I was a whole 20 years old, naive and innocent, married and just had given birth to a beautiful, healthy child just hours before. I didn't know what to expect. I was scared out of my mind, feeling incredible pain and just wanted it all to go away. I think a part of me prayed to die as I laid there shivering under 8 heated blankets. I remember reaching for a nurse and whispering "help me" so low she couldn't hear me. The bed was being wheeled down a long hallway and through the typical swinging doors of the surgery room.
A mask was placed over my face and I panicked. I felt the blood flowing from my body. I knew I wasn't long for the world as I lay there bleeding to death. Fear tore at every inch of my soul. I scratched and clawed at the mask, feeling more and more faint. My eyes grew blurry, and I remember no less than 5 masked faces leaning over my head and telling me I needed to keep the mask on. I screamed and it came out more of a whimper. I was so weak I couldn't lift my arms anymore. They collapsed to my side and my eye lids closed. I couldn't keep fighting. My lips moved, but nothing came out. I remember crying out in my head, "God, please just let me die. I can't take it anymore. I can't do this. Let me die."
I got my prayer - and it was answered in an unusual sort of way. My Grandfather answered me.
I wasn't staring up at hospital lights anymore. The pain was gone. My hair was clean and hanging around my shoulders. I was standing in the middle of a grassy field with a split rail fence all around me. Daisies were speckled through the grass, and a cool blue stream eased its way past with only the faintest sound of a bubbling brook emitting from it. My feet were bare I noticed as I looked down. My skin was clean. I didn't have hoses and needles poking out of my arms, and the medical bracelet around my wrist wasn't there anymore. I was wearing a pale blue sun dress with little white and yellow flowers on it. A breeze lifted my hair and tossed it, but it was warm out and the sun felt heavenly. The breeze felt like a loving breath caressing my forehead.
I saw a man walking towards me in the distance. He was spry but elderly, I'd say around 70 or so. He wore a dark brown worn out old hat shading his eyes from the bright sun and a shirt that buttoned down in the front. His collar was starched and his cuffs were buttoned. His brown, dirty and worn slacks were held up by rainbow colored suspenders and his boots looked like they had walked many miles in their time. He had a rope over his shoulder and other than the Fedora not being a Stetson, he looked like a real, live cowboy. He sauntered up to me in the big field, a slight swagger in his bow legged stance. With one bony finger, he tipped the brim of his hat up and let the sun filter down onto his face. It was my Grandfather, Leland Vance.
It seemed like an eternity passed where he and I sat by the brook and talked like old friends. We walked in the woods and had lengthy conversations about life and love. He reminded me of certain things in life that I would miss. At the same time, we never left that field. I never moved my feet. I never took a single step.
I saw my father balancing me on his feet when I was just a little girl. I remembered my brother cleaning up my room as I watched from my cradle. I saw Lou and Laurie in the hall outside of our apartment door in Germany holding a casserole dish with tin foil over it. I felt my tiny little wooden shoes being slid onto my wiggling and kicking feet when I was a baby, barely a year old. I felt snow falling on my face for the first time. My mom held me tight and read a book to me as we rocked in her chair, the multi-colored knit afghan around us. I fell asleep on the couch while Dad was watching the news at around 4 years old and my father carried me to bed. I remembered my first kiss in the 6th grade, my first boyfriend named Victor, my Kindergarten teacher and her tape "X" on the floor, Cranky Cronk from the 2nd grade, Shandi Dillon from the 5th grade and all the friends, enemies and teachers I had over the years. I saw the school dances, the High School boyfriends, the disappointments and achievements, the triumphs and failures. I saw them all in that instant as we sat on the shores of the creek and wandered through the woods, and yet simultaneously we still stood in that grassy field.
It's so hard to explain all of this and even now I'm at a loss for words. When I stood there and sat reviewing my life, it skipped all over the place much like my blogs skip through the spans of time. I was a child, then a baby and then a teenager. I was married, and yet I was a toddler. I was an infant, child, girl, woman and lady all at once. The images swirled inside my head like stars in a blender.
Our walk in the woods and rest by the creek was over and we stood there in the peaceful meadow. I wanted to hug him and tell him thank you, but I couldn't seem to reach out for him. He tipped his hat back with one finger just a little more. He smiled at me with a broad smile filled with yellowed teeth.
"Well, Kiddo? Ya ready to go?"
He seemed to emit light in that moment, like the paintings from the Renaissance depicting angels. He began to have a faint glow all around him, outlining him as though the sun were setting behind him. He embodied a presence I could feel, powerful and loving. I wanted to go with him, but I didn't know where we were headed. More than ready to follow wherever he went, I replied.
"Go where, Grandpa?" Eagerly I awaited his response. The light behind him grew stronger and I could feel the force within him pulling me closer. He looked at me a long moment. His eyes pierced through to my soul and he read everything inside me. I could feel it as easily as if he were turning pages in my mind. He smirked at me before breaking into a wide smile. He reached up with his bony hand and touched my shoulder gently. He moved to stand beside me and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. I tried to look straight into the light now - but it was gone.
He thumped me on the back with his bony hand and I could feel the pride in his touch.
"Naw," he said to me after a long moment. "You aren't ready." He hugged me close to his side with that one arm and I felt a sense of dismay. I knew what would happen from here. He released his grip on my shoulder and took his place in front of me again. With the brim of his hat, he nodded his head toward whatever lay behind me in the distance. The light behind him brightened and he took a single step backward. "Go home, Kid."
The light grew brighter and he began to fade from sight. I wanted to cry out to him not to leave me, but my voice was tight. I couldn't speak. The light enveloped everything and he was gone. The last thing to fade from view was the tip of his old shoe.
I woke up from surgery then and looked into the faces of my mother and father. They stood over me, both bleary eyed and trying to cover their tears. They wiped feverishly at their faces, my Dad trying to conceal himself behind my mother.
"Hey Kid," my mother said to me smiling. She patted me on the back of my hand. She had no idea I had just been with her father. I didn't have the heart or the strength to tell her. Mom reached in and kissed me on the cheek.
"Hey, Kiddo," my father said to me. His voice sounded oddly familiar, like my Grandfathers.
I had begged to die and yet I lived. I had died three times during that brief dream and the doctors weren't sure I would actually pull through. All I remember was that all of the pain I had felt was at long last gone. I no longer feared anything, including death. My grandpa was there to take care of me. When I woke up, he was gone - and yet I knew he was still around.
I gained a new lease on life. I remembered all the things he had reminded me of in the woods and by the creek. There was a lot of good in the world and I had a lot of love all around me. I had reasons to live and things to do before I was ready to move on. He had known that. That's why he sent me back.
I know now that I wasn't ready to go then. I just hope he's there when I'm finally ready.