Chapter 1: The Search for the Complicated Truth
Life isn’t perfect nor is it fair. You can be kindhearted and understanding yet still receive a shitty life. I don’t know what is out there that created this world for us, may it be a God, some science-related thing or another supreme being. What I do know is that what I used to say with a forced smile was my life, occurred to lead me to what makes that smile genuine, what gives my life meaning, my fiance. She however lies on a hospital bed lifeless all because of my urgency and curiosity to know where I came from.
I sit in an uncomfortable metal chair by her standard hospital bed that so many people have used before her; I’m not even 100 percent sure if they gave her a fresh set of sheets but that’s the least of my problems.
My beloved fiance is on life support; I’m holding her hand tightly which doesn’t feel as warm as it did before she came into this hospital room instead it feels so cold, so lifeless which I don’t believe I’ll ever get accustomed to.
I’m staring into those eyes that used to be so bright and full of hope, those eyes that are now closed possibly forever. She’s been like this for a full 12 hours already. The doctors don’t think she’ll last past the night as she’s losing more oxygen by the second as if the oxygen tank is busted or something, which it isn’t as the nurse confirmed that for the tenth time today when I last asked her about a half hour ago.
I can’t help but believe the doctors as every ounce of positivity that ever existed in me drained like the water from the drain in a bathtub as soon as I pulled the plug, as soon as we made it through the hospital doors and will disappear once she does.
I’m going to lose the person that matters most to me all because of my curiosity for someone who probably didn’t care for me at all.
I’ve thought I’ve been sad before as I was in foster care from age eight to 12 and that wasn’t a great life especially since I never left the foster home, never had a chance to be part of a an official second family, well, until PJ took me in and when I met the woman who I could never leave behind, the woman who I wanted to spend every last second with.
I thought I’d be the first to go, the doctor did say I’d die by age 37 maybe 40 if I was lucky. That may seem like a short life span but as long as I got to spend it with the woman lying in the hospital bed that was good enough for me, but it looks like I didn’t have to worry about leaving her as it’s likely she’ll go first.
The sadness I experienced at the foster home, feeling abandoned and unwanted or every doctor’s appointment where I was told my at home treatment could manage my sickle cell anemia but it was near impossible for me to live past 40, don’t compare to the sadness I’m feeling now as it physically hurts inside.
I can’t even imagine how I’ll feel when she actually goes and I feel absolutely awful that I’m the only one here for her. PJ and Zeke wouldn’t be able to come here as it’s far from home and they have Mandy to take care of now. There’s also the fact that I don’t want to break the horrible news to them over the phone as they cared about her as much as they did for me.
I tried calling her mom several times but disobeying her once because of me was enough for them to ignore the countless phone calls or hang up on me right after I said that their daughter was in the hospital. I may have grown up without my biological parents but it was as if her parents weren’t really there for her during her entire life.
I gently rub my palm against her flushed cheeks, the only sign that gives me some hope that there was still some life in her.
“I love you, come back to me, come...” I begin to scream between tears until my phone rings.
How much I wish she would just respond to me, maybe something as little as a flicker of an eyelash, something to tell me that she’ll be okay and is okay.
I turn my attention away from her which I haven’t done since we got here not even to use the bathroom, so my bladder going to be screwed up later, and I glance at my cellphone which lays on the small wooden bedside table.
Her mom is returning the call! I’m not sure if she’ll respond to them when she gets here, if she does that is. She didn’t respond to her well before she was in the hospital bed but it’s good to have an open mind of things.
I answer the call by the third ring. “Hello,” I say.
I don’t get a, “That’s horrible, we’ll be there immediately,” or a “What happened? Is she okay?“, All I get as a response is, “You guys went to a hospital in Canada right?” and that’s where I hang up the phone.
All the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together now and making way more sense than when I first discovered them. The blood transfusion, an identical woman to her, noticing the message on my diaper and then there were the missed phone calls with my biological mother several times who lives all the way in Antarctica.
“Nurse!” I yell. “Nurse, nurse!” I say as I get off the uncomfortable chair and make my way towards the open door.
“Mr. Walters, the oxygen ventilator is doing its job. Her oxygen levels haven’t dropped too dramatically if they can slow down, her chances of living will be greater, but just spend as much time with her as you can. Now as you excuse me, I have other patients to deal with,” the middle-aged nurse with a light brown head of hair that has several white patches says. I want to say her name is Francine, but she doesn’t have her name tag on and I’m horrible with names in general, now imagine how terrible I am with names when I can’t think straight because I’m focused on my fiance’s health.
“It’s not that, nurse, but now that you mention it, maybe you should check the oxygen tank again. What I was going to ask is if I can see her file that the hospital system thingy would have,” I ask.
“I was actually going to ask you about that. Her health card has the last name Cloves, but her paperwork in the system has the last name Walters and it’s not like you married her then. According to the system, that was the name she was born with,” the nurse explained which confirms my previous theory which I thought had to be impossible.
We share the same birthday and are the same age. We can’t be long lost twins or something along those lines, it’s impossible and not just because she’s the love of my life, but because she’s fully white and I’m a mix of black and white, I like to think of myself as a milk chocolate colour.
What I’m about to ask the nurse might sound foolish but this theory doesn’t add up, there has to be more to this. Maybe a nurse or someone in the hospital might know something about the message that was written on my diaper before my biological mom gave me away, I know it’s a long shot, but it’s worth a go.
“That makes no sense, we can’t be related, I’m half black for Christ’s sake and we were both born on October 17th, 2002! But do these four words The 30 Day Exchange ring a bell by any chance?” I must say a little too loud because the nurse slams the wooden door shut and tells me to lower my voice.
“Who told you that? Where did you hear that from?” she asks, sounding beyond worried yet angry at the same time.
“My biological mom wrote those exact four words on my diaper before giving me away to my adopted parents,” I explain.
“Okay, were these adopted parents of yours still in their childbearing years?” she asks.
“They actually just lost a child, they had a stillborn and saw a nurse bringing me to a woman who was supposed to bring me to a foster home. They didn’t want to see a helpless baby boy with sickle cell anemia, who nobody probably would’ve wanted, go to a foster home, so they adopted me that same day,” I explain honestly.
“Okay, I want to believe people wouldn’t lie about losing a child. Is this child buried?” she asks curiously.
“Yeah, in a cemetery in the Hamilton area. They named him and everything, his name was going to be Samuel, I feel horrible that they lost him but I wouldn’t have had them for the first eight years of my life if it wasn’t for that. Why’s that important though?” I ask in concern.
“Have you seen where he’s buried?” she asks as if she’s a police officer interrogating me, and I’ve been in that position before, the feelings the same.
“Yes, I visited him at the cemetery with them before,” I say not arguing as for all I know she could be an undercover police officer that knows about the one mistake I made that I went to juvie for.
“Okay, but why do you say these adopted parents have only been in your life for the first eight years?” the nurse asks.
“Because they got hit by a car on the way to the store to get balloons on my eighth birthday,” I explain admitting the sad truth, how much I miss Darrel and Chelsea is indescribable but they raised me well even if it was only for eight years. I have PJ and Zeke now which isn’t exactly the same but I love them just as much.
“Okay, I don’t believe Darrel and Chelsea had anything to do with this after your explanation of things. But, what hospital were you born at?” she asks.
" “Janville Hospital”. Sorry, but why all these questions?” I manage to say.
“Your fiance was born at the same hospital on the same day. The 30 Day Exchange is illegal in Canada now and nobody except hospital workers such as nurses and doctors who have been working within the last 20 years or so know about it. It never existed here in Antarctica or other countries but us hospital workers know about it,” she begins to explain.
“Okay but what is it?” I ask curiously, awaiting one of the many answers I’ve been wanting since I could practically talk.
“I’m not supposed to say, I can’t even tell the newer hospital workers about it, but I can’t keep something like this from you,” she explains and pauses either to add suspense or because she’s nervous and says, “You can’t repeat this, but, my best guess is that you two were switched at birth.”
I look at her with wide eyes full of shock but no fulfillment as the question I once wanted answered raises more questions. It makes me more curious than ever before to discover the whole truth about what happened that day I was given up, but my curiosity was what brought my fiance in the hospital to begin with, so I don’t think it’s for the best.
“What do you mean switched at birth?” I ask the nurse regarding the possibility I never considered but the possibility that seems to make so much sense.
“I mean that there is a likely chance that your parents and hers met in the hospital and signed documents that are now illegal to exchange you two like if you were given 30 days to exchange an item at a store,” she explains.
“What, but a baby is none refundable!” I exclaim out of pure confusion and anger.
“That’s what I would think, but around 20 years ago some “genius” thought that people have enough stress to deal with and life is hard. A baby is supposed to bring joy into someone’s life and if it doesn’t there was a law that stated that you could exchange your baby for someone else’s as long as both parties agreed. My best bet would be that’s what happened to you and your fiance,” she explains.
I’m fuming in anger; my insides are practically like a building on fire right now.
Everything I was told since I was adopted was a lie, but nobody knew better so I can’t blame them; they’re all just as innocent as I am in this situation. Who I can blame is my biological mother and my fiance’s parents who for sure were completely aware of their actions if what the nurse is saying is true. I try my hardest to put the fire inside of me out but find it beyond difficult to as both the woman who I’m madly in love with and myself went through so much pain in our lives that could’ve been prevented from our parents’s mistake and if I had her parents, then she wouldn’t have had to go through all the putting her dreams aside for their health, something nobody should be expected to do.
My whole baby philosophy I live by is necessary for everyone to live by because it could’ve prevented a situation like this from occurring, but her parents, or should I be saying mine now, were happy and in love when they were both alive, or so they seem that way, so why exchange a product of their love as if I was meaningless? This question and so many more come upon me and I manage to ask the nurse as many as I can before she exits the room as her hand is on the wooden doorknob.
“Her parents love each other or so I thought! Did they exchange me because her mom had an affair and that’s why I’m half black? Why am I only finding out this is her last name now, what about when I brought her to a hospital in Hamilton when she got her tubal ligation? And could she have had a twin; would they have done a two for one exchange because there’s a woman that looks just like her?” I ask the nurse quickly and in an anxious manner until I hear her speak, the woman I love who’s in the hospital bed.
“Paige,” she mumbles as the oxygen tank she’s attached too begins to beep in a quick, rapid manner.
I rush over to the hospital bed and witness her enchanting eyes open and say, “Sweetheart, there’s no Paige, but I haven’t heard you talk in the last 12 hours. I’m so happy to hear that beautiful voice of yours and I’m here for you. I want you to fight hard to stay strong. I want to marry you one day and travel the world with you.”
“Stop it with the cliché names, you know how I feel about that, Jojo,” she says weakly, beginning to sound like herself, but not truly herself as the weakness in her voice makes me feel sad. She wouldn’t have been injured in that car accident if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t drive and if it wasn’t for my curiosity to meet who I thought was my biological mom.
“Sorry I can’t help it sometimes. But who’s Paige?” I ask her not wanting to know the answer and begin to notice that the levels of oxygen in her are beginning to increase, not to the extent of their normal levels but better than before as she’s conscious.
“I don’t know, that name just echoes in my mind some days as if I heard it before but I don’t know anyone by the name of Paige. I wouldn’t worry about it, I can barely think straight but what I do know is that I’m not dying without marrying you first and getting engaged for real; I won’t die without spending the rest of my life with you first,” she explains.
“You don’t know how happy I am to hear that but just know that I see you as my fiance as we used that excuse enough times,” I say honestly.
“I thought that was only me,” she responds with that sweet close to perfect smile of hers.
“You were wrong there,” I say as I give her a small peck on the forehead as I don’t want to get carried away and deprive her from more oxygen by kissing her on the lips.
“I have another patient to deal with, but I left an old brochure on the side table which should answer the questions not involving information your parents will only know. That brochure is illegal to give out unless you asked for it to consider your options with a baby because some doctors are willing to be bribed to make this exchange happen, so if someone sees the brochure just pretend she’s pregnant. Her oxygen levels seem to be alright, she should be fine if they stay like that, let me know if anything changes and I’ll be back to give her some antibiotics to prevent pneumonia,” the nurse explains before exiting the room and closing the door behind her as she knows we have an interesting conversation ahead of us.
“What’s with the pamphlet? What’s the nurse talking about? Why would I have to pretend to be pregnant?” she asks curiously. “What does it have to do with our parents?”
“Let’s just say it answers how us being born at the same hospital on the same day during the same year isn’t just a coincidence and it also explains how me having the same blood type as your mom isn’t a coincidence either along with meeting the woman who I said looked like you, Paige,” I explain honestly.
“I don’t want to hear anymore! The doctor said that the more stressed I am, the more oxygen I can lose and I need to live not to just see the whole world but to see it with you, Jonah. Fix whatever chaos is going on and I promise to be here when you come back, alright!” she exclaims.
“Okay, but I’m taking a picture of this brochure and leaving the real thing here in case I don’t come back because your mom knows we’re no longer in Canada and she’ll find us soon,” I say.
“I’m not looking at that old folded piece of paper until I can breathe on my own! I don’t care if my mom finds me here or what trouble she’s trying to cause, I’ll deal with that if I have to. But you have to make me a promise,” she says firmly.
“Sure, anything,” I say.
“Promise to be back by the time they take me off the ventilator, which will be for one to two weeks at most, but maybe sooner. So be back by a week, if not, I’ll assume something horrible happened to you and I’ll read the pamphlet to see what the situation is and take it into my own hands. Just be careful, Jojo,” she says sweetly and in concern.
“I promise more than just that, I promise I’ll live and be back, probably be today or the latest tomorrow since I’m actually visiting my biological mom. As long as your parents don’t know what’s in that brochure, I’ll be fine, nobody else would be interested in taking my life, just make sure Francine puts the brochure in a good spot hidden away in case they come by,” I reply kindly and honestly.
“You mean Sarah and I trust you to stay alive. But I just want to say that I love you in case anything does happen,” she says sweetly and for the first time.
“I love you too,” I say to her as I have before, those words making me feel the happiest I’ve been in a long time. It’s one thing to show someone through how you treat them but it’s another to hear the words out loud and know that she feels the same way about me too.
Before leaving, I take pictures of the brochure with my phone and give her a gentle yet risky kiss on her soft warm lips.
After our lips parted, I headed towards the counter where my Winter gear lied. I put on my heavy navy coat, matching snow pants, a sky-blue and white knitted scarf along with matching mittens and a hat.
I wave goodbye to her and she waves back as I exit her room, which in a sense is a world in which I’ve become very comfortable in and I’m about to enter the hallway of the hospital which I’ll soon exit and make my way to a world that I’ll have to adjust to in order to get the answers I’ve been wanting not only for my whole life but for my fiance’s life too now.