This is chapter nine of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here. Merry Christmas!
If you had told me I would be spending another Christmas in a hospital, I wouldn’t have believed you.
My entire family found ourselves here on this morning, though, sitting around in a numbness, waiting for any news of what was going on with my nephew Bryce. At some point during the night, the doctors had been able to bring his breathing back, but nothing was stable as of yet. They said they had things under control, but not even Alex or Rachel were allowed out of the waiting room to see him. They said they had things under control, but still had no answers for us.
“Control” was a term we didn’t understand on this particular day.
There wasn’t anything to say to each other in that room. We were spread out in our seats, with my father sitting down the row from Rachel, who was being comforted by my mother and Ashley. Alex faced them, a couple of seats away from me, and stared at nothing in particular. You couldn’t see any expression on his face. There was only existence, which I guess is all any of us had at that point.
I’m not sure which was worse: the silence or knowing that it would eventually break. There was a little bit of peace in the current moment; the not knowing. As for now, there was something wrong, but it wasn’t totally real to us. There was something potentially really serious, but we had no way of being sure yet. So we couldn’t jump to conclusions; we couldn’t distress over what might be going wrong. We could only rest in this inbetween moment, before the transition to how our lives would soon look.
Something about tragedy that people don’t often mention is the change that happens. People know that tragedy is a terrible thing, and that in the moment it hurts. People often forget that every aspect of your life is different after a tragedy, if they’re not living through it themselves. Even when the roughest of the hurt passes, there are lingering effects.
Life isn’t the same, even after recovery. I knew that very well.
The last time I found myself in this room, I wasn’t looking down the road. I wasn’t looking at what might be different after I left. I wasn’t thinking about how much the outcome would determine the years that followed. And because of that, I wasn’t prepared for what was ahead for me.
I tried not to think about that day very much, but today it seemed natural to do so. I vividly recalled the heaviness that sat on my heart the entire time I was there. I don’t think I could afford to look ahead, as what was happening right in front of me blindsided me so. No amount of preparation, no matter how severe a disease is, prepares you for when it actually hits.
But that’s the thing: I couldn’t prepare, but I could reflect. My experience with this heavy room allowed me to look back, when I couldn’t look ahead, and this was huge. At this very moment, when the only place I could look was backwards, my brother had nowhere to look at all.
Things were difficult, but I knew what I had to offer. I knew how I could help.
Waiting rooms are awful places. There is a smell to them, some sort of stale odor, that reminds you of desperation. They make you realize your own weakness and fragility, as the coldness of the walls and stiffness of the chairs remind you how uncomfortable and alone you are.
But at the same time, you aren’t alone. Every person in that room is suffering in some sort of way, and there is an instant, unspoken connection. Nothing needs to be said. Nobody needs to hug strangers and let them know they’re in the same boat. It’s understood. And when you’re surrounded by family, that unspoken bond is even stronger, and infinitely more necessary.
A small tree sat, lit up, in the corner. It served as the only reminded to us that this day was supposed to be one of joy. There were no pleasantly wrapped boxes underneath it to warm our hearts with thoughts of gifts and laughter. But it still brought hope to us. It reminded us why we were all there, instead of being scattered all across the country.
The room was desperate and lonely, but it was not bleak. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, that tiny glimmer of hope that we all felt from the tiny plastic tree brought a strange warmth to us in our moment of greatest need. Even as my brother and his wife were called over to talk to the doctor about what was wrong, we all felt strong. We felt united.
I don’t know what it was, really. I don’t know if it was just the unexpected hope that comes from this time of year. I don’t know if it was a faith we had in something bigger than ourselves. I don’t know if that faith had been rekindled in me. But I knew one thing, and it was never any clearer to me than it was now.
Even now, as my brother held his weeping wife. As they received news that wasn’t hopeless, but was still slim. As we knew this battle would be a long and hard one, not one that would be solved quickly.
Even with all of that, we knew we all had each others backs. We were there. We were together, as a family. We had weathered storms before, and this time around, if we all stuck through it together, we knew we would weather this one as well.
We would make it. And somehow, we would make Christmas merry for each of us once again. We would. We had to. We had no choice.
We were family, after all.
This is chapter eight of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
“Well if Christmas Eve gets boring, let me know! I’m sure I can help ”
I never got around to responding to that message. I mean, even a “Sure will!” would have been a enough of a response, but for whatever reason, I stayed silent. Oh well, I’m sure at some point, I would think of a way to move past the stalemate I got myself into.
Truth be told, Christmas Eve was boring. It was one of those days where the thrill of seeing everyone again had almost worn off, but the excitement of Christmas wasn’t quite here yet.
So I found myself on the couch, watching whatever animated special had come on at whatever random time of the day, all the while staring at that one text message. I guess I hoped at some point I would just have no other choice but to respond and see what happens, but until then, it looked like another airing of A Christmas Story lied ahead for me.
My phone buzzed. Strange, considering the rest of the family was here at the house and Alex wasn’t supposed to stop by until dinner. Maybe it was somebody back in New York? I hadn’t actually spoken to anyone up there in a few days. Either way, I was confused to say the least.
“Great! Why don’t you meet me downtown for coffee? :)”
Oh no. My fingers had betrayed me. I had already replied and didn’t even realize it. And I guess I’m going downtown now.
And why does she insist on including smiley faces? Read More…
This is chapter seven of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
Sleeping til the afternoon wasn’t supposed to be a habit during this visit, but I apparently wasn’t trying to fight it. Of course, you don’t really have much of a choice when the night before involves concerts going late into the night and visits to Waffle House that last hours longer than you planned. And as my eyes started to slowly creep open and I thought back on the entire evening, there wasn’t a single exhausting moment I honestly regretted.
The walk down the stairs was much more difficult than I expected, though, particularly when there was little sleep and great need of caffeine. The world I discovered at the bottom of those steps greatly rivaled the sleepy world up above, and the only thing I wanted out of my day was an opportunity to relax and recover. The final step was filled with an overwhelming feeling that I should have stayed in bed.
“Well THERE you are!” Ashley would have been this excited at five in the morning. “You’re already late. Come on, hurry up and get ready.”
“Yeah, good to see you too. Late for what?”
“Christmas shopping! Come on, I need to pick up a few gifts and you are helping me.”
I paused for a moment. I know I hadn’t been good at time management the past few days, but surely my sister didn’t just say we were going Christmas shopping.
“Ash, uh….shopping? It’s already Christmas Eve’s Eve. Aren’t you running a little behind?”
“Why do you think I’ve got helping with me, silly?” Ashley was somehow making me feel like the idiot in this situation. “I only need to grab some stuff for the other men in the family. You’re easy to take care of.”
“Cool.” It was good to be so well understood. Read More…
This is chapter six of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
It was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like I spent two hours staring at my suitcase, trying to remember what was appropriate to wear to a concert in a bar. Or maybe I was figuring out what was appropriate to wear when invited to a concert in a bar by an attractive female whose motives for inviting me I didn’t understand.
Either way, I was partly terrified of going out with a group of people I didn’t know, but none of my begging had convinced Ashley to drop her plans and tag along. I was flying blind, dressing slightly nicer than normal and just hoping I wouldn’t do something dumb enough to require leaving early.
The show was some twenty minutes away in Jackson, the capital of the state. Growing up, there were always places in Jackson we went and places we didn’t. Our little suburb had what we needed, and the things we didn’t were safely in particular areas of Jackson. It wasn’t so much that my parents were afraid of the city, but when you have children, I think you just start to get a bit more paranoid than you were before.
There was something about the city, though, that had definitely changed over the years in the name of Progress. There was the old mall that we used to shop at because it was closer. Then, it became a place you only went to if you were interested in being stabbed, and we had to drive slightly farther to the “new” mall. However, this “new” mall has since been replaced by bigger and flashier malls farther outside the city, making it a place people didn’t care to enter.
Progress kept pushing things farther and farther out of the city, and people on the outside started to get more and more afraid of the places they had abandoned. The reason for their fear never seemed to cross their mind. Read More…
This is chapter five of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.
I’ve likely only had a handful of days that felt longer than this one. The combination of anger and empathy is a strange on to say the least. Being upset that information was held from me, yet at the same time knowing that the information is bad news for the person who is holding it. I wanted to hug my mother at the same time that I wanted to shun her.
Manchester suddenly felt so uncomfortable. What had been so welcoming just a few days ago, so familiar after all the years that I it honestly felt somewhat normal, was suddenly hostile. All the things that I hated about the place stood out, as if there was some sort of injury I had reaggrevated just by coming back. It took seven years to come back, and that now felt like too short a time, like my return was the reason my mother was sick.
My mind was flooded with thoughts of the last days I spent here. How the entire summer after graduation and into the Christmas holidays felt like hell. How I had to watch my closest friend grow weaker and weaker until he finally couldn’t keep going. How I felt entirely powerless to do anything or help the situation in any way. Manchester didn’t feel the same after all of that, and with the passing of a few years, I hoped things would be different.
That faded quickly. Read More…
This is chapter four of a story I’m working on called The Other One. For chapter one, click here.
Pots and pans clanging in the kitchen jarred me from my sleep upstairs. In the groggy moments where it took everything in me just to figure out what time it was and why I had slept so late, it dawned on me that no other day had started this way. Something was different, and why I realized what day it was, it hit me.
Ashley had finally made it home.
It took four days before I had a chance to actually see my sister, as she had left town for a few days before I arrived. She was fiercely loyal to her friends, having maintained the same core group since high school, and the main four of them stayed close even now in graduate school. Since they ended up in school in different areas, they would always celebrate seeing each other again with a small road trip at the end of each semester.
Where Alex had his charisma and his large networking circles, Ash had the ability to nurture, and she used that to keep strong ties with her best friends. Read More…