Chapter 4: Elinor
Alternate Scenario – 1985
I’ve met people in the midst of tragedy many times before. Survivors of airplane crashes, earthquakes and battlefields are often surrounded by the dead. These survivors will see me at the time but often have no recollection of our encounter as soon as they have been moved to safety – but Elinor remembered me quite well.
When Elinor woke up from her coma after the accident she would scream and thrash and rip the tubes from her arms and the bandages away from her surgical incisions. The doctors or nurses would always come with their tiny sharp needles and inject her IV bag.
“That’s right, you’re ok. You are in a hospital. Your parents are here. You are going to be just fine,” she’d hear the nurse say slowly and sweetly as she rubbed Elinor’s arm.
As soon as the drip hit her blood stream, Elinor would calm down, lose focus, and usually go back to sleep. She would catch a glimpse of her mother across the room – her hand generally over her mouth, eyes wide, scared for her daughter. “Mom? What happened? Where am I?” she’d try to ask, but her eyelids were always too heavy and the words could never make it from her brain to her lips. Eventually the nurses with their sedatives came less frequently and she began to remember that there had been an awful accident that no one was talking about.
“There was a fire” Elinor said out of the blue one day. She had been in and out of a fitful sleep all afternoon. She opened her eyes and blinked them several times at her mother who was sitting next to her hospital bed. “I’m in a hospital.”
Elinor could feel her hand in her mother’s. “Relax, we can talk about it later. You need to rest and get better.”
“Where is Paul? And Stacy and Rick? Are they here too?” her throat felt so sore it took effort just to talk.
“Shhh. Let me call the doctor.” Elinor watched as her mother grabbed a small buzzer off a hook at the top of her bed and pushed the red button.
“No! I don’t want them to give me more medicine. I don’t want to sleep anymore.” she could feel her heart start to pound and her breathing quicken. “I know they are ok. A man came and helped us. There was a fire. I remember.” Elinor watched as a look of worry clouded her mother’s face.
“There was a fire honey, you are right.” Her mom acknowledged as a doctor walked in the room.
“Well hi there” he said with a smile as he approached the bed. “How are you feeling this afternoon Elinor?”
“I don’t want any more medicine. What happened? Where are my friends?” Elinor tried to steady her breathing, she was afraid if she acted out of control they would put her back to sleep.
“Elinor, you were involved in an accident. You were in an old building that collapsed and caught fire,” the doctor said very matter-of-factly, but Elinor could tell he was concerned for her.
“I know, I remember.” She looked down at her arms that were wrapped in bandages. Her legs were in some sort of sling. How am I supposed to go to the bathroom? She thought. How long have I been asleep?
“You broke both of your legs Elinor. You must have fallen from the building. You also have a fracture in your left arm and some cuts and burns. You are going to be okay though.”
“I jumped, I didn’t fall. The fire was getting close so I had to jump.” Tears rolled down her face and stung the cuts and scrapes. “Where is Paul? The fire was so bad. I know he is burned. Stacy jumped too I think. Is she ok?”
The doctor looked over at her mother. “Your dad is on the way honey, let’s wait for him so we can talk more about what happened,” her mother said.
“Mom? I know what happened! I remember. I know Paul and Stacy and Rick must be here too because a man helped us.” Her mother looked confused. “He was there. He helped them to get away from the fire. He told me I was going to be ok.”
“Your dad will be here any minute” her mom said again nervously.
“Mom! Tell me, what’s wrong?!” Elinor’s mother looked at the doctor with a pleading look.
“Elinor,” the doctor sat on the edge of the bed and crossed his hands in his lap, “your friends did not make it out of the fire alive. The fire spread quickly and quite a bit of time passed before anyone called it in.”
“That’s not true.” Why are they saying this?
“I’m sorry.” The doctor stood and looked at her mother. “Why don’t I request that someone come in and speak with all of you? It might be helpful to process what has happened.”
“He was there. A man was there. He talked to me. He helped them up.” Elinor began to sob. “They are not dead.”
“Shhhh. We’ll figure it out honey. Just stay calm.” Her mother assured her.
“If they are dead, when are their funerals?!” Elinor could feel herself losing control.
“Elinor,” the doctor started again, “your injuries were substantial. You’ve had several surgeries. You were in a medically induced coma for several days and now you have been in and out of consciousness for nearly a week. The accident was almost two weeks ago.”
“The funerals have already taken place dear. Many of your friends have sent cards and flowers and can’t wait to see you when you feel up to it.”
Elinor could hear her mom still talking and she felt when the doctor grabbed her arms and she could even remember her father rushing into the room and a nurse right behind him with the needle. She clawed at the nurse and doctor and used every bit of her strength to get out of the bed and run away. Too bad her two broken legs wouldn’t assist.
It had been a month since the fire when a psychiatrist began working with Elinor to help her reconcile what she remembered and what actually had happened on that night. Elinor had known that her friends were dead on some level, but could also remember seeing me at the barn. It didn’t make sense to her. Her mother showed her some of the clippings from the paper – it was the leading story for several days.
“Tell me what you remember about that night” the psychiatrist said. The psychiatrist met with Elinor at the hospital. There was a room that had tables and couches and toys and books. Elinor guessed that kids who had been through some sort of traumatic experience must meet with their therapist in this room too. The psychiatrist was nice enough, young and stylish. It was hard for Elinor not to notice the stylish young women she ran into at the hospital. She looked down at her casted legs in the wheelchair. The first time she had seen herself without clothes was shocking. Now when the nurses came in to help her bathe, she looked away. She had been assured she would walk again with no issues, but the scars and burns that covered her body would never go away.
“Well, I told you last time what happened before the fire…before I jumped. After I jumped, I landed on the ground really hard. I remember how hot the fire was on my face. I could barely keep my eyes open they burned so badly, but I couldn’t look away. I could see Paul. I saw that he was on fire. I saw that he was…melting. The smell of smoke was burning my nostrils and throat. I looked behind me and I saw Stacy. Her eyes were open. She was gagging. She was drowning. I couldn’t move. I tried to crawl.” A single tear fell from Elinor’s left eye. “I looked back to try and see Paul. The fire was so big at that point and I couldn’t see him. It felt like my face was burning off. I closed my eyes.” Elinor traced the hem of her t-shirt from her left side to her right side, concluding that it was an even half inch all the way around. “And then he was there.”
“Do you think it’s possible that when you closed your eyes you blacked out and then your mind invented the rest?” The psychiatrist asked.
“I don’t know. That’s what my mom keeps saying, but I don’t think so. He helped them up. And then he stood in front of me. He put his face close to mine and I couldn’t feel the heat of the fire anymore. Even the doctors agree that I was so close to the fire I should have been burned more, it was like something was between me and the fire – shielding me.”
“It is remarkable that your injuries were not more substantial. Were you afraid?”
“No, I was relieved that he was helping us. And everyone looked fine. They walked away so I knew they must not have been as injured as I thought.”
“And that is what you needed. You needed to escape the pain you were in and you needed to feel that your friends were safe.” The psychiatrist stated, but it sounded more like a question.
“I don’t think I imagined him. I remember his face, his eyes. He was staring into mine as if he was trying to read my mind… or understand what I was thinking. He had pale skin. He had dark hair. He had on a suit. I remember that.” Elinor almost laughed at the memory. “I remember thinking it’s the middle of the night and we are out in a field and this guy has on a dinner jacket. I remember because it seemed so out of place.” She paused and looked out the window. “There was something very sweet about his face…like he was curious about me. He kept looking at me; studying me. I figured he was trying to see if I was okay.”
“And then he told you that you were going to be okay?” the psychiatrist asked.
“Something like that. I thought he would help me up, I tried to reach for him but he moved so he was just out of my reach. He just kept staring at me. And then I closed my eyes and I woke up at the hospital.”
Elinor’s therapist explained that when the mind is stressed it can create an alternate scenario in order to function normally.
So I became Elinor’s alternate scenario.
It’s a coping mechanism. Elinor couldn’t bear to see her friends die so she imagined someone saving them. Me. Which is ironic, isn’t it?
The death of her friends and my presence went against everything Elinor desired and needed. She craved order and structure and her experience at the barn had been everything but that. She wanted to leave it behind.