By now you know the drill, right?
This one is from a book I titled: Chrysalis
Give me a shout if you like it.
I was dismissed. Her mom, rosy faced with great purple crescents under her eyes, stood in front of her room in that cold hospital hallway and told me it was best if I left—per her wishes. And as they cowardly snuck back into her room, stark white and sterilized, I caught a glance of her. She was clad in that thin diamond patterned patient gown with way too many ties and loops—refusing to look at me. And too many bandages—and more tears than I’ve seen her shed in our whole lives. And I felt like I was on the cusp of collapse.
I took the few steps to the other side of the hallway and let myself slip down it until my butt hit the cold, bleach smelling floors. My feet sprawled out in front of me, a hazard to those who passed me, on trails to visit those who would actually accept their presence. My presence in her room was negated. But it felt like my presence in her life was in the real state of limbo. Doors opened and closed around me, family and friends, flowers and balloons entered and exited with promises of the next time. But her door stayed sealed.
I heard a familiar rhythm of footsteps and looked up for the first time since facing her parents. My father sat beside me in silence. And I knew he would remain silent as long as I needed.
“She won’t—she won’t let me see her. She won’t even talk to me.”
He heaved a heavy breath through his mouth and banged his head against the boring khaki wall behind him. He wiped his hands on his business suit slacks hoping they’d help him with a fatherly response.
“Give her some time. She’s been through a lot. But you two have been through so much together. She’ll come around. Don’t give up on her. Posey needs you more than ever right now, whether she admits it or not.”
“Please don’t make me leave Dad. Tomorrow is Sunday. I don’t have school. Don’t make me leave her yet.” I was ready to get on my knees and beg if I had to.
“I’ll make you a deal. I promised your mother that I would at least make sure you ate something. So don’t make a liar out of me. Let’s go downstairs, get something in your stomach and then I’ll leave you here.”
I didn’t answer immediately and he knew that as my silent protest. I never talked back to my parents, I just stayed quiet.
“Bridge, she’s gonna need to lean on your strength to help her get through this. If you’re not taking care of yourself, then you won’t be any use to anyone. You’ve been here since ten Friday night and I bet you haven’t eaten since dinner Friday night. Am I right?”
I shrugged, too stubborn to admit how correct he was. It was now seven on Saturday night. But how could I eat when she couldn’t. Hell, I had a hard time sitting here talking, because she couldn’t talk to anyone for more than a few seconds.
“I’m not really asking, Bridge.” He got up and waited. My stomach betrayed me by growling in agreement with him.
“Fine, but can I get it to go? I need to be here, Dad. I can’t be gone if they come out, or if something happens to her. What if she needs me?”
He put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed. “Son, she’s on so much pain medication. She barely has minutes of lucidity, much less time to miss you.”
I pushed away from him. “Don’t tell me that. Somewhere in that burned body she’s there. She doesn’t like to be alone. She hates the dark. Don’t tell me she’s not missing me. She’s my best friend and I…”
“I’m sorry. You’re probably right. Come on, I promised your mother I’d make you eat.”
As we passed the rooms, some doors wide open, some ajar, the nausea peaked and then subsided, waves of health and sickness. She was worse than any patient that I’d laid eyes on in the whole burn unit. And the burn unit here in Minton, Kansas was the only one in the state. So I knew all the bad cases had been sent here. I’d paced the halls for nearly six hours the night before, waiting for someone to tell me something, waiting for some word of hope. And then Posey’s mom came out and told me she was in bad shape but she’d recover, simple, cold words, all the while carrying a face that told me she didn’t think me worthy of an update, much less an explanation of said update. It wasn’t me, per se, it was her. They were beside themselves with worry and it animated itself through icy words.
We got in line with the nurses and doctors, all pretending to be the experts on health while they filled their trays with cheeseburgers, chili fries and pie. My dad slapped a tri-slotted plate on my tray. It was filled with fish sticks, peas and mashed potatoes that looked like they’d been brought forward in time from a 1970’s TV dinner.
He grabbed an orange juice from the standing refrigerator and put it on my tray.
“Don’t. Just don’t. I know you’ve only drunk your precious Dr. Pepper all night. You’re probably wired as all get out.” He was right. I’d even had to bum a dollar from an old man for the last one. All I had was a debit card.
“Ok.” We brought our trays to sit down at a table and suddenly I realized I’d been hood winked. I’d wanted to get the meal to go. But here I was; real silverware in hand, no Styrofoam plate in sight.
I stuffed the food in my mouth and went through the motions of chewing. But it all tasted the same to me. It tasted like time wasted. It felt like missed opportunity. Halfway through the peas, I realized I didn’t even eat peas. I chugged the orange juice in one pull and slammed it down, contest won.
“Just calm down, Son. Let me eat and then you can go back up.”
I loved my dad, I did. He was always there for me. He took off work for my swim meets and my water polo matches, even the out of town ones. He paid attention when I was down and when I was up. He was what most people wished for in a father. But right now he was royally pissing me off.
“I ate. The deal was—eat and then back to her. We made a deal.”
“Ok,” he relented. “Let me give you some cash in case you need it. And tomorrow, early, I want you home. You have to go to school. I won’t compromise on school.”
“I promise I will Dad. Thanks.” I hugged him quick and got back upstairs to my girl or her room, since they wouldn’t let me in. But I didn’t believe for one flat second that she’d wished me away. It just wasn’t possible.
I sat. I paced. I crossed and uncrossed my legs. The nurses spoke to me. I spoke back. I watched trays of food go in for her parents and empty trays come out. Her Dad came out and looked at me with pity.
“Bridger, I thought we asked you to go home. She doesn’t want you here.”
I stood up to defend myself, “Sir, she’s my best friend. Please.”
His next few words were spoken without any emotion and his eyes stared at some fleck on my shoulder, some crease in my collar. They were shifty and uncertain.
“Bridger, go home. I’m gonna go use the restroom and get something to drink.” He wrangled with his collar before continuing, “If you’re here when I get back, I’m calling security.”
I stared after him as he stomped away from me. I touched her name on the placard outside the room and told the raised plastic letters goodbye and that I loved her. It was all I could do.