Part II (Continued from the July 22 Post)
After three months Carl located his family. Those were three months of stress, toil, and adaptation. The adaptation was the hardest. There were some technological differences to cope with, but mainly the change was physical. He got tired faster. His appetite was gone. His back hurt. His “teeth” were always missing. And nobody respected him.
But who was it that they didn’t respect? Who was he? Every day Carl would take a long look in the mirror, and wonder who stared back at him. There was some resemblance of feature to the young Carl: the strong jawbone, the blue eyes, even the scar on his lip. But when he looked at an old photograph of himself he had found in his wallet, he almost saw a different person.
He was a different person mentally as well as physiologically. He was lost. His life had been lost. He had catapulted through time, and time had changed him. Suddenly, people treated him like an old man. Women used a motherly tone with him. Men sounded awkward around him. Officials offered him a helping hand with a hint of kindness and a hint of condescension in it; after he thanked them he would remember how they used to attentively follow the young reporter’s every move.
And what moves did he have now? He could barely move across the room without getting tired. “Lord, how did this happen?” Was the young Carl someone else? Was this Carl just an old man in an apartment with memory loss and a TV? A lonely man without family or connections?
What was the thread that connected the two Carls, the element that made them one person? Was it the blue eyes? No, blue eyes were not a person. His blue eyes could be destroyed, and leave Carl behind. Was it the old interests, hopes, beliefs? They were all gone. Was it the memories? They were fading, and even if they hadn’t been, what is memory but a shadow of reality? A person is more than a shadow.
Why should he even try to find his family, his home, his friends? What did they have to do with this Carl? They were important to the young Carl; what difference did they make now?
But he found them. One sunny afternoon he walked up the neat front lawn of his brother's house and fell into the arms of a man nearly as old as himself.
Why Carl," exclaimed the man, "It's so good to see you!" He pulled up and grasped Carl's shoulders at an arm's length, with glistening eyes. Where have you been these past three months?
Carl started. "Only three months? Steve..." His voice broke.
"Three long months." Steve's voice was husky. "That's too long, Carl. What were you thinking? Why didn't you at least call us?"
Whadda you mean three months?" Carl blurted, choking. What happened before that? Why are you so old and wizened? Where's the rest of the family?"
It was Steve's turn to choke up. Trembling, he gripped Carl's hand in both his own. "Carl." He spoke softly, forcing down tearful agitation. "Come inside. You're safe now. We'll take care of you. Everything will be all right."
Carl crumbled to the ground, sobbing. What had happened? Had he lived a whole lifetime and forgotten it? He clutched the grass, and his eyes swam in blackness.
When Carl regained consciousness, he was lying on a couch, a woman daubing his forehead with a cold, wet towel. She was a stranger. Beside her was another woman, whose face recalled twleve-year-old Margaret, his sister. Mother and father were no where in sight. Steve was sitting nearby. He had looked up from his newspaper as soon as Carl opened his eyes. Strange people - men, women, and children - stared at him.
"Steve, I want to talk too you alone," Carl rasped. "Please."
The strangers glanced askance at each other, but silently filed out of the room.
"Steve," Carl began. "I don't know what happened. The last I remember I was twenty-three. Help me."
Steve sighed. "You're my brother, Carl. They all want to hide it from you. Even your wife. You're dying." His eyes filled with tears, and he swallowed. "I don't know what you remember, but believe me, there's a family around you that loves you, that lived a lifetime with you. Remember that, Carl."
Carl's breath came faster and faster, and his eyes widened with shock. The room grew dimmer. All was black.
Carl's opened his eyes in an instant. He couldn't hear anything, and strained to see through the darkness. It had been a dream. All a dream! What had seemed so real was now patently mere vapors of his imagination. He let out a long laugh of relief, and turned over to get out of bed.
Then he stopped. His hand and side had hit something hard above him. He tried to sit up, and bumped his head on the same surface. Evidently, he was trapped in a small, cushioned box. "Help," he shouted, and pressed on the lid with all his might. From outside came a hundred screams. The lid broke open, and he jumped up and found himself standing in a coffin at the bottom of a newly-dug grave. Terrified mourners had fainted, gone into hysterics, or set off running to the cemetery exit. He recognized not a single one of them. In the midst of the chaos, Carl jumped for joy. He was as young as he had been on the streets of California.
"Ma'am," he demanded of a distraught old woman collapsed on the lawn. Her mouth formed an O and the tears had frozen in her eyes.
"U-u-uncle Jeff?" was all she could manage to croak.
Carl only replied, "No Ma'am. Who is Uncle Jeff?" Then he smiled, and reached into his pocket. The reporter's notebook was there.