Isabelle didn’t pay attention to the parking signs when she arrived to the Emergency Department at Providence Portland. She grabbed her purse and ran in. The lady at check-in was on the phone and the others were busy. “I need help. I need help. My husband was brought here from a car accident,” she spoke loudly to the admitting clerk.
“Just a minute ma’am,” the clerk said.
“I don’t have a minute,” Isabelle snapped back.
“Are you having chest pain?” the clerk asked.
“No, I need to get to my husband,” Isabelle said.
“Just a minute ma’am,” the clerk said again.
Security came out and tried to calm Isabelle down. They took her to a quiet room, where she was met by Carrie. Isabelle just started shaking her head and saying, “No, no, no,” over and over.
“Isabelle, he’s alive. He’s fragile and in the trauma room. I need you to bunny-up. Put this on and I’ll take you in,” Carrie said. Isabelle climbed into a white paper onesie with full arms and legs, like pajamas for a small child only in adults size. It zipped up the front. Carrie handed her a cap for her hair, gloves and booties to cover her shoes. “You need to stay calm,” Carrie ordered as she walked her friend down the hall to an ED trauma room.
There was blood everywhere. Arnie was unconscious. It was a bad scene but Isabelle needed to be here. She wished she could thank the paramedic who called her. She was glad that Arnie hadn’t followed her advice and put a code on his phone. She told him anyone who accessed his phone could get right into his contacts. Thank God he hadn’t listened to me. Thank God for Vince. She would never forget that paramedic’s name.
“Dr. Hoyt,” one of the nurses said in a tone that questioned Carrie for bringing in a family member.
“She’s his wife and a close family friend. She needs to be here. She’ll be okay,” Carrie assured the team. Isabelle wasn’t going to let her friend down.
“Can I talk to him? Can he hear me?” Isabelle asked Carrie. Carrie positioned Isabelle so she would be close but not in the way of the trauma and rapid response teams.
“Arnie, it’s Isabelle. I’m here. You’re going to be okay. You were in a car accident but you’re going to be okay. I love you. I love you. You’re going to be okay. I love you, Arnie,” Isabelle said before her legs buckled and she slipped backward into the wall.
“Okay, I need to get you out of here right now. I can bring you back in later, but you need to come with me right now, okay. Come on, please,” Carrie took her hand and led her back to a private room.
“Where am I? Where are you taking me?” Isabelle asked. Carrie took her to a special office with a desk, a bed and a television.
“It’s our physician break room. Do you want the television on?” Carrie asked.
“No,” Isabelle said. “Thank you,” she whispered. Isabelle felt as if her life was suddenly surrounded by a fog machine, with clouds that made it impossible to see, and funny smells and sounds.
Carrie treated Isabelle the way she would have treated her own sister, if she had one. As an only child, she could only hope her response in Isabelle’s time of need was indeed what she needed to cope. Despite the mad circumstances of the moment, for just a second Isabelle could feel firsthand the tenderness Carrie had directed toward Harriet for years. Only someone with the purest intentions could respond so intimately and affectionately in such a vulnerable and life-changing moment. Carrie would always be family no matter how this episode played out.
“Okay, lie down and rest. I will come back for you. Do not leave this room. Wait for me here, no matter how long it takes, okay?” Dr. Hoyt confirmed.
“Okay, Carrie. Okay,” Isabelle said before lying down and blacking out.
FIVE MONTHS LATER – MAUI, HAWAII
A pile of suitcases had been dropped off in their condominium at the Sands of Kahana in West Maui. Grace was unpacking her small suitcase that Isabelle allowed her to pull behind her in the room she shared with Harriet. The bedroom Grace was sharing with Harriet had two queen beds, which made Grace definitely feel like a big girl. The condominium unit was large and Isabelle was in the master bedroom, which included a deck that faced the Pacific Ocean.
Arnie was sitting on the lanai when Isabelle walked outside in a long flowing Hawaiian dress. Her long hair was pulled back in a ponytail so it didn’t fall forward when she leaned her arms on the rail. “We were always going to come back here together,” Arnie said.
“We were always going to come back here together,” she repeated his words as she stared ahead at the waves. There was a knock at the door. Isabelle turned to walk across the condo but Grace beat her to it. It was Zach.
“How’s the digs?” Zach asked.
Isabelle laughed when he said that. She had learned to relax so much in the last five months. It took her forty years to discern which battles were worth fighting, but this past year she changed a lifetime in a matter of months. And it truly helped her relationships – all of her relationships, when she was able to let go a little and stop trying to control the world around her. “I missed this place,” Isabelle said. “Frank and Harriet brought us to the Sands the year it opened, when you were in college and I was a senior in high school,” she reminded her brother.
“That feels like a lifetime ago,” he said.
“It does. Has Carrie arrived? What about Robert?” she asked.
“No, just us. Robert is arriving in an hour at Kapalua. Do you remember that time you went walking out on the runway to take pictures?” Zach started laughing. “Oh man. There was a Cessna coming in and the airport staff was yelling at you to come back. And there you stood, just taking picture after picture,” Zach snorted as he bent over laughing. “You were crazy.”
She smiled at the memory. “I just wanted a picture of the airport from the tarmac and I found a better angle when I backed up a little,” Isabelle said.
“You’re an idiot. You walked out onto the runway with a plane coming in.” Zach laughed.
“I was trying to get the perfect shot,” Isabelle defended her actions two decades later.
“It’s funny now. If you had done that after nine-eleven you probably would have landed back in jail in Kahului,” Zach said. “I would have wanted a picture of that.”
“Probably. I didn’t think about anything but getting a good picture at the time,” Isabelle said, playing along. Zach stopped laughing and got serious all of a sudden.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this? Combining our wedding and Arnie’s celebration of life in one trip?” Zach asked. He was genuinely worried that it might be too overwhelming for Isabelle to do both within a few days of each other.
“It’s what he would have wanted,” Isabelle said. “Plus, it just made the best sense logistically. Who knows, maybe Robert and his family will stay for the wedding. God knows we’re going to need all the family we can get around us to manage.”
“If you change your mind, I will understand,” Zach said.
“You want to put your wedding off?” Isabelle said jokingly. “Amone will love that.”
“No. But we would if you needed us to. I would. And she would understand,” Zach said. Isabelle was amazed how close she and Zach, and Amone, had become the last five months since Arnie’s passing. She wasn’t sure she and Grace could have gotten through it without them. They were a tremendous support. Zach and Amone would make it official in a few days but she was already a proven sister to Isabelle and aunt to Grace. She was family.
“I know. Hey, we’re running down to the Honokowai Market for some groceries. Wanna come?” Isabelle asked.
“Sure. Let me text Amone that I’m going with you. Are Harriet and Grace coming?” Zach asked.
“Yes. Harriet loves the farmer’s market and I like to let Grace pick out fresh fruits and vegetables. It creates buy-in when she picks them out,” Isabelle conceded.
“Awe. Yes,” Zach nodded.
“Harriet, Grace, do you want to go to the farmer’s market?” Isabelle called into the other room from the kitchen.
“Which one are you going to?” Harriet asked?
“The outdoor one on the Lower Honoapiilani Road,” Isabelle confirmed.
“It’s not open now. It’s only open on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from seven to eleven,” Harriet said walking into the dining room. Isabelle was continually surprised and impressed how well Harriet had come back from her stroke. Her speech was nearly perfect and her memory was impressive. It really did feel like a miracle in many ways. Isabelle wished Arnie could be here too. It would have been so wonderful to have everyone together for Zach and Amone’s wedding.
“We’ll just go to the store portion for some things and catch the outdoor market tomorrow,” Isabelle said. Zach, Isabelle, Grace and Harriet loaded into the car and took off for the market. Despite the busy park across the street, there was an open parking space right up front. Isabelle smiled with a surprised sense of unexpected gratitude. On days the outdoor market was set up, it was not uncommon to drive in circles and still park a couple of blocks away.
Once inside, Harriet gave Isabelle direction on picking out avocados and reiterated that since they were priced individually, Isabelle should weigh all of them to make sure she was getting the best value. Things like this once drove Isabelle mad, but no longer. She knew Harriet’s intention was to help – and she had learned in their time together that helping was truly what Harriet most wanted to give to any relationship. Harriet took the bunch of bananas Isabelle was holding out of her hands and redirected her to the ripened bananas to her right.
Harriet had a good point. With so many people in their party and the market being so close, they might as well just buy what they needed each day. Isabelle laughed to herself when she thought about how glad she was that Harriet didn’t always go grocery shopping with her. But this was a special occasion, a time they would always remember as a family, and Isabelle was going to give Harriet the grace to be herself without subduing her for one whole week. In the mean time, Grace managed to fill a shopping cart with enough food for several weeks, so Isabelle stepped in to negotiate. “I don’t think we’re going to need three boxes of cereal for one week. How about if you pick one,” Isabelle redirected.
“But I like all of them and we’re on vacation,” Grace said. Isabelle felt a brush of air move past her. That was exactly the kind of logic Arnie would have used, and had used many times. How could Isabelle refuse this request?
“You can have all of them, but only one at a time. So pick which one you want first and when the box is gone you can pick whichever one you want next,” Isabelle explained.
“Okay,” Grace reluctantly conceded. “This one.” Grace held up Lucky Charms. It was Arnie’s favorite too. She had gone in rounds with him about setting a bad example for their daughter. But today, she just laughed. In a way, she was thankful for moments like these. They would remind her that he would always be an important part of their lives. He would live on through Grace, and the child Isabelle was carrying from the night the car accident took him away.
Zach stepped in as the voice of reason. “We probably should check out soon. Robert’s landing in fifteen minutes.”
“Will his stuff fit in the car with all of us or do we need to pick up a second car?” Isabelle asked.
“Well, I don’t know if he’s coming alone, but we pretty much fill up the car, and we’re buying groceries. We need to pick up a second car if we’re all going to meet him. Or I can just pick him up and meet back at the Sands,” Zach said.
“Why don’t I make lunch and you pick him up? Is that okay? Do you want to take Grace or leave her with me?” Isabelle asked.
“Whatever she wants,” Zach said. Of course he would leave the decision to a child.
Isabelle shrugged and replied, “Sounds good.” Arnie would not believe how relaxed she had become. He wouldn’t even recognize me.
When Zach returned with Robert and Grace, he had one more child along. Robert’s daughter Pinky was a year younger than Grace. Isabelle had only met Arnie’s brother Robert once, the only time she and Arnie went to Hawaii together. Robert lived on Oahu. He had been stationed there and transitioned to private citizenship after he retired from the Army.
Robert went through some difficult times on multiple tours to the Middle East, tours that changed him, made him less social and less inclined to connect and communicate with Arnie. Isabelle was never sure if Robert had told Arnie what happened or if Arnie had failed to pass that information on to her. All she knew was that Robert and Arnie rarely talked and Arnie almost never mentioned his brother to her. It was a sore subject and one Isabelle learned not to bring up.
Part of selecting Hawaii to spread Arnie’s ashes was Isabelle’s hope to provide a way for Robert to participate. He was never able to make it back to the mainland, and Isabelle felt this might be one last gift to the man she loved, to have his brother at his celebration of life. She always wished her life with Arnie would have been filled with an extended family of cousins and kids gathering to celebrate the seasons in local parks and planning family reunions together.
So to see Robert walk in with Pinky in many ways was a twisted version of the daydream she held in her mind. As Isabelle made lunch, Harriet stood close making suggestions for how Isabelle could improve each process. It reminded Isabelle of growing up in Harriet’s home when Isabelle always thought Harriet talked to her that way because she still considered her a child. Isabelle’s mind briefly flashed to an alternate scenario – one in which Harriet didn’t recover, didn’t come home, and wasn’t able to monitor her most mundane activities. Isabelle was only too happy to be told she put the silverware in the dishwasher the wrong direction given the alternative that Harriet didn’t come home.
“Now how did you get the name Pinky?” Harriet asked Robert’s daughter.
“It’s always been my name,” the little girl said.
“Her mother named her Penelope Rae and she just seems more like a Pinky,” Robert piped up.
“Well that’s very strange,” Harriet said. Isabelle worried that with Robert already being so gun-shy about family that unintentionally Harriet might offend him and drive him away forever.
“She means well,” Isabelle leaned in and said to Robert.
“I can hear you and I don’t need you to speak for me. I can speak for myself. Can’t I say what I think without being shushed or ignored?” Harriet asked. Grace and Pinky ran off to play in the other room. There was a knock on the door. It was Amone.
“I can tell you have a great spirit,” Robert graciously continued his conversation with Harriet. “We’ve all walked on eggshells far too long in this family.” Robert winked. Isabelle felt instant relief. “Pinky is a fun, strange little name,” Robert said. “But it beats Penelope Rae. That’s way too big of a name for a little girl.”
“Well, it gives her something to grow into,” Harriet argued.
“I think it’s cute. It might be something that sticks. You never know,” Isabelle added. “Okay, who’s ready for lunch? I did everything family style so folks could just take what they want.”
The gourmet kitchen was busy with a growing family. Isabelle breathed in deeply thinking of Arnie. If only he could have been here with the group. She was sure he would have enjoyed being part of a big, loud family, even if he didn’t see it years ago when she first told him it was all she really wanted in life – to belong to something bigger than herself.
There was another knock on the door. It was Carrie. Isabelle would never forget the way she cared for Arnie on his last night, and more importantly cared for her when she couldn’t care for herself. Carrie had truly become the sister Isabelle never had.
Carrie made her round of hugs. She may not have been family by blood, but she was every bit family through friendship and love. The family wasn’t complete until she arrived.
Zach and Robert took plates out to the waterfront lanai. The condo had two decks, each with tables and chairs, creating enough room for everyone to sit comfortably. While Carrie was catching up with Harriet and Amone, Isabelle joined Zach and Robert on the lanai.
She knew Arnie wasn’t physically there, but she could feel his presence as if he were sitting right there with them. She felt his spirit very much alive.
Isabelle was never able to see Arnie’s spirit, but she continually felt his presence. She even talked to him sometimes as home. She wondered if he might someday come to her the way Harriet did when she had her stroke. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A part of her wanted to chase everyone out, just to see, but she didn’t. There would be time for that.
Robert and Zach were catching up like no time had ever passed since they met at Arnie and Isabelle’s wedding – before everyone went their own ways and life got crunchy and complicated. Isabelle was amazed how different the conversation between the men was than if they had been two women. There was no reminiscing or either one asking how they let time go by. In fact, they were talking about renting a fishing charter out of Lahaina to see if they could bring home a marlin. Isabelle couldn’t see Amone allowing a big stuffed fish to hang on the wall in her home. And as soon as they finished the conversation about fishing they segued directly into baseball.
“This is why men can jump right back into a relationship with someone you haven’t seen in years because you avoid talking about sensitive things and unresolved feelings,” Isabelle chimed in. Both men stopped and looked at her with blank stares on their faces.
Zach let out the smallest, “Huh?” before Robert jumped right back in about the starting pitchers in the American League. Oregon didn’t have a professional baseball team so Isabelle was confused why they cared so much about baseball when the Timbers were already practicing and both of them actually played soccer in high school. She could tell that she had clearly crashed a conversation that was beyond her scope of input, so she sat and listened for a few minutes until she got up and walked back inside.