Could You Tell Me How to Get to Fulton Street?

Panting and gasping for breath, Maggie Forrester continued running down the winding, desolate street. She looked frantically for a familiar sign, a memorable landmark, anything that could help her recognize where she was at that moment.

“Hey lady, you know this is the third time you’ve come through this way?”

Maggie turned to see an enormously muscular, vicious-looking dude sitting on a humongous motorcycle staring at her. He was surrounded by a gang of motorcyclists who exhibited the same ominous qualities that he did. They were clad in leather and wore steel-tipped combat boots. “Friendly” was not the word that came to mind when encountering this band of thugs. Even though she’d been running for some time, she still had no desire to stop and ask any of them for directions.

“Maybe if you asked, we might be able to help you find what you’re looking for,” yelled one of the men.”

Tired didn’t come close to describing how Maggie felt right now. She’d been running for so long that she’d lost all concept of time. As she slowed down, her body yearned for rest and heaviness sunk deep into her bones. She didn’t want to talk with these people but after conceding that she had no idea where she was, she decided to take a chance to see if they could point her in the right direction.

She stopped and turned around. The crushing fatigue of her body and the menacing look of the group made movement a difficult task and talking seemed like a total impossibility. Cautiously, she crept closer to them as she drummed up the energy to yell to them.

“I’m looking for the nearest subway station.” Maggie hoped one of them would answer quickly so she wouldn’t have to get any closer to them.

“Where you looking to go, Missie?”

Maggie was startled because it sounded like the voice of a woman, yet not one person in this group looked even remotely feminine.

Listless and rundown, she stopped and bent over to catch her breath.

“Fulton Street.” Maggie barely got the words out in a whisper.

“Don’t know no Fulton Street, least ways, ain’t no Fulton Street anywhere ’round here,” said another female voice. “But the nearest subway station is two blocks that-a-way,” the lady responded, pointing straight ahead. “Want us to come with you?”

She looked at Maggie with a gleam in her eyes as she inched closer to her. The others proceeded to rev up their bikes and line up for takeoff. They talked in hurried, excited tones, grinning while they simulated shooting a gun at her and making signs as if they were slashing throats. Then they focused their full attention on Maggie and began emitting low growls like animals. The bikes rolled toward her in a sinister manner and she knew it would only be a matter of time before they picked up speed and encircled her. She was numb with fear. Not knowing where the strength came from, her feet took off in the direction that they’d pointed out to her.

Running at top speed, she continually kept a watchful eye on them behind her remaining fully aware that those motorcycles could catch up with her in five seconds flat. But these guys were looking to have some fun. Instead, they teased her by riding at a steady even pace, creeping up on her a little at a time.

“Come here, sweetie! No need to run, we ain’t gonna hurt ya!”

She could see the subway station just a few feet away. Keep going, she told herself. Just a little bit further ahead of you. Keep going. You can make it.

Maggie got up to the station and in a flash, she was down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, she had to stop. Her heart was racing in her chest and it felt like it was on the verge of imploding. Panting heavily, she eased around to look behind her. She breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t see anybody and then dragged herself over to the nearest bench in the station and sat down. She slumped down and closed her eyes. I’m soooooo tired, she thought to herself. I can’t keep my eyes open another minute . . .

* * *

“Dr. Miller to surgery! Emergency! Emergency! Dr. Miller report to the operating room!”

Maggie opened her eyes to the gradual recognition of a hospital setting.

“Ms. Forrester? What are you doing out here in the hospital emergency room? Orderly, come and take Ms. Forrester back to her room immediately.”

“Nurse Rogers, how did I get here?”

“That’s something only you can answer, dear. Now let this orderly escort you back to your room.”

The orderly took Maggie by the arm and in a dazed state, she followed him. As he walked her down the hall to the elevators, Maggie recalled that she was in Mercy General Hospital where she was a patient. Her thoughts came together in bits and pieces and portions of her situation began to fall into place. I’m in the loony bin, she thought. I’m here because I had a breakdown. I’ve got to get home to my children but I’m having a hard time getting there. It has to be the medication they’re giving me that’s making me go through these odd episodes.

Exhaustion clouded her mind. She was obviously walking in her sleep now so that too would be added to her list of maladies. The orderly brought her to her bed.

“You wait here, Ms. Forrester. Doc Gentry will be here in a few minutes to check you out.”

The orderly helped her into her bed, tucked her in and she lay there staring up at the ceiling.

Geez, I need to get my head together. I don’t belong in here but until I can come up with some answers that make sense, they’re not going to let me go. If I could only get a good night’s sleep, I know I’d be able to see things more clearly.

“Ms. Forrester?”

Dr. Gentry broke into her thoughts and she looked up to find him standing by her bedside.

“How are you today, Ms. Forrester?”

“I’m so tired, Doctor. I can’t sleep at night.”

“You’re tired and can’t sleep because you’re expending a lot of energy wandering all over this hospital. What are you looking for, Ms. Forrester?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of wandering, Doctor, but it hasn’t been around this hospital! I keep waking up and finding myself in some of the strangest places with creepy people all around me. I just want to go home, Dr. Gentry. I’ll be alright if I can just go home.”

“You were home, Ms. Forrester, don’t you remember? That’s where your son found you in an unresponsive state. You’re here because we’re trying to find out what happened to you.”

Maggie struggled, trying to figure out what was going on.

“I need to get back to my children. Who’s going to take care of them, see that they eat properly and get to school on time?”

“Ms. Forrester, at 25, 28 and 30 years old, you can rest assured that your children can take care of themselves. My immediate concern is you.”

Maggie was genuinely stunned and gazed at the doctor in profound disbelief.

“Dr. Gentry, you’ve got your facts terribly wrong. My children are 6, 9 and 11 years old. Why Howard just had his 11th birthday the other day.”

“Ms. Forrester, we’ve gone over this same scenario several times since you’ve been here. Your children are all grown with their own families. Disorientation has set in because for some reason, you’ve lapsed back into time. We’re currently in the process of trying to unravel some of your misconceptions so we can determine where are you are right now, remember?”

“How is this possible, Dr. Gentry? How could I have lost track of so much time? If my children are all grown, then what has happened to the last ten years of my life? And if they have their own families . . . then I’m a grandmother! Dear God, WHAT has happened to me???”

“Ms. Forrester, let’s slow down a bit. You’re suffering from selective amnesia where you’re choosing to remember only certain parts of your life. Although we’ve gone over this numerous times, it’s apparent that you still need time to regain your sanity. On the positive side, however, this is the first time I’ve heard you express yourself with such clarity, as though you’re starting to understand your situation better. This is an indication that we’re making substantial progress. Now, do you remember the events surrounding your breakdown?”

Dr. Gentry was seated now with Maggie’s chart and a pen in hand.

“What breakdown? Geez, I was home . . . making Sunday dinner, wasn’t I? Why am I here? What’s going on?” Maggie was clearly agitated and attempted to get out of the bed.

“Ms. Forrester, you must calm down. We need to continue talking about this rationally. You’ve expunged the most recent years of your life and have chosen to revert back into your past for reasons only you can explain. As a result, you’re stumbling around unable to make a connection with your present life. Maybe in your subconscious mind, you actually want to avoid making this connection. My current diagnosis is that this amnesia, or willful misplacement of a segment of your life, could be the direct result of your having devoted so much, if not all of your time and energy to your children. In the process, you’ve given little to no attention to yourself. What do you think?”

Maggie was a single mother who was now in her mid-40s. She’d raised her children with little help from family and friends, and even less help from the father of her children. Perhaps she was filled with guilt because they were practically fatherless and she, as their sole support, wasn’t able to measure up to being that perfect parent. No matter what the case, she compensated for their loss by always placing their needs first. She’d managed her household by working two jobs most of the time, and the rest of her time was spent running to parent/teacher conferences, shopping for food and clothing, going to both of her sons’ sports events and her daughter’s dance reviews, keeping up with the standard doctor appointments, etc., etc. But with all this busyness, items pertaining to Maggie’s needs and wants were rarely addressed because her entire life had been wrapped around her children. Then one by one, they left home to marry and live their own lives. Her daughter was the last to leave and that was about six months ago. More suddenly than expected, Maggie found herself alone with the shadows of her children around every corner in a home that offered little in the way of comfort and companionship.

“Me? I’m not what matters here. My children are the important ones.”

“Yes, I’ve learned that about you and I believe that your thinking in this manner has caused you great harm. You are indeed important, Ms. Forrester, but you believe you’re not and because of this, you’ve ignored yourself for the last 30 years of your life while focusing all your efforts and attentions on your children. However, now that you’re experiencing the empty nest syndrome, you’re lost because you really don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Peacefulness was overcoming Maggie as she listened to the doctor’s voice. His explanations were soothing because she was beginning to understand what he was saying and it all made perfect sense to her. She was lulled into a sound sleep and Dr. Gentry was pleased to see her so relaxed, and he noted that they’d achieved this state without medication. He made some final notations, returned her chart to the foot of the bed and left her bedside to attend to other patients. Hopefully she would sleep through the night and awaken rested in the morning.

Well, Maggie did lapse into a sound, refreshing sleep. The pressure from the mental and emotional burdens she’d been carrying for so long began to dissipate and the muscles in her body gave way to blessed relief. She turned over to curl up in a comfortable position on her side but was jostled awake and found herself sitting on that same bench she’d slumped into when she first came into that subway station. Not again, she moaned. The familiar fatigue returned along with the utter misery of finding that she’d returned to the same disturbing scene . . . again! The new-found peace that had come her way was gone. Distress and anger rose within her as she got up to look for the name of the station she was in, but a garbled collaboration of letters was all she could make out on the walls.

“Miss, where are you going? You can’t get on the trains without paying your fare.”

Maggie turned to see a clerk in the booth yelling to her and she found herself trying to push her way through a turnstile.

“What station is this?” she yelled back to him. “I’m trying to get to Fulton Street in Brooklyn.”

“This is Sycamore Avenue in the Bronx so I’d say you’re a long way from home,” the clerk answered loudly. “Better come over here and buy your tokens so you can be on your way.”

Maggie hadn’t given any thought to money. She dug into her pockets and was surprised to find that she had a couple of dollars and some change. She paid for her token and asked which train she should catch.

“Don’t know. Guess the best thing for you to do is get on any train that’s headed to Brooklyn and then ask someone once you get there.”

That sounded like a reasonable suggestions to Maggie so she put her token in the slot and pushed through the turnstile. Such a nice man, she thought. At least he was better than the people she’d run into before. She walked down the corridor and when she came to the end, she found herself facing a sprawling expanse of trains and tracks, all going in every direction imaginable. There was the 12th Street train, a Campbell/Central Avenue train, a 38th Street train, a Route 81 train, a cross-town shuttle train, a #62 train, a #43 train, and these were only the trains immediately in front of her. There were trains as far as the eye could see! How’s a person supposed to figure out where they’re going with this road map of trains all lined up in front of them? What’s more, Maggie didn’t recognize any of these train lines.

Although she believed it would turn into an exercise in futility, she picked a direction and started walking. As she walked, it became evident that something was also following right behind her. It turned out to be a dog and a pretty big dog at that. She picked up her pace but not enough to excite the dog so that it would start chasing her but it kept following her. I don’t need this animal on my tail like this so I better think quickly and figure out how I’m going to ditch it, she thought to herself.

By a stroke of luck, there were some police officers up ahead so she continued walking briskly toward them. The dog was getting closer but she was getting closer to the police too.

“Excuse me Officers, would one of you see if you could do something about this dog that won’t stop following me, please?”

“Woe, that’s one BIG son-of-a-gun, ain’t he? Hey Mac, you wanna help the lady out?”

“Yeah, ok, but it’s gonna cost ya, lady,” said the one called Mac. “How much you got?” he asked nonchalantly.

“But you’re policemen. You’re supposed to help people in need without expecting payment from them in return,” said Maggie. The dog was now right up on her, sniffing her out, like it expected her to come up with something for it too.

“You want help or not? If you want help, you have to give something of yourself. Otherwise, there won’t be a thing we can do for you.”

The voice sounded different from when he first spoke. There was something familiar about it and yet it was the face of a stranger. Maggie rummaged through her pockets but this time, she came up with nothing.

“Guess I used all my money to pay for my fare on these trains. I don’t have anything left to give you.”

“Now that’s too bad. I guess you’ll stay in the rotten position you’re in now and be eaten alive by Bull here,” said Mac as he turned his back to her.

Bull, the dog, was now staring at her with blazing red eyes and the cops in Mac’s group were all looking at her, whispering to each other while they appeared to be writing up tickets in their black books. Rats, am I about to be attacked by this monstrosity of a dog while the police stand by and do nothing but watch? She looked around cautiously to see if there was another path, any path, that she could run down to escape the mess she was in . . . yet again.

“Thinking about running again, are you? Did it ever occur to you that sooner or later, instead of running, you’re going to have to face up to your troubles?”

It was Mac the cop talking to her but he spoke in that familiar voice again. No time to try and place the voice because Bull the dog was huffing and snorting like a bull that was about to attack, and the group of cops had stopped writing and were slipping their black books into their back pockets. It was apparent that they too had a plan in mind for her. Maggie saw her chance and sprinted down an empty corridor toward a sign that read “To #90E Train”. What the heck, it was a train that was going somewhere else and somewhere else was better than where she was so with the fiendish group on her tail, she made haste down the corridor. The train was a few feet in front of her. She held up her hand not knowing who she was signaling to but hoping that someone would see her and hold the doors open. She got up to the doors and fell into the train just as the doors closed. She looked up to see the policemen leaning against the window swinging their clubs at her as Bull the dog let out deep-throated, infuriated barks. Maggie breathed another sigh of relief as the train pulled off . . .

* * *

“Mom, can you hear me?”

Maggie opened her eyes and saw her son Ronald standing across from her. Where the heck am I now, she wondered as she looked around.

“Where were you going, Mom?” her daughter Doris asked as she watched her and waited for her mother to answer.

Her mother’s condition had affected Doris more than it had her brothers. The two of them had enjoyed many afternoons and evenings together shopping, going to the theater and movies, and just sitting around talking about the events of the day. Doris missed listening to her mother’s sound advice about handling troublesome situations with her friends when she was at school and her co-workers on the job. She could also share intimate secrets and problems with her mother. There’d been a multitude of times when the two of them had lighthearted fun simply talking about life in general. To Doris, Maggie wasn’t just her mother, she was her companion as well so when Maggie ended up in the hospital, it felt like she’d suffered a double loss. Without her mother’s support, Doris’ emotional state was severely impaired leaving her feeling insecure and terribly alone.

“Mom, we went looking for you because you weren’t in your room. Where were you going?” Doris was almost pleading for her mother’s attention.

Hearing the desperation in Doris’ voice, Maggie looked at her daughter as she felt a connection that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She recalled the many wonderful times the two of them had shared together and a smile eased across her face. Her emotions began settling down within and a peace surrounded her as she grabbed Doris, realizing how dearly she loved her. The two of them hugged each other long and hard like they hadn’t seen each other in ages and tears rushed down Maggie’s cheeks.

“Where have I been all this time?” Maggie asked rhetorically. Still holding Doris, she looked at Ronald like she finally noticed he was there and Howard came up just at that moment. She grabbed all three of her children and hugged them fiercely. Her sons too were now touched by the moment as this was the first time since her breakdown that their mother had acknowledged all of them in such a familiar and affectionate way.

“Well, hello Mother dear!” Howard spouted as he was obviously glad to see his Mom. “You look so much better. But why are all of you out here in the hallway?”

“We’re looking for me!”

Maggie was smiling now because she felt a sense of self that she hadn’t felt in her entire lifetime, and it felt exhilarating! Although her children didn’t exactly know what was going on, they knew their mother looked and sounded better than she had in the past month.

“Tell you what: I’m going to look for myself. If I should return before I get back, keep me here!”

Maggie burst into sidesplitting laughter that drew more tears from her eyes. Howard and Ronald couldn’t figure out if she was making an attempt at a bad joke or whether she was still in the process of losing her mind , but Doris got it right away and joined in with her mother’s boisterous laughter.

“Listen, I lost sight of the three of you and in so doing, I lost sight of myself,” Maggie started to explain. “When you found me roaming in this hall, I don’t know where I was going. I’ve been on a journey to nowhere for some time and all I have to show for it is pure exhaustion! It feels like it’s beginning to make more sense to me now but you know what? If I don’t get some sleep, I’m going to drop right here where I’m standing so help me back to my room and into my bed!”

That night, Maggie dreamed a different kind of dream. There was a funeral procession going down a beautifully decorated street lined with exquisite floral arrangements consisting of an assortment of colorful flowers. A white and gold casket was in the center of the procession and a piano and organ backed by an orchestra that included every musical instrument known played a tranquil, harmonious melody. A choir of rich tenor, alto, soprano and baritone voices filled the streets with melodious song. Maggie walked in the middle of the entourage enjoying every bit of the momentous occasion.

Wait a minute! Enjoying a funeral? I’m having another one of my bizarre dreams, she thought. But the frenzied activity and resulting tensions in all her other dreams wasn’t evident here. There was sheer peace, serenity and an overall glow of magnificence in this dream. Maggie turned to the gentleman beside her.

“Excuse me, sir, but whose funeral is this?”

“Don’t know her name but it’s the end of the old and the beginning of the new. We’re having this great procession because better is the end of a thing than the beginning.”

“But she’s dead. Surely that isn’t something to celebrate.”

“She’s not dead, her old way of life is dead and about to be buried. We’re celebrating the fact that she finally faced up to her problems, recognizing that her life was of great import and it’s now time to live the rest of her life as meaningfully as possible. It took a while to get to this point but better late than never.”

That voice sounded familiar. Yes, it was Dr. Gentry’s voice. She realized that she’d been hearing his voice throughout all her dreams. Maggie started to turn to him again but someone pushed her gently out of the line. Maggie continued watching for a while as the group walked on along their way. She looked up and saw another road that was brightly lit and looked so inviting. She didn’t feel the need to say anything more to Dr. Gentry so she didn’t try to get back to him. Instead, she headed in the direction of that brightly lit road that seemed to beckon her.

After walking a ways, she looked up and saw “1210 Fulton Street”. Glory be, I’m finally home!

She walked on as her dream ended and she drifted off into a deep sleep, enveloped by a tranquility she vowed to never release. Her selective amnesia was now a thing of the past!

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