I turned on my iPod as soon as I got into my car. It was automatic, I didnt think about it and that was the point: music, distract me, please. If Im singing, Im not thinking. And I cant think right now. Play, dammit, play something! Then I remember you have to hit the button twice--once to turn it on, and once to start the song. I didnt care what song was on the thing, just so it made some noise.
But my heart, it dont beat, it dont beat the way it used to...
It was inappropriately appropriate.
Had I been listening to The Killers on the way in? I couldnt remember. I just remembered I had stopped at Starbucks this morning because I couldnt bear to drink hospital coffee again. When the smiley barista had asked me how I was I numbly said, Im hanging in there which was true. I wanted to lose it and shout, My husband is in the hospital, and I need to get there, but I cant until I get my coffee from you because their coffee sucks and right now, I really need some coffee to get me there!
But I didnt.
Hospital. Mike was in the hospital. They had kept him over night. And I had driven like a mad woman this morning to get here. Just to be here. With him. Next to him so I could touch him and hold him. (Best I could over the rail on the bed in the E.R.) But I couldnt touch him right now. He was having a stress test. I had no idea what that meant, just that they were going to make him run on the treadmill. The image from Gattica of Ethan Hawke running on the treadmill with Jude Laws heartbeat playing on a recorder was the only one I had to draw from. But Ethan Hawke collapsed pitifully after he was finished, didnt he?
Please dont make my baby collapse pitifully like Ethan Hawke.
The Killers were still singing. I wasnt in the mood for them but I didnt change it because I wasnt in the mood for anything. Especially silence.
And my eyes, they dont see you no more.
And my lips, they dont kiss, they dont kiss the way they used to,
And my eyes dont recognize you no more.
Get to Wal*Mart. The stress test would take 45 minutes to an hour and I couldnt sit there, in his empty room, with all his wires and his clothes for an hour. I had brought a book but I knew I couldnt read it. I couldnt sit for an hour. Not with all that beeping, and the hospital smell, and Mikes hospital bed but no Mike.
There was a huge pressure in my chest. Not on my chest but in it, pushing out. Pushing out from behind my sternum. I guess that must be my heart. But I couldnt feel it beating or racing just pushing.
Im speeding to Wal*Mart. I have to go fast. The adrenaline thats been surging in my body for 24 hours now is making me speed. Thats what Ill tell the officer if he stops me. There are tears right behind my eyes and any minute theyre going to spill out all over the place. Except they havent yet. Not since last night, when they made me leave him there. But even then there were nurses and doctors coming in and out without warning, and I tried to hold it together best I could. But when they made me leave him... the tears came out and I couldnt stop it when I had to leave him.
Get. To. Wal. Mart.
There are people everywhere. Its the day before Christmas Eve, of course its packed. I had forgotten about the damned holiday because my whole world had stopped. Hadnt it stopped for everyone else? Or could these people actually be thinking about eggnog and sugar plum fairies?
I find a parking spot, and memorize the row number so I can find my car later. The cold air outside is refreshing and I just march forward, head down, not even noticing the traffic. Im a damn pedestrian they better get the hell out of my way.
I make it inside, and that pressure is still there, and the tears are still trying to leak out, and I know my eyes must be red. My face is frozen in an expression that is one part dazed, one part surprised. Im clutching my coat closed because acid is forming in my stomach-- I havent eaten lunch have I? --and I need to stop it.
Im not far past the hair salon when I realize Im narrating. Im writing down in my head what Im doing. Its the first real thought Ive had since he was... admitted. And I realize Im doing it because Im trying to make sense of what is happening.
But there is no sense to be made of my 30 year old husband lying in a hospital.
But... it helps to occupy my mind. Ill write it all out for myself now, and maybe someday Ill write it down. For who? I didnt care. Right then it was for me.
Theres a line at the Photo department, and I dont make eye contact with anyone in the store. Not in the aisles, not in line, because if they look at me, theyll know those damned tears are a second away from breaking out. I hold my bright green winter coat closed and look anywhere but at another human being.
Im antsy. Im trembling. I am, arent I? Im actually trembling. The acid stomach is worse now. The threatening tears are worse. And my heart is still trying to press out of my chest. Except now Im starting to get a pain in my chest, like the kind I used to get when I was a teenager, and was stressed out because I wasnt pretty or thin or well dressed, and my best friend habitually lied to me, and the boy I loved didnt love me back. The life sucks stress. It was back. It hurt, and even though it had been ten years, it was strangely familiar.
Cmon, cmon, cmon, I shout to the line in my mind to make it move faster. Not because I care but because I cant keep standing here. The tears are coming and hes there and Im here. Why the hell am I here? Because I cant be there. Not without him.
God, I cant be without him.
Cmon, cmon, cmon, cmon, dammmmmmmit, line moooooooooooveeeee.
Its my turn and the flustered young teenager behind the counter is apologizing that my prints arent ready, and wont be for another thirty minutes. Thirty minutes? I exclaim and make the mistake of looking at him. In the face. He can see Im desperate and he doesnt know why. He thinks that I care about my damn prints, but I dont. He thinks Im one of a hundred crazed last minute shoppers angry because they need last minute items for their parties, but Im not. Right now I dont care about Christmas. Bah Freaking Humbugh! Right now my husband is in the hospital and Im here, picking up photos because right now I cant let myself think and I dont have thirty minutes because he might be out of his stress test in fifteen, and I have to be there, with him, not here, without him, and cant you see that???
My eyes must be red, and I feel bad for the boy as I stand there, trembling, and I start heaving, like Im going to have a panic attack, and he doesnt know what to say or do and I want comfort him, Its not your fault, pretty boy, its just my husband, you see. Hes in the hospital, and its making me crazy, and Im here with you so I dont have to think about it but now you have to deal with me and Im sorry. Merry Christmas. Dont stress out--what all these people in line are angry at you for, none of it matters, and you just enjoy your family and your holiday and you just take it easy. Okay? None of it matters. I dont matter, I dont even care about pictures right now. Except theyre pictures from my wedding, ironically, six year old photos, prints with negatives the old fashioned way, and theyre of my wedding except my husband isnt here. Hes in the hospital and Im without him and thats why Im looking at you like this. Its not you, its me. Im sorry that you have to work on Christmas, boy.
And yet after my open mouthed paralysis wears off, all I do is say, Okay, then, thirty minutes will have to do and I shake my head and then it hits me: I am going to throw up now.
Get out, get out, get out NOW.
I rush through the store and try to find an exit. The tears are coming, Im sure of it now. Get outside. Get outside, the cold air will help. I push past people, but its Christmas shopping so its expected. Im almost racing. Get OUT, LORA!
I make it outside only to realize that I dont know where the hell I parked.
I cant remember the row number, I cant visualize it. And the urge to throw up is worse outside than it was in.
Where is the car? Where is your car? Where the F--CK did you park your car, Lora??!
And Im walking/racing up and down the aisles somehow thinking that if I can get to the car Ill be fine. Except my car isnt there.
By the grace of God I remember that I parked at the bottom of the hill, on the other side of the road, in the JoAnns parking lot. I race to the car because I remember that even though Im cursing it, I love that car, and I do not want to throw up inside of my most beloved car.
If I can get to the car, I wont throw up.
I make it, get in it and its silent.
And for the first time in 24 hours I remember that Jesus is there.
My hands are shaking and I know that if I can just get my iPod on Ill be able to tune everything out again. Except... the silence over powers me, and my friend is there in the next seat, invisible but warm, and the tears win out.
Except that Mike could be calling at any minute. I fumble for my cell phone. And turn the ringer up. All the way up. I put on the vibrate option for good measure. Just incase I dont hear it. I stick it in the car door, but then think it might go off and I wont be able to hear it or feel it so I just hold it in my hand. Up by my chest so its closer to my ear. Because Mike might call.
I pull out of the parking lot (the iPod is on now) and Im just leaving the parking lot when the phone rings and buzzes and its Mikes ring tone.
Im done with my test, he says casually, and now theyre supposed to get me something to eat. He hasnt eaten since last night.
Are they letting you go home? I ask tearily.
They have to confer, and then let me know."
"Confer about what?!
Does that mean its bad?!
No, I just think they have to do that before they can send me home.
Well, Im coming. Im coming, Mike. Ill be there as fast as I can.
I speed the whole way there again.
Im coming, baby, Im coming. Hold on, baby. Im almost there.
I hung up the phone with Mike. I didnt know whether to meet him at the hospital or not. I was supposed to go to the movies with Kathy and Jenny except... Mike told me to go, that hed just be getting some routine tests done, and that I didnt want to spend all night sitting in the hospital, and that I should go have fun with the girls.
So I tell him okay.... still taking in the news that my beautiful, 30 year old husband was in the E.R. being tested for heart pains. I call Asha. Shes a doctor. An eye-doctor, but she knows more about medicine than me.
She tells me what to expect, what sort of tests theyll be doing, and offers to go over to the E.R. to sit with Mike since her office is one building away.
But then she calls me back and tells me to go over myself, and shell see me there. You wont be able to do anything tonight, go be with him.
She is right.
I try to call him back, but hes not answering-- why is he not answering?? -- and I grab my book, and a tote bag, and am out the door. I try to make coffee, but then remember that I lost my travel mug, and have nothing to put it in. I gulp some of it down, but it doesnt taste right because I didnt grind the beans long enough and dammit, I just want to be there, so the coffee and the beans and the grinder all sit out on the shelf and Im out the door.
I just need to get there.
I just need to see him.
I have a bright orange sticker on my coat, and a nurse leads me through the labyrinth to his room. Mike has a room...? I had told him to call the doctor in case there was something wrong. But they were supposed to tell him it was okay, not to worry.
Instead they sent him to the E.R.
She says I can go in, and I peek my head through the curtains and theres a doctor there saying something I cant focus on, and Mikes face lights up when he sees me and says, Youre here.
I was, and the doctor was talking, and I sit down and look at my husband. Hes plugged in, in a hundred different directions, and hes in an electric bed, in a hospital gown with a slit on the front. And all of the cords and cables come in and plug into his chest, under the paper thin robe.
I can feel the tears behind my eyes. What are all these machines?
When the doctor leaves Mike makes a joke about being Tony Stark, what with all the plugs in his heart. That one brings a smile to my face, and the tears leak out a little bit.
I love this man like Ive never loved a man in all my life.
Dont die now, Mike, dont die now. We have so many adventures left...
We often joke about what our life will be like after The Dreamer movie is made. The latest pipe dream is inspired by the book he is reading, The Four Hour Work Week, and our love of traveling. Weve decided that were going to keep our house, but live four to six months of the year in a new and exciting place. Some of our options? Norfolk, New Orleans, Lexington, Massachusetts, Mystic, Connecticut and LaJolla.
Dont die now, Mike, we have to move to Mystic... We didnt get our pizza last time.
The television only gets about twelve channels. Theres a really creepy Christmas Pageant on one station, with a twelve year-old Mary and a forty year-old Joseph, and theyre talking about her being a virgin and it just weirds me out. It probably happened that way, 2,000 years ago, but today it just rings of kiddie porn and we quickly change the channel.
We wind up on Intervention. Ive never seen the show before but its hideously depressing.
Ill never watch it again. Mike keeps going through the stations, but we always wind up back at Intervention. Its like slowing down to look at a car wreck.
All night I dont take my eyes off his monitor.
69, 71, 73, 72, 68...
Sometimes a question mark pops up on one of the four graphs and it freaks me out. The monitor will start beeping. But nurses never come to see why.
Mikes bed is too small for him. His feet (shoes still on) hang off the end. The bed leans up, but in a strange place so that either only his shoulders are up or if he slides his butt the whole way back his head is too tall.
That and the IV in his arm which he keeps complaining about look horribly uncomfortable. They also have a blood pressure cuff on him (which makes for one more beeping graph on the monitor), and an air tube stuck up his nose, and he is still wearing his Tony Stark chest wires.
The X-Ray machine they bring into his room makes him feel like Bruce Banner. We wonder if the gamma rays will give him super powers, and if so, what sort.
He looks like hes dying. But hes laughing like hes still alive.
Mike downloaded an application for his iPod called U.S. History and it has every presidents inaugural address in it. As well as other fun things like the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the song lyrics to Yankee Doodle.
To pass the time he decides to read me John Adamss inaugural address.
There is a sentence in there that is several paragraphs long. Mike has to breathe deep and keep going. The sentence rages on for twenty minutes.
Were laughing harder than we have in a long time. John Adams, the old windbag.
Kathys sheets smell like cherries.
I had to leave the hospital around ten thirty pm. I tried to hug Mike over the bed rails, and through all the wires. It was difficult and unsatisfying. Im trying not to cry, but theyre spilling out anyway, red hot on my cold cheeks.
I dont want to leave you....
I realize the tears arent going to stop but Im in a hospital so I can probably get away with it. Everyone cries in a hospital, and no one asks why.
I promise to come back as soon as I can in the morning and bring him clean underwear and a toothbrush.
I try to leave him again and it still doesnt work.
Eventually, I have to go, head down, wiping the tears away as soon as they come.
And then I push it all down.
Kathy lets me spend the night with her, so Im not alone. She lets me talk about it a little. But I cant feel anything, and my mind wont start working until I am inside of Wal*Mart the next day, so I welcome that she doesnt press the issue or tell me tritely that itll be okay. It is a bit heavy and awkward, but its a heavy, awkward situation so it was comfortably uncomfortable.
I mustve drank the toxic coffee they gave me in the E.R. too late. Or there was too much adrenaline in my body, because Kathys bed is so fluffy, its like sleeping in a cloud, and yet I cant get comfortable. Her head hits the pillow and shes asleep. Her alarm clock radio is playing Christmas songs, and they keep me up.
I toss and turn and fidget until I finally drift into a fitful sleep where I dream about ice skating with my middle school crush.
I cant call anyone else. Mike is up from a four hour nap (in his own bed.)
Were home now.
While he was sleeping, I made it to Wal*Mart, and picked up my prints. They got the order entirely wrong. And the prints are horrible--our faces are blown out like the photo was taken in the presence of a hydrogen bomb.
But I dont care.
I dont even want the prints.
I look the pretty boy behind the counter in the eye. When he says, Oh, I remember you, I cringe. I know my eyes are still red. But Im not throwing up this time.
I give him the most sincere and warm smile that I can, and wish him a Merry Christmas.
The Merry Christmas is sincere, and so is the smile.
I hope he can feel that.
Mike is stroking my hair. My head is on his lap, and we are in the light of our Christmas tree.
I cant... feel... anything.
He tells me its okay. Tears are coming out and down my cheeks. For some reason they dont taste salty.
I try to joke, as I look at the fireplace and see the matching M and L stockings I had made several years ago. If you die, Ill have to replace you with someone whose name starts with an M so I can still use your stocking.
We rattle off as many M names as we can: Martin, Mel, Melvin, Matt, Micah, Marty, Mason...
We decide that Marty is 40, pasty, and balding. He is an investment broker. I dont know what an investment broker does, but it sounds boring.
Mason is ten years too young for me. He wears Abercrombie jeans and is the Ashton to my Demi. Hes the embarrassment of my family. His emo hair annoys me.
I warn Mike that if he dies, Ill have to marry Marty, and that if he loved me, hed stay alive to save me from that unhappy future.
And then it starts.
And I cry and I cry and I cry and I cry and theres no more pushing it back down.
And when I finally stop, the brain static kicks in again and its just