Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The First Time

When Jess’ parents met my parents she was still in surgery. Jess wouldn’t have wanted me to call her parents, but I didn’t know who else to call.

She started having the seizures just before dinner. They came on as intense as they were sudden, she could barely speak. Immediately after we arrived at the emergency room the doctors rushed her off to surgery. I was left behind in the waiting room, with a stack of forms asking questions to which I didn’t have the answers.

The attending nurse assured me that everything would be okay, that this was all somehow normal, but her words landed heavily on the cold, white tile floor. My arm still ached from where Jess had clutched me on the drive over. I could still see the veins of her forehead as she clenched tighter and tighter, throbbing a deep disturbing blue. She was only in her seventh month. This wasn’t normal.

Outside the emergency room doors I stood beneath the bright floodlights. The city sky was a hazy gray and I could feel my shirt damp against my back. I bummed a cigarette from a man much older than myself, standing beneath the same blinding lights. As he reached to light my cigarette I could see the expectant, hopeful look in his eyes.

“How is she?” he asked softly, inhaling as he spoke. The lights from above covered his face in a light shadow.

“I don’t know, they said she’ll be fine, that this is all normal, but I just don’t know.” I turned my back to him as I spoke. I was still holding Jess’ purse.

As I walked away the man called over my shoulder, “I’m sure she’ll be fine.” His words floated upward with the smoke of my cigarette.

From Jess’ purse I removed her cell phone and called my parents. My mom answered and I explained to her what had happened. She didn't ask too many questions and instead assured me it would be okay and that she and my father would be at the hospital as quickly as they could.

I took another drag from my cigarette as I held the flimsy plastic cell phone in my free hand. I knew that Jess had their number in her phone though I’d never seen her use it.

I looked under M for Mom and found no entry. I did the same with D and still nothing. P for Pat and there it was. I hit send.

Unlike the conversation with my own parents, this one had lots of questions. Jess is pregnant? Who was I? Where were we? What was wrong with her? I explained again and again, but Pat didn’t seem to understand. My patience waned as I sought answers. My brow beaded in the dampness as I clenched the phone.

“She’s sick!” I shouted, “She needs you here, now!” My own tone surprised me. They agreed to come.

I hung up, tossed my cigarette against the hospital wall and marched back inside.

The next few hours were a blur. The attending nurse hovered as I completed the forms to the best of my ability. More emergencies shuffled in and the waiting room filled with a nervous tension on the brink of overflowing like water from a Styrofoam cup.

I grabbed the nurse whenever she was free but there were no new updates and she seemed both unconcerned and preoccupied. In the midst of the hustle, the hum of the waiting room lights, the cacophony of beeps and buzzes from machines and elevators and cell phones, weariness set in. First my shoulders, still tense from dinner, the ride over, and the stiff waiting room chair, then my eyes, dried out from the brightness of it all.


I awakened with a start. Standing upright, directly in front of me, like a white statue was the attending nurse. She spoke my name again.

On my knee was a hand, it was my mother's. She was sitting next to me, beside my father. I sat up straight in the confusion. The nurse was speaking but I couldn't hear her. Next to my father was a man tightly holding a woman. She was sobbing uncontrollably. It took a second, but I recognized her from the photo Jess kept hidden in her wallet. It was her mother.

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