In the light, she saw her grandmother's face. At times, before she died, Nana had worn a babushka, and she was wearing one now. It was knotted carefully under her chin. She looked serene.
Julia saw a smile in her eyes.
"Come, Julie," she said.
Her voice was high. It sounded musical.
Julia did not reply. She knew that Nana understood. Nana always understood. She knew that Nana loved her, and she knew that she always had.
Julia wanted to go to her. It made her eager, impatient. Nana was from coal country, and Julia remembered an accident in a mine. Men had died. She wanted to go to the coal shaft.
She wanted to die.
She tried to reach for Nana, but she could not move.
Nana's face faded.
Julia slipped off to sleep. When she woke, it was dark. She tried hard to bring Nana back.
But she could not.
Julia had no radio. She had no TV. Time crawled by. Nothing ever seemed to start, and nothing seemed to end.
One medical report says about a year passed. Another says it was nine years in all. A member of Julia's family says a year. Another says three years. Still others say six. Julia's psychologist agrees with six. So do others on the hospital staff at the time. Significantly, so does Julia.
During those years, her sister Joan won some important skirmishes in her fight to convince people that Julia was cognizant. Julia began to get more attention. One day a trio of nurses hoisted her with a mechanical lifter and lowered her into an old wooden wheelchair. Julia was too stiff to bend. She screamed. She tried hard to shake her head, but they lowered her anyway.
Her spine touched first. White-hot pain shot down her back. Bedsores burned on her hips. Her bones felt ready to crack. If only the pain would kill her. She gasped for air. She screamed with every breath. If she could stiffen her back, it might not break, and it might take weight off the bedsores. She strained. She felt herself flatten out, and she slid down in the chair, almost to the floor.
Two of the nurses pulled her back up. The third fetched an armload of sheets. She twisted one to make a rope, and she tried to tie Julia into the chair.
Deep inside Julia's shell of despair, there was still a flicker of fury.
She screamed. She strained. She flattened out, and she slid back down again. The nurses pulled her up. They tied her with another sheet. Again Julia screamed, and again she strained, and again she slid back down.
It took six sheets. Finally she could not move. The nurses pushed her out into the hall. She sat there, lashed into the wheelchair, screaming. Other patients rolled past. Some stopped to look. Julia did not look back. All she saw was a red haze of rage. She had been put on display. She felt like a broken ornament.
Three times a week, tied in with sheets, she was wheeled to Occupational Therapy, where a worker tried to configure a metal wheelchair to make her comfortable. Then one morning, possibly in the mid-1970s, it happened. Recollections are never perfect, and the explanation is a mystery. Perhaps it was because more doctors were taking Joan seriously, or because a therapist had been assigned to scout the wards for people like Julia, or both. Whatever the reason, a young woman walked into Julia's room.
She had a wide smile. Her hair was long. She parted it in the middle. She was only 5 foot 8, but she was so slim that she looked taller. She wore a print skirt and a blouse. When she looked down at Julia, lying there in bed, she realized that she had never seen anyone so paralyzed. She did not know whether Julia could hear, but she spoke anyway.
"Hi, Mrs. Televaro," she said, mispronouncing her name. Then she apologized. She repeated the name, and this time she got it right. "I'm Arlene Kraat from speech therapy," she said. Her voice was soft. She spoke slowly. "We're going to see if you can talk."
Julia had retreated so deeply into herself that it took a while for her to notice that Arlene was even there. Gradually she recognized her. Julia had seen her before, walking down the hall, but she had never come in. Now she was there, standing at Julia's bed, talking to her as if she could comprehend every word.
Julia was stunned.
She sensed the flutter of an old feeling. Was she human after all? Despite the time that had passed, despite all of her despair and despite the likelihood that her hope would be dashed yet again, Julia clutched at the feeling. Slowly, uneasily, she brought her gaze up to Arlene's face and looked into her eyes.
Arlene noticed. It was just what she had been searching for: She saw Julia's eyes move.
"Can you close your eyes?" Arlene asked.
"Can you blink two times?"
With that, Arlene knew: Julia could understand.
Could she express herself?
Quietly, hopefully, Arlene asked, "What is the first letter of your name?" She began reciting the alphabet.
When she got to J, Julia blinked.
In that instant, Arlene Kraat, habitually dismissive of the common wisdom and characteristically defiant of failure, accepted an unspoken challenge.