Are You or Aren’t You (by DebbieB)

Summary:  After waking from a head injury, Joe struggles with what was real and what was a dream.

Rated:  G (5,975 words)

If I’m Dreaming Series:

  1.  If I’m Dreaming, Don’t Wake me
  2. Are You or Aren’t You?

Are You or Aren’t You

My head aches something terrible; therefore I have chosen to keep my eyes shut, for the moment that is.  I can hear Pa moving about the room and I know he must be tired.  He has spent the last several days at my bedside worrying about me.  I am aware that both of my brothers have stayed close also.  What I am having trouble remembering is just what it was that happened to me.  I know I haven’t been sick, or at least I don’t feel sick, except for this blasted hurting in my head.

Now I can hear Pa whispering to Hoss but I can’t make out what it is that Pa is telling him.  I sense Hoss’ presence next to my bed and I long to open my eyes and give him a big smile but it hurts too much.  I feel his large beefy hand on my brow as he brushes at that infernal stray curl that my family is forever pushing back into place.  I can’t begin to count the times in my life that Pa, Adam or Hoss has moved that same lock of hair.  Sometimes I have thought about cutting the blasted thing off, but then realize how ridiculous I would look if I did.  And being that I sorta have a tendency to pride myself about my looks, I can’t bring myself to do it, so I have to except the fact that my being sick will always give my family a reason to toy with my wayward curls.

Pa is scooting the chair up next to the bed; I hear it scraping across the floor.  I feel myself smiling inside.  Pa better not let Hop Sing catch him doing that, cause if the floor gets scratched, Pa’s gonna be in big trouble.  I have seen Hop Sing down on his hands and knees scrubbing these old wooden floorboards until they shined.

Once when I was little, I over heard Adam telling Pa that the floors were clean enough to eat off of.  So one night instead of dirtying the dishes, I tried eating my supper on the floor.  I can laugh about it now, but it sure wasn’t funny that night, my butt burned for days when Pa found out what I had done.  Hop Sing was none to pleased with me either.  The only ones who thought it the least bit funny were my brothers, that is until Pa sent them to their rooms for laughing when they saw the look on our father’s face.

“Joseph?  Wake up son,” Pa was asking.

The tone of his voice is more of a plea than a request and it tears at my heart.  Never has a father been more devoted than what mine has been to me and I love him all the more for it.  My pa is a good man, honest and hard working too.  But he sure doesn’t put up with much nonsense, least ways not from me.  He is always here though when I need him, like now.  I can always count on him, and he never lies to me, ever.  I can trust him with my life and I know if need be, my father would gladly give his own life to protect me, of that I have no doubt.

I force my eyelids to open and am rewarded with a huge smile.  I can’t help but notice the tears that have pooled in the depths of my father’s dark eyes and I can read the relief that I see on his face at the same time.

“Welcome back son,” smiles Ben.

I return the smile the best I can though even that small gesture magnifies the pain in my head.

“Have I been gone long?”

I wonder aloud, knowing by the tired way that my father moves that indeed I had been.

“Oh about a week,” answers Ben.

I turn at the sound of the door opening, ignoring the throbbing in my temples, and am pleased to see both of my brothers.  From the looks on their faces, they are just as glad to see me too.

“Hey Adam, Hoss,”

I call out to them.  I know my voice is weak but I want them to know how much their being here for me really means to me.

“Hi Punkin, how ya feeling?” asks Hoss grinning from ear to ear, the gap in the front of his teeth not hard to miss.

He looks like an oversized little kid who just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Can you believe he still calls me Punkin?  At first, back when I came to be here, it took getting used to, I mean back before this time, being called something like Punkin by your big brother usually made your friends think you were sissy or something worse.  Or that’s the way it appears to be in these crazy dreams I’ve been having lately.  But here, they don’t think like that.  To these men who are my family, well, it’s just another way they have of expressing their affection for me.

“My head hurts, really bad.”

I had to answer my brother or he would begin to worry all over again.  I swear sometimes he gets worse than Pa does when I get sick or hurt.  I think Hoss would have made a good mother, he’s worse than an old mother hen at times.  I almost laugh at the picture of Hoss in a dress with an apron but stop myself because of the discomfort in my head.

Adam moves closer to the bed.  I admire my oldest brother; he has such strength, not just physical but inner strength.  He is noble and honest, everyone I know respects him, I know I do.  He sure has helped me through some rough times in my life, usually it’s been the times when I have somehow managed to get myself into those messes where I just can’t seem to find a way to get myself out of.  But older brother Adam always manages to come up with an answer or a solution to my problems.  Maybe later he can help me with this current problem.  No, not my headache, but how I come to have such a bad headache.  I want to ask him about these wild dreams I have had since I have been in and out of it, while I’m at it.  They have been really weird and I can’t explain some of the things I see happening to me in them.  I wouldn’t tell just anyone, but they sorta scare me and where Adam is concerned, I can’t say that there is much of anything that scares him.  I could ask Pa, but he would just tell me to put it out of my mind, that the most important thing now is to work at getting better.  Yeah, well that might have worked when I was a kid, but I’m not a kid anymore.  I’m eighteen, a man at last. Ha, a man with a very excruciating headache I might add.

“It’s about time you woke up, little buddy.”

I know Adam is teasing me cause when he sat down on the edge of the bed, he poked me in the side and made me giggle.  He always knew just where to tickle me to make me start giggling, which lots of times had ended in both of us getting stern looks from Pa when we got too carried away.

I remember this one time; I must have been six or seven.  It had been snowing and Adam, Hoss and myself had been out playing in the snow but the temperature had started falling so Pa made us come inside.  Hop Sing had insisted that we strip off our wet clothes right there in the kitchen, so being that we were such obedient boys we did what he said, we stripped.  Well, we didn’t know it at the time, but Pa had company in the great room and Hop Sing, in his haste to serve the company refreshments, had forgotten to tell the three of us to use the back stairs when we went up instead of the main stairs in the great room.  Adam and Hoss had started tickling me, making me to almost pee on myself when I had managed to escape their wiggly fingers and run from the kitchen through the great room.  I was laughing so hard and Adam and Hoss were chasing me that none of us noticed the startled expression on Pa’s company’s faces until it was too late.  When we realized that there were people present, we stopped in our tracks and I can’t say that right then Pa was very proud of his sons, for there we stood, the three of us stark naked as the day we came into this world.  I think one lady actually fainted, I can’t recall much else cause when the bellowing sound of Pa’s voice finally reached our ears, and he drowned out the other screams that the ladies were making, we knew right then that we were in big trouble.  We flew as fast as we could to get up those steps and outta sight.  It was too late though, by the next day, the sizes of our mighty Ponderosas were talked about all over town.  I think it was a couple of months before either Adam or Hoss was able to show their faces in Virginia City.  As for me, I didn’t really care; I didn’t know then what a mighty Ponderosa even was!

“You just rest son.  Doc Martin will be by later to check in on you,” my pa informs me.

Boy, do I dread that.  I never have been one who liked to see the doctor coming.  Oh, Paul Martin isn’t so bad, as a man that is.  He ain’t so bad as a doctor either, I mean, he is a terrific doctor; I just don’t care for doctors in general.  All they ever want to do is poke and jab at you, force you to drink this bitter tasting medicine and if you put up too much of a fight, they give you shots either in your arms or worse, your butt.  

“I will Pa.”

 No use getting him all worked up this soon.  I find I can’t seem to keep the smile off my face right now.  Pa looks pleased that I haven’t put up a fight about having the doctor to come out to look me over.

“You hurry up and get well Short Shanks.  I’m agettin’ tired of doing my chores and yours too.”

Hoss is teasing me again.  I know this biggest brother of mine would do anything for me, he has always been like that.  Poor guy, I can’t count the number of times he has gotten in trouble with Pa over something I have gotten him into.  There have been times when he took the blame for something that I did rather than to see, or I should say, hear me get my backside warmed up by Pa.

“I will Hoss.  Hoss?”

I need to tell him something, something I should have said to him before now.

“Yeah squirt?” grinned Hoss.

I feel the bed sinking as he sits himself down next to me.

“Thanks, thanks for everything.”

I can almost see the big man blushing as he lowers his head.  He’s touched by my words.  I’m glad too, I mean, I meant what I said to him; Hoss is the best friend I have.  I don’t know what I would do without him.

I love each member of my family the same amount, but in different ways, with Pa, I can trust him to tell me the truth about anything and I know he tries to instill in me his values and beliefs all the while letting me learn things on my own.

With Adam, he’s like a second pa to me but yet he’s still my brother.  He’s the one I usually go to when I need help with something that I don’t want Pa to know about.  But then I’ve basically already said all of that.

Hoss, as I said, is my best friend.  I have seen him fight more than one man at a time coming to my rescue when I have gotten into fights back when the two of us were in school or later when we’d be in town at the saloon.  Most of those he and I have kept secret from Pa.  If Pa found out about half of the things Hoss and I have gotten into, we’d both never be allowed out of our rooms.  The thing I admire most about my largest brother is the size of his heart.  He is the most forgiving human I have ever known.  No matter what I do to him, he always forgives me and usually it doesn’t take too long either.

I remember this one time, I was eight and it was almost Christmas.  I was just a little kid back then, but the kids at school were teasing me about there not really being a Santa Clause.  I sorta already knew that there wasn’t really a Santa; I just did not want to admit it, least ways not to my family.  They always make such a big deal outta Santa Clause coming and all that I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that I pretty much knew the truth.  Anyway, I convinced Hoss to try to come down the chimney because I had been afraid that Santa was too fat to fit and I knew if Hoss could fit then naturally Santa would be able to.  I laugh every time I think back to that day.  Even ole stuffy pants Adam got caught up in our scheme.  All was working out pretty well too, that is until Hoss got stuck in the chimney and Pa took that moment to arrive home.  We all thought that we would be in trouble, but this time Pa was in a really good mood, even after it took us more than an hour to free Hoss from the chimney.  I sure was worried that Hoss would pound me good when he was finally outta that chimney.   But instead he just hugged me and messed up my hair saying that at least now Santa wouldn’t have to get dirty coming down our chimney cause Hoss had all the soot on him.

“We need to get to work. See you later Little Buddy.”

Adam ruffles my hair as he bids me bye, he knows how I hate that but it’s something he’s done since I was a little boy and I’ve sorta gotten used to it after all of these years.  I know he and Hoss have chores to do and that they are going out to mend some fences later but I wish Adam could stay for a bit longer.  I really want to ask him about these dreams.

“Will you come sit with me when you get finished?”

I know my voice sounds like I am begging and I know Adam senses it too because of the way he stopped at the door and is looking at me.

“Sure buddy, just as soon as I get back, I’ll come right up, how’s that?”

I’m almost positive that he can see the tears that have clouded my vision.  I wonder why all of a sudden I want to cry.  Maybe because my head still hurts, I hope that is all.  I hate to cry in front of my brothers, especially Adam, I can’t help but feel like a little kid when it happens, though Adam never puts me down or anything like that when I do.  He usually is pretty understanding, he knows that I am the most emotional one of the family.

“Thanks, I want to talk to you about something, if you don’t mind that is.”

I feel better already; I know Adam can help me understand what is going on in my head.  Sometimes I think he knows me better than I know myself.  We are that much alike I suppose, at least Pa tells us we are, in more ways than either of us care to admit.  Maybe that’s why we disagree, more than we agree about things.  Well, at any rate, I’m glad he’ll be back soon.

Pa walks out with Adam and Hoss as they leave me and being the over-protective parent that he is, Pa orders me to stay in the bed and rest until he gets back.  I can’t help it though and as soon as I hear the three of them going out the front door, I force myself to climb out of bed and though I am pretty shaky, I watch from my bedroom window.  Hoss and Adam are leading their horses out of the barn, I watch from behind the curtain, and see them stop to speak with Pa.  Probably getting orders as to what Pa wants them to get done today.  I find myself smiling as Pa waves bye at them, just like he always has in the past.  I wonder if Pa will ever come to terms with the fact that his three sons are men now instead of little boys.

Hop Sing is climbing into the buckboard.  Pa hands him a slip of paper that I know is a list of things that he needs from town.  Today is Saturday and Hop Sing is making his weekly trip into Virginia City for the supplies that we generally need by the end of the week.

Pa watches Hop Sing until he rounds the corner of the barn out of site before he turns and starts towards the house.  I need to hurry and get back in bed.  I know Pa will be up in a few minutes to check on me and if he finds me outta bed, he’ll start yelling and that will only make my head hurt more.

Sure enough, here he comes; I can hear his boots clicking along on the floor.  The hall runner mutes the sounds but then I heard the steps squeak before he even stepped into the hallway.

Phew…I just made it.

“Hi Pa.  Did Adam and Hoss get gone already?”

No sense in putting him on the defensive by finding out that I already knew they were gone because I have been out of bed and was watching from my window.

“Yes and Adam said to tell you that he would be up to see you just as soon as he got home.”

Pa has brought my breakfast tray up with him and is sitting it on the table next to my bed.  I hadn’t realized that I was hungry until I smelled the food.  I hope it isn’t oatmeal I hate that stuff.  I’d take steak and eggs any day over oatmeal mush.  Yuk!

Pa places the tray on my lap and when he lifts the lid I know he heard my breath escape from my lungs when I see that it isn’t oatmeal cause I feel his eyes smiling down on me.

“Hop Sing fixed you oatmeal, but I thought you might rather have this.”

Pa is grinning at me like it is some big secret what he has done.  Which to the two of us, it is a secret.  We both know that Hop Sing would insist on the oatmeal if he were here, but thanks to Pa for sending him into town earlier so that Pa could fix me the ham and eggs.

“Thanks Pa.  I’ll have eggs and ham any day over mush.  I was hoping for steak and eggs, but ham will do just as well.”

I really want him to know that I appreciate what he has done for me so I will force myself to eat every last crumb on my plate.  Maybe it will make my head stop hurting so much too after I drink this hot coffee he brought.

“I have some things to do son.  I hope you don’t mind if I leave you for a little while.  Just set your tray on the table when you’re finished and I’ll get it later.”

There he goes again, brushing at my hair.  I know what he will say next, ‘you need a haircut son’.

“I think as soon as the doctor says you can get out, I will take you into town.  You need a haircut son, do you realize that?”

Pa smiles down at me and stops briefly, surprised to see me laughing and I know he wonders what I find so amusing.

“Yes sir, I’m sure I do.  And I promise I will get one real soon.”

I make this promise for two reasons, I want to please my father and I really do need a haircut.  Maybe these darn curls will stay in place better if I get my hair trimmed.

I’ve just finished my meal and now I hear a buggy down in the yard.  I bet it’s the doctor.  Great, I hope he doesn’t want to give me a shot; I hate those things more than anything else.

“Well hello, young man,” Paul greets me as he pushes open the door and sees me sitting up in bed.

“Hi doc.”

I hope he thinks the smile on my face is for real, cause it ain’t.

Doc Martin is an old time friend of my father’s.  He’s the doctor that tended my mother the night I was born.  I guess you might say he is my life long friend as well.  I know he worked hard the night I was born.  I remember Pa telling me that it took Ma a long time to bring me into this world.  He laughs when he tells the story, he likes to make me think that I was as stubborn then as I am now, but in truth, I can tell he likes to reminisce about that night cause he loves talking about my mother.  I know he misses her sometimes really badly, so do I, even though it is hard for me to remember much about her.  I know Pa sure did love her, and even Adam and Hoss did too.  I remember though the stories that Pa told me about how Adam didn’t much care for her at first but later, after I was born all of that changed and he hurt just as badly as Hoss and me did when she died.

“How are you feeling this morning, Joe?”

I better pay attention, I hadn’t heard Doc speaking to me the first time and I can see by the look on Pa’s face that he is becoming concerned.

“I’m sorry doc, I was thinking about something else.”

At least I am truthful.  

“My head hurts but other than that, I’m fine.”

“I’m sure it does hurt.  You took a pretty hard blow to the back of your head.  Are you seeing okay, Joe?  No double or blurred vision?”  Paul asked me.

“Yes sir, I mean no sir.  Like I said, I’m fine other than this constant throbbing.”

I didn’t say anything about what was really bothering me.  I didn’t want Pa to start worrying again, and it really wasn’t something that the doctor could help me with.

“That’s good Joe.  I’ll leave some of these pain powders with your father.  You can take them about every four hours until your head stops hurting.  Hopefully the pain will stop in a day or two.  Do you want something to help you sleep?”

I knew he was going to ask me that.  Why is it that when you’ve been practically unconscious for a week, the first thing they want you to do when you finally wake up is to go back to sleep?  That never has made any sense to me.  But no, I do not want to sleep, I’m afraid I will start having those unexplainable dreams again, but naturally I can’t tell the doctor that.

“No thanks.  I can rest just fine once my headache eases off some.  Besides, all I’ve done for a week is sleep.”

I watch the exchange between my pa and the doctor and wonder at what they might be thinking.  Surely they aren’t keeping something from me.

“Pa?”

I just have to find out.  

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

My father moved to claim the doctor’s spot next to me on the bed and I could tell from the look on his face that he is still fretting about me, he doesn’t have to tell me that he is, I know it.

“No son, if there were anything else I would tell you.  You drink this pain medicine and rest.  I’m going to see the doctor out and I’ll be right back.”

I know Pa is being truthful and it makes me feel better.  

“Sure,” I said and turned the bitter tasting medicine up and swallowed it in three large gulps.

“This isn’t going to make me sleepy is it Doc?”

I call to the doctor before he has time to get all of the way out the bedroom door.

He just stopped and looked back at me laughing.

“No Joseph.  It will help you to relax though so you can.  And it will help with the pain.  Now you stay in that bed, and if you’re a good boy,” he started laughing at that cause he knows how I hate being called a boy, “ I just might let you go downstairs in a couple of days.”

That was all it took.

“Yes sir,” I nearly shouted causing both Pa and Doc Martin to burst out laughing.  Both of them know how much I hate being confined to a sick bed.

I must have dozed because when I opened my eyes, I find Pa sitting in the chair next to my bed.  He had brought his ledgers with him and I know he is trying to add up the totals in the long columns.

“Having problems, Pa?”

I couldn’t help but ask because the look on his face is so serious and he seems oblivious to anything around him and watching his expressions makes me giggle.  Pa finally looks up at me when he hears the sound of my voice.

“I’m sorry Joseph, but yes a little, I never seem to get the same answer twice.  I’ll have to get Adam to double-check my totals after he gets home.  What about you how is your headache this afternoon?”

Pa put aside his work and I know he is ready to talk which is good cause I want to ask him about how I got hurt.

“It seems to be better.  Pa, can I ask you something?”

Pa leans over closer to me.

“You know you can son.  What’s bothering you?”

I know that now is my chance so as with everything else I do in life, I plunge right ahead.  

“I can’t remember how I got hurt.  It sorta bothers me too that I can’t.”

“Well, let’s see if I can help you out some.  You know though Joseph, that if you can’t remember, it’s still okay.  Now, what is the last thing you do remember?”

Pa is watching my expressions and it sorta makes me nervous.  Sometimes I think the man can read my mind; he always seems to know what I think, it must be a parent thing that’s all it could be.

I bush back that unruly curl and finger comb my hair as I think.

“I remember coming in the front door.  After that I don’t remember anything until I woke up this morning.  I think I remember bits and pieces, but I’m not sure about some things.”

I don’t want to say anything about the dreams, it is just too confusing right now and I’m not sure what had been a dream and what had been real.

“You don’t remember hitting your head?” Pa asks me.

“No sir, only coming through the door…oh, I remember falling in the floor, but that’s all.”

“Well, son, it was past dinner time and you were late again, I might add.”

Pa smiled at me then.  I know it is something he has trouble tolerating, my always being late for a meal I mean.

“You must have been later than usual getting back from checking the fencing, your brothers and I were inside when it happened.  But one of the hands said they saw you hurrying around the barn doing your chores.  They didn’t see you anymore after a few minutes and presumed that you had come to the house.  But instead we think you must have climbed into the loft to toss down some hay for the horses since there was fresh hay in the stalls.  You must have slipped on your way down.  That’s when you hit your head on something, probably the ladder.  Of course all of this was taking place while we were waiting for you to get home.”

Pa paused for a minute and must have thought I wanted to say something, but I didn’t.

“Anyway Joe, we don’t know how long you laid out in the barn but eventually I heard you on the porch.  Naturally I was angry with you for holding up supper again and when you opened the door, I yelled at you.  I was sure surprised when you passed out and fell to the floor.  We managed to get you to the settee and a few minutes later you came around.  I found the bump on your head and knew right away that you probably had a bad concussion.  You were talking funny, calling me Dad, and laughing about something.  Then for no apparent reason you started to cry, that’s when I carried you upstairs and sent Adam for the doctor.”

I am amazed.  That isn’t the way I remember things happening.  But I can’t tell Pa that, he would never believe me if I did.  I find it strange that I can remember things about my younger life but when I try to remember things about my life just before I came through the door, everything gets all fuzzy and blurry.  I’m not sure if what little I remember is real or part of my dreams; it sure felt real.  But it can’t be, cause if it were then I’m not really who I am.  I mean I was Joe Cartwright then, and I’m Joe Cartwright now, but were the two the same or were they different people?  See, I told ya it gets confusing.

Oh, oh, Pa is still talking.

“Paul came then and said you had a bad concussion, just as I had thought and said you would probably be out for several days until the swelling had time to go down.”

Pa must have thought I was getting tired when I laid my head back against the pillows cause he stopped talking then and covered me up.  That’s when I opened my eyes and saw that anxious look in his eyes again.

“I’m sorry Pa.  I was just trying to remember.”

I figure that would be the best thing to say, which it was the truth.

“Joe, you rest now son.  Try not to worry about what happened.  The important thing now is for you to get better.  How you got hurt isn’t really significant at this point.  I want to see my boy up and about real soon.  Now, close your eyes Joseph and take a nap.”

Pa was really being good to me and I can’t resist the urge to slip my arms around his neck and give him a hug.

“Thanks Pa,” I whisper in his ear as he slips his arms around my neck.

I nearly cry when he places a kiss on my cheek, there is just something about a father kissing his grown son that tugs at a person’s heartstrings.  I’m glad my father is one of those men who are not afraid to show their true feelings.  Maybe that’s why Hoss and I are so much like him in that way.  Adam is more reserved than we are, but sometimes he forgets and lets his guard down and then we can see his true self.  He doesn’t let that happen very often and I have never seen it happen when an outsider is present.  He just isn’t the type; you would just have to know him to understand what I mean.

It is nearly dark now.  I can’t believe that I have slept the afternoon away like this.  Pa must have given up on the ledger cause I can hear voices downstairs and can tell that he is talking to Adam and Hoss.  I wish I could get out of bed and join them for supper.  Funny in away, when I’m well; it doesn’t seem to bother me if I’m late for a meal or even if I miss one.  But when I know I have to stay in the bed, I really start to miss getting to eat with my family.  I miss their company, well most of the time.

Strange, in my dream, I had lost my family and was really lonesome for them.  I remember how I hurt, in my heart I mean, just before I opened that door and how I felt afterwards, when I felt like I had my family back again.  It all seems so real; it’s hard to think of it being just a dream.

“You awake now Little Buddy?”

Adam just came into my room.  Boy he must have had a hard day cause he sure looks beat.  He amazes me, he never complains about the amount of work he has to do. He does complain about the amount of work I don’t do though.  I guess I should be ashamed of myself, I do tend to put off today what can be done tomorrow and they all know it.  I think I will work to correct that when I’m able to get back to work, they deserve better than what I give them, they all give so much more to me.

“Yeah, I’m awake.  You look beat, tough day?”

“Guess you can say that.  Those steers up in the north pasture tore down a whole section of fencing.  Something must have spooked them for them to make such a mess of things.  It took Hoss and I all day to mend that fence.”

Adam settled himself in the chair and when he laid his head back I thought for a minute he might go to sleep.  Suddenly I felt bad about taking up his time when he is so obviously worn out.

“Adam, we can talk tomorrow if you’re too tired.”

I think I’ll let him off the hook.  If he would rather take a bath and go to bed it would be all right with me.

“No Joe, I’m fine, really.”

I watch as he straightens himself in the chair and realize that this brother was true to his word.  He said this morning he would talk to me and knowing Adam, no matter how tired he really was he would keep his promise.

“What’s eating at you Joe?  You seemed to have something particular on your mind this morning.  I’ve thought about it all day, I knew you seemed troubled about something.”

I have to admit Adam is observant.  He knew this morning that I needed to talk to him.

“It’s about what happened to me.  Pa told me how I got hurt but I don’t remember anything other than when I came into the house and then passed out.”

Adam is pulling his chair closer to the bed and I know I have his undivided attention.

“Does that bother you, I mean about not being able to remember?”

I can feel my stomach getting queasy and my eyes starting to tear up at thinking about the visions in my dreams and recalling the melancholy feelings I experienced.

“I’m not sure Adam.  I mean I know that what Pa told me was the truth.”

I have to pause and take in some air before I get sick.

Adam senses that I am getting upset that’s why he’s moved from the chair to sit next to me on the bed.  He’s facing me and for some reason, it’s hard for me to look him in the face.  His touch is tender as his fingers lift my chin upward so that I have to look him eye to eye.

“Well?”

“What I remember is not what Pa says happened.  I don’t want you to think that I thought Pa lied to me.  I mean…well…I’m not sure what I mean.”

I know I’m not making much sense now.

“Joe, why don’t you tell me what you remember first, then we can compare it with what Pa says happened. Besides, he was inside with Hoss and I so he can’t say positively what occurred, only what he suspects might have taken place.”

That makes sense to me.  

“Well, I was me, Joe Cartwright, but I wasn’t me.”

I pause and watch the expression on Adam’s face and smile when I see the corners of his lips begin to twitch, I know he is trying hard not to laugh.

“I told you it was weird.”

He smiles at me then and nods his head meaning that I am to continue.

“Like I said, I was Joe Cartwright, except I was older.  I don’t know why I was older or how I got home but I was standing in the yard alone.  And I was sad too, you know, really unhappy.  It reminded me of how I felt when my mother died.  Anyway I remember that the reason I was sad was because all of my family was gone.”

I can really feel the tears now just thinking about my family being gone makes me wanna cry.  I use the backs of my hands and wipe away the tears.  Adam’s watching me and I know he thinks I’ve really gone off the deep end.

“Adam, it’s weird I know.  But it’s the truth.  When I started to open the door, I heard Pa yelling at me and I knew he was angry because I was late for dinner again.  But it wasn’t this Ben, it was my father then who just happened to have the same name.”

Adam is pinching the bridge of his nose.  That isn’t a good sign.  It means he is having trouble with this whole idea that I wasn’t who I was, that I was me but from another time.  If he finds it hard to understand, he should be me trying to figure it out.  But it does make me wonder whether or not a person can die and then somehow live again in a different era.  I can’t say that to Adam, he is so logical all of the time and I know I would really sound silly to him if I shared those thoughts with him.  Yet, still, could it be possible?

“Joe, what you are trying to say is that you believe that you were you, yet older and that for whatever reason, the rest of us were dead?”

I nod my head.

“Little Buddy, listen to me.  You took a tremendous wallop to the back of your head.  Even Doc Martin said you were lucky that you didn’t break your neck.  I know that the mind plays cruel tricks on us at times like that.  Things that are real seem unreal and vice versa.  I don’t have a solid answer for you, no matter how real it might have seemed to you.  This much I do know for sure, you are Joe Cartwright, you are my brother and you are here with me now, regardless of where you think you might have been.  This is now, the present, not the past and certainly not the future.  I don’t see why you feel the need to decide which Joe is the right Joe, you are simply who you are that’s all.  Besides, if you were the older Joe Cartwright, I can’t say from what you just told me, that you were very happy, now were you?”

He had me there.  No from what little I could tell, I was extremely unhappy before opening the front door.  Once inside, everything changed.  Adam is right, why should I worry about it?  After all, I have my family.  I know they love me and I certainly love them.  Maybe getting this lump on my head was God’s way of showing me how much my family means to me and just how I’d really feel if they weren’t around. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t want to change places with anyone, even if their name was Joe Cartwright.

“Joe, who are you pal?  Joe Cartwright my brother or Joe Cartwright from some dream who has no family?”

Adam is staring at me and I know he is waiting for my answer.  

“I know who you are, do you?”

I don’t know why I am hesitating so long.

“Joe, are you? Or aren’t you?”

Adam shakes my shoulder to break me away from my doubts.  It really must have been the blow to my head, of course I know who I am.  I look at Adam and I know the tears are rolling down my cheeks cause I can feel them.

“I am.”

I smile as Adam takes me in his arms and hugs me.

“Welcome home little brother.”

“Thanks Adam.  It’s good to be back.”

THE END
March 2002

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Author: DebbieB

2 thoughts on “Are You or Aren’t You (by DebbieB)

  1. Both stories were good stories. Joe has some pretty weird things happening in his head. But a bad knock to the back of the head could do strange things to ones brain. I am glad Adam was so understanding about Joe’s problem.

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