Friday, 2 January 2015
Jodie was always skinning her knees: on trees, sidewalks and bike riding trails. She was fifteen, and never been kissed. She had never fallen head over heels in love, but frequently fell over her handlebars. She had bruises that no school girl crush could match. She didn't wear skirts or makeup or talk in high, flirty tones with the boys. She was quiet, but tumbled with the best of them. There was no question, Jodie was a tomboy, and she lived dangerously close to the edge. She jay-walked into traffic and often challenged the neighbourhood boys down the back mountain trails on her dirt bike. She seemed to bounce like rubber, with a few cuts and marks. She didn't have a death wish so much as she wished to hide her awkwardness. The more extreme she was, the less people would notice her quiet insecurities. She was like a stuntman, falling on purpose. She didn't wait around for accidents to happen; she set the stage for them. Her parents were thankful she wasn't driving, yet. They suggested she wear a helmet, stay off the back trails, use crosswalks, follow traffic rules, walk slower and gear down. Her mother kept the first aid kit handy, and habitually bought her daughter long-sleeved shirts and dark slacks. Jodie wasn't an unattractive girl, but the boys seemed to be afraid of her or failed to see her as being a girl at all. Jodie wasn't entirely unaware of the boys, either. Despite her inner daredevil, she was afraid to bat her eyelashes, walk like a ballerina, and abandon her dirt bike riding and tree climbing. She kept her girl thoughts locked up, and practiced future kisses on her pillow. The boys she knew were so young and uninteresting. They were all afraid, being at that awkward first stage of growing into themselves. Jodie raced down the road to school every day on her 10-speed, trying not to think about her bra digging into her ribs or her period that was coming. She gripped the handlebars, her backpack flying off her shoulders. On a fall day, she weaved her way down the back mountain trails with her friend, Jimmy. Her tires cut neatly through the leaves, still wet from an early morning rain shower. The bark glistened on the trees. The octopus-like roots of the trees slithered over the trails, half-hidden. Jodie was riding in front, and managed to swerve past the obstacles gracefully. She turned her head to check on Jimmy who was a beat behind her. She didn't see the large root that met her tire and hurled her bike sideways into the shallow bank. She had ridden down this path a hundred times, and never known that root. It seemed to jump out of the earth, waiting for her. In her sight, the earth and sky flipped like a coin. Her unguarded head hit a tree stump, and she lay limp on the forest floor while Jimmy scrambled off his bike, yelling her name. He was afraid to touch her, despite his overwhelming urge to shake her. "I'll get help," he said. He knew she couldn't hear him. He mounted his bike and raced back up the trail from where they had come. Jodie opened her eyes slowly. The blue sky stared down at her through the fern leaves that hovered over her face. She sat up on her forearms... slowly, slowly. Her head hurt, and she touched the back of her skull gingerly. There was no blood, just tenderness. She unfolded herself until she was standing, and turned to see a young man standing on the path in clear view, watching her with interest. He was dressed in white. He didn't move to help her, but slowly walked towards her. "Am I dead?" she asked, touching her head. "Do you think you would feel pain if you were dead?" the young man asked. "I don't know," she answered. "I guess not." He smiled at her as though she were young and silly. She grimaced. "You bumped your head," the young man said. "You'll be alright. Help is coming." He didn't have a speck of dirt on his white sweater and pants. He was extremely handsome with cutting blue eyes, dark hair parted to the side and perfect teeth. She guessed that he was in his late twenties. She was afraid to ask his name. "Are you sure I'm not dead?" she asked again. "Positive," he laughed. He walked closer and placed his hand on her face, and brushed her cheek lightly with his fingers. "Come on, little girl," another man's voice floated into her ear. "Let's get you out of here." She felt herself being hoisted off the ground, and wondered how she got back down there. Did she faint? She could still feel the man's fingers on her face, and then realized the fingers belonged to someone else. She couldn't form words, and emitted soft groans. Her limbs felt heavy and sore. "She's coming around," the voice said. She wanted to ask: Where is the man in white? She was being carried on a stretcher, and could hear the whirring sound of a helicopter close by. Then she fell back asleep with the blue sky and treetops whirling around her. Jodie spent one week in the hospital with a bandage on her head. Her parents stayed with her, and she had a stream of visitors from school. Her most frequent visitor was Jimmy. She wished they would all leave so that she could sleep. She felt guilty about wishing for solitude, but she wanted to find the man in her dream. The nurses gave her pain killers at night, so she would fall into a period of black, dreamless sleep. He only appeared during her half-lucid daydreams. He would stand in the corner of the room, cross-armed, looking at her and his watch, as though he was waiting for something to happen. "Are you my guardian angel?" she asked him. He didn't answer. Instead, he looked at her, tapped his watch and vanished. When she woke up, a nurse was wheeling in a meal tray. Another day, Jodie dozed while her mother sat by her bedside, trying to solve word puzzles. Jodie woke up abruptly, saying, "Don't go!" Her mother, alarmed, took her hand. "I'm right here, sweetheart. I'm not going anywhere," she said, in soothing tones. Jodie looked at her and sighed. Tears were forming in her eyes. "Not you," she said, crudely. Her mother looked stricken, as Jodie lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. "What do you mean?" she asked, sounding hurt. Jodie grunted and turned over in her bed. "I don't want to be awake," Jodie cried. "I want to be with him." "Him who?" "The man in my dreams," she replied. In silence, Jodie's mother worried about her daughter's head. Jodie was watched closely in the hospital and, at her mother's request, strapped to monitoring devices while she slept. The doctor agreed there was an unusual amount of brain activity in her sleep time, but no real concern. At home, Jodie's desire to sleep became worse. She didn't talk to the boys at school anymore, including Jimmy who liked her. She didn’t talk to anyone. She was intent on seeing only one face. She constantly thought about the man in her dreams, trying to hold on to the features of his face and the sound of his voice. She tried falling asleep in her classes, but soon she realized the young man only came to her when she was hurt. She walked across the fairways on golf courses and busy streets in rush hour. She walked on top of fences and soared over manmade jumps on her bike, hoping to land on her head. She continued to ride the dangerous back trails, looking for rogue roots in the ground. When that didn't work, she took sleeping pills. One night, she swallowed too many. Her mother went into her room one evening to check on her, thinking that she was doing her homework. She found her daughter face down on the bed with a half-filled bottle of sleeping pills on the night stand. Her mother fell to her daughter's side. "No man is worth this, real or not," she said. She stroked her daughter's hair. Her husband came in, pushed his wife aside and began pulling his daughter's eyelids open and listening to her chest. He grabbed the phone and pushed the buttons with a steady, deliberate finger. The white room spiraled into focus with a clean brilliancy. Jodie closed her eyes, and slowly opened them again. She smiled, looking up, as the young man’s perfect teeth and mouth formed the same words that echoed in her head.