I’m really hurt this time. “This time,” I mean since the second time that man ran into me. Or faded into me. I don’t know where he went. It’s been a week since he punched me in the stomach in my kitchen and disappeared.
I’ve been so sick I had to call into Kava Kava Coffee all week. And now Gary and I are going to Hawaii and I’m going to be out another week. I’m afraid that Adam and Scott are going to fire me. Uncle Gary says it doesn’t matter and I can get another job. But I really like my job. I want to keep working there. But I couldn’t go in this week. I’ve been too sick.
I mostly laid on the couch for the entire week watching crappy TV and reading. TV is so dumb and such a waste of time but what else are you supposed to do when you’re sick? At first it was just that my stomach hurt. I’ve never been punched really hard in the stomach in real life, but I guess that’s what it felt like when the man hit me… or did whatever he did to me.
Once I caught my breath on the kitchen floor I convinced Gary not to take me to the hospital.
“What are we going to tell them, Gary?” I cried to him. “That a ghost man knocked me down? They’ll think both of us are crazy.”
Gary agreed but he’s been worried about me all week. At least he hasn’t brought up the hospital again. He almost didn’t finish his commission this week because he kept hovering over me on the couch. Every day our conversations went something like this:
Him: Josie, you look terrible.
Me: Thanks a lot.
Him: Are you sleeping? How can you sleep on this couch?
Me: I like the couch. I feel better out here.
Him: Are you hungry?
Him: How’s your stomach?
Me: Still hurts.
Then he’d go out and try to work on his piece for some plastic surgery mama from Santa Monica. I could tell he could barely concentrate because he’d come in every hour to ask again if I was tired, hungry, or if my stomach still hurt. I finally had to tell him to leave me alone after two full days of this pattern. After my request, he stopped coming in every hour and made it every couple of hours instead. It gave me at least a bit of relief from the questions.
I don’t blame Gary for being worried, though. I’m worried too. It kicked in when the bruising started on my stomach the day after the incident with the man in the kitchen. Before the bruising I was really just scared of seeing the man again. But now I’m actually worried about my body. Gary says the bruise is on my solar plexus – it’s high on my stomach right below my ribs.
The bruise started small – a light purple spot in the center of my solar plexus, as Gary won’t stop calling it. But then it got darker and it started spreading. On the fifth day after the accident, the bruise was dark purple, almost black in some spots and had spread from a small circle to a large blob-like shape with gangling fingers reaching towards the sides of my body. That fifth day was the worst for my pain and the bruise’s growth. On the sixth day, the pain got a bit better and the bruise stopped growing. But it’s day seven, we’re on our way to the airport, and the bruise looks the same as yesterday and my pain is still there.
My mind has been pretty fuzzy this week. It’s hard to explain but I just don’t feel normal. Not like myself. I’m usually pretty energetic. I like working, I like hanging out with a couple of my good friends, seeing live music, drawing too, but I haven’t been able to do anything this week. Not so much as drawing a little flower with a pencil in my sketch book. Harper’s been blowing up my phone but I just don’t feel like talking about what happened at Gary’s show, and I am definitely not telling anyone about what happened in the kitchen.
Uncle Gary planned this trip to Hawaii almost a year ago. He’s paying for everything. If it wasn’t for all of his planning and excitement, I wouldn’t be going. Traveling right now sounds like a terrible idea. But the tickets were bought long ago and I can’t tell Gary no.
We’re going to see my Tutu’s sister, Halani. She’s my great aunt and I don’t remember her at all, except for pictures I’ve seen. Gary says she came to the mainland when Tutu died but I was really little then. We’re staying with Halani at her house once we get there. She lives alone in Hanalei on the island of Kauai. This is my first time going to Hawaii and I really was looking forward to going before all this weird stuff happened.
We’ve been at the airport for a couple of hours and we’re getting on the plane soon. I just want to sleep. The flight is about six hours so I bought some Benadryl to make me go to sleep. I’ve been so tired and haven’t been sleeping well so I’m hoping this will give me the chance.
“Gary,” I say, as we settle in our window seats on the Hawaiian Airlines flight out of LAX. “I’m gonna try to sleep.”
“Good idea, Josie,” he says. “I’ll try to be quiet and keep anyone from bothering you.”
“It’s OK,” I tell him. “I’ve got some help,” I tell him as I pull the bottle of Benadryl out of my striped backpack.
“What’s that for?” He asks.
“I heard it helps you sleep,” I say with a shrug. I start removing the plastic wrapping from the bottle top.
“Josie, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Gary says cautiously.
“Why not?” I ask. “You know I haven’t been sleeping well. My stomach hurts and I don’t want to be on this plane. I’m trying to make the most of this situation.”
Gary just stares at me. I can see his mind calculating what to say next. He’s being very cautious with his words.
“Just don’t make a habit of it, OK?” He says with a sigh.
“I won’t,” I tell him as I twist off the cap and take a huge drink of the cherry liquid.
“Uggghhhhhhh,” I say with a shiver. “That’s awful.”
“I bet,” Gary says. “Isn’t that supposed to be for allergies?”
“I guess,” I tell him with another shiver. “It’s so gross.”
“Well, don’t take it,” he says.
Now he’s starting to annoy me. I take another long sip from the bottle and stare right at him as I do it.
“OK, Josie,” he says shaking his head. “Don’t make yourself sick trying to prove something.”
I stop drinking the awful tasting, thick syrup and give Gary a hard stare. This week has been hard on our relationship. I’ve been irritable and him always checking on me has been more annoying than usual. Throw the stress of him finishing his piece for some snotty, demanding lady on top of it, and this week was too much for both of us.
I decide not to respond and instead take another chug of the Benadryl, put the cap back on, lay my head back and close my eyes.
“Goodnight, Gary,” I say.
I think some turbulence woke me up. I look to my left and Gary isn’t in the seat next to me. He must be in the bathroom. Since the plane has three sections of seats, it’s just the two of us in this part of the row, thankfully.
I look out the window and see clouds. I’m not sure how long I’ve been asleep or how close we are to our destination. I reach down and touch my solar plexus. Surprisingly it doesn’t feel as sore as it has. Maybe I’m starting to get better? I think to myself.
My arms are tingling a bit. Maybe I slept on them weird or leaned on them too much in this cramped seat. I look down at them and notice my skin looks strange. Almost a little discolored. I look at my right arm and back to my left arm. They both have almost a gray caste to them. Great, I think. Is this the newest bruising or something?
I rub the top of my right hand with my left hand, trying to see if it changes the color of my skin. It doesn’t. But then I notice something strange about the fingers on my left hand. They’re that same grayish color as my hand and arm, but there’s something making them look longer than they actually are. It’s almost cloudy near the tips of my fingers. Smoky-looking in a way, I guess. It’s creating this optical illusion where my hands look bigger than they are.
I look at my right hand, and it has the same effect. I feel myself starting to breathe heavier. I think I’m starting to panic. I lean up in my seat and try to look at the rows ahead of me. No Gary anywhere. I look behind me. No Gary there either.
“What’s going on?” I whisper to myself.
I rub my hands on my legs, back and forth over my black jeans. But as I rub, I notice the jeans aren’t quite the same color they were when I put them on this morning. They look dirty now, like they’re covered in light gray soot. I brush at them but the color doesn’t come off. I can feel my throat getting tight. That panic isn’t going away.
I look down at my black shirt and it’s like I’m seeing double. Like when I used to cross my eyes when I was little. It’s almost as if I’m wearing two shirts. My black one from Brandy Melville underneath, and then a light gray shirt just over the top. I’m feeling woozy now. Like my head is spinning.
I reach down into my striped black and white backpack under the seat in front of me. Inside is a small compact. I pull it out and open it. I’m not sure why. I realize I almost do it without thinking. I hold the compact up to my face and what I see in the mirror stops the breath in my throat, and pushes the previously slowly building panic into a full-blown panic attack.
The man from Gary’s show and my kitchen is staring back at me in the mirror.
“Josie!” I hear Gary say urgently from far away.
“Where are you, Gary?” I try to yell but can barely croak due to the lack of air flowing through my throat.
“Josie!” He says again urgently.
I feel something squeezing the top of my left arm too tight.
“Ouch,” I whisper.
“Josie, wake up!” Gary commands.
I slowly open my eyes and immediately start coughing.
“Josie,” Gary says quietly. “I think you were having a nightmare. I told you not to take that stupid Benadryl.”
“What?” I croak.
“You were shaking around and whimpering so I woke you up,” he says, looking around to see if anyone’s paying attention to us.
“Oh,” I say, totally confused. “I was having a bad dream.”
“You’re all right now,” he says, rubbing my arm lightly where he gripped it a minute earlier.
Then a man comes on the speaker system.
“Ladies and gentleman, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position,” he says. “Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Thank you.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. My Benadryl plan worked. I slept the whole flight. But the dream I had that’s slowly pulling away from my memory left me with an unsettling feeling. What was I so upset about? I think as I adjust my seat to upright.
“Oh,” I say and clap my hand over my mouth.
“What, Josie?” Gary asks, alarmed at my little jump.
“I was dreaming about that man, Gary,” I whisper as I lean into him. “He was on me. He was in me. Or something.”
“Oh no,” Gary says. “It was just a dream, right? You don’t see him anywhere do you.”
I take a few seconds to look around the plane. I don’t see his now oddly familiar cloudy shape anywhere.
“No,” I tell Gary, shaking my head. “I don’t see him. It was just a bad dream, I think.”
The pilot breaks in again. “Flight attendants, prepare for landing, please.”
“Gary,” I say, trying to mask the shaking in my voice. “You don’t think he’ll follow us do you?
“To Hawaii?” Gary asks with surprise, but I can tell by the look on his face he thought of this scenario already. “No, no I don’t,” he says.
I don’t believe him. Somewhere inside me, I know I’m going to see the man again. And I’m scared of how he’ll hurt me next time.