Another Endless Day

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared at her hands on top of her hospital blanket and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared at a magazine and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

 

What do Buy when you don’t know What to Say?

People come and go from her room. First her parents, then a myriad of friends. They all bring things, flowers and balloons and stuffed animals, material things that are supposed to relate some sort of thought, but only further accentuate that no one really knows what to say.

What do you Think about When you Don’t Want to Think?

Lydia woke with a start and had a moment of confusion, disillusion, realizing she was not under the fluffy, eyelet comforter at home. And for a split second, just the most minutest of moments, she thought she was back at her friend’s shore house on Jamaica Beach. A wave of gratitude, the understanding and inkling of waking up from a nightmare began to wash over her. As the smile was just beginning to travel from her mouth to her eyes, an unfamiliar sound, the sound of whirling and a beep, followed by additional beeps caught her short. Half propped out of bed, Lydia remained motionless. To move, to turn her head, to acknowledge the machinery behind her would only confirm what Lydia could not bring herself to confirm. As long as she didn’t know, didn’t really know, maybe it didn’t happen. So she sat there, in the dark room, unable to move or to turn her head. Alone and wishing and listening.

Ricochet

Tuck pulled the black BMW out of Jamaica Beach and on to the two-lane road leading back towards Galveston. Lydia rolled down the window. She wanted to feel the warm salt air tousle her hair and kiss her face. She leaned back in the leather seat and stared through margarita eyes at the canopy of stars above. The entirety of the moment washed over her. The love of a true friend, George Strait’s soft croon of Amarillo, the smooth rhythm of the wheels on the pavement. The day of sun and the night of tequila felt like a warm blanket tucking her in. Lydia looked one last time at the stars above as she gave her body permission to drift off to sleep.

Out of tranquility, the world erupted with the pained screeching of metal against metal. Lydia was thrown forward. She slammed against the dashboard as her head careened into the windshield. Her vision exploded with fireworks. Lydia tried to raise her arms to cover her head. Pain screamed through her body. The world spun for a few more seconds then came to an abrupt and disquieting stop. Lydia took a breath and then another one. She raised her head to look around. She could taste blood in her mouth and feel glass in her hair.

Slowly, she attempted to crawl off the floorboard of the passenger side and pull herself onto the seat. Her right shoulder roared in pain. She let out a scream.

Lydia looked over at Tuck. He sat erect in his seat, his eyes partially closed. “Help me, Tuck,” Lydia whispered. Tuck’s head barely shifted as he tried to look at her.

From the glow of a nearby streetlight, Lydia could see tears running down his cheeks, “I can’t.” Lydia looked closer. In the blackness of the shadows, she could see dark liquid oozing out from Tuck head.

Forgetting her own pain, Lydia launched herself forward. She yanked her t-shirt over her head. Her shoulder made an unnatural crunch as agony careened through her body. Lydia placed her shirt against Tuck’s head. “Tuck! Oh, Tuck… Oh God… please… please… Don’t, don’t leave me.”

Her shirt slowly filled and blood began dripping down Lydia’s arm. Tuck closed his eyes. Lydia lowered her forehead against his, her tears mixing with Tuck’s blood. She could feel the heat from her words, willing him to not give up, to keep trying. A few seconds later, sirens filled the air as red and blue lights ricocheted off the interior of the car. Lydia sat there hugging Tuck. They would come for her soon enough. She just needed a few more seconds with her best friend.

Dark Waves Crash and Retreat

Lydia walked along the quiet sands of Jamaica Beach. There was a lingering stillness in the air that attracted the feeling, not of nostalgia, but that this was a moment from which nostalgia is made. From trillions of miles away, the light from the stars was just reaching earth. Dark waves crashed and retreated on the beach. Abandoned white foam yearned to be reunited with the ocean.

There is a certain sadness, Lydia thought, to perfection. People strive so laboriously to find just a single moment of peace, that when it finally comes, they are so terrified of losing it, they cannot enjoy it. Peace is the most elusive of emotions, always within sight and yet just beyond one’s fingertips. Lydia sat down on the sand and pulled her legs up close to her body. She rested her head on her kneecaps and watched as sand sifted through her long fingers. She wanted to remember this moment, remember the smallest of details, so when she would retell it in later years, she could do so with enough exactitude as to elicit winsome approval of innocence and burgeoning adulthood from her audience.

From behind her, Lydia could hear the sound of the party. It sounded far away. Not uproarious, there was no music blaring nor people screaming. Just the tinkling sound of distant conversation dispersed with mild laughter. The girls had driven out from Houston earlier in the day. They had spent most of the afternoon sunbathing and playing in the cool gulf waters. The boys arrived later in the evening and with them, a trunk load of alcohol. At first, the girls played demur, denying drinks, as the rules of the game required, but the boys were persistent and the girls eventually relented.

Lydia turned around and looked back up at the house. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves, enjoying the last hurrah before they each left for their respective colleges and universities. Lydia smiled. In the moment, they all looked so promising, so vital, so handsome.

It stuck her as odd that she would ever be considered a part of this accomplished group. She was, of course, a part of it. It was her station in life. Her friends were the children of her parent’s friends. They had been raised together, went to the same schools, joined the same gymnastics and swim teams and respective scout troops. It would be unthinkable for Lydia to not be a part of this group. And yet, she didn’t feel a part of them. To Lydia, they were all sure of themselves, secure in their place. She was just there. Never quite invited or uninvited. But it all rang untrue. All of it. As if life were somehow this massive fictitious illusion where everyone puts up with everyone else because they don’t know what else to do.

Except, somehow, for Tuck.

Lydia met Tucker the first day of kindergarten. Her father had explained to her the day before that when one meets new people, the thing to do was to stick out one’s hand and proclaim in a loud, clear voice, “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

Then the other person would say, “My name is yadda yadda. How do you do?” Several times, Lydia and her father practiced the routine. “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

So, when Lydia entered the classroom she went directly up to the teacher, stuck out her hand and proclaimed, with an air of certitude, “My name is Lydia Wilder.” To which the teacher replied, “My name is Mrs. Leigh. How do you do?”

Confident, now in her approach, Lydia looked for another person to introduce herself to. Off to the side sat a fat cheeked boy in a striped shirt and Oshkosh jeans. Lydia walked over, “My name is Lydia Wilder.”

The boy looked up at Lydia, and then shifted to look around her. “Your shoe is untied.”

Lydia continued looking down at the boy, waiting for him to introduce himself, while he continued leaning off to the side to look at the rest of the class. “Umm, Lydia? Can you sit down please?”

Lydia turned around to see if she could see what the boy was seeing. Students were filing in. Moms were crying. Kids were crying. Some were wearing Sunday’s best. Other looked like they had dressed themselves. Slowly, Lydia backed up and without taking her eyes off the show, sat down on the floor next to the unnamed boy. Lydia took her hand in his, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. He looked at her and nodded, and then both of them turned their attention back to the room in rapt concentration.

For the next twelve years, never would one see Tuck without seeing Lydia in close proximity.

 

“Hey, Lydia. Where did you go?”

“I just needed fresh air. Tuck, you ever get the feeling that this is the best it’s ever gonna get?”

Tuck sat down next to Lydia, put his arm around her shoulder, and drew her closer to him. “No, Lydia. This is not the best it gets. This is just the beginning.” They sat there, as they were want to do, comfortable with each other’s silence. “You wanna get out of here? Go for a drive?”

Lydia nodded her head, and together they walked off towards the car.

 

 

Sitting on the Edge of the Bed

Henry looked around his office. Little had changed over the years. The hospital had offered him a newer, more spacious office suite up on one of the higher floors, but Henry had politely turned them down. Despite being from Texas, bigger and better was not ingrained in his personality. What the administration couldn’t understand was that Henry’s office was the place of dreams realized. Henry could look around and see Lydia’s young, beautiful face beaming with pride as it had been the first time she saw his office. The chair Henry was sitting in now was the same chair he was sitting in the night he got the phone call that Lydia was in labor. He could remember the night he sat bolt upright from a dream with the answer to the question that had plagued his research team for months and that subsequently got him the cover of Texas Monthly.

Henry rubbed the corner of the desk as he always did when he was in deep thought. Once sharp, the edges had become smooth and glossy over time. He knew Lydia’s drinking had increased over the years. Increased, yes, but when, he wondered, did it get this bad? Henry thought back to all the nights he stayed at the hospital. Now with the kids gone… how long had it been? Had she been drinking like this for the last eight years? No, Henry shook his head. It was impossible. Or was it? The woman he saw last night…

“Excuse me, Doctor.” Henry looked up and into the fretful countenance of one of his research assistants.

“Not right now, Sarah.”

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Dr. Harrison sighed. “Yes, please.” Hospitals are notorious when it comes to gossip. Dr. Harrison had long supposed it is the death that lingers in the hallways that causes people to pass time with the frivolities of life. Handsome and successful, Henry had long ago stopped worrying about being the subject of such intrigues and suppositions. But from the worried look on Sarah’s face, Henry knew he was once again in the spotlight.

 

Henry knocked on the Girl at the End of the Hall’s door. It was late, but from his usual sojourns around the hospital, the doctor suspected Lydia would still be awake. “Excuse me. I’m Dr. Harrison.” Lydia looked up at the earnest face. “Umm… How are you feeling tonight?” Dr. Harrison walked over to the end of the bed and mildly perused Lydia’s chart. Truth is, Henry had long read the chart when first he became intrigued with The Girl at the End of the Hall, but at that moment, he felt at a loss for how to start the conversation. Fidgeting seemed the natural response.

The Girl sidestepped his question and instead replied curtly, “You are not one of my doctors.”

Doctor Harrison looked up, startled at the forthrightness of Lydia’s tone. “No, no I’m not,” He said. “I umm…” in that moment, Henry realized the truth was his best option. “I heard you reading aloud to yourself one night. I was wondering what you were reading.”

Lydia stared at the young doctor with his sincere face and bright eyes. After a few moments, she softened. “Robinson Crusoe.”

And that’s how it began. From that evening on, Henry’s routine changed. Every night, after wandering the halls for a few minutes, Henry would stop by Lydia’s room nonchalantly inquire after her health. If he felt brave, Henry would take her hand in his and check her pulse, quietly counting her heartbeats as the second hand swept a single revolution of the clock. Then Henry would sit at the edge of her bed as Lydia read aloud. After a while, they would inevitably lapse into conversation, maybe about the book, maybe about life.

Henry knew from her chart that Lydia had been in a terrible car accident. The boy who had been driving died at the scene. Lydia had been life flighted to the hospital with serious internal bleeding and broken bones.

Henry had learned what great and lasting loss was when his mother died. He could still remember the memorial service. He had sat quietly in an oversized chesterfield with his hands in his lap, staring at the patent leather shoes bought special for the occasion. Every once and a while, someone would come by and pat his head, offering platitudes and condescending consolation. Henry did not want the shallow pity of strangers. He wanted to yell and scream and curse God for the farce God had made of life. And on some level, Henry knew that Lydia needed that too: to yell and scream and hit and cry and mourn. And when that time finally came, Henry would be there for her. For her pain was his pain.

Until then, he would not ask. Lydia would only share what she wanted to and nothing more. And so Henry never asked Lydia. And so Lydia never told.

 

Maybe, he thought, as he leaned back in his desk chair, that had been a mistake.

Henry: The Girl at the End of the Hall with the Beautiful Voice

Henry could not remember the exact date he first heard Lydia’s voice. He remembered everything else about that moment, but not the date. No matter how hard he tried to count the days backward, he could never quite capture, with a hundred percent certitude, the day. Henry would have felt better if he could make a factual association to a memory that was anything but factual.

 

When he was just seven, Henry’s parents sat him down in their modest living room and explained to him that his mother had cancer. As his father spoke, Henry’s mother turned deep crimson, uncomfortable with the third person conversation about her body, her future. Henry had now watched variations of this same conversation play out many times as an oncologist. The emotion of powerlessness was not one Henry like reliving, but it provided motivation for his drive and perseverance. Every time Henry wanted to quit, he would remember the shame on his mother’s face when she had to admit that the part of her body that had originally been sexual gratification to his father, nourishment for him, and vanity for her, was now also her death sentence. It was amazing, to Henry, how much havoc a few mutant cells could wreck. As he saw it, cancer was as devastating as it was indiscriminate. Henry made it his life’s ambition to eradicate the terrifying disease.

Night after night, Henry paced the quiet halls of the hospital. In the quiet of the wee, small hours Henry did his best thinking. And it was in the wee, small hours, sometime in October, that Henry first heard Lydia’s soft voice coming from one of the rooms at the end of the hall.

The voice was quiet and yet held a calm confidence. It was the voice of slow moving water. As he neared, Henry slowed his gait. Usually so in command of his habits and physical space, Henry did not know why he suddenly felt an intruder in his own hospital. Henry stood outside the door that day listening to the peaceful voice. She was young. The voice had a clear innocence that age often washes away. She was reading a book. He did not recognize it, but the writing was lyrical, a masterpiece. Henry often thought it strange that most patients preferred to read cheap, dime store novels from the grocery store checkout line rather than read the great pieces of literature they’d never found time to read before. But maybe life was too hard fought for people to read hard fought literature too. Maybe, he thought, we all need happy endings.

Henry did not know how long he had been standing there, listening to the girl softly read. Then just as quietly, she stopped reading and began to cry. The tears were not the tears of anger, nor were they the tears of desperation. To Henry they were gut wrenching. As he blinked away his own tears, he realized they were the tears of loss. He had shed those same tears thirty years ago into his own pillow at home. After a few moments, Henry moved away as silently as he had approached.

And that was the date Henry wish he knew.

That was the date Henry wish he knew, cause that was the date he fell in love with the girl, the girl with the beautiful voice at the end of the hall.

 

 

A couple of years ago, Henry splurged on the extra-long sofa to fit his lanky frame. Most mornings when he woke, his first thought was usually along the lines of how the comfortable sofa had paid for itself many times over. On that morning though, Henry’s first thought was of the girl at the end of the hall.

Henry stretched as he turned on the coffee pot. As the smell of French roast permeated the stale office air, Henry looked out on the awakening streets of the Texas Medical Center. Already cars were backed up at the stoplights. Houston’s traffic was notorious. Henry relished the day when the construction in the Med Center would be complete.

Henry paced around his office. Rarely did he wake up agitated, and never was the source of the agitation a woman when he did. He ran his fingers through his dark curly hair and made an audible sigh of frustration as he grabbed a towel out of the closet. Maybe, he thought, a cold shower would set him straight.

For days afterwards, Henry avoided the room at the end of the hall. The girl with the lonely voice was not his patient, so in theory, this was not hard. Reality, though, was a whole other thing. Henry yearned to see the owner of the voice. Always focused, Henry found himself lost in thought on more than one occasion. Even the nurses were starting to whisper.

Finally, Henry could no longer allow a simple voice to occupy his ever-waking thoughts. As a rational man, a scientist, Henry determined that he had exaggerated the experience. Too much work and not enough sleep had culminated in an almost hallucinatory occurrence.

On a sunny morning in November, Henry fell into the rounds that included the Girl at the End of the Hall.

It was only as he stood looking at her, did Henry realize that if he had expectations of what the Girl at the End of the Hall would look like, it all vanished as he saw the beauty that was the reality. Henry sighed as he thought of the memory. He knew now, that Lydia was far from a traditional beauty. In fact, most men would probably consider her average. But on that crisp November morning, and every day since, Lydia has been the most beautiful woman that Henry had ever seen.

Lydia sat upright with her arms wrapped around her legs. Her auburn hair fell lightly upon her shoulders. She wore no makeup. This was common in the hospital, but unlike other women, the lack of makeup did not lessen Lydia’s beauty, but highlighted it. As Henry saw it, Lydia’s high cheekbones, jaunty nose, and naturally rosy lips made for an astonishing combination.

From her neck down, Lydia donned a crisp white cotton nightgown. It was the old-fashioned kind of nightwear with a big ruffle around the top and buttons all the way down. Henry knew at one glance that the garment was one of those deceptively simple outfits and that while it may have looked like Aunt Sally sewed it, that the nightgown probably cost the equivalent of a week’s wages from Neiman Marcus. The simplicity was simultaneously innocent and sexy. Henry yearned to slowly tug at the little ribbon at the neckline.

When Henry finally looked up, he caught Lydia’s eye. She had been watching him as he stared at her. Her emerald eyes sparked with satisfaction. She looked at him without a speck of self-consciousness or fear. Normally his gaze had the ability to unsettle some people. Never had someone else’s gaze disarmed him. The combination unnerved him. Inadvertently, Henry took a step back.

Henry shook his head. Never had he had sexual feeling towards a patient. Never. It was unethical. It went against everything he stood for. Disgusted with himself, he turned and walked out.