There wasn’t a spare inch to stand by her bed. Doctors and machines were everywhere. The high straight nightmarish whine of the heartbeat monitor drove out all sound…I don’t know how long I stood there…I don’t know how long they worked on her…I just kept watching her face. Hoping, pleading, praying that she would open up her eyes, scream at me, say something…”Why don’t we ever have any money?”…”How come you never work in the yard?”…”I love you, baby.”…she never did.
Simon and the Sea
November 16th, 2011
“I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.” –Matt Kearney
I was sitting on my couch, only a little annoyed, as I took another glance at my cell phone sitting on top of the arm of the couch. It was approaching midnight and I hadn’t heard from Suzan in more than an hour.
An hour ago she had sent a simple text, “Leaving now, be home soon.” That didn’t necessarily mean she was actually leaving at that moment and on her way home, instead it meant she wanted me to quit bugging her, she’d be home soon. It was Wino Wednesday and she was spending an evening with her friends at the bar. This was her weekly tradition a give and take we made that allowed me to spend most Thursdays through spring and summer crewing a friend’s sailboat for the yacht races.
I had texted and called several times since that last message and I had to work in the morning. Sure, I could have gone up to bed, but I never felt secure unless she was home with me—preferably sleeping next to me.
Little nightmares were popping up on the edges of my imagination. She’d gotten pulled over. She’d gotten a DUI. Her car had been stolen. She was too drunk and I’d have to go pick her up.
I turned off the television and paced a bit about the living room in growing annoyance—an annoyance I knew would dissipate as soon as I saw her headlights zoom down the driveway and into the garage. The dog watched me intently from his pillow in the corner. His eyes followed my every turn.
It was 12:15 now…I hoped she was having a good time—making me wait.
I went into the kitchen and got a large glass of water from the tap. The phone rang during my second gulp. It was the ringtone for an “unknown” number. Great the battery’s died on her phone and she had to use a friend’s, I thought as I walked into the living room in just enough of a hurry to avoid the call going to voicemail.
“Mr. Roberts?” the voice was very official sounding.
Oh God, she’s been arrested? Crap, that wasn’t on my list.
“Mr. Roberts, you need to hurry down here to Southshore Hospital. Your wife has been in a car accident.”
“Who is this?”
“This is Dr. James Kewing, we’ve just admitted your wife, Susan, through the emergency room. She’s being prepped for surgery right now. She’s incurred some serious injuries. You need to hurry down here.”
“Is she going to…”
“We can discuss everything when you get here, sir. Just know that we’re doing everything we can. I’m sorry, but you may not have much time.”
I think I mumbled something like, “OK, OK, OK,” before hanging up. My body was numb. I couldn’t move. I looked around a little bit. The door was staring at me. I reached out and grabbed my coat, put it on and checked my pockets to make sure I had my keys.
She’s going to be alright. The phrase echoed in my empty head as I went out the back door and got into my car in the garage. I didn’t wake Sydney, our 14 year old daughter, or Simon, our 10 year old son with Autism. It didn’t occur to me until I was turning off the end of our street that I should have at least let Syd know I was leaving. I couldn’t think at all for those first few moments…
As I crossed the bridge, my mind exploded with questions. Was she at fault? Was she drunk? How’s the driver in the other car? And then another question developed like a rock in the pit of my stomach. Was she trying to answer my call? Or text me back…Did I distract her…did I cause this?
I could see a large collection of blue and red flashing lights coming up ahead of me. A police car was parked perpendicular across the road and a traffic jam had built up.
I slowed to a stop as my heart started to beat faster and faster and my hands began to shake. I pulled out onto the side of the road and started moving up past the cars. An officer jumped out and waved for me to stop.
I barely saw him as more and more of the accident came into view. I slammed on the brakes with only a few feet to spare, but my eyes were still focused beyond him…had they taken away her car? There was a Hummer up on the divider between the north and south directions. The Hummer was missing the entire front of the car. Where was Susan’s Bronco? Pieces of car were everywhere…
The officer tapped on my window a few times before getting my attention. I rolled down the window.
“Sir, what are you doing?”
“My…my…wife…I got a call from the hospital…” I mumbled incoherently. “Where’s her car?”
The officer stared at me for a moment, I felt his hand touch my shoulder. “We’ll get you there, sir.” He stepped back and called over to another police officer. Within a few seconds they were motioning me through the traffic. It was then that I saw what was left of the Bronco. The entire driver’s side was crushed in. There was no driver’s seat any more.
And then I saw it…felt it my stomach turning…God, please let that be oil covering the road…
I accelerated through the intersection and on to the hospital. Was that her blood…how could it not be?
After two more miles of driving with nothing in my head but questions and an unholy thumping pulse, I took a deep breath as I pulled into a parking space outside of the emergency room and then ran as fast as I could through the lobby to the reception window.
“My wife…Susan Roberts…she was in an accident…they just called me…maybe 15 minutes ago,” I blabbered past the guy that was in front of me in line. The receptionist looked up at me and then hit a button somewhere as the doors to the emergency room opened and she motioned me in.
I was assaulted by how bright the room was in contrast to the lobby and the night I’d just run in from. I made for the center island where all the nurses were stationed. There was a police officer talking to a couple at the far end of the counter.
“Can I help you?” one of the nurses asked.
“I’m looking for Susan Roberts…she was in a car accident.” She stared at me blankly for a moment. “I’m her husband.”
She exchanged glances with the other nurses before she nodded at me. “Please wait here a moment. I’ll get the doctor.”
“Where is she now?” I pleaded between breaths, slowly feeling light headed. What’s happening? How can this be happening? My body was tingling and aching and numb all at the same time. “Can I see her?”
“I’m getting the doctor, sir. He’ll tell you everything. Please wait right here.”
“Can’t you tell me anything?” I pleaded after her, but she turned a corner and was gone through another set of doors. Why couldn’t she tell me anything, I asked myself…but in the back of my mind, in the middle of all the questions I didn’t really want answered, I knew. Please, please don’t be dead.
I paced back and forth in front of the nurse’s station as an odd assortment of patients looked out from behind their semiprivate glass doors—peeking out from behind the privacy curtains at the man slowly losing his mind.
There was a young mother trying to comfort a infant with a fever in the corner. An old man was having some sort of bowel trouble right across from me. A rough looking biker guy needed something like a zillion stitches for a hole in his head where he’d been hit with a bottle or something.
I remembered being in one of these rooms, behind those stupid curtains with Shane, when he was six and tried to cut an apple with a huge knife and took a huge gauge out his finger. Fifteen stitches, if I remembered correctly…fifteen years ago now. It took him another five years before we could get him to cut any of his own food…
The doctor was taking forever. It had been…ten minutes already. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing other than pacing. Should I be calling someone? Maybe call my mother and have her go sit at the house with the kids…
I wasn’t sure. If I called anybody they’d ask questions and I didn’t know anything yet. I slid my hand back and forth on the counter of the nurse’s station as I continued my pacing.
I pulled out my phone and started to dial, not having any clue what else I could do. I was vibrating with nervous energy…I had to do something.
“Sir, you could wait out in the lobby. There you can at least sit down,” one of the nurses suggested. I ignored her and searched for my mother’s number in the phone. My eye glanced up, it was 1:30 in the morning…the kids weren’t going to be waking up for at least another five hours…I shouldn’t wake anybody up when I didn’t know anything…
It was only 10:30 in California…I needed to talk to somebody, did I know anybody in California?
I stopped my pacing and looked up at the ceiling with a big sigh and rubbed the back of my neck. I turned to the nurses. “Did any of you see her come in?”
“Dr. Kewing will be here in just a moment…”
“Why won’t anybody tell me anything?” I tried not to scream. The baby with a fever in the corner had just gotten to sleep. I’d been there with Sydney, when she was three, probably in that same corner. Susan held her and kept her calm while I paced and tried to make stupid distractions and lighten the mood. I remembered her lips right up against Sydney’s ears as she whispered and sung and hummed until Sydney’s poor little feverish body fell limp with sleep.
“Mr. Roberts?” I spun around, immediately recognizing the voice from the phone. “Can you come with me?” He turned and headed toward another door in the back of the emergency room. Dr. Kewing was tall and thin, like he had missed a few meals and never seen a box macaroni and cheese. He had thick glasses and a clipboard in his hands. He held the swinging door open for me. I passed in front of him into the hall and stopped.
Dr. Kewing stepped through the door and let it swing closed. He then looked up over his clipboard at me. “Mr. Roberts, your wife has suffered some very serious injuries in the accident. She is currently still in surgery. She was admitted with very serious internal organ damage. The surgeons are doing everything they can right now.”
“But she’s going to be OK, right?” I stammered, searching his eyes for the reality behind his answers. “She’s going to live?”
“We don’t know that yet, Mr. Roberts. We’re doing everything we can.”
“Well, when will we know?” I pleaded.
“Within the next couple hours, I’m sure.”
“What kind of internal injuries?”
“She has severe damage to her liver, her pancreas, her stomach, her upper and lower intestine, and she’s probably going to need a new lung. She has broken every rib on her left side. She’s in bad shape, sir, but again, we’re doing everything possible for her.”
The door must have practically cut her in half…”But her chances, what are her chances?”
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed. We’re doing everything we can…I’ll be back when we know more.” The look in the doctor’s eyes was much less reassuring than the words he had spouted. He touched me on the shoulder and walked away.
There was still hope, but not much. She needed a miracle.
Hope? I could feel my heart sinking into my stomach, a feeling of nausea working its way up my chest. What was I going to do? How was I going to tell the kids? I shouldn’t have been texting her—shouldn’t have bothered her at all. Was this all my fault?
I pulled out my phone again and this time I dialed my mother. I didn’t want the kids to wake up alone in the house on the day that they’d probably hear the worst news of their lives.
It was then that the two uniformed officers came up from behind me.
“Mr. Roberts?” I stopped dialing.
“How’s your wife doing?” the first officer asked.
“I…they…we don’t know. The doctor wouldn’t say it directly, but…from what he did tell me…it doesn’t sound too good…” It was hard to form the words. It was hard to coax anything from my throat but dryness.
The officers exchanged glances. “Mr. Roberts, Officer Talbot and I were the first to the scene tonight.”
“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked. “How is the other driver? Who hit who?”
“The other driver was injured too, a concussion I believe. He’s going to be OK.”
“There were no witnesses and there are no cameras on that intersection. We can’t tell you much at the moment. We still have officers on scene investigating. What we know right now is that Mr. Najal struck your wife’s car directly at the driver’s side door at approximately 50 miles per hour.”
“Who was at fault?” I mumbled as the echo of that mammoth impact reverberated in the back of my brain.
“We’re not sure yet, but we’ll know soon,” the officer assured me. I tried to read his badge, but couldn’t readily make out a name. “Where was your wife going?”
“Going? She was coming home.”
“Mickey’s Irish Pub…” The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them. Now they were going to say that she was drunk…that this was Susan’s fault. “What are you trying to say?”
“Trying to say, sir?”
“She wasn’t drunk…” I hissed at him. “She doesn’t drive drunk.” Please be true, please be true…
“We didn’t say that. We don’t know anything yet.”
“OK…” I turned away from the officers and ran my hand through my hair, a shiver ran up my back. Turning back to them I asked, “Is there anything else?”
“I guess not, sir. We’ll be in touch.”
“Um…thanks…” I took a shallow shaky breath. I was getting cold. The hospital was freezing. I hit the number to my mother. The phone rang until it went to voicemail. “Hi Mom…” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really want to say the words at all. “Mom…there’s been an accident…I need you to go to the house…so the kids don’t wake up to an empty house…” I leaned against the wall, feeling weak and then slowly worked my way to sitting on the floor of the hallway.
“What happened?” My mom’s voice was urgent, wide awake now. “Is everybody OK?”
“No, Susan is in surgery…we’re at Southshore.” My whole body was shaking. “Please go be with the kids…”
“What kind of accident? What happened?”
“A car accident. She was on her way home and she got hit or she hit somebody…they don’t know yet…she’s in surgery…she’s hurt bad…” I didn’t want to talk about it at all. I didn’t want to think about any of it. I didn’t even want to breathe. Discussing the situation brought it more into reality and out of the crazy nightmare it seemed to be. The pause in the conversation seemed to drag on forever. She was waiting for me to finish, to tell her something, but I didn’t know anything…except that there was a good chance my wife was dying at that very moment.
A nurse seemed to appear out of nowhere. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’re going to need to wait in the waiting room. It’s just this way.” She reached a hand down to help me up.
I gave the nurse my “one second” finger. “I’ve got to go, Mom.”
I hung up the phone and took the nurse’s hand. I followed her down the hall to the waiting room. I sat down in one of the uncomfortable hard plastic chairs in the corner and tried to ignore the drone of little mounted television up in the corner trying to sell people some sort of garden hose attachment for cleaning your car and the outside of your house.
As I looked out the dark windows, past the eerie reflection of myself, and at the dimly lit parking lot, my mind was numb. So many questions, stupid questions, unanswerable questions kept volleying back and forth in my brain. What happens if she dies? What happens if she lives?
The more questions I asked, the more I realized that our lives were changing now, no matter what happened. If she needed a new lung, she’d probably never be able to leave this hospital until she got one…She wouldn’t be able to work. She’d have major issues with Simon. Simon’s energy could not be contained. His running and jumping and overall excitement would lead to her getting hurt. I’d be responsible for everything now…until she got better. And I’d have to take care of her too.
If she’d ever let me…
And then an image jumped into my head…Susan was smiling, her eyes were happy…I’d said something stupid and she was laughing in the passenger seat of the bronco…the bronco which lay in about ten million pieces back there on the road. I didn’t remember what I’d said, just the look in her eyes—the love. I took a deep breath, trying not to cry. A fresh batch of shivers left me immobile for a moment.
God, please don’t let this be my fault…don’t let it be her fault…just let her live…
“Give me a call if you need a ride,” I’d told her as she left earlier this evening. She was always very good about that. So I couldn’t believe that she’d been drunk. But texting…or trying to answer the phone from her annoying husband…that was a possibility.
I remembered wheeling her into this hospital on the day that Simon was born. I remembered holding her hand and almost hyperventilating with her as I bent over her during the hours of labor—trying to help, as much as a man can in that predicament. She squeezed my hand so hard…I gritted my teeth against the pain and kept smiling at her…telling her what a great job she was doing. And she had done a great job…she’d never yelled once…
And yelling was her specialty—especially yelling at me.
I remembered meeting her for the first time, an angry ranch girl with a sordid past—and these tight jeans that made her ass like a powerful magnet for my eyes. It was a setup from the beginning, we had mutual friends. Friends that thought we’d be good together and hatched a plan to get us to meet.
More memories started flashing through my head and an irrational fear began to well up in me. Is this what “my life flashing before my eyes” was really like? Was I doing it for her?
Someone touched my arm and broke my trance. It was my mother.
“How is she?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. It sounds like the car door pretty much cut her in half. She’s still in surgery.” I pulled out my phone and looked at the time. “She’s been in there for two hours now.”
My mother grabbed me and hugged me. I couldn’t breathe, the numbness wasn’t going away.
“Who’s with the kids?” I asked when she let me go.
“Your sister. She’s sleeping on the couch. She’ll be there when the kids wake up for school.”
My father stood behind her and gave me a quick hug too. “Everything’s going to work out. Trust me,” he said as he patted me on the back before letting go.
“Yeah, well…” I didn’t have any response to him. My world had become a spinning vortex of sadness and desperation in a mere few hours. I had a hard time believing that “everything was going to work out.” I turned away from them and looked back at the swinging doors that led deeper into the hospital and, somewhere beyond, an operating room with my wife.
Another hour passed in silence as my parents sat there with me, watching nothing on that tiny screen mounted in the corner—just trying to find something to occupy our minds, so I could stop harboring on the nightmares that kept playing in my skull.
More sick people filtered in and out of the waiting room, some sick, some injured, some needing stitches, some with broken bones…they were all a complete blur.
My phone made a chiming noise. I was supposed to be getting up for work now. I pulled the phone from my pocket and disarmed the alarm. I then wrote a quick email to my boss. “Calling in sick. At the hospital with my wife” was all it said.
A few minutes later my phone rang again. It was Rachel, my sister. “Hi,” I whispered into the phone.
“So, how is she?”
“We don’t know yet. She’s still in surgery.”
“OK. Um, do you want me to keep the kids home from school?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Shit. Now I had to call the schools and the bus garage to make sure that the special bus run for Simon out to his Autistic class wouldn’t wait at the end of our street. “Thanks for doing this, Rach.” My sister and I had always had an on again, off again relationship. We had different values and greatly different ambitions. I loved her dearly, but always considered her very flaky.
“No problem. Good luck. Do you want me to bring them to you?”
I wasn’t sure. I had no idea how much longer Susan would be in surgery. I didn’t know what she’d look like when she got out. I couldn’t have Simon bouncing off the walls with nothing to do for hours at a time. Everything was already so difficult, I didn’t think I could handle him too.
“Um…not right now. Let’s see where we are in a few hours, OK?”
“OK. What do I tell them?”
“Damnit, I don’t know.” I huffed and kicked absentmindedly at the floor. “Tell them that mom was in a car accident and we’re at the hospital. We hope to be home soon…something like that, something that doesn’t scare them.”
“OK. I love you, brother. And…everything’s going to be alright.”
“That’s what everybody keeps trying to tell me.”
The waiting went on for another two hours, it was a little after nine in the morning when Dr. Kewing came through those swinging doors again, this time with a surgeon in tow.
“Mr. Roberts, this is Dr. Stevens. He performed the surgery on your wife.” Dr. Stevens was a very tired man in dark blue scrubs.
“How is she?” I could feel my mother and father stand up and move closer to me. “Is she going to be alright?”
“She’s stable right now, but she’s not out of the woods yet. She’s currently being observed in ICU.”
“OK, what does that mean?”
“That means that the next 24 hours are extremely critical for her. There could be any number of complications. She had a lot of trauma to a lot different organs. We’re going to have to keep a close eye on her.”
“Is she going to be OK?”
“We still can’t give you a definite answer there, Mr. Roberts. She’s definitely in better shape than she was, but she had lost a lot of blood and it took us a long time just to get her stable.”
“Can you give me a percentage, can you tell me anything?”
“I don’t like to deal in percentages, sir. I can tell you that right now, she’s still alive, she’s stable and we’re going to keep watching her.”
“What about her lung? Dr. Kewing said…”
“The left lung was severely damaged. We’ve managed to save it, but it is currently only going to be working at perhaps 30-40% capacity. She’s going to need another one. We’d like to get her on the donor list, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s a smoker.”
“OK then, she’ll quit.”
“Let’s get through today, sir. Then we’ll worry about the donor lists.” I don’t know if he meant to say it that way, but his words came across with a very different meaning. He wasn’t saying “we don’t have time today,” he was saying “she probably won’t make it through today.”
“Can I see her?”
“Yes, of course. A nurse will take you back in a moment. She can only have one visitor at a time. And she’s still unconscious. She has a breathing tube, so be ready for that…”
“Of course.” Dr. Stevens shook my hand and nodded to me. “Thank you,” I mumbled as he exited back through the doors. I bit my lip and turned back to my parents.
“She made it through surgery. She’s going to be OK,” my mom tried to reassure me, but it didn’t do any good. I’d heard what he said, even if he used different words. I’d heard what he meant and I was sure of it.
How was I going to live without her? How were the kids going to live without her? And Simon? Susan and Simon had an incredible bond. Susan had gotten Simon through those early years of Autism and gotten him on the right track. Had gotten him the help and the services he needed. I was always behind her, but I had no idea how she’d done it all. She’d quit her job to stay home and work with him, back when he wouldn’t verbalize anything, back when everything was so dark and depressing and it felt like Simon was doomed to a long and depressing existence of disability. She had woken him. She had gotten him therapy and made sure he talked.
And Sydney? She was only 14. A teenager without a mother? She was hard enough to handle as it was. I loved her to death, but she listened like a stop sign.
“Mr. Roberts?” the nurse called out to me. “Please follow me.”
I stood up, feeling the hands of my mother and father each giving me a gentle pat on the back, and followed back through the double doors again.
The walk back through the hospital seemed to take forever, like I was treading through some horrible labyrinth. Every time I looked up it seemed like Alfred Hitchcock was playing with the focal length of my eyeballs. The hallways stretched and widened in a surreal scene out of Vertigo.
The nurse stopped in front of a bed, closed off by a privacy curtain. She pulled the curtain back to the foot of the bed. The lights above her bed were dim. I could hear the hiss and thump of the breathing tube as it forced air into her lungs, the slow beeping of her heart monitor.
She was so pale and her hair lay flat against her head. She’d never have left the house looking like that…It was a stupid thought, but when you’re struck stupid, you think stupid thoughts.
I touched her hand, careful to avoid the IV drip and the blood tube. Obviously, they had had a hard time keeping her blood pressure up. Her hand was freezing. Her eyes were closed…
“Sweety?” I whispered to her. “We need you darling. You’ve got to come back to us. I’m right here, tell me what you want me to do.” What I could see of her face, what wasn’t covered with the breathing tube or bandages, was battered and bruised.
I pulled a chair up close to the side of her bed, sat down and rested my head against the back of her hand. I was so tired. I put a hand through the bars of the guard rail and rested it on her. I could feel her knee through the blankets. There was no reaction.
I think with my head there, listening to my own breathing and her breathing through the machine, I fell asleep for a few minutes. I was with her again. She was smiling at me again, kissing me, and telling me everything was going to be alright.
Why did everyone keep insisting on using that phrase? “Everything’s going to be alright.” How could anything ever be “alright” ever again? It couldn’t. Everything was being ruined. And the weirdest thing was that I seemed to be the only one who really knew it.
And I’m the biggest optimist in the whole family.
A hand on my shoulder woke me up. It was another nurse. I quickly stood up in shock, not really awake at all. “Yes?”
“Sir, you were snoring pretty loud.” She tried to smile politely. “I think your parents are still in the waiting room.”
I rubbed my face in my hands for a minute. “Yeah, you’re right.” I looked back at Susan, she hadn’t changed at all. Not a single hair had moved. “Can you take me back to the waiting room? I’ll try to remember the path back this time.”
“Certainly,” she replied. “It’s this way.” Again, we wandered down the maze of corridors back to the waiting room. My mother was sitting in the corner reading a book. It was now past noon and as I got out to the waiting room my phone began to vibrate and ring. Apparently, there was no reception in the middle of the hospital.
My mom looked up at the sound of my phone ringing. She quickly stood up. “How is she?”
“She’s still sleeping. Where’s Dad?”
“He went to get some food. Are you hungry?”
“No…I’m not hungry.” I looked at my phone–six voicemails and ten text messages. “How are you doing?” I mumbled, not thinking.
The messages were all from Shane and Sydney and Rachel and one from work. They couldn’t get a hold of anyone. They were all scared.
“Mom, when are you and Dad going to get cell phones?”
“When they’re free.”
I dialed Shane wondering how he had even found out. To say that my relationship with Shane is tumultuous is an understatement. Shane was Susan’s son from a previous ugly marriage. I had taken him as my son from the beginning, perhaps I treated him too much like a son for his tastes. He was a very troubled boy growing up, with an unexplainable sense of entitlement. He had been trouble for us and in trouble with the law more times than I care to remember.
“Dad?” he answered anxiously. “What’s happening with mom?”
“She’s…here at the hospital. She’s in bad shape, Shane.” The words didn’t really do justice to the situation. It felt like I was listening to somebody else say them.
“What do you mean, ‘bad shape’?” He barked out the question, practically accusing me of something.
“She was in a car accident last night. She was in surgery for six hours. She’s in ICU.”
“Surgery? For what? What’s going on, Dad?”
“The accident. The other car hit her directly on her door, the door crushed into her.”
“Crushed into her? Don’t we have side impact air bags?”
“No, Shane, the car is almost ten years old…they weren’t standard back then.”
“Just you being cheap again…she’s been asking for a new car for three years now…” This was typical. He was building a new case for hating me. This was going to be entirely my fault. But frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for it.
“Yeah, since you stole her car and totaled it…” There’s always a ton of blame to go around. It doesn’t even take much looking.
Shane’s voice was silent.
“How did you find out? Who told you?”
“Sydney. She’s been trying to call you all morning. You left her with Aunt Rachel.”
“What did she tell you?”
“That you were at the hospital and that something was wrong with mom. That’s all she knew.”
“OK, I’ve got to call her next. We’re at Southshore if you want to come down here.”
“Well, how is she? Is she going to die or something?”
“Everybody keeps telling me she’s going to be alright.” Except the doctors… The numbness was starting again. I could feel it in my face, my skin. How could I tell her boy that I was pretty sure there wasn’t too much longer? Especially, when nobody would really tell me? “But nobody really knows.”
“What are you trying to say, Dad?” There was desperation in his voice. She was all that he had. He’d never really known his real father and he was always apt to remind me that I wasn’t his ‘real’ father. Until I’d met Susan, in that bar in Texas, it had really just been the two of them together.
“I don’t know, Shane!” I lost it for a moment and yelled. “Nobody knows anything…” I took the phone away from my mouth and held down against my stomach. I turned around to see both my parents staring at me with very concerned looks. My father had a McDonald’s bag in his hand. I took a deep breath, wondering what to say to him and then put the phone back up to my ear. “And I don’t think it looks very good…”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if you can get down here, it might be a good idea. She’s out of surgery. They say she’s stable, but…they don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours…that’s all I can tell you. That’s all I’ve got.”
“Dad, I don’t have a car. How am I supposed to get down there?”
“Damnit Shane! I’m not leaving here to come get you. Figure it out.”
“Where is he? I’ll go get him,” my Dad piped in. “Where is he?”
“Here, talk to Grandpa.” I handed the phone over and walked toward the exit doors. The sun was peaking out through a mostly cloudy sky. The November wind was kicking up, knocking down the last remnants of the autumn leaves. I stepped out of the automatic doors and into the breeze. A chill went through me as I bracketed my fingers behind my neck and continued to stare up at the slowly moving sky.
Why are you doing this to me, God? What did I do wrong? I’ve always tried to do what was best for everyone, haven’t I? We love our kids. We do our best for them. We give up everything…
I’m not an overly religious person. I’m more of a spiritualist. I believe that there is definitely something bigger and more powerful than myself. I don’t know if there’s one God that controls earthquakes and volcanoes or whether or not a person lives or dies. I just know that it something beyond my comprehension. I like to call it “God.” I don’t go to church and I don’t believe the people that say God wants you to go to church. In my belief, God doesn’t give a flying fuck if you go to church. He doesn’t even care what religion you profess to be…he just cares that you do everything in your power to do your best and be good to others. This is a planet of people and religion shouldn’t be meant to pull everyone apart…believe what you want, just don’t force what you believe on your neighbor if he’s not interested. And for Pete’s sake, don’t think you’re better than anybody else because you believe “A” and he believes “B”. God’s behind each letter of the alphabet somewhere. There are no “chosen” people; there are just people.
And at that moment, I really didn’t care who or what I was pleading with. Just please let her live…
There was an arm on my shoulder. I spun around.
“I’ll go get him,” my Dad said, handing me back my phone. “I won’t be long.”
“OK, thanks,” I muttered.
He paused for a moment and then reached out and hugged me again. The tears welled up in me, I took another breath and wiped at my eyes. “Whatever happens, we’ll get through this. OK, Sam?” He let me go. “Now, make sure your mother eats that stuff. Her blood sugar is getting low.” My mother was diabetic. She didn’t need to take regular insulin shots, but she did have to watch her blood sugar.
I nodded my understanding, swallowed back more tears and headed back inside. I handed my mother my phone. “Please call Rach. Talk to Syd. Tell them what we know. And eat your food. I don’t need you passing out here. I’m going back to see her again…”
She nodded as I walked past her, feeling like a zombie. I don’t remember roaming those halls. It was like I blinked and I was back in that chair next to her bed, her hand pressed between my hands and forehead. Nothing had changed, except the amount of fluids she was receiving through her IV’s. The monotony of the pumping of her breathing apparatus, of the beeping of the machinery tracking her heart beat and blood pressure…
“We have kids, honey. I don’t think I can do it all on my own. I need you. Simon and Sydney…and Shane…and you know that sometimes Shane is the worst of them all,” I whispered, probably not even loud enough to hear if she had been awake. “How can I get by without you? How can we get by?”
“How’s she doing?” Dr. Stevens had materialized at the end of her bed with a chart.
“I, um, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”
“Well, she hasn’t woken up yet?”
“That’s OK. Don’t worry too much about that. She’s under a lot of medication for pain, she might not wake up for a day or two.”
“So you think she’s going to wake up?” It was a ray of hope in my very dark world.
“Well, the longer she stays stable, the better her chances get.” There was hope. She might live. It was the first time a doctor had confirmed even the possibility of her survival.
“Thank you, doctor. She’s got three kids and…a stupid cat…” I started to blather on as if I needed to justify his helping her.
He smiled politely at me. “I’ll check back in another hour or two.” He moved on.
It was now three o’clock, almost fifteen hours after the accident and Shane appeared at the end of the bed. He was a tall boy, not much meat on him. In a weird twist of coincidence, he looked more like me than he did Susan. He could have been my son…He looked pale as his eyes focused on his mother. “How is she?”
“Stable. That’s the only really positive word I’ve been able to get out of the doctors so far. As long as she stays stable, her prospects get brighter and brighter.”
Shane reached out and gently grabbed her tiny foot. She always called her tiny feet “dainty.”
“So what do we do?” he asked in a low voice.
“Wait…there’s nothing we can do. It’s all up to her now.”
“I can’t just stand here and do nothing.”
“Then stand somewhere else,” I grunted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I had given him something to seize and lash out at. It was a mistake on my part, but it was an overriding theme of our family. We couldn’t deal with the issues at hand—not being able to do anything. We had to get really pissed first and then beat each other up. It was unhealthy, but it’s always been our way.
If Susan and I were out of money, because we paid all the bills and there was no way to get any more cash until we were paid again then it was open season for screaming and name calling and guilt.
“I’m not going to fight with you Shane. Not here. Not now.” I didn’t even raise my head to look at him. I didn’t care if that appeased or infuriated him. I had much more important things on my mind. Shane was not my problem.
I looked up at poor Susan’s battered face and stroked her forearm and the back of her hand. I listened to her many apparatus beep and push and pull air from her lungs.
“Can I sit with her for a while?” Shane asked in a whisper.
Selfishly I wanted to say ‘No.’ I knew what the doctor had said. The longer she remains stable the better her chances were. But that didn’t do anything for that sinking feeling in my heart and stomach.
Susan and Shane had spent a good fifty percent of their time together from the age of six on fighting. They were too close, too much alike. I spent more time than I ever wanted playing referee to their knock down/drag out fights. I’d even exchanged a few swings with the boy in her protection.
I knew they loved each other deeply, I just couldn’t figure out how that could be when they really couldn’t stand each other.
I stood up and nodded to him. “Sure, I’ll be back in about a half hour, OK? We’ll take turns.”
“OK. You should get some sleep, Dad. You look really tired.”
I squeezed by him so that he could get to the little chair. “Maybe I’ll sleep when we get her home,” I said. This seemed to perk him up a bit. I grabbed her toes for a moment before walking away. “Princess Tiny Feet…” I held an empty hope that she’d sit right up and warn me not to crack her toes, but she never budged.
This time my father was alone in the waiting room with an empty paper coffee cup. I took the seat next to him, bent forward over my knees and covered my face with my hands. “They say the longer she stays stable, the better her chances are.”
“Yeah,” he patted me on the back. “You’ve got to trust in the doctors and God now. That’s all you can do.”
“That doesn’t really help, Dad. I don’t really do ‘helpless’ well.”
“OK, then, what are you going to do? What can you do?”
I sat back in the uncomfortable plastic chair and stared at the ceiling. “Is this supposed to be some kind of pep talk? Because it really sucks.”
He shrugged and lifted his empty cup to his lips, apparently trying to will another sip of coffee into the cup. “It is what it is. If you can’t do anything, it’s detrimental to sit around beating yourself up with worry.”
“That’s fine in theory, but it’s not happening right now.” I folded my arms across my chest, feeling a small chill. “Mom, go home?”
“No, she’s with the kids. Rachel had to go to work.” I closed my eyes and nodded. Life goes on. So now I had to start thinking about how I was going to take care of Susan when we got her home. Would she need all those machines? Would she need constant care…that’d drive her insane. She’d probably have real trouble with the stairs to the second floor. I’d probably have to set her up on the couch for the time being…maybe have to rent some kind of hospital bed for the living room, like my great grandfather did with great grandma when she was dying of cancer. I tried to think of something else, that wasn’t a good correlation to make.
“Do you want mom to bring them down here?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know. Should I? She’s pretty beat up. They’ll hardly recognize her.”
“It’s up to you, son. It’s your call.”
I stood up and paced a bit.
My dad watched me. “You’ve got to remember that that’s their mom, Sam, and you don’t know for certain what’s going to happen. You might want to take the precaution…”
“Or do I want their last images of their mother to be attached to all those machines…” I stopped myself. “Stop, dad. She’s going to live. I can’t let myself start thinking that way. Every minute she’s stays stable the better her prospects are.”
He nodded. “That makes a lot of sense too.”
It was then that Shane came through the doors of the hospital, frantic. “Dad, all the machines started going off and then they pushed me out of the room.” I think that was what he said. I was gone back through those doors before he finished his sentence.