It was a truly hideous pillow. It looked like it was purchased from a cheap Mexican tourist trap. It had an orange background with a bright red bird stuck in the middle of it. The bird sat on a bright green branch with its head tilted up toward the multi-colored rainbow that was stretched in the sky above. Where there was more than an inch of empty space, a flower, either red, blue or yellow was stuck in so that the orange was almost invisible.
Since all of these patterns were stitched into it, they were raised slightly off the background. No human being would ever be comfortable trying to rest on it for if the grating bumps the cotton stitching produced didn’t irritate the face; the orange canvas background would surely rub it raw.
But none of this mattered to Janet.
Blind and paralyzed for the last two years, Janet clutched this pillow tightly and ran her fingers over it, day in and day out. It comforted her, eased her mind and made her darkness seem less lonely. She doesn’t remember the car accident that took away her legs and her sight. She just remembers waking up to a world of darkness feeling like someone had chopped off everything below the waist.
The doctors told her what happened. She and her family were driving down a country road when a drunk driver jumped the double yellow line and crashed into the front left of the car. The impact killed her husband, Matthew, instantly. Then, the car was spun into a ditch just before it slammed sideways into a tree. That impact shattered her window shooting glass into her eyes. It also knocked her back up against the gearshift, cracking her spine in the small of the back.
Her two children, Jade and Mark were also killed in the crash. Jade, who was only five, was flung from the car after the initial impact and died when she hit her head on the street. Mark received severe head trauma when the car hit the tree. HE was in a coma for seven days before the doctors decided to remove him from life support.
Miraculously, the drunk escaped serious injury. He was fortunate enough to have airbags to save him from the crash and a soft embankment for the car to stop in.
Janet never got to read the headlines in the newspaper. They were masterfully written “Two dead and two severely injured after late-night crash” and “Accident on back roads kills father and daughter” The articles recanted the story in the dry, journalistic style that newspapers typically do. It made the tragedy seem so distant that the town did nothing to help the poor woman who had lost everything.
Janet sued the drunk. She won a large sum of money, but all of it had to go to her long-term care and to pay the medical and funeral expenses. When it was all said and done she had just enough to live in a nursing home for the rest of her life, which is exactly where she went, went to wait on death like an old friend.
Two men came by and helped her pack. They piled all of the essentials into a couple of flimsy boxes and one of them, absent-mindedly perhaps, tossed the pillow into one of the boxes. Even when Janet had sight she never saw the pillow. It was Matthews, probably given as a birthday or Christmas present and promptly tossed into the bottom of the closet where it stayed for the entire time he owned it.
One of the nurses who was helping her unpack when she got to the nursing home pulled out the pillow and handed it to Janet. Janet hadn’t said a word to her and was hoping that the act of kindness would bring her out of her silence. It didn’t. Janet simply faced the window letting the warm sun hit her face and neck. She had no desire for human contact and thusly let the pillow fall to the floor.
It wasn’t long though, a couple of hours perhaps, that Janet got bored of feeling the sun on her face and decided to see about getting something to eat. She spun her wheelchair around only to lurch forward when her wheel hit the pillow causing the chair to stop suddenly. She leaned forward carefully to pick the pillow up and by chance her middle finger ran along the stitching that made up the bird’s back.
Her finger traced the line from the bird’s tail to it’s head slowly and the shape of the arched back reminded her of something. It reminded her of the shape the shoreline took on the family vacation a few years back. Suddenly, she was there again, she was able to feel the sun hitting her, smell the sea and suntan oil and even see the beautiful surroundings.
She watched Jade, who was barely out of diapers, waddle along the beach in a pretty pink dress with Mickey Mouse sunglasses that were constantly falling off her face. Mark was swimming, well, wading in the surf with Matthew keeping a close eye on him from the blanket next to her. She was relaxing on her blanket, wearing a blue one-piece and trying to get the tan that had escaped her all year.
Janet sat there, running her finger along the bird’s back for what must have been hours. Reliving the memory of that day at least a thousand times. It was the first time since the crash she had smiled and what a smile it was. A beautiful smile that ran from ear to ear and made her face light up like a child at Christmas.
The nurses came in to help Janet to bed. She was quite capable of it on her own but they somehow felt the need to assist her. As she slept she clutched the pillow tight against her, it reminded her of Matthew and the way they would hold each other as the slumbered. As newlyweds, they never left each other’s arms and even after the children were born they still spent many a night wrapped up in a tight embrace.
She passed several days like this. Running her fingertips over the pillow during her waking hours and clutching it tightly at night. Sometimes, as she was falling asleep and her spontaneous thoughts began to come to the forefront, she’d whisper to the pillow in a soft sweet voice, “I love you Matthew, I really do.” Occasionally, she’d swear he’d answer back, “I love you too.”
She found other memories buried in the pillow. One of the flowers was a bit oblong and reminded her of the hot tub that was in the room she and Matthew stayed at in their honeymoon. It was a beautiful mountain retreat with picturesque views on all sides and the best food. Not they saw much of either of that. She always blushed violently when her fingers ran over that flower.
The underside of the rainbow reminded her of the shape of Mark’s head just after he was born. It had been an agonizing nine-hour labor that had many of the doctors wanting to deliver him by caesarian. Matthew was for it, but she grit her teeth, bore the pain and refused. Once he was born, cleaned up and handed to her all of the pain became worthwhile. She held him close and ran her hand lightly over his soft head and felt the kind of love that only mothers know.
There were at least a dozen other memories to be found in that pillow. Each of them are as vivid and as happy as the next. Though trapped in a world of darkness, she could see everything crystal clear within her mind. Every detail still as sharp and as vivid as the day after it happened. Every emotion just as strong and every sensation just as real.
Hours turned into days and days into weeks. The pillow never left her lap and her hands rarely left the pillow. She’d stop only to eat and use the restroom. During all hours of the day she would run her fingers over the curves and bumps in the pillow and during the night she would hold it tight.
Sometimes when she was reliving her memories she would mumble to herself or giggle quietly. This disturbed many of the older patients at the home. During social hour they would say she had the devil in her or that she had lost her mind. Janet heard them, but didn’t care. There were merely echoes of reality barging in on her romantic dinner with Matthew or her day off with the kids.
A couple complained openly to the staff. But they were at a loss as of what to do. She wasn’t really hurting anyone, and she was doing everything they asked. She ate well, complied with the staff and seemed very content to sit there with her hideous pillow day in and day out. They thought she might be losing her mind, but half the patients there were already crazy.
But during social hour one day, a group of men were playing dominoes at a card table while Janet was sitting in her corner reliving in graphic detail the party after her high school graduation. She mumbled out half the conversation she had with a close friend and one of the men, who was losing sorely, marched up to the nurse on duty and complained about the noise she made and how it was hindering his concentration.
The other three begged him to leave her alone, but he insisted it was the cause of his losing. The nurse was new there, too eager to please. She walked over to Janet, glanced down at the pillow with its horrid red bird, said, “You don’t need this ugly thing, let me get you a new one,” and swiped the pillow from her lap.
Janet lunged forward for the pillow and even fell out of her wheelchair. She would have killed the woman who just took it from her, if only she could see her or catch her. She listened eagerly for her voice as another nurse came over to help her back into her chair. Janet asked her to get the pillow back, the nurse said she would and explained the other nurse was new.
But the pillow never did come back. No one is quite sure where it went. Apparently the psychiatrist there thought it would be best for her not to get it back, that it would help her recovery. With that being said, the pillow disappeared from the face of the earth and most importantly, from Janet’s lap.
Now Janet clutches her dress tightly, digging her nails into the fabric, going through several dresses a week. She digs for memories but none ever come. She sits there now in a world of darkness surrounded only by the voices of the nurses and the fellow patients. No more nights in the hot tub or graduation parties, no more days at the beach or any other wonderful memories. No more love, no more joy, no more happiness and no more smiling.
She’s now known fondly by her fellow patients as “The Crazy Woman” or sometimes, “The Crazy Bitch”. She hears these words, and now they hurt. It’s all that she can do to keep from screaming as her nails dig a little deeper into her fabric without a hope to fill her head and nothing to do except wait for death. The time when she can sit on that beach forever…