I yawn and stretch my stiff, protesting muscles with a groan as I blink open my eyes. The sun is high in the western window and I look down at my watch curiously. Two pm. Fuck. I really passed out. I look to Tina who’s been turned but is unmoving and hear the crisp rustling of paper to my left. I look to the noise to see Thomas sitting and reading the book I brought from home, Tennyson’s Ulysses. It’s one of Tina’s favorites.
He shuts the book and turns to me with a smile. ”Feeling better rested?”
I grin back at him. ”Sorry I slept so late.”
He scoffs at me. ”You needed it. I’m glad you got it.” I smile again as he eyes the bear in my hands. ”Cute bear…”
I look down and smile at the bear in my arms. ”I bought this for Angie and Tina had been sleeping with it so that it would smell like her. We planned to put it in Angie’s crib to comfort her…”
Tears well in his eyes as he hands me the bag from the Planet with a couple of pasties inside, smoothly changing the subject. ”You missed your sister. She decided to let you rest. She is quite the character.”
He grins and I chuckle as I nod my agreement. ”What time did you get here?”
His grin becomes a smile. ”About seven am. I spent most of the day reading and talking to her.” He frowns. ”I don’t want to alarm you or give you false hope, but…she moved.” My eyes widen with hopeful longing but his expression squashes it. ”They think she was in pain, but she didn’t wake or have another episode like yesterday. I…I’m so sorry Bette. I hate to tell you that but I thought you should know. She settled down quickly and she’s been normal for the last several hours.”
I set the bag on the table against the wall to my right and stand dejectedly. I ache all over, inside and out. I walk up to Tina and give her a chastely sweet kiss on her full and somewhat dry lips. I pick up the lip balm on the roll out table and gently apply it before stroking her hair. It needs washed. I’ll stop by the nurse’s station on the way to the bathroom. I stroke her cheek and quietly speak to her. ”I’m sorry I slept so late, T. But you only come to me in my dreams, so sleep becomes addicting.” I sigh. ”I..I miss you. Please come back to me.”
I lean in for another kiss before tucking the bear up against her and standing. I look to Thomas who’s trying valiantly to pretend he didn’t hear a word, but the tears gathering in his eyes attest to his knowledge of this very private moment. I don’t really care. I would throw leaflets declaring my devotion for her from the top of the U.S. Bank Tower. The emotions are private, but they are also infinitely proud and utterly visible. He finally meets my gaze. ”I need to use the restroom and I’m going to have the nurse come in to help give her a sponge bath and wash her hair.”
He grins as he stands and stretches. ”I think I’ll make myself scarce for the rest of the day then. I need to call Greg and Kit wanted me to stop by the Planet for dinner and to talk…um…if that’s okay.”
I eye him with an incredulous smile. ”Greg, you can do what you like. You don’t need my permission. I don’t expect anyone else to hole up in this room. That’s my job.”
He chuckles and his expression becomes serious. ”Consider joining us?”
I furrow my brows. I wouldn’t mind getting out for a while, but no, not with what happened last time I left. I need to be here, especially with her showing increased signs of movement. He reads this on my face and nods his understanding as he squeezes my shoulder. ”She’s lucky to have you Bette…”
I smile at him. ”We’re lucky to have each other, but thank you for pointing out the obvious.”
He chuckles and shakes his head as he strides over to the door, only to stop, turn and point at the mail on the table. ”Oh, I almost forgot. The mail, as requested, is right there when you’re ready.” I smile my thanks at him and he returns it as he leaves.
I look to Tina and sigh before squaring my shoulders, grabbing my bag, and striding out to the nurse’s station to see the same evening shift nurse settling behind the desk. She looks up to me and smiles awkwardly. She certainly seems more genuine since our little discussion. ”I’d like to request some help giving my wife a sponge bath after I use the restroom.”
She checks the schedule on the clipboard and says, ”That should be fine. I don’t have to make my second rounds for another hour. I’ll get everything ready and meet you in the room in say ten minutes?”
I smile wearily. ”Thank you. I won’t be long.” She nods her head and grins back before I make my way to the restrooms to have my own quick version of a sponge bath.
I take the mail out of my bag, and start to sort through the bulky mess. You don’t realize just how much you get in one week until you try to tackle it all at once. My lap is full of magazines, fliers, sympathy cards, baby congratulations from the obliviously well-meaning, and bills. The stack is thick and the work cut out for me daunting, but I start to sort it all out into like stacks before tackling it. I set the magazines on the chair next to me for later perusal, and answer the bills first.
Most of them are just paper confirmation of automatic bill payments but the numbers of the quarterly statement for the gallery don’t appear to be adding up right. I look it over several times over the course of more than an hour. Sigh. I need to go to work and check the ledger if I’m going to have any luck finding the discrepancy. It’ll just have to wait. I tuck the statement in my bag and move onto the fliers.
I peruse them quickly, trashing the ones that I don’t believe would interest either of us and tucking the others away in my bag. The thickest stack by far is the cards. There must be thirty of them but I take the time to read each with a smile, setting the most meaningful ones out near the fresh bouquet of lilies I had delivered this morning. I want Tina to be near them whether she wakes up or not, to feel a tangible link to how much she is missed if she is in any way coherent at all.
I finally get to the last card only to find it’s a letter postmarked from Italy. I furrow my brows as I open it and pull out two letters: one my original and the other a reply. Tears well in my eyes as I read it aloud.
Dear Lucky but Wounded,
The pain of failure runs only as deep as the love you possess, for you cannot feel remorse of that magnitude without first feeling the high reaching hope of devoted faithfulness. And while the aspiration to honor your beloved is passionate and profound, it’s the failure that has the power to haunt you for the rest of your life, when you should instead be focusing on the very reason you’re living it.
If the anguish of your failure is as deep as you describe, then take heart that your love and devotion are just as strong, if only you would choose to acknowledge that truth. If your love for each other is as soul rending as mine and Romeo’s, then do not do as we did. Have the courage to live and live honestly. The bravery of being truthful is the only way to honor the depth of your commitment and prove your goodwill.
Love is the only power that can overcome any obstacle, right any wrong, and transcend even the finality of death, because it is utterly honest. How can she see you if you don’t expose yourself? How can she truly consider you if you aren’t making yourself known? Give yourself over to that love, and if she is half as devoted as you are, she will see you, she will see your desire to carry a child and contribute to your growing family. But most importantly, you will have shaken loose the destructive grip that clutches at your heart.
So to answer your question, if it had all worked out so differently; if I had been honest with my family, and if I had been blessed with even one lifetime with my Romeo, I would grab onto that opportunity with both hands and shake every last drop of forgiveness, love, strength, and fortitude from it with jubilant revelry. You need only the courage to follow your heart. I have faith it will lead you straight to her, and her straight to you. After all, all roads go both ways.
All My Love,
The tears fall freely from my eyes as I gaze at my wife and clutch the letter in my hands. She can only see as deeply as I allow her to and I have kept the most painful parts of me my own, yet expected her to just know. I set her up to fail me and she has. This is a game that isn’t fair for either of us, and I hope that I have the opportunity to bare myself to her.
I pull my chair close to her bed and take her hand in both of my own, holding it tightly and resting my cheek against it, baring my deepest wounds to her in hopeful supplication that my willingness might be entreaty enough to bring her back to me.
The ambulance sped down the road going nowhere near fast enough. The pregnancy was only thirty-four weeks along; this shouldn’t have even been happening. The EMT placed the IV into her hand as I stroked her flushed face, hot with sweat, and I could feel the panic rising up in my gut as I beat it back into some semblance of control. ”Her fever is rising…” I looked up to the EMT with concerned eyes. ”Can you give her something to bring her fever down?”
The woman was focused on her work, but why couldn’t she honor a simple request to help my wife and our child? Her voice was calmly detached as she hung the IV bag out of the way and said, ”We’ve got everything under control, okay?” No, this was not okay you unfeeling cunt. Nothing was okay about this. ”Don’t worry.” I couldn’t even dignify the idiocy of such a phrase with a response.
I looked back down as Tina’s frighten cries grew louder. She gripped the hands that had been holding and stroking her hair and begged me with so much terrified sincerity that I will never forget it as long as I live. ”Don’t let her die…please…don’t let her die…”
I pulled all of the anxious anguish in my gut up to my throat to push it out as confidence. ”Baby, I’m right here. It’s going to be okay.” Her tears were streaking down her flush and fevered face and I tried to stroke them away as they nearly burned and dissipated off of her skin. ”I promise. I promise. I swear to God. It’s going to be okay.” Her cries were getting weaker but somehow more intense. I looked up to the EMT with barely contained annoyance. ”Can you hurry up?”
The EMT sighed in exasperation and her response was a little snotty. ”Ma’am, we’re going as fast as we can. This is LA, and we don’t want to cause an accident. Now please, try to relax and let us do our job.”
I know that she was just doing what she was supposed to and I was making it more difficult, but I wondered if her responses would be as equally benign if it were her partner and child where Tina lay now. I focused on Tina as we took a sharp curve and started to descend a steep slope. Thank fucking God, we’re here.
The ambulance pulled up outside of the ER’s double doors and the EMT rushed Tina’s gurney out and through to the waiting staff there. I followed at a jog to keep up with her as they wheeled her directly into a delivery room where Doctor Wilson was waiting. A woman stopped me at the doors to the studio by standing in front of me and I watched the team inside gather around her, obscuring her from my site as the doors swung to a slow shut. I glared at her and tried to push her out of my way but her words stopped me. ”Are you related to her?”
I eyed her with ready malevolence as I said, ”She’s my wife…”
Her face turned pained and she pulled me by the arm as she walked to a nearby room. ”Here, put these on.” Before she had even stopped speaking I was putting the sterile items on with quick and nervously clumsy speed. We jogged the few short steps back to the room, storming through the double doors, and I immediately took my place at her side.
Her frightened hand clamped down on my own as I watched Doctor Wilson feel for how the baby was positioned, but Tina’s panicked voice cut through the fog of disbelief and terror crowding in my own mind and heart. ”It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” I looked to her tear streaked face, unable to speak. ”I failed you both, I’m sorry.”
Oh, God, T, no… ”You didn’t fail anybody.” Her frightened eyes penetrated mine with the startling clarity of just how frail everything is, how easy it is to lose everything you care about in one single devastating moment. She was shaking with the wracking sobs tearing apart her soul and I found my own words as I shook my head at her in vehement disagreement. ”You’re amazing…you’re amazing.”
I reached up to brush the bangs off her forehead as she closed her eyes. ”I’m sorry…”
”Tina, I need you to push for me. One good push should do it.”
I gazed on her anguished face as I encouraged her from the very depths of my soul. ”She’s almost here. It’s okay. Push T…Come on baby, push…”
Her sobs became painful wails as she gave the one push that was needed, her very everything, her very future, to the baby struggling into a world it wasn’t ready for. ”I’m sorry…”
I shook my head at her again. ”Shh, you have nothing to be sorry for. She’s almost here. She’s almost here…” The high keening sound of working lungs pushed out a brilliant cry as Doctor Wilson held up our daughter. Even covered in the very substance that mortality is made of, she was beautiful, but so small and seemingly so frail that our tears of joy and laughter were dimmed. ’God, please let her be okay…’
The nurse next to Doctor Wilson held up a pair of surgical scissors and I turned to her pleadingly. ”Wait…I want to cut the cord.”
She looked me in the eye as she said, ”Because of sterilization, with a preemie, the cord has to be cut by a member of the surgical team. It’s not allowed, even though she’s only a few weeks early…”
I looked to Doctor Wilson with tears in my wide eyes. Please don’t rob me of this one thing…unless it’s truly necessary to keep her safe… ”I want to cut the cord…”
Doctor Wilson looked at my daughter quickly and said, ”Go ahead. Let her cut the cord.”
I took the surgical scissors from the nurse and turned to Tina with bright, excitement filled eyes. ”I’m going to cut the cord now…”
She smiled through her tears and nodded her head in time with the sobs that were wracking her body. Doctor Wilson said, ”Quickly…” I turned back to the cord, the portion to be cut clamped off on either end, and clipped down in the middle, severing her tie to her mother.
I looked up to see my daughter lifted away with an awe inspired smile swirled with anguished worry. ”Oh my God, T…”
I turned back to Tina and furrowed my brows as I leaned in closer to her. ”What, baby?”
She smiled at me and her eyes glassed over. ”That’s what I want to name her, Angelica…” She raised the beautiful eyebrow and I started to get worried. She seemed…far away…like she wasn’t even present in her own body and the fire of life in her eyes was fading out in a puff of smoke.
”Losing blood pressure!”
I searched her face as her eyes closed and her features started to relax. ”Tina?” The death grip on my hand went slack and I leaned in further, panic welling up in my soul and spilling out through the gaps in my ribcage. ”Tina?!”
The nurse grabbed me from behind, pulling me away as the others gathered around her. ”Mother’s temp is one oh five.” I stumbled back from the table with the force pulling me from behind as Doctor Wilson called out, ”Get the baby to an incubator in the NICU. Her lungs are wheezing so start oxygen and an IV. And get her cultured. She might have an infection. Let’s get her mother to the OR! She’s hemorrhaging!”
The beeping rhythm of the heart monitor in the corner grew slower and I watched in horror as they all circled around her as the monitor started a continuous hum. I watched on in detached shock as the love of my life was given CPR and they prepared to cart her from the room. I couldn’t hear anything anymore and none of it seemed real. It was like I somehow stepped out of myself.
Out of the sea of silent chaotic activity of green and blue plastic people, I saw a dark figure at Tina’s head staring down on her, his body cloaked in black and his face obscured by his hood. His presence was neither malevolent nor compassionate as he seemed to consider her. I could feel my eyes widen in panicked fear as I stepped toward him and shouted, ”NO!”
”NO!” I awoke with a jerk, my eyes snapping open as the sudden motioned jarred the stiff, protesting, and locked muscles of my neck. It takes me a long moment to be able to turn it without incredible pain when I feel a warm hand stroke my disheveled curls.
I turn toward the gentle caress and smile through my tears, willing this to not be a dream. ”T?”