This is a short story I wrote in high school in 2007. I found it on one of my old backups and decided to post in on my blog, enjoy. – Logan
Thomas Harper found himself tracing the unique, tile layout on the floor with his eyes, anything to try to keep his mind off the matter at hand. Allowing his gaze to wander freely cost him his peace of mind, because the reminders where everywhere. Signs for cardiology, radiology, oncology, and nuclear medicine were all daunting reminders that he was in a hospital, and healthy people don’t come to hospitals. He was standing outside the waiting room, he could see his wife and two of his sons through the glass window sitting inside. Like a lightning bolt of distress, it hit him, he noticed the uneasiness and anxiety on their faces. He turned to the opposite direction and began to quickly walk down the hallway, almost attempting to escape a personal tsunami of accountability raging behind him. He began to notice during his walk that all the nurses, patrons, and doctors seemed to ignore him, which was perfectly fine for him at that moment.
He didn’t want to be bothered, he was overwhelmed with stress and his mind was racing a hundred miles an hour. Although, he did get some awkward feeling of solace when he examined the expressions of everyone he passed. He wondered what perils they are currently under, if perhaps their face showed a sign. A sign of the substantial strain they were all under, from of being pulled too far apart, from being stretched too thin.
Before Thomas’ mind wrapped up the loose ends of the rope of desperate wonderment, he found himself standing in the main lobby of the hospital. The lobby was fitted with two gigantic pane glass windows that allowed the entire area to be lit by bright, natural sunlight. Thomas could feel the warmth of the light, he could feel the calming sensation in contrast to the cold florescent ones in the hallway behind him.
This is where people healthy people leave the hospital. He thought to himself.
The generic white walls covered in flat white pain in the lobby had a slight greenish hue from the reflection of grass outside. Thomas felt drawn to the free flowing environment outside, away from the sterile malice of this fortress. Thomas closed his eyes and walked through the door, he felt such a soothing feeling of relief as the sudden breeze began to tug at the hairs on his arms and face as he crossed the threshold. Standing right outside of the doors to the hospital, Thomas noticed a small walking path covered in pebbles that lead to his right along the side of the hospital. As his feet followed it, he noticed it led into a small little park on the far corner of the hospital with a fountain area with flowerbeds lining the walkways. Along the path were trees, bushes, and little sculptures that made the entire aesthetic simple and beautiful. Thomas felt inclined to follow the path, so he did. Each step was therapeutic for him, he was beginning to notice the subtleties of nature and the abundance of life around him. The sound of birds, the rustle of trees, everything felt alive. He saw that there were a couple other scattered people keeping to themselves, a jogger and an old man sitting far off on one of the benches.
Thomas made his way to the fountain area and sat down on a molded concrete bench all by himself centered in front of the large fountain. He enjoyed the seclusion, the hissing sounds of the wind agitating the trees was always so peaceful to him. That combined with the passionate songs sung by the birds almost completely drained out the sound of the ambulance arriving at the other side of the hospital. That muffled sound of the ambulance being overcome the sound of nature was almost perfectly in unison with his worries overcoming his hope. He was brought back to reality by finally understanding the reason of this little place of solace.
This is probably where some people come to accept death. He thought to himself.
Thomas tried to imagine what one must have to do in order to face mortality. Standing on the fringe of the afterlife, surrounded by bleak, pale, unsaturated surroundings may add a little emphasis to their imagination. Thomas began to let all concerns and worries slip away as he took in the environment, accepted it, as if his consciousness was plugged in directly to the tranquility of this little park.
“You still carry yourself the same. Your head sticks out of your shoulders as if you’re a turtle poking his head out of a shell.” A voice rung out and broke the silence.
Brought back to the present by the random voice, Thomas jerked forward as as if he was just awoken from a nap. The anonymous old man he saw earlier seemed to have moved from a bench from down the path, to directly across from Thomas on the other side of the fountain. Just as Thomas began to question whether or not this old man was following him or if he was a distant acquaintance just the old man raised his hand and motioned for him to come over.
Answering the call with a slow determined groan, Thomas contracted his muscles, stood up and slowly began to walk around the fountain toward the unknown man. With every step that Thomas made, the subtle grind of the pebbles broke the awkward silence of unfamiliarity. Little by little, Thomas’ view of the man slowly came into focus, but still the man was unidentifiable. He wore denim overalls with a white undershirt, his hair was black with small dashes of silver peppered throughout and parted messily. He stared back at Thomas with thick horned rimmed glasses, but took them off and stood as Thomas approached. He appeared to be in his fifties and judging by his weathered, leathery skin, this old man had a distinguished roughness about him.
“It’s been a long time, boy.” The old man said.
Thomas stared silently confused at first because he felt an awkward sense of familiarity with this old man. As if he forgot an old conversation he was supposed to. He should know him but, there seems to be a disconnect. Slowly, Thomas’ eyes widened as he began to recognize this stranger. It occurred to Thomas in a few moments that he was standing face to face with his father, Jeff Harper.
“…Dad.” Thomas said with a sighful voice of acceptance.
“Thomas.” Jeff said back with a smile “It’s been a while hasn’t it.”
The hair on Thomas head began to stand on end as he asked with a palpable disdain. “But how? Why are you even here?” Thomas inquired with a shocked voice of perplexion.
“I don’t know, I just found myself here In the heat of the moment I guess. Might as well check onhow you’re doing. Jesus boy, I expected a little more enthusiasm out of you. It almost feels like you almost forgot where you came from.” Jeff calmly sneered.
Just then, Thomas stepped around to break up the rigid pose he found himself in, all while maintaining eye contact as he said. “But I do, I do remember exactly where I came from.”
With a noticeable shift in tone, Jeff could feel Thomas’ contempt. Jeff stepped forward face to face with Thomas and sternly said, “Is that right? So where did you sleep?” And without letting Thomas respond, he continued. “Did you have food in your belly? Were you warm? Yeah? How many times did you have to sleep under highway 210? None. So don’t try and gloss over the fact that the only reason you’re breathing right now, the only reason you’ve made it this far is because I made sure you could.”
Thomas stood there in silence, looking up at his father who stood a few inches taller than him. Perpetuating this feeling that his father was a mountain he couldn’t climb over yet, as if it would always be in his way and his whole life, even if he turned away, it would still cast a shadow over him. Deep down inside of him, Thomas felt something give away, his worry, his anger, all stored up in a container was now emptying. Given the circumstances, Thomas stopped caring anymore, he had nothing to lose and burning a bridge with his father was trivial at this point. Thomas felt the almost limitless ocean of emotions he swam in as a child and teenager come back. Thomas indeed remembered where he came from and replied, “Yes, I remember.” Thomas continued with a sober, calm, but passionate tone in his voice. “I remember where I slept. In my bed as early as I could, because I wanted to be asleep before my father would come home from work. Is tonight the night he drinks a little too much and decides to see how tough his son is? Food? Yeah I had food in my belly, It was full of spoonfuls of peanut butter because there was nothing else in the kitchen. Yes, I was warm, I had about 6 blankets on my bed and slept in my sweat pants because the heat was always shut off. I peed in water bottles in my room, partially because the water was cut off sometimes, but mostly because I didn’t want to leave my room and run into you.
Remember Kevin Chauser? Who am I kidding, obviously you don’t. Well, back when I wanted to join T-ball, him and his dad picked me up for the first couple days of practice. When I arrived all the other kids’ dads were there assisting. I was mesmerized, I couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to have a dad who actually gave a shit. I could feel their stares at me, where’s Tommy’s dad? Oh he’s at home sitting on a lazyboy strung out on something.”
The silence was deafening, it almost made the trickle of the fountain sound more like raging rapids. Thomas was now looking at a different man the he was moments earlier, a different man the he grew up with, but he wasn’t sure if it was his father who changed based on what he just said, or perhaps Thomas felt changed for saying it, but he continued, “And then you were gone, as much of a relief it was. you ran off somewhere and we had to move out because mom couldn’t afford the rent. We had to sleep on the floor grandma and grandpa’s living room. It took a few years, but we finally mustered the ability to find a rickety shack to live in, but there wasn’t enough room, so mom always slept on the living room couch the whole time.”
It seemed as if the years of Thomas’ life was finally concentrating to a single point in his brain awaiting to be pulled out and discarded into the trash can.
“Kids my age didn’t understand at first. After a while they did though, probably when the went home and asked their parents why Tommy’s dad was never around.”
Jeff’s eyes began to slowly point downward, just as Thomas reminded him, ” Look at me in the eyes dad. You come back now and not have even the slightest clue of the damage you left in your wake? I want you to know. I want you know how many times I wondered, what was wrong with me? Why else would my own father refuse to be in my life?”
Jeff’s stared back into Thomas’ stern gaze, softly said, “Thomas…please.”
With emotion showing in his face, Thomas angrily continued. “No. I was a kid! You know what its like to constantly have that itch in the back of your mind? Where’s dad at? Because after a while, I didn’t care if you came home. And after you finally died, I noticed that there was suddenly peace. I didn’t have that constant worry in my head that you would come back and somehow wreck my life again, I just got used to you being out of it. When a 40 year old man dies, people always wonder, and they always ask why? No, it wasn’t a heart attack, it wasn’t some tragic car wreck, it was a mountain of pills. Hey everyone, that’s the mantle I stood under. That’s the name that I have, Harper… Jesus Christ…I wish you were different, I wish you were like all of my friends’ dads.”
“…So did I.” Jeff replied with glassy eyes filled with the tears of a lifetime.
With such a small statement, Thomas felt everything collapse within him, all the anger, all the pain. It wasn’t fixed, it wasn’t healed, but it was finally acknowledged by the man who caused it.
“Thomas, I’m sorry for allowing myself to become ensnared by things. I never truly wanted any of those things to happen, but to be honest, I felt powerless against it. I felt like no matter how hard I tried there was some handcuff attached to me pulling me to a place I never wanted to go. I never felt normal because I felt this emptiness, like pins and needles in the back of my neck. They would only go away when I was high. I only felt normal when I was high. I thought I was managing it, but it ended up destroying me and I missed out on what would have been the best part of my life. “
“I’ve had such a shadow hanging over me.” Thomas said. “I feel like my whole life has been just a challenge not to repeat my father’s mistakes. I’ve held in such a bitterness about you. The envy of my peers ate at me. Their 16th birthdays were filled with new cars and happiness, while mine was working in the kitchen of a Cici’s pizza. It’s been this unquenchable bitterness my whole life. I’ve never been happy with myself about that, and it wasn’t till I was an adult that I started to understand the nature of addiction.”
Thomas slowly, but forcefully breathed in the air in a way he’s never breathed in before. As if he just emerged from the ocean moments away from drowning. As if to remove a jacket of malevolence, Thomas stared intently into the glassy, tearful eyes of his dead father from the welling eyes of his own and felt a sense of closure for the first time in his life.
“Tommy…You were the best thing that ever happened to me and I wished I could go back and right my wrongs, but I can’t… I’m getting exactly what I deserve, I just don’t want you to hate me.”
“Dad…” Thomas musters through a broken emotional voice. “I don’t hate you.”
Thomas and his father both step forward at the same time and hug each other. Jeff says, “You’re a better father than I ever was. You’re going to be fine once this is all over. In the meantime, I believe it finally time for me to get out of here.”
Thomas stood quietly with tears in his eyes as he watched his father peacefully walk toward the bright horizon at the edge of the garden, the bloom of the brightness slowly engulfed him as he disappeared into the light with his right hand raised as a signal of goodbye.
Thomas sat back down on the bench that faced the fountain. He gazed forward at the water being shot upward from the jets, following parabolic paths downward and splashing against the surface of the pond. The water doesn’t choose where it goes, it doesn’t pick where it splashes. In midair, the water doesn’t make a sharp turn or decide it wants to go back into the jet, it follows the forces around it. Thomas felt like a droplet of water, spewed into his life as a child. He never chose his parents, his home, or even his country of birth, but was spewed into it nonetheless. With every drop of water shooting into the sky, there is always one before and one after. The way a drop of water hit the pond always altered the way the next one hit, then the next one, and then the next. It seems oddly ironic, that we are so fascinated with things that we have no control over that we end up ignoring the things where we do.
Thomas felt a stoic feeling of warmth around him, as if an emotional loose end has finally been tied down, a thorn in his side was finally gone. Thomas stood up and began to walk back to the hospital, but this time he used a different route. Thomas cut off of the gravel path and began heading into the grass heading directly for the exterior brick walls of the hospital. Thomas stopped short of the wall by about a foot, staring intently through the window at eye level. Thomas turns and starts walking along the brick wall, peering through every window he passes slowly while avoiding the large bushes placed almost directly against the brick wall. Thomas eventually gets to a window that he is satisfied with, the interior is a patient’s room. He doesn’t know the patient, but remember’s the location. Standing inches outside the window, he calmly steps his left foot forward toward the brick and walks forward. The brick wall accepts his foot without resistance as if it’s a silk curtain, he takes another step further into the wall as his body begins to be slowly engulfed peacefully by it. Taking another step, Thomas’ left foot finally lands firmly onto the linoleum of the patient’s room. Thomas is now walking at a regular pace, taking no effort to avoid the tables, chairs, and even the patient’s bed, walking straight through them without any resistance. Exiting the patient’s room Thomas makes a quick left and begins to head down the hallway.
Thomas is walking with a new fearlessness as he rounds the corner to cardiology. As if he was completely oblivious to his surroundings, Thomas brushes up against doctors, and nurse carts, and visitors as his body passes through as if his composition was made up of nothing but smoke. Thomas spots the words “Cardiology” lining the top of a set of double doors, he found his destination. Stepping through the doors, Thomas made an abrupt left and stood outside operating room #1. As he stepped forward and walked through the double doors without making any impact. Thomas stared over his own body as the surgeons busily operated on his heart.