointedly on the tail of the first: Maybe it’s me. Somehow, I did something to bring this on and now I have to do something about it. All I need is the courage to act. God, if you’re listening, please give it to me! Give it to me now!
I’m whisked forward without any further effort or desire on my part, through what appears to be a dark tunnel with a small circle of light at the distant end. I squeeze my eyes closed and will myself to be somewhere else.
I try to remember what I was doing before landing in this inexplicable situation. I manage to recall how I was battling a throbbing headache, and how my friend Susan gave me a couple of the extra-strength painkillers she takes for her migraines.
I open my eyes to find myself standing in a huge house – a mansion, no doubt about it – looking out a pane-glass window at the vast rainbow rose gardens below.
I must be dreaming!
Slowly I turn, taking in the ivory four poster bed, the chest of drawers below the elaborate oval mirror and the overflowing toy box in the corner.
I know this place . . .
I feel as though I’m floating, no sound of footsteps nor the feel of the hardwood floor beneath my feet as I cross the room. I reach out to the cedar toy box and pick up the teddy bear perched on top of the heap – my old teddy bear with the torn ear and the faded, striped tee-shirt. He’s smaller than I remember, and he smells musty. I kiss Teddy on the head, prop him up against the dainty lace pillows on the bed, and wander alone along a narrow hallway lined with portraits of people I somehow recognize, but can’t name.
I go down the twisting, marble staircase to the ruby carpet of the Cinderella dollhouse my Granddad built for me when I was five years old. I used to love that dollhouse, but like my teddy bear and so many other things from my childhood, I threw it aside for more grownup toys like cars and boys.
I’m convinced I can’t really be here, and I want to get out.
I want to get out now!
With ridiculous ease I pull open the massive oak backdoor and step into the sunlit garden. I smell the sweet perfume of the roses, hear the tinkle of water falling from a hidden fountain and the twitter of birds in the distance. I see for the first time that I’m not alone.
Granddad is here, dressed in the blue jean overalls and red checkered shirt I remember him in, throwing a tennis ball for my dog Poochie, the dog I lost only months after Granddad died when I was twelve years old.
The idea pops unbidden into my mind.
Am I dead, too?
Granddad looks down at me with his crooked smile, and beckons me to follow him as if he’s been waiting for me forever. We stroll along the narrow, cobbled path between the rows of rose bushes, Granddad taking my hand in his warm, firm grip and Poochie jogging happily beside me with the green ball in his mouth. My joy at seeing Granddad once again overwhelms my fear and doubt and before I know it, we’re engaged in the easy-going confabulation of our long-ago Saturday afternoons together.
We emerge from the sandy, overhung path through the garden into a radiant haze of golden white light. I can make out shadowy figures and faces at the edge of the light – the nameless faces from the portraits inside the castle, and others I know intimately. There’s Gramm, looking just the way she did in her sixties when she was still beautiful, and my dear Uncle Ted, who died of cancer only two years ago. I feel the love they have for me – the love I took for granted when they were with me and miss so much now that they’re gone.
Poochie bounds into the light. Granddad steps toward it, but I catch his hand between both of mine, forcing him to pause.
“Don’t leave me so soon!” I plead. “Please!”
Granddad smiles wistfully down at me and slowly shakes his head. “You can come with me on this journey today if you really want to, Angie,” he says, “but it’s not your time . . . I’ll be waiting for you when it is.”
I don’t understand.
“My time for what?” I ask.
Granddad doesn’t answer. In the moment I hesitate, I feel his callused hand slip through my fingers. He turns away from me and steps into the light.
I take a step back.
In a flash, the light disappears. Everything disappears – the rose garden, the Cinderella dollhouse and the feeling I’ve been left behind.
I feel the carpet beneath my head and shoulders, and I realize I’m lying on the floor. Then it all comes back to me: the argument with my parents that ended with my storming out of the house this morning and seeking refuge at Susan’s house; my headache; the party; downing Susan’s pills with a can of beer – certainly the single most idiotic thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
All at once, I understand. My eyes pop open and I see the anxious, fearful faces of my friends hanging eerily over me.
“Angie, oh my God, are you okay? You took my pills and a few minutes later, you totally passed out!” gasps Susan all in one breath. “We thought you were dead!”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.