Thursday, January 11, 2007

Four

I drank that night, as I had done so many nights before, because it was the best way to forget about all the things in our lives that were not right. I drank that night so I could fall asleep – pass out, really – and not have to think about anything other than blackness. At least for a few hours, I would only see blackness.
And so I drank maybe one third of that liter bottle of cheap, screw top (who needs a cork, it only slows you down) red wine. Or was it half of the bottle? I didn’t know. I simply drank until I was sure I could pass out with no problem. And then I went to let the dogs out one last time before hitting the sack. As I was walking down the stairs to the garage door, the phone rang.
Scott, I thought. He usually calls about this time – he’s at work, he’s on a run – delivering a pizza to some fat slob in Jordan, and since we’ve made amends, he’s calling to say goodnight.
“Hello?” I said, my hand on the garage door knob.
Except the person on the other end of the phone wasn’t Scott.
“Has anyone called you yet?” was the reply from the stranger on the other end of the line. It was perhaps the oddest greeting I had ever heard on the other end of a telephone line. I did not recognize the voice. It was a man’s voice, and I had time to wonder, blearily because of the wine, if it was someone calling to tell me he’d seen Scott fucking Selly behind the dumpster at the bowling alley.
“No…who is this?” ”Oh, god – this is the hardest call I’ve ever had to make,” the voice said.
“Who is this?” I repeated. My heart had begun to beat faster. I remember that my palms felt sweaty, which was odd because my hands almost never sweat.
“Scott was in an accident,” the man said. “We’re coming to get you.”
“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“Scott was in an accident and he’s in the hospital. Don’t go anywhere - we’re coming to get you.”
“What? Who is this?” I repeated, as though knowing who the caller was would change the message he had given me. I thought that this must be one of Scott’s co-workers, trying to be funny. Trying very hard to make me believe something that was not true. I couldn’t think clearly. It had to be a joke, because I had just seen Scott myself, maybe two hours before, and he was just fine when I saw him. He’d smiled at me, and kissed me.
“Is this a joke?” I demanded, and I remember that my voice sounded very angry to my own ears. This had to be one of Scott’s idiot friends – Gareth, or Bill maybe – they were drunk again, and messing with me. ”Oh, god – I wish it was a joke.” The stranger spoke those words with such conviction, such…pain, that the sound of his words made my stomach drop. I knew that whoever this was on the other end of the phone – he was serious.
“I don’t understand.” I stammered. “What do you mean, an accident?”
“He wrecked his truck. This is J.R. I work with Scott. We’re coming to get you.”
My vision blurred behind an instant curtain of confused and frightened tears.
“Is he okay?” So he was in an accident, I thought – he must have broken his arm. I remember very vividly the picture I had in my head of Scott, in a hospital bed, with a cast on one arm. In my mind, he grinned sheepishly at me from the bed and said something along the lines of, “I can’t believe I wrecked my truck”.
“He was flown to H.C.M.C” said the voice – J.R., I told myself.
“Oh my god,” I said. “Do you know where I live?” Of course he did, he had been here before. I knew J.R. He had been to the house one time that I could recall, to sell Scott some weed. He was very tall, and a nice guy from what I had seen of him that night.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re coming to get you.”
“Okay,” was all I could say, and then I hung up. I realized that I was now standing in the garage, but I did not remember opening the garage door and stepping down into the cold space. The dogs were both standing in front of me, gazing expectantly up at me, knowing they would go outside and go potty.
I reeled, turning back to the house, then back to the dogs. I grabbed the kennel door and demanded they go inside. I had to lock them up, or they would shit in the garage and Scott would be very pissed of when we got home later that night from the hospital.
If we came home that night, I thought briefly. Then I slammed shut the kennel door and fled upstairs to put of clothes. I was already wearing my pajamas, and I knew that I couldn’t just go to the hospital wearing a t-shirt, flannel pants and no bra. Once dressed, I raced back downstairs, and then, realizing I had to pee very badly, I ran back up the stairs to pee.
At some point, I realized I was crying – tears streamed down my cheeks, and I brushed them violently away. I grabbed my purse, and then fled onto the front porch. I tried to dial my neighbors (and best friends next door) but I couldn’t remember their phone number. I tried again, and again I dialed wrong. I tried to remember their cell phone number, but the panic had already gripped my half-drunken brain, and I could barely push the buttons on the cordless phone. After several attempts – I don’t remember how many – I gave up and looked around.
The neighbor on the other side, Jeremy, appeared to be home – there were lights on in the living room. I raced blindly to his house and began to pound of the door. I was sobbing now, and thinking to myself I should not be so upset over a broken arm. I had to get a hold of myself.
But J.R. hadn’t sounded like he was calling to inform me of a broken arm. He had sounded like he was close to panicking himself.
Jeremy emerged, not from the house as I had expected, but from his own garage. When he saw my face, he flung open his door to ask what was wrong.
“Scott’s been in an accident!” I shrieked, and with that I spun on my heels and raced back to my front porch to wait for J.R. and whoever else was on their way to pick me up. I remember thinking that I HAD to be at home when they arrived.
Without a word of questioning, Jeremy locked his own dogs away and followed me.
The time we spent shivering in the front yard seemed to drag on and on. I had no idea how long it had been since the call, and I had no idea where J.R. had been when he called me. Jeremy peppered me with questions, and I answered none of them. I didn’t know anything at all.
I was half-drunk, but sobering rapidly. My mind was in a frantic swirl of its own questions and suppositions. I tried to calm myself down, but I kept hearing the voice on the phone saying, “Oh god – I wish it was a joke.” Those words hadn’t been spoken…they had been sighed into my ear, as if the voice which had spoken them had tried all that was possible to find another explanation before resigning itself to the those particular words…that particular, horrible truth. The voice had sounded so…sorry, like it really had been the worst call he had ever had to make.
Finally, a dark car turned onto our cull de sac, and I started for the driveway, not knowing if this was even the right car. But it was. It pulled quickly into our drive and stopped. A light came on inside, and I could see that a man – J.R., I thought, that must be him – was driving. A big woman with bigger blond, curly hair was moving things around inside the car, apparently making room for us to get into the back set. I flung the door open and got it, not thinking to make room for Jeremy, who circled to the other side and got in on his own.
I began asking frantic questions, blurting them at the couple in the front seats, and the woman turned fully in her seat to look at me.
“I’m Molly,” she said. “I’m J.R.’s wife. Everything is going to be okay.” She had big, kind eyes, and she wore a pained smile on her face – the kind of smile that said that, no –everything might not be all right after all, but she had to do her best to console me.
She explained all that she knew – that Scott had been driving his truck and had been in an accident. She said that he had been flown to the hospital, and that she had been trying to call the hospital to get information.
“All they will tell me is that he has some skull fractures,” she said.Those words hit me like a physical blow, and I was thrown backward into the seat with the force of them.
“What?” I stammered. “What in the hell does that mean, skull fractures?” The words came out of my mouth like little puffs of frozen air.
“I don’t know,” she said. She explained that she had also called the highway patrol to get information, and that she had been told they couldn’t give details to anyone but family. But they had told her that he had head injuries – no, skull fractures – and that he had been air lifted to H.C.M.C.
I began to panic again – it was fully dark outside, and for the first time since we had moved to Belle Plaine, a sub-suburb 45 miles or so southwest of Minneapolis, that we lived in the fucking middle of no where. The drive to H.C.M.C., downtown Minneapolis, was going to be very long and until we got there, I would get no answers.
I began to cry again, panicky, hiccupy sobs, that were interjected with wails of, “I don’t understand,” and, “What does that mean?”
Molly said she would try to call the highway patrol again, and I slunk back into my seat with resignation. It never occurred to me that I should try to call them myself. I wasn’t capable of coherent speech at this point. I would never be able to ask any questions that I really wanted answers to.
Molly dialed, and she told them she was Scott’s fiancée. She spoke slowly and calmly, asking what had happened and if they could tell her what Scott’s condition.
His condition, I thought – Scott has a condition. He was in an accident. He has skull fractures.
After maybe a minute on the phone, Molly sheepishly had to admit that she was not, in fact, Scott’s fiancée. She said that his fiancée was in the car with her, and was very upset and needed to know what was going on. She listened to the patrolman on the other end of the line, nodded, and asked a few more questions. When she hung up, I practically flung myself onto the back of her seat and began asking frantic questions.
Calm down, she said. It is going to be okay. They were going to be there with me, but I had to calm down.
I don’t understand, I don’t understand – what does that mean, skull fractures?
He’s not at H.C.M.C., Molly told J.R. – you have to drive to North Memorial, she said.
Why didn’t they take him to St. Francis? I asked. St Francis Medical Center was in Shakopee, and much nearer to where the accident must have happened than wherever the hell North Memorial was. I didn’t even know where that hospital was.
North Memorial has a Level 1 Trauma Center, Molly said. They will be better able to treat Scott at a Level 1 Trauma center, she said. The lady from the highway patrol told me that Scott has some serious head injuries, but that he is in stable condition at North Memorial. That’s good, she said. Stable condition is good.
It didn’t sound good to me at all. What the fuck is a head injury, I wondered. I repeated over and over that I didn’t understand, what does that mean, I don’t understand.
Days later, I learned that the highway patrol woman on the phone had told Molly that she could hear me in the background, that I sounded like I was panicking.
Tell his fiancée that he is in stable condition, she told Molly. It’s not true, she said. He’s in critical condition, or they wouldn’t have helecoptered him to North, but you can’t tell her that now. She’ll panic.
Jeremy offered me his cigarettes, and I took them gratefully. The clove smelling smoke calmed me down a little bit. I began to chew my fingernails, to peel the pink paint I had just applied off of each one, one at a time. I am sure the pink flakes must have littered the floor of their car, and the ashes from my careless smoking must have been everywhere as well. I may have even burned holes in their seats, but I have no memory of doing so.
The drive went on and on. Molly called the hospital and tried to get directions. None of us knew exactly where North Memorial was, but J.R. said it was in Golden Valley. I had never been to Golden Valley, but Scott had worked a landscaping job there the previous summer, and I knew it was a long drive from where we currently were. We drove through Shakopee very slowly, it seemed to me. Looking back, I realize that J.R. must have been exceeding the speed limit by quite a bit, but at the time, it seemed we were less than crawling down the road.
Molly said something to me, but I didn’t hear her. When she repeated her question, I heard, “Do you need to call anyone?”
At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. Did I need to call the hospital? She had already done that. Then I realized what she meant – did I need to call anyone, as in, any family or friends.
The first thought that came into my head was that if Scott’s mom and dad had known about the accident, one of them would have called me already.
I don’t know the number, I said. Molly said that was okay, that I could use her phone, and we would call information to get the number.
I honestly have no memory of calling 411, so maybe Molly called for me. I do remember that no one answered the phone at Scott’s parents’. They lived in Arkansas, and as far as I knew, they were on the moon at this very moment, having tea and crumpets (whatever the fuck those are) with the Queen.
When their answering machine picked up, I left a frantic message saying something about an accident, and that they had to call me back right away. I didn’t think to leave them the cell phone number that I was calling from. Then I hung up, and called Adam and Jessica’s house, Scott’s brother and his wife. Jessica answered the phone.
Scotty was in an accident, I said. He’s got skull fractures and I’m on the way to the hospital. Ron and Marcia aren’t home. Golden Valley is a long way from here, but I’m on my way to the hospital. All of my words tumbled out at once, and I am sure they didn’t make much sense. Hell, they still didn’t make sense even to me.
Slow down, Jessica demanded. Calm down. What happened? She spoke slowly and deliberately, but I remember hearing something that sounded too much like to fear in her voice. It gave me a chill in the very deepest of my hearts to hear it.
I explained what I knew, which wasn’t very much, and she said she told me that Adam was out bidding a job, but that she would call someone to come watch the boys and she would meet me at the hospital. I hung up.
The phone rang, and I thrust it back into Molly’s hand. When she answered, I knew that one of Scott’s parents had gotten my message, because she darted a glance at my direction – to gauge my emotional state? To determine if I could deliver the news myself? – and said, yes hold on a minute – she’s right here.
I took the phone, and it was Ron on the other end of the line. I don’t remember what I said to him, or how long we spoke – it wasn’t long, however. He said he had to call Marcia, that she was in Iowa visiting her mother, and was staying with Walter and Julie. He was going to have her call me. Molly slowly gave me the digits of her cell phone number, just to be sure he had them right, and then we hung up.
When Marcia called, I was only able to tell her that Scott was in an accident and had skull fractures, before she broke down and handed the phone to Julie. They were on their way.
All of this was so surreal to me – so profoundly unimaginable and confusing – that much of the time from J.R.’s phone call to when we arrived at the hospital is lost in a blur of receding drunkenness and blind panic. I was terrified.
This was no broken arm, but what the hell WAS it? I couldn’t wrap my brain around anything I was being told, and that seemed to add to my terror.
The others in the car sat in helpless anxiety, occasionally murmuring calming words to me and trying to calm me down. Everything will be okay, they said, we’re all going to be with you. Scott is at the best hospital, and he’s going to get the best treatment, and everything will be okay.
We got lost in Edina. There was a 36th Street, and a 36th Avenue, and the hospital was on one of those two damned streets, but we got lost and had to circle our way back to the highway on side streets. Each passing moment we spent in the car added to the anxiety. We HAD to get there, HAD to figure out what was going on, but all I could do was sit in the backseat and smoke all of Jeremy’s cigarettes and try to get a grasp of the situation.
I also had to pee again – all of the wine I had drank was preparing to make it’s grand exit, and I had to go soon. There was no holding off the tide. I reluctantly voiced the problem, and Molly seemed to deflate with relief. She, too, had to pee. We had to stop somewhere.
When we finally found the correct 36th exit, J.R. pulled quickly into the parking lot of a Subway restaurant. Molly and I ran inside, doubtlessly causing the sandwich artists and customers inside to gape at us. One of us took the men’s restroom, although I don’t remember if it was me or Molly. There would be no waiting turns tonight.
Once back in the car, we raced back onto the street and found ourselves only moments later in the ER entrance of the hospital.
I flung myself out the door before J.R. had fully stopped the car, and without a word to any of them, I raced inside. Jeremy rushed after me.
It occurred to me that I had no idea where in the massive hospital Scott might be – in the ER, I thought – he’s probably right here in the ER. I did not know that the accident had occurred a full two and a half hours before I got the phone call that changed my life. I didn’t realize that Scott was not in the ER – that he had arrived over two hours earlier, and that he had been upstairs on the 5th floor in the Trauma-neuro intensive care unit since he arrived. The ER was not equipped to handle the type of life-threatening injuries that Scott had incurred.
We rushed down the hallway, myself in the lead, with Jeremy following faithfully and silently behind me, until we reached a closed set of doors that had no knobs on our side. May I help you? asked a security guard to our left. He was hidden inside a small desk nook to the left of the doors, and I had not seen him until he spoke.
I whirled to face him. I must have looked the picture of a psychopath to this large, stern night guard at the ER entrance of a city hospital. My hair was flying wildly in all directions, my face was undoubtedly swollen and red, my breath must have smelled like sour alcohol.
Scott Frey! I barked – my fiancée was in an accident and I have to see him, I blurted. (I stole Molly’s lie, as Scott and I were not engaged in even the loosest sense of the term, but I realized that they might not let me inside if I was not family). I was out of breath and ready to battle if I had to. This big, self-righteous bastard was not going to stop me from finding Scott…Right! Freaking! Now!
He looked me over, from head to toe, and then directly into my eyes. Then he looked at Jeremy, and asked, Who is this?
He’s my neighbor, I stammered. He came with me, and we’re going up together.
I couldn’t go alone, I knew that much. I wasn’t ready to see or know anything more about what had happened unless I had a friend with me.
I’m not supposed to let anyone up that isn’t family, said the guard. He looked back into my eyes and stared for a moment. Perhaps he saw fire in them, because when he spoke again, he asked, “what was the name again?”
He gave us both visitors badges that were of the peel and stick variety. Then he told us which floor and location to go to, and where the elevators were located, and buzzed us through the big, knobless double doors and into the hospital.