When All Else Fails Part I
by Christian Wright
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When All Else Fails
C. M. Wright
Some people don’t believe in miracles. They think that they are just a fictional construct of the human psyche to cope with the fear of tragedy. A development allowing the attainment of hope and peace in a time where neither should be manifested. And as Martin Love stood at the back of the small white-walled recovery room, he couldn’t help but recognize that there was something to that theory. In the bed before him lay his seventeen-year-old daughter Emily. What once had been a beautiful face that would’ve knocked the breath out of any young man was lacerated and bruised to the extent that multiple skin grafts had to be used to replace the areas where her skin had nearly been flayed completely from her skull. A dose of anesthesia kept her in a peaceful slumber so as to keep the unbearable pain from creeping back. He could remember her screams…
His stomach began to churn. In response, he shifted his eyes to the gray-freckled white tile of the floor. How could this have happened? One second she was looking at him telling him all about her day, and the next, this. His eldest child, a stunning product manufactured in his wife’s womb, was clinging to her life by the thinnest thread. Any wrong sway would snap it in two and send her hurtling away into the life beyond. Why now? Why ever? Didn’t God care? He’d heard all these stories of His unending mercy and grace, yet he could see no mercy in this. This was cruelty at its highest height. She didn’t deserve this. She should be with her family, safely in the comfort of her own home.
His tear ducts began to water, and his lower lip to quiver. Collapsing into the chair beside him, the weight of his sorrow became too cumbersome to carry. He dropped his head into his cupped hands and proceeded to sob. How he had managed to escape with only a few cuts and bruises he would never know. It seemed as if depression had become his best friend in the past few hours and had decided to stick around for an extended stay. He’d heard about other parents who had been through similar catastrophes, but he had never ever expected that it would happen to him. Bereaved and broken, he exhaled streams of salty liquid onto his palms and then inhaled, sucking them in and swallowing until his nausea became a new enemy as well.
He was alone in his thoughts for a moment before a slender hand began to pat his back. The patting became caressing and then upgraded to massaging.
“It’s all my fault,” he breathed.
Jenna, his wife, stopped her massaging and moved in to hug him. As her arms enclosed around him, he took in another deep gulp of tears and felt it clunk down into the unstable ocean of his stomach. She sighed, choked on a few tears of her own, and said, “No, it’s not.”
“Yes…it so is.”
She pulled back a little and examined his soaked hands. With his face covered, it came out sounding more like, “Ye…i…s…ish.”
He felt her hand move to his neck. “No,” she said. “You never could’ve seen it coming. Don’t blame yourself.”
He let his hands fall to his lap. They attacked each other, locking fingers and then fumbling them around. It reminded him of two hounds glued together in an epic battle: neither would give up until one was dead. If it were any other time, he might’ve smirked at the thought of his hands possessing the capability to devour one another. But even humor was unwelcome in this room.
He lifted his head to glimpse at his daughter once again. She seemed so uncannily placid in her sleep that he would’ve thought her dead had it not been for the heart monitor beeping away, confirming the presence of the life still in her. The white wrap of gauze around her forehead made him feel like he was in an old episode of Mash. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” says the injured army officer. “I feel fine.” And then, he faints as the doctors swarm him and attempt to fix the problem. Like that officer, Emily had become a seemingly empty shell for a short (or so he hoped) span of time. The only difference here was that she was an innocent teenage girl having done nothing to warrant such agony.
He looked to his wife. She still wore her gardening outfit – a yellow Donald Duck tank top she’d acquired on a trip to Disney World a few months prior, a pair of jean shorts that hugged her thighs tightly and accented her features (he even remembered the first time she’d gotten them because that was how his son Carlisle had come along), and to top it all off, a light blue gardening apron with a slew of pockets covering the shirt and hiding her skinny waist – and he could smell the pleasant aromas of petunia and sunflower, her two favorites. (They had become the primary residents of the garden she had planted in their backyard.) But there was no space for pleasant in this room either. Scrutinizing her old yellow Pumas, he became aware that her clothes were the only items in the room that had any color besides black, white, or silver. The sunlight coming through the window in the center of the room also appeared white, and even he was wearing black shorts and a white shirt. The outfit didn’t match, and it created the illusion of joy where no such emotion should be discovered.
“Who else should I blame?”
“No one,” she said. “It was a freak accident, Marty.”
She wasn’t the only one to tell him that, and he still had a hard time agreeing. Someone was responsible; he just didn’t know who.
He was shocked as his sadness flipped to harsh, disgusting rage. He stood and began pacing back and forth at the end of his daughter’s hospital bed. He ran those aggressive fingers through his thick mane of hair so hard that he thought he could feel cuts opening in his scalp. He mashed his teeth together as saliva started to build at the edge of his lips, some of it leaking out and traveling down his chin.
“Why didn’t you stop?!” he yelled. “Were you blind?! Did you not see us?!”
“No! There is someone to blame, and I hope they get theirs!”
“Listen to yourself–”
“I have a right to be this way!”
He ran to the wall beside the entrance. He cocked his fist and shot it into the wood hard enough to leave a dent. The white became tinted with red as his knuckles split into a bloody mess. Yet he did not feel it; not even his injury hurt worse than not knowing if his beautiful Emily would survive. If this was the end, he wanted to know. Wasn’t he at least deserving of that? To know the future? The uncertainty was killing him from the inside out. It felt as if someone had struck a match in his chest and lit his heart on fire. As it deteriorated, so did his condition.
That heavy weight of sorrow returned, sending him to the floor in a piled heap of weakness. He sobbed again, harder. It was so incredible that his breathing nearly came to a halt. Give up, his mind told him. Just let it go. But he could not. His family needed him, especially if the situation was going to end badly. There is no worse feeling for a man than to witness the reality of how miniscule his control on life truly is.
He sat there in a stupor, unable to move. Not even Jenna’s incessant shaking could bring him out. He looked off to the end of the room where a red rose swayed in a crystal vase, the only other artifact in the room besides his wife’s garb that was not black or white or silver. The table it rested on began morphing into a grave with topsoil that had recently been replaced. At the head, a gravestone jutted from the earth, and the vase disappeared. The lifeless flower slowly drifted down until it came to rest horizontally atop the fresh soil.
Country music blared from the alarm clock on the nightstand. He reached out and slapped around until he found the Snooze button. He lay on his chest, his head buried deep in his pillow and his limbs feeling like hundred-pound dumbbells. The pain in his joints was sharp, but not sharp enough to make mobility impossible. Jenna’s arm lay on his back, and he felt her body pressed against his own. It produced a warmth that he hoped he never had to go without.
He rolled toward her. The motion woke her up. She lifted her head and stared at him with half-open eyes. “It can’t be morning already.”
He smiled and kissed her forehead. “It is.”
She smothered her face in her pillow. “Errr.”
“It’s not that bad, is it?”
She looked up again, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “No, I suppose not. It’s just that it’s another ordinary day. I don’t wanna go to work.” She reached over and played with his chest hair. “Please, don’t make me.”
He ran his hand through her hair and pulled her face to his. They kissed.
Her head fell onto his shoulder. “And it starts.”
“I got him.”
She grabbed his arm. “No, it’s okay. I’ll see what he wants.”
She crawled out and slipped into her robe. He watched her head for the door. “What is it, Carl?”
“The dog just ripped my homework apart!”
He smirked. A classic. That was his boy, the excuse-maker.
He looked out the window. They lived in a two-story house with a view of the entire city. The exterior was a single shade of dark green, the only exceptions being the window sills which Jenna had decided to leave white. He remembered the day they had purchased the place. They had been out house-hunting for a long while before they had stumbled upon it. Madame Love’s reaction was a beaming smile that gave the sun a run for its money. It had been completely white when they had discovered it, but she’d envisioned something much more inviting the instant she’d seen it. She had that ability with anything and everything, and it was one of the features that had made him fall for her.
A look at the interior only supported her decision. As soon as one walked in, he or she was welcomed by warm yellow sunlight that flooded through the sliding glass door at the back and down the hallway. The left opened wide into a large living room, which would soon be filled with a giant mahogany entertainment center, two brown silk-cushioned sofas, a dark red recliner, and a china cabinet that displayed all the gifts Jenna had received from her grandmother after she had passed away. The right opening was smaller, but it led into a massive kitchen with an island in the center surrounded by plenty of cabinet space for everything they were bringing from their old kitchen. It rested at the base of the stairs. And beside the stairs was room for the dining table in the space between the kitchen and the sliding glass door. Last but not least, branching off from the dining area was a small study where he could work on his novels in peace. The only thing the house did not have at that time was the oak patio that he and his father-in-law installed shortly after they had moved in.
He looked to the clock. It read 7:00am. He decided it would be best to get up before he allowed sleep to overcome him again. He swung his legs around to the edge of the bed. The carpet felt fresh and comfy on the bottoms of his feet. The Glade Plug-In his wife always left in the outlet beside the bed had the room smelling of cinnamon and peaches. He crossed past the sycamore dresser at the foot of the bed and walked to the window he had been looking out. He heard buzzing outside and gazed down to see Mr. Nicholas – the man who lived in the house behind them – mowing his lawn in his orange-and-white tracksuit. He’d told the man a thousand times that he looked ridiculous in it, but he was persistent. This made Marty grin.
He moved to the dresser and pulled out the outfit he always wore to go running: red FSU track shorts (he was an alumni of their English program, and he loved wearing them around people on the Pacific Coast, something that never ceased to get on the nerves of fellow L.A. citizens), plain white tank top, and blue Pumas, he and Jenna’s favorite brand of running shoe. The dresser was small enough for his six-five figure to sit atop it as he clothed himself. He’d been harassed by the head coach of the basketball team since he had first become a Seminole, but he always refused. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the game; he just had no talent for it. The only thing that was in his favor was his height, which wasn’t much of anything without skills to back it up. So instead, he had tried out for track and made it.
That was actually how he had met Jenna. She was a sprinter in several relays. He was more the long-distance type. (There weren’t many long-distance races with the track team – which was why he also tried out for and made the cross-country team – but there were enough for him to be able to compete.) When he had first seen her, she had taken his breath away. There were other guys watching her, but he doubted that she’d had the same effect on them. He knew it was love the second it hit him. It was only by pure luck that she had agreed to go out with him. When she had first seen him, he was a sweaty mess, drenched in perspiration. She was at the concessions stand when he went to grab some Gatorade. A spot had opened up in the line beside the one she was in, and ironically, they had both reached the counter at the same exact time. And to make things more interesting, one of the cashiers happened to leave for break at that time. There was only one, and Marty allowed her to order first. From there, they got caught in this conversation that had eventually led to her giving her consent for a date. It was only a matter of four years before they were married.
He finished tying his second shoe and headed for the door. His children’s bathroom was right behind the master bathroom. As he made his way into the upstairs hallway, it was to his right. Emily’s room was directly across from his own, and as he passed it, he noticed that her door was ajar. He heard the shower running. Good. She was up and moving, meaning that he didn’t have to go wake her.
He sped down the stairs to see Jenna busy making breakfast for Carl, who sat at the island taping a ripped piece of notebook paper back together. He was already in his school clothes.
He looked up. “Hey, Dad.”
He smiled. “Morning, Son. Homework’s looking better already.”
He gave his father a real-funny-Dad look.
Marty walked around to the stove, wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist, and began kissing her neck.
“I was wondering if you were going to get up,” she said. She turned and brought his face to her own.
Carl had just happened to look toward them right at that moment. The next thing they heard was “Eww! Get a room.”
Marty started to laugh. “We already have one, but you don’t even like it when we do it in there.”
The boy nodded. “It’s gross no matter what.”
He put his hand on his son’s head and messed his hair up. “Someday, Son. Someday.”
The sound of a blow-dryer galloped down the stairs. “She’s surprised me this morning,” he said.
Jenna gave a nod. “I think she’s excited for this afternoon.”
“What’s this afternoon?”
She punched him in the arm. He laughed.
The eggs were simmering in the pan. She snatched a plate out of the cabinet above the stove and exported them to it using her tan plastic spatula. She walked to Carl and set the plate on his homework.
“Hey,” he barked.
“You can finish taping it after you’ve eaten. The bus will be here soon.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Maybe you’ll think about that the next time you try to make up excuses for not doing your work,” Marty added.
He did that cute thing where he crossed his arms and started pouting. He’d been doing it since he was five, and he and Jenna had thought he would’ve grown out of it by now. But it was still cute.
The blow-dryer was off now, and he heard shuffling coming from what sounded like his daughter’s room. She would be down soon.
The patter of little paws crept up behind him. He whirled around to see Freckles, their Boston terrier puppy. It was a pure-bred, but on the salary of a famous Christian novelist, it was a minor expense. He bent down on one knee and began petting it. It had an old frayed sock in its mouth. He pulled it out and threw it into the living room. The dog chased after it.
He rose and turned to the Keurig machine beside the sink. He retrieved one of the tiny, coffee-filled cups from the pullout tray underneath it. This one was chocolate doughnut flavored. He lifted the lid, removed the cup that his wife had used before him, and stuck his cup into the slot. Slapping it closed, he reached into the cabinet over his head and grabbed a coffee cup. He placed it on the platform and hit the small-glass button. To finish, he pulled out the sliding trashcan and dropped the used cup inside.
He looked up from his breakfast. “Yes, Dad?”
“The trash is full. Take it out, please.”
“But Mom said to eat.”
“Carl,” Jenna chimed, “don’t argue. Do what your father says.”
He sighed, slid off his stool, and marched over to the trashcan. He jerked the bag out and began tying the long red loops together. Then he looked at his father.
“Thank you,” Marty said.
As he trekked out the front door to the dumpster, Marty turned to the Keurig and removed his coffee cup. No one else in his family approved of the taste of straight coffee, but he loved his coffee black. He blew on it a few times, brought it to his lips, and took a handsome swig. Jenna always stared at him wide-eyed when he did that, and it was one talent he loved to show off. No other man he knew could drink such a large gulp of the black liquid right after it had come out of the coffeemaker.
Footsteps coming down the stairs made him turn. Emily hit the landing and stepped into the kitchen. She was wearing a purple skirt that went to her knees and a white blouse decorated with silver glitter that glistened in the sunlight. Her bright brown hair was pulled back in a braided ponytail, and her cross necklace bounced gracefully around her neck. He thanked the Lord every day that He had provided him with a daughter who was zealous toward her faith. She always dressed modestly, no matter what her friends thought. The way she saw it, she wasn’t going out to impress them; she was going out to impress her Savior.
“Morning, Daddy. Morning, Mom.”
Jenna had just finished scraping off the pan after placing Emily’s eggs onto another plate. She turned around and gave a smile. “Morning, sweetheart.”
She walked over and gave her father a hug.
He kissed her forehead. “Have I ever told you that you’re the greatest daughter in the world?”
She smirked. “Only always, Daddy.”
Carl came in and went to get an empty trash bag for the trashcan. He flung it up and down until it was open, then he stuffed it into the can. He then jumped back on his stool and continued eating his eggs.
Emily walked over and made her daddy proud by messing with his hair as well. “Morning, squirt,” she said.
“Morning,” he mumbled.
She grabbed her plate along the way and then hopped onto the other stool.
Jenna, now done with her cooking, walked past Marty and gave him another kiss. “If you want eggs you’ll have to cook them yourself. And use the pan I just got done with. I’m heading upstairs to get ready.”
He nodded and watched her as she headed for the stairs.
“Make sure you and you brother are on that bus on time,” she yelled to Emily on her way up.
“Yes, ma’am,” his daughter replied.
Emily spotted the torn notebook paper. She took it and started reading it.
“Hey,” Carl said, reaching over his plate to get the assignment. Whenever he came close, she’d lift it higher in the air, toying with him.
“This looks like an A-plus,” she said with a smile.
“Why’s it torn?”
“He tried to get out of turning it in,” Marty told. He gave her a solemn look. “Now, give it back, please.”
She handed it to her brother and went back to eating. Marty set his mug on the island top and went to the sink to begin cleaning some of the dishes. As he looked out the window, he saw the yellow and black of the school bus as it came to a halt at the bus stop in front of their house. The squealing of its brakes rang through the structure.
He turned around. “Kids.”
They nodded, got their belongings, and made their way to the door. He followed them. When there, he bent down and gave his son a kiss on the forehead.
“Knock ‘em dead,” he said.
He hugged his father and then ran out the door.
Marty turned to his daughter. “Have a good day at school.”
“I will.” She started out the door and then twirled back around. “Oh, Daddy?”
“Yes, pumpkin,” he said.
“Don’t forget about this afternoon.”
“You know, everybody keeps telling me that something’s happening this afternoon, but I can’t quite–”
He smiled and gave her a hug. “I’ll be waiting when you get home, okay?”
“We are ready to pull her out of the coma now,” the doctor said.
Marty wiped the water from his face. He had been on the floor crying, Jenna beside him with her arms squeezing his chest, when the man had come in and asked them to follow him into the corridor. The first thing he saw was Marty’s ripped knuckles and offered to bandage them up. He acquiesced and followed the man to another room where he did so. Now, they stood outside Emily’s room staring at him, listening to the news.
Another tear escaped and made its way down his cheek. “Will she be okay?” he asked.
The doctor’s expression was sober and never changed. “It’s too early to tell. Fortunately, her x-rays show nothing wrong, but that doesn’t always mean everything is fine. Her head wounds suggest the possibility of brain trauma, which would not necessarily show up on any of the images. There is a slight probability that she will awaken with memory loss.”
Jenna’s hand went to her mouth as she started to cry and fell into one of the chairs beside them. “My baby,” she moaned through them.
A nurse pushing a food cart passed them by on the right. Marty’s eyes were glued to the cart as it ambled on. Everything seemed to slow down. Tasks that had once taken seconds for people to accomplish now took hours, or so it felt. His eyeballs were the only things that still remained in normal time. They shifted to the doctor’s nametag and read the name over and over. Carter Wright. Carter Wright. Carter Wright. Just a name, a mediocre object of the real world. Something so simple, yet something his daughter would possibly forget.
“What are the chances?” That question sent everything back into motion.
The man sighed. “Not good.”
He didn’t know what to think. His mind felt like it was swollen, and his thoughts were caught in a violent twister. His esophagus ached as if he had just swallowed a raw diamond, and he couldn’t focus on anything for too long for fear of the gigantic migraine it would create.
“I’m really sorry,” the doctor continued. “I wish there were more we could do.”
“What if you leave her sedated for a little while longer?”
The man appeared to be struggling, as if he had already considered the notion.
He still didn’t respond.
“Would it work?”
He finally sighed. “Anything is possible. But it is impossible to give you a definitive answer on whether or not it will be successful. To be honest, we are nearly one hundred percent positive that she will come out with memory problems, regardless of what we do. It would be a miracle if that were not the case.”
There it was. That word again. It just kept popping up. He began massaging his temple.
The doctor stood and watched, allowing the silence to build.
“Say she does come out with problems,” Marty said, “…would she regain anything?”
“In past cases like this, the patient has not regained any memory, no. Even that would be a miracle.”
There it was again. It just kept jumping at him, hitting him hard and deep. The pain in his heart was nearly unbearable, yet it wasn’t enough to just leave him alone. He’d heard that God had a sense of humor, but if this was that humor, he didn’t find it very funny. Keep beating up on the puny weak guy, why don’t you.
“Would there be any issues with continuing the coma?”
“It depends on how long you plan on continuing it. The longer we leave her under, the more we risk the possibility of her never coming out. Anesthesia is the same as any other drug. Too much of it can make you extremely addicted and, for a prolonged amount of time, could result in death. That’s why most doctors, like myself, reduce the amount used over time, to sort of wean the patient off the medication.”
“But would prolonging it possibly help?”
He sighed once again and then reluctantly nodded.
“How long could you leave her under, then?”
The man massaged his own temple. “I’ll leave her under for another thirty minutes. Then, we have to take her off. I know you don’t want to have a child with memory problems, but I know that you wouldn’t want one that was dead even more.”
They said thanks, and Marty shook the man’s hand. He then traveled back the way he had come to check on other patients.
Jenna looped her arms around Marty’s waist and rested her cheek on his shoulder. He could hear her still whimpering and felt the wet sensation of tears soaking his sleeve. The life that had once been bliss was now crumbling before their very eyes. Piece by piece. Molecule by molecule. Atom by atom. And yet, everyone else’s lives remained the same. Hospital staff attended their duties. Families checked on sick or injured family members. Friends brought gifts for bedridden friends. Nothing stopped. And to make things worse, the place always had that lingering sense of death. Someone had died somewhere, someone else was going to die, and one of the candidates was his own baby girl.
He remembered the image of the grave he had witnessed earlier. How could life go on if that was to become of Emily? How could he go on? Yes, there was his family to consider, but the pain would be overwhelming. That persistent burning in his heart would eventually cause him to desire to rip it out. If God really loved His children, why did He allow such terrible trials to befall them? Christ himself was the one who influenced Paul to write all that stuff about love being patient and kind and quick to listen and slow to become angry and that it keeps no record of wrongs. Yet, here he was in the middle of imminent tragedy feeling far from loved. Why now? Why ever? And when would it end?
When Jenna returned, he was finished with the dishes. He put all the cleaning supplies back in their designated areas and joined her at the door. From there, they went on their daily run. They traversed the neighborhood, circled back around, and ran toward downtown L.A. before making a U-turn back toward their street. By the time they reached the turn, they had traveled about ten miles total and were drenched in sweat. Though his wife was the sprinter, twenty-two years of running with her man had turned her into quite the long-distance fan. The first five or six times had been rough, but by the seventh or eighth, she could handle up to eight miles as if it were nothing.
They cut the corner sharp and barely missed a parked Honda that was hidden by the hibiscus bushes at the edge of Miss Clifford’s yard. Marty had a feeling they would become trouble as soon as they came within a few feet of the plants, and he had badgered the woman repeatedly to get them trimmed. But Miss Clifford was the oldest, crankiest member of the entire neighborhood, possibly even Los Angeles or even all California. Getting onto ninety-nine years, she could still move like lightning, with only a slight limp in her right leg, and she had one of those J-shaped wooden canes, hand-carved by her grandfather back in the Stone Age, that left a welt the size of Texas on any passerby she so decided to unleash her wrath upon. She had a younger brother who always suggested she acquire a gun if she wanted to live alone, but with that battering ram she always carried, Marty was almost positive that a firearm was far from necessary. Any thief who tried to mess with her would get the beat down of his life, no lie.
He looked to the sky at the sound of an American Airlines 747 descending for a landing at L.A. International. A view of the atmosphere always baffled him, as did admiring all of God’s creation. Today it was heavily nubilous, though cracks of bright blue burst through the clouds here and there. It was sights like these that made it possible for him to ignore the steep inclines of the suburbs, especially the one they were now climbing to reach their house. He hoped and prayed that he would always see life this way. Little did he know that later that day his entire world would change.
They began up the driveway and made the turn onto the skinny path that meandered its way to the door. They reached the top of the stairs just as they heard, “Hey, neighbors!”
Marty turned. David Thimble, their neighbor on the right, was leaving the swing on his front porch and heading for the fence that separated his yard from their own.
“Hey, Dave,” he said.
“Can I have a quick word with you, Marty?”
He told Jenna he would be in shortly and hopped off the porch toward the fence. When there, he stuck out his hand and caught Dave’s for a firm shake. He realized that his own hand was covered in liquid and brushed it off on his shirt. “Sorry about that.”
Dave gestured the okay. “It’s fine,” he said. “A man’s gotta work out, am I right?”
He nodded and produced a smile. “So, what’s up, Dave?”
“Just sitting outside spending some time with the Lord.” He held up a small King James Bible. It showed definite evidence of use: the corners, though rounded, were torn; the binding exhibited signs of probable detachment from the pages in the not too distant future; and the golden-etched engraving HOLY BIBLE had faded so much that only the dents of the letters remained. “I’m sure you know what that’s like.”
“I do.” He’d spent a bit of time with the Lord before, but he didn’t have the heart to tell the man that his one-on-one time with God had dwindled in the past few years. His family and Dave’s went to the same church, and they were all good friends. But Dave was one of those avid Christ-followers. It wasn’t that Marty didn’t love Christ and believe in him, but he did not devote himself to the Son of God and Man as much as Dave did. Dave often struck him as being a male version of his own daughter, though Emily could probably give the man a run for his money.
“There’s nothing like it.” His neighbor stared off into the distance. He almost followed his line of sight out of curiosity, but he was pretty sure it was one of those stare-at-nothing moments that every human being had experienced throughout their lives. It was a strange experience, mainly because there was no recollection of what had transpired after it was over, but as for him, an author, he had learned to embrace those moments as a time of deep thought where one could invent ideas.
“How’s the family?” he asked.
“Oh, they’re good,” Dave said. “However, Michael’s getting to that stage now where independence is becoming more appealing than ‘enduring the torturous oppression of his parents’ totalitarian reign.’” He made quotation marks with his fingers.
Marty chuckled. “He actually said that?”
Dave nodded. “Right to our faces.”
“Gosh.” He was so happy Emily was not like that.
“It’s a battle,” his neighbor said. “But how’s yours?”
“Everybody’s doing great. Right now, the kids are off at school, so it’s just me and the wife. She has to be at work in an hour, but until then, we’ve got some time to relax. And when you have it, you use it.”
Dave laughed, his tongue skimming his teeth just enough to make that clicking sound that always amused Marty. “I know how that is. You gotta have it or the world’ll eat you alive.”
He gave his own nod and threw in a smile. “Yeah. So it’s a really good day, I would say. I’m excited for this afternoon.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s happening this afternoon?”
He told him.
“Wow. That’s so awesome. I hope she enjoys it.”
“I’m sure she will,” Marty said. “She’s always wanted one.”
“Well, I’m sure on that ol’ salary of yours, it’ll be no problem.”
He heard the door open and turned to see Jenna on the porch. “I don’t mean to be a bother, but breakfast is ready, hon.”
He told her okay and turned back to Dave. “You heard her. Should probably head inside.”
They said their goodbyes and started back to their houses. Then, Dave swung back around. “Oh, Marty.”
He walked back to the fence.
“I almost forgot the reason I called you over,” he said.
He pulled a small slip of cardstock paper from his pocket. When he turned it over, Marty noticed that there was a picture on it. It had a dark blue background with red-and-white designs that spiraled all about. Plastered over these designs in bold orange letters was an advertisement that read MEN’S BIBLE STUDY: EVERY THURSDAY AT 214 BUCKLEY BLVD. FROM 7-8 PM. The address was Dave’s. Following the advertisement was a cartoon bible with a yellow cross, an attached red bookmark sticking out the bottom. Marty took it and looked it over a few times.
“I know you’ve been struggling a bit…”
His eyes widened. How could Dave know? He thought he’d done a rather swell job of keeping it hidden.
“…in your walk with Christ. The Lord told me and has led me to pray for you. As an added measure, I would like you to come to this tonight. You don’t have to, but I think it will do you some good.”
“I didn’t know the church was hosting one of these,” he said.
“Oh, they aren’t. This was all me…and God. He told me it was time to start something up that would help out a few of the guys in the congregation. Since you weren’t there Sunday, I wanted to make sure I got it to you. Give it some thought.”
With that, he went back to the swing and left Marty standing by the fence. He was still examining the card, processing what he had just heard. He knew Jesus was alive, but he didn’t really talk to people, audibly at least. So, how was this possible?
When he looked up, Dave was reading the bible again. A strong desire to ask was building within, but he concluded that it would be better to go inside. He hurried over, climbed the steps, and entered the house, the smell of bacon and pancakes luring him to the kitchen.
The cast on her left arm was pink. He told the doctors it was her favorite. If they hadn’t had it, the runner up would’ve been purple. He knew these were childish colors and that most girls grew out of them by the time they were ten, but his Emily had apparently missed a memo because they were still her top two. The only signature so far was his own. Black Sharpie. He tried to pass it to Jenna after he was done, but she was too afraid she might hurt the arm even further. He argued that it was fine, but she still wouldn’t have anything to do with it. It was okay, though. As a matter of fact, he kind of enjoyed being the only one to sign it. His John Hancock labeled her his. But, then again, that also meant that he was responsible, for everything. It was like a criminal writing HERE I AM!!! on the door to his hideout for the world to see, as if welcoming his demise.
His head was pounding. He fell into one of the chairs, knocking it against the pane of glass behind it. The long tan blinds were sent swarming like flies.
She looked so fragile. All these years he had taken her presence for granted and thought that time would never cease. But he forgot where he lived. Earth. A place of finality. Starts and stops. Beginnings and ends. Let’s go’s and we’re done’s. Life was the prey and time the predator, each second devoured continuously until there was nothing left. It was the digital counter on a nuclear warhead that would soon shoot everything into nonexistence.
The red rose floated in its vase without care, not that he expected inanimate objects to possess emotions. But he did seem to be harboring blame for everything he could find. Depression was one of those funny conditions that could just drive a man straight out of his mind. The hardest part was determining if he was really out of his mind. After all, he had envisioned a grave beneath said rose a few hours earlier that had thankfully vanished. But the dying plant still swayed back and forth taunting him with the haunting memory.
His stomach growled. It wasn’t until now that he remembered his only meal of the day had been breakfast. So far he had been so focused on this huge change of events that he had not been concerned about nourishment. It struck him as odd that he would begin experiencing hunger pains now, though. The writer in him had always led him to study people and find out what made them tick, and he could recall creating a character in one of his novels that had gone through similar circumstances. He was on death row and had refused his last meal. It was when he was about to be executed that he started to feel hungry. Marty had thought it made the man seem more human, and now that he was drowning in misfortune of his own, he was sure that he had been right.
He turned toward the door. His head had been against the glass, and when he turned, he felt a pop in his upper neck. It stung, but seeing his son’s glum face, he refrained from outwardly expressing his pain.
He said nothing to the boy, just stared teary-eyed. Carl had been with his grandparents because Jenna did not want him to see his sister after she had first arrived at the hospital. And Marty agreed. He wished that he could take back seeing Emily like that. But now that everything had simmered down and her injuries were covered, he told Jenna to call and have his parents drop Carl off. His own mom and dad stood behind their grandson, refusing to leave, just as he assumed they would. It was good, though. He wanted them to be here for their granddaughter.
He walked over and wrapped his arms around Carl. His little man was young and strong and had yet to cry, but as soon as he was in his father’s embrace, he could hold back no longer. They flooded down his cheeks in rivers, and he began to pant – not the sound of being winded, like a dog would make, but a harsh moaning that made his heart ache even more. It progressed in a long segment and was followed by gasping inhales of oxygen so hard that they shook his small, skinny body.
“It’ll be okay,” he said. “It’ll be okay, buddy.” And for a second or two, he almost believed that were true. But how could anything be okay after this?
Arms enclosed them both. Jenna had left her own chair – she had been sitting in the one nearest the bed so that she could hold Emily’s hand – to join them. In that one moment, he felt extremely small. An ant facing the woes of the earth.
“Will she be alright?” Carl whimpered.
He shed fresh tears of his own. “We don’t know, Son. I wish we did, but we don’t.”
Marty felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see his father waving him into the hallway.
He gave Carl a kiss on the cheek. “I need to go talk to Grandpa,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He stood and followed the man into the hallway. Once there, he was surprised to see that his father’s eyes were watering as well. This was one of the toughest men in the world. A retired Marine, Gavin Love had seen things that no man was meant to see, things far worse than what had happened to his granddaughter. Yet, right now, he was struggling to resist breaking down in sorrow. He was even having trouble staying on his feet, his knees shaking. This sight confirmed the power of sadness, how strong the fear of loss could be.
“How is she?” he choked.
Marty was beginning to wonder if there was an end to the cruelty of life. It just kept recycling to the same questions that required the same answers as if it loved making humanity relive their sufferings over and over.
He shook his head. “I don’t know, Dad. The doctor’s aren’t even sure.”
“What? What’s the point of being a doctor if you can’t even make a diagnosis?”
“No, they’ve made a diagnosis. They just don’t know how accurate it is. They’re pretty certain it’s correct and will happen, but not completely.”
“And what will happen?”
He sighed. “She could wake with memory loss.”
His dad began rubbing his forehead. “Jeez. How could this happen?”
“It’s my fault, Dad. I promised to take her out, and if I had just suggested we stay home–”
“No, Son. I won’t have that kinda talk right now. It was an accident, and accidents mean nobody is responsible. God allowed this for some reason. He just hasn’t shown us why yet.”
“If that’s true…why? What does He have to hide? Why can’t He just show us the answers to all our problems and save us the trouble?”
“Because it doesn’t work that way.”
“Well, maybe it should!”
“Watch it, boy! I’m still your father.”
“Then help me, Dad! Do what a father is supposed to do!”
“I would if I could!”
“Why can’t you?! You could when I was younger! What’s changed?!”
He spun around to see his mother in the doorway. She was glaring at them, hard. One look told him why. It seemed his father’s and his conversation had gotten far out of hand. He was so into the argument that he hadn’t noticed.
He looked to his father. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
He shook his head. “No, Son, I’m sorry. Tensions are high right now, and I was treading on thin ice. We all probably just need to relax for a while.”
“I wish it were that easy.”
“Me too, Son. Me too. But there is a reason for what’s happened. We may not see it yet, but we will. We will.”
The old Marine patted his arm and walked back into the room. He decided to stay. He took a seat in the chair his wife had sat in when they were talking with the doctor. The nurse’s station was right across from Emily’s room. With his head against the wall, he watched one converse with someone on the desk phone, though he could not hear a thing she was saying. There was a faint rumble, probably just part of his imagination, yet it vibrated through his skull. He knew that there was seismic activity at work everywhere, some places more than others, and this also became another possibility. But deep down inside, he didn’t care. There were worse things going on, and he was smack dab in the middle of them.
His attention moved to a Beanie Baby cat that had been set upright on its hind quarters atop the counter. It gazed at him as thoroughly as he did at it, almost as if it could see straight through him. It had black-and-white – the favorite colors of this dang hospital – fur and this smug smile that he was sure was there to taunt him.
He knew he was assigning personality to inanimate objects again, but what the heck, he was losing his mind, right? Why not have a little fun with it? Maybe it would loosen up the nerves.
Footsteps made him turn. Jenna was there. She examined him for a few second and then came to him. She knelt down and put her head in his lap. He began to stroke her hair.
“Tell me this will be okay.”
He had no response. He was wrestling with the same doubts.
“I wish I could,” he finally said. “But I don’t even know myself.”
She sighed and reached for his hand. “Where have the days gone where stuff like this wasn’t even a concern? When she was so little, all she wanted to do was just love and be loved by her parents?”
“Where all those days go: history. Just like our own. If I could return to childhood right now…”
Her body felt warm against his, and it made him think of earlier in the day when he had awakened with her beside him, her arm around him.
She stood and sat down where her head had been. She hugged him. “Don’t let me go,” she said.
So he held her, tightly. They remained that way until the doctor arrived.
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