For some reason it’s easy for me to remember what I wore in these moments.
On this particular day, I was wearing these yoga pants from Target. They went up high on my waist and squeezed me tight. I remember because it was the umpteenth day in a row I had worn them. I was too tired to do laundry, and the sitting around in the ICU waiting room brought lots of sugary treats from the church congregation and certainly no days at the gym.
I was also wearing my green knitted cardigan. Adam calls it my grandma sweater. It’s my favorite.
I still own both these pieces of clothing.
And don’t tell Adam this, but I haven’t washed the green cardigan yet. To this day, it sits, folded on the top shelf of my closet, worn only on the days that comfort and tears are at the forefront of my emotional threshold.
Sometimes I can hear the diesel truck engine. A Ford. I can feel myself sliding out of my own seat-warmed driver’s side of my car. I can imagine painting my own home white with navy trim one day. But then I remember. And realize that I will never paint my house white with navy trim, because then I’d be back, in that parking spot in a cute neighborhood adjacent to the hospital, standing in the middle of the street. Crying. In front of the cute white house with navy trim. In my green cardigan.
Nobody could go to work. Everyone that tried, at some point or another, ended up back in those extremely stiff, faux leather seats with wooden arm rests in that ICU waiting room. What would start as an everyday morning would end late, walking from the elevator that smelled of marijuana to your car, parked somewhere blocks away, in the rain. Always in the dark.
From where we sat, there were no windows. Windows and sunlight were reserved for patients. Though, it really doesn’t seem to make sense. If the patient is asleep, and will be for weeks, maybe their families would like the window seat. They were going to sleep through the daylight anyway.
What started as a normal day for many was now a new normal for us.
It had been five days. No major news. Not out of the woods. And now, we knew, day five would be the hardest. But most could not sit for another day or more. Life was waiting beyond those tiled floors and sterile glass doors.
It was my birthday.
Not that it mattered. Not to me, anyway.
Pat and Tommy and Peter and David and Randy had all gone back to work. To their families. To their lives. All out of town. Where their lives were led and grown and nurtured and fostered and built.
These were my people. My parents when I didn’t have my own. My dad’s best friends, my other sets of families that took care of me my entire life.
Of course, they called. So often. More often than I could answer the phone. And because I was the sister, the daughter, it was my duty to keep the public informed. The extended family. The community.
It was my phone that rang and beeped and dinged all day. And I did my best to oblige.
It was my birthday. I woke up to an empty house. The first day in five days it had been empty in the morning. The street had been lined with grandparents’ trailers and RVs, now driven back to their own driveways. My couches and air mattresses and Tony’s bed had been occupied, and my kitchen full of cereal pouring and coffee sipping when I would awaken. All of us to quickly caravan the three blocks to the Neuro ICU before shift change at 7:30 am.
But not that morning. I had slept. Longer than I wanted. And when I woke, it was panic.
Hence, the yoga pants and cardigan, yet again.
I parked. I hesitated to get out of my car. It was sunny, and I recall the street as it glimmered. Like it was still cold and wet, and the sun was so far away that it could not even warm the most warmable parts of the town. The black asphalt. The bare parking space I neglected to see. The white house’s lawn that shimmered with dew.
My feet moved slowly. And it felt like I was trying to ice skate on dirt. The shoes meant for gliding but the surface just sucking me down instead.
It was my birthday. And he might die today. I hated that it was my birthday.
If you are from the country, like dirt road country, you know that each diesel engine makes a very distinct diesel sound. Adam drove Dodges. Always and forever. I could always pick his truck out of a stream of vehicles on the highway, hear it from three miles away. Even Henry the dog would jump at the sound, before I could even register that it was in fact him. Dodges are a deep, roaring, muffled sound. Like a dragon trying to growl while muffled with a sock. Fords, however, whistle. And if you’re keen and in tune with the boys that drove these trucks, you could differentiate in a split second.
This was a Ford. My heart melted just a little. A little more than it should have. A Dodge would have meant it was Adam. Coming to bring me a birthday coffee or sweep me off my feet for breakfast in another town where nobody knew who I was. But it wasn’t a Dodge. And it wasn’t him.
No, it was a whistle that could have woke neighbors. A whistle that shifted. Down. Down as in slowing down.
And then it stopped.
I was standing center stage. Middle of the street. I had frozen, somewhere between my car and the other side. Listening to the diesel engine. Focusing on the shift from third to second, and then to neutral.
I looked up to see their faces staring at me. The chrome of the bumper in line with my hips. Me facing the passenger side door, window higher than my line of site, but the faces stung my vision.
The passenger door opened with a vengeance. The whistle of the truck continued as arms larger than my own but smaller than my father’s embraced me.
Tommy’s five-day old scruff rubbed my hair, pulling my blonde unwashed strands from their ponytail, his scent of cigarettes and powdered donuts washed over me like a wave would if I had walked into the ocean with no intention of turning around.
Pat drove his truck away faster than a normal circumstance would have required, surely to find a parking spot with room for 6 tires and as close as possible. And Tommy stood there, holding me. In the middle of the street in the Chico avenues.
I don’t know if they came for me. Or for him. Or for my dad. Or for themselves. But it didn’t matter. They were there. And so was I. Disconnected by 200 miles in the everyday. Communication via text or the occasional deep thoughts in the duck blind.
But today. On the day it mattered, neither of them could go to work. So instead they drove. And found me. In the middle of the road. Trying to ice skate on dirt.
You see, I can’t wash that cardigan. That would mean that the smell of Tommy’s cigarettes and the sound of Pat’s truck would be washed out of it. That could never happen. It was the only moment that was mine for months and months, maybe years. The only moment that I can hold in my hands, hold to my face and breath in.
He didn’t die that day.