The pieces were all beginning to fall into place now. I stopped fighting Tommy. He was able to release the pressure against my shoulders. I began to be more aware of my condition and I relaxed. I continued to shake a bit, mostly from being cold. Veronica brought a blanket and wrapped it around me in an attempt to stop me from shaking. The two of them helped me back onto the bed, but it was another five minutes before I could lie still. As I lay there, mute, I began to be aware of the pungent odor of my own vomit. I had apparently relieved myself of the contents of my stomach.
Finally, I turned toward Tommy, who had been waiting patiently by the side of the bed. "I need a drink," I croaked.
Tommy looked at me with that stern look that I had come to understand. "What do you want to drink?" he said, his voice flat and without emotion.
The events that I had just experienced began to run through my mind. The stories that Tommy and I had written, happening before my very eyes. The memories of how we had acted in school. The look on the principal's face when he caught us with that bottle of whiskey. The sense of hopelessness when the earth began to tremble. I could never again look at my life in the same way. I could never again isolate myself from the world and say I was affecting no one but myself. I began to realize that everything I did in the past, as well as everything I would ever do, would have its effect on someone else. My life was not my own to do with as I pleased.
I looked deep into Tommy's eyes. There was something more than just the concern of a friend for the physical well-being of another human. There was a deep and enduring love. A love that would drive him, if need be, to turn his back on me so that I might wake up to my condition. There beside Tommy sat Veronica, a woman who had stuck by Tommy as he was going through this same gauntlet, a woman who had helped him conquer that demon in his own life, a woman who had become the mother of Tommy's three wonderful children. Oh, if only I could have come alive to those same realities in time to participate in what my best friend had become.
I looked again at Tommy. "I think hot tea would be appropriate. Don't you?"
I could see Tommy's eyes brighten as the smile returned to his lips. "I think tea would be just exactly right. Don't you, Veronica?"
I turned to look at Veronica. The tears were streaming down her cheeks and she found it impossible to do anything but nod her head. She smiled at me and left the room to fix the tea.
I turned again to Tommy. "Hey, old buddy. Along with that tea, you think you could scare up a bottle or two of aspirin? My head is killing me."
"I think a couple of tablets oughta do it, pal. But yes, I'll get that too."
Mean time," said I, "I've gotta get out of this room. The smell is gettin' to me."
"Sure thing, George. I'll get you some dry clothes. Then how 'bout the recliner chair in the living room?"
"Works for me, Tommy."
Ten minutes later, I was settled into the old leather recliner that Tommy had bought me for my birthday twenty years ago. Like our friendship, it had survived some of the worst crises we had ever known. It now supported me in my time of need, just as Tommy and Veronica were doing. After taking several swallows of the refreshing hot tea, I picked up the paper. First, I looked at the dateline. "Sunday, October 15th," I said aloud.
"What's that, George?" asked Tommy.
"Oh, nothing much," I lied. "Just looking at the date."
I looked carefully through the paper. There was no story of a pickup truck being hit by a train. In fact, the paper was quite free of any meaningful news whatsoever. I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, there was that nagging notion that it could happen sometime. But what had happened to the week that I had just lived through? Was it all a terrible nightmare? Was it a warning as to what could still happen in the future? Or had I been given another chance? I will probably never know. Were these, as Ebenezer Scrooge had said, ". . . the shadows of things which will be, or are they only the shadows of things which may be?"
Tommy apparently saw the look of relief on my face and asked, "Anything special prompting your sudden good mood?"
"Yes," I answered. "I believe it's time. Long past time, in fact, for me to climb on the wagon."
"You mean you've finally sworn off the sauce, for good?"
"No, Tommy. I've finally found the secret. I'm not going to think about tomorrow. But today I'm not going to drink."
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