Words

June 9, 2012
By , Chicago, IL
“Promise me you’ll never forget that I…,” the young woman whispered.

“Promise what?” the little girl all but screamed.

But it was too late. The monitor flat lined, and the young woman’s heart had stopped. Blood no longer flowed to her heart, brain, and other organs. She wouldn’t say any more words, smile, or cry ever again. The room became so silent it was as if the life had been sucked out of it. The little girl stood motionless, hardly daring to breath. A doctor walked in and began to talk, but to the little girl the words sounded hollow, empty, like she was trapped in a dream and unable to wake up. The doctor left the room, and the little girl willed herself not to cry. But she couldn’t help it. She let the tears fall and run down her pale cheeks. She held the icy hands of her stony mother and didn’t dare move. She stood silently for what felt like eternity, but in reality was only a few minutes.
* * *

I thought to myself stop thinking about it, Morgan. It’s in the past. It was twenty years ago. There was nothing you could have done to stop it. You remember what the doctors said, the cancer spread too fast. It had been impossible to save her. For the third time that day, I wondered what my mother had been trying to say. Promise me you’ll never forget that I love you? No, that didn’t sound like something she would have said. She was ice, cold and hard. She would never have wasted her words on something like that. But I know if she was still alive she would be proud of me. I followed in her footsteps, and became a doctor just like her. And today I was going to make history, traveling back in time to the 1920s. Showing people how to use and recreate chemotherapy drugs. As soon as I brought the drugs back, the cancer technology in our time period would be one hundred years more advanced and my mother might have survived, along with hundreds of other people. I might not have to wait much longer to find out what the lost words were.
“Morgan, are you ready?” Sam said.
“Yes,” I replied softly.
I stepped inside the time machine. When I walked in I felt as if I had just run one hundred miles. I had been inside the time machine before, but I still felt small in its magnificent presence; it knocked the breath right out of me. The time machine was a soft blue color, like water. It smelled clean and new, the way a car smells when you first buy it. I sat down on one of the small seats that was attached to the side of the machine and buckled my seat belt. Sam came in after me and made sure everything was working properly. He sat down next to me and began to push different colored buttons; it looked like he was playing a complicated game. Then he stepped out of the time machine and quickly wished me good luck.
Slowly, I felt the machine begin to move, but none of the training I had done could have prepared me for what happened next. The machine was moving so fast that I couldn’t breath. Then something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen, the time machine flipped over and suddenly I was spinning. I frantically started pressing buttons, and Sam was saying words in what sounded like an alien language to me through the small radio. Then the machine stopped moving completely, and I felt it land on something solid. I opened the door and stepped outside. Out of nowhere, I heard the bullet of a gun race past my ear. Someone had followed me; I vaguely remembered my trainer saying something like this might happen, that one of the company’s enemies would try and stop me from returning to the past. She, however, had said the chances were slim. I heard another bullet barely miss my shoulder. I stood paralyzed with fear, not knowing where the bullets were coming from. But then reality snuck up behind me, pulled me down by the shoulders and threw me on the ground.
My body molded to the shape of the ground, and I lay motionless, the ground held on to me and didn’t let go. I waited and didn’t hear anything, counting the seconds and then minutes. Slowly, I began to let myself believe that the person who had followed me was gone. Once I had gotten my breath back, I got up and looked around. I couldn’t see anyone, but it was hard to believe that whoever had been there before, had left. I headed back to the time machine and sat down. I heard the hum of Sam’s voice, but I couldn’t register what he was saying.
“Morgan, Morgan!” Sam yelled.
“What?” I stammered back.
“What happened? Are you okay?” A million questions poured out of Sam’s mouth, a thunderstorm of words. Slowly, I told Sam what had just happened and then listened to the quiet buzz of the radio while he contemplated what we should do. He told me a series of buttons to press, but nothing happened.
“Morgan, I’m sorry to tell you that the time machine may have broken down. If that is the case then….you might be stuck wherever you are for a short while,” Sam said quietly.
Sam said “a short while,“ but I knew what that meant. It meant I could be stuck here, wherever I was, until the end of my life. I felt an invisible force tug at my heart, and I still couldn’t bring myself to speak in full sentences. My brain couldn’t process the idea of being stuck in the past.

“Where am I?” I pushed myself to ask.

“I’m figuring that out right now. Can you tell me what it looks like around you?” Sam asked.

I looked around and suddenly I felt like I was drowning, gasping for breath, clawing at the surface but unable to reach it. I recognized this place all too much.

“I know where I am…” I couldn’t believe I could even form those few simple words.

“Where?”
The hospital stood in front of me, a silver monster. This was the place where my mother had died twenty years ago, in the 1990s. This was where the cancer had eaten away at my mother’s brain and taken her life. This had to be some kind of joke, an experiment. Maybe this was just another practice exercise to see what I would do in this situation.
“The hospital,” I said barely above a whisper.
“The hospital where…?” he began.
“Yes, that hospital. Sam tell me now if this is some kind of joke, or experiment, please just tell me now.” I was surprised by the aggression in my words.
“I’m sorry Morgan. I wish I could say it is, but it isn’t.”

I still couldn’t believe this was happening.

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t know what the date is, so you don’t know if this is the day your mom passed away. It could be any day, in any year.”

“When will you know the what the date is?”

“I’m trying to figure that out right now, but it could take a while, because the time machine was damaged.”

“What should I do?” I asked again.

“It is possible that anything you do will alter the present day. You need to be careful and only move as much as you need to. Only touch objects that you need to touch. As soon as I know more about where you are and what happened to the time machine, we can make a better plan.”

“Can people here see me?”

“Yes, but they can’t see the time machine, so when you are inside the time machine they can’t see you.”

A few minutes later, I watched a little boy, no older then ten, walk out of the hospital. The look on his face was not a happy one. He looked pale and sad. Outside he took a breath and in that second I watched a little boy grow up. A once little child had just become an adult, all in the blink of an eye. I didn’t know what just happened inside the silver monster, but I didn’t need to. I could tell by the look on the now grown up boy’s face that something had happened to someone he loved and now he felt that he had to take charge; he had to become the adult of his family.
An invisible fist punched me in the heart. When we go to a hospital because someone we love is dying, we forget. We forget about the lies stained on our tongues. We do not represent our mistakes, they do not control us anymore. Instead we learn to move on, to forgive and forget. We enter a new world, a world where we live everyday like it’s our last and we make every single second count. We let our minds drift so far away that they poke holes in the sky. We are a butterfly in fall, stuck and confused.
This little boy reminded me so much of myself when I had come to this same hospital. I, too, had grown up too fast. I wanted to help the boy, to run up to him and hold him in my arms, tell him everything would be okay, that he would get through this, and in the end he would be stronger. But I couldn’t; I couldn’t interfere. I also couldn’t tell him that everything would be okay; I didn’t know if he would have a fairy tale ending. One of the experiences I hated most from when my mother was sick was people telling me it would be okay. They would say miracles happen, but they were wrong, miracles only happen in movies. I watched a single tear fall down the boy’s cheek and hit the ground with the impact of thousands of tiny raindrops.

“Morgan, I think I found something,” Sam said, pulling me back to reality.

I peel my eyes away from the little boy and talk into the small radio.

“What did you find?” I asked.

“You’re in the year 1991, and it’s March 17.”

“March 17, 1991? That’s two weeks before my mom came here,” I said as calmly as possible.

“Right, now I know what you’re thinking Morgan, you’re going to want to find your mom and make her come to the hospital sooner, but you can’t do that. Taking your mom to the hospital two weeks earlier isn’t going to save her. She was too sick. The doctor’s will tell you the same thing, and you will have had even less time with her then you did before. Anything you change could have a chain reaction so large that the present as we know it could be completely different.”

“I don’t care. I need to tell her, to see her again.”

“Morgan, many events have transpired today and you’re not thinking straight. Listen to me. If you tell your mom to go to the hospital and she lives, which I’m sorry to say is near impossible, then countless different events could happen. If she lives, then you would never have become a doctor, you said the reason you became a doctor was because you wanted to follow in your mom’s footsteps. If you never became a doctor you never would have traveled back in time, so then you would get stuck in between two invisible forces, what has already happened and what you changed. So basically the person who you are now would completely disappear.”

“I know what you’re saying and I understand that what I do could affect many actions in the present, but I don’t care. I’m sorry, but I know what I’m going to do.”

“No! You can’t! Please Morgan just…” I cut the sound on the radio. I wasn’t going to let Sam change my mind. I stepped out of the time machine and looked around. I search for the unknown attacker, and when I see nothing I let my walls come down. I leave myself unguarded, letting my trust run freely. Then I hear the voice.
“Hello,” it says in a cynical voice.
Immediately my walls shoot back up, stronger then ever. I feel the warm breathe on the back of my neck. Images begin to appear in my head, snapshots of mere possibilities. I let myself imagine the worst so that the reality is not as bad as the pictures I create in my mind. I feel him come closer.
“Morgan,” the voice whispers in my ear, it feels like snow, cold and unforgiving.
My instincts cannot stay still, they are screaming a million different things at me. Run, stay, turn around, they cannot decide.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” it sounds like a snake, its venomous words drip into my ears, “I just need you to do me a little favor.”
I know what favor the snake will want.
“All I need is for you to not return to the 1920s. Will you do that for me?”
It talks to me in a condescending tone, making me feel like I’m a little kid again. Then in a second that will either be a huge mistake, or possibly save my life, I turn around smash my fist as hard as I can into the body that owns the poison words. I hear him hit the ground, I run and don’t look back.
I fly down the familiar road back to my house. I stare at the door. It calls my name. I let myself remember my house before I go in.
This house ate and breathed. The living room was a little girl begging for food and love, the washing machine, an old man groaning for someone to care for him. Every stair was a teenager complaining, and my mother’s room was a hungry animal, it’s face half hidden by dirt. I reach up to knock but I am stopped by myself. My brain whispers to me, no. I am scared. I am a butterfly in winter, broken and not thinking, only concerned about surviving. I am a grown woman breaking into girl-sized pieces. Vines from my mind shoot out of the ground and hold me, their thorns covering my eyes and hiding me, not letting go. When I was little the ghosts would slip out of me and whisper things my mother used to say. The ghosts had a key to my head. I had created them, and they haunted me, I began to forget reality. They would hide in the dark and I was sure others could see them too. Everyone has their own ghosts but we’re all afraid to say what hides in the shadows of our lives. She’s dead, I think to myself. When you’re alive people hurt you. She’s dead. Why think about the past when the future is shimmering just ahead? She’s gone. For the first time I understand my simple words. I look at the house that breathes and say goodbye. I am a butterfly in summer, happy and pure. I am a butterfly in the spring, sweet and innocent. I am free from her words, no longer trapped behind a blanket of lies. I am a butterfly.





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