For the First Time, Alone
The phone rings and rings and rings in the middle of the night. It keeps ringing after the machine picks up. Finally you answer it—groggy, irritated, and befuddled. It’s the call we all dread and yet know will come more than once in our lives …
The narrator’s (closest friend, lover, parent, brother, sister, you decide who to kill…) was in an accident, is at the hospital, and will not last until morning. He or she dresses furiously, jumps in his or her car, get to the hospital, cursing at the slowness of traffic, and the stupidity of parking attendants, and arrives at the person’s bedside. What happens next? Describe the scene, be detailed.
I set the phone down, slowly, not really understanding the need to hurry. In my bedroom I grabbed my phone and stuck it in my pocket only to realize my pajama shorts didn’t have pockets. The jeans on the floor were dirty, but they would do, so I pulled them on and shoved the phone into the back. A sweatshirt from the closet shelf and my wallet and keys and I was out the door and halfway down the stairs before I realized I was barefoot. Whatever, I kept a pair of emergency flipflops in the car, and if this wasn’t an emergency, I didn’t know what was.
I drove as fast as I could but with a strange hyper-caution sprung from his accident. At the emergency room I parked in the first spot I saw, dug in the back seat for the flipflops and ran into the hospital.
“I’m looking for Erik. Erik, um, Battleson.” I realized I was waving the flipflops, while my feet were still bare. I bent over and shoved the shoes on while a nurse gave me a room number and a look that mixed pity and callousness.
Jogging down the hall I found the room and stopped outside the door. In, out, in, out, I made myself breathe rhythmically. They said he wouldn’t make it till morning. The SUV had ploughed right into his side of the car, mercifully sparing the baby in the back seat and Camille on the passenger side, but were they worth his life?
The rest of the family hadn’t gotten there yet, and I sat slowly beside his bed. His right leg was twisted into an unnatural shape, which they hadn’t bothered to fix beyond a half-hearted attempt to straighten it. Why would they, when it wouldn’t help anyway? His face was bruised, bloody, puffy, an impressionist portrait in reds and purples. I didn’t try to wipe my eyes. I knew one I started crying I would need to have it all out.
My hand snaked forward and found his on top of the blanket. At first I was gentle, like holding a baby, but then I thought that maybe he would know it was me, and this would be the last time that I could reach him, so I squeezed, hard. And with every drop of supposed twin telepathy that I possessed, I willed him to know that I was there. I thought about all the times I had held that hand, struggling up snowy hills and dragging heavy sleds behind us, watching horror movies in high-school, during the blessing at his rehearsal dinner.
He didn’t respond, with all my squeezing and willing and prayers. He laid on the hospital bed, broken and unmoved. An hour ago he had been so easily moved by tons of unfeeling steel, and now, in my pleading hands, nothing.
And then even less. The machine closest to me let out the wail that I couldn’t muster as I bent against the bed. And I opened my mouth but still, silence. There was no chance of his feeling me, as I continued to kneed his hand, but I couldn’t stop, desperately needing to be connected to him. Nurses came in around me, trying to get readings and eventually one loosened my grip and walked me to another room. I guess I walked anyway. And I sat, curled up as small as I could make myself, until my dad arrived, and silently sat beside me, no words able to express what his shaking arms could.