My eyelids pasty, half cracked, squint against the brightness numbing my skull. My chest feels tight and I am sore everywhere. I’ve just noticed the uncomfortable full sensation of my tightly clenched hands.
“Hey pumpkin, how ya feeling?”
My head is dizzy and I’m not even sure if I heard that or thought it. My eyes close again tightly. I am scared to open them. I almost wish to be dead. Right now, I can’t face anyone and it will be a long time before I can even look at the reflection in the mirror.
“Patricia I’m here. Hey, pumpkin.”
I can feel a warm and gentle stroking against my head. The hands are reassuring and the voice resonates with a sense of security. I have not heard or felt in a long time a security from which nothing could harm me and arms that held me in while the hideous realities of our world withered away.
My throat barely pushes the words out. My chest hurts, it hurts to breath.
“Hey, I’m here.” The voice whispers again.
It’s safe I think. I think I can open my eyes. I find some reserve strength and I open them. The blue of my eyes matches his. He looks as if he has been crying, but trying with all might to hold back. The stoic rock of a man he has always tried to portray when he is not behind closed doors.
My voice shaking, I begin to sob. The rock, standing there crumbles and hides its weary face into my shoulder. I can feel his tears against my neck. Today he is not a rock. He is a man, he is human. I need that now more than anything. Waking up I feared I did something wrong. I feared he would be telling me what I shouldn’t have done. Now I know he is glad that I am breathing, nothing else matters.
“Where’s mom? How did you know?” I can still barely utter a sound.
“Your mom is talking with the police. She called me.”
“Who found me?” My voice is giving up.
“You don’t need to worry about that right now pumpkin.”
He is standing up now and looking away from me so I won’t see him cry. I am able to witness one lone tear fall upon my bedsheet. At that moment a nurse walks in and introduces herself.
“Hi sweetie, I’m nurse Houston.”
“Hi.” Don’t know if she even heard me say that.
I am not so sure I like the niceties from her, the coddling of sorts. I feel weak and small enough. Vulnerability courses through my veins with every beat. The last thing I need to feel is smaller. I don’t tell her that though. Maybe right now for the first time in my life, I should let someone take care of me.
“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to leave the room for a little bit.”
She does have a sweet voice. I think my father is almost relieved. There are plenty of doors in this hospital. He squeezes my hand and exists the room. Nurse Houston begins to explain to me what she needs to do. My body tightens and every muscles burns as she tells me she will need to do an internal examination. I begin to cry again. The place I ran to in my mind when it happened returns. I don’t like this place anymore. Something else, something else, anything. I wince in pain, I wince in fear and I wince in shame.
My mind finally lightens and an image appears slowly, starting from the outer corners of my eyes. I begin to see all the times my father showed up to one of my games or school events. He rarely missed one and he would stand off to the side watching me intently. I always worried that what if in his mind he was judging me that I wasn’t doing well enough? I never felt good enough. I felt that way until there was a school field day when I was in the fifth grade. I was never much of a short distance runner but I tried a 50 meter dash that day.
I came in third. There was only three of us. When they handed me that third place ribbon I began to judge myself, I began to cry. My father looked down at me and told me that he was proud of me. He told me most people would have given up when they thought they couldn’t win. He simply said, “You finished and never quit. You won.”
“Sweetie, I’m all done. I’ll let your parents know.”
As she exits the room, the image begins to fade, reality increasingly unwelcome. I don’t remember much after that. I remember dreaming of the ghost. She will walk in my shadow, haunt my mind and I may never be able to reach her.