Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson.
By the time I caught up, they had already wheeled Dawn into emergency and doctors were beginning to work on her. I didn’t know myself how they had lost her in the ambulance, but I guess sometimes the body just gives up after a fight. We had been fighting to keep her awake and alive, and though I believe survival begins in the mind, perhaps she was tired of it all. When one attempts to take their own life , often the will to live has already fled the building.
It was chaos in the room, because being of spirit, you hear both the living and the dead. On the living side, they hadn’t allowed Angie into the room, but instead charged her with trying to locate Dawn’s parents. So she was at the nurses station trying to call everyone she could think of, even her own mother. Over the hospital’s public address system it was like a highway of jumbled traffic, as one doctor was called here, another called there. Waiting patients complained about everything from their pain to the wait time, while telling everyone they could, even other patients, about their ailments. In addition, it was still Halloween, and spirits of the dead were roaming the earth right here in the hospital, under the mistaken belief that this was home. Even in the emergency operating room, a few wandered aimlessly, lost and confused as to what happened to their house, which apparently had once stood on the site of the hospital.
Lori tried to shut them out by concentrating on Dawn. She stayed by her sister’s side and whispered things in her ear that I could not hear from where I stood. I didn’t need to know those kind of particulars anyway. It was easy to see her whispers were pleadings with her to live.
I didn’t know what to do. Maybe there was a way to manipulate their machines, help bring her back to wakefulness and breathing again, but I felt I could do more damage than good. This was definitely a time when only the living could work miracles. The dead, as they always have been, were helpless to alter fate. So I just prayed that fate would work in Dawn’s favor, and the beautiful blue spiraling colors of death would stay outside.
“There it is,” I heard someone say, and for a moment I feared death had gotten in, until another voice added, “I got a heartbeat.”
“Can you hear me?” One of the attendants was saying over Dawn. “We need you to open your eyes, okay?”
I held my breath, as her eyelids fluttered but did not open.
“Heartbeat a little weak, but it’s picking up. We need some oxygen over here.”
Lori, still leaning over her sister, was kissing the girl’s face. “I love you, Dawn. Now I need you to open your eyes and look at me, please. Let these people know you want to live. You don’t want to die. The voices will stop soon, I promise.”
Dawn’s eyelids fluttered again, and slowly opened. They squinted against the bright emergency room lights, but stayed open nonetheless. She tried to speak, but it came out as something between a gasp and a moan.
“Welcome back,” one of the attendants said. “Can you tell us your name?”
“Dawn,“ she whispered breathlessly, staring right through Lori, her eyes focusing on the lights.
“We’re going to give you a little oxygen to help you, okay? Just breathe in naturally.” She put the mask over her face and Dawn managed to slowly take it in.
Lori let out a sigh of relief and turned to look for me. I stepped towards her and put my arm around her. She leaned her head over on my shoulder, exhausted but happy her sister was going to live.
“Sorry about this Dawn,“ I heard a voice say, “but you took a lot of bad stuff and we are going to have to flush it out of you. Have you ever had your stomach pumped?”
The girl slowly shook her head, still breathing through the mask.
The doctor tried to reassure her with a smile. “The good news is it shouldn’t take long. We understand you already threw some of it up. But after this, I don’t think you’ll be wanting to pop a bunch of pills again.”
I recoiled a little. I had heard of the procedure before and had no desire to witness it. “Maybe we should wait outside,” I told Lori, and she allowed me to usher her through the doors and out into the hallway.
Angie was sitting on a bench opposite the ER doors. We sat down next to her, and her worried demeanor made me wish we could tell her that Dawn was going to pull through. Lori looked at her with a proud smile and was just about to pat her on the shoulder, when the double doors opened and one of the ER doctors came out to talk to her.
“Are you the one who came with the O’Donnell girl?” He asked.
“Yes,” Angie replied nervously.
He sighed. “Well, I can’t tell you much, simply because you aren’t a parent or guardian, but I wanted to let you know she’s going to be okay. In a couple days she should be on her feet.” He started to walk away and then stopped. “You did a good job. Quick thinking saves lives. Are you related to her?”
“Well, she is certainly lucky to have a cousin like you.”
I thought Angie was going to burst into tears and hug the guy, but she didn’t. Still, it was easy to see she was very relieved. After all, she had been the one responsible for her while Lori’s mom was gone. Which brought up a new point to wonder, where was Lori’s mom anyway? Or her dad? And where were my parents? I guess I would never figure that one out. Death would be here for Lori and I before they showed up. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in all that. All this time as a ghost, and my parents had done me one better and apparently left the planet.
A couple of the ER attendants came out of the room next. A pair of thirty something nurses, their hair crammed up into nets and still wearing their sterile gloves, were discussing Dawn in semi hushed tones. “O’Donnell. O’Donnell. Where have I heard that name before?”
Her companion frowned. It was one of those looks that your face took on when discussing lost causes and terminal patients. “Probably from the woman in ICU. Her name is O’Donnell too.”
Lori looked at me. “What woman?” Before I could even ponder the question, the hopeful look on her face fell. “Oh no. Mom.” She sprang to her feet. “That’s why Angie couldn’t find her. She was already here!” She took off down the hall towards the intensive care wing.
I took off after her. “Lori, wait!” Running down the hall, I looked out the rows of windows and saw the blue swirling sky, those colors of death personified, trailing us as we ran. Having lost the opportunity to claim Dawn , perhaps it now was setting sights on Lori’s mom. But what had happened to her? Car wreck? Had that guy she’d been seeing beat her up or something? Or had her distress over losing Lori and the dissolution of her marriage sent her over the edge like Dawn?
We both careened through the closed doors of the intensive care unit. If you’ve ever been in an ICU, you already know it’s really one big room, with small units partitioned off with curtains. These units are usually just big enough for the hospital bed and maybe a chair or two for loved ones to seat themselves, sometimes in a final vigil. A nurses station is at the head of the room, as visitors are very limited, typically just immediate family members with no more than two at a time. None of this really mattered to Lori and I. We couldn’t be seen or stopped from entering, and as Lori called frantically for her mom, she passed through the curtains with no concern for privacy.
The first makeshift room held an elderly man with no visitors, just an incessant beeping of life support machines. The second held a sleeping woman with shallow breathing. Another woman sat in a chair beside her holding her hand and reading a devotional magazine in her lap. Through the third curtain, Lori stopped short. The intake of her ghostly breath told me she had found her mother, even before I reached her. Mrs. O’Donnell was sitting up in a chair, looking haggard and tired. Across from her sat her husband, equally worn down. And between them on the bed lay the other O’Donnell woman the ER nurses had mentioned.
“Oh no,” Lori breathed. “It can’t be.”
I came up short alongside of her and felt both my heart and voice catch in my throat. Lori herself lay in the ICU hospital bed, a myriad of tubes and machines hooked up to her. Her body was still, in a seemingly comatose state. An oxygen mask covered her lower face, forcing air into her lungs. Tears welled up in my eyes. She was still alive. All this time, she hadn’t been a ghost at all, but some kind of a projection of herself, a wandering soul stuck between life and death, roaming with the rest of us and believing herself dead.
The Lori I knew turned to me. On her face , a look of shock and horror, with the realization of what all this meant. “No,” she cried sorrowfully, looking from her bedridden body to me with a pain only those who have lost a loved one can know. “I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go either, but you have to.” I wiped a tear away with the back of my hand. “You’ve seen your body. It’s time.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to live without you. I just found you, Chris.”
I tried to smile, but I knew it wasn’t convincing. “You’ll find me again someday.”
“No, I want you now….” She stopped, her eyes fixing on something behind me. I turned my head. The swirling, electrified blue that had been in the outside sky was seeping into the ICU, filling up the room with a crackle and pop. No one but she and I could see it , nor did anyone else feel it. But I knew now what it was. It wasn’t Death trailing behind us, trying to claim us for the final time. It was life, coming for Lori, to push her back into the beautiful frame she had been born with.
“Lori,” I said. “Don’t fight it. Just live. Please.”
She threw her arms around my neck and clutched me so close I felt like she was trying to crawl inside of me to live forever. “I love you so much, Christopher. I’ll never love anyone the way I love you. I’ll never marry…”
“Whoa, hey, hell of a time to be getting this kind of serious, don’t you think?”
She knew I was trying to make a joke, to make things easier for her and I both. Through her tears I could feel her smile against my neck. “You are the very best thing to ever happen to me and you know it. My long hair rocker nerd boy.”
I smiled, even as I felt the electric static moving through the air behind me. “You are everything I ever wanted, Lori. I’m glad I got to have you for awhile.” My voice choked. I was happy that she was really alive, but sad to lose her in the same token. I was torn emotionally, feeling as if I were being ripped in two. “I love you,” I said, my tears busting forth like a ruptured dam letting loose the flood waters. “Don’t forget me.”
“I won’t. Goodbye Chris.”
“No. Never say goodbye. Say, see you someday.”
“Someday,” she sobbed, as my hands held her cheeks and I planted final kisses across her beautiful lips. Her mouth opened against mine and in the most intimate of kisses I felt like we were back at the dance with “is this love?” still playing over the loud speakers. I felt something move through me, and I opened my eyes to see the blue energy separating us. Like long thin fingers it seemed to gently nudge her towards the bed where her body awaited. The taste of her kiss was still on my lips, and my body trembled from the knowledge of having known her, yet now losing her to fate’s final whim. Her dark eyes never left me, as the energy that was her life, here and yet to come, pleasantly pushed her back into her body. One last “I love you” whispered across her lips, and then she was gone. The machines around her began to beep and her father leapt to his feet.
“Hey, something is going on in here!” he yelled to the nurses.
Lori’s fingers twitched. Then her foot. Her hand attempted to flex, her leg made a struggling effort to bend. At last, her eyes opened. She looked around the room, unable to move her head, and for a moment I thought her eyes saw me. But it was only a moment and then it was over. Our time as ghosts in love had come to an end. I blew her a kiss she would neither see nor feel, and then stepped from the curtained partition out into the ICU room. I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. With my hands I tried to wipe the tears out of my eyes. A radio on the nurses station desk was turned down low but the song it was playing wasn’t lost on me. Never say Goodbye. Bon Jovi.
I tried to smile. “Tell me about it, Jon,” I sighed.
“Grace, I think we should really notify your sister. She would want to know.”
I turned to the voice. It was so familiar it was almost like coming home. I looked around me but no one was there, just the nurses going about their usual duties.
“We really need to go home soon. She can help out if you just ask her. I know you don’t get along these days, but now’s the time, you know.”
I walked down the aisle of the ICU seeking the speaker of the voice. Two partitions down from Lori , I found him.
“Dad?” I asked.
He didn’t turn to look at me, but for a moment my mother seemed to. She turned to my voice, then shrugged helplessly and returned her attention to the body they had kept constant vigil over for days straight. My voice choked in my throat at the sight of myself. I began to cry, overwhelmed with emotion. I too, hadn’t died. I too, wasn’t a ghost at all. I was just lost, not knowing where to go. But now I knew. I didn’t know how this was possible, as I had seen our dead bodies on that bus. Maybe it hadn’t been us at all. I never got a clear a look at the faces. It must have been someone else. I felt a weight lifting off of me. Both Lori and I had made it, but as our bodies hung between life and death, our souls went wandering with those who had died, believing ourselves to be deceased with the rest. And like the rest, only the sight of our own bodies could compel us to go where we belonged. I turned to greet the swirling blue colors of life and spread my arms wide.
I felt the energy swelling up around me, enveloping me in a warmth that permeated my whole being. My mind seemed to temporarily separate from my spiritual frame, and I thought of Donald, Brian, and Kelly, all taken from the mortal coil and propelled into that which comes after. For a moment, I imagined that was happening to me, and I feared that I truly would not see Lori again. But then, I felt the push, the nudge that sent me back to my body in its comatose state. The memories of my time spent as a ghost seemed to catalog themselves deeper within me, so they could not be taken nor removed. I wanted to remember everything. To learn from it. To grow from it. To spend my life being better. But more than that, I didn’t want to forget the time with friends. I didn’t want to lose the memory of loving Lori. As with all important moments in my life, a song came to mind. Alive and kicking. Simple minds. I was alive. And I was ready to kick down the doors of the future and live as I never had before. I couldn’t wait to see Lori and tell her all the things I’d confessed when we were ghosts, to share new moments reserved for the living and loved. I opened my flesh and blood eyes and the world looked back at me and smiled. I’d had the time of my death, but now I was ready to live.