I read the sentence three times. Again. Again. Again.
The words echoed in my head. I desperately sought to form them into something tangible. Something real. But right now they were just words on a paper. What did they mean? How much of life is altered?
I sat the papers down and adjusted my glasses. Comforting was never the right word to describe a hospital waiting room. Stiff purple and black chairs with a grey carpet spotted with small yellow flowers. Sunflowers maybe? The walls were painted a dull white, littered with posters about heart disease and the latest wonder medications. And then one lonely window at the end. The shimmer of leaves moving just at it’s edge.
The soft clicking and murmurs from the nurses station caught my attention. I glance over and notice the surgeon bent over the desk, diligently directing a young woman about something. Every so often the woman quickly looks back at me as he talks. Her eyes feel like two black darts. I move in my seat, feeling the anxiety build once more.
The surgeon had been speaking to me a few minutes before. None of his speech had yet to register as he handed me the papers. My mind kept getting stuck on this morning. When we had both been at home, enjoying breakfast on the deck. The sun glinted on her hair and she was laughing.
What bothered me was I couldn’t remember why she was laughing. Was is something I said? Or her? She was so beautiful when she smiled.
But that moment rolled away as she left to run an errand.
Just going to the store, she said. She was going to plant some peonies today. They were just what they needed to finish the garden we had built up in the past year.
I have yet to see the car. Either of them. I now only what the sheriff told me. Head-on. Her car took the brunt of it. Ambulance to St. Josephs on 12th. They suspect alcohol was involved. The other driver had two priors.
I was screaming when I got to the hospital, at no one in particular. I just wanted to find her. Just the thought of her on a lying on a steel table, under the lights, her body relenting to the damage – it tore at me until my insides were on fire.
They have to let me see her.
I can’t wait.
She needs me.
I pleaded. I yelled. I cried.
I was wrenched with agony. They had seen it all before, I knew, but when you are the one breaking down, it’s hard to control any of it.
She has sustained life-altering injuries.
I shook my head, holding back the pain that once again welled in my chest. More of the surgeons words were coming through. The paper was beginning to make sense.
I held onto that one. Because the sum of this day felt wholly shattered. In seconds, my life was exchanged for another. And my wive’s stolen.
I winced and bent over, gasping for air as I began loudly sobbing once more. A flicker of movement on the edge, as the nursed dashed out to me. Gently, she moved her hand in a circle on my back.
“It’s going to be alright. She’s recovering now. Won’t be more than an hour before you can go back to her. I swear it,” she said.
I turned my head up, my eyes swollen and face aching from the tension. “She just wanted to plant some flowers. And now…n–n–now…n-n…” I stuttered and then stopped, unable to finish.
“It’s alright,” she repeated, “get it all out.”
I took a deep breath, feeling an emptiness rise within me. “And now she’ll never see them. Any of them.”