Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ventilation, Part 13 (fictionalized history)

(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)

Twenty-Four Years and One Month Since Hospital Admission
August 1976 (31 years old)

Blistering heat from the engine seeped into the passenger compartment. The smell of oil. Burning plastic and rubber.

The twilight forest blurred into rainbows of indigo and blue. So much speed.

Far behind, the clattering colors of police lights flashed at the early moon. A helicopter probed the horizon.

"Here," he said, pointing.

She yanked the wheel and stomped the brakes.

Their bodies lurched against the curve.

The car thundered onto the path and bottomed with a shower of sparks.

"Go!" he said. "Through there!"

She ducked off the trail.

Bushes ripped under the bumper. Their fender clipped a decayed tree and sent it tipping.

Her eyes widened. "There's a--"


The suspension bounced into the air, then plummeted into a hollow. Wheels locked and scored the leaf litter. Still, they hit a boulder at the bottom with speed.

Blood trickled down her face where she must have hit the steering wheel. She shook away the fog

"Cut the engine!" He already scrambled out the door.

They ran.

Fast as the pain her side and the raw panting allowed her.

Still, he pulled her on. Until she crashed over a fallen limb and didn't get back up.

"Not here!" he hissed, dragging her feet in a wavy line back to the shadows. A place where rocks closed around a clump of trees.

She grasped his chest and closed her eyes as the rhythmic thumping of helicopter approached.


She jumped. The real world crashed back down. The typing stick dangled in her mouth. Damn, her writing was really rolling this morning.

"Julia?" the nurse said again.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"I have something for you."

"Oh, a slice of Boston creme pie?"

"No," the woman said, grinning. She brought a square package from behind her back. "The mail came today."

Julia dropped the typing stick. "Oh my God."

"Here it is."

"I didn't dare to expect it this soon."

"Well...," the nurse said, holding it higher.

"Well open it!"

Julia watched her hands work. Tearing the cardboard and pulling out the beautiful cover and neatly cut pages.

"I'm so proud of you," the nurse said.

"Put it against my face," Julia said.

She drank in the novel's glossy surface. The smell of glue and wonderful paper. The smell of her lifeline. The smell of where she lived.

Tears blurred the vision of her name printed on the cover.

"Sorry," she whispered.

But the emotion only lasted so long. After she touched it from every angle and understood it was really real, her mind drifted to the forest and being crouched next to her man.

She picked up the typing stick and began to tap the keys.

"We're going to get out of here," he said.

"God, I love you," she whispered back.


paisley said...

wow... what a wonderful scene... i hadn't even thought along the lines of the opportunities that would be available to her there in the confines of the iron lung... writing.. how perfect!!!

Aine said...

Therapists prefer the term "challenged" over "disabled." A life that has physical or mental challenges is not a life less meaningful. It simply requires creativity and adaptation to bring someone's abilities to the forefront.

Thank you Jason, for giving Julia purpose and meaning.

SzélsőFa said...

I feel relieved now.
It seems Julia's more alive than ever. In another sense, of course, but still alive. Full of energy. Great ending...(?)
//If there's more then I'm sorry and please everyone ignore my last sentence.

JaneyV said...

Thank you Jason. Thank you for giving her, not only a purpose, but the most beautiful way to escape her confines and soar anywhere she dreams.

This time I didn't just feel choked - I cried.

Sarah Hina said...

Whenever I think you can't top the piece before, you do. This was magnificent, Jason. I almost feel the need to thank you for doing this for Julia.

The smell of where she lived. Her world is interior now. So much so that the book is only an extension, a testimony, of the other reality she's created. Of course she wants to return to the forest. She can really live, and love, there.

Beautiful photo, too. Like a stolen glimpse of that creative, vibrating string of someone's thoughts.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very fine. I really enjoyed this. Got a bit misty eyed from identification when she saw the novel.

mgirl said...

You have given her the most amazing gift, one that will allow her to go places that reality has taken away from her. I am so excited for Julia, thank you for such an emotional story.

Anonymous said...

Potrayed with so much feelings


Geraldine said...

This was just a wonderful twist in the tale Jason. I loved the fact that you have now given a real coping strategy and purpose for Julia to focus on. Excellent!

Geraldine said...

PS: After reading this story I was compelled to do some of my own research re: living in an iron lung, as many people still are to this day. Some of the accomplishments that many of these amazing people have aspired to are truly awe inspiring. G

Anonymous said...

Paisley, it's a wonderful way for her to leave behind things that she's lost.

Aine, the need for that purpose and meaning are brought into blazing focus for Julia. To be limited to what can be done from the neck up.... It really shows the depth of what's at stake.

Szelsofa, not an ending. :) But yes, I join in your happiness for Julia. Whatever the future brings, it doesn't diminish what she does now.

Janey, I'm really touched by your comment. Truly. Thank you for feeling and expressing that direct, emotional connection to what I'm trying to do.

Sarah, thanks for all of the reactions. :) The photo too. As for Julia, I wanted to give real weight and existence to that interior life which must be monumental to her. That tangibility came in the form of written pages. A profession. An accomplishment.

Charles, I think we writerly types have either experienced that or dream of experiencing that emotional rush.

Mgirl, thanks. :) Julia has a highway stretching away from her bedside. I gave her the wheels to travel it.

Nasra, thank you for saying so. :) I've come to feel responsible for Julia's life. I want it to be fulfilling for her.

Geraldine, yes! I think we all crave some sort of impact. It's not enough to live in our own minds. We want to affect other people for the better. Maybe at the end you can share some of the stories you found!

Anonymous said...

To be able to write under those circumstances makes me feel like the most selfish person in the world for ever complaining about not having enough time to write. That she has that sense of purpose despite her condition is nothing short of inspirational. I have high hopes for Julia!