The Search (Part 2)
Brian nodded. His nerves were on edge, the anxiety evident on his face.
“I was working with a relief agency after Ike hit to help look for those unaccounted for. It was so chaotic. The death count was rising and there were so many that did not evacuate, a lot missing. During the following days there were victims being rescued from roof tops, inside demolished buildings, boats, clinging to things washed up. We found Paul floating on a piece to someone’s beach house. He was taken to a hospital. He couldn’t remember much of anything. He was in shock. No one knew where he lived, where to find any records, family, anything on him. So, he was a mystery to everyone. The agency hooked him up with a therapist and he has been seeing one ever since. I lived alone, worked in Houston, and wanted to help so offered to let him come live with me while he was in recovery. He has tried to get a job, get his footings, but it has been a slow process. He uses the name, Paul.”
Brian nodded. “Maybe, he remembered only his middle name, but couldn’t remember how to spell it… so used the name ‘Paul’ instead, since you said he had some kind of amnesia. Right?” Brian desperately looked for every logical reason to believe ‘Paul’ was Jed. His hands were shaking, and his heart was racing as he tried to prepare himself, in case he was wrong.
“Yes, maybe that’s it.” Billy replied.
Moments later, ‘Paul’ came out. His hair was shorter, his tan had faded away, and he had gained some weight. But, Brian knew without a doubt that the young man who stood before him, looking so confused was his son, Jed. The deep blue eyes that once reflected life and energy showed no response or recognition to seeing his father. Brian wanted more than anything to embrace him and assure him that everything would be alright, but held back. He did not want to confuse him, so was content with a hand shake.
“Hi, Paul. My name is Brian Matthews. I…knew you…when you were younger… and thought we could get to know each other… again. I brought some pictures along for you to see. There are some of you with…your family… one of you and me, and…your…Jenna. Here is one of… Griffin, your dog. What a huge and clumsy mongrel he was. Trying to get him up into the back of the SUV proved almost impossible whenever we took him places. He died later when he got sick and…well, you and him were great pals.” At times Brian caught himself, overcome with emotion, laughing one moment, wiping a tear the next, remembering Jed and Griffin together.
There was an occasional nod or smile, but Jed said nothing. Brian then pulled out some old toys saved from Jed’s childhood. His eyes would blink or stare, lingering for a moment on something.
When Brian handed him a little U.S. Coastguard Lego’s boat Jed took the boat, instinctively pulled the pieces apart, and tried to reassemble the Lego pieces with the little ‘captain’ inside it. But, the pieces would not fit back together easily. He turned pieces around trying to force them into place, but became impatient throwing it on the floor. “It’s… broken… doesn’t work right.”
Brian smiled. Jed always threw his toys on the floor as a child when he became frustrated playing with Lego’s toys.
“That’s OK. We’ll fix it later.”
Jed blurted out, “It can’t be fixed! Broken… all of it. The water…took it.”
Brian looked over at Billy. He nodded, smiling, his expression hopeful.
“What did the water take, Paul? Where were you? Do you remember?” Brian asked.
Brian handed Jed a little surfboard next. “Do you remember this, Paul?” It was the look in his eyes and the expression on his face that sparked something Brian had not seen before. A memory?
“Gone. Broken, too. The water came, and took my… me.” He stared down at the floor at the Lego boat lying in pieces. His eyes rested on Brian, staring as if searching for something familiar. “I…it was dark. Storm warnings…the water… I went…took my…board…” Jed held the little surfboard in his hand and began to climb pretend waves up and down gesturing with his hand like a little boy at play. He stopped, looked down again at the boat, quiet, contemplative.
Brian picked up the boat, snapped the pieces slowly, methodically back together as he watched Jed’s face, and handed it back to Jed. “Do you remember a boat like this, Paul? Do you remember getting in one after the storm?”
Jed squinted, furrowed lines forming on his forehead as if trying to form his thoughts.
Brian knew it was a gamble, but, he would take whatever came, even if it was small or painful, and move forward one step at a time. They would get there.
Slowly, a word here, a phrase there, a sentence, and things spilled out in pieces like the Lego boat, until Brian and Billy learned what happened to him the day Ike hit. Jed made progress, but still had a long ways to go. He would not be returning to Texas A&M, but instead be coming home to Dallas with Brian where they would find him another therapist who would work with him, hopefully through a complete recovery.
It was now September 13, 2009, one year after hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. Galveston was still under reconstruction and repair, but the conference center was packed for the anniversary memorial service dedicated to those who lost their lives, and those still missing. Brian, Jenna, and Billy sat listening as the families of victims and survivors came forward to share their story, and to thank the members and volunteers of agencies who helped in their rescue. Jed walked to the podium.
“My name is Jedidiah Raul Matthews. A year ago today I took my surfboard and swam out into the sea. I thought I had time before Ike hit to catch a few good waves. I wanted a good ride. But, it soon turned ugly. I had no control. My board flipped me and I was sucked under. The impact and thrust of the waves knocked me around. I tried to hang on, but lost my board. It was gone. Everything was ripped apart, or floating; buildings, houses, even boats. I was alone in an angry sea. I tried to swim back, but couldn’t. The waves carried me further away whenever I tried. Something hard hit me, knocked me out. It was probably my surfboard on its way out to sea.” There was a ripple of laughter heard in the audience. “I grabbed onto something big floating by, and held on, until rescued. Because of a few people in my life who did not give up the search I am here alive to share my story, and to thank them. Thank you Billy, and to all those who helped in my rescue. Thank you dad for… finding me.”
Joyce E. Johnson (2014)