Hearts Torn Asunder (Part Two)
“Hello.” I continued to chop the coriander, cradling the phone against my shoulder. “Yes… it is she. How may I help you?”
The knife clattered to the ground as the news I had just been given knocked the air from my lungs.
“No. No… it can’t be. There must be some mistake…” There had been no mistake. I listened in silence as the person on the other end continued to feed me details in a clinically efficient voice, convincing me that no mistake had been made.
I dropped the phone into my bag, grabbed my coat and rushed out the door. As I made my way to the emergency room in slow-moving traffic, I found myself offering silent prayers to a God I had forsaken months ago. Lord, I know that we’ve not spoken in a while. I would not blame you if you never listened to another one of my prayers, but please God… please…please… just this one… please…
The emergency room was a bustle of confusion. Sirens wailing, medical personnel moving about purposefully to intercept gurneys being wheeled in… I had to jump out of the way and stand up against a wall as they whirled past me in frenetic urgency. My stomach churned as the smell of fresh blood wafted through my senses. I tried to shut my eyes to keep my mind from absorbing images of blood-soaked bodies and gory limbs, but found myself unable to look away.
“High school rugby team. Their bus went over the Mason Bridge.”
I had been so transfixed by the scene before me that I hadn’t noticed the tall young man standing beside me until he spoke. All I could do was nod at him, my mind racing toward finding a doctor or nurse I could speak to. As soon as the last of the gurneys had been wheeled past, I pushed away from the wall and went in pursuit of someone I could speak to about finding Josh. Anyone.
“You look lost. You need help, Miss?” He touched my arm, halting me a split second before I would’ve crashed into a trolley being wheeled toward the trauma unit.
“I… I need to find my… my…” The words were there inside my head, but somehow they couldn’t find their way to being voiced. “Please… don’t think me rude; I just…” I bit down onto my trembling lip and blinked back tears as I scanned the emergency reception area for a nurse.
“Miss, let me help you. Who are we trying to find?” The touch of genuine concern in his voice somehow managed to soothe my raging emotions.
“Josh. I need to find Josh.” The strong scent of pine disinfectant made me feel queasy as the cleaners swooped in to mop up the fresh blood that had spilt at the entranceway.
“Okay. That’s a start. Does Josh have a last name?” He patted my shoulder lightly the way one would soothe a fussy baby, steering me quietly toward a chair as he spoke.
“Holloway. Joshua Holloway.”
“And Josh is your?”
I looked up at the young man, noticing for the first time what kind eyes he had, my gaze drifting to the bag slung over his shoulder, the bag with ‘Angels of Mercy General’ printed on the side. “You work here?” I grabbed his hand and held on tight, hoping that my desperation could be read in my pleading eyes.
“Yes, Miss. I’m Nathan. I was just going off duty, but first we need to find your Josh.”
“He’s my husband… Josh is my husband. Please find him.”
He pried his hand from my grip and patted my hand before making his way toward the reception desk. My heart raced as I watched him scan the computer, silently willing him to move faster.
His expression as he made his way back toward me was hard to read; even the smile he flashed as he sat down beside me was weak. “Mrs. Holloway, I found him. He is still in the trauma unit, so I don’t think you will be allowed to see him yet, but let me go in there and check on him for you.” He gave my hand a light squeeze. “You just wait here. Okay?”
I deep sense of trepidation filled me watching more people in white coats rush toward the automatic doors as a fresh set of sirens started wailing their way closer. My heart went out to the battered souls being wheeled in, as well as to their families. I felt for them, but it angered me that they had to be there at that moment. Why did their accident have to happen on the day my Josh got hurt? Who was taking care of him while every available medical body was rushing to help the injured passengers? Had he been fobbed off onto junior staff while the proficient medical personnel tended to the mangled teenagers? I felt ashamed for my selfish thoughts, but there was nothing I could do to keep them from flooding my brain. The longer I sat there waiting for the young man to return, the angrier I became at the unfairness of it all, so I eventually got up and started pacing the hallway.
I turned to face a solemn-faced man in a white coat. “Yes. Yes, I’m Mrs. Holloway.”
“I’m Doctor Scott. I’m the one attending to your husband.”
I nodded numbly.
“Mrs. Holloway, I’m not going to try to sugar coat this, because time is of the essence. Your husband has suffered extensive internal damage. There is a bullet lodged close to his spinal column that may cause irreversible damage if it somehow gets dislodged before we can get to it.” He paused and held a clipboard in front of me. “We need you to si-”
“My husband is hurt and alone and you want me to fill in paperwork? Are you fucking insane?” The sound of my shrill, half-demented voice drew stares from everyone around us. “I want to see him. Now!”
The doctor sighed, his face no less sombre as he turned to the man standing behind him. They exchanged a look and the young man nodded. “Doctor White will bring you to your husband once you are done here.” He handed the clipboard to the young man, the dismissal in his tone clear.
“Here, let me help you with this.” Nathan smiled apologetically.
“Okay, I will sign your damn papers. I will sign anything, just please…”
“I know, you need to see him. And I am trying to help you do that.” He waved the pages at me. “These could save your husband’s life. He isn’t a patient here and it would take hours to get his files from his doctor, so allow me to help you help him.”
I nodded. I knew that he was right. With the young doctor’s help I breezed through filling in the forms on Josh’s personal details, medical history and insurance, and I signed consent for his operation to be done. Nathan dropped the papers off with the nurse on duty and ushered me through the throng of reporters who had gathered to scoop out a story on the recent bus crash.
The emergency waiting room was filled to capacity with pacing parents and friends of the injured. I recognised two of Josh’s colleagues among the sea of worried faces, one of them wearing a blood-splattered white shirt, his expression grave as he nodded at me in acknowledgement.
The trauma unit was abuzz with activity, people rushing around to help the dozens of seriously injured patients in the room. My steps slackened as I took it all in, moving along in slow motion. Most of the screens were drawn, but the few that were left open left no doubt in my mind about the severity of the accident. Nathan pulled aside a curtain at the end of the room and motioned to me to step inside.
My heart shattered into a million pieces when I first saw him, skin deathly pale, tinged a sickly grey. His breathing was shallow and there were tubes coming from his slack mouth, another one trickling a clear liquid into his left arm, and one disappeared under the light blanket that covered his lower body, which looked like it was pumping blood into a plastic bag hung on the side of the bed.
Nathan patted my arm lightly. “I will leave you alone for a few minutes. A theatre will be available soon, then he will be wheeled upstairs.”
All the sounds of the emergency unit faded around me, the acrid mingled odour of blood and disinfectant going unnoticed. Everything around us that was unpleasant disappeared the moment I touched Josh’s cold hand, instantly transporting me back to happier times, the fresh briny scent of the ocean, the cool damp sand beneath my feet, and the warmth of the sun on my face as his lips touched mine for the first time. He was the only man I wanted to spend my life with. I couldn’t lose him. Not this way.
I sat in silence and held his hand until Nathan came to get me. “Come, I will show you to the post-op waiting room.” I didn’t want to leave Josh, not for one second, but I knew I had to stop being petulant and allow the doctors to fix him. “He will be wheeled past the waiting room once they bring him up, so you will see him before they take him inside. Right now they need you to…”
“I know. I know.” I leant in to touch my lips to his; there was no warmth, and I could hardly feel his breath. “I love you, Josh. I will be right here when you wake up.”
Weeks passed and Josh remained in a coma with little hope of a full recovery. The doctors had managed to remove the bullet before it could cause further damage, but there was too much damage to his spine to repair completely. The damage to his spleen and kidneys took a series of operations to fix; the worst part was the uncertainty… the waiting.
“Your mum was here earlier, but she couldn’t stay for a visit. She did leave the most hideous-looking bouquet I’ve ever laid eyes on… huge pink flowery things with tentacles. Well, they look like tentacles to me… I’d imagine this would be what tiny pink octopuses would look like. Good thing you can’t see it. It’s pretty awful to look at.” I smiled as my fingers stroked up and down his arm. “And she can’t wait for you to meet her new boyfriend. His name is Joachim. He’s a lot older than her last one… looks to be around your age. You’re thinking how lucky you are to not have to see that, right? You’re such a coward for leaving me to deal with her on my own.
“And Bethany was here earlier… She aced her midterms. It’s not hard to believe that she’s your sister; she said that she is going to make you proud some day. I told her that you’re already proud. Not sure she believed me; she needs to hear you say it.” I was thankful that my voice held steady, that it didn’t echo the tears pouring from my broken eyes or my bleeding heart. I wanted… no, I needed him to open his eyes and look at me like no other man has ever looked at me before. “And the guys from your office sent you a voucher for a complimentary lap dance at The Cage… Apparently the girls there miss you.” My forced laugh sounded hollow even to my own ears.
I went on to tell him about my day and all the little things he was missing. Normal was what he needed; that’s what the doctors had said. There was nothing normal about this.
“Just between you and me, everyone’s putting on a brave face for my sake… but they’re all so, so scared. I don’t think they can imagine a life without you… It’s not something any one of us even wants to imagine. They can’t bear the thought of losing you, so you… you can’t let that happen. Okay?” I paused a moment to catch my breath, unchecked tears spilling down my face. “So why don’t you just stop all this silliness and open those gorgeous eyes… You’re the most stubborn man I know, Joshua Holloway. You’ve made your point… They get it. I get it. Just… just open your eyes… and… and I… I will be here waiting. Right here…”
I spent every second the hospital staff would allow being at his side – talking to him in the way we used to talk before all of the negatives had entered our lives. Nathan stopped by every day before his rounds and sometimes even on his breaks, charming the nurses into allowing me to stay for as long as I needed to. He had become a part of our family, a part that Josh still had to meet once he opened his eyes again.
“Have you heard?”
I turned to smile up at the handsome young doctor standing behind me. “Heard what?”
“The police think they may have caught the guy who shot Josh.”
“Are you sure? How do you know?” I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about it. I hadn’t given much thought to the man who had shot my husband; I had been too preoccupied with willing the man I love to pull through.
“I don’t really know the details, but he was arrested during an armed robbery similar to the one at Josh’s office.” Nathan shrugged. “I just thought you’d want to know.”
“It won’t undo what he’s done.” My voice sounded flat, robbed of all the emotion it should have been displaying at such good news.
Nathan looked at me as if trying to figure out just how and when I got to be this broken. It was a look of puzzlement, laced with pity. He looked as if he wanted to say more on the subject, but his pager beeping interrupted us.
“We’ll talk later? Go home and get some rest, Madison. I will buy you supper once you get back.” He leant in to kiss the top of my head.
For some reason, the promise of hospital cafeteria food wasn’t enough motivation to get me to leave, so I took a book from my bag, leafing through the pages until I found what I had been reading the night before.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went through some of my old poetry books, and I found this. It’s called ‘Seasons of the Heart’ and it made me think of you… Think of us.” I lifted Josh’s hand, stroking it lightly as I began to read. Sitting here alone, I look out across the ocean,
Cool sand sifting between my toes.
Soft sprays of salty air blown against my skin
As blue-green waters rush toward shore.
Glorious rays of sun in all their splendour
Dance like golden stars across tranquil waters.
Brilliant hues mirror the skies above
In dazzling shades from light to deeper blue.
Gale-force winds sweeping over land and sea
Cause the whitecaps to erupt and roll violently.
Ominous grey waves rising like walls of kismet,
Crashing onto rocks of ill-fated doom.
Silvery moonlight reflecting off a calm surface,
Shimmering like a beacon to guide us home,
While perilous currents lurk beneath
The mystical waters of luminescent black.
Our love is like the ocean… ever changing--
Each season possessing a splendour all its own.
I close my eyes and feel your hand in mine,
Our souls locked in eternal bliss.
I rose to touch my lips softly to his, a stray tear spilling onto his face. “Happy anniversary, my love.”
Sometime during the night, Josh opened his eyes for the first time in four months. After I’d got the call, I sat in my bed with my arms wrapped tightly around myself and cried. I cried all the tears I’d held inside for months. I cried for myself. I cried with relief. I cried because miracles existed. Mostly, I cried because I was ashamed that, in my heart, I had given up hope.
*~*~* Five years later
“Go wide! Go wide!” I lifted one leg and leant back before letting the football rip toward Josh. He tried to get in under it, but it went over his head. “Noooo… that was pathetic.” I laughed as he glowered at me.
“Yes, Dad, that was pathetic.”
Josh turned to stick his tongue out at the young boy rolling around on the grass laughing. “You let a girl beat you. Again.”
“Hey you two… man on wheels here; have a little compassion.” Josh pointed at his wheelchair as if to make his point.
Tyler raised his brows as he observed Josh with all the seriousness a seven-year-old could muster. “You need to find a new excuse, Daddy. That one is getting a little boring.” He got up and hugged his dad. “Don’t worry, I still love you, even if you make us boys look bad.”
Josh grabbed him and tickled him until his giggling voice begged for mercy. My heart swelled with unimaginable joy as I watched my beautiful family.
Josh’s recovery had been a long one; he had needed more than a year of intensive physiotherapy to get back minimal mobility in his lower body. There had been days when everything had seemed dark and hopeless, days when he had lost the will to carry on, and days when both of us felt the strain.
Then one day a ray of golden light was shone into our bleak little world. A woman and young child were brought into the emergency room with massive injuries from a car crash. The woman succumbed to her injuries a few days after they were admitted and the young boy fought bravely for weeks before he could be moved out of the I.C.U. The authorities were unable to track down any living relatives of the young mother, so the boy became a ward of the state, and, after a five-month stay in the hospital, he had grown inside the hearts of everyone on staff. When the time finally came to send him home, Nathan nominated that Josh and I foster young Tyler until a more permanent home could be found. If you have never believed in love at first sight, I can assure you that it does exist. That was three years ago and Tyler is now our legally adopted son.
We told Tyler about the sad events that had brought him into our lives. We spoke to him often about his mother and about the love she had for him, reminding him daily that she would always be a huge part of his heart. Every night as we knelt before his bed to give our thanks, he never forgot to say a prayer for the mother he would never get to know. He was our miracle. And we were his.
Our gazes met and I smiled at my amazing husband, my heart overflowing with love. I was truly blessed.
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