When Simon and Angelique were allowed to visit Jacob for a few minutes before his procedure, the couple entered the room to find him sitting cross-legged on the bed and vacantly staring at the wall across the room.
Simon patted Jacob's back hoping to elicit a response from his former client, and when there was no reaction or even any acknowledgement, he interrupted the nurse who was stooped down stocking a cabinet with some folded sheets.
"Excuse me. What happened to him? I've never seen him like this before."
She stood up and turned around to face the couple. "Oh, he's okay. We just had to give him something to help him relax earlier, but you can talk to him. He can hear you even if he doesn't respond." She gave them an encouraging smile and resumed stocking the cabinet.
Angelique sat on the edge of the bed and took the young man's hand in hers. "Jacob, honey, we just wanted to let you know that everything is going to be okay. We will be the ones taking care of you after your procedure is over in a few hours. We are so excited to have you in our home."
Simon and Angelique each gave the listless young man a hug before they left the room.
In his zombie state, Jacob was having an out-of-body experience. He distantly watched Simon and Angelique enter the room and try to talk to him. There was still a part of him that wanted to yell, scream and attack the two of them for forcing this procedure on him. A tiny sliver of his desperation was even willing to beg them to help him get out of St. Ives, but whatever drug they had given him earlier was just too powerful. He could barely make out what they were saying to him far more for responding.
After they left, he observed many different nurses enter and exit his room; all doing something different to prepare him for the procedure. At one point, a nurse had cleaned the dried blood off of his arm with some alcohol pads and replaced his IV port. Shortly after, another nurse entered the room with a few small vials tucked under her arms and took samples of his blood.
While a nurse was putting compression socks on his feet, an older white man dressed in a pair of scrubs approached his IV pole with a syringe in hand.
Jacob watched as the older man waved around his hands and grumbled. "I keep telling you all to stop giving them tranquilizers before the procedure! Does anyone have any idea how difficult it makes my job when you do that?"
The nurse in the room shrugged, and the anesthesiologist pushed Jacob into a lying position on the bed.
Feeding the medication into his IV, he tapped on Jacob's chest. "Take a few deep breaths for me, buddy."
The young man could almost immediately feel a warming sensation running through his body and relaxing his muscles.
"Mmm." He felt like the room was coming back into focus, and he looked up to see the doctor staring back up at him.
"Hey, buddy. How do you feel?"
Jacob took a deep, lazy breath. "I feel...really nice. It's...tingly...all over."
"That's good to hear. Welcome back to the land of the living."
After the anesthesiologist made a few more adjustments to his IV, Jacob watched him move to the side attempting to give the nurse enough space to push his bed out of the room.
His vision was still a little blurry when he was wheeled into the operating room. He felt much more aware of his surroundings and could appreciate that his thoughts were much clearer, but the drug the anesthesiologist gave him had him feeling extremely relaxed, making it impossible for him to fight back.
Two nurses lifted him from the bed and onto the table for the procedure. He thought it was impressive that they could move him so fluidly since he weighed 170 lbs the last time he checked.
A nurse straightened his head it so that it fit perfectly on the padded headrest attached to the table. Jacob felt a buckled leather strap secure his head in place, and the nurse quickly put a large number of small metal discs attached to tiny wires on his scalp and forehead.
As soon as the nurse finished, he called out, "Electrodes are in place."
Jacob recognized that voice, and from the corner of his eyes, he was able to make out Dr. Kelly on his right side brandishing a syringe filled with a bright blue liquid.
She announced to her team, "Administration of the Restalsis begins now."
The young man could only watch in terror as the bright blue liquid was injected into his IV. The room went silent for the seconds that it took to slowly flow down the tube and into his arm.
The moment the liquid flowed into his veins, Jacob felt his muscles slowly tighten up. The uncomfortable sensation progressively spread throughout his body as all of his muscles involuntarily tensed. Just when he was beginning to think that the tendons in his arm would burst, the muscle just relaxed and all the sensation in it was gone.
He heard a technician on the other side of the room announce, "He's begun cessation. We can see the brain waves slowing down."
The Restalsis continued to progressively paralyze parts of his body, and minutes later, the only feeling Jacob could perceive in his body was complete numbness. Darting his eyes around the room, he tried his best to maintain his consciousness, but it was hard for him to escape the compulsion to fall asleep. He felt light and wanted to just drift away.
From a distance, he heard a technician announce to Dr. Kelly's team. "Cessation completed. He's entering the active phase now."
A soothing sensation of wind blowing past the side of his face prompted him to close his eyes for just a moment. When Jacob opened his eyes again, he was in absolute awe as the room around him had transformed into a forest. Listening to the sounds of the wind flowing around him, he was pulled into a flashback.
The wind rushed past his face while he was riding on his mountain bike through his favorite dirt trail closest to his undergraduate university. He had just finished a pretty decent jump when the Bluetooth in his ear alerted him of an incoming call. He got off to the side of the trail and fished his phone from his pocket. Since it was his mother, he decided he would answer.
"Hey, mom. Is everything okay? I'm riding my bike right now."
"Just a quick question, Jacob. Your grandmother wants to know if you will be coming home for the Labor Day weekend? I know you said you were thinking about it."
"Sorry, I can't. I have a thing at school, but, I'll be home soon, Mom. This Christmas, I'll be there. I promise."
"Okay, honey. Make sure you're safe and wearing your helmet."
"I am, Mom. I'll call you back later. Okay?"
As the call ended, Jacob's consciousness emerged from the flashback. From a distance, he watched himself get back on the trail and continue the ride. He envied the ignorant bliss of his younger self. At the time, he didn't know he'd made a promise he would never be able to keep.
When his younger self went over a hill and out of view, the wind around him picked up and shifted, plunging him into another memory.
The wind slapped his face as he sat in a jeep barreling down the highway. He looked out the open windows and took in the devastation. It was the following Labor Day weekend, and the smell of freshly broken trees mixing with overflowing sewage in the air permeated his nostrils.
In the distance, the ocean was a disturbing lime-green color that he had never seen before. His whole life, the beaches on St. Croix were only ever adorned with its characteristically crystal-clear waters, but that day followed the aftermath of a disaster the world had never seen before.
Debris littered the side of the roads. Pieces of metal, sections of roofs, broken doors and shards of glass were strewn all over the land visible from the highway. Jacob felt his stomach sink when they passed closer to the graveyard. There were closed body bags everywhere. It seemed they had run out of bags, and near the road, the soldiers were piling the uncovered bodies they had recently pulled out of the rubble.
The jeep filled with gasps, cries of horror and sobs from the other passengers. He felt his own tears running down his cheeks. The realization was just too tough to bear. Around him was the undeniable proof that his community, his home and his family were all gone. There was no living thing left behind.
Emerging from this flashback, Jacob shed a few silent tears. A few days before that Labor Day weekend, multiple catastrophic hurricanes had barreled through the Caribbean desolating the US Virgin Islands. Sitting on top of the nearest hill, he watched the Jeep pull into the graveyard and his younger self stumble out, making it only a few feet away before he braced his hands on his knees and violently heaved the contents of his stomach onto the road.
As he watched his younger self fall onto his knees and release wild screams of anguish, he felt the wind picking him up from his seat on the hill and flying him into a new memory.
Holding a small urn in his hands, he walked barefoot onto the shore of the beach. He slowly trudged through the seaweed littering the sand until his feet touched the water.
Looking out into the ocean, he watched the waves as they crashed into the reef in the distance creating a thin white film on the surface. He felt himself absorbed by the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks near the shore. He focused on the smell of salt water and fish mixing in the air and the heat of the sand beneath his feet hoping to evade the emotional pain looming over him.
Standing on the shore, he felt the wind whipping past his face, drying his falling tears. His hands trembled as he struggled to open the urn containing the ashes of his mother, little sister and grandmother.
Removing the lid, he waded further into the water and released its contents into the sea. As he watched the ashes being carried further into the sea by the waves, he pulled at his chest struggling to bear the overwhelmingly inescapable loneliness facing him.
Once again, his current consciousness separated itself from the memory. He sat next to his younger self after he waded back to the shore. He wondered how it could be that after all these years, he still felt the same way. Here he was still sitting on the beach hoping to find the courage to end it all.
Standing up and stepping back from the shore, he welcomed the wind that carried him back in time once more.
This time, he landed on the playground of his elementary school.
Standing a few feet away, Jacob watched his younger self ride the slide. He watched the child's face light up in delight and throw his arms in the air as he neared the bottom. When he touched the ground, the little boy ran over to the sandbox, and without missing a beat, he climbed right in. Jacob observed him pick up a shovel and enthusiastically fill an empty pail.
Looking around, Jacob took in the sight of children at play. He listened to the high-pitched screams and squeals of delight saturating the atmosphere of the playground. To the young man, it was all so intoxicating, all so alive. He watched kids of all ages chase each other around the open field playing tag, hooting and hollering.
A few moments later, Jacob noticed his younger self look up at him as if he knew he was there, and the little boy gestured for him to come over. Without even thinking about it, Jacob walked towards the sandbox feeling a light breeze ushering him there, and he marveled at the incredible castle situated inside. He didn't remember having been so talented at such a young age. The little boy smiled up at him and tried to hand him a shovel, patting the spot in the sand next to him.
He shook his head at the boy. He wanted to, but he wasn't a little kid anymore. He was an adult now, and that meant he had to put childish things behind him.
An adamant voice in the back of his mind rebelled, and he couldn't stop thinking about how free they all seemed. He wondered how good it would feel to return to his unburdened childhood. He yearned for a moment where he could let go of all the pain he was always holding onto.
When the little boy reached over and pulled at his arm again, Jacob relented and stepped into the sandbox to join him. He accepted the shovel and dipped it into the sand a few times to fill the tiny pail.
He looked over to his side hoping to get a peek at what his younger self might be preparing to craft next, but he was surprised to see there was no trace of him left. The boy had vanished leaving him alone with all the other kids in the large sandbox.
Focusing again at the castle, he finally remembered the design. It was one that he had repeated a few times throughout his childhood. He decided he would at least finish it before he got out and let the wind carry him somewhere else.
As he worked on the castle, his body relaxed, and his emotional pain slowly evaporated. His anxieties lessened, his depression eased and his traumas faded. For the first time in years, his existence was light and free. Gone like the wind around him was the desire to leave the playground.
Unburdened by his past, Jacob sat in the sandbox crafting, creating and playing with the warming sun shining on his smiling face.