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I never gave much thought to time. Whether it really existed or if it was something we as humans had made up to organize our lives. I never really knew what it meant to wait and if time were really nothing, then surely waiting couldn’t exist either. It seems that though we as humans mark time in numbers with seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, the way we really measure time is through beginnings and ends, life and death. But what if death were frozen, neither to move on nor recede? What if there seemed to be no end but a continuous though seemingly lifeless existence? Would you wait to see if time would restart itself and life would move on again? No, I never gave much thought to any of that.
It was an ordinary Saturday just as every Saturday had always been. I woke up and made breakfast as Tempa snuggled up on the couch watching the morning cartoons. The two of us lived alone in a small farm house about five miles out from the suburbs and fifteen from the city where I worked as a secretary in one of the offices of a pharmaceutical corporation. Tempa attended a day care a few floors down from me.
I was busy scrambling a batch of eggs from the henhouse in the yard when I felt a tug on my pants.
“Momma I’s hungry,” she looked up at me with her big blue eyes full of concern.
“I know baby, breakfast is almost ready. Why don’t you go sit down?”
Tempa turned, her white blond curls bouncing as she shuffled over, slippers on her feet, and climbed into a chair, blanket still in hand.
“Momma?” she asked, mid-chew, as we sat together with eggs and toast.
“Oh yes, as soon as we’re done with breakfast and get ready, we’ll go out to the garden.”
“Yay! I’s done! I’s done!”
I smiled, patiently instructing her to finish her eggs and then we’d go get dressed.
This was how we spent most Saturdays that I was fortunate to have off, a good breakfast and then a day in the garden. We grew all sorts of plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers. Tempa even had her own section with one flower she took care of as if it were her own life. And that was where we found ourselves at half past noon, in the garden, me watering all the plants with the hose and Tempa with her small watering can sprinkle water over her special flower.
I was just about to spread fertilizer over the plants when I realized I had left the bag on the back porch of the house. “Sweetie, stay right here, Momma’s going to get some plant food.”
Tempa didn’t look up she just nodded her head and hummed as she continued watering her flower, tenderly stroking its petals as if touching the soft cheek of a child.
I turned and headed out of the garden glancing back ever so often to check for the little blond curls in the far corner. I reached the porch and found the fertilizer bag, slowly bending down to heave it into my arms and then heading back.
I didn’t see the blond head of hair in the corner where she had been before and at first I didn’t think much of it, “Tempa… honey… where did you go?” She had recently become fond of hide and seek and I assumed it was that that she was playing, “Tempa, baby, please come out, come help Momma feed the plants…baby?”
I’d started walking faster, reaching the garden, my baby no where to be seen, “Tempa! Tempa come out please! You’re scaring Momma!” And that’s when I heard it, a faint scream coming from the east field. I turned in time to see her little blond head disappear into the earth.
“Tempa! Tempa!” I screamed, a fire burning in me as I burst into a run towards the point where I’d seen my beautiful baby vanish. Horrified, I came to the place to realize a well cap had rotted and broken beneath her. All I could see was darkness.
I didn’t waste a moment; I leapt into the well after her. Plunging into the murky water, time seemed to go by as slow as it would feel watching the sun move across the sky. Seconds seemed like hours as my arms flailed, search the water for her. Finally my finger caught on her overalls and I grasped her in my arms, kicking the stone walls of the well to push myself to the surface.
I gasped in air, choking; my arms wrapped fiercely around Tempa’s chest. I knew she wasn’t breathing.
The water was high, not far below the ground and I was able to raise her over my arms, my feet against the walls holding my body up. I pushed her motionless body out and into the grass and by some means of which are unknown to me, managed to climb my way out. I immediately began CPR, now thankful the pharmaceutical company had required all employees take a class. Tears streamed down my face as I pushed down again and again on Tempa’s small chest and breathed air that I prayed would reach her lungs. I’d never been one much for religion, but in that moment I prayed that if there were something out there that it would please take pity on my baby and let her live.
Three minutes had gone by until finally water spurted from her mouth and Tempa’s little chest began to move up and down unsteadily, but she would not wake.
“Tempa! Tempa!” I screamed, pulling her into my arms and running to the house. I grabbed my keys, started my car and pealed out of the driveway and down the road calling 911 on my cell phone.
The ambulance met us half way and rushed us to the hospital where I waited for hours. When the doctor came out his face was full of mixed thoughts and emotions. I leapt to my feet, silent, sure my eyes on their own demanded I have answers.
“You child is a very peculiar case…” he sighed.
Case? CASE? I thought. She’s my baby, my little girl, she’s not just a child or a CASE. But I remained silent, waiting to hear what he had to say, tears beginning again to stream down my face.
“I’m sorry ma’am but being underwater and cut off from oxygen left Tempa in a coma. What is odd is that her brain activity shows every part of her brain has shut down except those that control her involuntary or automatic systems such as breathing and digestion. We have to run more tests, but it seems that though the basic systems needed for survival are still working, she may never recover.”
I felt my heart ripped right out of my chest, and from that moment I swore to myself I’d get my baby back.
It’s not easy to watch a mother loose a child, its even worse when their life is right there, their body still very much alive and yet there is nothing you can do to awake them from their slumber. Tempa however was a Sleeping Beauty unlike any other. We had been keeping her alive through feeding tubes, though the rest of her systems including her lungs, heart etcetera were working fine. But the oddest part of all was that over the course of the past ten years she did not grow, she did not change; her body remained exactly the same, as if she hadn’t aged a minute. She was now a thirteen year old girl in the body of a three year old child. Even as her doctor I searched every medical source and could find no sign of any such case in all of recorded history. That is until I came in contact with a German doctor who specialized in electro-stimulation as a way of “jump starting” the brain. He was so much intrigued by Tempa’s case that he insisted he come out and examine her himself in hopes that some of his studies could provide a possible treatment for Tempa’s condition.
I was surprised that even after so long, when told of yet another possible treatment, Tempa’s mother still had a light in her tired eyes, the slightest sign of lingering hope. It had broken my heart, as such cases often did, to watch the mother of a child spend weeks laying by their child’s side after an accident and then slowly go back to work, coming to the hospital to spend the night after they were done with their shift. Tempa’s mom had grown visibly more and more tired over the past decade. Her eyes had darkened and become tired, she moved more stiffly and quietly, like a ghost. Though as a doctor it would make the job easier to remain separated, I couldn’t help but become very attached to this case, to Tempa and her mother.
The German doctor came ironically on Tempa’s thirteenth birthday.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he gasped at the sight of Tempa. I briefed him on all our previous test results and treatments, “I think that, though it will be difficult procedure, we should implant a brain pace maker into specific areas of Tempa’s brain to stimulate activity in the areas that appear to be dead. It is all I believe that has a chance of having an affect on such a serious case.”
I repeated the doctor’s ideas to Tempa’s mother and she agreed on the procedure. Within days we had Tempa in the OR and ready for surgery. We would implant a brain pacemaker into her brain and hopefully stimulate the neurons enough to recover. It was a far reach, but our only shot at getting her back, we had tried everything else.
Time meant nothing to me anymore and age even less. But of course age is simply measured by time and thus would be meaningless without it. Both I had completely forgotten.
My beautiful baby girl had been brought into the OR five hours ago according to the clock on the wall, but that meant nothing to me. I just sat blankly and quietly outside the room in the hard plastic chairs of the hospital that no longer bothered me with their hard, flat, uncomfortable shape. The doctors said this was our last chance and I knew even with the doctor from Germany, that any positive result would be a miracle.
I’d taken to praying and attending church on Sundays, knowing that it was a miracle I needed and one that no person on this earth could provide me with. I wasn’t sure if I’d gotten a response or not, I was unsure of what to look for. Maybe having my baby still alive was a sign in itself. I took it to be and continued to do everything in my power to get her back and now, with nothing left in my power to do, I prayed.
I don’t know how much later it was that they moved her from the OR to a recovery room, it must have been days until she was moved back into her room. The procedure had shown no affect and I felt what was left of my hope slip through my fingers.
It was just another Saturday morning, as they had come to be over the last ten years. I didn’t have to work so I spent the day at the hospital, sometimes reading Tempa books or just stroking her hand, praying that something would change. At some point late that afternoon I’d fallen asleep and only woke when I felt the soft tug of fingers running through my hair. I was much to tired to wake up right away, and the fingers brushing my hair were so very relaxing, but they were shaking I realized after a moment. When I gained enough consciousness it came to me that I had no clue who would be doing that. I sat straight up with a sharp intake of breath cutting through my lungs.
“Momma?” whispered a sleepy voice almost inaudibly. The small hand shakily retreated to her side.
I couldn’t say a word, I just threw my arms around my baby, tears streaming down my face. A nurse came in at that moment, “Ms.- oh! Oh my! She-she-a miracle…” But I didn’t turn around. I just kept holding my baby close as she snuggled into my arms, not saying a word. At some point or another, the doctors came in and I had to let her go, still clutching to her shaking hand.
After some time her eyes slid shut, “Tempa? Tempa!”
“Ma’am,” spoke one of the doctors, his hand on my shoulder, “its alright, it’s normal for patients who have been in a coma to go in and out of sleep for some time. Recovery isn’t immediate.” He paused, “I must say though, you really have a miracle in your hands.”
It was a slow recovery, but a progressive one and unlike anything any doctor in the world had ever heard of. Tempa was a miracle in more ways than one. Her recovery in itself defied every odd, but most of all was the fact that her entire body had frozen in place, not a single mark of time. We stayed in the hospital for a few weeks longer, doing a lot of physical therapy to get her muscles strong again. After various check ups weeks and months following her recovery the doctor announced that her body had resumed its normal growth processes. It seemed as though my beautiful little girl was going to be just fine.
Until then I had never given much thought to time, but now I knew two things, our “time” here on this earth was limited and we could be taken at any moment, but time was like any other earthly element, it had its limitations and sometimes bigger things interfered. I didn’t know what had stopped Tempa from growing but I didn’t dwell much on it, we would figure things out as we went and the doctors were there to help. For the mean time I was simply happy to have her home again. Our first Saturday back Tempa had insisted we go out to the garden. I was afraid she’d be sad to see the place overgrown and so I was more than surprised when she simply crossed her little arms and said “huh, needs work.”
I laughed, scooping her up into my arms, and we toured the garden talking about which plants we would plant that spring. We’d come to the far corner when Tempa tugged on my shirt, “Momma! Momma look!” She pointed a little finger towards the very corner of the garden and at first I didn’t realize what she was seeing. Then I realized that amidst all the weeds and overgrown plants was Tempa’s special flower, it looked as if it had not aged a minute.