This is chapter twelve (allegedly) of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
I was awake and ready to face the day at a respectable hour, but less out of choice and more out of solidarity. The entire family was at the hospital early, supporting Alex and Rachel as Bryce went into surgery. Something wasn’t working correctly in his tiny heart, and if it wasn’t fixed immediately, there was a slim chance he would survive to see his first birthday.
The atmosphere sat heavily in the waiting room, which was surely living up to its name today. About a half hour after surgery started, I was sent on an all important quest for doughnuts for the family. We all hoped that something along those lines would be a bit of a pick-me-up, and the sugar rush would also help our energy level. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, or maybe it was just stupid, but at this point, probably anything at all would ease the tension.
I drove in silence. It wasn’t that I wanted to do so, really. Just that I couldn’t think of any music I would want to listen to in a situation such as this. Nothing seemed to fit the overall mood, and since the drive to the doughnut shop wasn’t long, I certainly wasn’t in the mood to search for the right soundtrack.
The place was surprisingly empty for being 7:30 in the morning. I suppose either business was bad or the regular doughnut crowd just operated on a different schedule than I was right now. The small line gave me enough time, however, to notice and respond to a message from Jenn, checking up on how things were going. She was certainly remarkable. Just about a week ago, she didn’t know a thing about me other than the fact I was once in high school. Now, she’s taking the time to ask about my family. To care about these people she hadn’t met. Maybe she should, so they can know there were people outside of the Palmer family who took notice of our struggles.
I couldn’t figure her out at all. Who does these things? Who makes that sort of effort to invite distant acquaintances to hang out? Who exerts enough energy to invite that person into their mind and share the things that are important to them? And who lets them into their apartment and listens to them pour their worried soul out, all the while patiently giving advice?
Who cares like that? She confused me, but I knew one thing for sure: if given the opportunity, I would take the time to be around her and try to figure her out. At the very least, I felt sure that’s what she wanted me to do.
The waiting room hadn’t changed at all since I left. Everyone was still in the same seats, in almost the same postures. However, you could see that their faces were different, which showed that while I was gone, a few jokes had been cracked and the mood had been lightened some. Therefore, the doughnuts saw a very welcome reception, and their consumption was quick and painless.
For the next several minutes, as we munched on the sugary delight I had delivered, it was as if we all came to the same realization. It was as if we collectively understood that things would be okay, no matter the outcome of this surgery. Would things be terrible? Absolutely. For a time, and maybe even lingering for the rest of our lives, but it wouldn’t always be as bad as it has been the past few days. Regardless of what happened to Bryce, and regardless of what would happen to any of us over the years, we would always be alright.
We would all have each other. No matter the situation, that would never change.
After some time, as fatigue started to hit and we rested our eyes, a doctor walked into the room and asked for Alex and Rachel. We couldn’t hear what they were told, or maybe we could and we all blocked it out regardless. There was no sound in the room at all. Not a single phone ringing, not a television blasting whatever morning talk show the hospital like. Nothing was heard. Our gaze rested solely on my brother, his wife, and this doctor who held such importance in his words.
Alex put his arm around Rachel. They turned to us, and we could see smiles start to creep upon their faces. Alex was the first to address the crowd.
“The surgery went very well. Very, very smoothly. Bryce is now recovering, but it will still take some time for them to determine whether it would work long-term.”
We sighed and moved together for hugs all in one motion. I feel like in a slightly different environment, we would have cheered and danced for joy. Sure, nothing was totally complete, but it was a major step forward. At this point, that felt like the greatest victory in the world.
As Alex moved through the receiving line, he got to me, pulled me in close, and hugged me for a while longer than I ever expected from him. He pulled back, but before letting go, looked me squarely in the eye. “Aaron,” he said, “thank you. I would never have made it through this without you.”
“Yeah, absolutely, man.”
“No, Aaron. Listen to me. I could not have done this if you were not here right now. And I mean that.”
A lump sat heavily in my throat. “I….you’re welcome, man. You’re welcome.”
He smiled and released me from his grasp. I turned away so as to hide my watering eyes. The family had formed a lose circle around the relieved parents, and after a moment of silence, Ashley spoke up.
“So, what happens next, guys?”
Alex looked at Rachel, looked at the rest of us, and spoke with all of the confidence that had been absent until now.
“We pray,” he said. “We hope, we pray, and we finally, finally exhale.”
It had actually started to feel somewhat like December outside, which prevented me and Jenn from sitting on the porch of the coffee shop when I asked her to meet me there. After a day like this one, I figured either the caffeine or her presence would calm the nerves.
There was certainly something about it that worked, though. We were able to relax and laugh, which was perfect for this point in my visit. It was odd to think about the fact that in just a few days I would be flying out. In fact, I hadn’t actually thought about that fact much at all.
Jenn apparently had, though.
“So, you ready to fly back home?”
That honestly felt weird to hear. I would be returning home. To New York. Far away from Manchester. Back to where I live.
Why did that feel so strange? To hear New York referred to as my home?
“I don’t know. I guess I’m ready. I have to make sure I’m there to watch the ball drop. Been a tradition since I moved up there. But it hasn’t exactly felt like Christmas happened, and since that was the point of my visit, it feels weird to be leaving.”
“That was the point of your visit? Just Christmas?”
“Well yeah, I came to see my family for the holidays. And I’ve seen them, sure, but….” I had to pause because I wasn’t quite sure what words were supposed to follow.
“But you’ll miss them.” Jenn finished the sentence for me.
That wasn’t what I was going to say. At least I was pretty sure that wasn’t it. Yet somehow, she was right. At some point, I suppose I would get used to that.
“I’ve lived up there for seven years, Jenn. Why would I just start missing them now?”
“Because you haven’t been around them during these types of situations. Your mom’s cancer coming back, your nephew being sick. Look, what have all of their visits to you been all about before this year?”
“Christmas. Birthdays. That sort of thing, I guess. Why?”
She leaned forward, so I knew whatever was about to come out of her mouth would be the truth and I should take notes. “Those have always been good situations. Not tough things at all. And Christmas and birthdays are nice and wonderful, but there’s something missing when you don’t really live all areas of life with them, you know?”
“Missing, huh? What is missing?”
“A bond, I guess. Point is, while Christmas and birthdays are nice and all, they are simple things to go through with other people. When you go through the harder stuff? You realize more about your bonds with the others involved.”
“What exactly am I supposed to realize about my family, then? Since you claim there’s a grand lesson to learn.”
“Simple. You’re needed by them.”
Although I felt at first that Jenn was treating my life like an after school special, I suddenly had nothing else to say to her. Needed? Was that the truth?
Jenn broke the silence for me.
“That’s it, Aaron. You’ve realized that your family needed you this week, and now you’re reluctant to leave. And you know what? I’m willing to bet you might still be needed around here.”