When I Knew You, page 1part #2 of Blue Sage Mystery Series
WHEN I KNEW YOU
Copyright © 2015 Desiree Prosapio
ePublished by Word River Press
All rights reserved.
To my mom and dad, who taught me that love cuts through all of life's complications.
Hold on to what is good,
Even if it's a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it's a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it's a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it's easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I'll be gone away from you.
A Pueblo Indian Prayer
February 8, 2000
"Now sweetheart, she looks pretty bad, but she's going to be just fine." The lady's voice was that fake nice voice grownups use, the one Rebecca says is the sign they're lying to you. Rebecca doesn't know everything, though. The lady squeezed my hand and smiled before we stepped out of the elevator. It smelled funny, like someone had spilled the cleaner all over the floor.
"Your grandmother is in there waiting."
I nodded and chewed on my lip to keep from talking. If I said anything, I'd cry and then they wouldn't let me see her. They'd think I was too little, they'd think I was a baby.
"You're being very brave."
When we came to the door, I tried to push it open, but it was too heavy. The lady leaned over me and gave it a push. I stood in the open doorway for a minute, trying to see.
A tall machine blocked Mommy's face, but I could see the outline of her feet under the blanket. I don't remember walking over to the bed, but I remember holding the rails. They were cool under my fingers. Her eyes were closed, but her skin all around them was black and blue like she'd been putting on makeup for Halloween or something. Her thick black hair was brushed to the side. She would have hated that, so maybe Abuela brushed it for her.
"Mommy?" My throat scratched when I said it, I was trying so hard to keep from letting the tears come out, the cry was caught in a tangle between my chest and my face.
Her eyes opened, and I could see there was bright red all around where it was supposed to be white. Abuela had told me about that, but it still looked scary.
She smiled real slow. "Well, hello there, honey."
Mommy. Before I could say anything, before I could tell her how they told me about the accident, how I was going to have to stay with Abuela for a few days but I wanted to stay with her, how I was scared and tired and please could I spend the night at the hospital with her, and how Pilot, our cat, had gotten out again when I got home and now I didn't know where he was, and what if he got lost even though she said he always made it home, and when was she coming home, and I needed her to help me with my map of Italy because she promised and it was due on Friday. Before I could say a single word she said it. She said the one thing she'd say to me over and over and I'd never, ever get used to it.
"What's your name, honey?"
April 14, 2012
"He's never going to jump, you know."
"Maybe not." I tilted my head from side to side. My neck ached from looking up for so long.
"It's not his fault. He's got issues." Carol, the jumper's friend, bit her lip. Her hands worried at a thin silver band, twisting it slowly around her slender ring finger. Her brown hair was pulled back in a messy bun, revealing a spray of crow's-feet wrinkles around her brown eyes.
"Don't we all," I said.
We'd been out here waiting for him to jump for twenty minutes. At first he shook so hard I thought he was going to just fall off the platform from the sheer vibration. Then I wondered if his chiffon blouse was going to tear on the way down; it looked so delicate. Just like the man inside it.
"I wish he'd jump. Are you sure I can't just give him a little push?" She laughed at her joke.
I smiled and shook my head, closed my eyes and mentally pushed him myself. Jump, dude. Just do it. When I opened them he was still clinging to the pole, but it looked like his breathing had relaxed. I figured he might have fifteen more minutes in him. "We'd all like to help him. But he's got to go there himself."
"Or not," said a deep voice behind me, one I didn't recognize. I glanced back at an older Hispanic man, as inappropriately dressed for the dust and chiggers as the man on the tower was in his the chiffon blouse and loose crepe pants. I had the sense the Hispanic man was dressed more casually than he liked, pressed black pants with a knife-like crease, starched gray button down with an expensive fall to it. His neck seemed to beg for a tie.
He gave me a professional smile and barest nod. Cool. Contained. I returned the smile. CEO on tour, I figured and turned back to our boy on the platform.
"Maurice! Take your time," I shouted.
"I hate this!" the jumper yelled up at the sky, his eyes shut. I amended my estimate by five minutes. I rubbed my neck.
"You're Katarina Perez, right?" It was the man behind me. His voice had that rich tone to it that reminded me of warm breezes on desert mesas. I nodded without looking back at him.
"I'll be right with you, Mr...."
"Calderon. It's rather important we talk, Ms. Perez."
"I'm in the middle of something here, Mr. Calderon. I'm sure it won't be much longer."
"I've been waiting inside for twenty minutes," he said, an irritation rising in his voice. This was not a man who was used to being kept waiting. Too bad.
"And we've been waiting out here, Mr. Calderon." My voice was sharp. I hoped he'd already paid for his outing, or I'd end up running him off.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Perez." He shifted, softening his stance, going for a more approachable manner. I found myself wondering if my taxes were in order.
"It's about your mother. Antonia."
My chest felt as if a vice had suddenly tightened around it. I had talked to Margie on Tuesday. It had been two days since I'd called. Surely she would have reached me if...
I felt his hand, firm on my shoulder, as he drew nearer. I steeled myself and turned slowly to face him. His face was glowing, his eyes bright.
"She's back, Katarina. Your mother is back."
Behind me, I heard a scream, primal and high.
Someone had jumped.
I whirled back around to see him, the jumper, flying through the air. His light shirt had opened in the wind and fluttered behind him like tattered moth wings. His face was intense, those bright fierce hazel eyes looked both terrified and exhilarated. My breath caught in my throat as we stood there, watching his graceful hands reaching out into the empty space.
He's not going to make it, I thought. He didn't jump out far enough. But I hadn't accounted for his manicure.
His long, bright pink nails clawed at the metal, barely moving the bell, but by design, it didn't take much. CLANG!
The sound rang out overhead as everyone shouted and laughed. He did it. It never ceased to amaze me when the least likely member of the team moved past true abject terror and took the leap.
"You did it! Maurice! You did it!" Carol, their team leader, was jumping up and down next to me, shouting at the jumper. Maurice. Over the last two days, I'd gotten to know him as a nice guy, snappy cross-dresser, with a heart as big as his mouth. This was the final day, the final obstacle, and he was the final jumper.
He was beaming, swinging from the tether, his lips moving silently as the chiffon billowed around him in a light pink aura. Then he shouted to the sky, avoiding looking down. "You're damn right I did it, girlfriend. Now get me the hell off of here!" He looked at
I patted Carol on the shoulder. "You can go over there now," I said and nodded my head toward the landing zone. She took off in a jog. We never let anyone near the landing zone until it was completely safe, and she'd been practically pacing the white chalk line. I lowered Maurice to the enthusiastic crowd, feeling the rope gently flow through my hands. Calderon was silent behind me, and I didn't turn back around to face him for a few seconds as the waves of realization pummeled me.
She's back? My mother is back? What does back even mean?
Twelve years ago my mother got lost on the way home from work.
Well, not really. I just liked to say it that to people because it seemed sweeter, less scary, less sad.
Okay. The real story. Twelve years ago my mother was driving along a quiet street near Trans Mountain Road in El Paso when a guy driving a stolen water delivery truck hit her. No one saw it happen.
The truck's thief had fled on foot, leaving Mom lying in her car, the horn blasting, the huge Beautiful Living Waters bottles, which had flown out from the back of his abandoned truck, rolling in the street. Fortunately a mail carrier down the street heard the horn, rushed over to find the crushed car, shattered glass and my mother. Antonia Perez. The mail carrier had been a medic in the army and knew what to do; a small miracle in the midst of a horrible nightmare. If he had arrived a few minutes later or had ignored the car horn as another annoying car alarm, my mother might have died behind the steering wheel. It's hard to know with a head injury.
They never found the guy who had stolen the truck.
Six years after the accident, the day after I got my drivers license, I drove to the same intersection. I was nervous pulling up to the street as if the very same truck was going to come barreling through the intersection after all these years and hit my car.
I pulled my faded blue Nissan into the parking lot in front of a convenience store and turned off the car. Grass grew at the edge of the unused sidewalk, yellowed in the summer heat that had dried out every stray bit of green in the city. The tall blades swayed in the breeze of traffic. It had gotten much busier out here, with new subdivisions down the road and wider lanes. They had added a light where years ago a stop sign had been overkill. Dozens of cars pulsed through the cross of streets, obeying the silent commands of green, yellow, red, green, yellow, red.
It was sunny out and the glare off the windshields of moving cars flashed a bright light into my eyes. Could a flash of sun like have blinded the truck driver? Was he looking back behind him when the light hit his eyes?
I could picture him behind the wheel, the man I had never seen, imagined his big meaty hand shading his dark brown eyes from the glare. His knuckles were white as they circled the hard black plastic of the steering wheel and he was fired up on adrenaline, real or chemically induced. I could almost hear him as he yelled when he saw her car, cursed, and flew hard against the seatbelt, the airbag hitting with such force, he had bled on it a little.
There was that. A thief who buckles up. What were the chances? It was one of a hundred little details that brushed at the back of my eyes, begging to be seen, to be put in order. Why was she coming home so early? Why was she driving alone, without her friends in the carpool? Was she just tired like they told me? Mom was never, ever tired.
I pulled myself back to the present and gazed at the intersection. I could envision the huge water bottles, their BLW logos spinning as they came tumbling out of the back of the delivery truck and into the street, exploding when they hit, watering this tiny corner where the grass tried to grow while my mother blinked out of this life and into another. To this day, I never drank that brand of bottled water.
Of course, it wasn't the water that caused the injury. It was the mirror. I looked into my own rear view mirror high on the windshield. The mirror. The mirror had changed everything. Sure, the truck had hit her, but if she hadn't slammed her head at the exact spot with the rear view mirror, injuring that precise millimeter of her brain where her memories of me lived, things would have been different.
She hadn't just lost the memories of me. Everything had been wiped out. My name and who I was was in there somewhere, next to the recipe for green chicken enchiladas, the directions for operating the VCR, and her long list of constellations in the night sky.
Her memories weren't wiped out, not really. It was more like they had been cut off, like a paralyzed limb that remains behind, intact and ready to respond, but cut off from the signals traveling down the network of nerves.
In the first few years, when they did all the tests, they'd discovered strange connections that still linked. She could type highly technical sentences, but couldn't read them. She could solve advanced mathematical problems if you read them to her, her hand automatically writing the answer. But she couldn't measure half a cup of milk or remember to crack an egg in order to cook it.
It was all still in there, I was still in there, in her head. But she couldn't reach me, couldn't remember the time I rode the horse on my fifth birthday or the flowers I'd picked for Mother's Day that had included a big batch of poison ivy, or the day I got seven stitches on my chin because I fell off my bike.
It was all in there, flashing at the shore of her consciousness, these memories. But she was blind to the light, staring through sightless eyes toward a distant shore where all she saw was the crashing surf of now.
I turned back to Mr. Calderon, looking away from the joyful scene at the bottom of the tower, still feeling stunned.
"Please, call me Kati." I emphasized the Spanish lilt to my nickname, the name Abuela had always used and my mother started to use after she'd forgotten that she hated it. I loved the name, it was friendly and fun, but my mother had preferred the royal sound of Katarina. Mr. Calderon, a man I could never imagine using his first name in casual conversation, probably would have preferred sticking with Ms. Perez.
Still, I was feeling off balance and I had a tendency to try to take others with me. I took a deep breath and waved to the other facilitators, Pilar and Mike, who were gathering ropes and watching me. "I'll be back!" I shouted.
Pilar, always suspicious despite years of falling into the arms of strangers on the ropes course, nodded slowly, watching the man at my side as if she planned to describe him later for the police. She was strong, as athletic as a body builder, her dirty blonde hair cut in angles all around her angular face.
Mike looked up hopefully. He'd been training for months and was eager to lead his own team through a ropes course, so I gave him the nod. He practically leaped off the belay line and rushed the celebrants like a large, lanky puppy, his curly red hair bouncing with an enthusiasm of its own.
"I was surprised that ...man... that he jumped," said Calderon, looking back at the tall pole as we walked away from the ropes course.
"It's a long process," I answered. "By the time we get to the tower we've gone through quite a bit of work. Almost everybody jumps." My stomach tightened and I resisted the urge to ask a hundred questions. I couldn't get my head around it, couldn't tie two words together.
I led him toward the Jumpers Lodge, an old Texas Hill Country ranch house with a huge back porch and cedar posts. It was a far cry from the other buildings on the property, most of which had been built with spa and corporate clientele in mind. The ceilings and walls had a respectable sag that came from being more than a hundred years old, and the air had the cool smell of earth and water that seemed to seeped out of the limestone. A gorgeous live oak at the front had one long low branch that skimmed the ground while the rest grew far above the roofline of the building. To me, it always looked as if the massive tree was in mid bow.
Calderon held the door open so I could walk through ahead of him. Old school. I gestured to the two large leather chairs by the window and sat near the edge of the closest chair, not wanting to be enveloped by its leathery embrace. You had to rock quite a bit to get back out o
He sat down gingerly as if fighting the urge to brush off the seat first. This man had issues. He leaned in toward me, his face intense, eyes bright. "She's back, Ms. Perez. Antonia is back."
I was Ms. Perez and my mother was Antonia? Who the hell was this man? "Kati, please, Mr. Calderon."
I paused, but he didn't offer his first name as you'd expect when you insist someone use yours. Perhaps he'd forgotten it with disuse. "What do you mean 'she's back'?"
"Yes, yes. Kati. Yes, of course." A wide smile spread across his face, perfectly straight white teeth gleamed. His hands reached toward mine, stopping short of making contact. "Kati. She's back to the way she was before the accident."
"You mean she ..."
"She remembers everything." He leaned back, his hands sweeping the air before us in wide arcs. "She knows the periodic table. She can recite the Preamble to the Constitution. She can read the newspaper. She can do calculus. It's a miracle. It's a damn miracle!"
My mind scrambled, trying to follow what he was telling me. Mom was doing calculus? A rush of memories overwhelmed me. Antonia had to do exercises in her workbook every day just so she could manage simple subtraction, otherwise she'd forget everything in a week, and we'd be back to explaining how to borrow when taking away nine from twenty-seven.
I remembered the stacks of pennies and dimes on the table at home Abuela would use to try to tie the concepts together. "Okay, Toni, you need ten of these pennies."
"The brown ones?" Mom would ask, her beautiful brow furrowing in concentration, her voice soft and southern. The accent and the tiny scar on her forehead slipped into her hairline and back to her scalp were both courtesy of the accident.