Chapter 14a

For a while, Erwin Packard feels like being alive should mean being or doing something. He feels like he should be making use of the life he'd so recently been granted. He opts in stead to not take advantage of his situation. The idea is rational enough, he thinks. At age fifty, his life probably is mostly over. When considering his history and how he spent a consecutive half of his life asleep he could only assume that his life was much more than half over.

Behind him was his whole life, a world that he had known and nurtured. A world totally unlike this foreign thing that somebody was intent on convincing him was indeed the real one. This, he thinks, is not the real world. He refuses to be convinced otherwise. And who's to say he was wrong? Erwin was a smart enough guy, he considered at least most of his actions before executing them. If there are multiple worlds – he could affirm that there were, having seen multiple – then there would have to be an infinite number of worlds, a place for every possibility. If there is only one universe that is "real" then the chances of his being in the "real" one were one in infinity, which equals out to exactly 0% likelihood. He would be the first to admit that math wasn't his strong point, wasn't even when he was in grade school, but he could do the elementary and prove to himself that it was mathematically impossible for him to be in the "real" world.

So he opted to not do anything with his life. He tried to watch television for a few weeks but television at that point had changed a little too drastically from twenty-five years ago for him to be comfortable with. A few times he was persuaded to do physical therapy but with his current list of goals so short (1. Observe 2. Die) and home health aides that were forced to act almost as slaves for their meager earnings (which Erwin did not consider to be all too meager with his concept of money but so many things were different here that it didn't seem to matter much).

That was it. No big end, no insightful revelations, no epiphanies, that was just it. At some point it is assumed that Erwin Packard died. Nobody really knows because nobody really cared once they were done being interested in his coma. When he woke up, everybody wanted to know why and how. When he didn't know, most people stopped being interested. A few people, people who knew him before, tried to approach him and talk to him. That generally didn't go well.

The first person to try was a nurse. She explained that she had known him from high school and that she'd been able to watch his progress. Erwin said something to the effect of, "You're an old hag that I've never seen before in my life," followed by something like, "and you people keep telling me I've laid in this bed for the last twenty-five years, what progress have you been watching?"

The nurse barely understood him at the time, his words were more jumbled and rough than they sounded in his head, but she got the idea. She smiled at him and left. He didn't have anything much kinder to say to anybody else. His mother, they tell him, is alive but suffering effects of Alzheimer's disease and doesn't believe she has a son. He tells them that he doesn't believe he has a mother. The doctors tell him about how much he needs physical therapy and counseling and a million different medications and devices and anything else they can see him, it seems like. He tells them that if dying didn't kill him, he doubts relaxing will. They don't understand his grunts at all. He accepts the offer to be medicated at his leisure and takes the drugs they offer but rejects the rest. As a concession to them, Erwin promises to work real hard and oh, sure, he'll be exercising every day and back on his feet right away, of course. This prompts them to offer more medication. He accepts.

He no longer has a home to go to but an apartment was furnished for him. He was poor but his family and the mother who denied his existence were rich so he was kept alive despite the obvious likelihood that he would not come through. The down payment for an assisted-living apartment and furnishings are paid for by the hospital, which has made millions off of him, and likes to put a positive spin on public relations when the cost isn't too high.

He's never the same after that, of course. He's lost much of his memory, muscle function, and damn near all of what had previously made him who he was. Nobody expected him to be the same, of course, nobody really even expected him to survive. After a certain point nobody expected that he'd ever regain full consciousness, even if he did recover. Still, nobody was prepared for a whole new person to emerge.

And so he was studied, released to assisted living, and forgotten about. The outcome was not ideal for Packard, who only wanted his own life back, but was preferable to the battery of tests and unanswerable questions that he'd been immediately presented with. Over time, his general apathy atrophied to a emotional diamond, the hardest substance unknown to man.

When he died (if he did indeed die) it was someplace cold and alone and impossibly subtle. Maybe it was no place at all. Perhaps he was in between places again, back where he'd always imagined himself being and spent out his last years hoping to return to. If not, he's covered in dirt by now.