What is a Riddle that has no Answer?

Over time, Lydia became used to the hospital. From her bed, she could map the very slight difference in the movement of the sun outside her window as fall started to settle in on Houston. As the days got shorter, Lydia continued to heal. Shortly, she would be able to go home. But go home to what? That is what Lydia most often pondered. It was too late for her to go back to school. The semester was well under way. It didn’t matter much anyways. Lydia knew she would not return. It was not just that she had been in an accident, or that she had lost her best friend. As bad as that was, there was another, unspoken, unarticulated wound. But Lydia could feel it festering inside her.

The things that had at one time seemed important, no longer did. Sororities, clothes, classes, boys, all seemed so flimsy to her. What was the point if one day we all just died anyways? Tragedies happen everyday. You go for a check-up and it turns out you have cancer. You’re sitting at your office desk, when all of a sudden an acute pain grips your chest. Or you’re driving down a two lane highway when you get T-boned by a truck driving too fast… For the first time in her life, Lydia knew what it was like to fear.

The thought of going home, though the practical decision, only made her shake her head. There was no way. There was no way that Lydia could go back to her childhood bedroom and resume her same life. She had seen too much, aged too quickly. The cuteness of her previous life seemed so naive and hopeful, trite and useless. She knew her mother, a lethal mixture of boundless optimism and passive aggressive tendencies, would only further exacerbate the issues. Besides, there were too many memories of Tuck lingering there.

Lydia did not know what to do. She couldn’t stay where she was, and she couldn’t go back to where she had come.

And with that, Lydia opened her book and read.

What do you Throw When you don’t know How to Cry?

Lydia tossed in bed, trying, willing herself to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, Tuck visited her. Tuck smiling, laughing, holding her hand. Tuck in agony, crying, immovable. All she wanted was to sleep, to turn off her brain. She turned onto her back and stared at the white blankness of the ceiling. The rhythmic white noise of the respirators heightened the sense of silence and lead Lydia even further down the path of solitude.

Lydia sat up, spun around, and exasperatingly punched her flat hospital pillow. Her fist barely lifted from the pillow before it found contact again. And again. Fury suddenly filled Lydia and exploded from her body in a fit of rage. She punched because Tuck died. She punched because life was unfair. She punched because those that visited deposited their trinkets and baubles and left to go back to their hinged lives. Lydia was furious and angry and pissed off. And fucking trapped in this bed in this place with these fucking ridiculous stuffed animals and cards and flowers. Lydia grabbed a fuzzy brown bear holding a heart and viciously tore at its arms and legs. With all her might, she threw the stuffed animal across the room and barely missed the trashcan. She grabbed another one and threw it. Then another one. And then a vase of flowers.

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.

Groundhog Days

What Lydia would come to realize is that the reason why she could not remember any but the most dramatic days of that fateful summer, was that there were no last days, just one really long, Groundhog-esque day that kept repeating over and over again. Lydia had a vision of herself as a respectable woman. She was reasonably attractive, some may even say statuesque. She had a beautiful house, and a solid income. In many real ways, Lydia could have taken the opportunity of Henry’s departure and done anything. Their separation could have been a launching off point for Lydia. She had what very few people in life are blessed to have: the money to support her wildest dreams coupled with zero ties to hold her back. She had freedom and means.

Lydia could have spent the sweltering summer in Argentina. She could have moved to France and studird cooking. She could have bought a second house in Napa Valley and spent her days painting the California country-side.

And yet, Lydia was totally trapped within the prison of her mind. Lydia’s most striking memory from that time was the insane sunlight as it pooled through her cheery bedroom windows. She loathed the light, hated the idea that day was passing about her outside and she could do little more than drink in complete solitude. The laughter of the neighborhood children, dogs barking in delight, sent shivers of anger coursing through her body. If she could have built a deprivation chamber, or better yet, lived in one of those far-away places that is dark 18 hours of the day, Lydia would have been far happier.

A Sunny Day Death Wish

Lydia expected to spend the rest of Friday night being twirled around a wood paneled hotel bar by a cultured and well-dressed businessman. What she did not expect was red and blue lights in her rearview mirror as she turned onto Woodway. The police cruiser had been sitting in the dark with its lights off. Lydia never even saw it until it was too late.

Lydia’s heart pounded as the dark figure approached the driver’s side window. While she knew she had never met a man she couldn’t charm, she also knew Houston had been cracking down on drunk driving. Lydia cursed her luck at being pulled over by HPD and not the lesser, more forgiving Village police. Lydia got out her driver’s license and insurance, quickly propped up her breasts, and put on her best pout. And then as the Mag flashlight lowered, she realized the police officer was not a he but a she. A stern she, at that.

What started bad, got worse. “Ma’am, do you know why we pulled you over?”

“Ma’am? You make me sound so old. I’m Lydia. I’m on my to see a friend in from out of town at the Omni Hotel.”

“Ma’am, have you been drinking?”

“Oh, just a glass of wine with dinner. I would never drink and drive. It’s abhorrent. I can’t believe that people would put their and other people’s lives at risk and drive in all sorts of crazy manners.” As much as Lydia knew she had to stop taking, words kept falling out of her mouth. “I actually saw a news report not long ago that said people driving to work the next morning are sometimes still legally drunk from the night before. Can you believe that? Imagine drinking that much.”

“Ma’am, can you step out of the car?”

“No, I would rather not. I have a friend. He is just up the street.”

“Ma’am, step out of the car…” The rest of the memory was a blur. In a flash, panic welled up and unleashed itself in a flurry of excuses and locked doors. Lydia refused to get out. A second and then a third cruiser pulled up. A scene was starting and Lydia was the star. Finally, a sergeant joined the scene. He was older than the rest. Somehow, he managed to get Lydia out of the car through promises of driving her home. But they did not drive her home. They drove her to the police station.

Harris County Jail is not a nice place. A solid concrete fortress on the outskirts of downtown, the jailhouse is intimidating in the light of day. On a dark, inebriated night, the jail is akin to a nightmare. Lydia got booked in the way she had only seen on TV. They took her heels, her purse, her phone. Then they took her picture.

The first cell was sparse. The entire room, ceiling to floor was concrete and white tile. A single toilet, without any type of privacy, stood off to the side. Lydia suspected this was a holding cell. The women were of various ages and ethnicities, but all looked equally intimidating to the middle aged, stumbling woman in a cocktail dress and booties.

After that, lack of sleep mixed with her sky-high blood alcohol level made for a blurry day. There would be three more cells, an orange jumpsuit, and a court appearance before the dirty and demeaning experience would be over early on Tuesday morning. Lydia stood outside the jail and watched determined suits hustling to work. On the city streets, the aroma of greasy diner food mingled with the smell of exhaust.

As she was about to step into a cab that would take her home, Lydia turned her face up at the beginning of another gloriously humid and bright summer day and silently wished she were dead.