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Noggin(9)
John Corey Whaley

“What do you want me to do, Travis? Chit-chat?”

I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or amused, but I didn’t care. I nodded my head and got up to use the bathroom. When I came back, she was sitting in the same spot and repeating “Yeah . . . yeah . . . uh-huh” into the receiver. She waved me over.

“Okay, Mr. Ramsey. Well, here’s Travis. Yes. You too. Okay. Bye-bye.”

“Hello?” I said, sitting down.

“Well, if it isn’t the man of the hour!” he said.

He had a kind voice, one much less animated than his public persona used. I’d seen him in so many interviews that I knew his whole story. I knew how he lost both of his parents to cancer by the time he was out of college. I knew he met his wife ten years before by accident when he, then an air-conditioner repairman, showed up to the wrong house and she pretended her A/C was broken just to get to know him. I knew they named their twin daughters after their respective grandmothers, Francine and Delilah. And I knew that he was thirty-six years old when they told him he would die. You could ask anyone you met and they’d tell you something about the life of Lawrence Ramsey and how it was a miracle that such a “good man” had been given a second chance to be happy, that he would get to see his children grow up after all.

“Huh?”

“You’re all over the place, kiddo. Letterman even made a joke about you in his monologue last night. Funny stuff.”

“Am I ever going to get used to all this?”

“Well, the public’s known about you for, what, a week or so? They’re still hassling me and I’ve been back for six months. So sorry to say, but I doubt it.”

The Saranson Center had officially announced my reanimation the week before, so the news had been flooded with all these stories about how I got sick and volunteered for the surgery and all. They kept showing old photos of me because, thankfully, my age allowed me a little more privacy than it had Lawrence, and they couldn’t show up at our house or anything like that.

“You’re lucky,” he said. “Lucky you’re so young. They’ll probably be at your school, though. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Just be ready. Duck your head down and walk past them as fast as you can. Vultures. All of ’em.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry, Travis. I’m sure you’re still feeling really overwhelmed, and here I am shooting even more crazy stuff at you.”

“It’s okay. Thanks for calling. Dr. Saranson said it might help us both.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “We’re the sole members of a very exclusive club, you and me.”

“It’s just all so . . .”

“Fucked up?” he said. “Excuse me. I’m sorry.”

“No,” I said, laughing. “You’re right.”

“Let me ask you something. If you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead.”

“When you woke up and people, I dunno, maybe your mom and dad or whoever, they started saying how much they missed you. Did that make you feel weird? It made me feel so weird.”

“Yes,” I said, maybe a little too loudly. “So weird. I mean, I love them, but I just saw them.”

“Right? I wake up and I see my wife standing there, and my first thought was, Damn, how’d she find time to get her hair cut in this hospital? And then I realize that the kids standing beside her are my kids. They’re my kids with five years added to each of them, and I’m pretty sure I passed out from the shock. Then I come to again and she’s telling me all about missing me so much, and all I can think about is how different they all look.”

“I feel kind of guilty about it,” I said. “I see the way my folks look at me, and I feel like I’m supposed to be acting some special way around them, like I’m supposed to be proving how grateful I am to be back when I don’t even really feel like I left in the first place. And of course I’m grateful. I’m not sick anymore. I wake up and suddenly I can stand up on my own again; no one has to help me to the bathroom or feed me. I think everyone forgets that the last thing I remember is months and months of dying.”

“Travis, not to freak you out or anything, but I’m probably going to cry when I get off this phone. I’ve waited a long time to have this conversation with someone.”

“Me too, Mr. Ramsey,” I said.

“No. Now, you call me Lawrence. My dad was Mr. Ramsey and he was a dickhead.”

“Fair enough.” I laughed.

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