I See You
I hate you, you know that? I hated you before and I still hate you now. Nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter that you can’t hurt me anymore by your words or your lack of attention. I hate you and nothing you can do can change that. Do you hear me?
I look at his still form and I hope that he has heard me . . . that whatever I had just said would hurt him as much as he had hurt me so many times in the past. I want to see a flinch on his face. But, there is nothing. Near the end, he still won’t react to anything I say. I bow my head and choke back a sob, then I hear it, the music. No, wait, there has always been music blaring out of a radio somewhere, but this is different. This is not canned music. It is raw, it is heartfelt. Someone is singing. Very faint, but otherwise clear. A soft melody issuing out from somewhere. I stand up from where I am kneeling beside the bed of my estranged father, now unmoving, tubes and machines running his body for him. I look towards the nurses’ station in the middle of the circular area and I see them almost still, for once. They are silent, sitting in rapt attention, looking towards one of the rooms. I move slowly towards the glass sliding door opening to the nurses’ station and I open it a bit and the room is filled with her voice. I look to where the nurses were looking and I see her. I’ve been here for all of two days, since my Mom convinced me to visit my father . . . the father that I have not talked to for almost a year. I’ve seen her there in that room for all those times I was visting with my father. I’ve seen her, a thirty-something woman, who looked with love at her mother, her face filled with fear and sorrow. I have always wondered how come she loved her mother and I hated my father. We are not so different, she and I. I am probably younger by a good fifteen years, but we are both children, with parents at the brink of death. I am seething with rage and she is . . . singing with love. I hate her. I envy her. God, I hate my life.
I’m scared, Mom. I’m scared out of my mind. I don’t know if I have it in me to do what you intend me to do. All this while you lay there, dying before my very eyes. How can I be strong for the family, when I don’t have you standing behind me, urging me on, trusting in me? How can you trust me this much? To take care of everything, to take care of my siblings, and their kids . . . to ensure I am fair?
I am panicking, I know. But I have just been to the bank and as calmly as I could, I signed papers to withdraw the contents of my Mom’s accounts (of which I am her and/or). I was given manager’s checks for the bulk of the accounts that can be withdrawn and I was advised that I could not withdraw the long term investments until after another year. I then went to another bank, and opened an account and deposited all the proceeds under my name. I have spent the entire day seeing to it that my Mom’s finances are in order, in preparation for the… division, if it came to it. All the while I was breaking down inside because she was failing and dying…
Every time I feel like panicking, or feel scared or feel anything extreme, really, the only thing that helps is if I let it out. I sure cannot scream in this place or even break down crying. So…
Mom? Hey do you mind if I sing to you? Remember when you would always insist I sing during gatherings even if I didn’t really want to perform before those audiences? Well, it’s just you and me in this room, right now. You can ask me to sing anything, and I won’t hesitate. Let me see, what’s your favorite? Ahhh… I remember, you like Barbra Streisand. So let me sing to you…
So I sing . . . to still my fears, to let out my grief . . . and to let Mom feel or hear my love for her . . .
Why? I don’t understand what is happening. Last night, at dinner, everything was fine. It was a normal night at home, or at least, as normal as we could get considering we are not really a normal family. But I liked it that way. I just started High School, the youngest of four. Last night, all six of us were eating dinner, talking like we used to do. I didn’t notice anything amiss. Yeah, maybe Daddy was a bit quieter than usual, but he never really was a chatterbox. He just let everyone else talk. Mommy had dark circles under her eyes, but that could be because she always stayed up late to watch her TV series episodes on DVD one after the other. She had just completed Once Upon a Time and is now watching Season 1 of Game of Thrones. I joined her when she was watching Once Upon A Time, but now since school has started again, I had to sleep early. Which probably gave her license to watch the definitely for adults Game of Thrones. My older sister Sari is in her last year of college and she was excitedly talking about her thesis. My two older brothers were uncharacteristically non-challenging, meaning they didn’t tease her as much for being so excited to go into the workforce after graduation. It was a good dinner, a homecoming dinner for oldest brother Cal, who spent a few weeks away for retreat. He was taking a sabbatical from work and now he was home. Chuck, my second oldest brother stared at Cal a lot during the dinner, as if not quite believing Cal was home. Cal was a bit chatty, talking about some stuff he learned during the retreat. Why pottery would interest him, I don’t know, but who was I to question. I was just happy everyone was there. We were a complete family again. No, I don’t understand what is happening.
I am sitting outside of the room, on a bench. They wouldn’t even let me in. When the door opens, I get a glimpse of him. Cal. On a bed, with tubes spouting out from his body. I see machines and monitors. I’ve watched a couple of seasons of House with Mommy last summer, so I know that Cal is in critical condition. He is in the ICU. What I don’t understand is why . . .
Hey, is someone singing??? I move towards the door of the room next door and see that the door is slightly ajar. A woman is singing to her . . . I guess, Mom. The voice is haunting and the way she looked at her mother on the bed, it was almost with . . . grief already. Oh my God . . . is Cal goiing to die??? Why won’t anyone talk to me?!
I don’t know what to do. It’s too early. A month too early. Mae’s Mom was going to be here in a month’s time to help with everything while May gave birth to our first and potentially, only, child. But this is not the way we planned it. One month too early, and the blood was too much . . . the bed was drenched. How could she lose that much blood and still be alive? What about the baby? I don’t know what to do . . . The doctor explained everything to me, but I could not understand. All I know is that both my wife and my son are in critical condition. What should I do? What can I do? I can’t stand from the bench I am sitting on. I am immobile. I don’t know what to do . . .
I notice a movement at the side and saw that a young man is storming out of a nearby room. He sits angrily at a bench and lights up a smoke. My throat suddenly feels dry, and in my desperation, I find myself walking to where the young man is, just to smell the cigarette smoke.
The young man looks up at me, his face still contorted in anger. Then his face clears, as if realizing I am not at fault. “You want one?”
I nod in spite of myself. In the back of my mind, I am hearing Mae’s voice chastising me for picking up the habit again. But I am entitled . . . Both my wife and my son are in danger of dying.
Izzy raises her head from her iPod touch, her eyes trying to adjust to the darkening hallway. She finds the source of the voice and sees two men looking at her. Minding her Mom’s warning to never talk to strangers, she goes back to playing another stupid game.
Kyle shrugs his shoulders. “I tried, okay?” he tells Charlie. Charlie smiles. He walks towards the young girl.
“Hi, I’m Charlie. My wife is in the room next to your brother. The angry looking young guy is Kyle. His Dad is in the room next to my wife’s. We were thinking of ordering out for dinner. Are you interested? Pizza, spaghetti and burgers . . .”
Izzy’s stomach growls in response. Without looking up, she says, “How’s your wife?”
“Still in critical condition. She lost a lot of blood. My kid is also in the pedia ICU, so you see, I have nothing left to do but . . . eat . . .”
Izzy looks up and sees the pain in Charlie’s eyes. She nods. “Count me in, but I don’t have a lot of cash.”
Charlie smiles. “No worries, we’ll contribute what we can.” He turns to go.
“Hey, you should also ask her if she wants to eat,” Izzy says softly, her head bowing again to continue the game she was playing.
Charlie looks towards the direction Izzy’s elbow pointed to and he sees Joanna just getting out of the room. She plops on the bench, rests her elbows on her knees and puts her head in her hands. She looks tired. He walks slowly towards her, past Izzy.
“Hi, I’m . . .”
“I would love to eat something . . . Sorry, I heard about pizza, spaghetti and burgers and my feet just took me here, “ Joanna says cheerfully, although her head is still bowed and in her hands.
Charlie laughs and Joanna lifts her head and looks up. “I’m Joanna.”
“I’m Izzy!” Izzy shouts from the next bench, still engrossed in her game.
Then Joanna and Charlie turns to the furthest bench and look at Kyle. Izzy senses something was up and looks up and then looks at Kyle. Kyle catches their stares and suddenly smiles.
“I’m Kyle and I’m fucking hungry!”
An hour and a half later, the food is gone and Joanna is picking up the litter and putting them in the plastic bag the food was delivered in. Kyle and Charlie are smoking and Izzy is playing on her iPod again.
“Who’s here with you?” Kyle asks Izzy.
“No one,” she answers, still playing.
“Aren’t you a bit too young to be all alone here with your brother at this hour?”
“They don’t know I’m here,” she answers.
Joanna stops moving suddenly. “Where do they think you are?”
“At a sleepover with my classmates.”
There is silence. Then Izzy speaks. “I’m not even allowed inside. They don’t tell me anything. I just want to be close to him . . .” her voice trails off. She is still playing her game, unmindful of the tears coursing down her cheeks.
“What do you mean they don’t tell you anything?” Kyle demands.
“Kyle, don’t,” Charlie says.
“I don’t know why my brother is here. They won’t tell me what happened.”
Kyle’s eyes are flashing with anger. “Did you ask them?”
“Kyle,” Joanna whispers.
“Can’t . . . They are just so distraught. Can’t talk to anyone.”
“Do you really want to know?” Kyle asks.
Izzy is silent for a while, still playing her game. Then, she whispers. “Yes . . .”
Izzy stares at Cal’s face. For some reason, Kyle, Joanna and Charlie are able to get her into the room, so she had some time alone with her brother. Also, she was able to find out what really happened. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for Izzy’s sake, it was very easy to get the information from the nurses on shift at the ICU. Kyle merely had to flirt a litte, Joanna had to use her nice “I’m your friend” charm, and Charlie just played the pity card. Between the three of them, they got the real deal, from 3 different nurses.
I still don’t understand. Maybe even more now, than before. I don’t understand, Cal, why you did what you did. Was life so bad that you wanted to quit? I can’t imagine. But maybe, since no one tells me anything, there is a lot I don’t know. Like, obviously, the retreat was not a retreat, but a “rehab” of sorts. The nurses said you were sick, you were manic depressive, you were bipolar. Google gave me what they meant, but I still couldn’t connect them with you. Was it merely physical/chemical? Or where there events that triggered everything? Did I– Did I add to that trigger? Do I have a fault in this somehow?
Izzy reaches for Cal’s hand and she holds on to him, willing him to wake up. Willing him to be okay. The tears are flowing down her face and suddenly, Izzy just crumples and cries. Joanna, who is sitting silently nearby inside the room with Izzy, takes the young girl in her arms and comforts her.
Kyle and Charlie are smoking outside, waiting for Izzy and Joanna to come out from Izzy’s brother’s room.
“Why do you hate him?” Charlie asks out of the blue.
Kyle is silent for a while, inhaling deeply and slowly exhaling smoke. Then he speaks softly. “He never had time for me. He was always working and everytime I tried to engage him, it was as if I wasn’t good enough to recognize. Not good enough to spare a minute for. It went on for years, until I was just too tired to try anymore, and he just grew more distant. He was so into his work, it’s like his family didn’t exist anymore. I would sometimes catch my Mom crying, because, obviously, they have not had an intimate or loving relationship for years as well. I felt . . . I felt like we were just there, an inconvenience to him.”
“What is his work?”
“He is a teacher, a damn good one. And when you see him with his students, he would be the most charismatic person around. He lived and breathed teaching. With us, he was just . . . not there.”
“You have other siblings?”
“Yeah, two younger sisters.”
“Do they feel the same as you?”
Kyle is silent. “No, they don’t understand why I am mad.”
“Same. It’s like I am imagining this all by myself.”
“Were you close when you were a child?”
Kyle smiles. “Inseparable. We went everywhere together.”
“I guess life happened. My two sisters were born and he got more pressured to earn money. Rising costs and more mouths to feed, more kids to send to school. He would take on extra jobs, extra hours, he would be gone because some of the work took him to provinces to mount talks, seminars. At first it was intermittent, then it would be more frequent. Then after a while, we were just surprised when he is home.”
“So, tell me again, why do you hate him?”
Kyle sighs. “I . . . I miss him. And I hate him because he doesn’t seem to miss me. I don’t understand how we could go from being the closest father and son team to being almost strangers. And now . . . Now, I . . . “
This time, it is Charlie’s turn to comfort Kyle.
Charlie looks up. He is sitting with Kyle, who had stopped crying but is still bent over on the bench.
“Your wife is awake. She’s asking for you.”
Charlie stands up, then hesitates. Kyle looks up and smiles. “Go, man. Hope everything is okay.”
Charlie rushes into the room.
Joanna and Izzy joins Kyle outside. Kyle cocks his eyebrow at Joanna and she gives a small nod. Izzy is going to be okay, it meant. While Kyle tells them about Charlie’s wife waking up, a middle-aged couple walks in through the hall entrance. They are moving to Izzy’s brother’s room when they notice Izzy sitting between Joanna and Kyle.
“Izzy?” The woman says.
“We thought you were at Clarice’s . . .” The man says, his face frowning.
Izzy looks up, stands and says, “I’m sorry I lied. But I had to know what happened, and I had to be here with him. It would be better if it came from you, you know, the real reason, so I won’t be putting different stories together from scratch.”
The man and the woman look at each other and sigh. The woman then extends her arms to Izzy and Izzy goes to her mother. Together, the three enter the room.
“I hope she would be okay,” Joanna whispers.
“Well, it is a bit of a shock to find out from other people that your brother attempted to commit suicide, and not knowing whether he succeeded or not,” Kyle whispers back.
They are silent.
“You have a nice voice. The song was soothing,” Kyle whispers.
Joanna blushes. “Was it loud? I never meant it to be heard outside of the room.”
“It wasn’t loud, it was just right. It calmed me. I was so angry, and now I can’t remember why I was angry in the first place.”
“He’s your father, and from all I know, he has not been anything but a good father to you and your siblings. He never beat you, right?”
“He never fooled around or had another family, right”
“Not that I know of. Okay, I get it, he was never really bad. I guess I just needed him to be more there for me.”
“Then tell him. We don’t know until when our parents are there. Tell him what you really want him to know. What you would want him to remember if and when he wakes up, or when he goes.”
Kyle nods. He rises slowly and goes to his father’s room.
Joanna savors her solitude in the hall for a while. Then she stands and enters her mother’s room.
Charlie walks into the ICU hall with a spring in his steps. His wife has been transferred to a regular room as she was pronounced out of danger. Their son is still in the Pedia ICU, but he is responding very well to treatment. His mother in law had arrived. Things are going to be okay.
Kyle is just coming out from his father’s room and he sees Charlie. “Hey, I heard.”
Charlie smiles. “Yeah, I’m lucky. How . . . How is everyone?”
Kyle lights up a cigarette. “My Dad is still out. Joanna’s Mom is getting worse. And . . . Izzy’s brother died early this morning.”
Charlie becomes quiet. Kyle smiles. “Don’t feel bad, Charlie. You are right to be happy. Your wife is okay, your kid is on his way to being okay. Life is good.”
Joanna comes out of her mother’s room. “Hey Charlie, I heard. Congrats!”
Charlie smiles sadly.
Joanna sits on the bench. “I have to tell my siblings that we should decide to pull the plug . . .”
Charlie lightly taps Joanna’s shoulders and Kyle gives her a quick hug.
Joanna takes out her cellphone and starts calling.
Hey Dad. What I said yesterday, about me hating you? Well . . . I still sort of do. But I love you too. I guess too much that since we never got to spend that much time together anymore, I sort of resented you. I was your first-born son, your favorite. And now, I am just one of the crowd of mouths to feed, minds to school, bodies to clothe and shelter. I miss you and because I was hurt, I took it out on you. I now remember times when you were reaching out, when I was the one that shut the door. For me, it was easier that way, rather than to get hurt again, when I would start “losing” you again. But this . . . this takes the cake. I might lose you any minute, and I’ve never had to chance to tell you I’m Sorry. That I love you. That I miss you.
Kyle cries, holding his father’s still hand. Then he feels a faint squeeze. He looks up and sees his father’s eyes squinting at him.
Kyle’s father tries to open his mouth, but only gets out a croak. But his eyes are fully open and alert and they are looking lovingly at Kyle.
“Nurse!!!! My father’s awake!”
The nurses and doctor run into the room.
Goodbye, Mom. I love you. I will do whatever I could to make sure I won’t disappoint you. I will take care of everything.
With a nod from Joanna, the doctor starts turning off the machines that kept her mother alive. Her whole family is there, siblings, nieces and nephews and in-laws, surrounding the bed with love and support. Joanna looks at the monitor for her Mom’s vital signs and as the numbers decrease, she feels her own grief well up. This is It . . . This is goodbye. She grips her Mom’s hand in hers and whispers a silent prayer, until she hears the sound of the flatline. A dull continuous sound. Her Mom is gone.
At a fire escape, Charlie and Kyle smoke in silence.
“How’s the kid?”
“Improving. He is a fighter. I think he is going to make it.”
“When will you take your wife home?”
“Tomorrow. Your Dad?”
“A few more days here, for some tests, but on the whole, he’s okay.”
“Have you seen Izzy and Joanna?”
“Izzy, no . . . but she texted me that everything was explained to her. Her brother will be cremated in a few days.”
“Is there a wake?”
“I think maybe it’s only for family.”
“She’s busy with all the arrangements. But her Mom will have a wake. She said she will let us know. Would be good to get together again.”
Then they are silent again, each sad about their new friends’ loss, but inwardly happy that they are the lucky ones to have a chance to be with their loved ones for a longer time.
Oh Kyle, I’m sure you don’t mean that. I love you so much. So, so much. I will never do anything to hurt you. God, I wish I could hug you now, lift you up in my arms and make the pain go away. But you are now a grown man, and I am . . . well, I am here . . . unable to communicate.
Burt sees so much hate on Kyle’s face and he wonders how they had come to this. How can the son he loved above all others look upon him like he was the vilest of people? He looks upon Kyle and still sees the little boy he had been when most of their time was spent together. Burt took Kyle everywhere, even when Kyle had not been out of his diapers, he had taken Kyle to the places that Burt loved. They shared everything together. Where had he gone wrong? As his family grew, so did the responsibilities. Everything he did, he did it for his family. Every waking hour he spent making sure his family would want for nothing. He worked his ass off to ensure that Kyle and his sisters would go to the best schools, have things that were not dirt cheap, and eat food that people would die for. Why does his son hate him for doing those things? Surely he understood that all that work was necessary?
Burt hears the music, at almost the same time that Kyle does, and he feels good. For two days he had been scared and feeling alone, waking up and understanding what had happened to his physical body. The heart attack took him by surprise. But as he hears the music, he realizes he is not alone. He moves toward the source of the music and sees a woman singing to her sick Mom on the bed. Only . . . the Mom is also beside the woman, looking at her with so much love, wanting, but not able to touch her. The woman must have sensed a presence, because she looks up and sees Burt and recognition dawns on her face. A kindred spirit! Literally.
Joanna, I am sure you will be able to do it. Out of all your siblings, I chose you. Because I knew out of all of you, you will be the one that will be able to handle this. You will be fair. You will take care of them. I know, baby, that it is hard, since it comes at a time when you’re dealing with losing me, but you’ve had years of preparation. We all knew I was on borrowed time, since the first time I was diagnosed with cancer. This . . . this sucks, but I’ve lived my life, and at least now, I don’t feel the pain.
Leslie looks lovingly at her youngest daughter’s face. The fine lines are beginning to form, the first wisps of white hair beginning to be noticeable. But Leslie will always see Joanna as her baby, a baby that came after a painful miscarriage. A baby that came 10 years after the last one. Joanna was the baby she was able to really be a mother to, since she already had practice with the previous 3 kids. Joanna came at a time when Leslie was mellowing, when Leslie had stopped struggling against everything that was happening. Joanna came at a time that Leslie was prepared to be a mother.
The music fills the room and as always, when Joanna sang, Leslie feels comforted, and proud and happy. Her baby has done well. Oh I wish I could hug you now, baby.
Leslie senses a movement and sees through the glass wall into the nurse’s station. There is a man looking into her room, listening to her daughter sing. But this is no ordinary man. He is in the same boat that she was.
Cal takes a few minutes to understand what had happened. It didn’t work. Damn it. I have not yet died. I am in this fucking suspended animation state. What the–? Is this my punishment?
He looks at the stream of people coming through his room and he feels suddenly . . . sad. What have I done? I am such a coward.
He has to look at each of the faces that he loved. His father and his quiet strength, but with guilt and failure evident in his eyes. His beautiful mother, with her haunted eyes, confused at what had happened, struggling to be strong. His sister Sari, suddenly silent looking stern and even angry. His younger brother Chuck, unmindful of the tears coursing down his cheeks, a hint of betrayal in his eyes. Cal knows that they knew what he had tried to do and they are reacting in different ways. He feels their pain, he feels their love. And he feels worse. At the time he took the pills, he thought everything was hopeless, he felt no one understood him, he felt no one loved him. But here . . . he knows he is wrong. And he wants to take it back.
He had been diagnosed with manic depression a few months ago. It had completely unhinged him. When he was in college, everything was fine. He had been an achiever, the life of the party, everyone’s go-to guy. He was popular and he was mostly on a natural high. He loved life, he loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved what he was. There were periods when he did feel low, but these were periods that were not frequent, and usually addressable by his incessant partying and alcohol intake. But in college, everyone drinks and parties, so there was no problem.
When he had started working, that’s when things took a turn for the worse, so to speak. This was real life now. And he needed to be responsible. He had so many great ideas, but for some reason, the bosses at his company failed to see and recognize his brilliance. There were people at work who were out to get him, whose only aim was to make sure he didn’t succeed. There was a project he wanted to land, but his detractors sabotaged him and he lost to one of them. When he tried explaining to his boss his suspicions, his boss looked at him like he was crazy. He stormed out and went on a drinking spree. Two days later, his father fetched him at a seedy motel, while he bawled his eyes off. He couldn’t even remember how he got there.
His family thought his problem was the alcohol, so they put him in rehab. But the doctor’s diagnosis gave them pause. Manic depression. And they had started giving him the meds. The meds that made him feel . . . normal, but boring and clearly, not special. He missed the high. He loathed the lows, but he had learned to live with them, they were such an integral part of who he was. The “normal” was never who he was. So he felt lost. And the more that his family agreed to the treatment, the more that he knew they never knew him at all, that they never really understood his essence. They were killing who he was. They wanted him to be meek, mild and controllable.
He was mad. He wanted to take back his life. And he took the pills . . . a lot of the pills that he swiped from the pharmacy in rehab because . . . because . . . Damn it! Why? Because I was at a low. I was depressed, and since I wasn’t taking my meds, I hit an all-time low. It wasn’t the rational me thinking. It was the chemical imbalance talking and I stupidly listened. Was this who I wanted to be? A person on a see-saw? One day so high I think I can rule the world and solve all the problems? And one day so low I just want to kill myself?
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Izzy look into the room through a crack in the door. He sees her distraught face and he sees… he sees confusion.
Oh God, does she know? Did they tell her? How will she handle this? Oh fuck, what have I done?
Cal then hears someone singing. And it is music to his ears, an oasis to this confusing state he is in. He follows the sound and sees… that he is not alone…
Where’s my baby? How is he? Oh God, it is too early, we still had about a month to go before he should have been born! I remember waking up and feeling weak and damp. The smell… the blood… there was so much blood…
Mae sees Charlie beside her bed, holding her hand, crying. Through snippets of conversations between Charlie and the nurses and doctors, she understands what had happened.
They have tried for so long to have a child, but it took years, and two miscarriages before the pregnancy progressed. Everything had been going smoothly, although Mae was in her forties already, so it was considered a high-risk pregnancy. During the last trimester, she was advised to go on complete bed rest, since she had started spotting, and she had. Charlie had taken care of her through those few months and they had just been talking about the name the night before. But when she had woken up, all hell had broken loose.
Oh my God, where’s my baby boy? Mae was frantic.
As if on cue, she hears a weak cry, and she knows her baby is in the same state she is in, but he is fighting. Shouldn’t she fight too?
“He is adorable!” Leslie coos. “What’s his name?”
“Anton,” Mae says with a smile, as she cradles her very small son close to her chest.
“He is so small . . . and fragile,” utters Burt, as he looks at the small scrunched up face.
“Aren’t we all?”
Leslie, Burt and Mae turn towards Cal. He looks . . . forlorn.
After a few minutes together, they all knew why everyone was there. They didn’t understand exactly where “there” was, but they accepted it.
“None of you chose this . . . to be this close to death. But for some reason, I did. And I can’t for the life of me understand or even remember what that reason is,” Cal whispers.
Burt goes to Cal’s side. “You remind me of my son, Cal. And I know it would hurt me pretty bad if my son chooses your way.”
Leslie puts a hand on Burt’s shoulder. “Burt, don’t . . . now is not the time to do this.”
Burt looks up at her. “When is the time? When we’re all really dead? We don’t know which ones of us will make it. We don’t know what lies next for some or all of us. But I do believe we all have to pay for our actions.”
Cal breaks down.
“Burt, that was uncalled for,” Leslie says sternly.
“Really? I think he needed to hear that. People do things not really considering the effect on others.”
“Well, if I’m not mistaken, you have single-handedly made your son hate you so bad that he didn’t want to see you when you had your attack until his mother begged him.”
Burt looks at Leslie with a bit of steel in his eyes.
“I’m sure you were such a bitch when you were alive.”
Leslie smiles. “I’ve been called worst. And I’m not dead yet.”
Burt smiles. “Touche.”
“I’m so sorry. Any of you who makes it, please tell my family . . .” Cal says.
Mae whispers, “Don’t say that, Cal.”
“I have to. I’m sure I won’t make it. I took too many pills to recover, but maybe not enough to drop dead on the spot. I am the only one who chose this. So I deserve to die. All of you didn’t choose to die.”
“You are too young to die, Cal. You are just too young and impulsive. Believe me, what you think is so big is really not that big. And based on what I can see, you have so many people who love you,” Mae says.
“That’s why I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. What was I thinking?”
“You’re sick . . . You have a chemical imbalance. Weren’t you taking your meds?” Burt asks.
“I stopped, because I loved being high. The meds made me . . . calm, but bored,” Cal says.
“And so you crashed. Which was inevitable with the high,” Leslie says.
Cal smiles. “You two are just like my parents . . .”
“Well, your parents can’t scold you now. Some people ought to,” Mae says with a laugh.
“Hey, your kid sister is outside. They won’t let her in. I’m not even sure she should be here. It’s night time,” Leslie says.
Cal smiles. “Little Izzy is a resourceful one. I’m sure no one told her what happened and it’s just eating at her.” He frowns. “I did this. I did this to her. She won’t be the same after this.”
“No she won’t. No one in your family will be. Consequences,” Burt says.
Cal feels Izzy’s grief as she cries while holding his hand. For some reason, Burt’s son, Leslie’s daughter and Mae’s husband found a way for Izzy to get into his room. They also were able to get the real story of his confinement. And he sees the pain in Izzy’s eyes as she asks him whether she drove him to it.
Oh my dear, Izzy. If I can take it back, I will. I never meant to hurt anyone. I was just thinking of ending the pain in my heart. I was . . . selfish . . .
He sees Joanna comfort Izzy. Cal turns to Leslie and smiles. He mouths, “Thank You.” Leslie nods with a smile, proud of her daughter for comforting the young girl, even if her own grief is huge.
“If you live . . . what would you do?” Leslie asks. They are lounging in the nurses’ station, in full view of all their rooms.
“I’d repair my relationship with my son. I’d spend time to repair that relationship. As well as my relationship with my entire family,” Burt says. “I’ve always been ‘work, work, work’. Earn money so my family can live comfortably. Not thinking that living meant spending time with me.”
“I’d be the best mother and wife the world has ever seen,” Mae says, while still cradling Anton.
“I’d ask for forgiveness. I’ll tell Izzy and my family, they were never at fault, it was all me. And I’ll take my meds and learn to live with what I have,” Cal says.
“And you?” Burt asks.
“Ahhh . . . I’d take a cruise with my kids, and live out whatever time I have left enjoying their company,” Leslie whispers.
“I wonder . . . how would we know whether we live or die?” Cal asks.
“I’m sure we’ll know. If we live, we wake up in the real world. If we die, I think we move on . . .”
They are silent.
Then Mae gasps. Cal, Burt and Leslie turn to her. Leslie sees that Mae is fading, so she rushes and gets the baby from her.
“No! No!!!! My baby! Give me back my baby!”
And then she is gone. Cal, Burt and Leslie turns to Mae’s room and sees a nurse calling for a doctor. Mae has woken up.
Cal has to go back to his room since his parents and Izzy has entered. Cal sees how his parents explained everything to Izzy, how Izzy knew but she still cried anyway. They all did. After an hour or so, Sari and Chuck comes in again, and they are a complete family in the room. They stay until morning. They are all there, his family, when Cal starts slowly drifting away.
Cal nods to Burt and Leslie, who is still carrying Mae’s baby. “Please tell them I’m sorry and I love them. Please . . .”
And he is gone. Burt and Leslie look into the room and sees Cal’s family in an embrace, as they share their grief.
Then, Leslie tries to swallow a sob, as the baby in her arms fades away.
“Oh God, I hope he made it . . .” Leslie whispers.
“We’ll know soon enough,” Burt says.
“It’s just you and me now,” Burt says.
Leslie smiles sadly. “Pretty soon, I will go.”
“What do you mean?”
“My daughters just talked to the doctor, and they have decided to pull the plug. It’s about time now. I’m ready . . . and they’re ready.”
Burt looks at Leslie sadly.
“If you meet my Mom, where you’re going, please tell her I said hi and I miss her,” Burt says.
Leslie smiles. “That’s the spirit! You’re going to try to get back, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, even if it kills me!”
And they laugh.
Burt listens to his son talk to him and he vows that he would live. So he goes to his body, sucks a breath and just dives back in. He feels some pain, some weakness, he feels like he is drowning, but his son is holding his hand and Burt holds on and climbs back to life.
Leslie smiles happily when she sees Kyle and Burt embrace. Then she turns back to her room, where her family is slowly trickling in. She looks at every face with love and she realizes, she has lived a full life and she is ready. She feels everyone’s love for her, and when Joanna motions to the doctor to turn off the machines, Leslie closes her eyes and just let whatever happens, happen. And it does.
Burt had just been released from the hospital, when he asks to accompany Kyle to Leslie’s wake. It is the last night of a week-long wake. The burial is on the next day. He formally meets Joanna and Charlie for the first time. Charlie says that his wife is still too weak to go but Burt sends Mae his regards. Charlie gives him a confused smile, but he doesn’t say a word. Izzy is there with her big brother Chuck. Izzy introduces Kyle, Joanna and Charlie. Burt introduces himself. He asks about Cal. Chuck says that Cal had been cremated a couple of days before. Burt asks how they are coping. Izzy and Chuck just shrug with a smile, their actions so identical, they could have been twins.
Burt didn’t know how to do it, but a promise was a promise. He sucks in a breath and starts talking.
“Did you ever wonder what happens to consciousness when someone is “unconscious”, or in a coma, or just, you know, in between life and death?” he asks.
The entire group around him suddenly becomes quiet. Charlie looks at Kyle who shrugs with a grimace on his face. Izzy and Chuck look at each other. It is Joanna who answers.
“I’d like to think that consciousness is still there, maybe in another state. I always felt that my Mom knew and heard what I was saying. I always knew that while her body was still, her brain was . . . or her consciousness was . . . awake.”
Burt smiles. “You remind me of her, your Mom.”
“She is one hell of a lady. A bitch, but a lady,” Burt whispers in Joanna’s ear.
“How . . .?” Joanna starts to ask.
“Hey, don’t ask questions, just hear me, okay?” Burt says.
He looks around and sees that everyone is looking at him with rapt attention.
“There were five of us, but only three made it back. We converged in the nurses’ station, so we could look at each room and monitor each of you.”
“Five . . .?” Charlie asks, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew the answer.
“Mae said that if she lives, she will be the best Mom and wife, and I’m sure Charlie, that she will make good on this promise. Even in that place where we all met, she cared for and protected your son, Anton.”
Charlie suddenly realizes that Mae, who was always talking in her sleep at the hospital, was actually recounting memories. She had not been rambling when she was awake and it was not all due to the medicines in her system. She was telling the truth about meeting people . . . “in her dreams”, although she never gave details. She did say something about someone singing a beautiful song, and only now did Charlie connect it with Joanna.
“Leslie said if she lived she would have gone on a cruise with her children and will just live out her life enjoying your company.” Joanna nods, tears glistening in her eyes.
Burt looks at Izzy and Chuck. “Cal wanted to take it back. He made a mistake. He didn’t mean it. He is sorry and he loves you. It was no one’s fault but his, for not taking the medicines and allowing the disease to cloud his judgement .” Izzy and Chuck hold each other, silently crying.
Everyone is silent.
“What was your promise?” Kyle asks.
Burt looks at Kyle and smiles. “I would repair what was broken and I would spend time . . . with you . . . and the family,” Burt says smiling. “It was eye opening to finally see and hear about your hate for me.” Kyle hangs his head in embarrassment. “But I knew you. I knew you were hurting and I knew I could take away the hurt. I just needed to try. And so . . . I did. I am.”
Kyle hugs his Dad.
Joanna catches Kyle’s eyes and smiles. Charlie catches Izzy’s eyes and smiles.
Then Joanna gasps. Everyone turns to her. “I had a dream last night, about Mom. And when I woke up, I was mulling over something she said, but maybe . . .” Joanna stares at Burt. “Maybe you’ll understand.”
“Mom said, and I’ll try to say it verbatim, ‘tell that workaholic fool he should make good on his promise to spend time with his family. Time is precious. Life is fleeting. Second chances are seldom given. He should use his smartly. Tell him, his Mom and I hit it off. She’s an even bigger bitch that I am. She says hello and she misses him too.’”
Burt smiles, saying a silent prayer of thanks to Leslie.
Joanna’s sister catches Joanna’s eyes and motions for her to address the crowd. With joy bursting in her heart after what Burt said, knowing that her mother had been listening to her during those days in the hospital, she looks across the crowd of people who came to offer their love and support to her family and she thanks them the only way she knew how.
She sings. And the music fills the room.
Cal and Leslie look over the people they love and they were content.