Consciousness came slowly. The first thing I heard was a beeping. It was soft, but even in the delays. The next thing I heard were soft whispers. These were even fainter than the beeping, and I strained to hear them.
“…know when she’ll wake up!”
“The doctor stopped the medication a few hours ago. Please give her 2 more hours. She will be waking up soon Mr. Scott, trust me.”
The angry voice grumbled now, and footsteps walked around me, and left.
I decided now to try and open my eyes. They fluttered and I labored at making them focus.
“Dad?” My voice cracked so bad all that came out was a whisper.
“Sweetie!” He was at my side now, one hand in mine, the other on my forehead. “How are you feeling?”
I thought about that question. I tried to remember what had happened that I would be in a hospital.
“I’m…fine I think.” The words came out a little clearer this time. “What happened?”
“Well, don’t you remember, sweetie?” He looked a little worried, so I thought harder.
I remembered school, home, work. I remembered Ben….what did I remember about Benjamin Tyler? Oh, he gave me his number, hmm. I remembered the Gunman, his dark voice, his request, the sound of the gun being fired, and pointed in my direction. I remembered him holding me tightly, I remembered the gun being pointed at Sarah, I remembered…
“Sarah!” I gasped.
“Yes, sweetie, Sarah took a bullet to the stomach. They had her in surgery for a few hours, but she’s fine. They think he must have hit you on the head, knocked you unconscious, but they can’t find any wounds on your head that would suggest that. The only thing I can tell that’s wrong with you are the bruises on your arms.” He looked at my arms, and I followed his gaze. Yup, odd, rectangle yellow spots on my upper arm. Perfect finger sized. I definitely remembered this.
But I could not remember his hitting me on the head. After seeing Sarah all bloody, everything else was a blank. That must have been when he did it.
“The police found you unconscious, and the ambulance brought you and Sarah here. I tell you, Aud, I about had a heart attack when they called and told me.”
“Have I been out long?” I whispered, my throat feeling scratchy.
“Just a few hours.”
I breathed a sigh, and tilted my head back on the pillow. I never did like hospitals. The smell of them: powered latex and disinfectant. It turned my stomach. I guess most of my dislike was from the time I spent here after the wreck. I hadn’t been injured, unluckily enough, but instead spent my mom’s last moments sitting beside her on the bed, a lot like my dad was now.
I looked over at my dad, his eyes closed, hand rubbing mine methodically. I could imagine this reminded him of that day, too. He had been so strong. Strong for me, strong for her. It was more than I deserved. I squeeze my hand in his, and he opened his eyes and looked down at me.
“Can we go home now?” I asked, smiling peacefully at him.
“Yes please.” He grinned at me too in relief. He got up, and walked out to the nurses station. I could hear him quietly talking with the nurse, but couldn’t make out his words.
I loved my dad. I really did. Not just because he was my dad, but because of the person he was. Always kind, always working to give my mom and me everything we needed. And when she left him, I saw the deep scar it left on him. He had thrown himself into his work, accepting every construction job he got offered. Working two if one had limited hours. My mom had brought in a lot of the income with her gallery, but I knew there was another level to his busyness, the same level that was in my school, work, sleep life.
It was then I thought a question I had never asked myself before: Why? Why were we living like this? Why did I keep my eyes down every time other people were near? Did my mom not live life to the fullest, going after her dream and love of art, taking care of my dad and me? Laughing and living? What a sorry tribute to her my life had become.
I thought right then a vow to her: To embrace life, to look up and enjoy life, to take each moment as a gift. I scoffed at my cheesy vow, but it made me happy to have a purpose. I had been wading through my existence for too long now.
“I think you’re happier to leave than I am.” My dad teased as he came in at the end of my promise-making.
“Just….happy.” I shrugged. “I decided it’s not worth it to let life slip by.”
“You know, that sounds pretty good.” He grinned as the nurse rolled the wheelchair to the side of my bed.
He helped me into it, and then brushed the nurse off and began to roll me out to the parking lot.
“Oh, I meant to tell you that you had a visitor.” He said from behind me.
“Really?” I asked in disbelief. “Who?”
“A boy, Ben I think? He was there when I got there, and left while I was yelling at the doctor.” He winced at that last comment.
“Dad.” I sighed. But my thoughts were too consumed to think about chastising him any further. Ben Tyler? What had he been doing here? Maybe he was just in the building? Maybe he felt guilty for leaving right before the Gunman had arrived. Yes, guilt. That had to be it.
And I let the thought fade to the back of my mind.
It was almost breaking my promise, but I thought it unfair my accident had happened on a Friday, and I’d had the weekend to recover and be ready for school Monday. Then I shrugged and grabbed a granola bar on my way out. It took me a good couple of minutes to find an upbeat song as I walked to school, earlier than usual, but it was a good one so I listened to it twice. I didn’t realize I was smiling till someone did a double take at me. I relaxed my jaw into a normal grin, and found my seat in English.
I paid apt attention to Mr. Jameson, giving only enough attention to the girl on my page to remember I had forgotten to look in the mirror on my way out, but I thought it fit with my new life mantra, so I shrugged it away. I only peeked at Ben once, and he was paying as much attention as I was.
It wasn’t until lunch that I saw the problem with my little promise. I grabbed my lunch and habitually began in the direction of my usual, lonely table. I stopped abruptly, and looked around for some familiar faces. I saw my old basketball team at one table, involved in discussing plays and Friday’s game. I continued my scan, and found a few girls from the booster club I’d been in two years ago. A few new faces sat with them. I took a deep breath for courage and began in their direction, but continued walking when three of them looked up at me in disgust. I walked straight to my usual table in defeat.
How was this supposed to work? I had locked everybody out for two years, of course they weren’t just going to open their arms to me now, when I wanted it finally. I grimaced when I remembered that first month, when everyone in the school had tried to start a conversation with me, and I had just glared back at them. I was so angry with myself now for that, but I knew being angry was the gateway back to last week, and I didn’t want that, no matter how hard this was. I would just keep trying, make new friends, try and…
“Mind if I sit here?” I jolted up at the soft voice, and looked up in surprise.
It was Benjamin Tyler, looking down, not at me, but with his hand on the back of the chair across from me.
I was confused more than anything, as I answered. “Uh, sure.”
I suddenly remembered that he had pretty much asked me out last time we talked. I wondered if his feelings were hurt, since I obviously hadn’t called him. He slowly pulled out the chair and sat down with his tray, thinking about each movement.
“I was in the hospital.” I blurted out, attempting to alleviate any tension, but causing more with my outburst. I blushed at my words.
He just looked up at me with a grin. “I know, I came to see you.”
I remembered what my dad had told me. “Why did you leave?”
He looked down suddenly, like he was trying to keep something from me. “I didn’t know if you’d want to see me.” He looked back up at me, searching in his eyes, like Friday in English. I knew that there was nothing there then, but was there now? It seemed my near-death experience had changed my attitude, but had it changed anything else?
“Well, I would’ve.” I muttered, shoving a piece of toast in my mouth to silence it from making any more stupid statements.
He just kept looking at me. There was a familiarity in his gaze, I didn’t mind the probing of his eyes, so we just stared at each other for a while.
“Do you remember…” He began, and then stopped himself. He took a deep breath, and continued, “our conversation, Friday, before..” he let his voice trail off.
“Uh, yes. You um….gave me your number, right?” I don’t know why I was asking, I knew he had. I made a mental note to viciously search my work pants for that piece of paper when I got home.
“Right.” He said, seemingly content with my answer.
He didn’t say anything else, no secondary question, no explanation of his question. I was oddly intrigued by this boy. He seemed happy to simply sit in silence, staring at me. Not that I minded, his eyes were deep blue, and looked like crystal lakes set in the fair peach-colored skin that was only slightly freckled.
Lunch ended without any more words exchanged between us than the “Thank you.” I spoke when he had picked up my trash for me and the “You’re welcome.” He had replied.
I walked to Algebra in a slight daze, unable to think about equations and variables. I began to doodle on my notes, again. Only this time I drew eyes, with short, shaggy hair framing them. It was a crude interpretation and a scribbled over it in slight frustration.
I breathed relief when I walked into Art. Mrs. Martinez smiled a hello as I walked in and sat at my easel.
“This week will be a bit different from the previous lessons.” She explained, her quiet accent almost unrecognizable.
“You have no subject, only ideas. I will write a word on the board every day this week, and you will paint, draw or sculpt what it makes to feel.”
I smiled big in excitement, and caught Ben’s eyes appraising my emotion from the corner of my eye.
“Today’s word,” She started as she walked to the chalkboard at the front of the room. “is ‘Anger’.”
She scribbled the word in large cursive in the white chalk. It looked like it was coming off the board towards me with the severe contrast of chalk and board.
I browsed the color selection, and settled on a light blue to start, shying away from the inviting grays and the obvious reds. The painting came easier than usual, though this word weighed on me a little bit. I didn’t want to betray my vow, but I concluded that ‘Pain is an artist’s muse’ and pushed myself back to two years ago. I wanted to let go, but I held onto my current state of mind fiercely. It was difficult to keep it in control, and it felt like every brushstroke was a slip of emotion.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to remind myself of the vow, chanting it in my head.: Embrace life. Embrace life. Embrace LIFE.
An image flew through my mind. I raced to catch it again, because it didn’t make any sense. I concentrated for a moment, and then picked up my paintbrush again. I quickly white washed the blue circles I had already painted, and began with this new image. My brush flew with fury as the contorted image hung by threads to my short-term memory. I barely glanced at the canvas to see what I was painting, afraid to lose the scene.
As the bell rang for the end of school, I breathed deeply and turned my eyes to the canvas sitting in front of me.
It was distorted, like my memory, but I could make out a few things: Two black points looked at me from the picture, eyes almost buried in the black hair that surrounded them; a long and narrow nose leading down to pressed lips. The face took up most of the canvas, but there was another object to the side of it: A long, thin line, with a yellow-white circle on the top of it.
In all my years of painting, this had to be the weirdest thing yet. I was sure I was going to get a failing grade, seeing as how this was as far away from Anger as possible, short of fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. I rolled my eyes, suddenly disheartened, and put my things away.
That night I slept uneasily, dreaming of the man in my irrational painting.