I sigh and look at my watch as I walk back down the hospital corridor, my head full of dark thoughts, hoping to find the cafeteria open. 4:10 A.M. It’s probably not. Story of my life. I pass a woman crying in another waiting area. She looks vaguely familiar, but I am not sure how. Outside the locked door to the cafeteria I find a few vending machines and try to pick something that can get me through until the 6 A.M. opening time. Cheetos, a Rice Krispie Square, and a Diet Dr. Pepper. The breakfast of champions it is not, but at least I won’t be hungry anymore. In the waiting room that I passed a few minutes earlier, I find that the woman’s sobs have calmed to a light muffle but her face is still puffy and red. She is a plump, older woman who wears the face of dread I have seen many times on the job. Someone she loves dearly has died. I am reminded that I may be wearing that same face soon too. I realize suddenly that I have not really cried. There have been wet eyes from worry and a few small streaks on my face when I was deep in my head, but not real tears. The crying that comes to others so easily, takes a lot of work for me. Ben is my husband, surely I can grieve for him. But no, I just feel numb right now. What is wrong with me?
Maybe I saw some of this coming. They say that a wife always knows when her husband has been stepping out with someone else. Did I know? I try to think back to all his late work nights. Did he take showers those nights? Did I smell a strange perfume? If I did, I ignored it, not able to believe that Ben would hurt me that way.
“Mrs. Thomas?” Ben’s doctor is standing in front of me. I was so lost in thought, I missed her coming in. “Are you alright?” Maybe she had said my name more than once. She looks a bit troubled.
“Yes, Doctor…errr, Julie. Did something happen? Is Ben okay?”
“Yes, he is now. However, there was a slight problem with his EKG. We are monitoring him a little closer because of it. I thought you should know. There is no other change in his condition, though.” Her face showed a bit of apprehension. “Are you sure you are okay?”
“Yes, just trying to deal with the events of the last few hours.”
“Alright. If you are sure, I will leave you. If you need anything, I am on call until noon,” she says with a reassuring smile.
“Thank you,” is all I am able to say.
As she walks away, the other woman in the room walks toward me. Just as she is about to speak, I finally know who she reminds me of. She looks exactly like an aged version of her daughter, Laurie.
I try to hold my composure as she approaches me. I really do not know what she could possibly have to say to me, but nevertheless here she is.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I heard the doctor call you ‘Ms. Thomas’. Are you Ben’s sister, by chance? He is such a lovely man, and he treated my Laurie better than any of her other boyfriends ever did. I was so happy that she found him. I hope he is going to be okay.” She smiled kindly.
I am at a loss for words. This woman has just confirmed my worst fears, and now she thinks I am my husband’s sister. I feel like I am in the middle of a bad TV drama. How do I answer this woman and not break her heart again? I don’t think I can.
“Actually, Ben is my husband,” is my only answer.
Her eyes go wide and she is stunned into silence. I am immediately sorry I said it. We let the awkward silence hang in the air. It felt like an eternity before she turned away from my stare, as if ashamed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know how else to say it. Believe me, this is all a surprise to me, too.”
“But Laurie and Ben….” She sits down hard on the seat next to me. “I am so sorry. I had no idea. I can’t believe Laurie would get involved with a married man.” She pauses for a long moment then says, “She was pregnant, you know? She was supposed to tell him they were having a girl tonight.” Tears are forming in her eyes again. Thoughts of Ben holding a sweet bundle in pink fill my head. He will make a great father.
“Yeah, I found that out at the same time I found out about her tonight.” I sigh and put my arm around this woman who is still trying to deal with the death of her child. It is what I do. I see someone hurting, even in the most unstable of situations, and I try to fix it. It is what Ben said made me such a good person, and a great detective. She leans on me and soon I am crying with her. Even with all that has happened, I still love him. I wish I could believe he felt the same about me.
“I thought she had found the one she was supposed to marry. How could she…”
We continue to sob and hold each other for a long time. I find myself walking the corridors of the hospital again after. My watch says it is 5:15. I can’t remember how I had got where I am.
A door in front of me has a sign that reads ROOF ACCESS in bold green letters. I open the door and begin a slow ascend up the flights of stairs to the roof. Another sign on a door simply says ROOF. I just need some fresh air.
The cold air bites my skin. It’s so chilly, even for November. I wonder if I should have brought in my plants last night. I guess it doesn’t matter now. I can see the whole city up here. The lights twinkle even more through the water in my eyes. It’s beautiful, like the whole city is dressed up for the upcoming holidays. This city has been my life and now, it is my ruin. How can something so cold, look so dazzling?
My father tried to keep me in my small town home, afraid that the city would take my innocence. He was right. But I didn’t listen once I met Ben. He was all I wanted, all I needed. “You worry too much, Daddy,” I had said before pulling away. “Ben will take care of me. He has lived in the city all his life.” How naive I was as I waved goodbye to his worried face. I am sorry I didn’t listen to you, Dad. I was young and stupid, afraid of nothing. I am not stupid anymore, though, and I am more scared than I have ever been in my life.
I walk over to the edge. Looking down at the pavement several stories below, I remember an article I read where it talked about people having the urge to jump from high places. Maybe it was the fall they found exciting, because I cannot imagine someone wondering what it was like to hit the ground at terminal velocity. I don’t think anyone wonders what being a pancake feels like.
I turn back to the door and follow my feet through the hospital, back to the ICU. I need to see him again. I glance at a clock before knocking. It is 5:23 as I walk through the door.
As I walk toward Ben’s bed, I am struck at how small he looks to me now. Is it his physical state or what I now know about him that makes him seem so much less than he was before? I look down at him and softly ask, “Why?” Not expecting an answer but still angry not to get one, I have to fight the compulsion to hit him. I remind myself that he probably would not feel it anyway through all the drugs they are giving him. He stirs, and I grab his hand. “I am here, Ben. Come back to me.”
He mumbles something in his half-unconscious state. I lean in trying to make out his soft words. Words that could be his last. Barely audible, I hear, “Laurie…”
My heart stops, and I have to turn away from him. The tears begin again. Long, hard sobs, without a hint of slowing down, come freely for the first time, maybe in my life. All the late nights, when I let myself believe he was just working come flooding back into my thoughts. Weekends away on business trips that made no sense, but I dismissed as him just needing time alone. Business dinners that went on well past dinner time. Phone calls late at night calling him away from our bed and away from me. All of it is just too much. He was supposed to be the love of my life, and he betrayed all that we were. I don’t know how I could be so blind for so many years.
I run from the room past a very confused staff. As I pass through the swinging doors of the ICU, I hear the doctor call out, “Mrs. Thomas?” I continue running out the door into the corridor and to the elevators. Inside the elevators, I push the button for the top floor and collapse to the floor in a heap. I don’t notice the doors opening at first, and they close in front of me. I have no idea how long I stay there, but when I get to my feet, I push the button to open them again. I search the hallway for the door to the roof I had found earlier. As it slams shut behind me, I still have no idea what I am doing.
In my madness, I take the stairs before me two at a time. I vaguely recall doing this at the academy. Funny how this is the first time I’ve used this skill since. Without thinking, I step out into the cold air. I can see the smallest amount of sunlight just creeping over the horizon. The night is almost over. I stare off at that light as I approach the ledge. How is the Earth still turning? My foot feels like it is not my own as I step up. Why am I doing this? I step off the roof like I am taking a stroll through the park. I hear a scream as I hit the sidewalk. It doesn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would.
Time of death: 5:55 A.M.
©2019 Nancy Lehmann