Neverland

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Jeanne winced as she twisted the lid back on to the orange bottle of Namenda, accidently hitting her wrist on the counter in the effort. The three little pills helped her a great deal, though it was still difficult to remember what she had for breakfast on some days. In reality, she only knew they worked because that’s what she was told; having been on this medication for some time now she was not exactly in touch with her body’s natural state. It was okay with her though. These days there were so many things that she couldn’t recognize that were simply a matter of the changing times, not her deteriorating memory, and after recently losing Bill to a heart attack she preferred this drug induced happiness and the illusion of clarity. Her thoughts began reeling back to Bill, as she struggled to recall his face, his smile, and the fifty-three years they spent together. This was a deadly trap that only led to the crushing realization that he was gone and she was swiftly going, so the phone’s crisp, bright ring was welcome.
“Hey Mom, its Rachel,” a tense, alert voice began. Her only daughter’s voice was normally a comforting, collected sound and Jeanne quickly picked up on the change in tone and braced for bad news.

“Hello sweetie, what’s going on?” she said, getting right to the point and not wanting any delay.

“It’s Alexa. We were at the park today and, well, there’s been an accident. She’s at the hospital right now and I’m sitting here waiting but I really don’t know what’s going to happen to her. Oh, Mom, I just don’t know what to do, she’s my baby.” Rachel poured out in one rushing breath.

“Shh, shh, I’ll be right over. We will deal with this together. I love you, honey. It’ll be alright.” Inside, Jeanne was overwhelmed as she hurriedly gathered her coat and purse. She quickly thanked God that she still had her driver’s license, and then tried to fight off the growing tide of panic. She knew once she entered the hospital and was by her daughter’s side she would need to be strong; that’s what they did for each other. As for the drive over, her thoughts raced and she wondered what had happened to her granddaughter at the park that could have led to this. She tried to rationalize it to herself, maybe she just hurt her leg or broke a wrist and Rachel was overreacting. Things like that happened to kids all the time. Jeanne felt a twinge of jealously at this youthful resilience and resented her frailty, but instantly felt selfish for even allowing these thoughts in her head when there was an impending crisis at hand.
If anything was seriously wrong with Alexa, Jeanne knew her daughter’s world would be shaken monumentally. Rachel was strong, but Jeanne knew the intensity of motherhood and particularly everything Alexa’s presence had helped Rachel through, and literally could not fathom the damage that losing her would cause. As she pulled into the parking garage, her heart pounded with compassion and a mother’s love, and she put on a mask of bravery. Jeanne walked coolly into the waiting room and asked for Rachel Henson, gathering her daughter into arms before she dissolved into a child again.

***
The cool, late afternoon breeze swirled lazily through the trees as Rachel chatted with Kristen and Julia and absently watched her six year old daughter play in the sandbox. This had been their Thursday afternoon routine for the summer, and despite the fact that it was October and beginning to get chilly, no one wanted to resign to the weather when there were still a few good days left. Kristen’s twins, Cole and Derek, fought playfully over the little bucket and shovel, and Julia’s quiet daughter Leah drew little round flowers in the sand while Alexa looked on, admiring the artwork. The children talked quietly between each other at times, telling secrets it seemed, and at other times raised their voices with the carefree abandon only six year olds can express. Smiling towards them, it was the picture of serenity in a mother’s mind, and Rachel saddened at the thought of it all coming to an end when the winter quickly came upon them.
Turning her attention towards her friends, Rachel dropped into the conversation they were having while she gazed off; attempting to appear as though she’d been listening the whole time.
“So I got home, and there were flowers on the table, and Jeff had a beautiful dinner set for the two of us. It was just the sweetest thing. There was no way I could stay mad. I mean, all that effort just to make up for missing my dad’s birthday dinner? He’s such a great guy.” Julia sighed, getting lost, yet again, in the storybook perfection of her eight year marriage. Kristen exchanged a similar story and knowing smile, and they both turned to Rachel with sympathetic looks. It had been six years since Alexa’s birth, and four since Rachel had seen her daughter’s father. The shadows and darkness of these past few years of Rachel’s life were finally beginning to lift, and it was all because Alexa was there to grow, smile, and otherwise to simply give Rachel a purpose.
Rachel had always been grateful that her daughter did not have her father’s eyes, because she knew that they would have haunted her. The last time she saw those eyes was through the tinted, barred window of a police car through blood and tears the day he hit her for the last time. He was now in prison serving a ten year sentence for domestic abuse. Rachel really did not know what she would do when he was finally released, but had a restraining order set out against him, and for now was content to forget about something so far away. Focusing on the present, she set her eyes on her beautiful, miraculous daughter, not even noticing the pity being poured out on her by her two friends who could never grasp her concept of moving on.
***

There was nothing Alexa loved more than spending her afternoon at the park with her friends on a sunny, warm day like today. She loved everything about the outdoors; the flapping, brilliant butterflies, the sweet birdsongs that seemed like they were meant to be sang together, the stray leaf that got stuck in her hair. It was all part of a world that seemed perfect and blissful to a six year old girl, despite her sobering earlier years with an abusive father and caring but wounded mother. For now, she built sandcastles and laughed with her friends, imagination running wild. They were pirates, and the green grass was the open sea. Then, twenty minutes later they were cops and robbers, running around, frantically defending the city in their minds. After a while, they tired of this fame and wanted to do something different.

“I know!” yelled Alexa, her voice squealing with excitement, “Let’s play grown-ups!” She always wanted to grow up, fascinated by her mother’s makeup, stockings, high heels. She resented being called a “baby” by anyone and constantly tried to act older, something her mother always found endearing.

“This always makes me think about my relationship with my little brother who was a stillborn,” Alexa said, quoting something funny sounding she heard one of her mother’s friends saying the other day. “Doesn’t that seem grown up, guys?” she asked, and her friends confirmed this with enthusiastic nods.

“I can’t believe you missed the dinner! You must have been on another ‘meeting’ with your secretary, dirty cheater!” shouted Leah, imitating a conversation her mother had with her father earlier in the week. Soon, Cole and Derek joined in, arguing about their financial problems, each taking the role of a frustrated adult.

“It’s funny being grown up!” Cole laughed absentmindedly.

“My daddy used to throw things at Mommy,” Alexa began. “I think they were playing catch, but she was never very good at the catching part.”

“Like this?” Cole asked and heaved a stone at Alexa. It was never meant to hit her. It was never his intention for her to fall to the ground, blood pouring from her head like a fountain of youth. Before the world went black, Alexa screamed in pain, a sound that reminded her all too much of her mother’s sharp cries when she played a sick game of catch with her father, or her grandmother’s breathless and frequent sobs since Grandpa had passed away. Quickly Rachel and Julia rushed to Alexa’s side, while Kristen grabbed Cole by the wrist and in a high pitch voice demanded why he would do something like that. “We were playing grown ups,” he replied plainly, confused by all the action and the screams and blood, “and Alexa said that’s what grown ups do.” When Rachel overheard her face grew pale as the moon and she held her broken daughter’s hand, getting no reaction from the now unconscious little girl. At this point the ambulance was pulling into the park. Rachel explained what happened in a blur and in the next moment found herself sitting in the emergency room, wondering what was to become of her daughter.
***

It was a brain aneurism, the doctor explained, that had put Alexa in this state. The blow from the rock had merely set it off. Luckily, all procedures were carried out quickly, and Rachel clung desperately to the hope that the doctor’s skilled hands could pull Alexa through this disaster. When her mother got there, Rachel fell into her embrace, crying softly to the one person who thoroughly understood the weight of the situation and could make her feel as comforted as a child again. Rachel wondered how her mother could be so strong, so stable. Then again Alexa seemed to think the same thing about her own mother and Rachel knew this was by no mean s a reality. Taking Rachel’s hand, Jeanne led her past the ward where her own husband had lay dying not three months ago to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Waiting by Alexa’s small mechanical bed, the doctor explained in a soft yet urgent tone that Alexa was out of the critical period and still alive. A great joy grew inside both mother and grandmother as if a weight had been lifted off trembling shoulders.
***

Six months later, Alexa could make sounds. After the severe brain damage she suffered this was a huge step, and everyone agreed it was quite a triumph. She could eat on her own and used certain signs to communicate with people when words failed her. Most importantly, her smile was still there. Her bright, sparkling innocence had been left unscathed, and for that Rachel and Jeanne were eternally grateful. As her own form of therapy, Jeanne had been working with Alexa on reading and writing and noticed her own mind beginning to sharpen now that she had a purpose again. Before the accident, Jeanne lived to enjoy Alexa’s presence and support Rachel, but now she was there to learn with Alexa, and in turn give her the best life possible. Strangely enough, the mental workouts she gave Alexa worked on Jeanne as well, and she found herself filling a much lower Namenda prescription weeks later.

One Thursday, as the April showers lifted and the trees began to show signs of spring, Rachel decided to take Alexa to the park, as was the former tradition. They hadn’t been to this place since the accident, and pulling into the parking lot, Rachel felt a pang of anxiety and a flood of recently subsided pain. She knew she had to get over this, for Alexa’s sake if nothing else. As Rachel parked her daughter’s wheelchair next to a blossoming dogwood tree, Alexa looked up at her. She smiled at the sandbox and laughed as her mother made a sandcastle because she knew it wasn’t nearly as good as one that Alexa could make. Somewhere inside her scarred, damaged brain, her imagination was waking up and she remembered the games of pretend that she always loved to play here. It was such a wonderful escape from the strange world she lived in every day. Grabbing her mother’s hand, Alexa focused hard and choked out, “Mommy, I don’t ever want to grow up.”





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