[I know this title has the word ‘White’ in it, but it is not a continuation of my novel in progress The White Lady. This is something else that burbled up from somewhere a while ago and I thought I would work on it a bit and blog it]
One minute you’re There.
The next minute you’re Here.
There for Jennifer Bailey—Jen to her family and close friends, J-Bay to her scenester buddies—was in her little blue Honda Civic hatchback, humming along to random tunes from the thousands of stored songs on her Ipod while driving through the quiet dark streets of Clearbrook at 10PM on Saturday, the 10th of October.
Here was a place she did not recognize. At all. Not one bit. There was nothing to recognize.
Here was all white.
Jen wasn’t sure if her eyes were open and she was in a room entirely painted in white, or if the white was the glare of a harsh, impossibly bright light beaming through shut eyelids. She saw no lines, shapes, or boundaries, so settled for the latter explanation. At first.
She tested her muscles and other senses … one by one.
She could not hear anything. She could not physically feel anything. She could not move anything. She could not smell anything.
She felt rising panic, so maybe she still had a stomach to contain butterflies of fear.
No, that’s just a saying; it’s all a mind-thing.
She was stuck in glue or mired in some horrible white molasses—nothing responded. She cried, she screamed—only in her mind. She could not hear herself, could not tell if there was any corresponding action from her physical self.
Physical self? I … have no … physical self?
Her ascending terror screeched to a halt.
Am I dead?
One minute, you’re There—Earth, home, car, street. The next minute, you’re Here—mind, thoughts, nothing, nothingness! In a white room.
Panic fluttered around her mind—a bat unexpectedly caught in sunlight.
Is this Heaven?
What was she any more? Spirit? Energy? Mind? Angel? Soul? Stardust? Plain dust?
Jen believed she was thinking, so … she must be thinking.
Jen knew she was a … a … she. She knew her name.
Jen!! She screamed it in her mind, as if to be sure, to hogtie it to her … soul.
She had a memory—memories. So, she must at least be.
“Cogito Ergo Sum” and all that.
Jennifer put some of those thoughts away … away somewhere else. She tried to rationalize her circumstance: what had she been doing just before she was … Here?
Driving her car.
She remembered that much very well. Radiohead—on the Ipod—mournful yet hopeful in their melancholy-poet-angst kind of way. She—humming along to Thom and thinking about the Big Step coming up tomorrow. Getting on a plane and going to Europe for a year … two, maybe. That was a distracting thought, for sure. Europe for the first time ever. Away for a long time.
The streets were not busy. Sidewalks rolled up like a good Bible-belt town—four-way stops optional.
Okay, so it is possible that I had an accident. That’s actually pretty logical. I’ve heard of that before. Yeah, in movies and magazines, the actual accident is often not remembered. So this is what it would be like—I guess—first I would be driving, then next thing I would know, I would be in a hospital or …
One minute I’m There. The next minute I’m Here.
So which is it, this … Here? Hospital or Heaven?
Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay felt a slight stutter in her identity—a cog slipping in the machinery of her mind. If I am in a hospital, she thought, why can’t I hear hospital noises and see hospital things? Nurses talking, doctors scolding, machines whirring and pinging, phones and call-bells ringing, even patients screaming—all would be welcomed at this juncture.
And if I am dead—I don’t feel dead—then the question is not just where I am, but who and what am I? Back to this again.
Energy? Uh-oh, I already did that sequence.
Another slippage. Typical … I haven’t been Here two minutes—or was it two centuries—and I am already repeating myself. If this is for eternity, then I am definitely in BIG TROUBLE!
Jennifer began to repeat in her mind the three names with which she had identified for most of her twenty-two years:
She heard echoes in which her name was prominent. She clung to them fiercely with all her concentrated energy and repeated them in her mind over … and over … and over … afraid somehow she might just not BE if she lost the memory or the resonance it held for her.
“Hi! I’m Jennifer Bailey—you can call me Jen. What’s your name?”
“Yo, I’m J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha, no, no … not J-Lo, you jerk. Do I look like a wide-butted Latina Diva to you?”
“Jennifer Bailey—that’s Bailey with one ‘L”, please.”
“Hey girlfriend, it’s Jen. Wanna party tonight? Mojitos are on me-jito, on J-Bay!”
“J-Bay, you are hot, if I do say so myself!”
“Now you get back here right now, Jennifer Bailey, and pick up that mess!”
“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer, how many times have I told you—you are switching the tenses in your story … and you want to go into journalism?”
“Jen, you know your father and I will always love you no matter what you do, but sometimes you’ve got to take responsibility for your own actions. We can’t always bail out Miss Bailey, can we? We won’t always be here, you know, Jen.”
With that particular echo, Jennifer’s mind snapped onto another track like some mad captive mouse leaping between wheel and tunnel, food and water, wall and ceiling.
Oh my God, Mom and Dad!!
What would they think? Where are they? Do they know where I am?
If they do, then they are one step ahead of me, Jen thought and would have smiled if she thought she could smile—and after all maybe she was smiling—how was she to know? How could she tell?
Back to Mom and Dad …
If I am dead, then—Jen was trying to be calm—then what day or time is it … to them?
Was it the day after the accident? A month? A year? Had they already had the funeral? Geez, thought Jen, in all the movies the dead ones get to look down at their funeral. Me—Jen Jennifer J-Bay—I get a white room.
What a gyp! What a joke.
If I am in a hospital, maybe they’re coming to visit me, Jen’s mind pitter-pattered. Maybe they’re here right now? If I’m in a hospital, and I can’t see or hear anything, maybe I am in a …in a … Jennifer ‘s thought process stalled … a bed?
No, no, I didn’t mean to say that, she thought. Not a bed.
Ha! Now that is funny. I still think in terms of the spoken word! Of course I didn’t say it. But what was that word? Not bed … why can’t I think of it? Try again: Maybe I’m in a … in a … a … room. Maybe I am in a … in a … a …
Jesus Christ! What is wrong with me?
Well that brings us back to the very first question again, doesn’t it, J-Bay old girl? Jen’s felt increasingly morose. Not only could she not connect to her body, her mind was slipping away. Was she dying now? Is this what dying was: a brief period of white—well they always talked about a white light, not a room—then … snick … you’re out?
Jennifer fiercely rejected the idea. If I am dying, where-oh-where were the celestial beings come to guide me through the veil to the other side? They’re listed in just about every recounting of trips to the afterlife and were all the rage in Kübler-Ross studies—no matter what your religious background, Jen thought.
It would be just typical to be expected to make the trip on my own. But I’ve got great-grandparents at least who should be …
Mind you, Jen mused—all awash in symbolism now—I don’t expect to see the River Styx or a ferryman, but someone, anyone would do: Gabriel, Peter—even Peter Gabriel—Father Christmas, St Christopher, Jupiter, the old guys from the movie Cocoon—who cares!!
I just don’t want to do this alone, Jennifer whimpered.
Again her mind jumped tracks. If I can think, Jen posited, then surely I am alive. Didn’t someone say: “I think therefore I am?” J-Bay had always parodied: “I stink therefore I am”. It wasn’t funny, J-Bay, Jen scolded her cool self. In fact, it had never been funny.
Wait, I already did the think/am—cogito/sum thing …Hey—track-jump—what if I am supposed to do my repenting right now? Is the time I have in this white, windowless, featureless, distraction-void space meant for reflecting on all my sins and peccadilloes?
Sure, sure I can repent, but what is the point, if the people I sinned against don’t know I am repenting?
I guess the Man knows—The Big Guy—the Head Honcho—the Big Kahuna—the … Shit!
Jen was surprised she could swear in this state, whatever state it was. Thoughts are thoughts, I guess, she metaphorically murmured …
Jump again … Okay if I can swear, this probably isn’t heaven. It may be only purgatory.
No, no, NO!
Jen tried to focus—back to the I-think-therefore-I-am thing. I must have a brain in order to think. Jennifer wasn’t quite so sure of this idea, since computers were getting very close to thinking, but …
… If I have a brain, I must still be alive. Maybe I am alive, but in a … in a … a—almost got it—cubicle.
God damn it! Shit! … Motherfucker!!!
Jen shouted at the top of her imagined voice, hoping to shock The Powers That Be, whoever and wherever they were, into showing themselves and at the very least, admonishing her for such rudeness.
No such luck.
Why—why—why couldn’t she complete that thought?
I’m in a … in a … a …
Her mind suddenly spun back through all the thoughts ideas and phrases she had thought about since she became aware that she was Here and no longer There.
… could not hear … not feel …not move … panic … cry … scream … There … Here … Heaven? … Hell? … Something … ?? … Spirit? … Mind? … Angel? … Stardust? … Driving … Radiohead … Ipod … humming … Thom … Europe … streets … 4-way stops optional … accident … movies … hospital or … dead … There … Here … Hospital or Heaven … Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay … identity … not where I am … … Jennifer Bailey … Jen … J-Bay … echoes … past … name … repeated …afraid … not BE … lost … memory … I’m Jennifer Bailey, call me Jen … J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha … Jennifer Bailey … it’s Jen … party … J-Bay … hot … get back here …Jennifer Bailey … mess! … father … love you … responsibility … always bail out Miss Bailey … Mom and Dad!! What … where … one step ahead … if dead, then … Jen … what day … after accident … month … Year … funeral … the dead … look down … a white room … gyp!
Jen felt the curious sensation of floating up and falling down in a spiral all at the same time, as her mind carried on gibbering, apparently of its own volition.
… can’t see, hear … in a … in a … bed? what … word? think … in a … a … room? … Maybe … in a … in a … a … Jesus Christ! No! … where … guide? … Kubler-Ross … No … grandparents … here … River Styx … Peter Gabriel … Christmas … Jupiter … Cocoon … I … alone … am alive … I am … J-Bay … I stink … I am … Jen … repenting … now … in … white … void space … sins … the Man knows … Big Guy … Head Honcho … Big Kahuna … Shit! … if … isn’t heaven … purgatory … No, no, NO!
Jen wasn’t even paying attention to her own thoughts, now. She was a computer algorhythm, burbling along to logical conclusions.
… focus … a brain … to think … close … have a brain … alive … Maybe … alive, but in a … in a … a … cubicle … God damn it! Shit! Motherfucker!!! …
…Why—why—why… in a … in a … a …
To Jen, it was unimaginably loud. An audible crack jolting her back to the … Here.
And she knew.
… I’m in a coma.