I’m sitting here, in this hospital waiting room. Waiting.
The rubics cube in my hands will not cooperate. No matter which way I twist or turn, the colours will not line up. Each time it looks as though things may be starting to work out, another twist and its gone, spirited away like tears in the rain. I scowl, because that’s what I do when I’m scared. I don’t like being scared.
I’m scared because somewhere lost in this labyrinth of doors and cold, clinical hallways there is a girl; broken and bleeding, hooked up to so many wires and tubes she almost isn’t herself anymore. Except that she is, and she is the same girl I have loved for more than a year now. Hooked up to life support and in a coma that from what I gathered from all the technical-medical-doctor-speak when I asked, is bad; very bad, and that’s all I can think of because when the nurse came to see me after I saw Maria she squeezed my hand and told me not to get my hopes up. Which means that there’s a good chance Maria won’t make it. And after that they ushered me out to sit here and wait for something I don’t even know what I’m waiting for. And that makes me scared… and angry. My girlfriend, the love of my life, the only person who really matters in my life is in there, and could be dead for all I know, and all they want me to do is wait.
I scowl again, and this time a noise from my throat somewhere follows it and it doesn’t even sound like me, doesn’t even sound human. It was low and guttural and animal, and I throw the cube across the room. It hits the wall, doesn’t smash probably because its made of plastic, and just bounces to some corner out of my sight to hide so I cant injure it some more. I thought doing that would make me feel better but it didn’t. It just made me feel worse.
Once, when I was six, I fell off my bike and scraped my knee. It was a good bike, red and a bit rusty because it was only second hand but I didn’t care; to me, it was the best bike in the world. One day I decided to drag race it with my brother on his much larger, brand new bike down a dirt hill. He was going faster than me, but I didn’t care. I would catch up. I would win. And then I hit a rock and came off over the handlebars and grazed my knee so badly that I could almost see the bone of my kneecap poking through. My brother hugged me – something I’d never ever known him to do before except to his girlfriends – and somehow this seemed like permission to cry, but I bit back the tears. I was a boy, six years old – practically a man. Men didn’t cry. It was for girls and babies.
How wrong I was. The tears are falling freely now and there is nothing I could do to stop them if I even had the willpower to try. I wonder if my brother would hug me now. Except that he’s halfway across the world and has never even met my girlfriend, hasn’t spoken to his kid brother in months.
Blankly, I stare at the wall. There’s a picture on it. My eyes swim, my brain half trying to process what my eyes are seeing and not even bothering when my whole world is somewhere in this building only half alive. The sensible half wins, and from somewhere I recognise the chubby little figure with the wings and the bow and arrow is Cupid. There’s something different about him though; he isn’t chubby and cherubic, but muscular and manly even if he does still kind of look like a pubescent kid at the same time. This isn’t Cupid that shoots arrow at people and makes them fall in love on Valentine’s Day. This is Eros. Why have they got the Greek god of beauty and love on the walls of a hospital waiting room?
That picture stays in my mind when the door opens and a nurse steps through. She’s wearing her uniform with her hair pulled mercilessly back into a tight twisted bun which I guess is a deliberate attempt to make herself look older and more capable than she really does, because her face is kind and her eyes compassionate, which I really appreciate right now. Especially when she walks right up to me without offering words of empty comfort.
“You can see her now.”
That’s all I’ve been waiting to hear.
“How is she?” I croak as the nurse leads me through the labyrinth towards Maria. My only Maria.
She sighs wearily, and it’s only then that I notice how tired she really looks. “Slightly better. Not out of the woods yet, but she’s stabilising.”
There are nurses bustling, doctors reading charts and frowning at what they are reading about the patients whom the papers belong to. Not all the beds in the ICU are full, but a few are. And when I see one in particular, that few is at least one too many. I nearly cry again, but I have to be brave now. Maybe she knows I’m here maybe she doesn’t, but I’m not taking chances.
What the hell was Cupid doing when he shot me with the arrow that day back in summer a few years ago? Right now, I’m almost wishing he hadn’t; that he’d missed, or changed his mind, or something. Would I have missed it, missed her? Probably not. You can’t miss what you’ve never had.
She looked nothing then like she does now, almost lifeless and utterly still with machines beeping and pumping stuff I don’t even want to know about in and out of her body like cogs in an engine. There are so many beeps and flashes and buzzers and pulsing lights that it’s like another language, and I don’t know how the staff here can ever learn to understand it. That’s their job, not mine. My job is to be here for Maria.
It was hot, like it always is in summer here. I was at the beach, but not because I wanted to be. I was looking after a kid for the day, the daughter of my parent’s friends. She was five, and cute, and had wanted to go to the beach. I’d figured, why not.
So I was sitting on the sand, watching her a little ways away making sandcastles and smashing them down again, giggling with glee every time she did so. Meanwhile I was wishing I was anywhere but here, riding my motorbike down a dirt track in the mountains somewhere, or persuading my old wooden guitar to creak out just one more tune. Something dangerous and filled with adrenaline, something solitary, anything but sitting here watching surfer dudes with bleached blonde hair flirting it up with equally bleached blonde bimbos with good looks but nothing filling up the pretty little hollow shells inside.
Then I saw her.
She was sitting not all that far from where I was, wearing jeans and a shirt with cons on. Not really beach attire. Something about her shiny dark brown hair falling around her face made me sit up and take notice. After a while she must have sensed me looking at her because her face turned up, and she smiled politely at me, before nonchalantly getting up and walking off with her hands in her pockets, hair waving softly in the breeze.
Shit, I’d scolded myself. Great one mate, you scared her off.
I began to see her more after that. At an open party, both of us there through friends of a mutual friend. I’d managed to contrive to bump into her, which meant I’d had to say a few words, to which she’d smiled charmingly and said a few words back. Once I ran into her by complete accident while she was shopping with some friends and looking utterly bored. I’d been so tempted to ask her to coffee or something but I’d been too scared. Chickened out, and turned tail and run with her big brown eyes haunting my dreams.
It had been a full year before I’d had the guts to ask her out. I’d never been like that around a girl before. But there was something different about Maria from the start.
I grab her hand, careful not to bump the drip that is stuck into the back of it. Her fingers are ice cold; I blow on them to warm them up. It doesn’t really work, but it calms me down a bit. Her condition has stabilised, the nurse said. That means there’s hope. I’m not going to let go of that hope until it’s completely gone. Until she is.
I don’t say anything, the way I know her best friend will when she’s allowed in to see her. I don’t need to. I just sit, looking at her bruised face, already turning black and blue and yellow. I can’t see much of the rest of her body but I imagine it would look pretty much the same. She is breathing – kind of. It looks like it hurts though. A sudden image comes into my head of me, bending down, pressing my lips to hers, breathing for her. If I could, I would. I would trade places with her right now if it meant that she was okay, laughing and smiling, kissing me and cuddling me like she always does. I’d give anything just for her to not be here, like this, right now.
Oh yeah man, Cupid fucked up big time. He should have left this girl alone rather than let anyone – her or me or anyone else – feel this. He should have left her be.
When she makes it through this, I will do anything for her. Everything. Go where she wants, do what she wants, even if it means she wants me to go away. I swear I’ll do it. Whatever it takes to protect her and make her happy again. Looking at her now, an incredible sense of protectiveness comes over me, stronger than any emotion I’ve ever felt, and I know that I’d gladly die for her, as long as she doesn’t decide to die for me. As long as she doesn’t die here today.
“Maria…” my voice sounds hoarse but it manages to come out in a rusty whisper “just stay with me. I love you, babe. Just stay.”
Something on one of the machines goes off; a little red light starts flashing and an alarm sounds. I don’t have time to panic before a nurse comes – a different one than let me in here – and tells me I need to leave and begins fiddling with things, checking readings, and I don’t know what else. I agree, and stand to leave, but just as I’m about to round the curtain I’m stopped in my tracks.
It’s just the softest of sounds, barely a word or a moan, but it’s enough to make me freeze where I am and nearly fly back the couple of paces to the bedside. Maria’s lips move, cracked and swollen, barely able to form the sounds she is trying to articulate. I take her hand and squeeze it gently, and very, very softly, her fingers squeeze back, as lightly as a butterfly’s sting. This time I catch what she’s trying to say. It’s my name. She says it again, a tiny bit louder even through the effort it must be costing her, and I put one finger to her lips. I could cry with relief, and I do.
“I’m here babe. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” I look up at the nurse, daring her to contradict me. She just blinks boredly and shrugs. I’ll take that as a whatever. She’s not too concerned now that whatever alarm went off appears to have returned to normal. I don’t pretend to know about all this medical stuff, and as long as it’s helping Maria, I don’t care. I sit back down in the chair, still holding the weak and pale hand in my own. Maria blinks her brown eyes at me a few times and the love in them melts my heart the way it always has. One corner of her lips twitches in a tiny smile, and she closes her eyes again. When the doctor comes in a few hours later, I’m still there, and she’s still sleeping, and the doctor tells me he can’t be sure yet but there’s a more-than-good-chance she’ll make it through. And that’s good enough for me.
I guess Cupid did know what he was doing after all. I think back to the picture in the waiting room. How it was Eros, not Cupid, and why my mind insisted on making that distinction. Then I get it, and I smile, and squeeze my girlfriend’s hand just a little bit.
Her fingers squeeze back.
I tried to capture a trying time from a bloke’s point of view. If there are any guys reading this, I’d really appreciate if you’d comment or shoot me a Bmail and let me know how I’ve done.