Play It Forward

I didn’t remember how I died when I first awoke, but no one does. The nurse told me how it began though, and that’s an important first step. The box was opened, my ashes were moved to the oven, the oven was cooled and my body was removed. I was wheeled out of the crematorium, into the hospital. It was there I took my first breath.

This is oversimplified. Like most people, I didn’t just wake up. I had visions first. A tunnel of light with long shadowy figures walking away, their backs turned. The tunnel became brighter, and I could see words, sentences, verbs, nouns, then objects, places, animals and faces. In the heat of it, I knew that these would be the people I’d meet in my life, the places I would visit, the happy moments, the dark days. The images were rapid fire, and they weren’t in order, so it was hard to understand their meaning.

Gradually, the vision gathered into a pinpoint, like puzzle pieces joining together, and I found myself on a long, empty beach with storm clouds overhead and a bruised, banana-colored sky. I felt the wind on my face, cold and salty. I could see the ocean turning on the horizon, and when I looked down, seaweed and kelp washed across my bare feet. I wore cargo pants that I’d rolled up to mid-calf. My red and white wind breaker was zipped up to my chin. My hands were cold, the moons of my nails purple, my hair was greasy with sea wind.

“Heron!” a voice called. I turned to see a man walking towards me, his hands in his pockets, his curly brown hair whipping in the wind. He waived his hand at me, seemingly friendly.

There was something pivotal about this moment. I knew that with certainty, but before I could ascertain how, the vision shattered, like a mirror that had been dropped, shards of glass scattering across a tiled floor.

I opened my eyes. I was staring at a corrugated drop-ceiling with a sprinkler overhead and flickering fluorescent lights, humming. I turned my head and saw that I was in a small hospital room with a darkened TV affixed to the upper corner, near a single window overlooking air conditioning units and the roofs of other buildings.

I realized that I was wearing a pale, blue checkered gown, laundered soft. An IV was poking into the back of my hand, and there was something on my face, in my nostrils. Overcome with panic, I raised my hand and tugged at it. A plastic oxygen tube. I tossed it aside and flung my legs over the bed. I had been sleeping for a long time, or so my body told me by the way it creaked, as if it had never been used. I needed to get out of here. I was about to yank on the IV in my hand.

“Wait!”

I turned.

A young nurse with a moon face hurried towards me, her hands raised. “Let me take it out. I’ll help you.”

I looked at her in what I knew was bewilderment. “Where am I? What am I doing here?” My voice was raspy, like I’d never spoken before. I raised my hands to my throat.

“Everything’s okay. You’re in St. John’s hospital.” She knelt by my side and began to work out the IV. Her hands were soft and fat.

“How did I get here?” The vision of the beach was still swirling in my head.

“You came here from the morgue. It’s your time to awake.”

“Awake?”

“Yes, you’ve just woken up from the dead.”

I didn’t understand what this meant. Not really. It seemed impossible that I’d been dead. I must still be dreaming.

“Do you remember your name?”

I searched my mind. The man on the beach had said it. “Heron,” I replied. “My name is Heron … Whitmore.”

“Yes, that’s right.” The nurse was rubbing my shoulder now. “Welcome to the world, Heron Whitmore.”