Continued from chapter 14 of the Devastation Series.
It was all surreal. I gave up momentarily by shutting down my feelings and care. As more time passed, I started to feel things again, this time in intense waves. I navigated hope, sorrow, anger, and great disappointment. It felt unfair – but then I felt shame that I was being selfish. Since it was his suffering and others’ sufferings that would be impacted, I did not think that worrying about me was appropriate for that time. Regardless, the feelings inside remained and consumed me like he had already passed. I had to remind myself that nothing was final yet. My ego chimed in with encouragement as well. The doctor had not reviewed the scans yet. Surely, there would be solutions or maybe there was a misdiagnosis. I reframed the situation and searched for more medical advice from the internet. Nothing good ever came from Dr. Google’s images for me.
I needed to think about something else and after another shot of alcohol, it became easier. Nothing was going to change that I could help with at that time so, I tried to continue and encourage myself. Slightly tipsy, I bobbled over to the desk. I sat down with a large chair creak as I flopped down and rocked the chair backward. A surge of adrenaline spiked my chest with a sharp gasp, thinking I was going to fall. I stabilized and collected myself, “Settle down now, Jake,” I muttered. I slid the Macbook open and tried random words at the login screen. Each time the screen shook with the same failed attempt. “I wonder if Sam had a good memory…” I asked myself. Like most people, maybe he had a password book somewhere. Since he wrote many things down I determined that it was worth hoping for. He was online before the Digitization Act, so that habit could have still existed.
There were several drawers in the desk. A center one, two small drawers on each side, and a filing drawer to the bottom right. The desk was weathered and worn from use and the compressed wood pilled away in spots which appeared to be old condensation rings. Dust bunnies congregated in corners where my cleaning rag had missed the pickup. Like a snowplow in a parking lot – little piles collected where my strokes ended. I knocked several to the floor as I picked a drawer. I opened the top right drawer first and rummaged through the contents. Common items like a stapler, paper clips, calculator, and pens were loosely organized in the front. I reached to the back and slid the contents forward. Several small half-empty notepads and loose-leaf pages slid forward, pushing the office supplies around. I flipped through the existing pages but didn’t find anything of value to my cause. Sporadic scribbles or imprints from the notes prior were all that was left. I even Looked at those impressions but did not see anything that I could decipher as the answer to my questions.
The next drawer contained more of the same. I found a few miscellaneous notes-to-self but nothing of any real help in the investigation. I continued to the middle drawer next but only found a business cardholder. I had not seen one of those in ages. I flipped through the cards and saw a few personal cards. I also saw a few cards from local horticulturists, which I found to be of potential value. There was a chance that if I was desperate enough, someone at one of these places may have information that could be useful. It was a long time ago, but the timeframe that was in question was memorable for some people. I could also research more on self-sustainment with some of these contacts. With my detective hat back on, I was convinced that something of value would turn up. I took another swig, shaking off the swallow. I remembered my father as I sat the bottle down. The weight of the thoughts pressed on me again. The drunk feeling switched from forgetting about it to making it the focus. I slammed my elbows on the table and buried my Face into my hands. I fought the drowsiness but couldn’t escape too far…
A shriek of panic projected from my mouth as I grasped at the desk and empty air while I fell backward. The chair tilted back from my weight while I dozed off. I laid on my back, feet in a mangled position above me, draped over the chair seat, and legs. I stared at the ceiling and felt pressure with throbbing pains throughout my extremities. Some of it was the angle, some of it was the impact of my fall. I laid there, pretzel-like for several minutes. Helplessness overcame me and I started to cry as the drunken stupor kicked back in. I drifted off again and stirred awake when some of the proof finally wore off.
I had finished falling and my body laid sideways over the chair back with my legs to the side. I rolled to my stomach with some heavy grunts. I Pulled my legs around and held myself steadily on knees and elbows then collapsed back to the floor and rested my forehead on the rug. I caught myself before I zoned back out and looked back towards the chair. I maneuvered my body to the side vs. laying over the chair back. With my chin on the ground, my eyes looked to the desk. I saw a yellow square under the desk, against the body of it. I barely balanced my wobbly self as I forcefully nudged the chair out of my way, with a grunt.
It was dark under the desk and my vision was impaired so I could not decipher much more than letters. I pulled the posted note off, pulled myself upright, and slapped it on the desk overhead. I grabbed the side of the desk and hoisted my body vertical to a slouching stance. I balanced on the palms of my hands countering the sways that were natural to me at that moment. The note appeared to be a small list.
WORLDISLOST012020 DEVASTATION022020 ESCAPETOMW052020
What was it, I wondered, as I tried to focus? I was not able to think so any analysis was out of the question. I was consumed by physiological pains from earlier, the sways and stomach churns were all I could think about. Recounting how I got to that point led me back to what was going on. I patted the post-note as if to say “I’ll be back for you.”
I pulled the phone from my pocket and checked for any missed calls. I turned around and fell into the wall on the way to the bathroom to relieve the pressure. My bladder was screaming and with my stumbles, I barely made it in time. On my way out from the toilet, I passed the desk and took another couple swigs from the luke-warm bottle. I gagged and blew a heavy sigh from the burning in my throat. My care-meter was not registering with common sense was out the window. I fell across the room back to the couch and face planted. I felt the moisture from my warm breaths condensate on my nose and cheeks. I pulled my phone from my pocket and moved it to my face. Holding it only inches from my face, I could see my breaths fog the screen. The stench of whiskey clouded my face. I selected the text function and Valerie with one hand, as I balanced the phone on a decorating pillow and couch. I pecked, “Daddsas inn hospital the comma.” Send. I realized the gross typing after hitting send and chalked it up to the moment. It was not a regular practice – but drunk texting was a real thing to me.
Several hours later, I found myself clumsily shuffling to the bathroom. I was momentarily sober in between spells of adrenaline. I washed my hands in the sink and gawked at the mirror. My jaw hung open and the spit dripped down my lips string like then fell into the sink. My eyes were puffy, and dark bags had formed highlighting the red around my corneas. I wiped my nose with my wrist and ran it underwater. Anger was running through my body and I couldn’t think straight enough to sway it one way or the other. I spit at myself in the sink and stomped back to the couch. I slammed the rest of the bottle and tossed it to the side of the room. I slurred “What the F#@K…” with a slurped spit gasp, “is wrong with me?” And faded back away.
I heard banging in the background but it did not register where it was coming from. I jumped, “Ahhh!!!” as a pain shot across the back of my head. I abruptly swung around glaring at a figure.
“Get the [email protected]#k up,” Valerie said in a tone I had not heard yet. I could make her out, with voice recognition.
“What the hell is it with you?” My limited quick wit snapped back.
“Get. Up.” She reiterated. I pushed myself up and moved to a sitting position. She handed me a hot coffee from Coffee Joe’s down the street. The label on the side of the cup read “Chai – Dirty – 2++” It was loaded with extra espresso.
“What… are you…?” I started to question, as I began to come to my senses, but was still dazed from the quick activity. I looked at my watch – 11 AM.
“You will get my attention if I call you, and you’re a dick.” She stated plainly.
“What are you talking about?” I turned over my phone to several missed calls and texts.
“I got your illegible texts this morning when I awoke for chores. Worried about your dad – I called you right away. It wasn’t even that early – 7-8, maybe? Then you answered, slurred, mentioned something about not caring, and fell asleep during the convo. With snores…” She started to do the body motions to support her sassy attitude.
“I talked to you?” It was more rhetorical at this point.
“Yee-aa-hhh…” She drew out the response with sarcasm, “you’re not going to do this now.” We both took a sip from our coffee cups. The sweet and spicy chai was refreshing against the stale booze left in my mouth. “If you are going to fall apart, I get it… but we don’t know anything yet, so get it and hold it together. Now get your ass up and get dressed… clean clothes… and then let’s go.” She snapped into a mom mode. I was not sure how I felt about that, but did as she asked.
“How did you? When?” I was silenced by the look on her face. I forced myself up and limped to the clothes piles to pick out fresh jeans and T.
“Get going, I will tell you details when you’re moving.” She instructed. I continued to grab my underwear and socks then moved to the bathroom. She added, “Rinse off… you stink.” I turned on the water and cracked the door. I stepped into the stall and the water pounded against my throbbing head. The hot water ran over my body and the steam cleared my sinuses.
“So can you fill me in on some details – please, Val?” I called out from the bathroom with an echo.
“After I got you on the phone, I knew you were not in a good way. I then called the hospital and check on the status of your dad. I talked to the nurses and got the latest. I remembered the apartment complex from your navigation system in the car, and you talked about 116. I knew how I would find you – so I grabbed a coffee. Your kind of coffee. And me one too.” She had a more pleasant tone now.
“Ok, I don’t know if I should be impressed or scared. Quick – Dad?” I stopped to listen.
“No update… more than what you know I’d imagine. Rounds didn’t happen yet.” She replied.
“Okay…” I paused to cough, “so how did you get in?”
“The front door was unlocked as was your apartment.” She said with an underlying you-are-an-idiot tone.
“[email protected]#$,” was all that I could get out.
“Not all true… I came over right after you were a moron on the phone. I called the hospital on the way over here. I did know how I would find you. I did not know that your front door would be open. Then I got to your apartment, or Samuels – 116 – whatever… I banged on your door for — God knows how long — and you answered. Well, you didn’t really answer… you unlocked it and I came in just as you were falling back on the couch.”
“I answered?!?!” a shrill shock choked out of me in the water.
“I came in – assessed the situation… waited for a few moments then woke you up.” I could almost hear her eyes rolling.
“Thank you.” I could not say much else at this point. All frustration converged into humility and shame. The red-eyed-baggy-faced man in the mirror from earlier that morning was staring back at me again. I stood, naked, in front of the shower. I looked down and dried off, then got dressed. The water brought some life to me and the blood flow added some temporary pep to my step. The heavy feelings were pushed to the side and I functioned out of expectation. The cool apartment air rushed over my head and face. My ears felt hot from the shower and quite possibly conversation under breaths. I took another drink from the coffee cup and saw the empty bottle against the wall where the cap had popped off. A small dent, like a crescent moon, was imprinted in the wall right above… where it rested.
“Souvenir?” She asked, mocking me.
“I guess so…” I said, ashamed and humiliated. She could easily see the weight that grew on my shoulders.
“Not my first rodeo – Jake. You have the right to be upset. You let something get the best of you, though. Happens… It is the decision you make after that – that counts. Now let’s go. And don’t make me hunt your ass down again.” She offered empathy followed by a stern tone.” I rubbed my face and my hands over my head then smacked my cheeks like I was trying to blush them, in a wake-up effort. I grabbed my things and we walked out of the door. I made a point to be obvious that I locked it as we left.
“What did you mean not your first rodeo?” I asked as we pulled our masks over our faces.
“Remember my story that I said I would tell you?” She looked at me.
“Yes, I do.” I nodded.
“Well… when you hear that, you’ll understand.” She looked straight ahead to the parking lot. “But not right now…” she ended the sentence and chance of that story right then.
The car was warm from the sun and without the cooling environment kicked in. “Alexa, cool us down, please,” I called out as we got in. Within a couple of minutes, the hyper-tint had adjusted and the stabilization was running at full capacity. Once the car cooled off, and we settled in, I selected the hospital. “Any music you would like – we have a few minutes?” I looked at Valerie.
“Just pick something.” She continued looking ahead. Her face is often full of expressions but was very somber this time. She did not wear much makeup, and she always appeared to be put together. Whether it was casual or working – she looked the part. Her hair flowed over her shoulders and brown eyes drew you into her face. She was deep into herself. I could not tell if it was buried emotion or focused attention. I picked a 20’s/30’s rock playlist and turned the volume up.
We did not say a word on our way to the hospital. I think we both dwelled on our lack of knowledge as to what was happening to Dad. While medical care is always improving, there are still things in the body that we cannot resolve. And neither of us were ready to learn what else couldn’t be helped. It may have just been the anxiety of arriving – hearing unwelcomed news, I told myself. We both listened to music as the trees jogged by. I had not noticed the sun tuck itself behind a thunder-wall. “Fitting,” I thought to myself. Layers of gray piled over the sun just under halfway in the sky. While we were driving away from the storm, the clouds still overtook us. The afternoon started to look like an evening around the time we turned into the hospital parking lot.
It felt like weights were being piled on us as we stepped out of the car; lead boots with the additional weight each step. We managed to hit all the elevators either empty or opening up. Not stalling was helpful, but it still did not alleviate the feelings of being trapped or lost; a sense of being controlled. I was sure that once we knew something we would be able to go on with our day. Be normal. Like it was a bad dream, I convinced myself that I would wake up and my life would resume. My ego started preying on both sides of the scenario. What if he dies? What if he awoke – what about if he was a vegetable? While I did not want to go back, I wished that Maggie could listen. She was a place that I could vent, albeit at the price of my emotional safety. It worked for so long though. She knew the backgrounds that Valerie did not.
I opened the door of his room and a nurse was looking at his chart. She looked over at us and gave us and an apologetic nod. We tiptoed into the room like it was full of shards of glass. “Are you family?” The nurse asked as she turned to face us.
“Son and …” I paused, running through the options in my mind. I blurted the first one that came to my mind, without thinking it through… “Son and my fiance.” The glare I received could have turned Medusa to stone. Valerie raised her arms and placed her hand on my bicep with a squeeze. Her tiny hands cupped my arm while her fingers dug into the muscle. She didn’t have to work very hard at it since I was mostly skin and bone.
“Thanks… honey…” she looked away from me to the nurse. “Has the case been evaluated beyond the AIS’s?” The nurse swiped the digital pages back and forth a few times before turning back to Valerie,
“Not yet – the rounds will be any moment now,” then she looked back to the charts. The nurse finished up her review and left the room.
The room grew deathly quiet. I thought about the room that way, the prospects restricted my airways and made my breathing short. I am not sure if Valerie was role-playing – or if she genuinely cared, but she gently rubbed the center of my back which had started to sweat. I suddenly found myself in the jungle of emotions, which, I knew I would have to hatchet through very soon. Furniture creaked and beeps echoed making the room seem empty and hollow. The footprints were amplified from the hallway and even breathing seemed loud in the still… I felt like I had nowhere to turn and lost time while I stared blankly through the floor and ceiling tiles. “I do not know what to do Valerie…and I don’t even have a decision to make yet.”
“It will come to you,” she said delicately. We did not know each other on a deep level, but there was obvious care shared between her and me. She offered me basic human comforts as she side hugged me then patted my leg. I subtly shook my head while maintaining my stare, unsure if I was disagreeing or just making any motion for acknowledgment.
I grew increasingly restless with the silence, I started telling stories that I had held on to over the years. I began telling the empty room, but Valerie was my intended audience. I first recalled a fishing trip from my early childhood. “My father woke me up one Saturday morning to catch the big one. We were sure of the spot this time… We had gone fishing dozens of weekends, but this one stands out to me.” I felt a giddiness in my voice. “We always got to the lake before the sun was peeking over the horizon. He would wake me up around 3 AM, or at least that is what I remember [laughs]. It was flipp’n early – if not that early. I would wake up and sit in a chair that we had in the living room. He would pour a bowl of cereal and eat while watching an infomercial on the tv. He never bought anything from the advertising. I think that he just liked seeing the ridiculousness of the items. It would just be playing quietly in the house adding life to the night, while he ate. I would sometimes make a bowl of cereal too. After waking up for a few minutes, I would go get a playset of jeans and a T-shirt that could become ‘fishy.’ This time, I had a special vest that I put on.
“It was a fishing or sporting vest. Little pockets were all over it like it was a tactical vest, I had little things crammed in each one. I know that I had a couple of palm-sized toys in one, but I remember having a couple of the plastic grubs that I liked using in another. I had miniature bobbers in one of the side pockets. They were for watching if you had a bite – the bobber weighed the line down with some slack and would slam to the pole if a fish took off with your bait. Or we would troll once in a while and I would set the bobber for the depth that I thought the sunfish or crappies were biting. I had gum in another pocket, Baseball Bubble Chew to be exact, the only real gum, and a multipurpose tool that my dad gave me from his box. I was most proud of the patch that I had ironed on earlier that week. I was beside myself when it came in the mail. I caught a fish that qualified me to join a bass fishing club. I felt like a big-time fisher-man at this point. I sent in a picture of the fish with a story about catching it – and there you have it – a professional. Well obviously… It felt like it to me,” I took a breath and collected my thoughts. Valerie continued watching me just taking it all in.
“This particular Saturday, we took out the boat. A semi-v bottom boat that my dad got a good deal on, well according to him. We didn’t always take it – but it was more special when we did! I think it may be the work that we put into that boat; like a small hobby. We cut a floorboard and mounted it in the boat before the winter last year. We could not afford the big bass boats… so we made due and made our own. The floor was like a subfloor, acting as storage, a live well, and allowed us to sit proudly on top of it in a chair. Just like we saw on TV or in a Pro-Am tournament. This Saturday, was different though. We got to the lake early and hit the water right as the sky was turning pink and orange. We could barely make out the water but didn’t need the flashlight. I always loved getting out there about that time.
“All boats leaked, or at least that is what I thought. Getting in and out of the board, I tracked water up to my front of the boat perch. I think over time it weakened the boards. Anyway…” I used my hands to move to the main point. “It was the first bite of the day. I yanked back to set the hook and pulled the rod tip into the air over my head… As I pulled up and back, I remember seeing the sky then the water and a sudden intense coldness. The board gave way, and as I leaned back – I flipped over the side of the boat. I flailed in the water and grabbed the side of the boat in a panic! I about knocked Dad over as I rocked the boat in my freak out. I mean, I wasn’t going anywhere… It was the startle that did me in… well, and along with the tangles of twine. My dad, darted to the front of the boat, maintaining his balance, and pulled me back inside. Man… He laughed so hard. I was sopping wet…”
“It sounds like a colorful memory, Jake.” Valerie used a soft voice. I was pulled back from the storyland and looked to her, then up to my dad. I looked back at the floor. She continued, “Those are what makes him so great. He loves you.”
“Loved.” I interrupted.
“We don’t know that yet, Jake. Maybe… maybe not.” She almost scolded me.
I continued with stories. Some were out loud, and some were in my head. Some were bold and disruptive to other thoughts; my mischief caused some frustration, I recalled. Some were soft like lullabies as I remembered his delicate side. It was nice to sit with someone. I knew that she was there, at that moment, with me. It was comforting to think about and not quite comprehendible. After several long pauses, Valerie spoke up. “I was married once,” she broke the silence and had to clear her throat. “When I was younger, I married someone that didn’t really care for people. Of course, I didn’t know until he sort of… changed. We lived next door to your dad. Your dad was a very respectable man… One day, after the abuse was too much, I ran away… It didn’t start with that… the abuse. I am no pansy Jake, there were days I could not go outside from the marks…” The silence amplified and I could hear the pain in her voice. “Steve was away for a few hours – we had fought in the morning. He was always drunk and isolated himself from everyone. I wanted a child. I don’t know what I was thinking… Maybe it would change him… but I was also seeing the dead-end for what it was. When he left… I ran away… [chuckled] next door to your dad’s…”
The story was a major clue into Valerie. I felt an olive branch of trust pass between us in that moment. After a momentary pause, she started to continue, but the door was tapped and swung open at the same time. “Jake? The son?” The short man in a smock looked to me as he entered. His face was straight and emotionless. The lines were dark, and bags were piled, below his eyes. His voice was raspy like he coached a ballgame right before entering the room. His hair was parted with oil of some sort and his face needed shaving.
“Yes Sir, that is me. And Val…” I motioned beside me.
“We need to talk about your dad.” He pulled the stool out by the computer workstation, sat, and logged in. “I have had a chance to review the AI-Scan and think that it is mostly accurate.” He trailed off and pulled the documents he was reading onto the display beside me. He continued in a hollow tone, “We have some decisions to make. I am sorry, son…”
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