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The coma men are there.They stand in the distant mist.But that mist is thin, so they must see him lying on the ground.They have to know that he is suffocating.He wonders why they won't help.He longs for air.
Finally, it no longer hurts to suffocate.A sense of complete tranquility rushes over him.He feels light.As if he can float away.His vision begins to blur, but he thinks he can see one of the coma men moving his way.And now he is floating.
Everything goes black.
Air.He needed it again, because something had pulled him back.But he was no longer in the mist.And the coveted air rushed in on Sully Jacobson, like a dam breaking.Disoriented, he sat up in the dark and hyperventilated.
"It's okay!" a voice said."It was only a dream."
A sense of familiarity.He was supposed to recognize that voice.Where had he heard it before?
He felt the fingernails sting his back and heard her voice again."You're okay now, Sully."
It came to him.Anna was his girlfriend now.Anna, who was strong.Anna, who was conscientious.Anna, who at times seemed to know what he needed more than he knew, who had dug her fingernails into his back, knowing that the sharp pain would hasten his recovery from oblivion and fear.
Anna removed her claws.No need to maintain the pain.A jolt was enough.
"Slow down.Get your breath under control."
Yes, he could slow down.Air was abundant.And not going away.No need to rush it in.Another minute and it was under control.
"That's the third time this week," he said, though he knew it might have been more, the other dreams forgotten.
"You'reprobably just nervous about the trip," Anna said.
Yes.The trip.That was the last piece of the orientation puzzle, the latest change in his life, the final part of time catching up with him.His ex-wife, Faith, had moved further away, out of state, three months ago.When the phone calls did not come immediately, Sully thought that she was gone for good, having given up a part of her life, the four-year-old daughter they had together.Then, about a month ago, she had called.And though it was within his rights to shut her out completely, he being the parent with full custody, he would not do that to his daughter.So for one week, every two months, little Monica would go and stay with her mother.
Next year, when Monica was in kindergarten, the system would have to change.But that could be worked out later.Right now, there was tomorrow's trip to think of.
"Let me do it for you," Anna said, reading his mind.
"No," Sully replied, though the word didn't feel right.He wanted to let Anna take care of him.
"You can pick her up, but I have to drop her off.I have to face this."
And he did have to face it.For so long, after returning from his state of near-death, he had just avoided it.He had only to travel one mile to town, where he taught his classes.Almost everything he needed-his family, groceries, entertainment-was right there in Little Axe, Oklahoma.And he could handle going a little further, so long as he was home at a reasonable hour and someone was with him.And if what he needed was even further away and could not be taken care of by phone, Internet, or mail, then Mom or Anna would always take care of it.
But he couldn't do that forever.He had Monica to think of.Soon, she would be old enough to notice the things people did, and the roles they served in life.He didn't want her to think it was okay to be dependent on others for what she could do herself.And he didn't want her to learn that she was supposed to let some man become dependent on her.
"You don't have to be strong in everything," Anna said."Let me do it for you."
Copyright © 2007 Joshua Scribner.