I don’t remember his name. I’m ashamed of this. He lay still, his eyes barely open, his breaths soft. Hands cupped neatly at his sides. His hair curled in brown waves, stale and oily, the way coma patients get.
“What was he like before the accident?” I asked, trying to gain some foothold on his personality. “His mother said he loved Bruce Springsteen,” My instructor said. “But his mother said a lot of things. She’s one of those religious types, believes he will come back to his senses.” She laughed derisively, low and throaty, resembling a growl.
“Good luck, let me know if you need anything.” She headed out of his room and down the hall to her office. The door swung shut with a click and then all was silent in the small room.
All but the breaths of the boy.
The next therapy session I showed him a tape recorder. I told him how his Momma said he loved Springsteen, that I borrowed this tape just for him. I pushed the play button and a melancholy voice started low, like a lullaby.
The River, by Bruce Springsteen.
As the last strains of the song faded, I glanced at the boy. I looked closer, willed him, Show me you’re in there. There was no movement and yet, something small and shiny flickered at the edge of his eye. I leaned closer. A single tear welled in the corner of his eye. I watched in amazement as it wound its way down his cheek and onto the pillow.
The boy heard.
Somehow Bruce brought back the boy who remembered. Maybe he had a girl once, or wished he had. For one brief moment, the boy in the coma spoke with the only voice he had.
“Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride.” The River, Bruce Springsteen 1980
I graduated with a degree in Occupational Therapy that year, 1981. The boy in the coma still haunts me. I like to believe the prayers of his mother came true, and that he was made whole. Mr. Springsteen, if somehow this makes its way to you, know one thing: your song opened a closed door in the mind of a young man. Your music made a difference.