Daylight was fading, casting dark shadows and eerie patches as
I hiked up a steep, rocky incline. I glanced in every direction,
taking all of the scenery in, yet also trying to pinpoint exactly
what my location was. Where was I? The normally swirling pinks
and oranges of dusk had been replaced with an angry grouping of
slate-black clouds that seemed to signal a brewing storm. Birds
of prey circled overhead and dove for their next meal, and as I
ascended to the top of the mountainside, I came upon a forest of
bitternut hickory trees. Towering honey locust and black walnut
pines also offered a mix of earthy and heavenly, fresh scents.
Startled, a lone deer scampered off in the far distance.
A sapphire-blue river was burbling and frothing around the
limestone rocks in the meadow ahead. A school of rainbow trout
scurried around the protective edge of a tree, seeking refuge.
The river appeared to be as old and as majestic as Father Time
himself, having carved its path through many centuries, offering
an epic landscape of rugged embankments and flowering prairies.
"Where the hell am I?" That thought was still on my mind, and
for good reason. How did I get here? I did not have my smartphone
with me, either, so there was no way to call for help. The last
thing I remembered was being smack-dab the middle of a wicked, wild
three-some with my two precious wives, Alexa and Merissa, in our
home, our very bedroom, and then collapsing onto the mattress in
the middle of the proceedings, grabbing my chest in extreme pain.
Wait a minute.
Did I suffer... a... heart attack?
Further up the river, I saw a lone fisherman framed by the
silhouette of the incoming dusk. I could hear his reel in the
distance, clicking every now and then, followed by the swish
of his line as it flung through the air. Perhaps the fisherman
could clue me in as to where I was? I just wanted to go back home
and be with my two wives again, as well as my three children...
"Excuse me!" I called out to the elderly man, sloshing through
the very edge of the water in my boots, trying to make my way
closer to him. "Excuse me, sir. Could you tell me where...?"
My words were abruptly cut off as the man suddenly turned to gaze
back at me, and I got a clear view of his face for the first time.
"Son." My father's deep voice stirred a myriad of emotions
within me. Only thing was, Dad was dead. Yet here he was anyway,
standing about 20 feet ahead of me. Dad passed away earlier this
year, on April 21, 2017, having suffered a thrombotic stroke that
was the result of a large blood clot migrating into one of the
main blood vessels in his brain. It killed him instantly, and
our family had been in mourning ever since. "You weren't supposed
to be coming home quite this soon, Jeremy."
What was this? A dream? If so, when was I going to wake up?
My mind harkened back to just two days after his funeral, I had a
dream that Dad came to visit me from the _other side_ and we were
finally able to settle our differences after two-and-a-half years
of bitter feelings and zero contact stemming from the fact that
Merissa was added to my marriage with Alexa. Dad was one of the
many people in my life who did not (initially) approve. Yet we
were able to iron things out, posthumously for him, and Dad gave
me his blessing. I called it a dream, at least, but I preferred
to believe that discussion - that meeting - actually took place.
Somehow, Dad's spirit had been able to contact me.
I gulped my throat in this latest vision. "Coming... home?"
Back in June, when I was really struggling with the aftermath
of Dad's death, he came to see me for a second time one afternoon.
Honestly, I do not know if it was a dream, a hallucination, or an
ethereal visitation from Heaven. Or perhaps even a figment of my
imagination. Nor did I care. All I know is that seeing Dad again
felt incredibly real; I was assured it was not all within my mind.
Dad basically told me to pick my chin up and continue on with
my life instead of constantly dwelling on his death. Dad helped
remind me how truly blessed my own life was, how fortunate I was.
He escorted me on a path through time, showing visions from when I
was a kid, and even took me into the hospital room, circa 2007,
when Alexa was couped up for six weeks due to her eating disorder
and the havoc it reaped on her bodily organs. Alexa was very weak
and had been on the doorstep of death herself. I witnessed a
conversation between a very young Alexa and an equally young
Merissa, where Merissa too, told Alexa to pick her chin up when
she was struggling in the midst of her hospital stay herself.
I also remember Dad letting it _slip_ during our initial
meeting that Alexa and I were going to have our second child
together, a daughter, in the summer of 2018. Her name, he said,
would be Brooklyn. Never mind the fact that Dad told me this a
full year ahead of time, but whether his visit was actually real
or not, I held him to those words. I was convinced that Alexa
and I were going to have a daughter named Brooklyn, telling both
her and Merissa, my sister Janae, and even my best friend, Mike.
Dad had come to visit me, I explained to them, and told me so.
But time was slowly running out on the possibility of having a
summer baby, wasn't it? Alexa and I had been trying since July
to conceive a second child, but to no avail thus far. Patience
had never been a virtue of mine, unfortunately. It was very
frustrating - especially with Mike's wife, Pamela, five months
pregnant. In recent times, I began to wonder whether or not these
_visitations_ from my father actually took place or not. Were
Alexa and I ever going to have our second child? A daughter?
"Dad, where am I?" Indeed, I had suffered a heart attack.
That was my last memory before finding myself in this... forest.
What if...? Oh, no! "Dad, is this... is this... Heaven?"
Face tight with concentration, Dad flicked his wrist, again
twirling his fishing line through the air and the fly zipped over
to rest on a whirlpool. Bobbing with the current, it suddenly
vanished. The tip of his rod bent and he pulled out a massive
catfish. It flipped and struggled, desperately trying to break
loose. Yet when Dad unhooked it, he simply tossed the creature
back. It slapped the water on its way back to freedom.
"Around these parts, it's considered okay to go sport fishing -
but we're expected to always throw whatever we catch back in."
"Dad, WHERE am I?" I asked again, highly impatient now.
My father sighed. "Son, what are you doing with your life?"
"WHERE AM I?" I demanded.
Dad snapped his fingers and I suddenly found myself, along
with him, in the waiting room of the cardiac catheterization unit
at _Shawnee Mission Medical Center_ in Merriam, Kansas. How did
he do that? He'd snap his fingers in our prior visitations and
teleport us to seemingly random places in different time periods
in the blink of an eye. Being a physician, I knew this particular
place well. _Shawnee Mission Medical Center_ was considered one
of the best heart hospitals in the entire Midwest. Off to the
side, in one of the private and closed waiting areas reserved for
families with patients undergoing heart surgery, I watched Mom
give both Alexa and Merissa tearful hugs and well wishes.
Not only were Alexa, Merissa and Mom there, but so was Janae
(and her husband, Tom), my brother Hudson (and his wife, Susan),
Mike, Pamela and their live-in girlfriend, Mackenzie, and Alexa's
parents (Bob and Angela). Two of my cousins, Candice and Piper,
who I had done so much with while younger, growing up. Another
one of my good friends, Wayne, was there with his wife as well.
I looked around the room, taking in the worried faces of the
people I loved and my dearest friends, the hands being held, the
tender embraces, and the whispered prayers. There was so much
love and support in that waiting room, and it was, I knew, all
for me. I... must have been in surgery. Heart surgery? I did
not know what to do with the emotions that were bowling me over.
"Just like last time when I took you to Children's Hospital so
you could see Lexi and Merissa in 2007, when Lexi was ill herself,
remember that no one can see or hear us," Dad said to me, his voice
calm and serene, pointing at the gathering of friends and family.
"We are simply onlookers. We're... ghosts."
"Ghosts?" I croaked, moritified at what that mere word implied.
"Please let Jeremy be okay!" Alexa shrilled, the mascara ruined
upon her face from endless tears, twisting the engagement ring I
had given to her in 2011 on her finger. "Oh God, PLEASE let him
be okay..." Merissa then reached over and hugged Alexa. Both of
them looked to be on the verge of a mental breakdown. I felt sick
to my stomach and tried to kneel down and hug both of my wives,
but my arms went right through them. I was... a ghost. "If
something happens to Jeremy... I... oh, God."
Dad furrowed his brow and shook his head at me. "You suffered
a heart attack, son. Right now, you - your physical body - is in
the operating room of the cardiac catheterization lab, and the
doctors and nurses are attempting to save your life by performing
coronary artery bypass surgery. They are grafting a healthy vein
from your right leg and attaching it above and below the artery
to your heart which is all but blocked off, thus bypassing it."
Dad shook his head. "You're a doctor. I don't need to tell you
how the process works. But that blocked artery is what caused
you to have a heart attack." He shook his head again as I stood
there, trying to take all of this in. "Be glad that they did not
have to slice your chest and open your rib cage like a pair of
dresser-drawer cabinets, and do open heart surgery. They are
instead doing the surgery through pin-sized incisions on the side
of your chest with the help of specialized robotics."
"How the HELL could I have had a heart attack?" I hissed, angry.
"You don't take good care of yourself at all times, son."
"WHAT?" I blurted back. "I eat good and exercise regularly!
I've never had a problem with my heart, my health, at all!"
"You eat good?" Dad laughed uproariously. "You eat your fair
share of healthy, vegan-style foods, Jeremy - primarily thanks to
Lexi - but you also eat a lot of JUNK. Your love for double bacon
cheeseburgers and potato chips is unparalleled. And what was it
that you got a few days ago when you and Merissa went for a walk
on the beach? A... broccoli cheddar soup grilled cheese wrap
sandwich? Messy as hell, you told Merissa, and big and awesome?"
He paused, but then his stern, angry tone caught me off guard.
"And a KILLER on your arteries." He shook his head. "Damnit,
boy. That same day you encouraged Merissa to purchase and eat a
_doughnutwich_, which was ten times worse for her health than
that insidious wrap was for you. WHAT the hell were you THINKING?
You're supposed to be a doctor! You harp and preach to your
patients ALL THE TIME about eating good, quality food, leading a
heart-healthy lifestyle, yet you don't do it yourself."
"And your so-called exercise?" Dad continued. "What has gotten
into you, son, these past few months? You never cared all that
much for exercise until you met Lexi seven years ago. She got you
interested in physical fitness, weights, because she loves that
stuff herself. Lexi eventually became a fitness instructor."
"But these past few months? You've been going at it like a mad
man, like you're training for the Olympics. Brutal sprints at full
speed all around Lake Quivira? Sometimes two sprints in the same
day? You go hard in the weight room like you're a bodybuilder.
WHY? For what reason? You're 43, Jeremy. Not 23. Your body is
not able to withstand the extreme stress you're putting it through.
Up until you met Lexi, you spent your nights with your nose in
medical journals and research books. You have to know that, at
your age, you cannot start exercising and go full-bore like you
have. That and the bad choices in eating are the two primary
reasons why you suffered this heart attack and why you are in the
midst of a four-and-a-half hour surgery right now."
"Jeremy is going to be okay," Mom said to Alexa in the waiting
room, patting her hand. "He HAS to be. I cannot lose my husband
and my youngest child both in the same year. I JUST CAN'T!"
"Oh, Judith," Dad groaned, walking over to Mom and putting his
open palm near her face as Janae attempted to console her. Dad
looked like he was about to cry. How many times had I seen Dad
cry before? Not very many, trust me. He and Mom had always been
the ideal couple in my eyes. It tore Mom apart when Dad died.
Now, at least before my very eyes, yet no one else's, they were
together again. Unfortunately, Mom had no idea Dad was there.
"Oh, my sweet Judith. I've been in love with you since the day
we met 59 years ago. One day, I promise we'll be together again."
I looked on silently, tears streaming down my face.
"Why are you torturing your body with these extreme exercise
sessions?" Dad snapped at me. "Is it because Lexi and Merissa are
both so much younger than you? Lexi is around heavy, muscle-bound
men every day she goes to work. Are you trying to IMPRESS her? She
does not even notice any of those other men!" Dad was so angry,
it seemed, that he was actually trembling. "Lexi did not fall in
love with you, Jeremy, because of your muscles. You didn't even
have any when you met her. She fell in love with you," he added,
reaching out and patting my chest, particularly my heart, "because
of what's in HERE. Your kindness, your warmth, your good nature.
You are the... only. Man. She. Ever. Even. Notices. EVER!"
"And Merissa? Merissa is so deliriously happy and considers
herself the luckiest girl on the face of the planet being married
to you and her best friend - her life-long friend - Lexi. There is
NOTHING about Merissa's life that she wishes to change."
"What are we gonna do?" Alexa whined at Merissa, only for Hudson
to rise and come over, and place reassuring hands on both of them.
"We can't live without Jeremy!" Alexa was frantic. I so wanted
to hug her now and say everything was going to be okay. "The kids
need him. What are we gonna do if Jeremy doesn't make it through
the surgery?" She touched Merissa's cheek. "He's our life."
"I know. But please, Lexi, trust in the doctors. They know
what they are doing. Have faith in them." Merissa wiped the
tears that flowed so freely down her own cheeks.
Alexa looked up at Hudson, nearly beside herself. "Merissa
lost her father to this SAME, EXACT THING when she was just seven
years old. Her dad had a heart attack when she and I were at
school on April 20, 1999. I remember it like it was yesterday.
They pulled Merissa out of class and her uncle took her right to
the hospital. Yet her father was already dead..."
Merissa was crying now. "Dad was only 40! Younger than Jeremy
is now! Oh, I still have NIGHTMARES about what happened to him!"
"Shhhhh," Alexa consoled her, wrapping Merissa into her arms
and holding on tight. "It's okay, baby. It's okay. And you're
right. We need to keep faith. Jeremy will be okay. I hope..."
"Mom, I got here as soon as I could." I turned and watched as
Chelsea, my treasured niece, walked into the waiting room alongside
her fiance, Aaron. I was there in the hospital when Chelsea was
born on May 22, 1991. She had always been extremely special and
precious to me. Chelsea's eyes were trained on Janae, her mother,
at this particular moment. "Is there any update on Uncle Jer?"
"Not really," Janae responded. "All we know is that he's still
in surgery. It's been three hours. The nurse said he may in
surgery for another hour or two. That's all we know."
Chelsea exchanged heartfelt hugs with both Alexa and Merissa.
Janae's smartphone buzzed and she momentarily glanced at it.
"Mom," she said, turning her attention toward her, "Carl just
texted and says his flight is taking off from Salt Lake City any
minute now." Carl? My other brother? "He thinks he will be here
at the hospital in three-and-a-half, maybe four hours tops." Carl,
who lived over a thousand miles away, dropped everything in the
middle of the night to come here for me? That's what it was, too -
it was just past one o'clock on Saturday morning. I usually only
saw Carl once or twice a year. Not near enough...
Now it was my turn to break down and start sobbing. Everything
had piled up, and that last bit of news pushed me over the edge.
Did I realize how important my health and well-being was to the
others in my life? Did I even have a freaking clue?
"Look at these people, everyone in this room," Dad said to me.
"Look at all of the used tissues in the wastepaper basket. They
have all been highly worried and/or flat-out crying at just the
mere thought of losing you. You NEED to take better care of
yourself, son, be a little more smarter with the decisions, the
choices, you make in life. Didn't you and I have a long talk the
last time we saw each other about making the right choices?"
The right choices? Dad wanted me to cut back on my exercise
regime and put an end to my guiltiest pleasure, the juicy double
bacon cheeseburger, as well as other threatening, fatty foods?
No more potato chips and other quick, easy snacks? That was it?
Excessive training and poor diet choices were the two primary
reasons I suffered a heart attack and had sent my entire family
into a panicked frenzy? That was IT? Fix that, and life would
be good again? Well, maybe. That is if...
"Do I get a second chance?"
Dad nodded. "You will." He stepped forward, his voice grave,
full of concern. "But you will NOT get a third. Be smart, son!
Don't let this happen to you again! Next time, it will be the end.
Game over. There will be no saving you, no bringing you back."
I gulped my throat and nodded my head, my eyelids closed for a
good five seconds. Wow, what a wake-up call...
"Watch what you eat a little closer," he instructed me. "Your
fat intake, the amount of sugar. And learn to manage your stress
better, son. You put yourself under so much stress each and every
day that you go to work as a doctor. I know you want to save the
world, but take a step back, and save yourself first. All of this,
these little things, have added up to a huge problem for you."
"Where are my children?" I asked. "Cooper, Madison, Asher?
Why aren't they in the waiting room with everyone else?"
"Lexi and Merissa did not want to scare or cause any undue
worry for Cooper and Madison since they are so young, and their
minds are so impressionable," Dad told me. "While you were taken
to the hospital in an ambulance, Lexi went with you, but Merissa
stayed behind until Matthew and Sarah - their good friends - came
over. They are spending the night at your house and keeping an
eye on the kids, and will tell them in the morning that you, Lexi
and Merissa went for a walk, but will be home soon." Dad paused
for a moment. "None of the kids have any idea what is going on.
But in due time, you'll all have to let them know. By that time,
hopefully, you will be out of the red medically." Dad hesitated,
but then smiled. "Your fourth child is currently on her way."
"Huh? What?" My fourth child? On its way?
"Lexi is pregnant," Dad informed me, and I found myself closing
my eyes as a multitude of emotions crashed down on me all at once.
Alexa was pregnant? How did Dad know? Alexa just performed a home
pregnancy test two days ago, yet it came back negative. She tested
herself two or three times every week, constantly hoping - praying -
for a positive result. But I believed Dad, his word. Alexa was
pregnant! WOW! After all, Dad had the perfect vantage point for
everything in our lives from Heaven. Again, tears flowed freely.
"You got her pregnant nine nights ago, son, after the birthday
party that was held for Merissa. That night." He smiled softly,
enjoying my reaction. "Little Brooklyn may only be the size of a
watermelon seed at the moment, but she is in there, inside Lexi,
growing rapidly. She will be born in July 2018. And as you know,
she will not show up on any ultrasound, any test, for a few weeks."
"Dad, are you sure?" I was literally stumbling over my own
words. "I mean, REALLY? Are you SURE?"
"Positive, son. I know and see lots of things. Trust me."
When we found out that Alexa was pregnant with Cooper back in
the spring of 2013, I was the one checking out the home pregnancy
test. It looked sort of funny to me, and for a moment my mind
went blank. "Hey sweetie," I said to Alexa back then, "there are
two lines here, kind of, but one's really faint." The look Alexa
shot me in response? Surprise, terror, exhilaration, all rolled
up into one glance. It was a Saturday night, I remember, and I
immediately took Alexa to my medical office so I could confirm
that she was actually pregnant in my own way, as a doctor, with
separate urine and blood tests. Indeed, she had the pregnancy
hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), in her bloodstream.
Its levels were off the charts!
During Alexa's pregnancy with Cooper, I went through several
distinct feelings and whole a bunch more that I could not even
begin to describe with words.
Excitement. A lot of this. I had wanted to be a father since
my teen-age years, yet at age 39, I had my doubts in 2013. But
hey, I did it! WE did it! I'm actually not sterile - a fear a
lot of guys secretly have until proven otherwise (me included).
Alexa and I are going to have a baby! This is AMAZING!
Impatience. Up until the fourth or fifth month when I could
start to feel the baby move, it still really did not seem _real_.
What is going on inside there? I could clearly see that Alexa
was changing, going through a gamut of emotions herself, needing
me or not, but the pregnancy wasn't exactly _real_ to me.
Anxiety. Stomach eating, mind shattering fear that somehow, I
was going to screw this up. That I would be a terrible father,
and my child would eventually end up moving away and never speak
to me again. That Alexa and I may even get a divorce because I
was no longer a good enough husband and could not handle the stress
of being responsible for the care of a tiny, fragile human being.
Tests confirmed that we were going to have a boy. I was going
to be the father of a son. I already wanted to name him Cooper!
What would he be like? Would he follow in my footsteps and want
to become a doctor one day as well? Would we play catch in the
backyard? Would I teach him how to do things? Would he look up
to me? Could I possibly be a better dad for him than mine was for
me? That was a tall task, but a good goal to strive for.
Still, none of it was very real until the first time I felt
Cooper kick with my own hand. Then excitement went to the top
again like a rocket escaping the Earth's embrace, and it was the
single greatest feeling I've ever had. There was a LIFE in there,
growing inside of my beloved wife day by day. Organs and tissues
were being assembled into a little package that would, one day,
look up to me and say those magical words, "I love you, Daddy."
And now, as I stood with my own father in the waiting room of
the cardiac catheterization unit, with several friends and family
present, and my own physical body apparently being operated on in
the adjacent lab, I began to cry again. I may have been a _ghost_
at the moment and no one could see or hear me but Dad, but I let
it all out. The emotions of becoming a father for what was now
the fourth time were overwhelming to me. I had two with Merissa,
and now this would make two with Alexa. Brooklyn! Where did that
name come from, anyway? Why Brooklyn?
Alexa and I had never even been to New York!
Alexa so badly wanted to have another child simply so Cooper
could have a sibling of his own to grow up and do things with.
Yes, Madison and Asher were always going to be around for him, but
they his half-siblings, and it had been vitally important to Alexa
that we provide Cooper with an actual brother or sister of his own.
Brooklyn! Alexa grew up as an only child herself, of course, and
the one thing she regretted about her childhood - really, the ONLY
thing - was not having a brother or a sister to share it with.
And now Alexa was finally pregnant again? A whole nine days
along? It was awfully early, but perhaps some specialized blood
tests could pick up hCG in her blood. At this stage, maybe. We
were going to have a baby girl in July of 2018? Next year?
What will Brooklyn be like? The perfect, little girl? Pretty,
outgoing, friendly and adorable? Polite and nice to everyone in
her daily life? Maybe a girl scout? Will she ultimately be
athletic in school just like her mother once was? A cheerleader?
Lacrosse star? Will she work hard and study, and one day earn a
scholarship to the University of Kansas just like, again, her
mother once did? Will her eyes be blue like Alexa's, or brown
like mine? Her hair? Blonde or brown, or perhaps a mixture?
Will she be taller, or incredibly small and petite like Alexa?
I know that Brooklyn will be hurt, bruised, damaged. She will
experience pain and heartache in her life. We all do as human
beings. She will make mistakes and will not want to tell me about
them. Yet I can only hope that Brooklyn, as well as my other three
children, will feel like she can. Or that she will be able to talk
to and confide in someone who cares for her as much as I will.
"Dad," I said, still trying to manage all of my emotions, "I
need to get back to Lexi and Merissa. I need to tell them that
Lexi is pregnant! PLEASE, let me go back to them. PLEASE!..."
Dad snapped his fingers again...
Time, it appeared, plunged forward three hours. Or perhaps Dad
took me back to the present, and the last several moments were
spent in the past. Really, it did not matter. The clock on the
wall read 4:14am when an older doctor in surgical scrubs emerged
from the locked door on the western end of the room. "Is my
husband okay?" rushed from Alexa's lungs, almost as fast as she
sprung up from her chair and hurried over to him. Merissa, of
course, was right there beside her. Everyone else in the room
seemed to be hanging on pins and needles, waiting for an answer.
"Jeremy did great," the doctor assured them. "The surgery
went well, and it was a success. We were able to graft the vein
from his leg and attach it to the narrowed artery near his heart
and loop it, creating a bypass, without issue. I suspect that
your husband will make a full recovery, Mrs. [Last Name]."
Tears sprang from Alexa's eyes and she actually threw her arms
around the doctor in a joyous hug. "Thank you! Thank you so
much!" Behind them, collective sounds of relief and gratitude
filled the room. Merissa and Mom were crying too, being consoled
by Hudson and Janae, respectively. "Can we see him?"
"Yes. He is sleeping and is going to be out of it for quite a
while I assume, but you can go back. But he cannot have more than
one person with him at a time right now."
Alexa looked at Merissa, silently offering her the chance to go
in first, but Merissa shook her head. Alexa hugged her tight.
"You've been with him longer," Merissa sobbed. "You first."
"Thank you. I'll tell him you're here. You'll see him soon."
"Mrs. [Last Name]," the doctor spoke quietly, slowly guiding
Alexa away from the others, "it can be a shock seeing someone you
love in a hospital bed, especially after major surgery like this."
"Thanks for the warning, but I'll be fine. I NEED to see him."
"I know, but I just want you to be prepared. Again, people
react all sorts of ways when seeing a loved one for the first time
following major surgery. Would you like me or one of the nurses,
perhaps the social worker, to go in with you?"
Alexa swallowed hard as Dad and I followed them through the
corridor to the recovery center. "No. I'm good."
Soon, Alexa stepped into the recovery room and took in all of
the monitors, the I-V running from my arm, and the oximeter
attached to the end of my finger. As did I; I looked so weak and
frail in the sterile hospital bed. It looked like, dear God, I
was resting upon my death bed and my funeral was imminent. For a
split-second, it seemed as if Alexa was going to get sick to her
stomach and vomit, yet it appeared at the same time that her heart
filled with happiness at finally being able to see me. The
conflicting emotions clearly rivaled and swirled inside of her as
she moved toward the bed where I lay sleeping. Tears fell down
her cheeks as she reached out and hovered her right hand above my
chest, but did not dare touch it.
"If it is possible to love a person more than Lexi already
loves you," Dad said to me softly, "she just soared past that
level. Right now, son, all Lexi wants to do is crawl into that
bed and hold onto you, cherish you, until the end of time. You
have no idea the relief she feels right now."
Alexa carefully bent to kiss my forehead and cheeks.
"I love you, baby. I'm right here." She pressed her face into
the crook of my neck, carefully holding me, and she stayed there,
listening to my steady breathing and watching my vital signs -
particularly my heart activity - on the monitor beside us. Alexa
began crying and did not move until the nurse came in to check on
me. She slid to a nearby chair and covered my hand with her own.
"He's doing fine, honey," the nurse told her.
Alexa nodded, yet seemed quite tentative. Obviously, she wanted
to see proof. She wanted me to wake up and acknowledge her. That
was going to be the final hurdle for her, for us.
After the nurse left, Alexa put her forehead on my hand. "I
tell you that I love you all the time, Jeremy, but even I did not
realize just how much - how deep those feelings are - until
tonight. I CAN'T lose you. You need to wake up, baby. You were
in surgery for nearly FIVE HOURS, and you do not want to know how
many people are out there in that waiting room, cheering you on.
EVERYONE is out there, and most have been here all night. Your
brother and his wife are on their way from Utah. Everyone wants
to see you and know you're okay, baby. Merissa wants to see you.
I know you want to see Merissa, too."
"It's time go back, son," Dad informed me.
Now I was crying as well, but for an entirely different reason.
I reached out and touched Dad's hand. "When will I see you again?"
He chuckled softly. "Hopefully not for another 50 years. You
take better care of yourself, son. You have a fourth child on the
way and many grandchildren in the future who will need you, who
will look up to you, as you once did your own grandparents. But
ONLY if you afford them that opportunity. Be a little smarter.
Remember, son. CHOICES. Make the right choices in life. And
don't worry about me. I'll always be here watching, waiting..."
"Dad, I love you."
"I love you too, Jeremy. Always have, and always will."
Dad held up his hand as if he was about to snap his fingers and
send me back to my physical body, but I had one last question for
him. "Where does the name Brooklyn come from? I told Lexi and
Merissa what you told me earlier this year, that Lexi would have a
daughter named Brooklyn in the summer of 2018. While all three of
us agree that is a very pretty name, it's not one any of us
believes we would choose on our own." Indeed, where did that
name come from? Why would Alexa and I name our daughter that?
Dad continued to hold his hand up, but then glanced back over
his shoulder. Suddenly, a little blonde-haired girl appeared in
the background and offered me a slight giggle, then a wave of the
hand. My eyes focused on her and I nearly had a second heart
attack upon recognition, it seemed, right then and there.
"Brooke? Is that... is that... YOU?..."
My favorite cousin, Brooke, who developed leukemia and died a
horrible, tragic death in 1986 at the tender age of 12. She was
the same age as me; born just months apart. For years, I mourned
Brooke's death and, to this day, could never make sense of it.
"Jeremy," Brooke said from the corner, again giggling, "you
silly goose!" One of the many nicknames she had bestowed upon me
when we were growing up and having fun as cousins. Back then,
Brooke and I were the absolute best of friends. "It's been five
months since your dad told you, but you STILL haven't put two and
two together yet. You're going to name your daughter after ME!"
Dad turned and smiled my way as my precious, long-lost cousin
vanished into thin air. WAIT! DON'T GO! I so wanted to give
Brooke a big hug and tell her how much had I missed her these past
31 years! I wish beyond anything that Brooke was still here. Her
two sisters, Candice and Piper, were just outside with the rest
of my family and friends. Did she stop by out there and pay them
a visit? Unfortunately, Brooke was gone again - just like that -
and just like 1986. "Brooke will be patiently waiting for you too,
son. We all will. Now go home, and be with your family."
He then snapped his fingers...
After my eyelids fluttered open, my gaze drifted sleepily over
Alexa's features, and then I was able to focus on her beautiful
blue eyes. I was laying in the hospital bed, quite groggy and
stuffed up with medicine and painkillers, yet it felt like a
freight train had run me over anyway. I could barely move, but
this was normal after major surgery. Hopefully, it would pass.
She caressed my cheek. "Hi, baby."
I smiled at Alexa, yet it only drew more tears from her. She
wiped them away, perhaps not wanting to upset me, but she seemed
so happy that it must have been difficult to keep them at bay.
"You had a heart attack, baby," she said to me. "Don't worry,
though. The doctors took good care of you, and you're going to
be alright. You're going to make a full recovery. You will be
home soon enough with the rest of your family." Tears slipped
from the corners of my eyes, but Alexa was quick to kiss them
way. She leaned in and hugged me. "Oh, I love you so much."
"Lexi..." I barely managed to say, struggling.
"Sleep, baby. Get some rest," she insisted, again kissing me
softly. "Merissa will be in soon to see you, and your mom after
that. We're going to bring Cooper, Madison and Asher down later
today if you're awake and feeling up for it." She dabbed at her
eyes with a tissue, then made a motion to stand up. "I'm going
to go get Merissa and have her come in and see you real quick.
The doctor is only allowing you one visitor at a time right now."
"Lay down with me," I begged her, somehow finding the strength
to speak coherently. Wow, it even hurt to breathe, let alone
talk. "Please." Alexa seemed torn for a moment, not knowing what
to do, but she went around the bed to the other side and carefully
climbed onto it, lying sideways next to me. I rested my head in a
mass of her shimmering blonde curls and whispered, "Don't leave me.
I have something... to tell you."
"I'll never leave you. Close your eyes, baby. I've got you.
I'll ALWAYS have you. Just like you've always had me." She ran
her fingers throughout my hair, and seconds later, when the nurse
came in to check on me again, Alexa looked up and said to her,
"Please don't ask me to move, else we're going to have trouble."
The kind nurse smiled at Alexa and responded, "Honey, you are
right where you are supposed to be. I'd never ask you to move."
"Lexi," I said, feeling more and more fatigued by the second.
"L-Lexi, I... saw Dad." Alexa's gaze bolted toward me, her eyes
wide. She knew exactly what I meant with that, too. Alexa and
Merissa were well aware of the two prior _visitations_ I had with
my father, but they did not believe them to be legitimate quite
the same way I did. That was fine. To them, it was my mind -
the grief I felt - triggering an overactive imagination.
But to me, it was real.
And this would ultimately prove it.
"Go to sleep, baby," she reiterated, lightly stroking my
forehead with her palm. "You've been through a heck of a lot and
need your rest." Yet I could literally see the wheels spinning in
her brain. I saw Dad again? What did he say to me this time?
"Lexi..." I was able to move my left hand a few inches, and
gently touch her abdomen. "Lexi, you... you're... p-pr-pregnant.
Dad... he... he told me... so. We're gonna have a... baby."
The look of shock upon Alexa's face reminded me of the time
Cooper saw Mickey Mouse for the first during a family vacation to
_Disneyworld_ last year. Stunned; total shock, and disbelief.
Yet also hope. For the first time in Alexa's young life, she was
absolutely speechless. I had blindsided her with this little
tidbit of news like no one ever had before.
But my head was swimming and I felt a distinct lack of energy
to push back. Having told her what I needed to say, I surrendered,
closing my eyes and drifting back into a necessary, peaceful sleep.