Rosa is 17. Her world was turned upside down when boyfriend, George was hit by a motorbike on the way back from a late party. And when Rosa's prayers and dreams were finally answered as he came round all is not as it seems. George has regressed into a near-child like state and the doctors say it could be forever. Will Rosa make the moral choice to support George's desperately struggling mother? Or will her own post-accident problems prevent that?
When people wake up, you'd think that was the end. They're meant to wake up and hold your hand and be healed and although there is a little bit of recovery time they always get better and what ever happened is finished. It always happens, in movies, in books, on one of those tacky low-budget hospital TV programmes. People are meant to wake up and the horrible nightmare of sleepless nights, constant worrying and nervous unease about the person you love is meant to go away. TV programmes never portray the truth about accidents and comas, they never show the after-effects of someone who's been unconscious for months, had major surgery on their brain and have died and been brought back on the operating table twice. They always flip to a few months later, past all that crap that people have to go through, towards a happy ending. Either that or they die, and it's not a happy ending, and you get up from the sofa after watching the whole event and you wipe a tear away. You're in denial really, knowing it can't possibly happen to you. That sort of thing is millions of miles away from you in another world. Your world can't possibly ever crash down around you like it does on TV.
My boyfriend didn't die, but he didn't wake up either. To other people he did wake up, no matter what state he was in afterwards, his eyes opened and he moved and that was all that mattered. To me he wasn't my George anymore, his grin had gone, his sea-blue eyes had lost their sparkle and had instead adopted a blank look. I remember the day he woke up, me and George's mother were both by his bed, holding one hand each, filled with hope, smiling as he stirred silently out of a slumber that had seemingly lasted for centuries. George's mother and I were practically best friends now. It was understandable as she was young for a mum, not like some mums who are all protective over their sons. George's mum gave me a hug on the first day I met her. Doesn't mean that she wasn't strict with George though, she always made sure he was kept on the straight and narrow and he worked hard at school, he hoped to be a surgeon someday. His ironic ambition made the first few days after the accident even harder for me and Penelope, wondering what would happen if he died, how we'd cope. Penelope wrapped her arms around me, promised me everything would be alright and that George would be alright. It was at that moment that I realised she was a right sight better than my own mum, who didn't even care when George had the accident. She was too busy frequently washing her hands and scrubbing the house till all the paint had gone, mumbling to herself about ‘MRSA' and ‘Swine Flu'. Dad's always too busy trying to keep my mum at least a little bit sane, but a person with OCD can be hard to care for. George's eyes finally opened, just like in my dreams. And secretly I hoped it would be me his eyes would search for, then he'd squeeze my hand and whisper weakly
"R-Rosa...I love you"
Self-centred, I know. But I'd spent so long dreaming for this moment to arrive that I ran away with my head, exaggerating the dream out of all proportion. George's eyes didn't search for me, they didn't search for Penelope either, they remained fixed on the ceiling. He didn't squeeze our hands like we squeezed his, he just blankly stared at the ceiling, not talking, barely moving, nothing. Penelope was still smiling, shockingly. She started stroking George's forehead, getting his blonde hair out of his eyes. It had grown all floppy as he had been lying inert on a hospital bed.
"Georgie?" Penelope asked, she always used that name when he was ill, or he'd done something good at school. "Georgie, do you remember what happened?"
Georgie didn't reply, although his eyes did move temporarily towards Penelope's general direction, at least she got a response out of him.
"George. It's Rosa..." I whispered, longing for him to look at me. He didn't reply, he turned his head towards Penelope but his eyes were trying to look at the ceiling at the same time. "George..." I breathed, hoping he wasn't still in a coma. "What's wrong with him?"
Suddenly a doctor walked into the room and started to examine George "His motor reflexes are good, that's a brilliant sign that the surgery has been a success." The doctor smiled at me and Penelope, trying to put us at ease.
Penelope smiled back, much happier than she'd been in the past few months.
"But...he's not answering me, not talking or anything." I argued, before the doctor left the room.
The doctor looked grave then, he walked over to George and shone a light in his eyes, George suddenly frowned bemusedly, but his eyes were still blank. My eyes automatically went wide with concern. The doctor came back, looking graver still.
"George's brain surgery and coma combined may have had a worse side-effect than we first anticipated."
"What's wrong?" Penelope asked, gripping George's hand tighter, protectively.
"It seems that George has indeed got some sort of brain damage. It's either from the accident itself or from the surgery that stopped the bleed in his brain. There was always a risk this would happen. I'm sorry" The doctor turned to go, tried to run away from our grief like a coward.
"Wait. Don't go!" I shouted, the doctor turned to face me, with that stupid, know -it-all ‘grave' look on his face "What exactly will happen to him now?"
The doctor paused and broke eye contact "From what I've seen from past cases like this, his maturity will have decreased massively, his motor skills, although functional will not be completely perfect and his dependence on others will increase dramatically. Basically, George's mind will revert him back to childhood."
Tears stung my eyes then "Will he remember me?" I asked, burning in my desperation for more knowledge.
"I'm not sure."
"Please!" I begged, I lowered my voice then. "Please, tell me."
The doctor stared me in the eye, trying to rid himself of the cowardice that so clearly coursed through his veins
"The likelihood is, his amnesia is permanent. He can learn to talk again, but it will be a long process."
Penelope interrupted "It doesn't matter to me. I'll look after him, I'll take him to those speech therapy places and if it doesn't work then it still doesn't matter. He's my son, I love him no matter what."
The doctor nodded and walked out of the room. I stared over at George, wishing he would at least smile to show that he was still him, but he just lay there.
"I love him too." I mumbled, tears rolling down my cheeks. "Penelope. What if he never remembers us?"
"I don't care." Penelope stroked George's forehead again. "He's not dead. That's all that matters to me. At least he's still here."
Then I crossed the room and leant down to kiss George on the forehead, wondering...wondering whether he really was still here at all. And George's blank stare back at the ceiling confirmed my fears.
I walked into the house a little later, and was heralded with my mum screeching at me to put my shoes on the rack and to go and wash my hands immediately. To any other person, this would be considered odd. But for me, it was the norm. My mum has OCD which means obsessive compulsive disorder. It means that she has to do little routines and clean like crazy every day, otherwise she's got it into her head that something terrible will happen to my dad and I. My mum rushed off to the kitchen and stuck her hands in what I assumed was washing up, my dad walked into the hall and looked at me, solemnly.
I nodded and smiled a little falsely, but my dad didn't pick it up, luckily. He grinned and the smile spread all over his face, he walked over to me and wrapped me in a hug
"I told you Rosa. Always trust God and he'll provide"
I'd love to have my dad's faith in God. But after what happened with George I just couldn't bring myself to believe that there was someone who would allow it to happen. I love my dad generally, he's always been there for me when mum was too busy scrubbing away to notice, he's put up with so much since marrying my mum that sometimes I wondered what made him stay. Even though he was my dad I couldn't doubt that he was handsome, and women around the town loved his black skin and soulful, brown eyes. I was mixed race, with my dad's wiry black hair and brown eyes and mum's quite chubby looking build. My skin was light brown and to people who didn't look properly probably made me appear quite tanned. My skin was the only part of myself that I properly liked, as I didn't have to manipulate it too much to make it look pretty, I didn't need sun-beds and spray-on tan at least. Suddenly, my dad turned round and noticed that my mum wasn't washing up, but was in fact putting her hands in a big bowl of Dettol.
"Julie. No!" My dad ran forward and hastily took her hands out of the bleach "The GP says that anymore bleach on your hands and the skin on them will be ruined forever"
"But the germs Mark" My mum argued. "Swine flu...!"
Mark dried my mum's hands with a towel quickly and kissed one of them "Never mind about germs, Julie. They'll have to go through me before they ever get to you"
I rolled my eyes at this illogical tackiness that made dad, dad and went upstairs towards my bed. I didn't feel like eating, knowing that George wasn't my George anymore. I didn't feel like sleeping either, so I don't know why I was heading up to a bed if I wasn't going to sleep there. I heard my dad calming my neurotic mother down and I realised that they probably wouldn't acknowledge a goodnight from me, so I went up in silence.
That night, I dreamt about George. Dreamt that he was joking all along, and he hadn't been brain damaged after all. He was almost back to his old self, apart from being in hospital. Then when I woke up in the middle of the night, smiling, thinking it was true - I felt the horrible pang of emptiness in my stomach. For a few seconds I wondered why there was this void inside me, then I realised that the dream hadn't come true at all. George was currently staring into space, barely recognising his own mother. And the doctors had told me there was a likelihood of it being permanent. Months and months of worrying and hoping and panicking about George came to a head inside me at that moment, the realisation that I'd lost the old George forever struck me like an ice cold blade. Usually, I'm not the type to cry, it's only in dire situations that I cry. Like earlier when the doctors had said it was likely that he'd never remember me again. This time was different, this time I buried my face in the pillow and wept for George, because to me, he had died and I'd never see that sunshine smile ever again.
The weeks passed, and I avoided going to the hospital to see George as much as possible. I couldn't bear to see him in that state. I tried to focus my mind on other things instead, such as helping my dad look after my mum and applying for universities. I'd always seen myself applying to be a doctor along with George, so looking at universities gave me a horrible pang at the thought of going without him. I kicked myself and turned the computer off immediately, deciding to look at universities when I had got over the loss of my George. Another week later and Penelope knocked on the door, my dad answered it and I heard them talking for a while, the typical adult stuff. Penelope always puts an adult front on around other parents to make them think more of her, then suddenly dad let her in the living room and I felt awkward. I carried on starting at the TV hoping she wasn't here to talk to me. I didn't even bother to try and notice what was going on, on the screen, I just concentrated on blanking Penelope.
"Are you alright, Rosa? You seem a bit..."
"Fine" I answered, coldly.
Penelope sighed "Look, it's George. I know you hate seeing him now that he's...different. But at least come and keep him company for a little while. He's back from hospital now..."
"Is he still staring at the ceiling?" I asked, not looking Penelope in the eye.
"No." Penelope chuckled nervously "Although he does have a tendency to go off into his mind a lot. He doesn't talk much anymore either, and he doesn't get out really. Just sits and colours..."
I paused and stared at Penelope, it was obvious that there were tears forming in her eyes "I don't know what to do, Rosa" She sobbed and placed her face in her hands. This emotional outburst caught my attention and I went to sit by her on the sofa. "I've felt so alone since he came back. He needs me there all the time, and if I'm not even in the room he realises and starts crying..." Penelope became so choked up with tears that she couldn't speak anymore. I felt awful.
"Look, I'll come over, I'll watch him..." I paused, wondering whether to rephrase that statement. George wasn't a baby after all. He was just permanently damaged "But...I'm so scared, Penelope"
"I am too. I've lost my teenage son and gained a baby instead" Penelope tried to wipe the tears away.
"It must be worse for you. Living with him...like that"
Penelope grimaced and then looked guiltily down at her feet "I shouldn't be feeling like this. I should be feeling relieved that he isn't dead...But instead I feel like I have lost my son. I thought it would all bounce back to the way it was before, that's why I appeared so bloody optimistic in that hospital. I had no idea it would be so hard..."
I walked over to the living room table and picked up a tissue "Let me help you with George. I could help him...I don't know how, but I'll try."
The decision clicked inside me, I'd had enough of being selfish and whiney about George. There was nothing I could do about his condition apart from ease the effects, and Penelope was seemingly having a worse time of it than me. So after Penelope and I had calmed down we left for her house, my insides were filled with a sense of unease as the memory of George staring blankly at the ceiling returned to my head once more.
We walked into the house to the sound of crying. A teenage boy's crying, I walked into the living room and George was lying on the sofa crying his eyes out. Penelope looked at me, concerned and then walked over to George. I remained in the living room doorway staring warily as she tried to calm her son down.
"Georgie, sweetheart" Penelope patted George on the shoulder and suddenly he stopped bawling.
"I don't think we should leave him alone too often" I whispered, made unconfident by George's erratic moods.
"I had no choice, Rosa. I was desperate to talk to someone." Penelope stared darkly up at me, apparently offended by what I'd said.
"I wasn't judging you, Penelope I just...Oh never mind."
George sat up slowly and stared at Penelope; he wiped the tears away clumsily and sniffed.
"What do I do now?" Penelope whispered.
I walked over to George and touched his shoulder; he ignored me, not taking his eyes off Penelope, scared that she'd go again.
"How would you comfort a child?" I asked.
Penelope suddenly nodded and gave George a hug "Georgie? Mum had to go away for a few minutes to see a friend, but I'm back now and I won't go again, do you understand?"
George's facial expression contorted for a few seconds as he tried to process what Penelope was saying, then he nodded slowly. Penelope looked at me then
"Why don't I leave you here, so you can get reacquainted with him?" She asked, her eyes full of hope.
I desperately wanted to say no. The idea of being with a different George terrified me, but I decided to be polite, I nodded and she smiled gratefully and walked out of the room. George's eyes followed her, the essence of blankness still evident in their blueness. He sat up and stared towards the television, even though it wasn't on. I sat down next to him carefully, trying to be quiet like I was sitting down next to a bomb.
"Are you alright, George?"
George ignored me, and I went silent again - he didn't even turn to glance at me. I touched his shoulder.
"George? My name is Rosa, do you remember me at all?"
George turned his head slowly and for the first time since he woke up he looked at me, I wanted to look away to avoid the blankness in his eyes but I couldn't - this could be a sign that he was remembering me. George reached up and touched my hair.
"Yes" I stated as if speaking to a child "That's my hair - do you know what colour it is?"
George frowned for a second as though concentrating, and then he said "Gr-green..."
I couldn't help but laugh, "No silly it's black. I have black hair and brown skin just like my dad."
"Dad" George repeated and started stroking my hair. "Dad hair"
I thought the reacquaintance was going very well until George suddenly decided that he wanted a lock of my hair and he yanked it very hard. I yelled in shock and he jumped back and started wailing in terror.
"George...shhh...I'm sorry George" I instinctively wrapped my arms around him but he pushed me away, still wailing. Penelope walked in and looked questioningly towards George, I told her what happened and she went over to George and bent down again.
"Georgie, you do not pull hair or push people, it's a bad thing to do, do you understand?"
George was still crying, but he nodded, then after Penelope had gone he started ignoring me further, and I didn't want to upset him by talking to him again so I decided to leave.
"You tried, that's all that matters." Penelope said as I told her I was going. "Look, about George - you don't have to be his girlfriend anymore if he's not...the same."
"I know. But then it'll truly feel as if he's gone." I replied, sadly. "I'll think about it."
And after a final look at George watching a TV that wasn't on I left Penelope's house, hoping that one day George would remember me somehow.