Page 11

When she finally sat down, tears threatened to explode out of not just her eyes but her soul as well.

I can’t do this, she thought as she awkwardly reached across with her right hand for the toilet paper while holding the johnny up, while peeing, while not passing out, while not getting tangled in the IV tubing, while being terrified about everything, while mourning her mother, her father, her brother . . . Danny.

The bathroom became so crowded with her mind’s chaos and sorrow that the oxygen was forced out of it, her lungs pulling nothing in as she began to hyperventilate.

It was a while before she reemerged. And she would have preferred to wash her hands and face first, but this wasn’t a hotel. There weren’t guest towels hanging off to the side of the sink or little bars of soap. No bath mat to warm the soles of her bare feet or printed notice that there were toiletries available courtesy of the front desk if she forgot to pack something.

This was not a vacation. And there was going to be no getting away from what she had lost.

That hand that no longer existed was going to take up more space than it ever had when still attached to her arm.

Back out in the room, two nurses, a resident, and an attending were standing in a kick line, and they were singing the bars to an old familiar: “You’re a Slip-and-Fall Risk, Please Lie Back Down.”

Which was the theme to a little-known Disney movie, actually: Why Can’t She for Once Be F*cking Reasonable.

Anne just walked out on that production. She already knew how it ended. Had the T-shirt, the download, and the book.

Heading down the hall with her IV pole, she discovered that she had to force her eyes to focus or she was going to lose her balance. Every step required a tremendous concentration, her forward motion not anything that happened naturally, but rather a conscious orientation of hips and shoulders that required constant maintenance.

The marching band of medical staff behind her was so annoying.

At the elevators, it took her a couple of tries to peg the up button, her forefinger trying to hit a moving target—which seemed a little weird given the fact that the hospital should have been a static inanimate, but whatever. She managed to light it up.

As the doors opened, she was just about to step inside when something hit her hard behind the knees—and as her weight went out from under her, she pinwheeled in a panic.

Only to land in the seat of a wheelchair.

“I told them this was a losing battle. So we were just going to have to roll with it.”

Anne looked over her shoulder at the familiar voice. “Oh, God, Moose . . .”

Robert “Moose” Miller, Danny’s former roommate, came around and lowered his heft down at her feet. His familiar, bearded face made her eyes water.

“Come here, baby girl,” he whispered.

As he held out his arms, there were tears in his bloodshot eyes, especially as he looked at her bandage.

“Don’t call me ‘baby’ or ‘girl,’ ” she choked out.

“Okay, Anne. I won’t.”

She went up against his chest and held onto his shoulders, staring off to a nursing station she saw nothing of.

“I was going to his room,” she said roughly. “Danny’s.”

“I’ll help you get there, but they may not let us in. He’s in ICU.”

“I want to try.”

“Okay.” When they pulled apart, he took a bandana out of his pocket. “Here.”

She unfolded the red-and-black square and pressed the faded, well-washed softness to her hot, swollen face. “I don’t want to look weak in front of him.”

“You could never be weak, Anne.”

Moose shooed away the medical staff, and then wheeled her into the elevator while she held her IV pole like it was the leash of a dog with biting history. They went up four floors, and then they were going down a hall with signage she couldn’t seem to read and foot traffic that had only two speeds: fast and distracted or slow and somber.

“How bad is he?” she asked as they went along close to the wall. “Do you know?”

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