“You think that’s what was on my mind when I was dying?”
“You always were a tattletale.”
I can’t help smiling at that. Her words take us back to a time when there was no silence between us. Suddenly we’re six and seven again, fighting in the smelly backseat of Mom’s VW bus. “You’re right. And, yes, I told her.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me to wake up. It’s good advice.”
Stacey reaches out, brushes the hair from my eyes. “When you were . . . sleeping, I didn’t think I’d get another chance with you.”
I don’t know what to say except, “I know.” The nurses have told me that her devotion to me was legendary.
“I was there at the hospital, you know,” she says. “From the second we heard. I almost never left.”
It’s what I would have done for her, too. “I missed you, Stace.”
She finally smiles. “I missed you, too.”
By the end of my first week at home, I’m ready to scream.
I spend the better part of my days on pain pills, trying not to move. Everything hurts, but pain is not the worst of it. What I hate most are the nights.
I lie in bed, staring up at my ceiling, trying to tell myself that the rainforest was a construct of my own mind. Before the plane crash, I was lost and lonely, desperate to want someone and be wanted in return. I can admit it now; losing both my sister and my husband unhinged me somehow. Without them, I was adrift.
So I made up the man I wanted to love me and the boy I wanted to love.
In the cold light of day, it makes sense. I was tired of hot, dry Bakersfield; I imagined a magical world of green grass and towering trees and impossible mist.
On paper, it pencils out, makes perfect sense in a psych 101 kind of way. At night, however, it’s different.
Then, the darkness—and my loneliness—just goes on and on and on. For the first time in my life, I can’t read to pass the time. Every hero becomes Daniel; every heartfelt moment makes me sob. Even movies are useless. When I turn on the television I remember Miracle on 34th Street and the Grinch; not to mention the fifteen Winnie-the-Pooh videos we watched.
God help me, in the darkness, I believe. Over and over again, I try to “return.” Each attempt and failure diminishes my hope.
I can’t stand it.
It’s time for me to either fish or cut bait. I’ve spent too long floating on a drug sea, dreaming of one place, and sitting in another. I need to believe in my rainforest, to find it, or to let it go. It’s a cinch what my shrink would advise. There’s no room in the real world for the kind of fantasy realm I’ve imagined. But I keep thinking of moments—the way Daniel and I said “fate” at the same time; the way our wish on the star was the same. The television broadcast with Stacey. I didn’t hear her broadcast from my coma; I saw it. And there’s the fix-it list Bobby had on Christmas morning. Maybe that was somehow real. If it was, I was there, however impossible that sounds.
What I need is evidence. And if there’s one thing a librarian can do, it’s research.
Throwing the covers back, I hobble out of bed, get my crutches and then turn on all the lights. In the garage, I find what I’m looking for: my files. I take several—the Pacific Northwest, Washington, and North American rainforests. Clutching the manila folders to my side, I return to the desk in my living room.
Beneath a light bright enough to dispel shadows and sharp enough to illuminate the truth, I begin laying out my materials, organizing them into piles. Then I turn on my laptop and search the Web.
It doesn’t take long to identify the core problem.
All I know about my dream life is that it took place in a rainforest in Washington State. According to a Googled statistic, the Olympic National Forest is roughly the size of Massachusetts.
And I am trying to find one—imaginary—lakeside town that probably has a population of less than one thousand people.
Oh, and let’s not forget that I don’t know the name of the town, or the lake, or Daniel and Bobby’s last name.
A woman less impressionable might say that if fate exists, it doesn’t want me to find my way back.
Still, I trudge ahead, unwilling—unable, maybe—to give up. I make my own map, underline possible towns and lakes and call information for each city I can find. There is no listing for a Comfort Fishing Lodge. Then I call realtors. There are two fishing lodges for sale in the area; I’ve gotten e-mail photos of both. Neither is the one I remember.
Finally, nearly eight hours after I begin my search, I shut my laptop and lay my head on top of it, closing my eyes. By now, the walls of my living room are studded with pieces of paper—maps, photographs, articles. The place looks like a task force command center.
And none of it helps.
I don’t know exactly how long I remain there. At some point, I hear a car drive up.
I glance up, and see Stacey’s van pull into the driveway.
I grab my crutches and head for the entry.
At her first knock, I open the door.
She is on my porch, holding a casserole pan in gloved hands.
It’s Mom’s chicken divan recipe. Chicken, cheese, mayonnaise, and broccoli. “I guess you forgot about them restarting my heart.”
Stacey pales. “Oh. I didn’t . . .”
“I’m just kidding. It looks great. Thanks.” I wobble around and make my way back to the living room.
Stacey veers into the kitchen, probably puts the casserole in the oven, and then joins me. In the living room, she comes to a dead stop. Her gaze moves from wall to wall, where papers hang in grape-like bunches.