The fire crackled, throwing shadows against the wall and illuminating Jacob’s office in an orange glow. In that glow, Jacob sat, resigned and hopeless. He cried into his hands and cursed quietly under his breath. Wasn’t this always the case? Life had cheated him once again.
When he was a boy, he never had the things he wanted. His friends all had great Christmases and birthdays—they all vacationed in Florida and spent Spring break at the Cape. Most of all, they all had two parents. Nobody was around to teach Jacob how to throw a ball or to take him camping. And while his mother did all she could, working double shifts at the dime store didn’t provide them with much.
As a teen, the disparities became worse. High school brought concerns about popularity and status. Jacob, invisible to others and dressed in second-hand rags, withdrew and focused on his studies. He always felt cheated, though. It was mostly his father whom he blamed, but for as long as he could remember, the whole world seemed painfully unfair.
His marriage was more of the same. Jacob married Lisa because she was kind, pretty, and put up with him. Soon after, she became unhappy and dissatisfied. She was always complaining about money. Jacob was a doctor, but student loans and other debts prevented them from enjoying his salary. There was no free ride to med school for Jacob like there was for so many of his colleagues. He had to borrow his way through school and would now be paying the debt for decades. Lisa eventually met a doctor who could enjoy his money, and that was all they wrote for her and Jacob.
Life had been one rotten deal after another for Jacob, and he was about done with it. This last event had truly been the worst thing that ever happened to him. He looked at his glass of whiskey and the bottle of Dilaudid beside it. He sighed a heavy sigh and took a long drink. It was then when Jacob was feeling at his lowest that the phone rang.
He considered letting it ring. After all, whoever it was—whatever they had to say—it could not possibly matter now. Curiosity compelled him to reconsider. Who could be calling this late? After three or four rings, Jacob suddenly lunged across his desk and grabbed the phone.
“Doctor Singer?” He recognized the voice as that of Dr. James Aldrich, the man with whom he had spent the better part of the day in surgery. “Jacob, are you there?”
Jacob wasn’t sure why, but he felt unable to speak at first as if the air had been snatched from his lungs. Finally, he took a breath and spoke. “Yes, James. It’s late. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Jacob, she’s awake.”
The news hit Jacob like a bolt of lightning. He rose to his feet so quickly his knee struck the desk, sending the Dilaudid bottle rolling onto the floor.
“How?” he asked, wincing in pain. He could not believe it. This woman had come in with severe cerebral hemorrhaging, internal abdominal bleeding, and a dozen broken bones. They had serious doubts that she would make it. Once she was stable, Jacob believed she would never regain consciousness.
“You’re a miracle worker!” Aldrich laughed. “And she’s talking. No signs of significant brain damage.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jacob muttered. It was a miracle—for him as much as it was for her. “I’ll be right down,” Jacob said before placing the phone on its receiver.
The woman had been found in a ditch at the bottom of an embankment after a severe rainstorm the night before. Based on her injuries, medical staff and police investigators concluded it to be a hit and run. Jacob remembered how Aldrich had begged for his help with a risky surgery to alleviate the swelling in the brain. Jacob had been hesitant, but there was something about the woman that he found personally endearing. Against his better judgment, he agreed to help. Now she was awake, and Jacob had to meet her.
The Uber driver had barely stopped the car before Jacob leaped out to see his friend James, who was waiting outside the front door smoking.
“Car still in the shop?”
“Isn’t it always?” Jacob quipped.
“Gotta love those fine European cars. Costs two grand whenever the hood gets popped.”
“At least,” Jacob scoffed as they waited for the elevator. Of course, he thought, James’s Aston Martin always seemed to be in working order. James was one of the chosen lucky ones in life, and just like the rest of them, he didn’t even know it.
“This has got to be a miracle, Jacob,” James said as they rode the elevator up to the fifth floor of the hospital.
“Well, we tried our best and got lucky,” Jacob replied, still skeptical of the results till he could see them himself.
They walked down the hall toward her room. “Well, I have to thank you, again,” James said. “I simply don’t have that level of skill. You really made the difference here.” Jacob nodded, happy to hear someone recognize his ability.
“Wait,” Jacob paused before opening the door. “What’s her name?”
“Sara,” James said with a smile. “Her name is Sara.”
They entered her hospital room. She looked up with a smile. Her face was bruised, her legs cast, and her eyes bloodshot, but she smiled nonetheless.
“Sara, I would like you to meet the man who saved your life,” Dr. Aldrich said. “Jacob Singer.”
Sara made eye contact with Jacob and nearly blushed. She smiled awkwardly, “Hi. I don’t know what to say or how to thank you,” she said.
“Honestly, you don’t have to say anything. I am just so relieved to see you awake and well,” Jacob said.
“But you saved my life,” she said.
Jacob thought he must be crazy because he felt an instant spark between them. He could tell she felt it, too. Was this just the infatuation a victim gets for their savior? He had seen that before, but this felt different. He felt like he somehow knew her.
“Well, believe it or not, I think you saved mine, too,” Jacob said.
Two years passed and Jacob and Sara grew close. He took a personal interest in her physical therapy and began dropping by her house to bring her groceries while she was on the mend. Soon, their relationship blossomed, and she became his reason for smiling every day. He had never felt such happiness, but deep inside something didn’t feel right. There was an impending sense of doom that Jacob carried with him.
“You know, getting hit by that car was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,”
Sara would often say. “Because if that had not happened, I would have never met you.”
“Life is funny like that,” Jacob would often answer.
Everything was perfect. Jacob could hardly believe how much his life had changed with that one phone call two years before. All thanks to her. His angel.
They lied in bed together, his hand gently caressing her head on his chest.
“Jacob?” she asked.
“Yes, my love?”
“You know how I always say you saved my life?”
“Uh-huh,” he replied without much thought.
“And you always say I saved yours, too.”
“Yes, I do.”
Jacob paused. Something seemed off. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Why do you say that? How did I save your life?”
“You just gave me something to live for,” Jacob said. The words seemed to echo in the air, like the strange feeling déjà vu.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“I’m… not sure.” Jacob pushed her off and sat up. “I can’t remember for some reason.”
He looked at his hand and was startled to see blood. Confused, he looked at Sara and saw her mangled and bloodied as she had been when she arrived at the hospital. He nearly fell out of bed. A moment later, the blood and the vision were gone.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yeah… I just… I don’t know. Maybe too much wine.”
“Or a bit too much reality,” she said.
It was strange to Jacob that, for a moment, she almost sounded like Lisa.
“I’m just not feeling well,” he said, lying back down. An escalating feeling of panic began to take hold.
“Jacob,” Sara said, placing her hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and again saw her bloodied and battered.
“Shit, I’m losing my mind.”
“You don’t look so good,” said bloody Sara.
“What the hell is happening to me?” Jacob cried.
“Alright, alright. Just calm down. I can help you,” Sara said. “Just calm down. I need you to answer something for me.”
“What?” Jacob asked, his chest feeling heavier; his breath becoming labored.
“What’s my last name?” she asked.
“What kind of stupid question is that?” he scoffed.
“We’ve been together for two years. What’s my last name?”
Jacob paused then began to panic. “I—I don’t know… How the hell don’t I know? I think
I’m having a stroke or something… Call James…”
“Yes, James Aldrich. The man who begged you to help him save my life?”
“Yes, call James. Something is wrong.”
“Except James doesn’t like you. The two of you were never friends. In fact, he finds you insufferable and incompetent. Why would he have asked for your help?”
Suddenly, Jacob remembered all the times he had tried to earn James’s respect and failed. The man was one of the lucky chosen people. He never understood Jacob or his life, and Jacob could tell he was always judging him.
“In fact, nobody really likes you, Jacob.”
Jacob had a flash—a vision of rain beating against his windshield.
“Now you’re remembering,” she continued. “Do you remember arguing with James because he had to save a patient after you botched his surgery?”
“He always thinks he knows better than me…” Jacob muttered.
“Right, it was the RN’s fault. Only it wasn’t. It was yours. But just like everything else in life, you found something or someone else to blame.”
Jacob remembered leaving the hospital in a rage. Aldrich had once again made him look bad.
“You drove with your anger, but you couldn’t see the road.”
“It was raining so hard that night,” Jacob said, his voice cracking and tears streaming from his eyes.
“So angry at the world, so unwilling to hold yourself to account for anything. Of course, when you hit me—when you realized what you had done—you kept driving. It was my fault for being on the road in such conditions. You felt I had ruined your life.”
“It was raining so hard… What were you doing on the road?”
“Why weren’t you more careful? Why do you refuse to take responsibility?”
“It’s not my fault!”
“You drove home and cleaned up your car. You didn’t think about me, only yourself. But then, as you tried to sleep, the guilt found you. Despite being such a self-absorbed piece of shit your entire life—despite everything you had done—you actually began to feel remorse. This was something with which you could not live. It ate at you and forced you to address the one fact you have avoided your whole life: it is actually all your fault. No one else could ever be to blame. All the power has been yours, and all you’ve done is squandered this life in misery. Rather than face that, you ate a dozen Dilaudid.”
“What are you saying? That’s is impossible!”
“The phone never rang, Jacob. You’re still there, lying on the floor by your fire in a puddle of piss and shit about to die.”
“If this is true, why the cruel deception? Is this your revenge?”
“Revenge?” she laughed. “Jacob, I’m not real. My name isn’t Sara. You don’t know me. You fantasized about saving my life and dreamed up this whole scenario where I am actually thankful for what you did to me. Thankful for you hitting me with your car! Can you believe that shit? You really are a piece of work.”
He remembered everything: the driving rain, her blonde hair and yellow runner’s jacket appearing out of the fog, and the whack her head made against the hood of his car. He remembered scrubbing the blood off the bumper. He remembered fearing the police would show up—that someone might have seen his car.
“All coming back to you now?” Sara asked with a laugh. Only she wasn’t just Sara. She was his ex-wife, his mother, and his high school girlfriend—all the women he had ever disappointed or wronged. Even his neighbor, Mrs. Appleton, whom he never helped with her groceries.
It was coming back. Every single moment of nastiness and rudeness. The way he had treated others as tools to be used for whatever he could gain, and the way he shirked responsibility—always looking for the easy way out—never holding himself to account. He had screwed up that surgery because he had been hung over. He was hung over because he would rather drink away the feelings of disappointment and resentment he held for himself than face them.
Sara—or whatever her name really was—had been out enjoying her life. She didn’t let the pouring rain stop her from living. All so Jacob could run her down with his car. In a way, Jacob thought, he had been on that path his whole life—careening down the road without a care for anyone else until the inevitable moment when his life would crash into hers.
“So, is this hell?’ Jacob asked, his life passing before his eyes. Every moment of regret, and every instance of blaming others for his failures were all rushing back to him. “To live in eternal regret and misery?”
“Probably a fitting end,” she said. “But no, Jacob. This is all in your mind. I guess that makes me the last little piece of decency you have. The part of you that knows you deserve to suffer. Death is too easy for you. It’s copping out, yet again. You think you should simply get to fall asleep and never be held accountable? Maybe dream a little dream to drift away to? One where you’re some great guy? While I lie in a hospital bed being kept alive by machines? That’s not just, and it certainly isn’t taking responsibility for your actions.”
Jacob began to sob uncontrollably. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I’m so sorry!”
“That doesn’t change anything. Especially not while you’re lying in a puddle of piss and shit. What a coward you are! Afraid to take responsibility for the mess you have made.”
“What do you want from me?!” he shouted. “I can’t change anything now!”
“Fight, Jacob! Fight for your life! Wake up and own what you did! Own what you’ve become! Start taking responsibility for once in your damn life!”
“I can’t face the criticism! I can’t go to jail! It’s not fair!”
“There it is again. Everything has to be fair. You know what’s not fair? Going through life and always making yourself out to be a victim. To push your responsibilities off on others and blame everyone else for your misery. You know what’s not fair? Getting run down by some entitled piece of shit who is too self-absorbed to think about how his actions will affect others! I’m lying in that bed, and I will probably never open my eyes. I have people who love me, Jacob. Is that fair?”
“I’m sorry!” he cried. “You’re right! You’re right! I just want a chance! I will change! I will take responsibility! Please! Just let me wake up!!”
“Just open your eyes,” she said softly.
Her voice echoed in Jacob’s ears. Suddenly, he could feel his heavy eyelids. He could feel the cold, wet floor beneath him, but he felt like a tide was pulling him away. With his last bit of energy, he forced his eyes open and gasped for air. There he was, lying on his office floor, the empty bottle of Dilaudid beside him. The fire had nearly gone out.
With everything he could muster, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed 9-1-1.