This story is by N.G. Sarrate and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I lie on the hospital bed, I can sense a faint cloud over my eyes. It’s probably the daylight peeking through a window. I wish I could feel the warm tickle of sunlight on my skin.
At first, what scared me most was the void. Not feeling my limbs, the loss of sight, and sense of surrounding. Just to ground my mind, I often try to picture the room – bland, oatmeal colored walls, matching the sterile floor and outdated furniture.
I am constantly disoriented and confused, but hearing my wife’s voice gives me a sense of relief; a combination of love and hope that I will recover. Mary is here now recounting her day as she does every day. I imagine her sitting by my side, holding my hand. Sporadically staring off into the room as she frequently does when reviewing in her mind the highlights of the day.
I just realized she’s usually wearing her blue floral dress in my thoughts; I love her in that dress. Being trapped in my head has made me recognize so many special details I’ve overlooked. How she giggles through all her jokes revealing the cute gap in her teeth she hates, and the intensity in her blue eyes when she’s excited. There is so much of Mary I took for granted; I only wish I could tell her now.
Every breath is heavy and forced. I never have the satisfaction of my lungs being filled with air, and there is a constant emptiness in the pit of my stomach that is always just shy of hunger. Still, these are the moments I cherish. I cannot feel her embrace, nor can I express my gratitude and love, but I can absorb the tenderness in her voice, and that comforts me.
“You know, I was speaking to Stephanie at work today about the apartment. She thinks we should sell. She feels it may be good for me to live with her, or maybe my mom, just until you get better. I think it may be a good idea. We can save some money while you’re recovering and then when you’re better we can buy a house. We talked about having kids soon anyways so that way we’ll be ready. It’s just an idea I’m….”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Walsh. How are you and Mr. Walsh today?”
“Oh, hi, Dr. Steiner. Everything seems good. Still no response, but I’m sure eventually he’ll get so annoyed with my constant chatter it will force him out of this coma!” Mary replies with a concealing chuckle.
“Mary, I appreciate your optimism. It’s important. I just don’t want you to lose sight of the other more probable reality. His condition is not improving, so we may need to discuss the best way to move forward if he continues to need life support.”
“Interesting that you bring that up because I have been looking into a few facilities that specialize in Noah’s condition. They are pricey, but I hope that our insurance will cover some costs. We may be looking to sell our apartment anyways.”
“Your diligence is admirable, though I’m just not sure if you understand the situation.”
“I understand, Dr. Steiner, and I appreciate your every effort to help Noah.” I could hear the stern determination in her voice.
“Yes, well, let’s see how Mr. Walsh looks today.” Dr. Steiner seemed to have sensed it as well.
Mary remains silent as Dr. Steiner goes about making general comments, “ok, stabilized… that looks good… hmmm, maybe we’ll try changing his dose here…. Well, overall everything looks pretty standard. I’ll be back tomorrow to see you both again.”
“Thank you, Dr. Steiner.”
Visitors often make me tired and, with my diminished sense of time, my sleeping schedule is irregular. It seems late, so Mary must have gone home for the night. Despite the consistent beeps and the grating sound of the ventilator, the room is still, and the darkness is greater. These are the times when I feel the full weight of what happened.
I vaguely remember the accident. I can see the car rushing towards me, but then the memory goes black. Although, I’ve heard Mary recount the story so many times I can visualize it all. I got out of the car to cross the street towards the supermarket when a tree branch fell onto the windshield of a passing car, causing it to swerve directly at me.
There is no one to blame, just the sadness of happenstance, but knowing that sometimes makes it worse. Occasionally I spiral into a fit of rage towards chance. Why did I have to park there? Why did the tree branch have to fall exactly then? Why? I hate thinking about that moment though it regularly replays in my mind. I’m afraid I’m losing my sanity.
“So good news, bad news,” the sound of Mary approaching as her heels hit the tile floor surprises me, “I found those delicious chocolates they sell at the convenience store downstairs, but they ran out of sandwiches, so I’m just going to have some Greek yogurt for dinner.” Mary seems to be repositioning the chair closer to me.
She takes a deep breath. The chair squeaks as she adjusts. “I’m so tired, Noe. It’s not like I’ve been busy today, but I’m drained. I’m probably just jittery with thoughts about selling the apartment. I think it’s a good idea, but maybe it’s not the best time. Right now, I just really want to focus on what we can do to get you better.” She takes a long pause.
“Anyways, Kristi, you know, the lady that works downstairs at the front, she’s moving! Her daughter is in her last trimester, so she wants to be closer to them to help with the baby.” She pauses again.
“It’s so sweet she’s willing to uproot her life to be there,” Mary’s voice cracks. I know the pain in her words. I slowly begin to hear light gasps, which quickly turns into tender sobbing.
I regularly crave physical pain. Just to feel something again, anything! Yet, the only agony I now experience is this sharp piercing assault in my chest that I pray would stop. I want Mary to be happy, more than anything in the world. I want her to live! As much as I love her company, I hold tremendous guilt for her commitment and hate myself for being an obligation.
“I’m so sorry, Noe. I don’t know if you can even hear me…. What am I even doing?! He can’t hear me!” Her sobbing turns into a muffled cry, which sounds just like when Mary would weep into her hands after her father passed.
Please, Mary, don’t cry. I can hear you! Please! I badly wish she could hear me.
She seems to gain her composure as she states with such dedication and clarity, “Okay, stop it, Mary. He CAN hear you. He WILL get better. We will do this together, okay, Noe? You always said we could do anything together.”
With those final words, I collapse. Since the accident, I’ve heard her breakdown countless times. Each time I suffered with her, and each time, my confidence would build as she worked past her fear and gained hope again. This time, I could not.
My grief suffocates me. The anxiety is overwhelming, and the longer I am deprived of the satisfaction of a deep, unyielding scream, the faster my heart flutters. I can no longer ignore what is happening. Mary will sell the apartment to afford any hope of helping me. I know what Dr. Steiner meant when he urged Mary to understand the reality of the situation. I must accept the truth that Mary cannot: this is my future and, so long as it is, Mary is trapped with me.
My heart continues to pace faster and faster; my breath seems scarce, but the lack of any other sensation enrages me, building a heat within me. My body has imprisoned my mind, and the only desire I have left is for it all to end. I am no longer suffering from the emptiness, I no longer feel lost; I know what must be done.
Though I lay motionless, I’m racing with emotions. I have feared death for so long I never imagined this moment, when it would be preferred. Yet, here I am unable to control my fate, paralyzed in all ways except in thought. The frustration burrows into me, the heat turning into a burning sensation coursing throughout my body. Maybe now I can stop this painful breath, but still, it persists.
Every inhalation reinforces defeat, increasing my wrath towards life. So I force all the mental capacity I can invoke now feeling as if fire is surging through me. I continue to push it past the point of my control and for a brief second, I hear a solid, uninterrupted beep. Then, I welcome the darkness.