A very long weekend in December.

It’s a Thursday night in December, I’m 18.

Straight hair? Check.

Heavy eye makeup? Check.

Black outfit, silver tights, silver boots? Check, check, and check.

Time to hit the alternative bar.

 

The phone rings as I’m in front of the mirror, touching up my lipstick. It’s my dad’s girlfriend.

“Are you going to the hospital?”

“No, why?”

“Oh.” Pregnant pause. “He didn’t call you?”

“Nope.”

“Your aunt’s in the hospital, she had a brain aneurysm this afternoon. She’s at the UofA hospital, ICU. I just thought you should know.”

“Um, thanks.”

 

The bus that goes to the bar passes the hospital, and the stares I get walking through the ER are a little amused, a little shocked. The elevator ride to the ICU is silent. And the ward is hushed, the soft, swift steps of nurses sometimes squeaking on the shiny floor, the symphony of beeps and whispers of machines making medical background music. The lights are dim, a twilight tone to aid the artificial sleep of the unconscious. I’m just thankful that I attract less attention here, in the low light, where everyone is busy. It’s easy to find her room, the circular layout of the ward lets me stand in the centre and just turn around to read name tags.

 

It’s dark in her room, it takes my eyes a moment to adjust. The machines are almost soothing, though I know enough about them to be worried that there are so many of them. And she looks peaceful, if it were not for the bandage obscuring her forehead, there would be no sign of anything wrong. Except that my father is here. Strange. My intention in coming was to stay, I haven’t really thought it through, but it seemed like the right thing to do. But he looks at me, and tells me that there’s nothing for me to do there, and offers to drop me off where I was heading. So I take him up on the offer.

 

The bar is a decent distraction. I can always count on the same people, the same music, the same bartenders who know my drinks. And the hotel restaurant across the street is open 24 hours, I meet my best friend there for coffee so I can sober up. She drops me off at the hospital on her way home, and there are a lot fewer people to stare as I walk through the ER. The only person in my Aunt’s room is her stepfather, and he looks like he could use a break. I’ve never met him before, but I can tell he’s good people, just because he’s there, and he gives me a look of gratitude when I tell him that I’ll stay the night. So we’re alone. My uncle’s wife, thirty-two years old, with four children who witnessed her collapse that afternoon. We’ve never been close. Truth be told, we’re practically strangers. But there’s some history, and she’s family, and she is the love of my Uncle’s life. And I can’t leave her alone.

 

So I pull up a chair, sit next to her, and take her hand. And I talk. We both didn’t fit in with the family, so there’s common ground there. I apologize for not standing up for her when she needed defending, for not sympathizing with her when she suffered. What else can I do? I tell her a lot of things, trying to be positive, but really just saying anything. And the two songs I used to sing as a child in my bed surface in my mind, and I sing to her. Comfort songs from the days of Sunday school and a faith I had since abandoned, and Amazing Grace. It’s a long night.

 

Friday at school is… interesting. I’m on autopilot, barely functioning, and wearing bar clothes. Not a pretty picture. And my mind is completely consumed by the previous night and the one to come. After class, more coffee, and I eventually wind up at the bar again, then at a friend’s house where I catch a little sleep. One o’clock, though, I get a ride back to the hospital. There’s no change, her mother and stepfather are relieved to be able to go get some sleep. I stage an almost exact repeat of the previous night’s performance. No nurses or doctors interrupt, the hush that hovers over the ward is calming, and I know I look terrible, and that I’m not really useful, but that if I leave, I will feel wretched, and she will be alone.

 

Saturday is a blur. It ends at the bar, of course, then back at the hospital. I talk, sing, fill the silence with whatever comes to my sleep-deprived mind. In the middle of the night, it occurs to me to sneak up to the chapel and get a copy of the 23rd Psalm. I write it out on a napkin. My writing is messy, the napkin tears and crumples, and it strikes me as odd that a scrap of the faith I no longer hold should be the gift I want to give her. It’s another long night. but at about six, after I’ve been nearly hypnotized by the beeping and flashing of the various machines, I notice the numbers on her blood pressure monitor dropping. An alarm sounds. The crash team rushes in. This is the moment I came for. I have known all along that she was not going to leave this room, that my purpose was to be there when she left her body. And they send me out! I know that they have to, that there are things I’m not supposed to see, that I’d be in the way, but this is the moment! She shouldn’t be in the hands of strangers. And I’m out of tears of mourning, but tears of anger and frustration are in no short supply.

 

It isn’t long before all is quiet again. They let me back into her room, and she looks calm and peaceful. She’s not there, though. I’m alone in the room, I can feel it. But on the off chance that she’s close enough to hear me, I tell her I’m sorry. That I let her down. And I’m done. The nurses have called my uncle, and he and my grandfather are on their way. So I call my father. 6:30 on a Sunday morning is early, and the phone rings for a long time. But he answers. And I tell him that his baby brother’s wife has died, that he’s on his way to the hospital.

 

“I guess there’s not a lot I can do there, then, is there?” Click.

 

The phone nearly falls from my hand, my jaw drops, and my heart breaks. I manage to call in to work and tell them I wouldn’t be there at eight to open the store, and I head back to the ICU. My Uncle, the one who spoiled me as a little girl, who smiles with his eyes, who I know has loved me, is bleary-eyed and red-faced. I have no words, and I know he doesn’t really see me, but I hug him, clinging to him for a long moment, trying to make the embrace as articulate as I can. Grandpa is there, and I’m relieved, his presence is soothing, and I know he loves me. His eyes are moist.

“Who told you to come?”

“No one,” I shrug.

“Good girl,” he says softly. And I’m in his arms, all cried out, and finally able to take some comfort instead of trying to give it.

 

Of all the weekends of my adolescence, there are hundreds I’ve forgotten. I will never forget that one. It hurt so much, and was exhausting, and it took years for me to be able to hear my childhood comfort songs or Amazing Grace without crying. I have a scar on my heart in the shape of that weekend. But when I look at it, or something happens that stretches it tight, I’m a little sad, and a little proud. I have a lot of regrets from that time of my life. But I did something brave, something worthwhile, something nobody told me to do. I was a good girl.

 

 

 

 

 

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~ by Trillian on 11/08/2010.

3 Responses to “A very long weekend in December.”

  1. You ARE a good girl, a very good person. And thank you for sharing with us.

  2. You did everything you could, without being asked to do it. That says a lot about you.

    Jim

  3. Trillian, that was very touching. Thank you for sharing such a close, personal memory.

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