After I watch Jared walk away, knowing there is a chance I will probably never see him again, I want to turn myself onto my side, to curl myself into a ball, but my paralysed legs will not help me, so I have to stay lying on my back. I pull the pillow out from under my head with my un-encumbered, drip-free arm and pull it over my face. Tightly I hold the pillow down on my face with my free arm and I cry, sobs shaking my body violently.
I have this urgent need to scream, to make the hurt in my soul escape through my mouth, but I pinch my lips together, not wanting to make a scene and wake up the whole hospital.
Later when my mum and Sean come rushing into the room excitedly, I am still crying.
My mum leans over me, wrapping me into her arms, hugging my head tightly to her chest and I cling to her, crying even louder.
Sean hugs both of us, cooing, “Okay, okay my Lizzie. You’re okay now.”
The nurse comes in and gives me a mild sedative. They must think it is an after effect of being in the coma. If only they knew that it is not fixable or curable with a drug. This feeling will stay with me for always.
My mum looks around the room and asks concerned, “Where is Jared? It is funny not to see him here.”
Sean adds to this, making it worse, “That boy seriously likes you.”
I take a deep, deep breath and dig out my trusty smile, the one I have not used in a long time. I paste it to my face and mumble, “He had to go.”
A look passes between them, but they say nothing further about Jared, sensing it is something I did not want to discuss.
They stay for the longest, longest time making idle chitchat, telling me everything that has happened during the last seven months, what has happened in the village, in the world. Jane kept them updated with all the news from school, so soon it is as if I was never in a coma and I know all the most important details of what everybody had been up to over the last couple of months.
When my mum and Sean eventually leave, I am relieved. I pull the pillow over my face again, feeling as if I will surely die from the pain in my chest–it is sharp, and it is piercing.
My doctor says my paralysis is only psychological, they cannot find anything physically wrong with me.
I hear him tell my mum and Sean that after a neurological examination it was revealed there were no muscle atrophy, no sensory or autonomic deficits and full sphincter control. The shock from my head knocking against the side window caused a swelling on my brain, which was revealed by an early scan, but now the scans show that the swelling has disappeared. It would appear my body shut down its motor functions so that my brain could fix itself, and this would explain the coma and now the paralysis. My brain still had to realize the swelling was healed, and then resume the pulses it sends to my legs to make them do their job.
He suggests physiotherapy and absolutely no stress.
Amused I consider he should have mentioned the 'no stress' part earlier, because my emotional state has been a little haphazard these days.
I spend the next two weeks in the hospital, doing physiotherapy for most of this time. All I must do now is get my legs to work, by practising repeatedly the simple thing of walking. Something I used to do without a second thought, now takes an immense amount of concentration and physical effort.
I learn that during the seven months I was sleeping, Jared used to do specific exercises with me, as demonstrated by the doctor, to keep my muscles from degenerating. My heart hurts when they tell me this, but by now my smile is my constant companion, so much, that at night my cheeks hurt.
Staying here in hospital with nothing to do but think about Jared and reliving our short time together over and over in my mind, is making me more and more miserable as each day goes by. I believe with all my heart that when I go back to my daily routine, I will soon be over him. Even though people come and go, hovering around my bed constantly, I am always hoping to see Jared walk into the room, but he never does.
The day before leaving the hospital, Jane surprises me with a visit.
Looking at me concerned, she sits down on the chair next to my bed, “How are you? I hear you are going home tomorrow.”
“Yeah, at last, but please let’s not talk about all of this,” I say as I sweep my hand across the room. “Tell me something normal for a change.”
I see her hesitate as if she is contemplating telling me something significant, but then she decides not to. She says instead, “Well, I never told you this interesting bit of news. Aaron and I broke up, so now you and I will have lots of time to spend together again.”
I frown briefly. “Why did you and Aaron break up? When?”
She smiles sadly. “A while ago already.” She looks out through the window, a distant look in her eyes. “Sometimes you think you want something so badly, and only when you have it does it turn out it was a trouble you could have managed without.”
I give her a small, sad smile. My heart is aching to hear news about Jared and her mentioning Aaron makes it worse, so I ask hesitantly, “What happened to Jared? Is he okay?”
She looks back at me, and then warily she says, “Jared left Ireland and he is backpacking through Europe. Aaron says when Jared came home that morning he went straight to his room and packed a bag. The first thing they knew was when he announced, apparently with the weirdest expression on his face, that he would be travelling through Europe for the remainder of his gap year and he'll only be back in time for Trinity. He then got into his car and drove off. He phones now and again, but not often.” She adds with an accusing tone, “Why did you break up with him, Elizabeth? You said you would never hurt him.”
I look back at her blankly and then sighing, I say, “It’s complicated and I never meant to hurt him. It’s just that I had no choice.”
“What do you mean, you had no choice?”
Astounded I reply, “Hello? Can you not see I am unable to walk? I was not going to burden him with me. As it is, he was constantly by my side for seven months. He put his life on hold for me and I couldn’t allow him to do it any longer.”
“The doctor says you can walk, all you have to do is do it,” she says, even more accusingly.
I ignore the tone in her voice and look up at the ceiling, willing my tear ducts to stop being so over-productive.
“You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, Elizabeth,” she insists.
Tears start rolling down my cheeks and I try to wipe them away unnoticeably.
She stands up from the chair and steps closer to me. She leans down and hugs me. Apologetically she says, “Don’t worry. You have to concentrate on getting better now anyhow. You have already missed half of this school year, and to get into college you are going to have to work hard at catching up. At least that would take your mind off things.”
I grab onto this straw of hope that everything will work out just fine.
She steps away from me and sits down on the side of my bed. We change the subject of our conversation to school.
After a little while she leaves, promising to visit me at home.
The next day I go home.
Sean pushes my wheelchair out into the grim morning, and I remember Jared once saying I brought sunshine to his day. I sigh softly.
My mum and Sean help me into the car with a struggle and I feel humiliated for being the reason for their discomfort and effort.
When we stop in front of my manor, I am once again shocked at the sight of it. It is completely different from the first time I saw it, and it looks magnificent. Sean has really poured himself into it. There is now a sculpted garden where the unkempt lawns once roamed, taking with it my memories of Jared on so many sunny afternoons. The two horses are grazing in a field nearby and the only thing I really recognize is our red front door.
Sean and my mum are incredibly excited to show me the car they bought for me—a royal blue two-door Peugeot. It remains unsaid, but I get the impression the gift is supposed to motivate me to work harder at walking again. I am amazed my mum would even allow me back in a car, especially driving myself.
I missed both my birthday and Christmas last year—how sad.
How sad it must have been for Jared. He let his life pass by him, and he knew that it was. At least I was asleep when my life rushed past me. I wonder if I never woke up, if he would still be sitting by my bed every day, still cuddling up to me every night. I persuade myself that now he can travel throughout Europe, without me holding him back. It must be exciting. I definitely made the right choice letting him go.
During the next week when I am not doing physiotherapy, I am watching a lot of TV, and I mean a lot. I mostly watch cartoons and Cow and Chicken turn out to be my favourite mindless distraction.
My mum refurnished the den into a bedroom for me, because I am now, obviously, unable to go up and down the stairs. The doctor assured them this is only a temporary disability, so they only made short-term arrangements. Sean lights a fire in the fireplace every morning before starting on his latest project in his continuous quest in upgrading the manor.
After I literally drag myself out of bed by lunchtime each day, I snuggle up into a chair close by the fire and switch on the TV.
During the day, Esther is at school and my mum keeps herself busy, but at dinnertime I can see my mum and Sean looking at each other with concern as I only pick at my food.
One afternoon while I am dozing off in front of the TV, my mum walks in and I can see it is not going to be the usual, ‘How are you today?’ kind of talk. She sits down on the edge of the chair closest to me and takes my hand in hers. “You will be going back to school on Monday,” she says maternally.
I look at her amazed. “But I still feel awful.”
“The doctor says there is nothing wrong with you and you should have started school already.”
“But how can he tell how awful I feel on the inside?” I sulk.
“I don’t know what is going on with you. You used to discuss everything with me and now I know nothing, so I can honestly say I do not know what is going on in your head. The only way for you to get better is to pick yourself up and start your life again. The doctor agrees with me. Is this about Jared?”
“You must be happy we broke up. You were always telling me how young I was to be so serious over one boy and you obviously wanted me to have a new boyfriend every week. A person would think you would have been proud of me, rather than reprimanding me that I was not like most girls my age, like a butterfly, flirting from one flower to another,” I say angrily.
“But why break up with him the second you wake up? What happened to you while you were in that coma?”
“Why is everybody asking me that? How must I know anyway? I am unable to walk. Honestly, how can it be so difficult for everybody to understand?”
“Explain it to me. Why it is that you are not walking yet?”
“I just can’t. Sorry.”
Sighing exasperated, she changes the subject, “I met Jared’s mum last week in the supermarket and she is worried about him. They have not heard from him for over a month and they have no way to contact him.”
“That’s funny. She was never worried about him when he was living under her roof,” I say sarcastically.
“That is not nice, Elizabeth. I heard she and Jared’s dad are getting divorced and she has gone to a rehab facility. Rumour has it that she has not had a drink in three months.”
I smile bitterly. “Mum, you have really settled in here, haven’t you? Knowing all the gossip and scandals.”
She ignores my sarcastic tone, and says firmly, “Well, I know for sure that you missed a lot of school and this being your last year I will not have you sulking around, staring blankly at the TV all day long. You can be glad Sean convinced me to let you stay for the rest of this week, otherwise I would have dragged you out of bed this morning and all the way to school.”
“Drag being the operative word, right?”
“That is not what I meant, Elizabeth, and you know it.” Tears roll down my cheeks.
She smiles kindly. “If I have told you once, I have told you a million times, everything has its own time and place.”
“Fine. I'll go to school then,” I say stubbornly. I just want to be by myself again, to have her leave me alone and not to have her tell me that everything will be okay, when it would never be.
She stands up, leans down and hugs me. “You will be fine, trust me.” She gives my shoulder a reassuring squeeze and, as she walks off, she says, “I have to fetch Esther now and I'll take the Peugeot. Why don’t you come with and then you can get out for a bit?”
“If you had forewarned me, but it would be nice tomorrow afternoon.” I smile, unwillingly, just to please her, while I point to my pyjamas.
The next afternoon she helps me into the passenger seat of my car, and I am in it for the very first time.
“You forgot your safety belt, Elizabeth,” my mum reprimands me when she starts the car.
“It did not help last time. I might not have died physically, but I am dead anyhow,” I say more to myself than to her.
She looks at me shocked and says angrily, “You have to snap out of this and accept change as a challenge. Jared might be gone but I want you to then replace him with something else, or someone else. Move on.”
I am angry with her, once again for her ignorance, so I take no notice of her for the rest of the journey. In my mind I tell Jared, ‘No, I would never trade these scenic roads for a highway.’
In the village I look for Jared’s Jeep. Maybe he would be walking into a shop or be somewhere in the village, but I do not see him anywhere. It is a hopeless expectation anyway, because did my mum not tell me he is still somewhere in Europe—having a jolly good time.
Once we are back at home again, I go back to watching TV. In my peripheral I see my mum shaking her head.
Monday, I wake up early with a struggle and get dressed for school with difficulty. I am most certainly not looking forward to it.
Jane knows I am coming and is waiting for me at the gate. She pushes my wheelchair down the hill, jabbering excitedly. As she walks past my old locker, she explains we were all allocated new lockers. There goes another memory of Jared.
It almost feels like my first day of school again, minus the hiding in the toilets. All the kids stare at me curiously, because now I am the freak in the wheelchair, not the freak with the weird accent.
All that missed schoolwork takes hard work to catch up on, as well as the endless physiotherapy, but I do not have much else to do and it keeps my mind busy—very busy.
The months go by in a whirl and my hard work pays off. By the time graduation arrives I can walk on my own two legs again and I graduate with honours, making Sean and my mum very proud.
What, of course, makes them even more proud is that Trinity accepts me into their Medical program, but what makes Jane and me happy is that Trinity accepts her into the Law and Business Degree program. This means we will be able to share an apartment in Dublin.
After we know for sure we will be going to Dublin together, we search the Internet every weekend for an apartment. Jane’s parents insist on affordability, Sean insists on ease of transport and locality, while my mum insists on safety. Not easy pleasing so many people.
We eventually find an apartment in Grand Canal Street. It is not very far from Trinity. If there is no other choice, it is not too far to walk either. We explain to everybody how we could catch the Dart Train every day, which arrives at our closest station every ten minutes and takes about fifteen minutes to get to the centre of Dublin City. The train station is also only a five-minute walk away from college. We will be central to everything – almost—and not too close to the university to incur ridiculous rent. It is an access controlled, newly built, fully furnished apartment on the second floor. We are over the moon pleased when they agree.
I am honestly feeling happy—my kind of happy. I realized a while back I would have to get used to this new empty kind of happiness. I am sure, once I get used to it, I will not even notice a difference.
Sean helps us to arrange the lease on the apartment, transferring the deposit and the first month’s rent. He arranges for the electricity and the gas to be connected. He likes to take control and we let him.
One beautiful spring afternoon, a few days before my last day of school, I go for a ride on my horse.
While I gallop out to the boundary line of our property, I see Jared from a distance. He is walking from his gate toward his home and he seems deep in thought. I am shocked when I recognize him, and I quickly turn the horse around, suddenly feeling panicked.
There is an unbearable knot in the pit of my stomach, threatening to choke me. I want, so badly, to stop my horse and look back, just to see him again, but I do not and gallop away. Seeing him brings back intense memories of him and the dull ache in my heart returns to its former throbbing.
I cannot believe Jane did not tell me Jared is at home, but then again, how would she know. We are all growing apart, except for Jane and me, as we make plans for our different futures. We are all scattering to the four corners of the world. I cannot believe only a year and a half ago we were all such close friends and now we see each other rarely. Connell and Sarah went off to Dublin last year already, while I was still in hospital. John and Siobhan are going to Cork at the end of summer and Aaron is leaving for America.
Will I ever get through this?
Should I go to him now that I can walk again? Would he understand? Stubbornly I decide I should not, because he never hesitated in walking away. He never gave it a second thought.Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.