By Susie Whiting
Copyright ~ December 2014
The snow was falling and the wind the weatherman had forecasted had made its way down from the north. The sign above the bank said twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit, but the shoppers bundled in coats, boots and scarves said it was much colder. She couldn’t feel it though. She walked down the street in a sleeveless Armani dress, cropped to the knees. The only ice she felt was the diamonds that hung around her neck and wrist.
Her coat was up there on floor six; the ICU unit. The nurse had hung it in the closet not taking care to sponge off the blood. Oh well. A ten-thousand dollar full length mink coat wasn’t a worry; nothing was anymore. Nothing had been for a very long time. Her Victorian Tudor house had been a place to sleep, sometimes eat, or work in its office. If she were honest with herself, she would say it wasn’t home. A home in her eyes represented a place of love and peace and joy. She had never had any of those things. She had been tossed around in the system. She had been told she was loved but when the minute came for her foster parents to be relieved of her, their love had never been enough to beg for her to stay. She didn’t need them. She didn’t need anyone. She had what she needed; a good brain and a lot of drive. The minute she was seventeen, she hit the streets. The library was her home. She studied incessantly and on occasion would find a hollow between the books where she could stay the night. She got a part time job in a coffee shop earning enough to provide for her needs. She didn’t need much.
She had ambition, smarts and wits and she used them all to get her GED and get into college with a full scholarship which included housing. Housing wasn’t much. She shared a small room with a girl; one of those that you had to like because she was so sweet and kept all of her stuff tidy; never infringing on your private space.
A large truck sped by splashing snow and mud onto the sidewalk; onto the pedestrians. Others cursed and stomped their feet and brushed at their clothes. She felt nothing at all and just kept walking.
Christmas lights adorned the stores. Rockefeller Center was bright with its large decorated tree. The ice skaters twirled and spun, and giggled and fell, to get up and do it again. The laughter she heard in the air almost hurt her ears. Laughter was something she wasn’t well aware of; nothing she had become accustomed to. She walked away.
Her steps took her to a graveyard in Arthurs Kill. She had never been there before. After all, she would not want her $1,000 boots sinking into the marshy path; but now her boots were also on the sixth floor of the hospital so what did it matter. If she passed through a centuries old roadside graveyard which consisted of horribly eroded grave markers along a garbage strewn path, her feet would begin to sink into the mud at the Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard. She didn’t know what was drawing her toward the old wheelhouse she saw in the distance…nor did she care. It had been so long since she had cared about anything in this God forsaken thing called life. She had learned at a young age, if she didn’t want to get hurt, she just couldn’t set herself up for it.
He had said he loved her. He was going off to California and wanted her to go with him. They would build a life together. He would help her through school. She could help him. It wouldn’t be easy but they could make it. He loved her he said. He would always love her. But she couldn’t risk it. She couldn’t put her heart in harm’s way. Better to be alone than to be broken. Better not to love than to be crushed by it. It would be better to dream of love, than to have love turn into a nightmare. So she watched Dan walk out of her life. Had she been honest with herself, she would have run after him. She would have let her heart rule and not her brain. She had always let her brain rule. Emotions had no part in her life. That is why, behind her back at the hospital, she was known as “The Stone.” They didn’t know she knew what was said behind her back, nor did she care.
If she let the wall she had built around herself crumble, she would hurt for the young girl in pediatrics with a disease not covered by her medical insurance. She would feel for the mother who sat beside the girl’s bedside and cried into the night; hopeless and helpless.
She couldn’t feel the waves as they splashed over her feet as she was drawn toward a wheel house that was settled at a slant in the mud. She heard a voice coming from inside. It wasn’t laughter because it didn’t hurt her ears. She stepped so very lightly up onto the first step and then the second and then the third until she could see over the side. No. It wasn’t laughter she had heard. It was a young boy lying beside a younger girl. He pulled a plastic tarp over her to try and break the breeze. She still shivered.
“Can you drink a little warm tea,” he asked as he raised a Dunkin Donuts cup to her lips. Someone left it on her table. It is still warm though.” He raised the small girl’s head up and pressed the cup to her lips. Her lips were parched and cracked and her face was flushed with fever.
“You can’t leave me, Mattie.” The boy cried softly. “We’re all we’ve got.”
The lady stepped over the side of the shack. She knew they didn’t see her. She leaned down to place her hand on the girl’s brow, but her hand could not make contact; of course not. Her real hand was connected to her body that laid on a gurney on the 6th floor of ICU.
Her Lexus had skid on black ice at the same time a big rig jack-knifed. All she remembered when she knew the crash was coming was “Oh Well. This life has been hell anyway.” Her death wasn’t as quick as she thought it would be. Her shell of a body was lying in a hospital with tubes and respirators keeping her brain alive. Keeping her from passing on to a place she hoped was far better than the one she had been living in.
Now, she needed that body. She needed to be able to feel. She needed to be able to talk. She needed to be able to send help to this little boy and girl. For as miserable as she was as a person, she was still a fine doctor.
Suddenly, it seemed as though she was caught on the wind; blowing. In an instant, she was at the window of the sixth floor and in even less time she was through it. She looked down at the body on the bed; laying silently, laying still. The hum of equipment made her chest rise and fall. The beeping of equipment signified her heart was still beating. She was in a coma the ER Physician had said. Not certain she would ever regain consciousness. But she had to regain consciousness.
Her body hurt as she tried to force her spirit back into it. Her spirit hurt too. She had been free of pain outside this shell of a coat called a body. But she had to hurt. She had to heal. She had to help the children in the wheelhouse. She was a doctor. There was the oath she had taken.
Her body moaned as she forced her spirit back into it. The heart started beating rapidly. The blood pressure raised and then lowered erratically. The body moaned again causing nurses and doctors to rush by her side. The doctor opened her eyelid and the light about blinded her. She felt so confined in such a small space but she moved around and settled in. She had settled back into life.
She willed where her energy would go. She didn’t care if her legs worked for now. She didn’t care that she couldn’t lift her arms. She didn’t care if her eyes couldn’t focus as well as they should. She could work on that later. Right now, her energy needed to go to her mouth.
“Policemen,” She whispered to the nurse. “Get policemen.”
The nurse recognized the urgency of her voice and did as she asked, but warned them to not stay too long. Not to weaken her further.
Every word she spoke was hard. How she had taken the ability to speak for granted. But then she thought, she had taken everything for granted. Her own bitterness had prevented her from appreciating the ability to walk along the beach and feeling the sand beneath her toes. To listen to a symphony and let the music she heard swell within her breast. To watch the sun fall into the west and leave its brilliant colors in its wake. To appreciate the scent drifting from Carmine’s promising the patrons rich spaghetti and meatballs and hot garlic bread. With her Lexus, and her apartment in Manhattan and a rich bank account, she had still been very poor. God bless those who are so poor, all they have is money. She didn’t know where that thought had come from, but she knew it applied to her.
With all the strength she had, she was able to tell the policeman about the two children and they had promised they would go find them.
She had paid for the largest tree to be delivered and set up in the foyer. She had paid for the house to be decorated with pines and poinsettias and candles. She had a giant Santa’s sleigh delivered and set up in the family room and in it were gifts; gifts for a young boy and girl. She had wanted to do the decorating and shopping herself. ‘Herself’ she laughed. Before, ‘herself’ had wanted nothing to do with Christmas. Her wheelchair was restrictive and she wasn’t able to get out has she wanted, so she called upon her finances to make happen what she wanted.
The investigator she had hired found the children’s parents had both died from heroin overdoses. The boy and girl had run away when they found their parents dead. There were extended family members somewhere in Mexico, but the children had never known them. They had been born in the United States and as being so were citizens. Carlos and Maggie were their names and Carlos and Maggie were being released from the hospital this afternoon.
She hooked her Ipod to its base station and Christmas music filled the room; happy Christmas music.
She watched as the van from the hospital pulled up in front. She could have called for the maid to open the door, but she wanted to welcome them herself. She wheeled herself over and opened the door wide as two scared, apprehensive children walked toward the door.
Hello Carlos. Hello Mattie. My name is Kathryn. Please come in and let’s have a talk together.
Bertie, the maid, brought in a plate of sugar cookies and mugs of hot chocolate and sit them on the coffee table. The children looked at them with wide eyes but yet apprehensively.
“It’s okay,” she told them. “You can have some.”
She smiled as Carlos handed a cookie and then hot chocolate to his sister. He was still taking care of her.
She told them her name was Kathryn and she explained to them how although she was rich, she had still been very poor because she had lived with a broken heart.
“We know about broken hearts,” Carlos said through a bite of cookie. “Our hearts got broken too. Mamma and Daddy broke our hearts.”
“I know,” Kathryn responded. “I had someone find out why you were living in the shack. I hope you don’t mind. It wasn’t because I was being snoopy. It was because I cared about you.”
“That’s okay,” Carlos replied again. “It’s good to have someone care about you. Momma and Daddy cared but they cared about drugs more. But they loved us anyway.”
“Of course they loved you. I’m certain they loved you very much. Their addiction to drugs was an illness they couldn’t heal. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to. It wasn’t because they didn’t love you.”
“But anyway, Carlos and Mattie, I have had an illness too. Like I said, I’ve had a broken heart that I haven’t been able to fix. Because my heart was broken, I didn’t look at life the way I should have. I need someone to help me laugh again. I have this very big house that is pretty empty. It could use a boy and girl to help fill up the rooms. They would be safe and warm and able to go to school. They would never be hungry again. I would do everything I can to make them happy. If you would like to be that boy and girl, I would love to have you live here with me.
“Do you have a puppy?” Mattie asked for the first time. “My daddy said that if someone loved a puppy then we could trust them.”
I’ve never had a puppy before,” Kathryn said. “I always felt I was too busy to take care of one. But to be honest with you, I always felt one would break my heart if anything happened to it. But you know what? I am tired of being afraid of being hurt. I am tired of a broken heart.”
Kathryn rang a silver bell that was sitting nearby and Bertie came through the door. “Bertie, would you bring in Cleo and Hank please.” A few minutes later Bertie entered with two small dogs on a leash. Hank was a Golden Retriever pup who quickly ran to Carlos and licked his face forcing giggles from the little boy. Cleo was a Pomeranian who laid beside Mattie and stared up at her with big black eyes. Smiles radiated from the children’s faces as they petted their new Christmas friends.
“So do you think you want to give it a try and live here with me?” Kathryn asked.
“What if we’re not able to make you happy?” Mattie asked sadly.
“I don’t expect you to make me happy, Sweetheart,” Kathryn said. “It’s my job to make myself happy. And I really think for me to do that, I need to stop being so selfish. I need to stop being wrapped up in myself. By being all wrapped up in myself, I’ve made a very small package. I want to be wrapped up in you and Carlos and Hank and Cleo.”
“We will be kind of a strange family, don’t you think?” Carlos said thoughtfully. “ A doctor, two Mexican kids, a Golden Retriever and a Pomeranian.”
“Look at that bowl of nuts on the table,” Ellen said. “There are walnuts, and cashews, and almonds, and peanuts and pistachios.” They are all different, but they are the same.
“So we will be a family of nuts, huh?” Carlos replied forcing laughter from Kathryn.
“Yes,” she laughed. “I hope we will always be a family of nuts.”
Miracles do happen. But it does take opening oneself up to be able to accept the miracles that surround us.
I looked at the clutter in the house. Wrapping paper was spread across the family room carpet while two tired dogs lay on a rug before the fireplace. Carlos was playing an Xbox game and I was manicuring Mattie’s nails with the bright orange polish she had received from Santa. Bertie had a turkey in the oven for Christmas dinner. I had never had a cooked Christmas dinner in my house before. I had always gone out to five star restaurants and tried to convince myself that the less work the better.
It was strange how I felt inside. I was lighter. By lighter I mean I didn’t feel as heavy inside and by lighter I mean I didn’t feel the darkness that had hid inside me all my life. It was as though my mind had opened wide and all negativity had flown out and my heart had opened up telling the universe to send on in the miracles. And then the doorbell rang.
He stood on the front porch with a silly Santa hat on. His eyes were still the brightest blue; his hair touched slightly with gray at the temples. His smile was not changed at all. It spread easily and honestly across his face. I had heard through the grapevine he had never married, but I glanced at his left hand anyway. He wore no ring. Dan was back.
“I heard about your accident,” he said. “I thought since you might be tied up in the house for a while you might need a little something to keep you company. He reached in a box and pulled out a tabby cat. The dogs barked, the children screamed and the cat hissed and jumped from Dan’s arms as it tried to climb the curtains. And I laughed. Dan’s smile widened as he watched me laugh until I lost my breath; until my sides ached. At the time he didn’t understand that another nut had been added to our family tree in the form of a tabby cat and as I stared back at the silly man in the Santa hat, I hope this man I loved would be the next to fall into the nut bowl.