Chapter Three

The surgeon that removed the thin metal rod from my head said I had been very "lucky." I am required to carry safety triangles in my car, along with a fire extinguisher and first aid kit since I drive professionally. The impact of the truck shattered the safety triangles along with just about everything else in my trunk. As my driverís seat broke on impact and fell backwards, a small metal rod, part of the safety triangles, no thicker than a wire hanger in your closet, broke free and shot forward. It pierced straight through the head rest of my seat, and then through the base of my skull at the back of my neck. The rod is twelve inches long. One end was still buried in the head rest. Two inches of the other end had been protruding from my head, just above and in front of my right ear. This is why all the people had been staring at me when I awoke at the scene. I had probably looked like one of those insects pinned through the side of the head to a collection board.

I donít know how the paramedics managed to get me free from the car and to the hospital. Iím not sure I want to know. I never asked. The morphine worked, and then they did their job wellÖthat was always good enough for me. What I do know is that I was indeed very "lucky," for lack of a better word. The force of the collision had fired the rod cleanly through the base of my neck aiming north and had pierced, rather than shattered, my skull as it exited. It had pressed up against, but not damaged, the Cerebellum located at the bottom rear of the brain. Had that been damaged, according to my doctor, I might have lost movement capabilities in random parts of my body temporarily or permanently. He said that the rod had missed vital areas of the brain, as far as he could tell, and it appeared to have mostly traveled through the Periaqueductal Gray, a gray matter that surrounds the Cerebral Aqueduct.

I didnít understand most of what he told me, except the part about my returning to a normal life.

But of course, that never happened.

In simple terms, once in the operation room, they went in and repaired damaged brain tissue as best they could, scanned the brain for skull slivers, cleaned up fluid leakage and sewed it all back up. As long as my skull had not fractured, they seemed to think it was okay that there was still a small hole in it. They assured me that my head would heal up and nothing could seep into the hole. I was not real comfortable with the idea of a hole in my skull, but he explained that it doesnít surround the entire brain anyway, it is only protection for the brain and my skull still supplied my brain with quite sufficient protection.

He also warned that I might experience a few "brain farts." My use of the phrase, not his. I forget what he called it exactly, but he said I might temporarily forget things like how to add or spell or where I live. Or I might experience occasional spasmodic sensations or tics. He told me to let him know if anything like that did occur, that they were still learning what different parts of the brain controlled.

I assured him I would, though I knew I would not unless I felt it was something that required his attention. I just wanted out. The fact is, I was already experiencing some weird "brain farts" but they werenít anything I couldnít handle. Plus I was still a little pissed that he had left the hole there in the first place. I mean, if youíre already in there, why not patch it up? But I guess they know best. Certainly more than I do about such things.

I just wanted to go home to the house I had lived in my entire life. My only injury had been the rod through the head and they had apparently done all they were going to do about that, so I talked him into releasing me to my home for the remainder of my recovery period. I promised him that my "best friend" would pick me up and move in with me until I could handle everything myself.

The doctor agreed, instructed me to schedule a follow up with the nurse on my way out for sometime in the next three to five days, wrote out a prescription for pain and shook my hand.

(63:137) came to mind, but I thanked him instead and called my old boss to order a pick up and deliveryÖon a direct service. I was told it would be no charge and a driver I had never seen before showed up twenty minutes later at the hospitalís emergency entrance and I was on my way home. I told the driver when he dropped me off to make sure he thanks Al for me for the ride and to let him know that I was done.

"You quitting just Ďcause of the car?" he asked "Insurance will buy you a new one, man. You can probably get whatever you want. Wish someone would rear end this piece of shit. Man, I could use a new car."

"Just tell him Iím done," I said. I thanked him again for the ride and closed the door before he could make any more suggestions. I fully intended to get a new car out of the deal. No question about that. But I was done driving for a living. I didnít know what I was going to do next, and I wasnít harboring any new found fears of driving, maybe a more deeply seeded hatred for truck drivers, but I just felt it was time for a change.

I unlocked my door and instantly felt better as I stepped through the threshold. These were the walls that I had grown up with. These were the rooms that had comforted me when my parents had met with their untimely deaths. Here was the furniture that would get me through this ordeal and the familiar sheets and personally shaped and molded pillows looked like the perfect place to start. Sleep came quickly.

* * * * *

I had left the hospital about a week before my doctorís original estimated departure time but I was already pretty well able to handle the daily necessities myself. The first sleep in my own bed upon returning from the hospital was a long and restful one. I awoke feeling surprisingly much stronger and ready to start thinking about what comes next.

Money was not an issue for me but only because I had always kept working. My parents had owned a little pizzeria inside the Southdale Mall in Edina. They usually only had three or four part-time employees to help them through the lunch rush and on weekends, but for the most part, Dad made the pizzas and Mom took the orders and filled the drinks. The pizza was served by the slice on paper plates shaped in a wedge with paper napkins and plastic knives and forks available. The customers took their order to a shared eating area of the Mallís Food Court. There were no tables to clear and no dishes and silverware to collect and wash. Mall employees roamed the eating area throwing away the trash left behind by the inconsiderate patrons and wiping the tables of the messy ones. A simple operation, nothing more than needed to provide a basic, yet desired service. Business had dropped quite measurably a few years earlier after the world famous Mall of America moved in just six miles down the road in Bloomington, but they still had enough business to keep themselves from ever getting bored. It wasnít making them rich, but their bills were paid, they owned their home outright, they enjoyed their work as well as each other, and they had no complaints in life whatsoever.

It had always been assumed, and with no argument from me, that Pizza Time Pizzeria would one day be mine. I had been helping out in the shop since I was old enough to walk. Once out of high school, I had already begun to take on more and more responsibility and had been working full-time with my parents. I took Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. It had been on a Wednesday that they had died.

I lost the desire to run the family business once the family was so abruptly disrupted and sold the place to the first offer. That and a small cash sum my parents had saved for the retirement they never reached created a decent sized nest egg for myself for emergencies. Not enough to live on for too long by itself, but as long as I had an income of any kind, it was enough that money should never be a problem. The house was paid for, a small, cozy, two-bedroom, one story with attached garage, so I had no rent to pay, either. I knew I would need to find a new job, but I was in no real hurry. Iíd always thought being a blackjack dealer at the casino would be kind of cool. They make you pay for a class for a few weeks before you can start the job, but like I said, I was in no hurry. I decided that once I was sure I was fully recovered from the accident, Iíd run down to Mystic Lake and inquire about their career opportunities as a dealer.

I had already come to this conclusion even before rolling out of bed that first morning home after the accident and was pleased that a decision had come so easily. I moved into the bathroom, again taking great pleasure in the usually taken for granted comfort and familiarity of this room compared to the generic, overly white and impersonal hospital bathroom, and became momentarily lost when I looked at the unfamiliar face in the mirror.

It had been three and a half weeks since the hospital barber had prepped my head for surgery and with the exception of the two small sterile pads covering the surgeonís handiwork, it was still as smooth as a babyís butt. My chin, on the other hand, was sprouting thick dark stubble all over my lower face. I couldnít remember the last time I had shaved so I opened up a new disposable razor and smoothed out that area too.

It didnít help much. I still didnít look like the me that I remembered with hair. I decided I couldnít go job hunting anyway until I had some of my hair back. It wasnít a vanity issue, I just didnít want to have to explain it. And besides, a little vacation between careers would probably be a good thing. I could wait. I had scheduled my return to the hospital for the check up and bandage dressing for four days away. Until then, I just needed to relax and regain all my strength.

The next morning, after rolling out of bed and into the bathroom for my morning rituals, I again noticed a rather thick growth of stubble on my chin and I had sideburns. I had never had sideburns before. Nor had I ever shaved two days in a row. The sideburn on the right side seem to be growing where the scar from the surgeonís fiddling about had occurred. I decided to leave it be for now. See what happens. Wait for my hair.

* * * * *

Friday morning, the time I had scheduled for my check up had arrived, but so far, my old hair had not. I was also now sporting the beginnings of the first beard of my life. It was still noticeably in the early stages of growth, but that would be one or two stages farther than I had ever achieved before the accident. It was growing in darker than my old head of hair had been too. It was at that moment, as I looked at the reflection of the stranger staring back at me from my mirror, I understood that my old hair was not going to be coming back. The stranger in my mirror was the new meÖfor my new life. But the look was so different, it was hard to get used to. Had I understood then how much different my life was about to become, I might have thought my strange new look to be more appropriate. But one couldnít possibly know thatÖ

Öcould they?

* * * * *

Chapter Four


Michael

Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Epilogue