What comes after

Mid February 1993: First meeting

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[Fellas, I want to reassure you
Today’s story is a story about life
Today’s story is a story about life
The things that drive us
the things that tie us down
And you, players,
are going to help me tell it.]
-Storyteller quote.

Everyone has gathered in the First Methodist Church of Atlanta for a bi-weekly meeting of a support group called “What Comes After”. It is open to anyone who has lived through a near death experience to help them cope with what happened to them. None of them can deny that this support group has helped them get through the weeks that follow until the next meeting. They depend on it. After everyone has poured their coffee, put on a sticker with a first name that’s either real or fake, and taken one of the folding chairs, Griff decides he would like to be the first one to share.

Griff is a middle aged man and no one has seen him look happy, not once. From some of the rumors people have picked up and from what he has shared it’s become common knowledge that he’s the sole survivor of a car crash. If it wasn’t for the other driver’s donor card Griff would never have made it. Despite all his confessions it has never been made clear who was at fault for the accident.

Griff starts talking and everybody listens intently. “See, I woke up this morning. Same way I woke up yesterday morning. Some of us here have spoken about night terrors, I don’t get those. I haven’t dreamed, not once in my life. Not that I can remember, at least. But, but that doesn’t mean that I awake without a sense, eh, without some weight on my shoulders, y’know? I think about my sorrow, going away, y’know? And I wonder what they’re up to in heaven today. You see I wake up everyday, in this empty bed, in an empty house. And my wife, and my daughter…”

Griff can’t hold it together after that. Everyone thanks Griff for opening up.Janice, who organizes these meetings takes a moment to calm Griff, and calmly asks; “Would anyone else like to share?”

A young man named Stewart speaks up; “I’d like to share.” Janice nods welcomingly while still calming Griff; “Sure Stewart.” Stewart gathers himself and opens up; “Well my momma always told me I was kind of a daredevil..ish person. So, of course I one day tried bungee jumping. From a bridge. Until the rope snapped. I fell on my neck and it broke. I had to be hospitalized for about seven months. Now I’m the most cautious man that you’ll ever know. Because I’m never going to do anything like that again. So, no more biking, no more bungee jumping, no more parachutes. That’s it.”

A newcomer then asks “What does that mean? Isn’t that kind of a restriction on your life?” Stewart shakes his head. “No. It was so horrible those seven months in the hospital, I just.. I just want to be more cautious in life. Always checking the road for cars, looking left, right, left again, before I cross it. I’m watching out more. And better.” All the while Janice nods, Griff has found his bearings and once again listens intently.

Darren, another relative newcomer looks at Stewart. “It must be hard to have that fear.” Stewart agrees; “Yeah. It’s just.. It’s over. It’s done. No more hospitals for me, I hope. That’s about it.”

Janice thanks Stewart for opening up and invites someone else to share with the group. Darren, the newcomer decides to share for the first time. “Yeah. I’m Darren and it was the stupidest thing. I was also enjoying an outdoor activity. I was kayaking and eh, I was just cruising the river and all out of a sudden. A leaping fish hit me right in the temple. I got dragged down the stream. I remember going under and that’s when I must have passed out. I’ve had a concussion. I was saved, though.” For a second Darren has to hold something back that can either be tears or a dismissive chuckle. “By, by a man who only named himself Billy. He said that when he found me by the river I wasn’t breathing. I must not have been breathing for maybe a couple of minutes. I was out and.. ehm. He was, well he was.. He just helped me out and ehm.. Now here I am. And now, yeah. I’m not sure if I can say that I’ve died and came back. Or if anything like that happened, all I can say is that now I’m here. And that’s it.”

The attendee is thanked for opening up by Janice. She then asks if one of the other newcomers would like to speak but it becomes apparent that it’s too early for them. Dereck, a veteran of the group shows some initiative. “I would like to share. It was a regular day of work at the construction site when I was standing beneath a construction elevator. It was four floors up and all of a sudden the whole elevator was coming down. And I noticed it just in time to jump away from it. Well, not in time. It landed on my foot. But for my colleague, Aaron, it caught it him right.. Right there. He was killed instantly. Blood everywhere. I was stuck beneath that elevator with my foot.. and a dead Aaron. Everynight I hear, I dream and then I hear the sound of the elevator and it coming down again. And the sound of it hitting Aaron. Everynight. Again and again.”

Dereck struggles visibly. “At first I couldn’t do my work because of my foot. But when I was all right again I was just too scared. Every ‘clink’, every sound of metal on metal I hear.. I just panick. So, I’ve been without work since then.” An older man; Stanislav, who has been coming here for a long time, shows interest. Most members know that he comes from a land that one should no longer call Yugoslavia. He always has been a little bit too morbid for most people’s tastes. He nods; “You worked on skyscrapers, yes? Those look nice. Good work!”
Darren concludes again; “Fear can be a powerful thing. How long have you been in construction?” “Ten years.” Dereck answers. “Got two kids to take care for. Now I am without a job.” Darren then admits that he’s always wanted children and follows up on it, albeit with a nervous stutter; “I tried seeing all this as a positive thing, I tried and the only good thing that I can think of is that this.. It was only a short time ago. This accident has rekindled the interest of my wife, she’s less apathetic now. So who knows, maybe one day?”
Stewart mixes himself up in the discussion “Do you ever plan to Kayak again or will you be just like me?” Darren struggles to find an answer. “It was just an accident. No. My life has been getting very monotone in the last couple of years. I still want to go out and do something different every now and again. Sometimes I go hiking, sometimes fishing, lately I’ve tried kayaking. Just to break the dreary spell of eh..” He trails off there. Stewart nods; “I get it.” Dereck tries to salvage the situation; “So, how old are you, Darren?” “Thirtytwo.” Is the short cut answer. The group goes silent.

Stewart looks at older man in their midst. “What about you, Stanislav. What is your story? ..If you don’t mind sharing.” Stanislav obliges in a heavy accent. “I can repeat it for newcomers, in short, just in short. I immigrated to United States years ago. And at home, you see, something this nation has too, there was persecution, yes? There was this man, Tito and after his death the whole thing fell apart. Ethnic groups, as you say, were at each other’s throats and I ended up on the wrong side of eh.. Something which was intended to be compassionate and they kicked me to within an inch of my life. And then I came here and I’ve never been back. The twenty-something has another question for the older man; “Do you miss it or not at all?” “I miss the way it was, under Tito. Those were good days. I still remember the good days.”

After a while Janice stands up. People check their watch and it’s hard to realise that an hour has passed already. “I thank you all for coming and as always I hope to see you again in two weeks.” The group disperses slowly. Stanislav walks by Griff and claps him on the shoulder, while proclaiming, a bit too loudly; “You remember the good days, Griff!” before going outside and lighting a cigar. Darren and Dereck join him for a cig, Stewart heads for a liquor store.

On the church steps Darren has to admit; “That was something.” Dereck agrees; “Yeah. Do you think it can help you?” “I don’t know, man. I never thought I would be in one of these groups, of course no one thinks that. I guess everyone is just naturally optimistic. Still, yeah, I think it was good.” His new associate has to grin at that. “Sometimes it really looks like the anonymous alcoholics. Though, I guess some would prefer alcohol to cope with everything. I try not to.” Darren muses on this further while looking at Dereck’s prosthetic leg. “After everything everyone has seen, a glass or a bottle doesn’t seem that threatening anymore.”

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