Darkness envelops me. Sounds are becoming distant. My vision, fine only moments ago, begins to blur. My mother sits next to me crying out my name. I see her mouth move as she speaks to me… slowly, her face begins to fade. The bright lights grow dim until I can no longer see. I close my eyes: blackness.
My mind is still functioning, unlike my other senses. I try to recall the suppressed events that occurred bringing me to this place. Where am I? Why am I here? I remember the beach, feeling the breeze from the sandy shore, watching the rhythm of the crashing waves, the sensation of the water spraying my face as I wiggled my toes into the sand, laughing at its’ tickle. Then the memory of what happened returns.
There! Maybe forty feet away from the edge of the coastline, I see him. A young boy, who has strayed out too far, is struggling. I watch as a large wave comes in, sweeping him out further. His head bobs in the water like the cork on a fisherman’s line. He is caught in the undertow. I spin around quickly to look for the child’s parents.
My mom is sitting in the same beach chair we’ve had since I was a kid, favorite book in hand. It’s what I don’t see that causes me to spring into action. The boys’ parents are nowhere in sight. Mom is too far away to attempt saving him; she doesn’t even see him! I’m a good swimmer… I have to go in.
I call out over the sound of the crashing waves. “Mom! The boy! He’s caught in the undertow!”
Mom jumps up from her chair yelling out for me to stop but I’m already on the move. I dash out between waves as they hit the shallows of the coast line, then when I hit the deeper spot, I begin to swim. In the distance, I can hear my mom. “Jilly! Jillian, no!”
Jillian: that’s my name. Jillian. The fog of the event begins to clear, my memory ebbs like the tides. I’m seventeen, a senior at Fontainebleau High School. I’m on the Color Guard Team and I have a boyfriend, Neil. We’ve been together since middle school. Our love for each other seems infinite.
My fleeting thoughts return to what brought me here; the boy drowning now five feet in front of me. I can feel every muscle in my arms burn as I fight against the oncoming waves. When I am within inches of him, I reach out to grab him. He is no longer in front of me. Spinning in a complete circle in the water, my heart pounding from adrenaline, I realize… he’s gone under. Taking in a deep breath, I go down in an attempt to find him. I can’t see; the water is too murky! I use my hands, sweeping them out in front of me, searching through the water for something, anything I can touch that will remotely make me think I’ve got him. Nothing… I need air.
As I head for the surface, I feel the tug on my leg. Reaching down, I try to grab hold of his hand wrapped around my leg. I know he’s panicking, he doesn’t release his grip. He pulls me further down. I am struggling to pull out of his grasp to reach fresh air. I jerk my leg back and forth, kicking at him. Gulping the salty, muddy water, I feel my lungs fill with a heaviness that pulls me deeper into the Gulf. My arms and my body become limp. The only thing that comes to my mind now is that we are both going to die today; then it is dark.
The sound of a siren brings me to semi-consciousness. Turning my head slowly, I see my mom wrapped in her beach towel. She grabs my hand, giving it a tight squeeze. “Stay with me, Jilly. We’re almost there.”
It’s funny, the things that cross your mind when your life is slipping away. Mama B – that’s what all of us on the flag team call her – seems to be the only name she responds to lately. I smile up at her, returning her squeeze. “Mama B,” I whisper.
My chest still holds the weight of the salty, murky water that fills my lungs. I am struggling for air; gasping for each short breath. The medics have put an oxygen mask over my face but it doesn’t seem to help. I remember feeling the painful slams of their fists as they tried to revive me on the beach before loading me into the ambulance. They think they have stabilized me long enough to get me to the hospital.
Time has no meaning. I flash forward from the ambulance to being on this table. With my last functioning thoughts, memories flood through me the same way the Gulf water flooded my lungs.
I will my eyes open. Mom is by my bedside. My lungs are pumped to expel the water, my brain straining to perform, my heart weak… dying. I can barely hear one of the doctors as he talks to Mom.
“She was under for too long. Her body is too strained to fight for life. Even if there is a chance, she will have sustained brain damage. There was just not enough oxygen to her brain for too long a period of time. I’m so sorry. We won’t know the extent of the damage until…”
Gasping for breath, a very weak, “No,” escapes Mama’s lips. The shock of the events overtakes her. I extend my hand in her direction, watching as she collapses to her knees, wraps her arms around herself, releasing a gut-wrenching scream. I take my final breath, my heart beats no more, my body goes limp, my eyes slowly losing focus.
The doctors are pumping my chest. I can feel the pressure forcing down on my ribs but I feel no pain. Mama begs, pleads for me to stay with her. My eyes, straining before they close forever, do not leave her face. I stare at her for what seems like forever, embedding her strong features in my dying memory. I watch every tear from her eyes fall onto the sheet covering my legs. The beep, beep, beeping sounds begin to grow further apart until all I hear is one long beep.
My vision leaves me, but there are still faint sounds. I can hear Mama plead one last time. “Please, Jilly. Please don’t go. I love you. I love you so much. Please don’t leave me.” Then… utter and complete darkness.
Instead of looking up at the scene surrounding me, I watch from above, my soul free from the pull of gravity. All of my senses return. I hear every sound clearly, my vision is perfect. Mama B is being shoved.
“Move her out of the way,” the doctor yells to the nurse.
The constant long beeping from the machine that has wires attached to my chest, echoes in my ears. There are several tubes inserted into my arm, one tube down my throat and for one instant, I look at myself and think don’t give up!
The doctor calls out. “Code blue! Code blue! Grab the crash cart!”
Amid the chaos behind the doors of ER3, every trained professional leaps into action. The lab technician jumps out of the way, X-ray tech and respiratory aides step back against the wall. One of the nurses spins around grabbing the cart from behind her. She hits the switch lighting up the panel. Another nurse springs into action pulling my clothes completely off. It’s weird; I don’t feel embarrassed.
Mom is escorted through the ER doors where she collapses on the floor. Their attention returns to me. My focus is on Mom. She sits with her legs drawn to her chest, her arms wrapped around them. Her tears fall uncontrollably. All I want to do is comfort her, wrap my arms around her, do in death what I did when I was alive. How do I take away her pain? I can’t even imagine the emptiness she feels. She grabs her heart at my thought. I command my spirit to move towards her, to stroke her hair and close my arms around her in a final embrace. She shivers at my touch then stands to watch through the small glass window of the closed doors.
Behind me I see what I can only describe as a plume of light. It starts off small then begins to mushroom out. It circles, spins at an unbelievable speed, orbs of light flashing through what I think is smoke, but know it was more cloudlike, floating… waiting.
This is it. This is the white light you always hear about; the light people see when they die. It’s gotta be here to bring me to Heaven, right? It’s gotta be! Surely that’s where I’m meant to go. I haven’t done anything so terrible in my life. Heaven. Yes, it’s got to be heaven.
The brightness of the light is exactly like I have heard, yet it’s not as blinding as I think, or maybe my eyes are able to withstand its full brightness. I turn around to see my mother. She is still sobbing hysterically, frozen in the corner. I touch her cheek one last time because I know I am about to enter a place where I will have to await her arrival. I put my face to hers and whisper in her ear. “I love you, Mommy.”
Although her lips do not move, I clearly hear her respond. “I love you more, Jilly.” Mama collapses to the ground.
As I return to the room where I lay, I see one of the doctors holding a pair of paddles in his hand. I hear one of them yell, “Charge!”
Then another doctor calls out. “Clear!”
He slaps the paddles to my chest. I watch my body jump, arching chest up, off the table. They all turn to the machine that continues to carry the single beeping sound; there is a flat line that trails across the screen.
“Again,” someone yells. “Charge!”
Another doctor shouts, “Clear!”
The paddles slam to my chest again. Again, my chest arches off the table. The flat line remains. I see someone turning a knob on the machine that shoots electricity into my chest. “More,” he says.
I don’t wait any longer. Before he jolts my chest again, I decide it’s time. I whisk over the table where my body lies empty, in the direction of the light. Entering it is easier than I could have imagined. I know only from what I’ve heard that where I am going I will be happy. Feeling a great sense of peace, I know this is meant to be. Not wanting to leave Mama is the only thing holding me here.
My thoughts are to convince myself to move on. I will see my Uncle Bubba, my grandmother and all of my other family members that I have lost over my seventeen years on earth. I’m gone now. It’s time to see what is beyond this life; if there is anything! I enter the light, facing backwards, only to say good-bye to Mama. Together with the rest of the family, we will wait until it is her time to join us.
I am engulfed in the light, cloud mixture spiraling around me, discovering a floating staircase. The circular stones hover atop and below creating rows of steps; stretching in each direction endlessly. Each stone is accompanied by rows of doors. I must choose. Do I go up or down the stairway? Is there a reason to this rhyme of doorways? Which door must be opened?
A short distance below me, he appears. I strain my eyes knowing, hoping it’s my uncle.
“Follow me.” His voice is gentle, welcoming. “The name is Daniel. I am here to guide you on your journey.” He stands in a shadow, cloaked in darkness.
“Do I know you? You look familiar.” He does not have to answer. He visits me often in my dreams. “Where are you taking me?”
“We’re only going where you have already been. It is your life’s path, your predetermined choices, your destiny. Trust me.” He extends hand, pointing just below where we stand.
“There… that is your door. Enter there and enter eternity.
Confusion hits me. Not fully understanding, I take three steps down the marbled stone. A door knob, circular with a raised braided edge, the setting oblong with an antique style keyhole, catches my eye. I reach for the knob, turn it and swing the door open, entering… darkness.
I am Jillian.