Summer vacation of 1977 started out like any other but ended with me losing nearly every close friend that I had. Not because of death or anything else tragic, but because they became afraid of me, of the uncanny abilities that befell me and the capabilities that I inadvertently came to possess.
Before getting ahead of myself and explaining what I mean by that, allow me to tell you a little bit about myself first.
I was born and raised in Pahokee, Florida, a small, rural farming community located in western Palm Beach County and on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. With a population of less than twenty thousand residents, my hometown sits in the heart of an area known as the Glades – not to be confused with the Florida Everglades, which are much further south and a lot swampier.
The nutrient-rich muck used for planting sugar cane and sweet corn is known as black gold and is so revered by farmers that it is honored annually with a parade and festival that attracts residents from all over the state of Florida to participate in the multitudes of celebrations.
Sugar mills and vegetable packing houses are prominent in Pahokee. Celery, radishes, and lettuce are processed and packaged inside regional facilities and shipped out to grocery stores and markets around the United States.
Anglers come from all over the world to participate in fishing tournaments on Lake Okeechobee, including prominent government figures and well-known celebrities. Large-mouthed bass and crappie are the most popular for the tournaments and sport fishing, but the lake is also filled with blue gill, speckled perch, and the tourists’ favorite – alligators. Visitors to the area pay substantial fares for an opportunity to go on a nighttime cruise on the lake, hoping to catch a glimpse of the large reptiles, or hear them grunt and snort. Their eyes glow red in the dark and look like dozens of rubies floating on the water’s surface. I can understand the enthusiasm because it truly is a sight to see. While alligators are fun to watch, my advice to everyone is to never attempt to approach them. They are meat-eating, fast on their feet, predators that can, and will, leave their victims limbless – or worse.
It’s not uncommon to see airboats speeding noisily through the water or cutting through marshes, reeds, and grassy areas like a warm knife slicing through butter.
You may be wondering why any of this information is important, and the answer is because I want you to be able to fully understand how life was growing up in a small town where everybody knew everybody – and knew about their personal business as well. In time, they would all come to learn about me regardless of whether I wanted them to know or not. And also to point out that before everything in and about my life changed, I was an average, typical teenager with future dreams of becoming a veterinarian. That, too, would come to change.
We had no large department stores, no mall, no shopping plazas, no multi-plex theaters, and only a couple of restaurants. To enjoy any of those amenities, a fifty-mile trip to West Palm Beach would be required.
Even with the absence of all those big city luxuries, us Pahokee kids never suffered from a lack of fun or from boredom because we always found something to do to keep us entertained and occupied, and there were times when those “somethings” didn’t end well. Like the one time that I jumped off the roof of my house with a towel tied around my neck because I believed I could fly like Superman. It’s a miracle that I didn’t break my neck. Fortunately, the only harm done was to my ego.
Typical summers for me consisted of a variety of activities that were sometimes shared with the company of friends and at other times, I preferred doing things alone, like using my cane pole to fish off the marina pier and not having to worry about a companion talking constantly and scaring the fish away. I personally never believed that fish could be frightened to the point that they would pass up a delicious, fat worm, but there were plenty of older fishermen (and women) along the pier that would argue otherwise. I also liked going to the city park and sitting alone in a swing while I gathered my thoughts and wondered about life in general. Not that a fourteen-year-old had a lot to worry about, but I did do an awful lot of thinking. Momma always told me it was good to exercise my brain as often as possible to keep it from getting rusty. Of course, I knew that brains didn’t rust, but they can be like an empty stomach that isn’t completely satisfied until it’s fed, and I was constantly feeding mine. I loved reading books of all kinds and learning whatever I could about anything worthwhile, because I knew that knowledge was the power that I would need one day when furthering my education was just around the corner instead of being what felt like light years away.
I spent many afternoons at the Prince Theater, the town’s one-screen movie house, where I paid a dollar for admission and was allowed to sit there all day long if I chose to and watch the movie, sometimes double features, over and over without getting kicked out. Try doing that these days and you’re likely to get escorted out by an usher or told that you have to buy another admission ticket if you choose to stay. Swimming parties at the public pool were always fun, although any amount of extended time in the sun always resulted in the same thing for me – a nasty sunburn due to my fair complexion. After the burn healed and the redness faded, peeling would follow that resulted in even more freckles being added to my shoulders, nose, and cheeks. One of my all-time favorite things to do on a Saturday night was make a pallet on the living room floor where I’d lay on my stomach eating popcorn and watching monster movies on television. The blankets of the pallet came in handy if I got scared, because I could cover my head and not look at the gory creature that was about to devour me whole. When I thought it was safe to uncover my head, I’d always look over my shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a vampire, mummy, or werewolf lurking in a dark corner of the living room. If I needed to change the channel to continue my horror fest, I had to get up to do it because our television had no remote control. I dare you to try that with monsters in the room watching your every move!
During the day, I stayed outside from the time the sun came up until it said goodnight, painting the evening Florida skies with magnificent hues of oranges and pinks. If I got thirsty while playing, I took a drink from the water hose because there was no running in and out of the house lest you “let the flies in,” and we didn’t have bottled water back then. One of the main reasons I loved summertime is because my birthday is in July, and that always meant having friends over for cake, ice cream and opening presents. That summer I was on the cusp of turning fifteen.
I was small for my age, less than five feet tall, petite, and skinny as a twig, and a late bloomer with a chest as flat as a two by four. Why mom ever made me wear those ugly training bras with the large triangle shapes on the cups I will never understand, because other than the two marbles barely poking through my shirts, there wasn’t anything there to train. I kept my auburn hair cut in a short pixie-style because I didn’t want it hanging in my eyes, and I also wasn’t keen on being bothered with the monotonous chore of pretty hair maintenance.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was a tomboy in every sense of the word. Dresses were out of the question when it came to my attire. All I ever wore were jeans, shorts, t-shirts and either sneakers or flip-flops. It was a simple and easy style without looking too girlie, and perfectly comfortable for me.
While all these things were loads of fun, and something that I looked forward to every summer, what I loved more than anything else was playing softball. A bunch of us project kids, (that’s what we were referred to because we lived in a housing authority), would get together in the afternoons to play in the large field behind our apartment houses. Short, tall, skinny, or fat, we didn’t care. If you could play ball, you would be picked for one of the teams.
We used personal items as makeshift bases – a pair of shoes for first, a shirt for second and so on, then proceeded on to picking team captains and making our choices for players, leaving no one out. If there were more players than needed, they got scattered in the outfield. If we were short a few players, then that meant that some of the others would have to cover more than one position.
I was a mean right fielder with a strong throwing arm, and I’m not too shy to say so. You know the old adage about girls not being able to play ball? Anyone who said such a thing probably would have changed their minds about that if they’d ever seen me play. As I said, I was a hard-core tomboy and I was more than capable of playing with, and better than, most of the boys my age who played.
It was my great love for the sport that would make this the summer that would be different from any other, the one that would change everything about me and alter the course of my life forever, the reason why my friends chose to ostracize me because they couldn’t handle the new DeeDee Olsen. Instead, they opted to stay away from me because that seemed to be the safest and most logical option, and the only one that seemed feasible to them at the time.
On this particularly scorching hot June afternoon, our first week out of school for the summer, it was the bottom of the sixth inning, and I was up to bat. Bases were loaded, and my team was ahead by one run. My intention was to get a walk because the worst pitcher out of all our players was on the mound, and I knew from experience that he tended to throw either high or outside balls. And unless you were a tennis player attempting to return a lob, there was no use taking a swing.
My feet were dug into the ground at home plate, a piece of cardboard taken out of the neighborhood dumpster, an aluminum bat gripped tightly in my hands, knees bent, eyes forward and focused – I was ready.
As I mentioned, Ricky was notorious for throwing high balls, but apparently our umpire, Chubby, was blind. “Steeeeee-rike one!” he called. We assigned him to the position of umpiring because he was asthmatic and unable to run. Not wanting to omit him from being able to participate, we compromised.
“Are you stupid or something?” I yelled, turning to face him. “That ball was as high as an airplane!”
“I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em,” he said, grinning and pushing up his black-rimmed glasses, then taking his umpire stance once more. His curly red hair looked like a fire atop his head in the bright glow of the afternoon sun, and his face was so red that I couldn’t see a single one of his dozens of freckles through his flushed skin. Back in position, I waited for the next pitch, which went to the right of the plate by about three feet.
“Steeeeee-rike two!” Chubby called, holding up two fingers and casting out his arm like the umpires in professional baseball do.
“You seriously might want to consider a new pair of glasses!” I retorted. “Obviously, the ones you have don’t work.”
Frustrated at his rotten play calling, I dug in even deeper and choked up on the bat, figuring that I might as well go ahead and swing because if I didn’t, Chubby would call it strike three anyway.
Except that it was a perfect pitch that came straight across the plate. I swung hard, walloping the ball out past center field. Jake and Timmy ran for the ball while my team players on second and third bases ran across home plate, scoring runs for our team.
For some reason that only he knew, Johnny made a horrible mistake in his decision to suddenly change course. While I ran past first and second, and then touching third heading toward home plate, he changed his mind about crossing home and decided to turn around and make his way back toward third base, running as fast as lightning while looking back over his shoulder. I suppose he was making sure that he wasn’t being chased by the catcher for fear that he’d be tagged out and cost our team a run.
Even if I hadn’t been so focused on making a homerun, I could not have prevented what was about to occur because we were both at full throttle in our momentum and it happened so fast that neither of us could have put on our brakes and stopped on a dime.
We collided head-on with a forceful impact, his chin striking me on the upper left side of my forehead right above my eye. The crash sent me flying backwards and to the ground, knocking me unconscious.
I have no idea how long I was out, but when I opened my eyes, I was lying in the grass flat on my back with all of the other kids bent over staring down at me. Johnny held a bloody rag to his lacerated chin, which I later learned took six stitches to close.
“Are you okay?” “How many fingers am I holding up?” “Man, look at the size of that knot on her head!” I had no idea who was saying what, because they all seemed to be talking at once and all I could hear was a cacophony of jumbled noises.
I groaned and tried to get up, but I felt a little nauseous, so I sat back down and waited for the queasiness to pass. When it finally did, I stood up and said, “I think that’s enough ball for today.”
“DeeDee?” It was Johnny, the boy that I had collided with. “I’m really sorry,” he said, a deep look of concern on his face. “I hope you’re not hurt too bad.”
Touching my head and feeling the lump, I said, “I’m okay, Johnny. But I need to go show this to my mom.”
To say that the swelling on my forehead was a goose egg would be equivalent to comparing a twenty-carat diamond to a pebble. It was huge and covered the entire left side of my forehead and was getting even bigger by the second.
My mom was sitting on the side of her bed talking to one of her friends on the telephone when I went inside. Not wanting to disturb her, I stood in the doorway waiting for her to either turn around or hang up, but after a couple of minutes of waiting and she did neither, I quietly said, “Mom?”
In one swift move, she leapt from the bed, dropping the phone to the floor with a loud PING! “Oh, my word!” she cried. “What in the world happened to you?”
I was trying to explain when the nausea hit me again, and I knew that I was going to throw up. Although I tried my best to make it to the bathroom, I wasn’t so fortunate. The vomiting began in her room and I left a trail from there all the way to the toilet.
The next thing I remember after that is lying on an examining table in the emergency room waiting for a doctor to come in. Mom stood beside me, worry furrowing her brow. Never before had I seen such an expression on my mom’s face. When I asked her how I got to the hospital, she told me that I had passed out in the bathroom and that she carried me to the car and an emergency room nurse had brought me inside on a stretcher. To this very day, I do not remember any of that.
“How do I look?” I asked quietly. My mouth felt as dry as cotton and my throat was sore and burning.
“Like you’ve been in a fight with a semi-truck and the truck won!”
Funny thing is it didn’t even hurt. It stung a bit, kind of like a bee bite, but there was no bad pain. I reached up to touch it and suddenly understood why my mom looked so worried. It had grown to the size of a grapefruit and was soft and mushy in the center.
“Don’t touch it, DeeDee,” my mom scolded, gently pushing my hand away. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I answered. “A little lightheaded, maybe, but I don’t feel sick anymore.”
The door to my examining room opened and in walked the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life – and I didn’t even like boys. Tall and tanned, with wavy blonde hair and eyes so piercingly blue that I could almost see right through them.
“I’m Dr. Montgomery,” he said, taking my chart from the clear plastic door pocket. “Diedre Olsen?” he asked, opening the file.
“DeeDee,” I corrected him as I continued to stare. I did not like being called by my real name but hearing him say it somehow made it okay.
“DeeDee, it is then,” he said, stepping up to the side of my bed. “Whoa! What happened here?” he asked, softly probing my forehead.
“I ran smack into somebody while we were playing softball,” I answered.
“Judging by the size of this lump, I’d say you two collided kind of hard. Would that be an accurate assumption?”
I nodded. I was afraid to open my mouth because the nausea was coming back and the last thing I wanted to do was hurl on his pristine white coat.
“Can you tell me exactly how this happened, DeeDee?” he asked. “And how you felt afterwards? Did you pass out, feel sick, anything unusual?”
I knew Dr. Montgomery was speaking because I could see his lips moving, but his voice sounded muffled and far away. Whatever he was saying, his words were incoherent, as though he was speaking a foreign language that I didn’t understand.
Then came a flash of bright white light, like looking directly into a flashlight beam, and then the smell of burning sugarcane followed by a horrendous wave of nausea.
When I woke up, I was no longer in the emergency room. Dr. Montgomery had admitted me to the hospital, and I had been taken upstairs to a private room.
Mom was sitting in a green leather chair in the corner, her arms folded across her chest as she stared at me, appearing even more worried than she had before. When she saw my eyes flutter open, she jumped from her chair and came to my bedside, grabbing onto my hand and crying.
I had no idea what had happened to me that would warrant the presence of two doctors attending to me, but there they were, both wearing their white lab coats with a stethoscope around their necks. Dr. Montgomery stood directly beside my bed, and standing behind his right shoulder, an elderly gentleman with white hair and a thin white mustache, smiling at me. He kept his arms folded behind his back, grinning, and nodding while Dr. Montgomery spoke, occasionally glancing at me, winking, and then returning his attention to the chart in Dr. Montgomery’s hand.
“Glad to have you back with us,” he said, bending over me and shining a light into my eyes.
“What happened?” I asked, attempting to sit up.
“Take it easy for now,” he said, lightly touching my shoulder and laying me back down onto the pillow, then writing in my chart. “You gave us quite a scare.”
Mom nodded in agreement, as did the older doctor.
“Well?” I asked. “Will one of you please tell me what happened and why I’m in the hospital?”
“You suffered a seizure while you were in the emergency room,” Dr. Montgomery explained. “I admitted you so that I can keep an eye on you. It’s only for observation, DeeDee, so it’ll probably only be for one night. But you do have a mild concussion and I believe that’s what caused the seizure. Not that it will happen again,” he said, patting my leg. “But if it does, I’d rather you be here close to medical staff instead of at home. If you do okay during the night, and by that, I mean no more seizures, then you can go home tomorrow.”
“It takes two of you to tell me that?” I asked, puzzled.
Dr. Montgomery looked bewildered by my question. “You mean me and your mom?”
“No,” I said, pointing. “Him.”
Dr. Montgomery turned around to look behind him. Slightly cocking his head he asked, “DeeDee, do you see someone else here besides me and your mom?”
“Of course, I do,” I said, nodding. “Don’t you? How can you not see him when he’s standing right beside you? He’s a doctor, too.”
The glances exchanged between mom and him were ones of total confusion.
“Probably double vision,” he said calmly to mom. “It’s not uncommon with seizures and head injuries. I wouldn’t worry too much right now. It’s likely only temporary.”
That last statement of his would turn out to be one of the biggest falsehoods I have ever been told.
And I knew that I wasn’t suffering from double vision either.
While it was true that I was young, I was also old enough to know the difference between an old doctor and a young one.
The physician that had stood at the side of Dr. Montgomery was a totally different person in every way imaginable, and they looked nothing alike.
What I didn’t understand at the time was why mom or Dr. Montgomery couldn’t see him. Afterall, he was standing right there beside my bed as clear and plain as they were.
However, it wouldn’t take long before I found out why – but not before being put through pure hell first.
Unfortunately, this episode was only the beginning of what was still yet to come.
Chapter 2 – Who Are All of These People?
My overnight stay in the hospital was anything but restful. Between the nurses coming in and out of my room, all the talking at the nurses’ station and in the hallway, and the little girl continuously calling out for her mommy, I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the television to drown out the noise, but there wasn’t anything on that I wanted to watch on the few channels that were available. But it was fun getting to use the remote control, a gadget I didn’t have at home.
Why was no one helping that little girl? Why didn’t someone answer her? Didn’t they hear or see her? She was absolutely driving me nuts and it sounded like she was standing right outside my door.
Tossing the covers aside, I got out of bed and stepped barefooted onto the cold tile floor. The coolness was comforting and felt good against my hot skin. When the sudden dizziness struck me, I held tightly to the side rail of the bed and steadied myself to keep from falling.
Once the lightheadedness had completely subsided, I wheeled my I.V. pole up to my left side, using it for support, walked to my door and opened it. Exactly as I had thought, she was standing in the middle of the hallway, wearing a pink floor-length nightgown with white daisies and a lace collar, clutching a rag doll with yellow pigtails and red button eyes. Her long black hair was in braids, one hanging over each shoulder. “Have you seen my mommy?” she asked. “I can’t find her anywhere.”
“No,” I answered, probably a bit too harshly for such a small child. She couldn’t have been more than six years old. Toning down my voice, I asked, “Who is your mommy? Is she here in the hospital?”
“I don’t know,” she answered, peering up at me through tear-soaked eyes.
“You don’t know?” I asked with surprise, her remark confusing me, because how could she not know where her mother was? The ward I was on wasn’t that large, so she couldn’t possibly be too far away. But why wasn’t her mother in the hallway searching for her? Surely, she must’ve realized that her child was missing!
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Amy,” she answered, wiping away a tear on the sleeve of her gown.
“Tell you what, Amy,” I said, offering her my hand. “Why don’t I help you find your mommy?”
“Thank you,” she answered, placing her tiny, frail hand in mine. Although I knew we were holding on to each other, her hand felt weightless and with no solidity to it at all, as though I were holding nothing more than a feather.
We began our walk down the hallway, but most of the doors were closed, and the ones that were open contained empty beds. An elderly woman was making her way down the hall with the assistance of a walker, and beside her, an elderly man with his hands tucked inside his pockets, keeping a slow pace beside her. They both smiled at me as they passed by.
“Let’s go try another hallway,” I told Amy. “Maybe she’s down there.”
As we turned around to make our way in the opposite direction, still holding hands, I saw my nurse standing in the doorway to my room with her arms crossed, giving me a scornful look. “Miss Olsen, what are you doing out of bed at this hour?” she asked, looking at me but totally ignoring Amy.
“I heard a little girl crying in the hallway,” I answered. “I came out to see if she needed help with something.”
Nurse Simmons frowned, staring at me discontentedly.
“Didn’t you hear her?”
“Can’t say that I did,” she answered. “There are no small children on this floor, Miss Olsen, and there hasn’t been for several years now. At one time, this was the Pediatrics ward, but it moved upstairs about two years ago.”
So that’s why Amy was lost and confused! She was on the wrong floor altogether. All I needed to do was get Amy to the elevator and send her up one floor, back to the right ward and to her mother. Problem solved.
“Come on, now,” Nurse Simmons said, placing an arm around my shoulder. “Let’s get you back in bed,” she said, leading me away from Amy and towards my room.
Amy reluctantly let go of my hand as I was being led away, looked up at me and mouthed the words, “it’s okay.”
“What about her?” I asked.
“What about who?” Nurse Simmons asked, giving me her strange look again.
“Her!” I replied, turning back to face Amy.
Except that she was gone, seemingly vanishing into thin air.
“But, but…” I stammered.
“You probably had a bad dream,” Nurse Simmons offered. “Would you like for me to call the doctor and get you something to help you sleep?”
“No,” I said, crawling back into bed and pulling the covers up snugly beneath my chin. “I’ll get to sleep on my own.”
“Stay in bed, now. We can’t have you roaming the hallways in the middle of the night. If you need anything, use your bedside intercom,” she said as she turned out the lights and closed the door.
As I lay there in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder if Nurse Simmons had been right about my experience being nothing more than a dream. While I knew that it was completely possible, I didn’t really believe that because it had all been too real to be a delusion. One thing was for certain, though. Whatever it was had left me completely baffled, confused, and I’ll admit, somewhat frightened because I didn’t know how to explain what had happened to me in the hallway.
I knew that Amy was there because I saw her with my own two eyes, for heaven’s sake! Not only had I seen her, but I had touched her. Yet, Nurse Simmons saw nor heard anything. How was that even possible when we were both standing right in front of her, hand in hand, at the exact same time?
I didn’t hear Amy calling out anymore that night, but I did hear my door open and the sound of soft footsteps crossing the floor. I cracked open my eyes to see a different nurse standing beside my bed smiling down at me. I figured that shifts had changed over, and she was the new nurse assigned to care for me. She quietly checked the flow of the I.V. fluid that I was receiving, gently touched the lump on my forehead, grimacing as she did so, patted my arm and left the room. Not giving it another thought, I fell back to sleep.
By the time Dr. Montgomery came in the next morning to check my status, and hopefully discharge me, mom had returned to the hospital, taking the day off from work so that she could take me home and spend the day with me to make sure I was going to be okay.
I could tell by his worried expression that something was bothering him. And since he was reading my chart, I knew that whatever he was frowning about concerned me.
Instead of standing at my bedside to talk, he pulled up the extra chair that was in the room and sat down beside my bed with my file open on his lap.
“Would you like to tell me about what happened last night?” he asked. “Or should I say, this morning at two thirty a.m.?”
“Uh-oh,” I thought, swallowing hard. “I’m in big trouble.”
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently, picking at a hang nail so that I wouldn’t have to look at him.
“According to the nurse’s report, she found you walking around in the hallway this morning.”
“Am I in trouble for that?” I asked, thinking that I was about to be handed my head on a silver platter by Dr. Handsome.
“No, you’re not in trouble,” he said. “But I am concerned about what she wrote in her report.”
“What did she say?” I asked, looking over at mom, whose attention was focused on the doctor.
“I’ll read it to you,” he said, flipping over a page in the file. “At two thirty a.m. while enroute to answer a call button, I discovered Miss Olsen walking in the hallway, going from door to door as though she was searching for someone. Although Miss Olsen was alone, her arm and hand were poised in such a manner that she appeared to be holding someone’s hand, as well as conversing with them. She reported hearing and seeing a girl child in the hallway and asked me if I had heard her, to which I replied no, and proceeded to explain to her that there were no children assigned to this ward. I escorted Miss Olsen back to her room and put her to bed. There were no further incidents.”
Dr. Montgomery closed the file and looked at me. “This is extremely disconcerting to me, DeeDee,” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “Especially considering the fact that you’ve suffered head trauma and a seizure. I need to ask you some questions, and I can’t stress to you enough how important it is that you answer them truthfully. Do you understand that?”
Mom had taken a stance next to my bed, anxious to hear what the doctor had to say.
“Is the nurse telling the truth about what happened? Did you see or hear someone in the hallway?”
I didn’t know whether to tell him the truth or not because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me if I did. If I told him about Amy, should I also tell him about the old lady with the walker, or the nurse that had come into my room that I hadn’t seen since? Something told me not to lie, so I didn’t.
“Both,” I replied, relaying my encounter with Amy.
“Was that the only time you’ve seen her?”
“Have you been seeing anything else strange? Things that you can’t explain, or that don’t really make any logical sense to you?”
“No, only Amy.” That was only a half-truth, not a lie. “Maybe I was sleepwalking,” I offered.
“Is that what you really believe, DeeDee? Are you prone to sleepwalking?”
“No,” I answered. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t this time. Like you said, I suffered a serious head injury and maybe that’s why.”
“I suppose that’s possible,” Dr. Montgomery agreed with a nod. “How about smells? Any unusual scents that seem to appear out of nowhere and without a reason?”
“Just the one time in the emergency room,” I answered.
“What did you smell?”
“Burning sugar cane,” I said.
Dr. Montgomery studied me for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to figure out if I was telling him the truth or deciding what he needed to do next.
“The good news is that the skull x-rays were normal, meaning that there are no fractures. However, there is significant swelling and bruising, not only to the surface of your skin, but to the tissue beneath it as well.”
“Dr. Montgomery?” Mom interjected. “Why did you ask her about strange smells? What is the significance of that?” she wanted to know.
“There have been cases where patients who have suffered seizures have reported peculiar odors right before the onset of the convulsion. Different patients report different scents,” he explained. “Not everyone smells the same thing.”
“I see,” Mom said. “Is that something we should be concerned with?”
“I don’t think so, not at this point. Peculiar odors don’t always occur before a seizure. In fact, most of the time a patient won’t even know they’re about to have one until it happens. But since her x-rays were normal, I’m hoping that her seizure was a one-time thing, related to suffering such a serious head trauma.”
“Do I get to go home?” I asked, praying that he wouldn’t say no.
“Let’s talk about that for a second.”
My heart sank. I didn’t even want to think about spending another night there. I wanted my own bed, in my house, where I could rest and actually get some sleep without being awakened every five minutes.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” he said, looking first at me, then at mom. “I don’t like the fact that you’re seeing things that aren’t there, DeeDee. It could be something that’s only temporary because of your injury, or it could be something much more serious. If that’s the case, then you will need further evaluation. But here’s what we’re going to do for now,” he said, laying my chart on the bed and folding his arms. “I’m going to let you go home,” he began.
I clapped my hands joyfully at those words.
“Not so fast, young lady,” he said with a serious look. “There will be requirements and limitations for you to follow.”
“Okay,” I replied eagerly. “Whatever you say.”
“First of all, absolutely no softball. Actually, I don’t want you doing anything strenuous at all. I want you to rest as much as possible. If you continue to have these…” he said, waving his hand in the air. “We’ll call them temporary hallucinations for now. If they continue, you are to let your mother know immediately, then you are to contact me,” he concluded, looking at mom. “This is not something that should be taken lightly, got it?”
“Got it,” I said.
“You get your things together while I go fill out your discharge papers. Shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes or so.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I was already changing my clothes by the time the door closed behind him.
True to his word, an orderly came in about twenty minutes later with a wheelchair. “I hear someone’s ready to go home,” he said cheerfully.
“That would be me,” I said, taking a seat. Mom picked up my things and walked out behind us.
Amy was leaned up against the wall on the opposite side of the hallway, clutching her doll and waving goodbye as I was leaving.
And she wasn’t alone.
The hall was filled with people I didn’t know, nor had I ever seen before, all of them either standing or walking around, talking over each other so loudly that I couldn’t make out a thing that any of them were saying. The nearly deafening voices sounded like a roaring crowd cheering at a sporting event.
Some of them, I assumed, were patients because they were wearing hospital gowns. But the others were dressed in normal clothes, probably visiting someone who was a patient. The nurse that had come into my room the night before was standing just outside the nurses’ station with one arm propped up on top of the counter, smiling at me as I wheeled past. There must have been at least fifty people there, but the hospital staff was completely oblivious to their presence.
Which meant that every single person that I could see was nothing more than a product of my own imagination, more hallucinations. “Remember what Dr. Montgomery told you,” I kept telling myself. “It’s from the injury.”
I wanted to plug my ears to quiet the dissonance of voices, but I was afraid if I did that, mom would stop the orderly right then and there and tell him to wheel me back to the emergency room instead of out the front door.
Instead, I closed my eyes so that I didn’t have to look and kept them closed until I heard the swishing of the automatic door opening and felt the warmth of the sun on my face.
When I opened my eyes to get into the car that was now parked at the front entrance, I came to the realization that seeing strange people hadn’t only been confined to the interior of the hospital.
I saw them everywhere.
In the parking lot, walking up and down the sidewalks of the hospital perimeter, sitting on benches drinking sodas and coffee from Styrofoam cups. I truly didn’t know what to think of my condition, and to be totally honest, my mild fright from the night before had grown and developed into bona fide fear.
My mind started racing with thoughts, wondering if I would be plagued with these visions for the rest of my life, or if my illness truly was only temporary as Dr. Montgomery suspected.
All I wanted was for them to stop and go away forever and never bother me again.
Then another thought struck me. Should I tell mom about what I was seeing or let it go and hope that it was nothing to worry about? Dr. Montgomery had made it perfectly clear how important it was to tell her if the visions persisted.
I decided not to say anything at the time, basing my decision on the fact that I’d only been released a few minutes earlier, and having more of them in that short span of time certainly didn’t qualify as persistent.
I did, however, promise myself that I would tell her if they didn’t go away, or if they got any worse.
One thought in particular kept resonating through my mind, a question really, and one that I didn’t have an answer to.
If what I was experiencing wasn’t visions or hallucinations or whatever other fancy word there was for it, then what was the real explanation for my sudden onset of phantasmagoria?
And exactly who were all these strange people around me, and why was I the only one that could see them?
Chapter 3 – Am I Hallucinating?
Within three weeks of going home from the hospital, and strictly following doctor’s orders, most of the swelling had subsided, but the green, blue, and black bruise was still visible, yet beginning to fade. I didn’t worry too much about it because I knew it would be gone completely in time, and because vanity was never something I obsessed over. Although the injury site itself didn’t hurt, it was somewhat sore to the touch, and the lump beneath my skin was still prominent. Out of curiosity, I suppose, I couldn’t resist constantly touching it because it was so soft and squishy, like pushing on gelatin, and if I pressed on it just hard enough, my fingertip left an indentation in the skin which I found to be quite cool at the time. But whenever my friends came to visit and wanted to touch my deformity to see what it felt like, I never allowed them to. I think that decision was based on an unmerited fear that they’d press a little too hard and cause me to have another seizure, which in turn would put me back in the hospital and that was a trip I did not want to make.
None of my friends knew about my other problem because I had not told anyone. Furthermore, I had no intentions of telling them. The last thing in the world that I wanted was to drive away what few friends I had by making them think that I was cuckoo by letting them know that I could see people who didn’t exist to anyone other than myself.
Being home alone during the day did give me time to think, and I did a lot of that. I replayed the day of the accident over and over in my mind, wondering how it could have even happened, why Johnny had suddenly decided to turn around and run back to third base instead of crossing home. Numerous times I wondered if I could have prevented the accident by reacting sooner and moving out of his way? And the answer was the same every time. There was no way to prevent it because we were both running too fast to have been able to stop. I’ve always been told that hindsight is 20/20, and although the accident did happen, and I suffered the consequences, I still couldn’t help but wonder about all these things. I suppose it’s only human to ask why and I did a lot of that as well.
And why was I only seeing people in my so-called visions? Why not other things like purple elephants, or polka-dotted trees, or little green men? If what was happening to me truly was the result of my head trauma, then why were my hallucinations strictly limited to only seeing human beings?
Mom wasn’t aware that I was still experiencing visions because I hadn’t told her. Nor did I tell her about the headaches that I was beginning to suffer on a daily basis. They never lasted more than an hour before completely dissipating, and the pain was always present in the exact same place – in and above my left eye. I dismissed any notion that they were related to anything other than my injury, and that they were likely being caused due to the healing process. I saw no need in giving her a reason to worry over nothing when all of my symptoms would eventually heal in time.
Another thing that I hadn’t told her about was the man I had begun seeing inside our home. He was mostly present whenever mom was there, but I did see him a few times when she wasn’t. He never said anything, never walked around, didn’t make any type of gesture. He only stood in one spot or another, wearing his military uniform and looking as stiff as an ironing board. In fact, he appeared to be nothing more than a cardboard cutout propped up against the wall. I had no idea who he was, or more importantly, why he was in our house.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t freak out when I began to see people who weren’t really there. The reason is simple. Because they were people, and I’m not afraid of humans, and mainly because I knew it wouldn’t last forever. However, if my visions had been of monsters from the movies I’d watched, or giant cockroaches or spiders, then I absolutely would have gone berserk, and probably would have never opened my eyes until I knew absolutely and without a doubt that I wouldn’t be seeing them any longer.
It was the second day of July and a little more than four weeks before my fifteenth birthday, and mom and I were sitting at the table eating dinner together.
“Do you have any plans for your birthday?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered. “Haven’t thought much about it.”
“Do you want to have a party? Or don’t you feel like it yet? If not, then perhaps you can invite a couple of your friends over to spend the night.”
Picking at the food on my plate because my appetite hadn’t returned to normal yet, I shrugged. “I don’t know. Can I think about it for a while?”
“Of course,” she said. “It’s your birthday so the decision is yours.”
The uniformed man had returned and was standing on mom’s right side. I glanced up at him to see him smiling for the first time, so I smiled back.
“DeeDee?” Mom asked, noticing my distraction. “Are you okay?”
“Are you seeing someone right now?” she asked, putting her fork down onto her plate.
Should I tell her the truth and risk getting swept up immediately and taken back to the hospital? I didn’t want that, so I decided to play it off and pretend that nothing was happening.
“Can I ask you something, mom?” I asked, taking another peek at the military man, who was now laughing and making funny faces. I tried so hard not to laugh, but I simply couldn’t help myself. The guy was being hilarious.
When I looked back at mom, she was giving me one of her strange looks, the one that says, “straighten up!” Clearing my throat, I asked, “Do you know anybody that’s in the Army?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head after thinking about it for a few seconds.
“How about any other branch of the military?”
“Why are you asking me that?” she said, getting up from the table and taking her plate to the kitchen. It was obvious that she was upset, but I didn’t know why.
When I returned my attention to the military man, his bottom lip was stuck out in a pouting gesture. He then placed his right hand over his heart and patted it.
What was he trying to tell me? To stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance? That his heart was hurting? Never having been good at charades, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say.
“Are you seeing him right now?” mom asked quietly, turning to face me as she leaned against the sink.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. I couldn’t lie to her, not anymore.
She returned to the table and sat back down, folding her arms across the Formica top. “Tell me what you see,” she said. “Describe him to me.”
So, I did. “He’s wearing a military uniform. I think it’s called camouflage.” Military man was nodding, his way of saying that I was right. “He’s kind of tall, maybe about six feet, dark hair and eyes, good-looking.” Now his lips were pursed as he made a rocking “so-so” motion with his hand. “He keeps touching his heart, but I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.”
Mom covered her mouth with both hands as tears streamed down her face. “Oh, my God in Heaven,” was all she could manage to say.
“Do you know him, mom?” I asked.
Doing her best to speak without sobbing, she said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I think I do.” She paused for a moment, dabbing at her eyes with the paper towel that she held in her hand. “You just described your father.”
My father?! But he’s…
Have you ever seen one of those cartoons that shows a lightbulb above someone’s head when they’ve suddenly gotten a bright idea? I imagine that might be how I looked at that very moment. Add in the wide eyes and gaping mouth and I probably did appear to be a cartoon character!
You see, my father died before I was born, so I never got a chance to know him, and had only seen him a few times in old photos that mom kept, so it was no surprise that I didn’t recognize him. Now that I knew who he was, I understood what he was trying to express to me by tapping his heart. He was telling me that he loved us.
With what I can only describe as feelings of shock and awareness, another thought abruptly occurred to me, and it was something that I would have never imagined in a million years.
If this man standing at our table was indeed my deceased daddy, and I could see him as clearly as I was seeing mom, did that mean that I wasn’t having visions or hallucinations afterall? But instead, there was something much, much more different going on?
Now it was my turn to say, “Oh My God!”
I didn’t want to admit it because I knew that the thoughts running through my mind at that moment were ludicrous and so bizarre that to say it was true would be the equivalent of signing my admittance papers for a long-term stay in the nuthouse!
Whether I wanted to believe or accept it, I knew what I was experiencing. I may have been young, but I was neither stupid nor immature.
The people that I had been seeing since my hospital stay were all ghosts!
Amy, the nurse in my room, the old couple in the hallway, the hordes of people outside the hospital. They all had something in common – they were all dead.
“No!” I screamed in my head. “That’s impossible because there’s no such thing as ghosts! I don’t believe in them so why would I be seeing them?”
Yet, there stood my dad, the man who had been killed while fighting in the Viet Nam war. There simply wasn’t any other explanation. And it would most certainly explain why no one else saw the other doctor standing beside Dr. Montgomery or any of the other people I’d seen, and why I only saw humans and not inanimate objects. To say I was confused is putting it lightly. How do you explain something like that to anyone, much less a doctor, someone who bases their beliefs on science and medicine and not the paranormal? The mere thought of that word flashing through my mind was enough to convince me that I possessed a secret that could never be told to anyone without an extremely good reason, and even then, revealing it would be questionable.
Strangely enough, I wasn’t the least bit scared, maybe because it was my daddy and I knew he meant us no harm, so there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. Plus, I thought it was really neat to actually see him in the flesh, so to speak, instead of looking at old photographs. Never before had I been blessed with that opportunity.
I nearly jumped out of my chair when he suddenly spoke because it startled me so badly and I wasn’t expecting it. “Tell your mom I’m okay and that I love her. I love you, too, DeeDee.” I clearly heard him say those words, yet his mouth never moved. Strange. “Tell her I said to remember Paris.” He then saluted and was gone. I never saw him again after that night.
“What is it, DeeDee?” Mom asked. “Why did you jump like that?”
“Because he scared me when he talked,” I said. “He has a very deep voice.”
“What did he say?” I couldn’t believe that mom was taking this so casually. I had been afraid to tell her anything because I didn’t want to find myself locked away in a rubber room, but there she was, wanting to know what her long dead husband had to say.
When I delivered his message to her, she smiled and wiped away her tears.
“What did he mean about Paris?” I asked.
“Maybe one day I’ll tell you. But for now, let me hold that memory in my heart, okay?”
“Okay,” I nodded.
We made a trip to the grocery store the next day to buy food for our Fourth of July indoor barbecue, something we did every year. I called it an inside barbecue because that’s exactly what it was. We didn’t own a grill, so mom cooked barbecued hamburgers on the stovetop, and we ate inside. Which was fine by me, because eating outside meant a battle royal with the flies and having to constantly swat at them to keep them off the food.
After dinner, we’d always sit on the front porch and watch the fireworks being launched from the Pahokee Marina, which was less than a mile away. It wasn’t the best view, but it definitely beat having to battle our way through a crowd to get a lakeside seat.
Our trip to the store was the first time that I’d been out and about since being released and I was eager to go, if for no other reason than to feel the sunshine on my skin.
The market was full of shoppers filling up their buggies, purchasing their cookout items as we were. I recognized some of the people from around town, but there were many others that I’d never seen before.
To prevent embarrassing mom or myself, I didn’t speak to anyone because I could not distinguish between who was real and who was not, and I surely didn’t want anyone to stop and stare at me while I conversed with thin air.
When Independence Day arrived, we enjoyed our hamburgers and potato salad, my appetite improving daily, and we both oohed and aahed at the colorful display of fireworks while we swatted away swarms of mosquitoes.
When the show ended, we gathered up our folding lawn chairs and went inside. We were both tired from the day’s events and neither one of us felt like watching television, so we went to bed. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep listening to the constant whirring of my electric fan.
Around two a.m., a loud BOOM! awakened me. I sprang up in bed, disoriented and thinking that the sound had come from neighborhood kids setting off firecrackers, but then I heard it again, only that time, it sounded like it was coming from inside my room. Blasts kept firing, one after the other, filling the air around me with the smell of sulphur and gunpowder. I was on the verge of sheer panic, terrified that the strange smells meant that I was on the verge of another seizure. I covered my ears trying to block out the sound, but it didn’t do any good. If I hadn’t of known better, I would have sworn that I had stepped into the middle of a battlefield.
Then I saw him, standing in the corner next to my closet with his back to me. Every time a blast would ring out, he ducked as though dodging incoming bullets, or cannonballs. When he finally did turn to face me, I felt my heart flutter, then it began pounding rapidly, keeping time with the never-ending rounds of ammunition being fired off. I stared in horror, not believing what I was seeing.
He was a soldier, dressed in camouflage like my dad, but his were blue and white instead of the green that my dad had worn. His last name was embroidered over the right pocket of his shirt – Cunningham. I had never seen him nor heard his name before. He was young, maybe twenty or so. But it wasn’t his name, his uniform or even the constant sound of gunnery that made me scream.
As I watched in terror, he opened his mouth to speak, but never got the chance to say a word because he was struck in the side of the face by a bullet, ripping his left cheek to shreds, exposing the bone, teeth, and tissue beneath the fatal wound.
The scene unfolded before my eyes in a permanent loop, playing and replaying his death over and over again.
Paralysis froze me to my bed, incapacitating me. I had never been so frightened in all my life.
Mom ran into my room when she heard me screaming, flipping on the light as she entered. I was covering my face with my hands, crying, and shaking uncontrollably. When I felt her sit down on the bed, I grabbed onto her as tightly as I could and sobbed into her shoulder.
“It was awful, Momma,” I cried. “He was so horrible to look at.”
She sat on the side of my bed, consoling and hugging me. When I finally did calm down and stopped weeping, Mom said, “It’s time to see Dr. Montgomery.” I nodded because I knew she was right, and I couldn’t bear the thought of ever seeing another image like that one.
“Seeing your dad is one thing, DeeDee,” she said. “But when you see something that scares you this badly, it’s time to get some help.”
That night, I did something that I hadn’t done since I was a small child.
I crawled into my momma’s bed and that’s where I stayed for the rest of the night.
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