The one thing the hospital staff and the patient's family could all agree on, was that the patient in 325-B was not Jerome. It was his teenage body, all six foot two inches and two hundred and thirty-five pounds of well muscled linebacker. But when he woke up after two days of being in a coma from the massive on field impact that laid him out with an equally massive concussion, a compressed disc in his neck and weak vital signs, it wasn't Jerome that woke up.
Jerome had been a high school athlete. He was a junior, was by all accounts an adequate student, but in no way well read or overly creative. He had something of a flare for singing in the choir acquired from years at church, but his vocal talents had always taken a back seat to his athletic pursuits. When football season ended he immediately went into training for baseball, where he played outfield and doubled as a backup catcher. Of the two sports he had always shown more promise in football but he knew it looked better to college scouts to see he had other things going for him if he wasn't an honor roll student. Thusly he stayed on the baseball team and in the choir.
"And besides, there are more girls in the choir than on either ball team," he would add with a grin.
What it boiled down to was that Jerome was an average high school kid. Playing as one of their rotating line-backing corps and covering on special teams. Until he lowered his head and shoulders to throw a full speed block against a player from Central who was also moving at full speed leading the receiver who had just caught the punt for a nice return.
They said Jerome's collision was heard in the parking lot outside the stadium. His partner on the coverage took down the kick returner and the play was whistled to a stop. But Jerome didn't get up. A few minutes later, strapped to a backboard with his head immobilized he was taken off the field in an ambulance.
Later, he was transferred by helicopter to a university medical center on full life support and admitted as a patient of Doctor Gordon as a favor to the family's GP back home.
Jerome's mother, Josephine, held a vigil in the intensive care unit's waiting room, going in for a few minutes every hour or so. His father and grandparents forced her to go to the cafeteria once in awhile and brought her fresh clothes and other supplies. There had been a steady stream of people from the school coming up to the waiting room and sitting for awhile, including Lincoln High's athletic director, football staff, many of the players, and assorted others. Then later the head coach from Central who came by and said that his team would pray for Jerome before every practice until he was back on his feet.
That night things were rough. Jerome was still on life support. They monitored him for swelling of the brain and other dangerous changes to his condition. But mainly all anybody could do was to wait. The only good news they had was that there didn't appear to be any spinal cord damage, other than that, nobody could say anything definite until he woke up.
It had been a long day in the ICU with no significant change to his condition. Jerome was in a deep coma, and the medical staff couldn't say when he'd come out of it. They never told his family that he may never come out of it.
On the third day they checked and said that Jerome was breathing on his own. It was a positive sign that his body was starting to recover. Now it was up to Jerome when he regained consciousness. Once again, the resident neurologist came in and went through his checklist, and once again, the conclusion was that Jerome needed to recover before they could evaluate him for how serious any brain injury was.
The next day, Jerome's fourth in the ICU, the nurse noticed that his eyes were open and he seemed to be watching them. He didn't move, or otherwise respond, but it was a major step forward. Now that he was breathing on his own and appeared to be coming around, the staff held a conversation about moving him out of the ICU and to the Observation Unit.
Dr. Gordon voted to hold him a little longer in the Intensive Care Unit, "I have seen patients that exhibited no sign of cranial swelling while in coma experience it once they regain consciousness and their blood pressure elevates." He called the neurologist to get their opinion.
The doctors conferred and decided to hold him another twenty four hours at the maximum level of care, then if he remained stable or continued to improve, and there was no swelling of his brain, he could be moved then.
Later the next day, the young man was moved to what the staff called the 'step down ward' and his visitors was able to come in more often.
"Hey there buddy, we're going to miss you. Kennedy has a running game that you have to see to believe," the coach said when Jerome looked at him. When the patient didn't say anything the coach just kept talking and encouraging him until he finally ran out of things to say. "You just keep getting better. I'll see to it that we get a tutor up here when you're up to it so you don't lose a step in your classwork. OK?"
"Thank you Coach Bell," his mom said for him.
The coach nodded and said he had to get back to the school.
After he left his mom held her son's hand and talked about how she wasn't sure she wanted him playing any more once he was better.
It was just after a similar visit from the choir director the next day that Jerome moved to speak for the first time.
"Je?" His mother said to him softly. "Did you say something?"
"I. Diffi - colt. Express..." He said with some visible difficulty.
"It's OK, don't try to speak, you've been through a lot."
"This, is not, I."
"Je. You were hurt. You've got a concussion."
The young man's eyes came to a sharp focus on his mother, but his voice was weak and halting, "No. I. Was not."
"Yes you do. You were unconscious for a couple of days."
"The body. Does. I. Do not. Language."
"It's been a busy morning," the nurse put a hand on his mother's shoulder and spoke softly to her. "Let's let him rest for awhile, then you can come back and talk to him. OK?"
Fortunately his mother was so relieved at his being awake and talking that his words didn't matter to her.
A few minutes later when the nurse came back in and checked on him she asked him a routine question that led to an exchange that left her completely befuddled.
"Jerome? Are you in pain?"
When he answered his voice was a little stronger and his words more coherent, "I? Pain? There is memory pain body. That I is not here, now."
"So you're OK?"
"I not understand, I am not speech, not believe pain body. I not know, Jerome."
"That's fine, you rest now."
She went out and wrote the conversation in his chart, but she didn't mention it to anybody else at that time.
With him now awake and communicating after a fashion the neurologist was brought in to evaluate his latest test results and other factors to determine the next step in his treatment regimen.
"The EEG says he cannot be awake and speaking," the neurologist said looking at the latest tracing on the monitor.
"I'm sorry," Doctor Gordon said, "Jerome? Are you awake and talking?"
"I believe. Yes. Not sure him is." He glanced at the other doctor with no indication of humor on his face or in his voice.
The neurologist looked at the patient. "There must be some mistake."
"Do you want them to run the test again and you can observe the procedure?"
"No. That will not be necessary, Doctor Gordon. He is obviously not covered by our brain injury protocol. Let me know if there is any change."
After he left Jerome turned toward Doctor Gordon and spoke slowly, one or two words at a time, "Some of, them, unable to, accept, real that, not, not of, their world."
Doctor Gordon could only nod and think about it.
After lunch his mother and the rest of his family were allowed back in to see if he was more like himself now.
The visit didn't go well.
After just a few minutes his mother was so upset she was shaking and tears were streaming down her cheeks when she went storming down the hall until she found Doctor Gordon in the physicians office.
For the first few moments she couldn't put her thoughts into words.
"That is not my son. He didn't know anything about us, he says that's not his name, he doesn't talk like Jerome, that is not Jerome. You're the doctor, you tell me, what happened to my son?"
Doctor Gordon shook his head and tried to say something but she cut him off.
"Je used to call me Jo-jo when he was sick when he was little, and he still does. Here he is in the hospital after he almost died and I asked him who I was and he thought I was a nurse. Except he said, 'one of those that help'."
The lead physician on the case took a slow deep breath, "I don't know, it may be a symptom of his injuries and a reaction to the medication. Brain trauma has resulted in personality changes in the past. I need more time and more tests before I can say more. And again, this may resolve in time and he will return to normal. Right now, I don't know enough to say."
Josephine had the same expression on her face she used when a young child had said something she didn't like. "What do you need to do to find out enough to say what will happen?"
"I'd like to call in an outside specialist in brain injury recovery that I know. She's a medical doctor and a psychologist."
Now her expression was that reserved for when the child saw things her way, "then why aren't you on the phone?"
Doctor Gordon had been in medicine long enough to know when to disengage from an un-winnable argument. "I have messages out for her, I'm just waiting on her to call me. But in the meantime, I'll go talk to him again."
"I am Doctor Gordon. Your name is Jerome. You are a junior at Lincoln High School. You play football and baseball, and sing in the choir."
"I have been ... told ... those things. You have told, me, those things."
"But you don't believe it."
"Why should I? I have been told only. Excuse, still working speech. The memory that is here."
"We'll take it slow. Starting with, what is your name?"
"Slow will be better."
Jerome closed his eyes for a moment. Then when he spoke, he did so very slowly and carefully, stopping once in awhile to look for the words.
"I am unaware of ever having chosen a name or of having been given one by an authority that could assign such a thing to me. Until I." A pause, then, "I guess the accurate statement would be, until I 'awoke' here, and found myself, in this, situation, it had never been important before." He took a breath, "I just know I was, before, and it wasn't this. Now, I am not what I was."
"So whatever you were, you're here now, so what should we call you?"
"I have been this some time now, and have become accustomed to responding when somebody says 'Jerome' to me."
"So you'll take that as your name?"
"No. But I will continue to respond to it when somebody says 'Jerome'. Unless you put another Jerome in this room."
"No. I think one of you is enough," the doctor said with a smile, but his patient was simply looking at him, the humor in the statement, utterly lost. "So you don't remember playing football."
"This body has the memories of these things, and I can see them as they happened in the memories," he paused, "but I never participated in such sport before. I read the memories I found in the body to know what you are talking about. I had to do that earlier to learn this language. There is much here to learn. But I have learned much of it."
"Oh? What language did you speak before you woke up here?"
"I do not know of a language before, my thoughts were my language, if indeed there was one."
"So you didn't go to school, or sing in the choir?"
"This body, Jerome, has such memories, but there is no Jerome here. The person he was is gone. I cannot explain how I came to be here, but I do not belong in this body." There was no expression in the eyes or on the face, "And I do not know where he is. If he is truly dead, then I am sorry, but I did not cause his death." He took a deep breath. "I cannot leave and bring him back. If I could, I would. But I do not know how to do that. And from what you've said, I do not think he does either."
"But to us, you are Jerome. With a traumatic head injury, but you are still Jerome."
"And to me, you are a fool. Without a head injury for an excuse." There was no smile anywhere on his face or eyes, he was as serious as he had been a moment ago.
Doctor Gordon stood silently for a second and remembered what his patient's mother had said about him before and since the accident. Then he continued, "Then tell me, who are you? Or what are you? If you are not a linebacker for Lincoln High named Jerome."
"I am just me. Other than this body, I am what I was before I was here, they say I am a boy now, before, I was just me."
"Are you an ancient god or a demon or something like that?"
The silence from the patient was telling, he was looking at the doctor with no gleam in his eye or even a twitch at the corner of his mouth for some time.
Then he spoke, "Are you certain you haven't suffered the same sort of brain injury they told me happened to Jerome?"
Doctor Gordon shook his head, his patient certainly didn't speak like either a high school junior or someone who had recently suffered a traumatic injury. Still thinking about it he realized he was walking out of the room without saying anything else to his patient, something he never did. He turned back toward Jerome, "You've given me a lot to think about, we'll discuss it more later."
"I will look forward to that."
"Jerome? Your mother and the nurses told me you didn't want to order lunch," the dietitian's aid said.
His reply was slow but steady, "I have since reconsidered that decision. It would seem that it is as they said, that the body has been without material intake for too long and its overall condition is becoming unsatisfactory. Even that disturbing and... unpleasant, function of the body expelling what it took in before has ceased."
The women paused and looked at each other while they figured out what he had meant.
His mother was the first one to speak, "so what do you want for lunch?"
"The body has pleasant memories of the way you make pan fried gulf shrimp, where you put that seasoned salt on them when they're done. He really liked those. The memory is pleasurable."
His mother smiled and nodded for the first time in days. The dietitian shook her head, "we don't have shrimp. Perhaps a turkey and cheese sandwich?"
"Whatever is available will suffice," he said flatly.
His mother's smile faded but she didn't say anything until they were in the hall. Once there she put out her hand and stopped the dietitian in her tracks.
"He doesn't like turkey and cheese. Ham and cheese, and other things, but he's never liked turkey sandwiches."
The nurse thought about it for a minute, "let's see if he eats it. Maybe he'll remember he doesn't like it. OK?"
His mother nodded and went back into the room. The dietitian went to order the meal.
About half an hour later a food service aid brought the tray in and set it on the waiting table.
"How is it?" The nurse asked as he sat and slowly ate his lunch. Carefully chewing each bite and then taking a sip of water before the next.
"I do not feel qualified to judge the food. It appears adequate and is not unpleasant to consume. There is a memory within that finds one of the ingredients distasteful, however, for the present purpose of maintaining the body, this will serve."
Josephine told Jerome she'd be right back and followed the nurse out of the room.
"He's eating it."
His mother disagreed, "he's not eating it like Je would have. I've seen him finish a sandwich that size in three bites without a drink. But since it is turkey, I don't think he would have eaten it like that, he would have taken it apart and eaten the turkey separate, if at all."
"He had to have been starving, he hasn't eaten at all since he woke up," his father added.
She was still shaking her head, "That isn't Jerome, it is all just wrong for him."
The nurse looked from one to the other, "I'll put that in his file, the doctors will want to know."
"Doctor Gordon?" One of the nurses said after tapping on the office door early the next morning.
"Doctor Wilson is here."
"Oh, good, good, show her in."
"I'm in," she said as she pushed the door open.
"So you are, how you doing Christine?"
"Not bad, Phil, not bad at all, except for the damned doctor telling me to lose weight." She said as she put a large bag that was her portable office on a chair.
"They always say doctors make the worst patients."
"Don't I know it," she turned toward him, "I need one thing before we see your patient."
"A cup of coffee and his chart and test results."
"That's two, but no problem. And I've ordered another series of EEGs for him."
"I'd like to be there when they do that if you don't mind."
Doctor Gordon nodded, "I wanted you to, just to be certain."
Doctor Wilson's face grew longer as she read through the paper chart, and the files on the screen, and only part of it had to do with the bitterness of the coffee.
"I've seen it myself, he exhibits no preference for handedness, he appears to be truly ambidextrous for things like eating and the moving of objects. And according to his mother, Jerome was exclusively right-handed before the accident." Doctor Gordon answered her first question from the clinical notes.
"I've never heard of that being a result from brain injury. Switching dominance and having to re-learn everything, but that? No. Can he write with either hand?"
"No. At least not that I've heard any report of. He has taken to drawing some rather interesting abstract designs with the pencil one of the nurses left for him. And does so with either hand and at least I can't tell the difference between them. But he hasn't written anything yet. I don't know if he can."
"Fascinating. To coin a phrase," she turned a page on the paper chart.
"I knew you'd want to re-run the EEG. I've ordered the portable unit and a tech to come up this morning."
"Good. Is there any way we can get his school records?"
"His grandmother had a copy of his last report card with her. I had it scanned." He clicked on a couple of icons and the image came up.
Doctor Wilson laughed, "that's a grandmother for you." She looked at it, "he's never taken any courses on Eastern Mysticism or anything?"
"He's in high school and has never taken any advanced placement classes. So, no, he hasn't. And where the school records and his grandmother mention his being something of a comedian, he hasn't even cracked a smile yet. Let alone laugh or tell a joke."
"If it's your jokes I wouldn't laugh either. High school. Junior year. That's right, sorry, I forgot," she chuckled again, "and it's right there in front of me," she pointed to the top of the screen where the grade sheet said 'Central High School'. "It was these notes from his nurses and the dietitian that made me think he was older."
"You get that impression talking to him, too."
"Then let's do it."
Doctor Gordon walked into the room and was about to introduce Doctor Wilson when Jerome stopped him.
"The patient down the hall, the body name was Peter Blankenship, the one that had lung cancer and died," Jerome said.
"How would you....." Doctor Gordon asked. He seen the removal team assembling and as it did not involve one of his patients he didn't pursue it further.
"He wanted to tell his, wife, 'Penny' he called her, and children, that it is, OK, he is out of pain now. He has been freed. He is with his parents and others, before he went with them he said that the papers for the," he glanced to one side briefly, "... yes, Teamster, insurance, is in the cabinet, under the old phone, in the garage."
The two doctors didn't know what to do.
Jerome looked from one to the other, "Will one of you relay the message? Unless I should go to them."
"I'll take care of it," the nurse said from behind Doctor Wilson, "I'll be gentle."
"Good," Doctor Wilson answered, "Jerome, well, yes, Jerome, how..."
"Peter Blankenship told me. When he was released from his body. I have see others depart, but he came before he went on and asked me to say that. I told him I would. I did not want to break my word."
"The dead man. Came to you?" Doctor Wilson asked him softly.
"That is how you would refer to him, but what I saw was not a dead man. To me, he was more alive than you are."
Doctor Gordon looked at his old friend and smiled, "I'll leave you two to have a nice chat and, I'll, ah," he looked down the hall, "go see about the other patient."
Over two hours later Doctor Wilson found Doctor Gordon in his office and sat heavily in his guest chair.
"Do you have anything to drink?" She asked.
"I've got coff... oh, you mean 'a real drink'. Yes, don't move." He got up and opened the corner cabinet over the sink.
"I'm not talking coffee, trust me."
"I take it you have something more than just a good talk with Jerome."
Doctor Wilson's eyes spoke volumes before she found her voice. "I don't who, or even what, is in that room, but it isn't your Jerome."
He poured some liquid into a paper cup and handed it to her, she drank most of it in one gulp without another word.
She winced as she swallowed, "I'd forgotten that you like gin. Oh well, hell with it. More, and I'll try to tell you what is going on."
He refilled the cup. This time she sipped it slowly.
"Well?" He asked her.
Doctor Wilson took a deep breath. "Have you ever heard of Limbo?"
"Like Never-Never Land?"
"... ... ... no .... ... " she answered with thinly veiled sarcasm, "and yes. Kinda, some sort of pre-physical existence from the Hindu, and others."
"It's been a long time, but yeah, I think I remember it."'
"The same idea occurs in other Eastern religions, like the Narakas, but instead of judgment, it's the place for souls who are awaiting reincarnation. It's part of the idea of Metempsychosis. The transition of souls."
"And. Jerome. Is one of them?"
"That'd be my guess, except somewhere, somebody, or some thing, some-where, some Atman, I guess, never mind how, missed a step. And what you have in there is a soul that has no idea what is going on or how it got here. And according to him, he doesn't think he has ever been incarnated to this world before as another person or anything else. He remembers being, but he doesn't ever remember being physical. The memories he is accessing, to speak to us for one, are in the body, stored in the brain itself. So what we are dealing with is, almost by definition, not a case of reincarnation."
Doctor Gordon poured himself some gin and took a long sip of it as Doctor Wilson continued.
"This is not the person called Jerome. There is no way a high school football player could talk like he did for an hour, in depth, and consistently, and cover what we did, like that, and...." she looked into her cup, "and make me want to go home and curl up on my couch and cry." She held out the empty cup.
"Cry?" He said as he refilled it.
"Cry. I spent two terms of grad school metaphysics learning that stuff. I had to write a major paper on how the Sikhs view the various stages and steps of a soul coming to God, and he explained it in two sentences. And then he said that he wasn't a soul in that sense of the word because a soul is dependent on the physical body for its identity in the hereafter." She paused, "And he said he had no special wisdom or understanding. That he was just him." Her sigh said the rest. "He also explained his lack of a sense of humor. He is only part of a person, a piece of an Atman. He explained that what we think of as a person is multiple pieces that come together in the body. You have an emotional self, an intellectual and logical self, a sensual self that works from the senses, and a couple of others, all of those aspects work together make the Jivata..., the living person we know."
"And he's only the logical part."
Doctor Gordon shook his head, "Don't tell me any more. I don't have more booze," he shook the bottle and dropped it in the waste basket, "But Jerome was Christian."
"He, or rather, yeah, he now, he said he didn't even have a sex before, 'he' knows, and he hopes that Jerome found his way to his reward. But the spirit that is in that body now is not your Jerome."
"And you're sure he's not just a good actor?"
"If he's faking it, he needs to win an Oscar."
Doctor Gordon laughed, "or be in Congress."
Later that afternoon Jerome was given another Electroencephalogram test. Doctor Wilson was directly involved in administering the test by request of Doctor Gordon.
When the medical team reviewed the results, they only added to the mystery.
"You're certain?" Doctor Gordon asked Doctor Wilson and the team as they reviewed the results.
"Absolutely, we have verified the results with two different units and I checked the second machine on one of the floor nurses and hooked it up to Jerome myself. There is no significant change to his brain wave patterns even while he is engaged in conversation. According to the EEG trace, he is in almost a textbook Nu-complex coma pattern that are continuous over a long term test and are nonreactive to various stimulation including pain and movement. There are no higher patterns. No sign on consciousness in the brain."
"It is virtually identical to the scan done in the ER when he was brought it," Doctor Gordon said comparing the previous scans. "Especially the frontal pattern. It looks the same right down line."
The nurse that had assisted them had her own opinion, "I saw the same thing in patients where we were testing xenon anesthesia at the university hospital. And according to his records, he has not been given any anesthesia here since he was admitted."
The intern that led the team added another observation. "And it was consistent except when he was sitting up and telling me that he had to read the body's memories to understand what we were saying in our language. If he was laying still the tracing maintained the same low energy wave pattern across the board unless he moved his head. No beta or gamma, nothing. Not even delta waves. Any lower and you'd have to call it cerebral inactivity."
"Brain death," he paused after nearly whispering the words. Then he asked, "How is that possible?"
"You want my honest opinion?" Doctor Wilson replied.
"And nothing else."
"It beats the hell out of me, unless."
"Unless he is telling the truth."
Doctor Gordon stopped in to check on his patient before he and Doctor Wilson reported the results to the family.
As usual, Jerome had no complaints about the quality of the food, his nurses, the work they had him do in physical therapy, or anything else. But he did make one comment that surprised the doctor.
"I have recently experienced what I believe is one of the emotions Doctor Wilson was talking about."
"Yes? Good. What was it?"
"Impatience." There was no smile, no sparkle in his eyes. He simply said the word.
"Why is that?"
"I listen to the conversations of others and they indicate that there is no medical reason for you to keep this body in this room other than you cannot explain why I am here and Jerome is not."
"That and the test results that indicate that there is no brain activity."
"From what I understand of the medical practice you do, if there is no brain activity in the body then the person is dead. That was one of the things they checked Peter Blankenship for because of his other problems. As I am speaking with you, I've been to the therapy and I am now able to get up and walk to the small room and perform the bodily processes and functions required by consumption to make the nurses content. This body is clearly not dead."
"So then, what are you going to do with me and this body?"
Doctor Gordon couldn't begin to answer that right then, "let me talk to your parents, or rather, well, to everybody, and we'll make a decision."
Again, no nodding, no facial expression at all. "As you will."
As he turned to go Doctor Gordon noticed the light still wasn't on on the TV indicating that the service had been activated. "You still don't want your television on?"
"No, I prefer to meditate when alone. It was working one day and I found it offensively distracting. I asked them to disable it."
The doctor nodded, "And on that we both agree."
"If you see the woman that is this body's mother. And, the father."
"She is right down the hall. I think he had to go to work today."
"Very good, tell her that I do enjoy her company, in spite of the circumstances."
"I will. I think that will make her happy. At least as happy as she can be now."
"That was my intent."
The news didn't relieve Josephine at all.
"You still haven't told me what you can to do make him Jerome again."
Doctor Gordon looked at Doctor Wilson, then he took a deep breath, "I'm sorry ma'am, but I'm not sure there is anything we can do medically or even psychologically."
"And, as a clinical psychologist, I concur with that assessment," Doctor Wilson added. "This is unlike any case I have ever heard of."
Jerome's grandfather asked a question, "then why don't you get somebody in who has seen it before?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but there is nobody who's dealt with anything like this before. Medically, from his EEG, he should be in a deep coma, not debating the concept of soul versus self with me."
Doctor Gordon held out a moderating hand before the conversation needed it. "Jerome had a rather profound conversation with Doctor Wilson. And from what you told me, he wasn't well versed in the subject other than being a Christian."
"We're all Christians. And so was he, did that change too?"
Neither doctor could answer that question, but after a moment Doctor Wilson spoke softly, "Jerome would still be a Christian. The," she paused for a second, "spirit, I guess, that is in his body right now doesn't appear to have any religion."
"You mean he's an atheist now?" Jerome's grandfather asked.
"No, he would be something of an agnostic. He said that if the Supreme Intelligence exists, physical people will never know it for certain."
"I know He is real and I can feel it," his mother answered immediately. "And we don't believe in spirits and other worlds and all that."
"Other realms like they call it," his grandfather added.
Doctor Wilson was used to this, "Tell me, do you sing the old songs in church."
"Like 'Midnight on Olive's Brow'?"
"Yes, sometimes in the traditional service."
"Do you sing the fourth verse?" The doctor asked, "'Tis midnight and from ether-planes, is borne the song that angels know," she recited without singing.
"Unheard by mortals are the strains that sweetly sooth the Savior's woe," Jerome's grandfather finished the verse.
"What do you think that means? Where is the music coming from?"
Josephine shook her head so her own mother answered the question, "Our music director said one time that it was the angels singing over the desert in Judah. The plains where it is coming from is the desert outside of town."
Doctor Wilson didn't laugh, "I'm sorry, but the word is very specific. It is another realm, usually thought of as the spiritual world, where the angels live, and apparently, the consciousness that is in your son is from that neighborhood."
"He's from heaven?" Jerome's grandmother asked.
"A heaven. Remember, Saint Paul said there was more than one, and that he had been caught up into the third. John in Revelation referred to the Jewish belief that the Throne of God was in the Seventh."
"I didn't think you were religious," Josephine said to her.
"Born and raised a Southern Baptist. Here, I go to a different church, but I still go," Doctor Wilson said.
"Good," Jerome's grandfather said, "so then, as a Believer, what do you think of all of this?"
She smiled, "I learned a long time ago to quit trying to push my own limited ideas and beliefs off on the wonders of God and His Creation and just to do the best I can while I'm here with what I've been given, and I try to make a point not to tell God what to do or how to do it."
The family was silently thoughtful for a long moment.
"Amen." The grandfather finally said softly.
"So Jerome, my Jerome, really is gone," his mother whispered.
Doctor Gordon answered her, "We don't know that yet. His brain may come out of its coma and he will re-assert himself. But until then, we need to move him to a rehabilitation facility."
"Rehabilitation?" One of the family asked.
"He can barely walk in a straight line and doesn't know how to take care of himself. He has to learn things like hygiene."
The family exchanged looks, then Jerome's mother nodded, "I hadn't thought about that. But you're right, the other day he didn't know what was happening when he had to go to the bathroom."
The next morning, several of the nurses stopped by and said good bye to the young man who had become their favorite patient.
Not long after breakfast Jerome was transferred to the rehabilitation wing of a nursing home not far from the hospital.
But as soon as they turned toward the building he began shrieking and demanding to be taken away. His father had to help hold him in his seat.
"What's wrong?" Josephine asked as he moaned and panted with his face covered in the crook of his right arm while his left hand fanned the air in front of him.
"NO! Do not take me in there. There are too many, they are all talking to me. No! Take me away."
The medical transport staff didn't know what to do.
"Go back, I'll call Doctor Gordon." His mother said to them and fished in her purse for her phone.
"Just go, anywhere but here," his father said sharply to the driver.
Josephine patted his shoulder as he continued to wail about people talking to him trying to calm him. "We're going. We'll drive around town. OK?"
Jerome didn't relax until the van was over a block away from the home.
Finally his mother was put through to the doctor and explained what happened.
"Yes, doctor, he was screaming about people trying to talk to him."
Doctor Gordon felt his entire spinal column enveloped by a massive burst of frigid cold all at once. He shivered involuntarily so forcefully he almost dropped his telephone. It took him a minute to compose himself. Then when he could he asked her a question. "Could you understand anything he said?"
"Yes. He said they were waiting on the patients, and were all talking to him about them."
"OK. That's enough. All right. Something like that happened here but... It's OK, we'll find someplace else to take him." Doctor Gordon suddenly felt nauseous. He fought it down and took several deep breaths.
"We're still in the ambulance, where should we go?"
Doctor Gordon's eyes fell on an old sports schedule pinned to the wall. "Ask the driver if he knows where the old visiting team dorm near the baseball stadium is. I'll call them and meet you there."
The doctor heard her ask, then she relayed his answer, "He wants to know if its the one with the pool in the parking lot."
"We're turning that way now."
"Let me make a call and I'll see you there."
Doctor Gordon called the athletic director of the university and explained that he had a very unusual request for a very unusual patient, "He's a high school football player with a unique type of head injury that needs extensive vocational rehabilitation."
The A.D. understood what he wanted and checked an online schedule, "we do have a few rooms available in the Guttmann building. I'll let them know you're coming. You can cover all the essentials with Mrs. Steele, I'll send her a message approving it."
By the time the time Doctor Gordon got to the old dorm that now only occasionally housed visiting sports teams Jerome was back to usual. He was sitting in his wheelchair with his mother and the medical transport crew next to him, watching several people swim laps in the pool that was literally in the middle of the parking lot.
"Hello, doctor," Jerome said.
"Hello, I hear you had a bad reaction to the rehab center."
"No. It wasn't a bad reaction. I was overwhelmed by them."
"By the dying patients in the nursing home?"
"No," Jerome looked out at the swimmers, "by those who were there waiting for them."
"By their families?"
"Yes. By those that had gone on before waiting on them to join them."
Doctor Gordon shivered again, "I hadn't thought about that. Now I remember what you said when the patient down the hall passed, but I didn't consider it then. I'm sorry."
Jerome looked up at him, "No apology is required, it was not done maliciously." He sighed, "but the terrible sadness of some of those waiting will be a part of me forever."
"Yes, some of them are only waiting for their family member to die. There will be no rejoining." There was no change in his expression or tone.
"Why?" His mother asked him.
"It was a choice by the person. The patient as Doctor Gordon would say."
"They weren't a Christian?" She asked.
He looked at her with the same eyes, "they weren't anything. Most had denied all."
Doctor Gordon shook off another chill. "Mrs. Steele is waiting for us inside," he said to the transport crew.
"Yessir," The driver responded, then he took a deep breath and got out to help them with Jerome.
Mrs. Steele greeted them all warmly and then welcomed Jerome to the facility. "We've got several other athletes staying with us so they can concentrate on getting back on the playing field as soon as possible." She nodded, "one of them is an associate professor of English. He injured his back rock climbing and is staying here because he can't climb the stairs to his apartment yet." She gestured down the hall, "I picked out a couple of rooms for you to look at, you can decide which one meets your needs. The upper two floors are still reserved for visiting athletic teams that do not have other accommodations arranged of course."
"Thank you," Doctor Gordon said when it was clear that she'd come to the end of her speech.
Jerome had no preference for his room, but his mother and grandmother did. His father and grandfather sat in the TV lounge and watched the lacrosse team play with a couple of the other residents while the women went through room after room. Mrs. Steele showed them several of the available rooms and then they went back through some of the others until they decided on one just down the hall from the exercise room, which happened to be across the hall from the English Professor, and they settled Jerome into his new room.
"Is the view OK?" Mrs. Steele asked Jerome as she opened the curtains.
"It is the outside, a building, some trees, what other view is there?"
The lady looked from his mother to the doctor and then back, "This is it. OK. I'll leave you all to relax for awhile."
"Thank you, Mrs. Steele," Josephine answered.
After the dorm manager left Doctor Gordon tried to explain something to Jerome, "We'll start your, I don't know what to call it, training, maybe, socialization, I don't know. Anyway, we'll start it now. You have to realize when somebody is asking a question that really doesn't require an answer."
Jerome just looked at him.
"Mrs. Steele was just being friendly. It wasn't a serious question."
"If she didn't want me to evaluate the visual appeal of the perspective outside the window why did she ask?"
Doctor Gordon shook his head and looked at Jerome's mother.
"I'll talk to you about it later," she said. "She said we can bring in food for you to eat, and some of your things from home. Is that OK?"
There was a moment of silence.
"Jerome, she is asking you what you'd like for supper."
"Oh, but she didn't say it as a question."
"That's something else you can talk about later."
Jerome seemed to think about it, "Anything they wish to bring will be fine. I do not have a preference."
Jerome's grandparents went out and picked up a selection of dishes from a Chinese take-out place.
"You used to really like this one," his grandmother said as she opened a container.
"I will try a little of each, so I may have, as they put it, a rich variety of experiences."
"That's good advice," his grandfather said looking in one of the containers marked 'spicy'.
Except his wife didn't see things that way for him, "you've already had a variety of experiences, you need to stick with what you're supposed to eat."
While they ate, Jerome's mother watched him carefully. Even the smallest mannerisms that her son used to do, such as only half chewing a bite of his food before swallowing it was different. Before the accident, Jerome would have to put his fork down to pick up his drink, now, since she and the nurses had taught him how to use a fork and spoon, he would use whichever hand was free to pick up his drink. And it was true, he was equally adept at using either utensil in either hand. Something she had finally come to accept that her son could not do.
After dinner they all went for a walk outside.
"I have the memory of doing that. Swimming." Jerome said as they watched a group of young children kick from end to end of the pool pushing floaters ahead of them as part of their swimming lesson.
"You used to like it," Josephine answered, "Well, you know what I mean. Jerome used to."
"I wish I could help you, but as much as I have tried, I cannot be him. I am not him. The body is, but..."
"I know," she answered softly when he paused to search for a word.
He fell silent and looked at her with wide eyes. "Yes, you do. Jerome was lucky to have such a wise person for a mother."
She smiled at him, "thank you."
It took Jerome a couple of days to get used to the quiet of the dorm, and not being bothered every two hours for something all night.
He mentioned that it was almost too still at night for him to sleep and the English Professor suggested leaving a radio on.
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't have a radio to leave on."
"No problem, my friend, I've got a spare. Hang on, I'll even find you the campus station. They play classical all night, it's great to sleep to."
As is the way of grandparents, soon Jerome's room was outfitted with decorations of things that Jerome liked, such as a large poster of a baseball team. There were family photos here and there, and even an array of his favorite snacks and treats.
But the current occupant of the room did not seem interested in any of it, and even asked what the significance of the numbers on the player's uniform was. He would sit in the chair, or on the bed, and, as he put it, rest the body after therapy and just sit, with the radio on.
"It was much easier in the hospital when I didn't have to make decisions." Jerome said when the doctor stopped by to check on him in a day or so.
"That's part of life," Doctor Gordon said softly with a nod.
"If it is, then it is part of it that I do not like, but" he paused for a second, "I do not see any way around doing so. Which is much like many of the decisions I've had to make. I do not wish to eat, or expel waste, or even sleep, but there is no viable option while I am in this body."
"And that, my friend, makes you human."
"There is no advantage to that condition that I am aware of." The face that searched deeply into the doctor’s eyes was totally expressionless, "but, as that is what you are, and, evidently, what I now am, I would appear to have no choice but to accept it."
As they worked with the new Jerome a few unique personality traits surfaced that they hadn't expected.
For one, he did not understand humor of any sort. At all. He grasped the concept, and could explain irony or how a given thing like physical slapstick was unexpected, but how or why it was funny he just could not appreciate.
He also continued to have no interest in anything on television. He understood that some of it was representations of real people and events, but he said that what he saw on television was just images of them and not the real thing. He preferred to sit quietly in the chair by the window.
"Even if it is what you say is live and in real time, we are not seeing the living person," Jerome said.
"It is an image of a living person."
Jerome looked at him intently, "but that image has no soul."
The doctor nodded, "And sometimes I wonder about the person."
In a few weeks, Jerome was moved into a group housing unit with several others who had special needs. He did not fit in, but he understood that it was a transitional step until he could manage on his own, or move back into Jerome's parent's house. But, again, unless otherwise engaged, he would be found sitting in a chair by himself.
Josephine had suggested taking him home several times, but everybody else was hesitant about taking that step given the situation.
"I know he is not my son, but, he is still my son, you know?" she said. "Where else will he go? He can't take care of himself. What kind of job could he get?"
Doctor Gordon sighed slowly, "I know. I don't think he ever will be able to manage on his own. He doesn't grasp the basics of life." He paused and thought about it. "And, again, even though he has made great progress, I'm not sure he ever will. All we can do is help him as much as we can."
She looked at him with the saddest eyes the doctor had ever seen, "I'm trying. And I know you are too. And I thank you for it."
He sighed deeply, "Very well, they have an excellent 'homeward bound' program here, let's go ahead and get him in it and see how he does. It'll give us a good gauge of what to expect when he goes home."
The joy on her face was tempered by the reality of the situation, "Thank you, doctor."
"I have learned how to write." Jerome said out of the blue a week or so later to Doctor Gordon. "The body had the memory, but I did not have a use for that skill. As with reading. I can see a word, and the body knows the meaning."
"Miss Banneker in the home program suggested that it would be helpful. I believed her." He handed the doctor the page of notebook paper he had been writing on. The text on the page was a primitive block letters from the charts they used to re-teach stroke patients how to write. First the alphabet, then basic three and four letter words. The only complete sentence on the page read 'The cat was wet and sad.'
"May I keep this?"
Outside the room the doctor called Josephine's number.
"Yes, ma'am, just a question, when Jerome was in school, what did his handwriting look like?"
"Oh, ahh, he did write in script, but he was never very neat with it."
"I thought so, can you come over to the home? There's nothing wrong, just something I want to show you."
"I'm with mama now, we can all come over in a few minutes."
"That's not Jerome's writing," she said as soon as she saw the printing on the page. "That's not like his at all. When he was in grade school they were always telling him to make his letters bigger. It's something he even did in high school, whenever he took notes in football practice, he would write so small nobody else could read it."
In a moment his grandparents confirmed it.
"He could write in longhand, like for his classes," his grandfather said, "and it always looked like he was left handed. The letters leaned that way."
The next day when Josephine came in Jerome had a question for her that she did not expect.
"I would like you to do something for me," he said.
"Anything, what do you need?"
"I do not believe I need anything, but I would like you to do something for me."
"Can you tell me about Jerome? One of his coaches gave this to me last night. There are memories of some of this, and I read the words, but there are things here I do not know about." He held out a scrapbook to her.
The cover was a photo of the choir, with Jerome in the back row, just off center. He was easy to spot in the photo because he had forgotten about the group picture that day and was wearing his baseball jersey. She opened the book to the first page and read the dedication out loud, "For Jerome, hope you get better soon. Love Katie and Shaniqua and Anne." then she turned another page. "Well this is very nice."
"Who are those you just mentioned?"
"I think they're girls in the choir. Here, let me see...." She turned through the pages until she came to several of the shots of the girls in the choir with names under the picture. "There, that one is Shaniqua," she pointed to the soprano. "She and Jerome were boyfriend and girlfriend for part of last year."
"If he was a boy and she is a girl, they would be."
"It's a bit more complicated than that."
"It seems that everything when dealing with other people is. But his memory of her is pleasant." He paused for a moment, "Very pleasant for him."
She had gotten used to observations like that from him. "I can just go through these and tell you what I know about them."
"Jerome would say 'please'."
"Jerome's eighteenth birthday is coming up next week," Josephine said to Doctor Gordon. "I wish we can do something for him for it."
"I think that would be great. What did you have in mind?"
"He never liked surprise parties, but he did like all that silly stuff, you know, the hats and balloons and stuff."
His grandmother grinned with gleaming false teeth, "and he really liked that confetti cake with the different colors sprinkles baked into it."
The Doctor nodded, "If we can get enough for everybody in the place that can eat something like that."
"We'll even bring something for those that can't," his grandfather said, "if you approve it, we'll make it happen."
"Let me make a call."
Five minutes later, Jerome's family were making plans for a birthday party for about thirty patients and staff.
Doctor Wilson had been doing a lot of research, some of it involved getting obscure works from long ago translated from Latin, others were in German, Russian or even Japanese.
Now she had a working theory, and wanted to come back and run it by Doctor Gordon and his patient. When she heard about the birthday party, she thought it would be a great time to observe Jerome and see if she could see progression that way.
It came down to this: There was a chance that the longer he was 'Jerome' the more 'Jerome-like' he would become because of the physical memory in the body if nothing else. But, would he ever be the young man he was before? She didn't know, and couldn't say.
But it was a working theory, and the best she could offer.
She worked all of her research and notes into a single file and emailed it to herself so it wouldn't get lost. Then she packed up a party dress and headed out.
The birthday party was more of a success for the other residents of the facility than it was for Jerome. But, as he had been carefully instructed to at least try smile and be pleasant. So he smiled and was pleasant. "If I understand, at some point in human history it was remarkable to have survived another calendar year, so a celebration was call for."
"OK. Yes, you could say that."
"Very well. I will do as instructed," He practiced smiling and succeeding in looking like he worked for a car dealer.
At the party he even tried on the new shirt that he'd been given.
Of the things he did that he said he enjoyed doing was reading the cards, and he said he understood what they meant. "Here's to hoping...", he opened the card, "you don't have to lie about how much fun you had today." He sat there for a moment, "Oh, yes, that is quite clever. And funny," he 'smiled', then he looked at a small card that had been inside, "and a pizza offer. I like pizza. Thank you Mrs. Hall."
"You're very welcome, Jerome."
Jerome didn't understand birthday cake at all, "The only reason to eat it is for pleasure. Correct? It is very nutritionally deficient."
"That's the main idea," his grandfather said looking for another piece.
"Which is why you've had enough," Jerome's mother scolded her own father.
After the party they walked Jerome back to his room as he graciously accepted the well wishes of the other residents.
Then they were alone in his room so Doctor Wilson could discuss her theory with them and Doctor Gordon.
Jerome listened, as he always did, with slightly detached interest.
But then he had a question.
"I don't believe the images I see at night when the body is asleep are memories from Jerome," he muttered during a pause in the conversation. "Could they be, what I was... before?"
Doctor Gordon was the one that asked the crucial question, "It is possible, what sort of dreams are you having?"
"I don't like to remember them, the images are not good."
"Are they people you may have known or places you went?"
"No. They are not humans like you, or now, me. The places are not here. What I see is... isn't."
"Not this world. The beings are not... It's not like this, it never was. Never. I don't think I was one of them, I was, something else. Less than them."
Jerome's mother spoke up, "It sounds like a bad dream. Just a new place and different things happening."
Jerome just sat there. He didn't shake his head or give other physical indication of disagreement.
Doctor Wilson was curious about the beings in his dream. "What did the others look like, just tell us what you can remember, it might help."
"If I close these eyes I can see them." He closed his eyes. "They have bodies of light and shade. Just bodies. No faces. Not even a head. No male or female, just them. Their arms that come and go when they need them to use. And no legs, they move by moving."
The others looked at each other. Dr. Wilson had planned on sketching what he described, but she gave up on that idea. "How about where you are when you see them?"
"It is not like this here. There are layers of the world, levels, with them coming and going between them. Sometimes I am being pulled down, into the ground below. Other times, I am being drawn up, into the sky, or into something not the sky." He opened his eyes and focused them on her, but his face was as expressionless as ever. "And the time there, time wasn't as important as it is here with you, but there was more of it."
"Were you like them when you were with them?"
"I don't know. But, I believe that, yes, a part of me was. But I do remember spending a lot of time hiding from the others. Or trying to. Maybe that is how I came to be here, hiding."
Doctor Gordon asked a followup question, "You said a part of you was with them, what would you call that part?"
He was silent a moment, then answered. "A memory of evil."
The room was very quiet for a long time.
Jerome's mother sat with her hand over her mouth as if she were frozen that way.
The two physicians exchanged glances, but neither could think of another question.
Finally, his grandfather said something. "You know, it's been several years, but I think, now, I need a stiff drink."
Doctor Wilson nodded to Doctor Gordon, "We'll join you."
Outside the doctors were standing near one of their cars when Jerome's grandfather walked up to them.
"Is everything OK?" Doctor Gordon nodded toward the building.
"Yes, Doctor. I just have a question about what Jerome said."
"About the 'memory of evil' he lives with now."
"Yes," the old man looked from one to the other of them, "what do we do?"
Doctor Wilson didn't understand, "What do we do? What? With him? With Them if they come after him? If he turns out to be one of them and becomes a monster?"
"Yes, sir. All of that. What do we do?"
Doctor Gordon looked at Doctor Wilson and waited for her to answer her own questions.
"There are aspects of human personality, and its development, how memories influence the person, and more, that we do not understand. That we may never understand." She shook her head, "So. What can we do? He is Jerome now. Or, it is, whatever. If it is a real memory of where he was and what he was, it is a different reality than ours, and they may have no more access to us than we do to them. And we can't lock him up because he may become a monster. We just help him be human, and a good human, and take care of him."
Doctor Gordon put his hand on the grandfather's shoulder, "She's right."
"I know, that's why I said 'yeah'."
"You can do that, even though he's not your grandson?"
"He's still my grandson, whatever he is. Even though the Jerome I knew has," he paused, "moved on, home."
"I understand, sir. And, now that I thought about it, I feel the same way. I'll do what I can for him, and the rest of your family."
"Thank you, doctor."
Doctor Wilson nodded, "That's the way I feel as well."
The old man was silent for a moment, "Well, OK, then. We do what we can do for him, and see what happens."
"That's all we can do. And really, that's all any of us can do, even when we're leading a normal life. And, hopefully, we do it with God's help."
He looked up at the darkening sky for a long moment, "amen."
[NOTE: No preincarnate spirits were harmed in the writing of this story. All characters are to be considered FICTIONAL. This Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]
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