“Hello.” Turning down “Glorious” by Macklemore blasting in the
background while I washed the kitchen floor with Pine Sol and water, I
answer the phone after the first ring.
“It’s me.” I hear my best friend and cousin, Crystal, say from the other
end. “Where are you?” I can’t see her face, but I know something is wrong.
Even though she’s asked me that question a million times before, this time
it’s different. There is no carefree tone. This time, it’s curt and to the point
with no laughter in her voice.
“I’m home,” I say, almost whispering as my hand shakes against my ear.
My mouth suddenly goes dry, my neck starting to get hot. Something inside
my stomach suddenly drops when a slow burn sets in.
“You need to come to the hospital.” Crystal is an emergency room nurse
at St. Mary’s, so whatever feeling I was having before has now doubled.
“Blake is on his way to get you.” When she mentions my brother, I now
know something is gravely wrong. The honk outside doesn’t allow me to
question her any further. “You need to get in the car, okay?” she says softly
but firmly. “Listen to me, Hailey. Go outside and get here.” My head nods as
the hand holding my phone to my ear falls away.
The front door opens, and Blake comes in, looking at me with sorrow and
sadness. His brown eyes meet mine briefly, and then he looks down. He
doesn’t say anything to me; he simply holds out his hand to me. I put my
hand in his, and he leads me out to his truck. He opens the door for me,helping me take that step in.
As I’m looking at him, he pulls the seat belt over my chest and buckles
me in. My mind’s still playing the phone call, trying to dissect the
conversation. Trying to find one little word that can be the clue. “It’s going to
be okay.” His voice breaks through the haze.
I nod my head at him, then he steps back and shuts the door, jogging over
to his side. He gets in and puts the truck in drive. I’m on the outside looking
in, watching my life fall apart without knowing it.
The only thing I’m certain of is that the sun is shining without a cloud in
the sky. As I watch a bird soar through the sky almost in the same direction
we are going, I think to myself, Bad things don’t happen when it’s sunny
I watch the bird, not even realizing we’ve made it to the hospital. I don’t
have a chance to open my door because Blake has it opened before I even
think to reach for the handle. “You’re going to be okay,” he assures me as he
raises his baseball cap to run his hands through his short dark hair.
“What’s going on?” I have a feeling my entire life is about to change, so I
beg him to tell me before we walk through those doors. Blake doesn’t
answer. He just reaches down to grab my hand and lead me through the
The harsh smell of antiseptic immediately fills my nose. Voices bombard
me, though, none of them are familiar. Glancing around, I take in the hustle
and bustle of the emergency room. My heartbeat echoes in my ears as I try in
vain to locate a familiar face. I just need to know who we’re here for.
As we silently walk down the corridor, my mind never stops thinking
about why we are here. I look up at Blake, asking the one question that makes
my heart squeeze with such intense pain, it feels like it might explode.
“Is it Mom? Dad?” I can hear the pleading in my tone. He gives me
nothing, continuing to look straight ahead. My eyes go back to the floor,
following the tile pattern as we make our way beyond the entrance to the
emergency room. The first thing I see is both of my parents, alive and
healthy. My mother has tears running down her cheeks, and my father has his
arm around her shoulders. They are standing next to the nurses’ station. I
look back at Blake in horror. “Is it Nanny?”
He doesn’t have time to answer because Crystal comes out from behind
the nurses’ station in her everyday uniform of blue scrubs and Crocs, wearing a stethoscope around her neck.
With one glance at her face, I stop my feet in their tracks. My feet are
stuck to the floor as if someone crazy glued them to that spot. I can see the
hurt and tears in her eyes. She looks at me with her head tilted sideways, her
bottom lip trembling. My body blocks any movements I try to make. I try to
advance to Crystal, but I can’t. My knees start to give out, and a horrible
shrieking sound comes from somewhere.
I try turning my head to see where the yelling is coming from, but I can’t.
I’m on my hands and knees in the hospital corridor. It isn’t until the coldness
seeps through my hands that I realize I’m the one screaming. That wretched
sound is coming from me. Me . My throat raw, my eyes burning, and my
heart irrevocably broken. No words need to be said. No confirmation given. I
don’t need them to bring me to a place where we can “talk quietly.” It’s at
that moment I finally know what everyone else knows.
My husband is dead.
My brother bends to pick me up, my body enveloped by his warmth. He
carries me to the little white room I didn’t want to enter. He sets me on a
chair, and my father’s strong, warm arms wrap around me. I rest my head on
his shoulder while my mother takes a seat on my other side. My father
cradles me in his arms. Pieces of conversations float around me as I try to
come to grips with the life-changing news.
“It was a head-on collision.”
“He was DOA.”
I turn in my father’s arms and ask in a hoarse voice, “Where is he?” I try
to stand, my legs still weak.
“Honey,” my father says as he stands up with me, putting his arm around
my shoulder to give me the strength to remain standing. “I don’t think …”
“I need to see him.” I can hear the resolve in my tone. I need this. I look
at Crystal, who can see my determination in my eyes. My best friend nods
and holds out her hand to me. I put my hand in hers, and the strength in her
grip gives me the push I need.
“I have to warn you …” She doesn’t have time to say anything else
because, at that moment, two officers walk into the waiting room. They look
around, and once their eyes fall on me, they freeze. Frank Vincent, one of the
officers, and I went to high school together. I can see the pity on his face as
his eyes meet mine.
He takes his hat off as he makes his way to me with a brown bag in his
hand. “Hailey. I’m so, so sorry for your loss.” I don’t know what to say, so I
just nod. “Here are Eric’s belongings from the scene.” He hands me the small
brown bag folded at the top, weighing only a few pounds. My hand reaches
out to grab a piece of my husband. “If there is anything you need or if you
have any questions, please feel free to give me a call. Again, I am just so
I nod absently at his sentiment, but I can’t pull my eyes away from the
bag. This bag holds the last things my husband touched. If I had known he
wouldn’t be coming home tonight, I would have stopped him from flying out
the door this morning. I would have grabbed him for another kiss, or hug, or
just stared into his eyes. Instead, the last memory I have of my husband, Eric,
was his trademark smirk as he walked out the door.
For the last time.
Blake shakes Frank’s hand as Crystal drags me away from their
whispered conversation. She pulls me into a separate room where she closes
the door behind her.
“Listen, Hailey. I know you want to see him, I do. I know. But I’m going
to be very honest with you. You won’t recognize him.” She stops talking as
she takes a deep breath. “I promise you that if I thought seeing him would
help you, I would bring you to him right now, but it’s not Eric. It’s not your
I look into her eyes and see the pain in them. Is that how I look right
now? Tortured? “This is a dream, right?” My eyes well with tears, and I have
no chance of stopping them as they flow freely down my face. “This isn’t
happening to me. It’s not him, right? It’s just a terrible misunderstanding.
That’s the only way any of this would make any sense.”
“I’m so sorry, honey. It’s him. I wish I could take your pain away. I
would do anything to take it away.” She wraps me in her embrace, running
her hands up and down my arms, the heat burning my arctic skin. My sobs
start quietly, but before long, my wails are echoed down the hallway as I
allow my eyes to close and let the darkness take control.
“I CAUGHT her before she hit her head,” I faintly hear Crystal tell someone.
I open my eyes as I’m lifted off the floor for the second time today. Blake
carries me out of the hospital, my hand still clenching Eric’s brown bag
against my chest. I’m in a daze as Crystal opens the passenger side door, and
Blake gently places me on the seat, pulling the seat belt across my body and
clipping it into place.
The bright sun from earlier is now dull, and the birds no longer chirp. The
only sign of life is the kids riding their bikes, laughing as they chase each
other down the street. The streetlights flicker on as we turn down my street.
We haven’t said one word to each other the entire ride, and the radio has
remained silent. Blake parks the car, but I don’t make a move to get out. My
arms are heavy, holding the brown bag like a lifeline. Suddenly, the car door
opens, and Crystal, who I didn’t even notice came with us, reaches over me
to unclip my seat belt
“Let’s get you inside,” Blake says as I turn woodenly and get out of his
I’m not prepared when I walk into our home and see Eric’s jackets
hanging by the door. The way his sweater from last night is just tossed on the
couch, his morning coffee cup still sitting on the side table. Walking over, I
grab the empty cup with just a drop left inside. “He just got home last night.”
I look up. “Maybe if he hadn’t come back, he would still be here. Maybe…” I
trail off in a whisper. Crystal and Blake share a glance. He moves to the
kitchen, and she walks to me.
“Why don’t I take you upstairs, and you can lie down for a bit?” Crystal
asks. I nod and make my way to the stairs. I look back at the mug and brown
bag I placed by his sweater on the couch.
“Don’t touch his things,” I tell them, looking over my shoulder. When I
walk into our room, I take in the bed, still unmade from this morning. The
sheets thrown over on my side. His work pants are tossed over the chair in
the corner with his boots on the floor right next to them. His bathrobe tossed
over the end of the bed. Picking it up, I wrap it, and his smell, around me. I
fall on the mattress and close my eyes, hoping when I wake up, this will all
just be a bad dream.
My eyes flicker open as I look around the dark room. I’m still in my
bedroom. Our bedroom. My body feels stiff from sleeping on my side, and
I’m still wrapped in Eric’s robe. It’s dark outside, but I know this wretched.
day isn’t over.
“Is it real?” I ask the room, or better yet, I ask Crystal, who I know is
beside me. She wouldn’t leave me, just as she knows I wouldn’t leave her if
the roles were reversed. Since our mothers are sisters, and Crystal is only six
months older than I am, we’ve been best friends since birth. No soul alive
knows me better than she does .
“My chest hurts. My heart hurts.” I whisper the last part, and I feel her
scoot over and put her arms around my waist. The tears roll down my cheeks.
“Did he suffer?” I ask. She’d know since she was there when they brought
“No,” she says quietly, her voice cracking as I hear her sniffle behind me.
“He was already gone when they brought him in.”
“Do you think he knew today was going to be his last day?” I ask as my
eyes focus on a blinking star in the sky. “Do you think he knew? What am I
supposed to do now?” Rolling over, I look into her eyes. She doesn’t have the
answers. No one does. I close my eyes, and once again, I let the pain take me.
Take me to memories of when my life was happy, when my life was perfect.
I think about when I first met him. How opening a door to the local
pizzeria changed my life. I wasn’t even watching where I was going, and I
smashed into his hard chest. His hands flew to my arms to make sure I
didn’t fall to the floor. “Sorry,
” I mumbled, looking up into chestnut-
His brown hair fell onto his forehead as he smirked at me. “Not a
” he said as he dropped his hands. “I’m just glad I was here to
help.” I realized my palms were still on his chest.
“Um ...” I looked at my hands, then his face, smiling at him. “Thank
you.” I put my hair behind my ear. “If it wasn’t for you, god knows where I
would be.” I crossed my arms and laughed.
“I’m Eric.” He reached out his hand as he introduced himself with a
smirk that brought out his dimple.
“Do you want something to eat?” Crystals voice breaks through my
memory, bringing me back here. Where the pain is. My hand goes to my
chest to rub away the pain or at least try. “You need to at least drink
something.” She gets up and walks out of the room, leaving me alone. I take
a moment to look around our bedroom. I feel like a stranger in this room, like I shouldn’t be allowed to touch anything. The picture of us on our wedding
day taken only six months ago. I wish I could say I got my big fairy-tale
wedding, but since Eric was a foster child, he had no family, no siblings, and
his job required him to travel a lot. He never really made friends, so he
wanted a small wedding. “Just you and me,” he said as he kissed me in the
middle of our backyard while we promised to love, honor, and cherish each
other until death do us part. I was so in love with him I didn’t care where we
were married as long as we were together.
Tears pour down my face as I think of how my family crashed our small
wedding. My brother, Blake, and his best friend brought over the meat while
my parents came in with balloons and flowers. The small, intimate ceremony
with just the two of us actually ended up being thirty, but I wouldn’t change
it for the world.
“Your mom wants to make you something to eat even if it’s just toast,”
Crystal says as she walks back into the dark room with a glass of water in one
hand and a coffee cup in the other.
“I’m not hungry,” I whisper as I turn back around and smell his pillow.
“He’s really gone?” I ask her, looking at her, hoping it’s just a mistake. A
She wipes away a tear from her face as she walks toward me and takes a
seat on the end of the bed. “We will get through this. I promise you.” I just
shake my head at her because there is no way to get over this. No way for the
hurt to go away, the pain to dull, or for that emptiness to be full again.
“I don’t think I will ever get over this.” I close my eyes again, letting the
now familiar darkness take me away. To the dreams of when Eric was here.
When he smiled at me. Laughed with me. Kissed me until we were
When he loved me.
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