Face Down and Freefalling
He stood on the side of the road in the shadows, rain pouring down all around him, drenching his body to the bone. He waited, listening for the sound of tires screeching as they made their way around the bend. Lightning crashed somewhere in the distance, setting the night sky on fire. That’s when he saw them – the beat-up passenger car hurling down the darkened highway, oblivious to the semi approaching at full speed from the opposite direction.
He screamed out to them, trying to warn the driver in the passenger vehicle of their impending doom, but his voice was drowned out by the loud downpour of the rain and sound of the booming thunder. Horrorstruck, he was forced to watch in agony as the two vehicles collided, glass shattering and metal on metal wrapping around until it was hard to tell where one vehicle started and the other ended.
He ran to them, his body heavy and muscles aching as he ran through the thick mud up an embankment and across the slick highway. He had to do something, anything, to save them but in his heart he knew it was too late; no one could possibly survive an accident as bad as this one had been.
Frantically, he searched through the wreckage, looking for any sign that they were alive. Christ, there’s so much blood, he cried out in his head, as he attempted to search what he thought to be the front driver’s seat. He shielded his eyes from the rain with his hand, trying his best to see into the darkened shell of what was once a car. They were in there, he knew it. If only he could get to them…before it was too late…perhaps there’d be a chance… He had to see them again, had to hold them… “Please, God, let me find them!” he cried out, searching through the wreckage.
Thunder boomed loudly around him– closer now, shaking him to his soul. He shook both from the coldness of the rain as well as from the fear he felt deep inside. Suddenly the sky lit up once more from the flash of lightning and he saw them. They were there – just out of his reach! He reached out, calling to them, frantically trying to get to them before they were gone once more. His body ached as he extended his outstretched arms seemingly beyond their limits in an attempt to grab hold of them, but they were slipping away into the distance, into the far reaches of the darkness. “No!” he wailed, trying with all his might to push himself into the wreckage and follow them into the darkness. “Please, God, No!” But it was too late, they were gone. He couldn’t reach them. Not then, not now. “I’m so sorry! I’m so, so sorry!” he wept, “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault!”
Aidan twisted and turned in his bed, sweat drenching his body, as he cried out in his sleep. Suddenly, he was jolted awake by the realization that someone was touching his arm. Running on pure instinct, he grabbed hold of his would-be attacker’s wrist, gripping it tightly.
“Ow! Owww! That hurts! Let go of me!” Emmy cried out in pain as she slapped and punched at Aidan’s hand and forearm.
Surprised, Aidan jumped back, quickly releasing his grip. His heart was pounding and he breathed heavily. “Just a dream,” he thought to himself, as he tried to regain some composure,“Just another fucking dream.”
He looked up at Emmy who sat rubbing her sore wrist where he’d grabbed her. Bruises were starting to form in the outline of fingers on her milky skin.
“Sorry,” he told her quietly, ashamed by what he’d done. His eyes were rimmed with tears as he sat thinking about the nightmare he’d just had.
“Bad dream, huh?” she asked him, pulling up the chair she’d brought into the room and having a seat alongside his bed.
Aidan grunted softly.
“Want to talk about it?” Emmy asked.
He shook his head, not wishing to relive the nightmare again.
“Okay,” Emmy told him, “but if you change your mind, I’m here.” Emmy said.
“Thanks,” Aidan replied, quietly.
“Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares, according to Gandhi,” she said, smiling warmly.
“You believe that?” Aidan asked, half-sitting up in his bed.
“I do,” Emmy said, simply, then thought for a moment and asked, “And you, Aidan? What do you believe?”
“I don’t know anymore,” Aidan confided. He looked up into her eyes – big, brown and fully of compassion – lovely.
“That’s the issue at hand, then,” Emmy said, softly. She placed her small hand on his, gave it a squeeze. “We have some work to do – you and me – if we’re going to help you believe in something again.”
“In what?” he asked.
“In life,” Emmy replied, “that its worth living. That you are worth living it.”
“You believe that, too, do you?” Aidan asked.
“I do,” she told him. “I really do.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” he told her, “you don’t know what I’m worth or what I’m not worth.”
“Well then you’ll have to tell me,” Emmy replied.
“My life, what there was of it,” he said, “is the stuff nightmares are made of.” He paused, locked eyes with her, “You really think you’re up to delving into the depths of it?”
“I thought after last night, Aidan, that you’d realize I’m not afraid of anything,” Emmy told him, grinning. “Besides, deep down, I don’t think you’re as bad or as worthless as think you are.”
“No?” Aidan asked, “Why do you think that?”
“Because, Aidan,” she told him gently, leaning forward in her chair, “I can see it in your eyes –the goodness in those sea greens of yours.”
He blinked, taken aback by what she’d said.
“You know,” Emmy went on, “they say the eyes are the windows to one’s soul.”
“I’m not sure I still have one,” Aidan told her. “A soul, that is.”
“Aidan, everyone has a soul. You may lose your way along the path in life but you never lose your soul. Not really.”
Aidan pondered this thought. “How can you know for certain?” he asked.
“I just do,” she replied.
“And how does one live not knowing for sure?” he asked.
“That’s part of the journey of life,” Emmy said. “We don’t give up, we don’t ever give up.”
“But can’t one’s soul become fractured or corrupt?”
“Well, yes, but one always has a choice to make it whole again, become pure of soul, so-to-speak.”
“How?” Aidan asked.
“That’s something we’ll have to work on together,” she replied, simply.
Aidan laid his head back on his pillow, staring at the ceiling as he thought about what Dr. Brooks had just said. Could there be some good left in him somewhere? Was he really the soulless being he thought himself to be or was there more to him than he realized?
He closed his eyes for a moment in an effort to squelch all the negative feelings he was having about himself.
“You know,” Emmy said, “I was reading your military records a little while ago while you were sleeping…”
“And?” Aidan asked, turning his head to look at her.
“And you,Aidan O’Brien,” she smiled broadly, putting emphasis on the fact that she’d found out his last name, “you, my friend, were quite the hero; saved a lot of men.”
“Got even more of them killed,” he retorted.
“You blame yourself for those men losing their lives,” Emmy said quietly.
Aidan looked at her, his eyes rimmed with tears as he nodded.
“Why?” she asked.
“I was their sergeant,” he stated, “I was in charge. It was my duty to get them in and out alive and in one piece.”
“And you did,” Emmy told him. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have awarded you with a medal of valor.”
“No,” Aidan shook his head, “I failed.”
“But you survived,” Emmy told him. “And many of the men in your company did as well, thanks to you.” She paused, waiting for a reaction from him. When he just sat there quietly, she went on, “A lot of men lost their lives over there and continue to do so today. That’s war. You can’t blame yourself for their deaths unless you were the one that pulled the trigger to end their life.”
Aidan didn’t answer, just shook his head in disagreement.
“Is that why you feel you need to take your own life? Because of the guilt you are feeling over losing those men in your troop?” Emmy knew she’d hit on a nerve with this one, she could see it in his face as he struggled to keep his emotions in check.
Aidan couldn’t answer her, wouldn’t answer her. The guilt over losing his men was just one in a long list of things that he blamed himself for. He knew in his heart that as long as he lived others around him would continue to die.
Finally, after a moment, he looked up at her and asked, “Your cousin, did he make it out alive?”
“No,” Emmy replied, quietly, “he didn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” Aidan told her, meaning it.
Emmy shook off her own emotion and changed the subject back towards him, “You did three tours in Afghanistan. Why?”
I already told you,” Aidan replied, annoyed, “the judge…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Emmy interrupted, “I know, but the court only ordered you to serve two years.You did six. Why?”
“I had nothing to go back to,” he stated, realizing it for the first time.
“No wife or girlfriend waiting back home?”
Aidan shook his head. “Not then,” he said, mournfully, “and not now.”
‘Not ever again, thanks to me,’ he thought to himself.
“I find that hard to believe, a good-looking guy like yourself,” Emmy smiled, trying not come off as if she was flirting –which she wasn’t, but she couldn’t help but notice just how physically attractive he really was. She shook off the thought, attempting to be the professional doctor she was paid to be.
Aidan cleared his throat, looked away. He didn’t see himself as attractive. On the contrary, he found it hard to believe that anyone in their right mind could find anything good-looking about someone who caused such pain and suffering and death. He just wanted this to all end; wanted all the pain and all guilt he felt to stop. “Christ, why won’t they just let me end it all now?” He pleaded in his mind.
Emmy could see the pain he was in, knew she needed to get his mind off it and on to more positive things. She reached out her hand, gently touched his shoulder, “One day at a time, remember?”
Aidan didn’t answer, just closed his eyes tightly shut.
“Aidan, promise me,” Emmy told him, more sternly now, “promise me you’ll give it another day. I know I can help you, I know I can help make the hurt go away - if you will only trust me.”
Aidan swallowed hard, opened his eyes and looked at her. “One day,” he sighed, “I promise.”
Emmy smiled at him. “Good, then I’ll let you eat your lunch and I’ll stop by to check on you later.”
She stood, taking the chair with her, and headed for the door. “Be good,” she told him, with a grin.
Aidan nodded, returning her grin, as he watched her exit the room. “One more day,” he sighed to himself out loud.