Imagine you can’t move. You can feel yourself being touched but you can’t tell where. You think you are lying down but you can’t be sure. You can see nothing, taste nothing, smell nothing, but you remember what it was like to do these things. It is not as if you have been this way forever. It’s like being dead but you’re not dead.
My name is Allison Briscoe. They say I’m in a coma.
They think I’m a vegetable, for glory’s sake—they call it a
persistent vegetative state.
They don’t know I’m listening when they discuss my case. I lie here as still as a corpse. They don’t know I can think. My heart beats, I can feel it inside my skull, but no matter how hard I concentrate I can’t make the blood rush any faster.
I can’t slow it down. If I could, maybe I could signal I’m in here, I’m alive, this is me. But I can’t.
When they took me off life support I didn’t die. Now they don’t know what to do with me. My brother, David, calls me Potato.
When he first called me that, my mother was horrified. He knew I would think it was funny. He’s two years older than me. He’s kind of gawky, while I’m more on the pretty side. Or was. Still am. He lives at home. I live in a hospital, if you can call it living.
Well, yes you can, and I do. I may be as still as death, but I’m alive. And I’m going to stay that way—for a lifetime, at least. I can identify most of my doctors and nurses and orderlies by their voices and by their different touches. Touch is like a signature, even though I can’t tell what part of me they’re touching. My only visitors these days are David and my mother. I don’t have a dad, to speak of. When my mother comes in, she tries to wrap me in sadness. “Allison, Allison.” She chants my name over and over. “Allison, Allison, Allison.” She doesn’t know how to mourn for a daughter who seems to be dead but refuses to die. She cries a lot. But you can’t cry forever. Me, I’d rather be locked in my head than be nowhere at all. I mean, they haven’t buried me yet!
So no tears, that’s my motto.
Imagine being music that no one can hear. That’s what it’s like. Except when I sleep. I call it sleep but I don’t know whether anyone else can tell the difference. I mean, I’m just lying here, eyes closed, same as always. I dream a lot.
Lately I’ve been dreaming about this one girl over and over, and I remember the dreams. They’re not like regular dreams that fall apart when you wake up. These dreams tell me a story, they seem to be trying to give me a person to be when I can’t be myself, someone who can walk and talk and run and laugh. The girl I’m dreaming about, she’s dead, I guess. She must be, because she lived a long time ago. But she’s as real as anyone ever was.
When I’m dreaming, it’s as if I’m inside her life. I’m still fifteen when I’m her but I wear dull colors, shapeless dresses with long sleeves and no collar. I wear coarse black stockings and a black pinafore done up with pins. There are no zippers, no buttons, no hooks and eyes. My hair is parted in the middle and held back with a piece of twine.
Personally, I like bright colors with neat names: chartreuse, magenta, vermillion, azure, topaz, indigo, emerald.
The girl in my dreams sees colors like that all around her but she doesn’t have names for them. They’re part of God’s grandeur, she thinks.
Myself, I’ve never had much time for God. Long before I was shot in the head I stopped going to church. In my dreams I believe in God, I believe in religion. To make religion work, you have to believe that it works. In my dreams I am a Men- nonite. We sometimes call ourselves the Plain People. We like things to be plain and simple.
We live in a time warp. We live in the past: it’s how we imagine the past must have been. But nothing is really that simple when the rest of the world moves ahead.
I don’t actually know whether Mennonites like to live in the past but that’s where they live. And not just any past. They live in the times when their religion was invented, about five hundred years ago. That’s when their ancestors rebelled from the established church so they could live plain and simple lives closer to God. That’s what they believe. When I’m asleep, I believe it too. When I’m awake I’m in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, North America, planet Earth. When I’m asleep, I’m in Pennsylvania. That’s in the United States but in my dreams the United States doesn’t exist yet.
When I’m awake, it’s now. I’m here.
I must be in a hospital room: I imagine there’s a window and then in my mind I see a window. There has to be a door, so there’s a big door. There’s probably a table or a dresser but no television. I mean, what’s the point?
My days are uneventful. It’s not like when I’m working at Tim Hortons. Every day at Timmy’s is different, and yet each is sort of the same. I was planning on going to work there full time as soon as I turned sixteen. I’m thinking now maybe I’ll stay in school. I like it at Timmy’s but I don’t want to serve coffee and doughnuts for the rest of my life.
David will graduate next year. He wasn’t impressed when I told him I was going to drop out. My mom doesn’t care but to him it’s a big deal. He’s very smart. I don’t know whether he’s smart because he stayed in school or if he stayed in school because he’s smart. Maybe it’s all the same.
If you want to know how smart I am, just ask Jaimie Retzinger.
No, don’t bother.
Come on, Allison, think about something else. That’s me, talking to myself—
Sometimes I used to try really hard not to think of any- thing at all.
Thinking can make you unhappy.
I think a lot now. There’s nothing else to do. Sometimes I think about taking a bullet in the head. I don’t dwell on it, but it’s hard to ignore.
I worked late at Tim’s one night last winter. I helped to close up. On my way home, there was a gunshot, there was screaming. I was screaming. And then there was nothing. Now I’m in a hospital, in a room with a window and a big door.
In the mornings the doctors arrive with their assistants. They discuss my case. I don’t change much. They say I’m not getting better, but I don’t think I’m getting worse. And I’ll tell you, I’m not ready to die. So I persist. Remember: persistent vegetative state. I persist.
They say it was a random bullet but it wasn’t. I can’t figure out why anyone would shoot me but I know whoever it was, he did it on purpose. Someone wanted me dead.
It was a male, I’m pretty sure of that. I wonder if he’s satisfied now? Or does he need to finish me off? It hardly seems worth the effort. There might have been someone else in the car, sitting in the shadows. I’m not sure.
I don’t know how long I’ve been like this. There were times when I wasn’t aware of time passing. I was in a deep coma. Then I came out of it but nobody noticed.
Right now, I’m aware of every second of every minute of every hour, except when I’m dreaming. When I’m in a dream, I live inside time like an ordinary person. When I’m awake, it’s more like I’m on the edge of time, looking in from outside.
Each night, when this place quiets down, I drift off to sleep and enter my dream. And that’s when I’m real.