Finding My Way Home by Jeanette Muscella

I feel Ethan’s soft hand touch my arm. Off in the distance, I hear him talking to me. “Wake up baby. You are going to be late for work.”

Groaning, I open my eyes to find my husband’s arm wrapped around me. “Do I have to? I like where I am now.”
Finding My Way Home
Finding My Way Home by Jeanette Muscella
Laughing, Ethan pinches my leg. “I like it too, but you do need to get up.” “You woke me from a very sexy dream about you.” Ethan moves closer to me. “Oh yeah, what was it about?” I roll over and kiss the nape of his neck, then his beautiful mouth. Ethan and morning sex go hand in hand. I was always shy about kissing him in the morning. You know how it is in the morning with dragon breath and bed hair. It never bothered him, and eventually, I caved. He is so goddamn handsome, how could I not? “I see you had one of those dreams, didn’t you? What can I do to relieve the ache sweetheart?” After more than twenty years of marriage, Ethan still knows how to rev my engine. “What are you doing Ethan?” I am asking him a stupid question. I know what he is doing. In his sexy morning voice, he whispers to me, “If you need to ask me, I’m doing something wrong.” “How much time do we have?” The hell with work, I don’t care if I’m late. “If I give it my best effort, we have maybe ten minutes.” “You always work well under pressure. Give it your best shot!” Before I know what is happening to me, Ethan is on top of me, and my arms are over my head. I love it when he restrains me. His body feels hot on top of mine. Ethan always overwhelms me, and before I can say anything, our bodies become one. And then he does what he always does. He stops moving and takes a minute to savor the intimacy. I close my eyes and tighten my muscles around him, silently asking him to move. It doesn’t work, and I hear a soft chuckle come from him. “That never works, my darling.” How does he always do this to me? You would think that after all these years, I’ve heard it all, but somehow, Ethan always manages to make me cry. Today is no different than any other day. I lower my hands to his dimpled ass and pull him closer to me. “If you don’t move soon, I will dig my nails into your gorgeous ass.” “Violence doesn’t become you Diane, but if you want me to move, who am I to deny you anything?” Such a smart mouth, but I love it. I love everything about my husband. Just as we are about to implode, there is a loud knock on the bedroom door. It’s our daughter. Ethan moans in my ear, “Can she come back in two minutes?” “The ship has sailed honey. Get off me.” Kellie’s constant banging on the door is the only sound in the room. “Mommy, please, get out of bed. I have to leave for school soon.” “What time is it?” “It’s six-thirty. Why are you still sleeping?” Ethan yells out to her. “Kellie, Mommy slept late this morning. Go down to the kitchen and eat breakfast. I’ll take you and Joey to school.” “So much for morning sex,” Ethan mutters as he pulls on his underwear, sweatpants and tee shirt. “Go take a shower. I’ll make their lunch. How many years do we have before they go away to college?” The thought of my babies out of the house is a sobering thought. Joey graduates in what feels like a few months, and we have already helped him with several college applications. My son is just like his father; ambitious, focused, and intelligent. My daughter, well, the jury’s still out on my little princess. We have a difficult time keeping her focused on her school work. It’s hard remembering what I was like at eight years old, and I am trying to be patient. Her grades are good, but she’d rather have a sleepover with her little friends than read a book. I take a shower in record time, and I have about thirty minutes to eat something. Joey, as usual, is waiting outside in the car. Kellie is taking her sweet time eating two eggs and toast. Ethan has infinite patience with our little princess. “Kellie honey; you have to finish your breakfast. We leave in five minutes.” She looks at me, at her father, then the plate in front of her. “I don’t like my eggs cooked this way.” “Well, little girl, maybe it’s time we taught you how to cook your breakfast. You can cook your eggs however you like them.” The look on my daughter’s face had me choking on my coffee. “What, me cook? I’m only eight years old!” Ethan laughs at Kellie’s dramatics. “Then I suggest you eat the eggs that I cooked for you. When you are old enough, I will teach you how to cook breakfast.” “I’ll eat the eggs, Daddy. No need to show me anything.” Ethan and I look at each other and roll our eyes. God help us when she starts high school. Five minutes later, the kids and Ethan are on their way to school. The house is finally quiet, and I sit down at the table and savor a second cup of coffee, toast, and the remaining eggs. ***** I’m still in the kitchen when my cell phone rings. It’s Ethan. “The roads are slick honey. Be careful driving to work.” I laugh at him. “You do realize that I’ve been driving for over twenty-five years.” “I know. I worry about you. There are a lot of crazy drivers out here. Just be careful, okay?” “Yes, Ethan. I will be careful. Love you.” “Love you too, honey. Call me when you get to work.” “Yes, Daddy,” I say in my sexiest voice. I hear Ethan inhale a deep breath. I can imagine his cock rising to the occasion. I love winding him up. “You’re lucky the kids are in the car. I have so many things I want to say to you right now.” “Hah. I know. Are you hard?” “What do you think?” “I take that as a yes. You can’t talk dirty to me.” “I will, tonight.” “Looking forward to it.” I’m still laughing as I get in my car and back out of the garage. Damn, the weather is bad. The rain is coming down hard. I contemplate waiting until it stops, but I’ll be late for work. I am a careful driver, and my kids always tell me that I drive like an old lady. Better to be safe than sorry. There is not much traffic this morning which is unusual. I am so focused on the road in front of me that it takes me more than a few seconds to react when I see a car on the other side of the road coming at me. The headlights of the car temporarily blind me. My reaction time is not quick enough. I can’t get out of the way, and that’s the last thing I remember. ***** I am looking down at my car as I float farther and farther away from…me? I’m hurt, I know it, and yet I feel no pain. My body feels weightless. It’s the oddest sensation. I feel peaceful. Is this what it feels like when you die? As I float farther away, I suddenly see my grandmother, Jane. Now I know I’m dead. “Grannie Jane, is that you?” I suddenly feel afraid, more afraid than I have ever been in my life. The reality that I’m dead hits me. I will never see my children. I will never kiss my husband. I will never again tell them that I love them. Oh God, this can’t be happening to me. I don’t want to die! I reach out my arms to my Grandmother. Grannie Jane shakes her head no. “It’s not your time sweetheart. I know you are frightened, but you must go back. Your babies need you. Ethan needs you. He won’t survive without you. You must go back.” “I’m afraid Grannie. Will I be okay?” “I’m sorry Diane. I cannot see the future. I only know you do not belong here.” My Grandmother looks ethereal, and there is a soft glow surrounding her. She looks so pretty, just like I remember her. I miss her so much, but I know I must go back. My family needs me. “Will I see you again someday Grannie?” “I will be here waiting for you, my sweet child. Live your life and take care of your family. They love you so very much.” As I reach out to touch my Grandmother’s hand, I feel intense pain and the world is once again dark. ***** “Her legs are pinned under the steering wheel. Get the Jaws of Life. We need to cut the roof off the car. Multiple injuries. Compound fracture of the left leg…I need an air cast…mobilize the leg….fractured arm.” I hear voices in the distance. I’m tired, and I can’t focus. What’s happening to me? I listen to a loud sawing sound, and then the top of my car is lifted off of me. I can feel the rain hitting my face. There is activity all around me. I feel someone lifting me onto a hard surface. I fade in and out of consciousness. Where is Ethan? I need Ethan! My head hurts. My leg hurts. Why can’t I speak? Chapter Two Ethan Miller The drive to school is loud, as usual. Kellie is very vocal this morning, and that usually irritates Joey. My son needs to lighten up a little. He’s too intense for a seventeen-year-old boy. I look in the rearview mirror and say, “Kellie honey; lower your voice, please. I can hear you.” “Sorry, Daddy. I’m excited about the field trip to the zoo. I can’t wait to see the lions. Joey thinks the zoo is for babies. I’m not a baby. Tell him, Daddy!” I look in the rearview mirror again, and I see Joey rolling his eyes at me. “Joey, your sister is not a baby.” “I know Dad. I hear it every day.” “Patience is a virtue son.” “Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” I pull up outside his school, and he’s out of the car before I can say “have a good day son.” Kellie climbs over the seat to sit next to me. She looks sad. I wish Joey would realize she’s still a little girl. “Daddy, why does Joey hate me?” She’s so serious and on the verge of tears. I reach over to hold her hand. “Honey, your brother doesn’t hate you. I need you to remember that he is older than you. Between you and me, he was a little stinker when he was your age. Don’t tell him I told you, okay? This is our little secret.” “I like keeping secrets!” “I’m sure you do, sweetheart. Please buckle your seatbelt.” My phone chimes with a message, but I can’t stop to check my phone. A few seconds later, another message. The beeping goes on for the ten-minute drive to Kellie’s school. I’ve counted at least twelve of them. What the hell is going on at the hospital? After I drop off Kellie, I pull into the parking lot to check my messages. I stare at my phone in horror as the words glare back at me. Diane…accident…serious injuries…need you as soon as possible. And then I see the message from my brother. I need to operate asap…head trauma…broken leg… broken arm…running tests now. Oh God, please take care of my wife! My brain shuts down as the words sink in. Diane needs me. I jump out of my car and run into the school. I need to get my daughter before she leaves for her school field trip. She doesn’t understand what’s happening and is crying. “Baby, listen to me. Mommy was in a car accident. We have to get Joey and go to the hospital.” “Will mommy be ok? What’s happened to her?” “I won’t know what happened until we get to the hospital. Uncle Jeremy is taking care of Mommy for us. She will be okay.” Why don’t I believe what I just said? I call Joey, and he is waiting for me outside of school. He’s quiet as we drive to the hospital, and when I look in the rearview mirror, he is holding Kellie in his arms. When we arrive at the hospital, I ask one of the nurses to take my children to my office. I don’t want them waiting in the emergency room. Once I am certain they are taken care of, I find my colleague, Dr. Christie Harris. “Where is my wife, Christie?” “She is with Jeremy, and he is supervising the CT scan.” “What can you tell me? How serious are her injuries?” “Diane has a compound fracture of the left leg; she has numerous cuts, a fractured left arm, and three fractured ribs. We want to rule out brain trauma. The CT scan should be done in about half an hour.” “Has she responded to voice command?” “No. Mrs. Miller has been unconscious since the EMT’s brought her in. The paramedics said the fire department had to cut her out of the car. The car that hit her head on is still at the scene, and the police are in the process of arresting the driver. From what they could hear, he was drinking and crossed over into Diane’s lane, hitting her car, and the force of the crash pushed her car off the road and into a tree.” I pace the floor while I wait for my brother Jerry. Time crawls as I think of the thousand things I failed to say to her this morning. This can’t be the end of our beautiful life! Today will not be the last day I tell Diane that I love her. Our entire life together flashes in my mind. So many times we get caught up in our daily routine of taking the kids to school, parent-teacher meetings, school outings, amongst other things that we fail to take a few minutes to say ‘I love you, have a good day, call me when you get home from work.’ All of these things we take for granted until we face days like this one. The thought that I could lose my beautiful wife sickens me. The bile in my stomach is burning its way up to my throat as I pace back and forth, waiting, praying for good news. Several minutes later, I see Jerry. “How is she? Do you have the results of the CT scan?” “I see intracranial bleeding in the cerebral cortex, beneath the frontal lobe. We need to operate immediately to relieve the pressure on Diane’s brain. Come with me. You can have a few minutes while the surgical staff gets everything ready.” This is my worst nightmare. My feet are frozen as I stand at the foot of the bed and stare at my wife. God, there is blood everywhere. I can’t let my children see her like this. I soak a few towels and wipe the blood from her face, neck, arms, and hair. Tears burn my eyes as the paper towels turn red. A thousand towels will never wipe away this memory. I’ve done the best that I could to clean away the blood, but nothing that I do now will prepare my children when they see their mother. No child should have to see this. No child should have to face the reality of saying goodbye to their mother. The five minutes that it takes me to go up to my office are the worse five minutes of my life. I do not want to leave Diane alone in a cold, sterile room. I want to hold her in my arms and will her to look at me. I want her to know that I am by her side. My children will never forgive me if I don’t let them see their mother before the operation. When I open my office door, I see Kellie is asleep in my chair, and Joey is pacing the room. The look on his face pierces my heart and sucks all of the air out of my lungs. “What’s going on Dad?” “Mom needs an operation because she has a head injury and Uncle Jerry needs to repair it.” I walk over to my chair and lift Kellie into my arms. She wakes when she feels me carrying her out of my office. “Where are we going, Daddy?” “Mommy needs to have an operation. Uncle Jerry said we could see her for a few minutes.” ***** I have never seen my children look as frightened as they do today, and it breaks my heart. I need to be strong for them. Jerry is the best in his field, and I trust him with not only my life but the life of my wife and children. The emergency room is always busy, and today is like any other day. The sounds and smells frighten my kids. Diane and I have tried to shelter them, and maybe that was a mistake, and now, unfortunately, they must face the reality of sickness, pain, and suffering. I don’t want this for them, and if I could, I would be the one lying on a gurney, bruised and broken. Before we enter her cubicle, I take a minute to speak to Kellie. “I want to tell you that Mommy may look a little bad. She has some cuts and bruises on her face and arms. I don’t want you to be scared when you see her. Mommy is sleeping, and she doesn’t feel any pain. The nurse gave her something to take away the pain.” Joey looks at me, and he knows I’m lying. I reach out to hold his hand, firmly squeezing it. The look on his face speaks a thousand words. He knows the seriousness of Diane’s injuries. Taking a deep breath, I open the curtain to my wife’s room. Oh God, I want to scream why her? It kills me seeing my beautiful Diane bloody and broken. Kellie cries out and runs to her mother. “Kellie, be careful. You will hurt Mommy if you touch her.” She looks at me horrified and is frightened to move. I take her hand, and we walk to the bed together. I whisper in her ear. “Be gentle honey. Mommy can hear you.” She looks up at me for guidance and my heart breaks. Once again I whisper. “Tell Mommy you love her and will be waiting for her when she wakes up.” Kellie leans in and places her hand on top of Diane’s. The image of their two hands joined will stay with me for a long time. I pray with all that I have that this will not be the last time my children see their mother. “Mommy, I know you are sleeping. Daddy, Joey and me are here with you. Uncle Jerry will fix you, and then you’ll be okay. I’m waiting for you to wake up.” I lean down and kiss my sweet daughter. “That was perfect honey. Give Joey a minute with Mom.” My ever so confident son freezes and tears well in his eyes. I ask the nurse to take Kellie outside. I don’t want her to see her brother cry. I open my arms, and my son falls into me sobbing. “She can’t die, Dad. What will we do without her?” Against my better instincts, I lie to my son. “Uncle Jerry is the best neurosurgeon in the state. Mom is in good hands. Nothing will happen to her Joey, and in a couple of days, she will be awake and on the road to recovery.” I hate lying to my son. What else can I say? I can’t tell him this is a very dangerous operation. I can’t tell him that her injuries are life threatening. He can’t handle the truth, and honestly, I don’t want to tell him the truth. “I want you to say a prayer for your mother. I know she feels us with her. Draw strength in prayer Joey. God is with us.” “Will you be with her when they operate? I don’t want her to be alone.” “I’ll be with her Joey. Mom will not be alone.” Nodding, he pulls away from me and wipes his eyes. He walks over to Diane and whispers something to her that I cannot hear, and then kisses her forehead. He turns to me and takes a deep breath. “Take Kellie back to my office and call your grandparents. I want everyone here as soon as possible. I need a few minutes alone with Mom.” Once Joey leaves the room, I carefully sit on the edge of the bed and hold my wife’s hand. Her hand feels warm against mine. I have so much to say, and yet, the words will not form in my brain. I can only think of one thing to say to her. Leaning down, I kiss the nape of her neck and whisper to her, “Come back to me my darling. I love you with all that I am. Our children need their mother. I need you, Diane. I know I don’t say it enough, but I love you to the moon and back. You hold my heart in your hands. You own my soul, and I am nothing without you. We will be waiting for you when you wake up. I love you, Diane.” I am lost in my memories when I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s my brother. “It’s time Ethan. We need to prepare Diane for surgery, and I need you to sign the consent forms.” “I want to be in the operating room.” Jerry shakes his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. You are too stressed right now. I don’t need the distraction.” “Jerry, please, I’ll stay out of your way. I just need her to know that I’m with her.” Sighing, he said, “Ok, but if I see you losing your shit, you’re out of there. I mean it, Ethan.” “Ok, I get it. Is everyone on the surgical staff in the hospital?” Chapter Three Diane I hear voices. I listen to a little girl crying. Why is she crying? Where am I? Why can’t I move? I feel cold. I feel alone. I feel…fear! I’m afraid, and I don’t know why. Is there something wrong with me? I can’t remember anything. I feel hands touching me. What are they doing to me? I hear a buzzing sound, and something cold touching my skin. The black haze is all around me. It feels like I am floating on a cloud. I see faces, people that recognize me. Who are they? It is so beautiful where I am now. I feel safe. I feel nothing but peaceful. Is this heaven? Am I dead? Ethan My hands are shaking, but I hide them behind my back. If Jeremy sees me shaking, he will throw me out of the operating room. I keep out of everyone’s way as they prepare Diane for surgery. I know she will cry when she sees her shaved head. It saddens me to see her hair gone. I love running my fingers through it while I hold her in my arms. My stomach tightens at the thought. I close my eyes and try desperately to slow my racing heart. I can’t fall apart now. I must pay attention to the surgery. As the nurses continue their pre-surgery checklist, I walk over to the operating table and hold Diane’s hand. Her left arm is extended outward to accommodate the blood pressure cuff, and several IV’s. Her hand is now cold. Why is she cold? I place my fingers over her pulse point. Slow and steady. That’s good. A quick scan of her chart calms me. Heart rate, pulse, and temperature look good. It’s time for me to move out of the way. Jerry has just entered the operating room. We look at each other for a few tense seconds. My eyes speak for me. Jerry understands me and nods. “Okay, people. Let’s get started. Ethan, remain where you are, please.” It’s difficult to put into words seeing someone you love to undergo a dangerous operation. I have been a doctor for almost twenty years. I’ve seen just about everything, and yet, watching my brother perform surgery on my wife is gut wrenching. The operation is proceeding without problems, and I am relieved. My brother is an excellent surgeon. I watch his steady hands, and I am so grateful that he is the one operating on my wife. I am so focused on what he is doing that I fail to notice movement around the operating table. I hear Jerry yell out, “We have a bleeder. Metzenbaum Clamp. Cauterize. Suction. Sponge.” “Doctor, blood pressure is dropping….60 over 40. Heart rate is irregular.” “Continue to monitor. I can’t stop now. Norepinephrine fifteen milligrams IV push.” “Yes, doctor. Fifteen milligrams Norepinephrine, IV push.” One minute later, my entire world crumbles around me. I hear the anesthesiologist yell, “Code Red.” He immediately starts squeezing the air bag attached to the respirator. One of the nurses climbs onto the operating table and starts CPR. Another nurse runs for the defibrillator. It all happens so quickly; I have no time to react. I watch in horror as my wife hovers between life and death. Jerry is barking orders as he continues the operation. “Charge to two hundred joules; on three.” “One, two…” Jerry steps back, “three.” Diane’s body jerks and I hold my breath. “Flatline, doctor, I am charging again to two hundred joules. One, two,” Jerry steps back again, “three.” I hold my breath and say a silent prayer. “The patient is in normal sinus rhythm, doctor. Pulse is 65; blood pressure is 110 over 70.” Several times I fight the urge to vomit. I am afraid to leave my wife, but I can no longer control my rolling stomach. I quietly leave the operating room and run to the bathroom. My throat is on fire. My stomach is in knots as I toss what little I have left. I’m not proud of myself for losing my shit. I can’t go back now, so I take off my surgical gown, sit on the floor, and wait in the hallway. I check my phone and see several messages from my parents and in-laws. Everyone is on their way. I may be a grown man, but right now, I need my mother. ***** I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting on the floor. My ass is numb, and I have a splitting headache. I think I fell asleep for a few minutes. My body is stiff, and it takes me a few seconds to get off the floor. I see one of the scrub nurses approach me. My heart leaps in my chest, and I am relieved to hear the operation is over, and Diane is in recovery. Walking behind her, I say a silent prayer of thanks that Diane made it through the surgery. Jerry is standing by her bed, writing something in her chart. The look on his face concerns me. I know my brother, and his face says everything I don’t want to know. “I want to see her chart, Jerry.” He shakes his head no. “Not until I speak to you. Come with me.” I silently follow my brother out into the hallway. He turns to me, and I swear to God, he looks like he’s about to cry. What the fuck happened? “Just say it, Jerry. Whatever it is, tell me, and we will deal with it.” “We almost lost her, Ethan. It’s a miracle she survived the surgery. I couldn’t lose my focus. Everyone worked like hell to save her life. I’ve made the decision to keep her in a medically induced coma. It will be touch and go for the next few days.” “Can I see her?” “Yes, but only for a few minutes. We’re moving Diane to ICU shortly.” I surprise my brother when I gather him in my arms. “Thank you for saving her life. I’ll never be able to repay you because when you saved her, you also saved me.” Before he can respond, I turn and walk away from him. I am too emotionally strung out to talk further. I just want to see my wife. I spend the next few minutes holding my wife’s hand. Diane looks so peaceful as if she were just sleeping, but I know the truth. Medically induced coma is only used in the most critical or potentially terminal patients as a tool to speed the healing process. The mind and body are in a state of total relaxation, which promotes the body’s natural ability to heal. Medically induced coma can go on for a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. The fact that Diane’s heart stopped beating twice scares me. I look up at the monitor, and I am relieved to see a steady heart rate. The constant clicking of the respirator grates on my nerves. I lean down to kiss her forehead, check her chart, and leave the room. ***** How do I tell my children their mother is in a coma? I can’t tell them the truth. It would frighten them beyond their capacity to cope. As I walk towards my office, I see my father standing outside my door drinking a cup of coffee. He sees me walking towards him. No words need to be said. He puts the cup on the floor, opens his arms, and I walk into his embrace. The familiar scent of Pinaud shoots up my nose. I’m shaking uncontrollably. I don’t want my children to see me like this. My father leads me down the corridor and away from my office. Once we are alone, I break down. “Let it out, son. I know you are scared. I know this is serious. I just talked to Jerry. We are here for you Ethan. Whatever you need, your mother and I will help you. Bill and Barbara took the kids to the cafeteria to get something to eat.” William and Barbara Denton are Diane’s parents. I am not happy that they are here. Diane’s relationship with her mother has always been bitter from as far back as high school. They never got along, and William sat back and let it happen. “I’m scared Dad. I feel like there is a weight crushing my chest. We have never been separated from each other. I have never slept in our bed without her. How do I do that Dad? How do I go home, get into bed, and sleep without her next to me? I don’t know what to do. I can’t think straight. How do I tell my children their mother almost died on the operating table?” “You don’t say anything. Kellie and Joey are too young to understand the risks involved in any surgery. Tell them what they need to hear, but keep a positive tone to your voice. Don’t forget; even though Diane is not conscious, she can hear everything. If the children are upset every time they see her, she will feel it. Diane is a healthy young woman. Give her time to heal. You are reacting as a husband when you should be acting as a doctor. Switch hats for a few days. It will keep you focused.” I know he is right. My father Stephen is a retired general practitioner, and my mother, Catherine is a retired nurse. “I have never felt so out of control, Dad. My mind is spinning. I need a few minutes to get it together.” “Go to your office and take a shower. Put on clean clothes and take as much time as you need to calm your mind. Stay focused Ethan. Diane needs you now as her doctor, not as her husband.” My father walks with me back to my office, and when I open the door, my mother is standing before me, arms outstretched. My mind flashes back to all of the times my mom held me and soothed away whatever made me upset. I feel like that little child now. I want to run to her and beg her to make it all right for Diane. She can sense my emotions. She always could, and I am counting on her to tell me what I want, no, what I need to hear. Acting as if I were a little child, I walk into her embrace. The tears flow now. I can’t stop them, and at this point, I don’t want to. I need to purge this from me now because I refuse to let my children see this in me. I need to be strong for them when inside of me, I am a weak person. My mother leads me to the sofa, and I desperately need her embrace. I need to feel her soft hands comfort me. I close my eyes in an attempt to stop the tears. It doesn’t work, and I only cry harder. I can’t breathe through the tears. I feel my mother’s gentle hand running up and down my back. I feel her soft lips kiss my temple. I’m five years old again, and I need this from her. It takes me several minutes to calm down. During this time, my father stands stoically by my desk, not saying anything. My mother rocks me gently, and her presence calms me. I finally wipe away the hot mess that continues to run down my face. “Do you feel better honey?” “Yeah.” It’s all I can say at the moment. I kiss my mother, walk to the bathroom, and close the door. Once I am on the other side of the door, I take a few deep breaths, turn on the shower, and attempt to wash away the stress of the morning. Chapter Four Ethan When I exit the bathroom, Kellie and Joey are sitting with my in-laws. They look to me for comfort, for reassurance that everything will be okay. Time to put on the mask. I open my arms, and they run to me. They both bombard me with questions. “Hold up a minute. Sit down, and I’ll explain what I can to you.” Everyone looks at me with fear and concern in their eyes. Bill and Barbara especially because Diane is their only child. I take a few seconds to gather my thoughts. “Mommy is still in recovery. The operation was successful, and Uncle Jerry said Mommy would be sleeping for a few days while her body recovers from the surgery.” “What happens when Mom wakes up?” Joey asks. This, I can answer. “Every operation is different Joey. No two patients react the same way after a major operation. Mom will have a lot of pain, and we can control that with medication. We also have to watch for residual swelling in the area near the injury.” “What’s residideal swelling Daddy?” I take Kellie’s hand and turn her palm up. “Do you remember when you cut your hand on the fence by the pool?” She nods her head yes. “And, do you remember how the skin around the wound was sore? Well, that’s residual swelling. The area around where you were hurt is sensitive. The same thing applies to Mommy. The area around where Uncle Jerry had to operate is sore, and some swelling is normal.” “But, how can they help swelling when it’s in her head? I don’t understand Daddy?” How do I explain a brain stent to an eight-year-old child? “Honey, Uncle Jerry is the best doctor to help Mommy. He has all kinds of secrets that he uses to help his patients. He has a special one to help Mom. I don’t want you to be scared honey. Mommy is in an excellent hospital, and Uncle Jerry will take good care of her.” “Will you be there too, Daddy? You are the best doctor in the world.” ***** We have been at the hospital for most of the day. Kellie and Joey sleep on and off in a room one of the nurses provided. No one wants to leave the hospital. I suggested that my in-laws check into the hotel across the street from the hospital. They offer discounts on room rates for family members of hospital patients. They want to be near Diane, and I agree. I do not want my children living at the hospital. Mom and Dad have volunteered to come home with us and stay with the kids while I am at the hospital. Because Diane is in ICU, we are only permitted a brief visit. It kills me having to leave her all alone. I just can’t do it. I have to be with her. Once we arrive home, Mom and Dad take over for me. Kellie is exhausted, and she quickly falls asleep. Joey is too high strung to sleep. He is in his room staring at the TV. The blank expression on his face scares me. What is he thinking? I need to make sure he is okay before I go back to the hospital. His bedroom door is open, and when I walk into his room, he rolls onto his side, facing away from me. I know he doesn’t want me to see him crying. I place my hand on his shoulder, and he breaks wide open. I lay down next to my son and wrap my arm around him. He is shaking, and I try my best to comfort him. “It’s okay to be upset, Joey. Today is very upsetting for all of us. Your mother has the best doctors and nurses taking care of her. I’m going back to the hospital now. I want you to know that I am very proud of you son, and I love you.” Joey rolls over and faces me. His tear stained face affects me like a knife in the gut. I want to kill the bastard that hurt my family. We are all hurting, not just my wife. “Are you sure Mom will be okay? What happens if she doesn’t recover from her injuries? Will she die?” I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict the future, and it would be careless of me to make promises that are not in my control. I won’t lie to my son. “With any surgery, there are risks involved. Mom has had a major surgery. The brain is the most delicate organ in the body. We must be patient while your mother recovers. I won’t lie to you, Joey. It will take a long time for her to recover. We must be strong for her, but I also want you to make me a promise. If the stress gets to be overwhelming, talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be me. Mom and Dad will stay with us for a few weeks. Speak to them. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, call me. Don’t hold in your feelings.” I wrap both arms around my son and close my eyes. I remember many nights holding him like this when he was a little boy and had a nightmare. This is the worst nightmare of his young life. I can feel him relaxing in my arms. I hold him until he falls asleep. I check on my daughter one last time, and she is sleeping peacefully. I bend down to kiss her and quietly leave the room. Mom and Barbara are in the kitchen, and Barbara is crying. William and my dad are sitting at the other end of the table. I still need to tell them what happened during surgery. “There is something else I need to discuss with all of you. I did not want to discuss this in front of the children because it would only upset them. They’ve had enough stress for today. Diane’s heart stopped beating twice during the operation. The surgical team did a hell of a job saving her life. No one knows why her heart stopped beating.” “I can’t lose my baby, Catherine! Why did this have to happen to her? Bill called the police today. The driver is a twenty-year-old boy. Why was he drinking and driving? I don’t understand why? Why my baby girl?” My mother is at a loss for words. How do you answer these questions? Will anything she says comfort my mother-in-law? The irony of the situation annoys me. Barbara has spent the past fifteen years barely speaking to Diane, and now she sits in my kitchen showing concern that should have always been there for my wife. “The arresting officer called me this afternoon. I will make a mental note to return the call tomorrow morning.” ***** It is almost midnight when I go back to the hospital. I’ve packed a few things, and I will sleep in my office. The invisible bond that I have with my beautiful wife makes it impossible for me to stay away from her. After depositing my bags in my office, I make my way to ICU. Extreme precaution is standard operating procedure when a patient is in ICU recovering from brain surgery. The stent in her scalp is prone to infection. I take a few minutes to scrub my hands, put on a surgical gown, mask, cap, gloves and booties. When I enter Diane’s room, the night nurse is checking her heart rate, blood pressure, and pulse. She looks over to me when she sees me. I whisper to her,” Has there been any change since I left a few hours ago?” “No. Mrs. Miller’s readings remain consistent. She has a slight temperature of 100.8, and I am monitoring her temperature every ten minutes. Pulse and heart rate are steady. There have been no fluctuations in the readings over the past three hours.” “Is it okay if I stay here with her? I know it’s against hospital protocol, but I need to be with her.” The nurse, Jane, gently squeezes my arm and gives me one of those sorry, obligatory responses. I recognize it immediately. We all do this when a patient's family begs for more time. I feel a little off balance and unsteady on my feet. All I want at the present moment is a few minutes alone with my wife. “Take all the time you need Doctor Miller. The staff understands the situation, and you have unlimited access whenever you feel the need to visit. If you need me, ring the buzzer. Otherwise, I will be back in ten minutes to take another temperature reading.” I am relieved when she leaves the room. I feel selfish because I want every possible moment alone with my wife. I lean down to gently feel her forehead. I can feel the heat on her skin, and I quickly review her chart and make a note to discuss antibiotics should her temperature rise further. Pulling over a chair, I lower the guard rail and get as close to Diane as I can. Her head is bandaged, her left leg is immobilized from the cast, which thankfully, is below the knee. Her left arm is in a cast to the elbow. Hot tears erupt from my eyes, and I do nothing to stop them. My mind is a whirlwind of memories, and all of them are precious to me. I think back to yesterday morning. We were so carefree and happy, and joking about our missed opportunity for morning sex. God, how I wish I could go back twenty-four hours. Hindsight is a bitch. Nothing good comes from re-hashing what you could have done differently. I link my fingers to hers, lift Diane’s hand to my lips and hold it there. I can’t feel her skin through the mask. Repeatedly, I beg the higher powers to bring my wife back to me. I know the induced coma is the only option we have for the next several days, and I worry about the long-term effects. Head trauma combined with the coma could impair her in some way. We will not know the extent of her injuries until she is awake. I am so goddam tired. I release Diane’s hand and rest my head on the mattress. The room is eerily quiet, except for the myriad of machines clicking and beeping around me. I close my eyes and listen to the steady rhythmic sound of the respirator. In and out. Over and over again. Diane’s chest slowly rises and falls in rhythm to the sound. That’s the last thing I remember until I feel a hand on my arm, gently shaking me. My eyes feel like sandpaper, gritty and dry. It takes me a few seconds to focus my vision. Jerry is standing next to me. What time is it? I look at the clock on the wall, and I am surprised to see that it is six in the morning. I’ve slept for five hours. My brother lacks the finesse to lie to my face when he said, “Damn, you look like shit.” I don’t care if I look like shit. My back protests when I try to stand. Fuck, my back is a twisted knot of muscles. Jeremy sees me struggling and pushes me back in the chair. “Sit for a minute,” he said. “I’ll take care of your back.” Strong hands press against the twisted knot that is my lower back. Jerry scolds me as he works on my stiff muscles. “You can’t do this Ethan. Diane needs you to be in top form. If you throw your back out, you will be in bed next to her in traction. If you want to stay with her at night, I will have someone bring in an extra bed. No more sleeping in a chair.” He’s right, and as I feel my back loosen, I resolve to think before I act. The last time my back protested, I was off my feet for two weeks. I can’t afford that now. “I had no intention of falling asleep. I only came in for a quick visit. It won’t happen again. Have someone bring in a reclining chair and place it by the window. I’ll sleep there if I need to. How is Diane this morning, Jerry?” Jerry quickly scans my wife’s chart. “Her vitals continue to improve, no signs of arrhythmia, and her temperature is 100.6. The night nurse administered Doxycycline IV push to ward off post-operative infection.” “How long do you intend to keep her under?” “I would like to give it at least five to seven days. I still see traces of blood coming from the drainage tube. I don’t want to bring Diane out of it until the fluid runs clear. I also want to give her a chance to reduce the pain threshold. It will be significant if I wake her up now. She needs this time to heal Ethan. Please, be patient. You know as well as I do, if we rush this, she will be in extreme pain.” I wish I could turn off my brain and just follow his instructions. I can’t do that. Everywhere I turn is a reminder of how my wife is suffering. Endless IV tubes in her arms and head. Black and blue marks that are so vivid due to her pale complexion that it takes my breath away. I nod my head as my brother continues speaking. “If her vitals remain steady, we can move Diane out of ICU tomorrow and into a private room. I know everyone is either at the hospital or your house. We need to keep the environment as sterile as possible. Diane’s temperature is still above normal, and I gave her something again a few hours ago to bring it down. I don’t want to run the risk of infection.” I agree with my brother. “I think for the immediate future, we should restrict visitation to just me. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize Diane’s recovery. I don’t want my children to see all of these machines because I know it will terrify them, especially Kellie.” “I think that’s a good idea. Go home and get some rest.” As much as I hate to leave, my body is exhausted. Chapter Five Diane I hear voices again. Who is Diane? Am I Diane? I can’t remember. Do they know me? Are they my family? Do I have a family? My head hurts. I can’t focus. I see a little girl at a zoo. Who is the little girl? She looks so happy. The images are vivid. She is with her father, and they are laughing. “Daddy; I want to see the giraffes. Can you lift me so I can see?” The father laughs and lifts the little girl onto his shoulders. How old is she? She claps happily. “Daddy, aren’t they pretty?” “Yes, they are, honey. Do you want to feed the giraffes?” “Can I Daddy?” The man hands the little girl something, and she stretches out her arm. Oh, the animal is beautiful. I feel excited as she hands the giraffe the food. I can feel her happiness. It’s an incredible feeling. Now I see the father giving the girl something to eat. “Don’t tell Mommy that I gave you a hot dog for lunch, okay sweetheart.” “Why would Mommy be mad if I ate a hot dog?” “Mommy thinks hot dogs are not good for little girls.” “Mommy is a funny bunny. Hot dogs are great!” The father laughs. “Yes, they are, do you want another one?” “Can I have some of that green stuff on it?” “That green stuff is relish.” “Oh, can I still have it?” Oh no, the image is gone. Where did it go? Come back, please! I’m alone and frightened of the darkness that surrounds me. It is pressing me down. I can’t escape it! Who am I? Ethan I receive a very unpleasant call from Doctor Christopher Simmons, Chief of Staff. The Board Members want to see me…now. What the hell do they want? I have a sick feeling I know, and I’ll fight them tooth and nail. When I enter the boardroom, I see the usual faces. I’m looking at the medical review committee, and my blood runs cold. “Doctor. Miller, please take a seat.” Once I sit down, I feel like a bug under a microscope. Jerry is in hot water, and I’ll fight them because he saved Diane’s life. “Doctor. Miller; it has come to our attention that Doctor. Jeremy Miller, your brother, is the head neurosurgeon for your wife, Diane Miller. He performed surgery yesterday against hospital protocol. As you are aware, the AMA has strict guidelines on how doctors treat family members. The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics: Opinion 8.19 states, “Physicians generally should not treat themselves or members of their immediate families.” The American College of Physicians Ethics Manual states, “Physicians should avoid treating themselves, close friends, or members of their family. As physicians, we are taught early in our careers to keep a proper professional boundary between our patients and us. It’s obvious to all of us that emotions are a factor in Doctor Miller’s decision to operate on his sister-in-law. His decision to violate hospital policy puts the board in a very awkward position. Doctor Miller is a gifted surgeon, but there must be some form of punishment for his lack of judgment.” My blood is boiling with rage. Simmons will not hurt my brother or take any action that will jeopardize his career. “Are you seriously telling me that you want to punish my brother for saving my wife’s life? You were not in the emergency room that night, and before you cast judgment on a skilled doctor, I want you to read the entire medical file. My wife would have died from an aneurysm had Jerry not been in the emergency room with me. What do you want from me? Do you expect me to sign a disclaimer absolving the hospital of any financial responsibility? Is your only concern money? You know Jerry, and I have clean records with this hospital, so I have to ask you again, what do you want from me?” “What we want, Doctor Miller is for our medical staff to follow procedures. What we want is an assurance that this event will never happen again. We sympathize with your situation Ethan, but our first concern must be for the hospital’s reputation. If you agree to sign a legal document stating that if your wife’s condition deteriorates, you will take no legal action against the hospital, we will take no further action against your brother. If you refuse, I will revoke his surgical privileges permanently. What I am offering is your only option Doctor Miller, and we need your answer now.” “What do I need to sign?” I ask with contempt in my voice. I don’t react well to threats, but I also will not jeopardize my brother’s career. I gave my consent, and ultimately it is my responsibility to protect Jerry. Doctor Simmons slides something across the boardroom table. I am not surprised when I see they are one step ahead of me. After taking a long time to read every word, and I do this to piss them off, I sign my name. “Is this all you want from me? Will you now leave my brother alone and let him treat my wife? I don’t want anyone else touching her. If you cannot comply with my request, I will transfer my wife to another hospital.” That got their attention. They cannot afford the scandal of one of their doctors moving a patient, in this case, my wife, to another hospital. I’ve backed them against the wall, and I fucking love it. I trust only Jerry with her care. I sit back and wait while they cackle like fucking hens. “I agree on one condition. I want another doctor present during examinations, and this is non-negotiable. Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve just done Ethan because I do. If it weren’t for the seriousness of your wife’s injury, I would assign another doctor today. I’m not cruel Ethan, but my first priority must be for the integrity of the hospital.” “No,” I say as I stand to leave the room. “Your first priority should be for the well-being of the patient, and not the reputation of the hospital. How sad is it that you don’t realize this? I’m leaving now. I need to see my wife.” My legs shake as I walk down the hallway to the elevator. I punch the down button and take a few breaths to calm my racing heart. No one hurts my family, and if I must resign from the hospital staff, that’s what I’ll do. I won’t tell my brother what happened today because he will lose focus on my wife’s medical care. I say this in all sincerity; I will never forget this day. ***** When I return home, everyone is in the kitchen eating breakfast. God, whatever they are eating smells fantastic. My daughter plows into me, her eyes seeking answers. So is everyone else. “Mom’s condition is the same as it was yesterday. Uncle Jerry wants to keep her medicated for at least a week. The only change is that she had a fever all day yesterday. Her temperature is a little high even with the medication, and Uncle Jerry suggested that we restrict visitation to just me for a few days.” Kellie cries out, “But why Daddy? I want to see Mommy.” Her crying breaks my heart. I sit down and pull her onto my lap. “Honey, this is what’s best for Mommy. You have to remember that she is still recovering. You don’t want to bring in a pesky bug or germ that would make her sick, do you?” The thought horrified my sweet girl. “No Daddy! I don’t want that, but why can’t we see her? I’ll take a bath and take off my clothes.” I try not to laugh considering the seriousness of the situation, but my sweet child has a unique way of looking at the world around her. I gather her into my arms and run my hand down her back in an attempt to calm her. “It will only be for a few days baby. Just until we are sure mommy won’t get another fever. Her body is fighting to get better. I promise I will talk to you as often as possible. I will make sure your mother knows you want to see her, but can’t for a few days. It will be okay honey. You just have to be a little patient.” Everyone is looking at me as I soothe my sweet baby girl. Joey especially is hanging on to every word I say. My mother is comforting Barbara, and I am so glad my parents are here with me. I need their support now more than ever. My mom knows exactly why we are concerned. I can see it in her eyes. My mother breaks the tension in the room. “Do you want breakfast, Ethan? When was the last time you have eaten?” “I could eat something.” At that moment, my stomach complains loudly, and everyone hears it. Kellie starts laughing. “You have a bear in your stomach, Daddy. You need to feed the bear.” I bite on her neck which makes her laugh. I pinch her side, and she scrambles off my lap. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school, munchkin?” “Do I have to go to school today?” “Yes, you do. Mommy would be upset if you missed your classes.” Defeated, she said, “I know. I just want to stay home.” I get up and grab my keys. “I’ll take you to school, and Granny Catherine will pick you up after school.” My two very depressed children follow me into the garage. By the time I arrive home, I am too exhausted to eat anything. I manage to crawl up the stairs, and once I enter our bedroom, reality hits me. I fall onto the bed, and I am immediately overwhelmed with memories. Diane’s scent is all around me, and I reach out to hold her pillow. Another scent attacks me. It’s the scent of her shampoo. Holding onto my wife’s pillow, I curl into a ball and cry from the deepest part of my soul. I don’t know how long I have slept, but when I open my eyes, I have a fucking headache that throbs like a bitch. My stomach feels as if I have swallowed battery acid. I need food, and I need it now. The house is empty, and truthfully, I need a few quiet minutes to myself. I head to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee. My mother always bakes when she is nervous, as evidenced by the massive amount of pastries on the counter. I grab the first thing I can get my hands on, her delicious coffee cake. In a matter of minutes, I have devoured half the cake. My stomach thanks me, and I have my third cup of coffee. My brain synapsis’ are firing now, and I remember that I still have to call the detective. I grab my phone and head to my office. The detective answers on the third ring. “This is Holloway.” “Detective Holloway, this is Ethan Miller. You are the arresting officer for the son of a bitch that hit my wife, Diane. I am calling for an update.” I hear the clicking of keys, and then he responds. “We have arrested a twenty-year-old male, Michael Dougherty. His intoxication blood level at the time of his detention is 0.126. Mr. Dougherty has a criminal record. He had been arrested twice in the past year for drunk driving. We have suspended his license, and he will remain in custody until a bail hearing can be scheduled. His lawyer is arguing for home monitoring until the bail hearing. That won’t happen. Three strikes and you’re out. He will serve time for this accident.” “What options do we have as far as jail time? I want him to pay for what he did to my wife.” “I would suggest you contact your lawyer as soon as possible and file civil charges. Make that happen soon, Mr. Miller. We can only hold him so long without either granting bail, or filing charges.” “I want that bastard in jail. Do what you have to do to delay the hearing. I’m calling my lawyer now.” This conversation snapped me out of my sorrow and flung me right into a hot boiling rage. I call my cousin Brian Williams, who is also my attorney, and after a thirty-minute conversation, he has all of the necessary information to pursue a civil lawsuit against the son of a bitch. The bastard is staying right where he is. Chapter Six Diane I don’t know how long I’ve been in this darkness. You lose all concept of time when all you see is…nothing. I've had brief glimpses of a person I assume is me, even if I don’t recognize this person. I see birthday parties. I see a wedding. I see babies crying, playing, and laughing. What I can’t understand is why my mind refuses to recognize these images. Why can’t I break free of this darkness? Recently, I have been able to feel things. I can feel someone touching me. I can feel someone kissing me. Who is this person? Is it the man I see often? Is he my husband? As I concentrate on the image, I feel a sharp pain somewhere on me. I can’t pinpoint where it is coming from, and it quickly vanishes. All I know is that it hurts, and I want to cry. What’s happening to me? I want to die and end this emptiness. Ethan We have made it through the week, and Diane continues to progress in her recovery. Today is the day that we remove the respirator. If Diane can breathe without assistance, she is one step closer to recovery. I had a very intense conversation with my in-laws last night. They are not happy that I’ve kept them from visiting Diane. I think they’ve reached the end of their patience. Honestly, I don’t understand their sudden concern for a child they so casually discarded years ago. “You are being unreasonable Ethan,” Wiliam said in his annoying authoritative tone. “It’s been a week. My daughter has not suffered a setback. I think it’s time to allow us to visit her.” I will not cave in my resolve. Diane will have no visitors until she is awake and off the respirator. I also have to consider her feelings towards her parents. Will she want them in her room? Will she welcome their visit? Until I am sure, I do not want them in her room. It’s that simple. “We’ve had this same discussion several times this week, William. You should understand and accept why I have restricted access. I can’t run the risk of Mersa. Diane has numerous cuts in addition to the incisions. Do you expect me to put her life in danger?” “Well, no but…” “I don’t want to hear it! She is my first and only concern. There will be plenty of time for visitation. Please, stop pressuring me! I can’t take it anymore!” I get up and leave the room. I can still hear Diane’s parents talking, and as I pace back and forth, I try desperately to calm down. My father is the voice of reason in this insanity that has become my life. “Ethan is right. The operation was complicated, and Diane needs a fighting chance. Why would you risk her health by being unreasonable? She is still on the respirator. She still has the drain in her scalp. That is an open invitation for an infection. Until Jerry removes the port and she can breathe without assistance, we need to keep our distance. She is also my daughter. It kills me not being able to see her, but I understand and accept that Ethan is her proxy. His decision is final.” Thank God for my father. I would go insane without him. I can hear Barbara complaining that I am unreasonable. I don’t want to be unreasonable. I only want what is best for my wife. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Jerry wants to attempt to disconnect the respirator. I still haven’t told them yet. Maybe now I can, and hopefully, it will ease their anxiety, and get them the fuck off my back. I wish they would go home. Their sudden concern for Diane is pissing me off. When I return to the living room, William approaches me cautiously. “I’m sorry Ethan. I’m just upset and scared for my daughter. Can you understand how Barbara and I feel? She is our only child.” “Of course, I understand. Diane is also my wife and the mother of my children. I only want what’s best for her, to give her every opportunity to heal without complications. Please sit, we still have something to discuss.” Once we are all seated again, I finish my conversation, hoping there will be no further arguments. “I wasn’t going to say anything until tomorrow, but Jerry wants to attempt to disconnect the respirator. We had another CT scan done yesterday morning, and there is no sign of residual swelling. The port is running clear of blood, and he is removing that today. From what we can see, there should not be any complications tomorrow. This is good news everyone. Diane is one step closer to being brought out of the coma.” Everyone takes a few moments to say a silent prayer, including me. Later that night, after speaking to my children, I try in vain to sleep. This terrible emptiness is crippling me. I haven’t slept more than a few hours a night all week, and if I don’t get some serious sleep soon, my legs will collapse under me. It’s around two in the morning when I hear my bedroom door open. The light from the hallway hits me in the eyes, and I see both of my children standing in the doorway. “Why are the two of you up so late? It’s two in the morning.” Joey is holding Kellie in his arms. “She had a nightmare and ran into my room. Can we sleep with you?” My heart swells with a love so pure, so genuine, that it renders me speechless. I throw back the bedding and move to the center of the bed. We’ve done this many times over the years. Joey on one side, and Kellie on the other. We would watch cartoons, and eat muffins every Sunday morning. It was our ritual, just the three of us. I have my arms wrapped around both of my children. It’s the most peaceful I’ve felt all week, and I pray to all that is holy for a few hours of refreshing sleep. I got my wish because the next time I open my eyes, Kellie is lying on my chest, Joey’s leg has me trapped, and I couldn’t be happier. A light tapping on the door has my attention. “Ethan, where are the children?” I don’t want to yell and wake them, so I remain quiet. A few seconds later, the door opens, and my mother smiles at me. I raise a finger to my lips as a sign to be quiet. I want to enjoy this moment for as long as I can. She closes the door, and I drift off again. The next time I open my eyes, Kellie is still on my chest, only now she is staring at me. She looks so much like her mother. She whispers, “Daddy, how did I get here?” Joey is also awake, and he is in no hurry to move. “Don’t you remember, munchkin?” “No. Did you kidnap me?” “Why on earth would I do that?” “Because you miss me?” I can hear Joey laughing under the pillow. God, the sound of happy children, is like a balm to my soul. “So, why am I here, Daddy?” “You had a scary dream and went into Joey’s room. He carried you in here and, well, I wanted the two of you to keep me company. Did you sleep well, sweetheart?” “Yeah. You make a good pillow.” “And the two of you are the best children anyone could ask for, and I love both of you so very much.” Kellie laughs. “Daddy’s getting mushy!” When I turn my head to look at Joey, there are tears in his eyes. I pat his leg, and he understands my simple gesture. He buries his head under the pillow again to regain his composure. I feel his hand reach out to touch mine. A simple touch can speak a thousand words, and all of them are filled with love. ***** The sounds of laughter greet me when I walk into the kitchen, and it feels like a punch in the gut because Diane’s chair is empty. Everyone has already eaten breakfast, and it’s just the kids at the table. The past week has brought Joey and Kellie closer together. Stress has a way of breaking down walls and brings people closer together. Joey hasn’t interacted much with Kellie the past few years. His patience wears thin, and unfortunately, he projects that towards Kellie when she annoys him. Today, however, they are as close as thieves. He’s making silly faces at her, and her sweet innocent laughter fills the room. They don’t see me standing in the doorway, and I stay quiet because I want to enjoy these few precious moments of relaxed laughter. My need for food soon replaces my enjoyment, and I interrupt them. “You two are awfully noisy this morning.” I swear when Kellie turns around to look at me, every muscle in my body relaxes. Her face is covered with whipped cream and dotted with, what the hell is that, sprinkles? I quickly grab my phone out of my pants pocket and snap a picture. Diane will love seeing this when she wakes up. “Kellie honey, I’m almost afraid to ask why you have whipped cream on your face. And please, give me the abbreviated version.” Kellie stands and places her hands on her hips. Oh boy, this is going to be good. “Well, you see, it’s like this. Granny made a super huge pile of my favorite pancakes, and I wanted whipped cream and sprinkles instead of syrup. So, I um, so, I um….” I can see her struggling to come up with a plausible lie. It’s quite funny. “Yes, you were saying…” “Oh, um….well, he dared me, Daddy! He dared me to smash my face in the whipped cream, and I did it. Am I in trouble, cause it’s his fault. He dared me!” Joey’s eyes are tearing. “I never thought she’d do it, Dad. Who smashes their face in their breakfast?” I walk to the sink, grab a few paper towels, wet them, and wipe the cream off of her face. “You’re not in trouble honey. Sit down and eat your breakfast.” “Granny made a plate for you, and they’re in the oven warmer.” My stomach is doing a happy dance. My mother makes the best pancakes. After we finish eating, I gather everyone in the family room. I need to discuss with the children what will happen today. “I want to go over again what will happen today. Uncle Jerry removed the tube that helped Mom’s wound. Later this morning, he will detach Mom from the machine that helps her to breathe. I know this sounds scary, but Uncle Jerry and I will be with her the entire time. In Mom’s case, he wanted to make sure she had enough time to heal from the surgery, and the machine breathed for her. Uncle Jerry will turn it off for a short period, maybe a minute or two. Mom will stay connected, but she will have a few moments to breathe on her own. If she can successfully do that, he will turn it off.” Joey asks, “What happens if she can’t breathe?” “If that should happen, and I see no reason why it should, we will figure out what is causing her to have difficulty breathing.” Kellie looks horrified, and I squat down to kneel in front of her. “Are you worried about Mommy, honey?” She’s crying and reaches out to me. “I’m afraid Daddy. Will it hurt Mommy?” “No honey. Mommy will still be asleep. Do you remember when I said Uncle Jerry gave her medicine to help her sleep? We will give her medicine, so she will sleep and have sweet dreams. No one will hurt Mommy.” This explanation calms her somewhat. I don’t want anyone to see that I’m terrified, and I say a silent prayer everything goes smoothly. Chapter Seven Diane It’s so lonely where I am now. How long have I been here? I feel like I fade in and out. Sometimes I hear voices; sometimes I hear nothing. Every time I struggle to break free of the darkness, something pulls me back. Today I feel different. I hear a lot of voices around me. Hands are touching me. What’s happening now? Why can’t I open my eyes? ***** “Are we ready?” I hear Jerry ask the nurse standing by Diane’s bed, while I pace the length of the hallway. Jerry does not want me in the room, and I can understand why. I’m sweating like a pig. I know the procedure. I’ve done this many times over the years, but today is different. Today, my wife is the patient. As I lean against the wall outside of her room, I listen to the unmistakable pumping sound of the respirator. I’m frozen in place as I stare at the floor. Please, please breathe baby. I look into the room and see Jerry, his hand on the button, ready to re-start it if she cannot breathe. That doesn’t happen. The steady rise and fall of her chest continue. One minute becomes three, which turns into ten minutes. I am going out of my mind, and when I walk into the room, Jerry pats me on the back, expelling an audible sigh of relief. I leave the room again to allow the nurses to remove the apparatus from her throat. I don’t want to watch it. One hurdle down. The next step is to gradually reduce the medication over the next few days. Jerry follows me out of the room. “I don’t mind telling you I was about to shit my pants. I’m so relieved Diane is off the respirator, Ethan. This is a good sign.” “Yeah, it is.” My throat is so tight that getting any words out of my mouth is damn near impossible. I’m fighting the tears that have been so close to the surface all week. I’ll have time to cry later. I hear Jerry talking to me, but I haven’t listened to a word he’s said. My mind cannot focus, but I did hear, “If all goes according to schedule, Diane will be awake by Monday.” My legs turn to rubber, and I sink to the floor. Jerry sits down next to me and pats my knee. “I know you’ve been keeping it together for the kids. Relax a little Ethan; it’s okay. Diane still has a long recovery, but the worse is over.” “It won’t be over until she’s home with me, lying in my arms. I can’t sleep, Jerry. I feel like a part of me is missing. I miss her. I lay in bed and subconsciously roll over, expecting a soft, warm body to comfort me. The kids slept with me last night, and it’s the first good night’s sleep I’ve had all week.” “You too are joined at the hip.” “Yes, we are, and that frightens me. When did I become so dependent that I can’t function without my wife?” Jerry laughs. “The day you said, I do.” Memories of my wedding day flood my mind. “Best goddamn day of my life.” ***** Four days later Something is happening to me. The darkness is disappearing. I see fragments of light. I’m so excited! Am I finally leaving this place? My body feels lighter. I see the light flashing before me. I feel hands touching me again. Soft hands. Caressing hands. Who is touching me? This touch feels familiar and at the same time not. I’m confused. My head hurts. I open my eyes and see several people looking down at me. My mouth is dry. I try to speak, but I can’t form the words. My mind knows what I want to say, but I can’t communicate. I blink several times as I try to focus my eyes. A handsome man is staring down at me. He’s speaking to me. “Hello, sweetheart. Welcome back. We’ve missed you.” Who is this person? How does he know me? Who am I? I raise my arm and push him away. He looks hurt. I don’t want him touching me. I try forming the words again, and this time, I can barely get out what I want to say. “Who… are… you?” It’s all too much for me, and I lose consciousness again. I feel safer in the darkness. I want to stay in the darkness where I belong. I hear voices again. Angry voices. The man is upset. Chapter Eight Ethan Jerry grabs my arm and forcibly drags me from Diane’s room. It’s best not to argue in front of her. “She doesn’t know who I am, Jerry. What the hell happened?” Jerry is confused as I am. “I don’t know. It could be a side effect of the medication. Give her time to come out of it.” “How much time?” “Ethan, you know as well as I do that post-operative confusion is normal after a traumatic injury.” “This is not confusion. My wife doesn’t know me! You need to figure this the fuck out soon!” “Ethan; calm down! If you go in there with this attitude, you will scare her. She is my patient. If you can’t keep it together, stay out of her room. The last thing I want any of us to do is to scare her. It’s obvious the injury has affected her memory. Keep your distance until I can assess the situation.” It takes every ounce of willpower I have to walk away from her. I give my brother the time he needs to complete his examination. I send a text to my father. We have a problem. My father immediately responds. What’s happened? Diane doesn’t know who I am. We think she has amnesia. It takes a few seconds for him to respond. How bad is it? You do know this could be related to the medication. Yeah, I know, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Diane’s eyes did not recognize me. I feel it, Dad. Something is terribly wrong. Do you need me there with you son? No, stay with the family. Don’t say anything until we know the extent of Diane’s memory loss. Ok. Keep me informed. ***** I have spent the past ten days waiting patiently, and I’m sick of it. I can’t sit still. I need to do something, anything, to distract me. I only know of one place that can calm me. The hospital has a small chapel on the ground floor, and I need the solitude to calm my mind. The ‘what if’s’ are eating away at me. What if my wife doesn’t remember us? What if she never regains her memory? What if she doesn’t love us? What if she wants to leave us? The chapel is quiet, and I sit on the bench near the door and succumb to the tears. In my mind’s eye, I see my life flash before me. The years of dating in college. The first time we made love. Our wedding day. The birth of our children. The many nights laying in the dark holding each other. The tender touches in the dark. The feeling of making love to my wife. Feeling her pulse around me, taking me to the one place I crave most, the one place that I only want to share with her. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here when I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s Jerry. He sits next to me, and by the look on his face, I already know something is terribly wrong with my wife. “I knew I’d find you here. You always come here when you are troubled. Are you okay?” “Am I okay? My entire world is crumbling around me, and you are asking me if I’m okay? I’m not, Jerry, and I have never been this afraid in my entire life. Have you finished your examination? What’s the prognosis?” “Diane is awake, but there is a problem. I asked her the fundamental questions. What year is it? Who is the current president? What is your husband’s name? How many children do you have? What are your parent’s names? She could not answer any of these questions. Ethan, she is terrified to the point of hysteria. You need to speak to her.” “What do you expect me to say to her? ‘Hi, I’m the husband you don’t remember?’ God, this is a nightmare. How do I tell my children their mother doesn’t remember them? I need to know if this is temporary.” “You know as well as I do that an injury to the cerebral cortex can affect the memory. Can I tell you that it’s temporary? No, I can’t Ethan. We need to take this one day at a time.” I sound like a selfish bastard complaining when my wife is frightened. I need to see Diane. On my way to her room, I gather the courage necessary to face my family. My father looks at me, and he knows. He knows this will not be a pleasant conversation. From the look on my face, everyone knows something is wrong. Kellie sits on my lap, and Joey sits next to me. I need my children near me. I need this connection. “Diane is awake and breathing without assistance, which is excellent news, but we do have a problem.” I am struggling to explain this to them. It’s so incredibly difficult, and my father steps in to help me. “What Ethan is trying to say with some difficulty is that Diane has suffered memory loss due to her injury.” Everyone gasps, and then the tears flow. Barbara is screaming at everyone, which upsets Kellie. Now she is crying and shaking in my arms. Joey gets up and leaves the room. My father goes after him. My family is falling apart, and I can’t do anything to stop it. Barbara screams at me, “How did this happen? What did Jerry do to her? What happened to Diane is his fault.” Her accusation pisses me off. I don’t want to have an argument in front of my daughter. I turn to my mother for help. She understands my need to get Kellie out of the room. She walks over to me, lifts Kellie into her arms, and leaves the room. Now I am alone with William and Barbara. In a calm voice that surprises me, I lay it out for them. “I am going to ignore the fact that you’ve just accused my brother of malpractice. I am going to overlook the fact that you think my brother would intentionally harm my wife. You have had no contact with Diane for at least fifteen years, and now you sit here concerned for her well-being. Don’t be a hypocrite, Barbara; we know better! You of all people know Jerry is a gifted surgeon, the top in his field. It is insulting on many levels that after so many years, you would think so little of his intelligence and skill. I trust him with my life and the lives of my family. If you say or do anything to insult him, you will deal with me. Do I make myself clear?” Barbara’s eyes shoot daggers at me. I hope she absorbs what I’ve just said. I don’t like being harsh to her, but I will not let anyone insult my brother. William takes a step towards me, fists clenched. “Who the hell do you think you are, talking to us this way? Our daughter has a serious problem, and you sit there defending your brother. How do you know this is not his fault? How can you be sure he didn’t do something wrong during the operation? She stopped breathing twice. How do we know it’s not his fault? I want answers, Ethan!” William shoves me back a few steps, and it takes all of my strength to keep from planting my fist in his fucking face. “Touch me again, and I will have you thrown out of this hospital.” “Just answer the goddamn question, Ethan. Stop the bullshit.” “I was in the operating room and witnessed what had happened. The surgery was progressing on schedule. No one knows what caused Diane’s heart to stop beating. I’ve reviewed her chart dozens of times this past week, looking for anything that would explain what had happened. Could the anesthesia have caused it? Maybe. There are risks with any surgery, but I am very relieved that Diane had the best surgical team because, without them, we would have lost her. So, before you throw accusations at me, or my brother, think twice before you speak to me again.” “You have kept your distance from Diane for many years. Don’t stand before me now acting like the grieving parents. Are you concerned about your daughter? Probably yes, but you should have shown her that concern for the past fifteen plus years.” “Diane is recovering on schedule. No one knows how blunt force trauma affects the brain. Diane’s injury is to the cerebral cortex, which controls the memory. Don’t you think I want to scream a thousand times why? Why did this happen to her? Do you have any idea how it felt when she looked at me and had no clue who I was? I’m dying inside William, and I don’t need accusations of malpractice against Jerry. I don’t need you putting your hands on me to make a point. Keep the fuck away from me. I am going to visit her now to assess the situation. Wait here, and I will let you know if it is okay to see Diane.” I walk away before I let my fists do the talking for me. My son and daughter are still in the hallway, and I walk over to them, pick up Kellie, and motion for Joey to follow me. I need a few minutes to talk to my children. I take them to a quiet place, the chapel and explain everything. Kellie doesn’t fully understand, but Joey does, and the look on his face crushes me. A few minutes later, we are standing outside her room. I bend down to talk to Kellie. “Don’t forget honey. Mommy doesn’t remember us because of the accident. If Mommy looks confused, it’s because she is. Are you ready to see her?” “Yes, Daddy, but I’m scared. Will you hold my hand?” I love this sweet child with all that I am. “Of course, I’ll hold your hand.” Joey follows me but stays silent. ***** Diane is surprised to see us standing in her room. I can see her trying to recall who we are. Kellie walks to the edge of the bed and tentatively reaches out to touch Diane’s hand. She recoils from the touch, and Kellie hides behind me. She is looking at me intently. Her eyes are asking me, “Who are you?” She looks back and forth to Kellie, Joey, and then back to me. “I d-don’t know you. Who are y-you?” “I am your husband, Ethan Miller, and these are our children, Kellie, and Joey. Kellie is eight years old, and Joey is seventeen years old. Your name is Diane Miller. You do not have to be afraid. We are here to help you, honey.” Diane looks frightened, and when I reach out to hold her hand, she pulls away from me. I sit down in the chair next to her bed and try to explain what has happened to her. “You had a car accident, Diane, and you needed an operation to repair the injury. You also have a concussion, and these two injuries are causing your memory loss.” Joey sits on the other side of the bed. “Everything is okay, Mom. We only want to help you.” “Do you want to see a few pictures of our family?” When she nods yes, I reach for my cell phone. “These pictures were taken a few months ago at the zoo.” I scroll through at least one hundred pictures of that day. One picture has her attention. It was a picture of the four of us taken in front of the fountain at the main gate. We are all smiling and acting silly. Diane stares at it and blinks several times. Tears stain her beautiful face. Kellie reaches out again to touch her mother’s hand. “It’s okay Mommy. You can cry, and we will take care of you.” Diane looks at Joey. She tries several times to form the words but gives up. Tears well in her eyes and then she turns her face away from us. I see my son struggling with his emotions. He needs my help. “Please honey, try to relax. We will take it one day at a time, no matter how long it takes. We love you very much, and we will help you recover. I will be here every day, Diane.” I look up to see William and Barbara standing in the doorway. Why are they here now? I told them to wait. Goddamn it, they are going to upset Diane. Barbara is crying again. “Your parents want to see you. Are you up to having visitors?” She shakes her head no. I look up and shake my head no. They walk away without saying a word. Diane raises her hand and rubs her head. Tears stream down her beautiful face. “I know it hurts honey. Today has been a stressful day for everyone. Get some rest, and we’ll come back tomorrow. Chapter Nine Diane I have children. I have a husband. I have parents. Why can’t I remember any of them? The little girl is beautiful. Does the girl look like me? I can’t get out of bed. The other doctor told me that I have a broken leg. How bad was the accident? I need answers. I press the help button and a few seconds later; the nurse enters my room. “What can I do for you, Diane?” I try to speak again, but it is impossible to tell her what I want. What is wrong with me? I know what I want to say! The nurse looks confused. “Do you need me to call your husband?” I shake my head no. I point to my leg. I hope she understands what I am desperately trying to convey. I can see that the nurse doesn’t want to tell me anything. She said, “Let me get the doctor on call. I will be back in a few minutes.” Several minutes later, Ethan walks into my room. I told the nurse I do not want to talk to him. He sits on the edge of my bed, and he looks concerned for my wellbeing. “The nurse said you were pointing at your leg. Do you have questions about the accident?” The doctor, Ethan…my husband…I don’t know what to call him, moves closer to me. He tries to hold my hand but pulls back. I point to my leg. Please understand what I am asking! “Are you sure you want to hear this now? I don’t want to upset you.” I nod my head yes. Ethan I don’t want to do this now, but I have no choice. I can’t deny Diane the truth. She needs to know what happened to her, and what happens next. “Before I say anything, I need you to know something. As I have said before, your name is Diane Miller, and you are my wife. You are forty-four years old, and we are happily married for twenty-two years. Our children are happy, healthy, beautiful children. Kellie gives us a hard time because she would rather have a pajama party with her little friends than study. Joey is very intense and focused. He is in his last year of high school, and when he graduates, he is college bound. Kellie is a terror in sneakers. She is constantly on the move. She is curious about everything, funny as hell, and she owns my heart.” I want so much to tell her how much I love her, how much I have missed her, and how I can’t exist without her next to me, but I can’t. The look in her eyes is proof that she doesn’t remember us. I don’t see the spark of lust she has when she looks at me. I don’t see the love, the connection…nothing. Her eyes are dead to me, and it kills me. I am a stranger to her. This is so incredibly difficult, but I can’t lose my focus. I can’t worry about tomorrow. “You were on your way to work. You are a high school English teacher. It was raining, and the roads were slippery. You were driving on a two-lane road when a car in the other lane crossed over into yours, hitting you head-on. The force of the crash pushed your car into a tree. The fire department had to cut the roof off your vehicle. I was taking the kids to school when I received several messages that you were in an accident. The most serious injury was to your head. My brother Jerry operated to relieve the pressure on your brain.” I need a visual to make her understand where she was injured, and I point to the left side of my head. “The injury is isolated to the front left side of your brain. This area is called the cerebral cortex.” I point to that area on my head. “The cerebral cortex controls the brain's memory. The fact that you can speak is excellent news because the Broca is located right underneath the cerebral cortex. You also have a concussion, which can also affect your memory. I know this is a lot to absorb. You are still recovering and in pain. I don’t want to overwhelm you, and I need you to tell me if it gets to be too much for you. Our parents have waited patiently for the past twelve days, and they are beyond ready to see you. They just want to see you. Are you up for visitors?” Do I have a choice? Can I say no? “You can refuse visitors, however; I would suggest you at least see your parents. They are beside themselves with anxiety. Just for a few minutes and I’ll be here with you.” I see her hesitating, not sure of what she should do. If William and Barbara don’t see her soon, they will raise the roof off of the hospital. I don’t want another argument, but I also don’t want to force Diane to do something that makes her feel uncomfortable. No, I don’t want to see anyone but you. I shake my head no. It’s too much. I can’t handle this now. “Okay, I’ll tell them you do not want visitors. If you change your mind, you’ll let me know?” As I get up to leave, I hear Diane banging her hand on the table. Can you stay here for a few minutes and talk to me? Can you tell me something about my life? I’m afraid Ethan. What is going to happen to me? What if I never remember? When I bang my hand on the table again, he turns around to look at me. I signal for him to come back. ***** I move closer to the bed and hold her hand. She is twisting my wedding ring. Her eyes are asking what she can’t convey. “First, let me say that nothing will ever change how much I love you. Know this with certainty. As far as your memory, we need to wait and see if this is a side effect of the surgery, and or the concussion. Let’s take it one day at a time.” Diane visibly relaxes, and that pleases me. So, now I’ll tell her about our life together. “We met in high school. I was on the debate team, and you were the prettiest cheerleader in the squad. Everyone wanted to date you, but you brushed everyone off. Some of my classmates dared me to ask you to the junior prom. At first, you said no, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer. Every day I left a flower in the air vent of your locker door, with a little note begging you to go to the prom with me. I made funny little jokes, and eventually, you said yes.” I laugh as I continue telling the story. “The other guys were so jealous and gave me a hard time because I was a nerd with glasses and braces. What you see before you today is not even close to the geek I was in high school. They wanted to know if I paid you to say yes. I remember that night as if it happened yesterday because it was the beginning of an incredible life that I have shared with you. You looked so beautiful in your pink dress, and when we walked into the auditorium, all eyes were on me, because I was with you. I don’t remember what song was playing when we danced for the first time. I only remember how nice it felt to hold you in my arms.” “Some of my friends tried to dance with you, but you refused. You told them that I was your boyfriend. I thought you were joking since this was our first, and I thought our last date. You surprised the hell out of me when you kissed me in front of everyone. I was surprised I remembered what to do. That’s how much you shocked me. Ever since that day, we have been together. All of the firsts, we have shared together. You told me after the wedding that you saved all of the notes and pressed the flowers in a book. You still have them safely tucked away in your memory box. I have many more stories that I will happily share with you. You only need to ask.” I can see her tiring, and so I bend down and gently kiss her forehead. She doesn’t pull away when I kiss her. This makes me happy. “Get some sleep, Diane. I will be back in the morning.” Chapter Ten Ethan I am beyond exhausted, both physically and mentally, and I need to go home for a few hours. When I arrive home, Kellie and Joey are asleep on the couch in the family room. My parents are watching TV, and it takes me a minute or two to realize that William and Barbara are not in the house. I asked my father where they are. “They went home, Ethan. We had an argument with them earlier this afternoon. They blame you for Diane’s decision to refuse visitors. They blame you for everything. It pissed me off, and we had a loud argument. I asked them to go home. You don’t need this bullshit in your home.” “I don’t understand why they are breaking my balls. Diane doesn’t want to see anyone other than me. She is confused and scared, and the constant traffic of people going in and out of her room is too much for her. She’s anxious having me near her. I can see it in her eyes. Diane will have a long recovery, Dad. We still need to assess the extent of her memory loss. Can she read? Can she write? Does she remember how to drive, how to teach her classes? We may need to start with the basics. I need to speak to Jerry tomorrow about occupational therapy. There’s not much we can do with physical therapy while her bones are healing. We can use this time to work on the other issues.” My mother hugs me, and I just want to cry. “Go upstairs and take a shower. I made a casserole for dinner, and I’ll heat some up for you. We’ll stay the night and look after the kids. You need an uninterrupted night sleep.” “Thanks, Mom. I don’t know what I would do without you. I am going to need both of you for the next few months. I need to focus on Diane, and I need you to help me with the kids. Taking them to school, making sure they have food on the table, help with homework. I can’t be in two places at the same time.” My mom hugs me. “We will be here for as long as you need us. You should know by now that there is nothing we wouldn’t do for you and the kids. I love you, honey.” My throat is tight as I leave the room. After a quick shower and two helpings of casserole, I fall into bed. Kelli and Joey are still sleeping downstairs, and we decided to leave them where they are. We all need a good night sleep. As soon as I hit the mattress, I am immediately tense. My mind is racing, along with my heart. What if Diane never regains her memory? The thought sickens me, and I feel my dinner churning in my stomach. I can’t fall apart, not now. I need to stay focused., but it’s so hard when I look at her and see no spark of emotion, other than fear. I roll over and hold on to the one thing that connects me to her, Diane’s pillow. It has become my link to her. I bury my face in her pillow and drift off into a sound sleep. Diane Today has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. First, realizing that I have no memories of my life with my family. Second, seeing who Ethan tells me are my children, and not feeling a spark of recognition, emotion…nothing. Why did this happen to me? Ethan told me I am a teacher. A teacher who cannot read. I tried again to look at the magazine the nurse gave me. I can’t focus on the words. I am alone in this hospital room, stuck in bed because of a broken leg. My entire body aches. My head throbs constantly. Every time I breathe, my chest hurts. When I reach up to touch my head, I want to cry because all I feel are bandages. I want to scream, but my voice is broken. So many thoughts are going through my mind. What if I never regain my memory? What if I have difficulty recovering from my other injuries? Where will I live? Will they still love me if I can’t remember them? Will my children be afraid of me? I want to go back to the world of darkness where I was not overwhelmed with people, sounds, and pain. The pain in my head radiates throughout my body. I press the buzzer for the nurse. The constant flow of doctors and nurses coming in and out of my room disturbs my sleep. Everyone is so concerned about me. Is it because I am Ethan’s wife? Do they know me? I need to know. The nurse arrives a few minutes after I pressed the buzzer. The look on her face is sad. I think the nurse knows me. “Hello, Diane. I am the night nurse, Sally. Are you okay? Do you feel any pain?” The nurse takes a minute to check me again. God, it feels like they do this non-stop all day. She writes something in a chart clipped to the bed and approaches me. My eyes are begging her for what, I don’t know. “I know you have questions, Diane. Tomorrow someone from occupational therapy will speak to your husband to discuss treatment options. Ethan is an excellent doctor. You are in the safest of hands. He will let no one hurt you.” “We know each other because we have been to many hospital parties and functions. You have a beautiful family, Diane. I know this is difficult for you. It would be difficult for anyone to sustain an injury and lose their memories. Ethan has been frantic these past two weeks. He has slept in this room many nights in that uncomfortable recliner.” “He has been proactive in your treatment. He is your advocate in obtaining the best care the hospital can provide. I know you’re frightened, but you can trust Ethan, even if you cannot remember him. I can say with certainty that he loves his family. You are the love of his life. He’s made no secret of telling everyone how much he loves you and the children. He is faithful, hard-working, and dedicated to his family and friends. You are in safe hands, Diane.” Her words give me comfort. I feel a sharp pain in my head and raise my hand to rub my temple. “Do you need something for the pain?” I nod my head yes. The beautiful nurse puts something in the tube on my arm, and the world goes dark again. Happy peace surrounds me. I drift off on a weightless cloud where nothing hurts me. Can I stay here forever? I am afraid to face the future. Chapter Eleven Ethan My day starts with a visit to the municipal courthouse. Michael Dougherty has a bail hearing scheduled for ten in the morning. My cousin Brian is waiting for me in the lobby of the building. He doesn’t look happy. “What’s wrong?” I ask him. I already have a fucking headache. “I want to prepare you in the event the judge grants bail. It is highly unusual for a judge to deny bail. I will recommend electronic monitoring. The fucker’s attorney cornered me a few minutes ago. Dougherty is sorry. He was getting off a night shift, had a few beers. He was tired and fell asleep at the wheel. The accident wasn’t malicious. You know the drill.” “I trust you, Brian. Do what you need to do. If I must testify for my wife, I will. I don’t want this fucker to get off easy. I want him to pay for what he did to my wife.” “The facts of the accident are on record. Let’s go. I need to be in the courtroom in ten minutes. Stay quiet, and only speak if the judge asks you a question. This is not a formal hearing. Do not look at the defendant. No outbursts, Ethan.” I nod in agreement. Brian knows my temper. I keep it under control, but when someone hurts my family, it’s hard to keep quiet. When we enter the courtroom, ‘the fucker,’ which is my new name for him, sits at the defendant’s table. If I didn’t know his age, I would swear he was seventeen years old. I take my seat next to Brian and watch the proceedings. Fifteen minutes later, the fucker leaves the courtroom. The judge set bail at twenty-five thousand dollars, remanded him to house arrest with an ankle monitor, and revoked his driver’s license. We are due back in court in one week for jury selection. I feel better once I step out into the fresh air. “Thanks, Brian. I owe you big time. Do I need to be present for the jury selection?” “Yes. It will be in Diane’s best interest if you are involved in the jury selection and questioning.” “Send me a text message with the date as soon as possible. I’ll block off the time.” “How is Diane?” “Not good. I have a meeting with a few therapists later this afternoon to discuss therapy options.” “Good luck. Keep me posted. Is it okay if I visit Diane?” “Not right now, Brian. She is confused and does not want visitors.” “Oh, wow, I am sorry to hear that. Let me know when Carol, and I can visit her.” “I will. Thanks.” ***** Before I visit Diane, I have an appointment with her primary therapist. We have agreed to a full assessment of all cognitive responses. It is the only way to figure out the extent of my wife’s limitations. How do I explain this to her? I must believe that somewhere deep within her, she understands me. It is close to dinner when I finally go to see her. I don’t know what they put in front of her, but it is not food. I cringe in sympathy as I watch her stare at the tray. She looks up when she sees me standing in the doorway. She looks down again at her tray. Her mouth opens, her brow creases. She is trying so hard to speak, and then she starts to cry. I am by her side a few seconds later. Her tears shatter me. It doesn’t matter at this moment that she has no memory of our life together. Diane needs the comfort of a warm embrace. I wrap my arms around her trembling body, and she sinks into me. I don’t know how long I hold her in my arms, but the close contact soothes both of us. Eventually, she calms down and takes a few deep breaths. I run my thumbs along her flushed cheeks to wipe away the tears. Her eyes never leave mine. There is a connection. It may be broken, but it’s still there. We both feel it. “I bet you feel better after a good cry, don’t you?” Diane nods her head. She looks down at her food and pushes the tray away from her. I take a few seconds to look at her dinner. They pureed her food. It is disgusting, but she needs the nutrition. “I bet you are wondering what that mess is on your tray.” Diane nods her head. “Until we can be sure that you can swallow whole food, the therapist thought it would be advisable for you to have a blended diet. It’s not bad food; it’s just smoothed out so you can swallow. See, I’ll taste it for you.” The food that I put in my mouth is not edible. It’s more like baby food, and the taste is like chicken. My gag reflex kicks in, and I push back the urge to vomit. I need to speak to the nutritionist. There must be a better alternative to this crap. I hold up the spoon and wait for her to open her mouth. She refuses. “Oh, come on. If I can eat it, so can you. Diane honey, you need the nutrients from this food. Once you start to eat, we can remove one of the IV’s from your arm.” She looks down at her arm, and then up at the pole beside the bed. I see defiance in her eyes, and then she opens her mouth. Something shifts in me as I feed my wife. You always imagine something like this happening when you are old and gray. I never imagined something so awful would occur at this stage in our lives. I must remind myself that this is a temporary situation. Her injuries will heal with time. I blink a few times to clear my head. Diane is watching me with sad eyes. What does she see on my face? Can she see my fear? I don’t want her to see it, and I re-focus on her dinner. “A few more spoons and you’re all done. See, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? At least we know you can swallow without difficulty. When the shift changes, I will ask the nurse to remove the IV.” That made Diane smile. I sit for a few minutes while we watched the evening news. Several times she looks over at me and gives me a shy smile. Diane is starting to feel comfortable around me. It’s time to tell her about tomorrow’s evaluation. “I have some good news for you. I spoke with your primary therapist earlier today. Tomorrow morning we have three appointments with different therapists. What they want to do is check to see what you remember, like can you read? Can you write? Can you add and subtract? I know asking if you can read and write sounds silly, but because the brain is so complex, certain areas are affected by the concussion. Do you understand what I am trying to explain to you?” She shakes her head no. “Everything will be okay, Diane. I will be with you tomorrow and every other day until you come home. We leave this hospital together.” It’s time to call it a night. She is fading fast. I bend down to give her a kiss on the forehead, and I am surprised when she squeezes my hand. I raise her hand to my lips and kiss her. I sit on the edge of her bed and hold her hand until she falls asleep. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I drive home with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. Kellie and Joey are waiting for me. I am not happy to see them awake at ten thirty in the evening. My father shakes his head. “They refused to go to bed until you came home. We gave up an hour ago. Do you want something to eat?” “Just coffee, and a piece of cake, if we have any.” Once my father leaves the room, I sit with my children and tell them what happened today. Kellie is animated and very excited to know her mother ate dinner. Joey holds back his feelings. “Okay, Miss Kellie, time to hit the bed. You are up way past your bedtime.” “Oh, come on Daddy, you just got home. Ten more minutes, please?” “No, young lady. Tomorrow is a school day.” Kellie rather dramatically walks towards the steps. She turns to me and says, “You know, I’m not a baby,” then runs up the steps. All I can do is rub my face. Kellie is so much like her mother. Joey sags against the sofa clearly relieved she is out of the room. “Thank God Kellie is finally going to bed. I swear she was driving me crazy all night. She kept running to the window looking for your car. She must have asked Gramps twenty times when are you coming home.” I laugh. “You know how hyperactive Kellie can be. Go easy on your sister. We are all very anxious and worried about Mom. How do you feel, Joey? Is there anything you want to ask me now that Kellie is finally in bed?” “Tell me the truth, Dad. I am old enough to handle the truth.” I am so proud of my son. “She had a good day today. I am happy that she can swallow. Your mother is working hard at trying to communicate. Several times this evening she tried to speak to me. Once we have the evaluation, it will be easier to prescribe the proper treatment options. I won’t lie to you, Joey. It will take several months for your mother to recover.” “Tomorrow I will ask your Mom if she wants to see you and Kellie. Don’t be disappointed if she says no. She already refused to see her parents. She can’t communicate, and I can guarantee she is frustrated. Now, it’s time for you to hit the sack. I don’t like seeing dark circles under your eyes. Stay focused son. You need to maintain your grade point average in your senior year.” Joey surprises me when he gives me a hug and a kiss. I hold him for a few precious minutes and feel a connection to my son that goes beyond love. Chapter Twelve Diane My entire body is on pins and needles. I am excited, nervous, and anxious. My evaluation is in a few hours. Where is Ethan? He promised he would do this with me! I close my eyes and attempt to relax. M yleg and arm are itchy under the casts. How long until the doctor removes the casts? I have been so focused on my memory, I’ve ignored my broken bones. Why can I think clearly, but when I try to speak, nothing comes out of my mouth? I don’t understand any of this. I am so thankful and grateful I have Ethan’s support. I pray everything goes smoothly today. I want my life back. Where are the children? It surprises me that I want to see them. I am so tired, and my head hurts. I think I’ll close my eyes for a few minutes. The darkness no longer comforts me. It feels like a prison, and I cannot escape the darkness. Ethan Diane is sleeping when I enter her room. She looks peaceful for the first time since the accident. I try not to make noise as I move around her room. It’s just after eight in the morning, and breakfast should be arriving soon. I pull up a chair and sit as close to her bed as possible. I love watching my wife sleep. It is one of the many things I miss about her. Our quiet time in the morning is precious to me. Diane always jokes that I like morning sex because she is still half asleep and compliant. It is true that I like morning sex, but it’s not for that reason. I don’t know how to explain it. The room is semi-dark and quiet. My beautiful wife’s soft, warm body is pressed up against mine. Diane has a habit of rolling over and pressing her face against my shoulder blade. The feeling of her soft body against mine, her feminine scent, and the way her hand touches me stirs emotions in me that are so intense, so overwhelming, there is only one way to express those feelings. She knows how to get to me, and I let her dominate me. I let her take control because there is nothing more beautiful than seeing Diane ride me. Her beautiful breasts sway with the movement of her body. Her face portrays all of her emotions, and I love watching her come. I love feeling myself let go when her muscles squeeze around my cock. God, I’m getting hard thinking about this. The sound of the food cart snaps me back to the present. I can’t get up, not until I lose the erection. “You can leave the tray on the table. I’ll wake my wife.” “Sure thing. Do you want breakfast too?” “No, thanks. I’ve had something at home.” When I am finally able to stand up, Diane is awake and looking at me. She smiles as she raises the bed. I move the table closer to her bed and take the lid off the tray. “Wow, breakfast looks good. Oatmeal, yogurt, toast, and apple juice.” Diane reaches for a spoon and feeds herself. The action is intuitive. I don’t think she realizes what she has done. She is so focused on eating that she doesn’t see me staring at her. When the last bit of food is gone, I applaud her, and she looks surprised. “Baby steps Diane. This is a good start.” I can see that she is pleased with herself. Let’s hope the remainder of the day is as productive. “Are you ready to see the doctors?” Diane nods yes. Ten minutes later, the room is full of doctors and different therapists. I have a basic knowledge of how head trauma affects the brain. The people in Diane’s room are experts in their field, and they conduct several different tests to determine the extent of her impairment. Several times I have to mask over my expression when she fails at something. I can see it in her eyes. She’s afraid, and quite frankly, so am I. Diane’s frustration reaches its breaking point, and she slammed her hand on the table and said, “Why…me?” Everyone is surprised and happy to hear her voice. Diane looks at me with a shocked expression on her face; then she smiles at me. It is the most beautiful sight in the world. Her smile melts my heart. I stand up and applaud her. “Well done honey. Can you say something else?” Several seconds pass before she said, “Head…hurts!’ I turn to the doctors in the room. “That’s enough for today. I’ll meet with you later this morning.” Once everyone leaves the room, Diane closes her eyes and rubs her temples. I sit on the bed next to her and wiggle my fingers. “Let me do that for you. I have magic fingers.” Diane closes her eyes as I begin to massage her temples. She doesn’t remember the many times I have done this for her, especially after a hectic day at school. My mind drifts as my fingers lightly glide across her temples. I would light one of her favorite scented candles, turn down the bedroom lights, and massage her temples, neck, and shoulders with eucalyptus oil. I wish I had some now. Would it spark a memory? I can see Diane relaxing as I massage her tense shoulders, and within minutes, she falls asleep. I am still in her room, standing by the window when she wakes an hour later. Diane Ethan is still in the room with me. I am so excited. I have spoken a few words. Can I do it again? Whatever he did to me helped ease the pain in my head. “Where.. are the… doctors?” It shocks me to hear my voice. How did this happen? A few hours ago, I could not speak. Ethan turns around to look at me, and the smile that is on his face makes me feel uncomfortable. He looks at me, and I can see the love in his eyes, but I have no feelings for him. He is a stranger to me. “The evaluation is finished, Diane. I am meeting with them soon to discuss your treatment options. I’ll come back and talk to you later today.” He is tense. I can see it. Is he mad at me? Why do I feel anxious? Does my face convey what I am feeling towards him? I don’t want to hurt him. “Okay, thank you… for being here… with me.” “Where else would I be, Diane?” “I don’t… know. I only… wanted to thank… you.” He bends down to kiss my forehead. “You’re welcome.” That's all he said as he walks out of my room. Ethan I just acted like a total fucking idiot. Why am I angry? Did I think just because Diane can say a few words, that she will suddenly regain her memory? Fucking idiot! It’s not that simple. I am still kicking myself in the ass when I walk to the rehabilitation wing of the hospital. Helen Crandall meets me, and we walk to her office. She opens Diane’s folder, and I hold my breath. The look on her face tells me we have a long road ahead of us. “Ethan, as you are aware, we have only performed a preliminary examination, but from what I can see, we need to focus on cognitive responses. Flash cards, primary school reading material, and hand-eye coordination. Also, as with any concussion, the speed of recovery varies with each patient. This type of recovery cannot be rushed. There will be times of clarity, followed by extreme confusion. It could take several months before the symptoms subside.” “Can she remain in the hospital, or will you move her to another facility? I would like her to stay here because I want to be a participant in her therapy.” “This is the best place for her. It is good that Diane can swallow without aspirating. It’s also good that she is slowly regaining her speech. I want to start out by focusing on reading and word association.” “How soon can you start treatment?” “Is tomorrow too soon for you?” “That’s perfect. Inbox me with my wife’s schedule. I want to be present for every session.” “I can do that. I would like to schedule two hours daily for at least two weeks. After two weeks, we can re-evaluate to determine whether we need to adjust the schedule.” “That sounds good to me. Is there anything specific that you want me to do?” “No. You are only there for moral support. It would be easier and less confusing for Diane if she focused on one person.” I return to Diane’s room to tell her what to expect tomorrow. I see no reaction from her, and I am concerned. “Are you okay, Diane. What’s wrong? Are you in pain?” Diane turns her face away from me and cries. God, what can I do? I can’t hold her. I can’t comfort her. She doesn’t know me. I feel like an idiot standing here with my hands in my pockets. The crying continues, and on instinct, I very carefully sit on the edge of the bed and turn her face to look at me. “It’s okay to cry, Diane. I don’t want you hiding this from me. I know I am a stranger to you, but you must understand that we have shared our lives with each other for twenty-seven years. I know you as I know myself. I want to help you, but I can’t if you won’t talk to me. If you are upset, I want to help you. If you feel pain, I want to bear that pain for you.” “I…I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid… Ethan. I have lost… my life. I don’t know… anything. What happens if …the therapy does…. not work? What will …you do …with me?” “What will I do with you?” Her question catches me off-guard. I lean in as close as possible without scaring her and say, “I will love you until I take my last breath, regardless if you ever remember me. You are the other half of my heart and soul. Whatever happens in the future, we are in this together. I want you to remember this Diane. I am nothing without you.” Chapter Thirteen Ethan Fucking hell. What will I do with her? My stomach cramps at the thought of losing her. How do I make Diane understand how much I love her? I keep asking myself this question as I walk back to my office. I have rounds in fifteen minutes, and I need to focus. Some of the other doctors have filled in for me the past few weeks, and I welcome the distraction of focusing on something other than my wife’s illness. The day passes quickly, and I am in the car by seven. I have not seen Diane since our earlier visit. As much as it upsets me, I need to take a step back and regroup. When I walk in the front door, I hear my father in a heated argument with Joey. “I’m tired of waiting. I want to see my mother! Why can’t I see her?” I hear the frustration in my father’s voice. “You know why Joey. Your mother is confused, and is not ready to have visitors.” “That’s bullshit! I want to see her. I’m going to the hospital tomorrow after school. Maybe if she sees me again, she will remember us. How could she forget us? How Gramps?” I stand in the doorway and watch my son shatter into a million pieces. My father holds Joey in his arms as the sound of his crying fills the room. I walk up behind my son and wrap my arms around him and my father. Joey’s legs give out, and we keep him from falling onto the floor. I look at my dad and jerk my head towards the door. Joey leans on me as we walk towards the door. “Where are we going?” “We are going to see your mother.” “I thought she didn’t want to see us?” “Your mother is frightened, Joey. She has so much to re-learn, and it will be a few months before she will be released from the hospital. You must remember that she has amnesia, and she is still recovering from the concussion. I don’t want you to expect anything when you see her. Just introduce yourself again and take your cue's from her.” “How has she been with you?” “Hesitant, scared, and a little curious. She has a lot of sensory overloads. Everything is coming at her all at once, and it is too much for her to process. I want you to promise me you will not tell Kellie that we visited your mother. She will scream and carry on until I bring her to the hospital. She is too young to understand, and when Diane fails to recognize her again, I don’t know how Kellie will react. Keep this between the two of us.” “I’m not sure this is a good idea, Dad. Maybe we should wait a few more days.” “No. It’s time we slowly integrate our family in her life. This is her new reality for the time being, and she needs to be comfortable around us.” “Okay, if you say so. You are the doctor.” I don’t tell my son that I am about to shit my pants because I have no way of gauging how Diane will react when she sees our son again. ***** The television is on in Diane’s room when we reach the door. I hesitate for a second or two. Joey sees my hesitation and gently pushes me forward. Diane is surprised to see the two of us. She covers her mouth with her hand when she sees Joey. They are a mirror image of each other. Joey takes a few steps closer but remains standing at the foot of the bed. I am waiting for someone to say something. Joey cleared his throat and said, “Um..hi. I asked if I could visit you. How are you feeling?” “I..ah…I’m feeling…a little better. What is your… name again?” The hope dies in Joey's eyes. “I’m Joesph, but everyone calls me Joey.” She looks at Joey. “Can you come closer… to the bed?” Joey walks around to the other side of the bed and sits in the chair. Diane’s eyes are fixated on him. “You’re handsome.” “Um….thank you.” “How old are you?” “I’m seventeen.” “When Ethan told me… we had… children, I wondered… when they would… visit me again.” Tears well in her eyes. “I wish I could… remember you. I really… do. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Can you… leave now, please?” Joey reaches out to touch his mother’s hand. “Please don’t cry, Mom. It’s okay if you don’t remember us. I have enough memories to share with you. All we want is for you to get better. I’m sorry if I upset you. I’ll leave now.” When Joey leaves the room, I apologize to her. “This was not a good idea. I’m sorry Diane. When I got home tonight, he was upset, and the only way to calm him was for him to visit you. I won’t let him see you again if this is too upsetting for you.” I don’t give her a chance to respond when I turn and leave the room. Joey is sitting on the floor outside her room. He looks up at me, and his eyes convey everything that I feel at this moment. The drive home is quiet. When we get home, we go our separate ways, each one retreating to the privacy of our bedroom. Chapter Fourteen Ethan Day one of therapy started with a verbal assault. “Why do you keep…. visiting me? Get the hell… out of my room! When can I leave… this place? I don’t want… to be here.” “Well, good morning to you too Diane. Did you sleep well?” I know this is the highs and lows of recovering from a concussion, and I don’t take it personally. She refuses to answer me and avoids looking at me. “I’m not leaving until you answer me.” Two seconds later, a coffee mug flew past my head and crashed to the floor. “Nice pitching arm. Maybe once the casts are removed, we can play a little baseball.” “What do you… want? Why are you… bothering me?” I bend down to pick up the broken mug and toss it in the trashcan. Diane is looking at me, and a flicker of remorse clouds her face. I brush off my hands and sit in the chair next to her bed. “Now, are you ready to talk to me, or do you want to continue to argue with me?” After a moment of hesitation, Diane lowers her head, clearly embarrassed by her behavior. “I am sorry I yelled… at you. Please, do not be… mad at me. I do not know why… I am so angry. Was I like this… before the accident?” This entire situation is so reminiscent of our many spirited conversations, and I laugh and nod my head. “You have always been this way. You are outspoken, hard headed, and opinionated. This is not the first time you’ve thrown something at me. Usually, it’s a pillow, rolled up socks, or some other soft object. We do not break the good china in our house.” I move closer to the bed. “I know this is frustrating, but arguing with me will not help you recover. If something is bothering you, please tell me. I am here to take care of you, not annoy you. Diane, sweetheart, please look at me. You are a beautiful woman, wife, and mother. You are a free spirit, with a kind heart and soul. You would never intentionally hurt anyone. I know you feel upset and scared, and that is okay. You’ve had an accident, and this is a typical reaction.” “Be honest with me, Ethan. What will happen to me… if I never regain my memory? How do I live my life….with no past? How can I just assume… a life that… I don’t know? Will you want a… wife who doesn't remember you?” “I have the same fears Diane, but at this moment, I can only think of one thing to say to you, and it comes from my heart. If you never regain your memories, I will make you fall in love with me again. That means going out on dates, holding hands, everything, because I refuse to lose you. Our children need their mother, and I need my wife.” “Why did this happen to me? Why can I remember some things and not others? How is it that I can remember to talk and eat, but I cannot remember our life together?” I immediately notice that her speech has not hesitated. This is another good sign. Baby steps my beautiful wife. “My brother had to operate because you were bleeding internally. Any injury to the brain is dangerous Diane, and the concussion is adding to your confusion. It is a lot of stress on a very delicate part of your body. It takes several months to recover from this type of injury.” “I feel better knowing you won’t leave me here alone and frightened.” “I’ll never leave you, Diane.” ***** Diane is in a much better mood when Helen Crandall arrives for their first session. Helen sits next to her and places a pack of cards on the table. “Today we are going to focus on your cognitive skills. I know this may look silly, but I want you to look at these cards. I am going to mix them up, and I want you to pick out which two cards look the same. Can you do this for me?” There were about forty cards on the table, and Diane started to panic. Sensing her anxiety, Helen picked up one card and handed it to Diane. “Let’s approach this differently. Take this card and look at it. Now, try to find the same card and place it next to this one.” This was much easier for her to manage. “That’s perfect Diane, now, try to find this one.” Thirty minutes later, Diane matched every card twice and was so happy she started giggling. “This is fun. What else do you want me to do?” Helen smiled at her enthusiasm. “Let’s try a little reading.” Helen handed her a children’s storybook. Diane panicked because she did not understand the words. “It’s okay Diane; we will work on improving your reading. Let’s see if you can associate words with objects.” She opened a pack of flash cards, and Diane had trouble almost at once. Helen showed her simple things like a book, a table, a window. Nothing registered and it frightened her. She cries and turns her face away from me. I refuse to let her feel insecure. I sit next to her and hold her hand. “Don’t cry Diane, please don’t be upset. We will help you. Are you tired? Do you want to take a break?” “Yes, please. My head hurts.” I turn to Helen. “That’s enough for today.” Helen nods and slips the flash cards into my coat pocket. I know what she is asking me to do. I will do anything for my wife. I bend down and whisper to her, “Do you want to get out of here for a few minutes? How does that sound to you?” Diane smiled. “I would love to get out of here for a few minutes.” We go back to her room to get a few blankets. Diane looks surprised when I wrap them around her. I explain, “It’s the beginning of March, and even though we are walking through the sky ramp to the restaurant, you are still recovering, and I don’t want you to get sick. Humor me, okay?” Once I cover her in several blankets, I wheel Diane through the sky ramp that connects the hospital to the restaurant. There is a restaurant called Pork Belly’s which is a favorite lunch and dinner spot for the hospital staff. On most days, the place is full of doctors, nurses and a few recovering patients with their families. Her mood changes quickly. Her eyes dart back and forth, and she refuses to look at me. “When I looked at the book, I felt so stupid. I have difficulty reading a children’s book. Nothing registered in my head.” I move my chair closer to her wheelchair, lean in and whisper, “I know you are upset, sweetheart. I will help you, I promise, but first I must have lunch with my beautiful wife.” She reaches up to touch the scarf on her head. “How can you call me beautiful? I’m sure I look awful without hair.” I have to swallow the lump in my throat before I can respond. “Oh honey, you are incredibly beautiful, with or without hair. Your beauty comes from your soul.” We eat a light lunch of chicken soup served in a bread bowl. Diane was fascinated by this simple meal. I keep forgetting that every experience is new to her. After our meal, we return to the hospital and sit in the main lobby by the window. here is not much to see other than tall buildings, with a garden or two interspersed every block or two. We find a somewhat quiet spot away from everyone. I pull the flash cards out of my pocket, and Diane looks uncertain. “We are going to start from the beginning and take it slow, okay? This is a chair. This is an apple.” I went through the entire deck of cards. “I want you to memorize these ten cards for tomorrow.” On our walk back to her room, I placed all ten cards in Diane’s hand and asked her repeatedly to tell me what the object was on the card. I am so proud of her because she remembers all of the objects. Diane By the time I returned to my room, I had memorized all ten of the cards, and could not wait for tomorrow to show Ethan how well I had done. Repeatedly, I looked at all of them and knew what they were. Will I be able to remember them tomorrow? I feel happy for the first time since the accident, and fall asleep with a smile on my face. The next morning I ask one of the nurses to take me to Ethan’s office. He looked startled when he sees the nurse and me waiting for him in his office. “Are you okay? What happened? Why are you here?” “I’m okay Ethan. I want to show you something.” I pick up each card and correctly identify all of them. Before I have time to think, Ethan kneels in front of me, and he hugs me. Ethan is happy. I can see it in his eyes. The future may be uncertain, but this is a happy day for me. “Can I have twenty cards today?” By the end of the week, I could identify over one hundred objects. Chapter Fifteen Ethan The next few weeks passed quickly. Each day starts with Diane eager to begin her therapy. It is like watching a child come to life. Everything excites her. It was also during this time that she met her parents and mine. The day started out pleasant and went downhill quickly. Diane was hesitant but willing to meet them. “I’m a little nervous meeting everyone. I don’t know what to say.” I tried to reassure her. “Just say hello, it’s nice to meet you, and leave it at that. Everyone knows the situation, and will not put pressure on you to remember them.” This was the plan that everyone agreed to the previous night, however; once again Barbara caused a scene. She rushed into the room and practically threw herself at Diane. It went downhill fast. “Diane baby, don’t you remember us? How could you not remember your mother?” Barbara and her fucking waterworks. I specifically told her not to do this in front of Diane. She never fucking listens to me. “I…I’m sorry I don’t remember you. Would you please let go of me. You’re upsetting me.” I am so proud of Diane. Even in her current state of mind, she spoke up for herself. Barbara backed off immediately. You should have seen the look on her face. It was priceless! I had to stifle a laugh because honestly, I felt like laughing my ass off. “I’m not a stranger, Diane. I am your mother. Don’t take that tone of voice with me!” “Wait a minute Barbara,” I say with disdain. “We discussed this last night.” “I don’t care what we talked about last night,” Barbara said with vehemence in her voice. “She is my daughter, and I will not have her disrespecting her parents.” I walk over to her and whisper, “Shut your fucking mouth before I throw you out of this room. Do you understand me?” “Ethan, it’s okay,” Diane said with sadness in her voice. She looks over at her parents. “I don’t know either of you, and I do not appreciate you coming into my hospital room and upsetting me. Ethan told me that you know the seriousness of my injuries. Why would you upset me, when you know what has happened to me?” “You always were good with the dramatics, Diane. I don’t know what kind of game you are playing, but it won’t work with us.” “I can assure you; it’s not a game. I would like you to leave my room.” William stood off to the side of the bed. His eyes narrowed on Diane, and I thought he would say something to ease the tension. He never said a word. You know, I never really noticed what assholes they are until this moment. Diane always tolerated her mother. They never had a touchy-feely relationship, not like it is with my parents, and after a few tense moments, I respectfully asked them to leave because my parents are waiting to see Diane. I waited a few minutes to give Diane a few quiet moments to calm down. I bent down and whispered, “I’ll tell my parents you need a little time to regroup.” “Thank you, Ethan. That was unpleasant.” I agree with her.”Yes, it was, and it won’t happen again.” When I leave Diane’s room, I see my parents standing at the nurse's station talking to one of the nurses. My dad grabs my arm. “What the hell happened? William and Barbara ran out of here like their asses are on fire. I said hello to them, and he glared at me and kept walking.” “Barbara caused a scene in Diane’s room. She accused Diane of playing games, of faking her illness. I almost slapped the miserable bitch. How could someone so beautiful come from such an unhappy person?” My dad lowered his voice. “Barbara has always been a miserable person, and Bill is a pussy for putting up with her bullshit. No worries son; Diane has your mother and me. She doesn’t need them.” My mom pats my back. “Come on. Enough of the bullshit about the two B’s. It’s time to see our girl.” I laugh at my mom. “Tell me how you really feel, Mom?” “I think you know exactly how I feel. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Diane’s parents are assholes. What more is there to say?” “I really love you, Mom.” “Aw, that’s good to know, Ethan.” I am still smiling when we enter Diane’s room. She is a little startled to see a smile on my face. I introduced my parents to her. “This is my mother Catherine, and my father, Stephen.” “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” My mom and dad are the polar opposite of my in-laws. My mom flowed into the room with a bouquet of flowers and a box of Diane’s favorite chocolate chip cookies. She bent down to kiss Diane’s cheek. “Hi sweetie, how are you? I’m so happy to see you. I made your favorite cookies this morning.” My dad follows her into the room. His presence immediately calms me. He also bent down to kiss my wife. “Hi, darling. You look exquisite. Can I autograph your cast?” His question came out of left field, and all I can do is laugh. My dad took out a purple marker and signed the cast on my wife’s leg. When I bend over to look at what he had written, my heart squeezed in my chest. He wrote, “The heart never forgets. You will always be our Diane. Love Mom and Dad.” I whispered his words to Diane, and she smiled. She looked at my Dad. “Thank you, Stephen.” My dad holds Diane’s hand. “We don’t want you to feel uncomfortable being near us. I am a retired doctor, and Catherine is a retired nurse. We are both aware of the situation, and we will never upset you. This is a long process, honey. Whatever we can do to help you, you only need to ask. We love you, even if you have no idea who these crazy people are. We will always love you.” God in Heaven, I love my father so much, I have no words to express my feelings. My eyes lock onto his as I feel my mom’s hands on my shoulders. “That’s right sweetheart. We are your family, with or without your memories. Nothing will ever change how much we love you. You are the daughter of my heart.” ***** It’s all too much for me, and I have to leave the room. Diane looks confused by my sudden exit. My dad follows me as I run to the nearest bathroom. I can’t breathe. My chest is tight with emotions so raw, I am choking on them. I feel sick. I am going to be sick, and as I think those words, everything I ate today comes burning up my esophagus. I don’t know how long I knelt in front of the toilet, but when I look up, my father is standing by my side. His eyes are red-rimmed. He reaches out for me, and I gratefully accept his help. My legs refuse to cooperate, and he helps me walk over to the sink where I wash out my mouth several times and splash cold water on my face. I see him looking at me through the mirror. He moves closer to me and places both hands on my shoulders. Our faces are a reflection of so many emotions, and all of them are raw and too close to the surface to express adequately. I take a deep breath because my stomach is still talking to me. “When Mom said that Diane is the daughter of her heart, I lost it, Dad. I’ve tried so hard for I don’t know how long to remain optimistic. I’m losing hope that her amnesia is temporary. The longer she goes without remembering, the more worried I become. Kellie is beside herself, and I don’t know how much longer I can put off bringing her to see Diane. Whatever I do, It will traumatize my sweet child.” My dad pats my shoulder. “The time has come for us to face reality, Ethan. There is a good chance Diane will never regain her memories. We must build a new life for her. You need to tell Kellie and Joey the truth, and I know they are not going to understand. We must try our best to make them understand. I think we should have dinner tonight with them and explain what is happening.” “You also need to speak with Diane. This situation will be upsetting for her. Once she is out of the hospital, she will eventually run into someone who knows her. We can’t shield her from the world. I am sure you do not want her to be a prisoner in her home and be afraid to face the world. This is also her new reality. When we leave, sit down and discuss this with her. Explain why you ran out of the room. Don’t keep secrets from her, because it will only make this situation worse.” “I have been avoiding this conversation because I am afraid that once I say the words, all hope for a full recovery will vanish. I have continually prayed for a miracle, not just for me, but for all of us. I don’t know what to do. Once Diane is released, she has nowhere to go but home. How will she feel living in a house that is foreign to her? I can’t share our bedroom with her. I can’t hold her in my arms, kiss her, or make love to her. I have never felt so alone in my life. I feel like a part of my soul has been ripped out of my body. There is emptiness and loneliness inside of me that I’ve never felt before.” “I can’t sleep without her. It seems like she died, and if I am honest with myself, a part of her did in fact die. The part of her that ties us to her is gone. How do I get it back, Dad? I can’t force the situation. I can’t make her love me again. How do I live my life if she is no longer a part of it? How will the kids feel if she cannot relate to them as their mother? Kellie is only eight years old. She needs her mom in her life.” “You’ve seen how much Joey misses his mother. Ever since that day I brought him to visit her, he’s withdrawn from all of us. He comes home from school and stays in his room. We only see him at the dinner table. I know it hurt him deeply when Diane did not recognize him. My God, I wanted to cry when she asked who he was! You should have seen the look on his face! I want to scream why her? It should have been me!” My father shakes me hard to get my attention. “Ethan, listen to me. Focus on one thing at a time. First, you need to have an honest discussion with Diane. Do it today! Second, your mother and I will be with you when you speak to the kids. Don’t underestimate them, Ethan. They would do anything for their mother. Keep it simple. Once Diane is home if she feels uncomfortable, or if she doesn’t want to live with all of you, she can stay with us. Give her space Ethan. If you crowd her, it will only make her nervous.” ***** Everything my father said to me makes sense. Tell that to my heart, because no matter what I do or say, it will not fill the void that I carry like an anchor around my neck. Before I see Diane, I go back to my office to take a shower and brush my teeth. I smell like vomit, and I don’t want her to see me like this. The hot shower does nothing to relax me. My nerves are as tight as a bowstring. I know that I must be honest with my wife. I know it, and yet, I don’t want to face my new reality. I want to live in a world where everything is perfect. I want to live in a world where my children are happy and productive. They won’t be happy, and there is nothing I can do to protect them. I have no clean clothes in my office, so I grab a pair of scrubs and clogs. At least I no longer smell like a toilet. When I return to Diane’s room, my parents are in the process of saying goodbye. Diane looks at me and frowns. She knows something is wrong. My mother hugs me tightly and whispers in my ear, “I love you, sweetheart. Come home early, and we’ll help you talk to the kids.” My father also hugs me. “Love you, son. Speak to her.” As I watch my parents leave, my anxiety ramps up a thousand times. I walk over to the window and look down on the parking lot. My mind races as I try to focus my thoughts, and that’s when I hear Diane calling my name. “Ethan, what's wrong? Why did you run out of the room?” The time has come to face my worse fear. I turn around and sit in the chair next to Diane’s bed. It takes me a few minutes to speak, and when I do, I tell her the truth. “When my mom called you the daughter of her heart, I couldn’t handle it, and I felt sick. I ran to the bathroom and became ill. My dad followed me and helped me to understand what I need to do. I couldn’t come back here with my clothes smelling foul, so I took a shower and brushed my teeth.” “What made you sick? Did I do something to make you sick?” “No, honey. It’s not you. It’s me. I’m avoiding this conversation because I have been hoping for a miracle. It’s been over two months since the accident, and you have not regained your memory. I am scared, Diane. I am terrified that you will not come home with us. We’ve never talked about what happens after you leave the hospital. The casts are coming off tomorrow, and once you are steady on your feet, you will be released pending outpatient therapy.” “I need to know if you want to come home with me. Kellie and Joey do not fully understand the extent of your injury. My parents and I will have a discussion with them tonight. They need to know that if you do decide to come home with me, it won’t change the fact that you do not remember them. I have to protect our children, Diane. I don’t want them always trying to force your memories to return. It’s not fair to them, or to you. I don’t want them putting pressure on you. It will be hard enough living in our home because it will feel foreign to you. I need to know what you are thinking. Please, Diane, be honest with me. If you want to live somewhere else, I can arrange that for you.” I sit and wait while she digests what I’ve said. I was honest, but not totally honest with her. I’ve kept my personal feelings to myself. No need making her feel like shit. Several minutes pass before she responds. “I’ve thought of nothing else for the past few weeks. How would I feel living in a house that I don’t remember? Will I feel awkward being around…your…our….children? See, this is what I was afraid of happening. I can’t call them my children. Does that make me a horrible person? It’s the same with you, Ethan. I can’t call you my husband. You are still a stranger to me. You haven’t told me much of our life together. I see you as a doctor, and nothing more.” “Will I feel uncomfortable going home with you? Yes, I will, but I have nowhere else to go. I need help with my therapy. I can’t live by myself, and even if I could, I don’t remember how to take care of myself. So, I have no choice but to live with all of you. I need to re-learn everything. I am just starting to read at a grade school level, and my writing skills need a lot of work. I still don’t understand how I can communicate so clearly, and yet, I still have trouble reading and writing?” Well, fuck me! She needs me, and I cannot be selfish about this. It’s not her fault the fucker hit her, and if I have to suck it up and do what’s right for her, I will. “I understand your fear, Diane, and to be honest, I’m also afraid of what will happen when you come home. I will have to move you out of our bedroom and set up a bedroom for you in the family room. You will need a private space, and the steps will be too much for you for the next few months. Let’s just take it one day at a time. When you have completed your therapy, we can discuss going out on a date. Just the two of us, and I will tell you more about our life together. Remember what I said before Diane; I refuse to lose you. I will always love you, with or without your memories. You are still the same beautiful woman that I married twenty-two years ago.” “How can you say that to me? It’s obvious I’ve changed, and not for the better. I’m afraid I’ll never be the same again, and it scares me.” It’s so simple; it’s ridiculous. My father’s words come back to me. “The heart never forgets, Diane. Somewhere deep within you holds memories that have been temporarily taken from you. The heart wants what the heart wants, and I want…you.” “Wow, were you always such a smooth talker? You have me almost believing everything will be okay.” “It will be okay as long as we are together. If I haven’t told you lately, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. I only ask that you continue seeing the psychologist. The doctor will be able to help you to accept and learn to live with your new reality. You can always come to me, or my parents, if you need to talk about anything. We will help you get through this Diane because our life is not complete without you.” I’ve said all I can say without crying like a fucking baby, and get up to leave. Once again, she stops me. “Thank you, Ethan. You have made this situation easier to accept with your honesty. Will you be here tomorrow when they remove the casts? Can you bring Kellie and Joey to visit me tomorrow? I would like to speak to them.” I smile at her. “Where else would we be?” I bend down to kiss her forehead. “Goodnight Diane. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Goodnight Ethan.” Chapter Sixteen Ethan My head feels like a jackhammer is doing a happy dance around my skull, and I still have to face my children. How many aspirins can I take without overdosing? I take the longest possible route home, which gives me time to run the conversation in my mind a few dozen times. No matter how I phrase it, the truth is what it is, and all of us need a healthy dose of reality. Today is the day to face a different future. My daughter is laying on the grass reading a book, and when she sees me get out of the car, she plows into me. I pick her up and spin her around a few times. She is laughing, and it’s music to my ears. “Daddy, you’re home early. Did you see Mommy?” “I did, munchkin, and I need to tell you and Joey a few things after dinner. Are Granny and Gramps in the house?” “Yeah. Granny helped me with my math. I was confused, and she knew everything. I wish Mommy were here to help me. When is she coming home?” “After we eat dinner, I’ll tell you everything.” “You know Daddy; I’m not a baby. You can tell me sad things, and I won’t cry, I promise.” “I know you’re not a baby, but what I have to say is important, and I want Joey to hear it too. Now, pick up your mess and wash your hands. I’m sure Granny has dinner ready.” “Okay, but you better tell me soon. You know I am not a patient kid!” All I can do is laugh. Where does Kellie get this shit from? I think she watches too much television, or her little friends are monsters in disguise. When I walk into the kitchen, I am overwhelmed with the smell of homemade sauce, meatballs, and sausage. God bless my mother. She is an expert on comfort food, and tonight we will need it. Dinner is loud and animated. Kellie rambles on and on about the latest boy in her class who picks on the girls. She wants to have a sleepover, and she wants me to buy her a puppy. My little girl is not shy in expressing what she wants. Joey contemplates asking a girl to his senior prom and wants to know if I can go with him to get a new suit. It makes me happy and sad at the same time to see my children adjusting to the current situation. After dinner, I ask everyone to follow me to the living room. My father sits next to Joey, and my mother has Kellie sitting on her lap. “I have good news for everyone. Mom’s casts are coming off tomorrow, and she wants to see Kellie and Joey, but there are a few things we need to discuss first. I had a long talk with Mommy today, and she still does not remember us. We talked about what will happen when she is released from the hospital.” “Is she coming home?” Joey asks. “Well, that’s what I want to discuss with you. Your mother is afraid to come home with me because she doesn’t remember this house. Imagine how you would feel if you lived in a strange new house and didn’t know anyone.” “But we know who she is Daddy!” Kellie cries out. “Yes we do, honey, but she doesn’t know us. She will feel awkward and uncomfortable when she comes home. I’ve decided to turn the family room into a bedroom for her. It will be difficult climbing the stairs for a few weeks, and it will be easier for her moving around the house with a walker.” “What happens once she comes home?” My mother asks me. “Diane will need a few months of physical therapy. She still needs to see the psychologist, who will help her to adjust to life without her memories. I want all of us to be aware of her feelings. I don’t want any of us putting pressure on her to remember. That means no forced conversations, and I don’t want anyone showing her pictures if she doesn’t want to see them. I don’t want anyone making her feel sad by reminding her of what she had lost.” I look at my children. “This is especially important for the two of you. I don’t want you to call your mother, Mom. You can call her Diane.” “I don’t understand why I can’t call her Mommy. Doesn’t she love us anymore?” My daughter is on the verge of tears. I walk over to Kellie and sit next to her. I need to keep this simple. She does not understand. I grab a piece of paper and her crayons. Maybe something visual will help her to understand. I draw the shape of a head, and I make squiggly lines which represent the brain. I segregate sections of the brain that affect memory and color those areas red. Kellie is watching me, and I pray she understands. “This is a picture of Mommy’s brain. The red area is where Mommy got hurt. Do you see how all of the red areas are in the front of the head? The red area is where we store our memories. Do you remember last year when you had trouble with math? You studied really hard all weekend and yet when you were in school, you forgot everything.” Kellie nods her head yes. She is listening to me. “When Mommy got hurt, her brain lost her memories, just like you forgot your math lessons. Her brain has to get better and maybe her memories will come back to her. She wants to remember us, but she can’t honey. Her head hurts sometimes, and we have to be patient until she feels better. She needs us to help her because she can’t remember how to do other things, like cook, and drive a car. She needs us to help her learn how to read and write.” “Mommy forgot how to read and write? I can help her learn the alphabet,” Kellie said. “And I can help her with reading, and math,” Joey said. “And I can help her learn how to cook,” my mother said. “And I can help her on those days when she feels lost and confused,” my dad said. This is good. We are all united with one goal in mind, and that is to do everything possible to help Diane. “But what happens if her head never gets better,” Kellie asks me. “Will she leave us and go somewhere else to live?” Good question sweetheart. I’d like to know the answer to that one, too. “No, your mother will not live somewhere else. She belongs here with us, and we will always love and take care of her. I want you to remember that while we have our memories, she doesn’t, so for the foreseeable future, you need to call her by her name, and not Mom.” “Also, she wants to see the two of you tomorrow after Jerry removes the casts. She wishes to know you, and I think this is a good idea. We need to make new memories, and not dwell so much in the past. This is a fresh start for Diane, and we want her to be happy, don’t we?” Everyone agrees, and I feel an immense sense of relief. Later that night, Joey comes into my room. I look at the clock. It’s past midnight. “Why are you up so late?” “I have a problem, and I couldn’t sleep.” I pat the mattress, and he climbs into bed with me. He’s been doing this a lot lately. “What’s wrong Joey? You know you can talk to me.” “Some of the kids at school are asking questions. I haven’t discussed what happened to Mom with many of my friends. It’s getting around school now because one of the teachers told her daughter, and now everyone is coming at me, and I don’t know what to say to them.” “Do you feel uncomfortable talking about your mother to your friends?” “Yeah, I do feel a little uncomfortable. How do I tell everyone that my mom doesn’t know me?” I am angry that one of the teachers put my son in the awkward position of having to talk about a private family matter. “You tell anyone who asks that your mother had a serious car accident, and she is recovering. If they press you further, say that you do not discuss private family issues.” “Dad, are you scared Mom will never remember us?” I tell my son the truth. “I’m terrified Joey, but I need to remain optimistic because if I don’t, I’ll lose my mind. We need to be strong for her. Keep this between the two of us. I don’t want your sister to be upset. She’s too young to understand fully.” “Is it okay if I sleep here tonight?” “Yes, it’s okay son. I want you here with me. It’s the only way I can sleep.” Chapter Seventeen Diane It is three in the morning, and I am still awake. In a few hours, the casts will be removed, then what happens? Eventually, I will have to go home, but it’s not my home. I don’t remember it, and I’m afraid to be alone with them. I know Ethan loves me. I can see it in his eyes, in the way he talks to me, and the way he takes care of me. The children are another issue. I’m afraid to see them today, but I have to face the fact that I may never regain my memory. It’s very odd because I remember everything since I woke up from the operation. I have perfect recall. It feels like there is a wall in my mind that I cannot get past. I have so much to re-learn. My psychologist spoke to me yesterday about occupational therapy. Dr. Griffith said that it would help me to function in my day to day life. I can’t remember what my day to day life was like before the accident. Ethan told me I was a teacher. I must have been intelligent. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a teacher. I feel stupid and insecure. Reading is an effort for me. I get frustrated when I can’t pronounce the words. It is like my mind is seeing things backward. Nothing makes sense, and I hope that with continued therapy, this will change. My mind is thinking clearly. I know what I want to say, but when I try to communicate, something blocks me. It is so frustrating, and I want to scream…why me? Why did this happen to me? Why was my life taken away from me? Without memories, I am nobody. How can they love me? Will they love me? Will they treat me differently when they see I am not the same person I was before the accident? Will they be patient with me when I stumble? I have so many questions to ask and no real answers. I am starting to believe that I have no place in this world. What happens when I see someone who knew me before the accident? Will I have to repeatedly explain why I do not remember them? I can’t live my life in this way. I feel like a prisoner in my mind, and I am trapped in a dark place with no light. I close my eyes and will myself to calm down. ***** I feel someone touching my arm. When I open my eyes, the room is no longer dark, and the morning nurse is poking at me again. I look up at the nurse and ask, “Do you enjoy poking me with a needle?” Carol, the morning nurse, laughs at me. “Not really, but I have a job to do. One last sample before we ship you to rehab. You should be happy to leave us. This is good news, Diane. You are on the road to recovery.” “I’m afraid, Carol. I still have no memory. What is going to happen to me?” Carol sits on the bed next to me and holds my hand. “I know you are scared Diane, but I want you to remember one thing, okay? You are still a young woman. You have many years ahead of you. I know your family loves you. I have seen them pace the length of the hallway for several weeks, especially Dr. Miller. When I start my shift in the morning, I see him sometimes sitting on the floor outside your door. He looks like your personal security guard. He’s watching over you, Diane.” “I know the future looks scary when you no longer remember the past. You can make new memories, new moments to treasure. You have been given a second chance at life, Diane. Welcome it with open arms, because even though you are anxious, imagine what would happen to your family had you not survived the accident. Imagine what their lives would be like without you.” My eyes burn as I absorb her words. “I never thought of it that way. Thank you, Carol. You have helped me to realize that I am very lucky. You should be my psychologist!” Carol takes a notepad out of her pocket and writes her cell number on it. “This is my cell phone number. If you want to talk to me, please call. When you are fully recovered, we can go to lunch and the mall. I call it a girls day out. You have a new friend Diane. I admire your strength and courage. It’s not easy accepting your new reality, but I know you will be okay. You have a great support system and a family that cherishes you. Open your eyes and honestly look at them. You will see the love.” I hug Carol with my one good arm, and she smiles at me. “If I do not see you again before they transfer you, best of luck to you Diane. I know you will be okay.” Ethan Carol sees me standing outside my wife’s room, and she knows that I overheard their conversation. I lean in and whisper to her, “You are an angel. I heard every word, and cannot express my gratitude. Diane will need a friend when she’s home with us. You have a standing invitation to dinner.” “I hope that what I said to her resonates. She is a nervous wreck. She’s afraid of everything. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I lost my memories.” “The kids are coming today after school to see her. I’m worried even though she asked to see them.” “Be patient, and take it one day at a time. If you need me to visit her in rehab, let me know. She is a lovely woman. You are lucky to have her.” “Yes, I am, and I plan on telling her that every day for the remainder of my life.” I plaster a smile on my face and walk into her room. She looks different today, more settled? Maybe her conversation with Carol helped more than I thought it would. I smile at her. “Are you ready to be free from these shackles?” I knock my knuckles against the cast on her leg. Diane laughs. “You have no idea how happy I will be to get out of this bed.” “Jerry should be here in a few minutes. Once he removes the casts, I’ll have one of the nurses help you take a shower.” “That would be wonderful. I feel a little dirty.” “How are you feeling today? Are you nervous about seeing Kellie and Joey?” “I was nervous a few hours ago, but I had a pleasant conversation with Carol before you got here, and she helped me to see that I am very lucky to have survived the accident. She put a lot of things into perspective for me. I can’t worry about what I lost. I have to focus on my future, no matter how uncertain it may be.” “I hope you know that no matter what happens down the line, we will always be here to help you. It won’t be easy coming home. I know you will have days when you will feel depressed. That’s natural considering what has happened to you. I want you to promise me that if you ever feel sad, you will talk to one of us. My parents will be permanent fixtures in our house for the foreseeable future.” “What about my parents? Do they want to see me now?” Shit, how do I tell Diane that her parents are not speaking to me? How much does she know about what happened in the operating room? I need to talk to my brother, now! “William and Barbara have difficulty accepting what has happened. They need space for the time being, but I’ll speak to them once you’re in rehab. Do you want to see them?” “I guess I should see everyone. I can’t avoid it any longer.” “That’s good Diane. Let me find Jerry, and we can get these casts removed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” “Okay. It’s not like I’m going anywhere!” I page Jerry and wait for him to call me. Five minutes later, we meet at the nurse's station. “Before you see Diane, I need to know how much she knows about the operation. How much did you tell her?” “I did not tell her anything, but she will need to know before she leaves the hospital. I didn’t want to upset her so soon after coming out of the coma. The past few weeks have been stressful, and I did not want to put further stress on her. If you want me to, we can tell her after the casts are removed.” “I think you should tell her now. I don’t want our parents or hers to let something slip and blindside her. Let’s do it now.” ***** “It feels good having the casts removed, even though my leg looks disgusting. What are these black bumps on my leg?” “That’s ingrown hair, Diane. I’ll ask the nurse to bring in a loofa sponge when you take a shower. She can help you remove the dead skin, and that should release the hair follicles on your leg.” “My leg looks funny. Will it always look this way?” “No. Once you start physical therapy, you will regain muscle tone. It will take a few months before your leg looks healthy.” Jerry looks at me, and I know it’s time to tell Diane the truth. I sit next to her on the bed and hold her hand. “Diane, we need to discuss your medical history since the accident. A lot happened that day, and we did not want to discuss it until you recovered and can understand.” She looks at me, and I see fear. “What else happened to me? Please, Ethan, I need to know everything. Please don’t lie to me. I need to know the truth.” “We haven't lied to you, Diane. You were not mentally able to hear the truth when you came out of the coma. You needed time to recover, and now that you have, we can discuss it.” “You had life-threatening injuries when the EMT’s wheeled you into the emergency room. Everything happened quickly. Jerry ordered a CT scan, which is an x-ray of the brain, and he had to operate immediately. You had cranial bleeding, and if we did not repair it quickly, you could have hemorrhaged. I was in the room for most of the operation. I saw no signs that you were in distress. Your blood pressure and heart rate were all within the normal ranges. It all happened so quickly. One minute Jerry was operating, and the next, you flat lined. The attending doctors and nurses had to defibrillate your heart twice.” “You stopped breathing Diane. I was never more afraid in my entire life than I was as I watched you fight for your life. Jerry could not lose focus on what he was doing. The whole team saved you honey, and until the day I die, I will always be grateful for what they did that day. This is the main reason why we decided to keep you in a drug induced coma for almost two weeks. Your body needed the time to recover from the trauma, and being asleep took the stress from your body.” Diane My brain cannot understand what Ethan has just told me. My God, I did almost die, twice! It is a miracle I am alive. How is this possible? I almost died! Ethan is watching me. He is waiting for me to react to this bombshell. I feel like my head is about to explode. I reach up to touch my head. I had the bandages removed a few days ago, and Carol gave me a few scarves to cover my bald head. I take off the scarf and run my hand along the top of my head. I feel a few hairs growing now, and the sensation feels funny. When I say nothing, Ethan bumps my shoulder. “What are you thinking, Diane? Talk to me.” “What do you want me to say?” “I want you to tell me what is going through your mind.” “I am so afraid of everything, Ethan. How can I live my life with nothing to tie me to this earth! My life is a blank page, with no beginning, no middle, and a definite ending. I am no one. I have a name with no history. I have a family with no connection. I have parents who can’t accept the new me. How am I supposed to react? It’s just too much for me. I can’t take the stress of the unknown. I just want to die!” Ethan For the first time since the accident, I am worried that Diane may do something to hurt herself. It kills me hearing her say that she wants to die. I take my phone from my pocket, open the photo app, and scroll through hundreds of pictures. I am angry, and I don’t hide it from her. “Look at these fucking pictures. There are hundreds of them on my phone. You have a history. You have a future, and that future is with your husband and children. I don’t give a fuck if you never remember us. We are your family, and nothing will change that fact. If I ever hear you say you want to die again, I will lose my fucking mind! Our children need their mother. I need my wife. You have so much to live for if you would just let us help you.” “And how do you expect to help me? I must re-learn everything, Ethan! The only thing I retained is my speech, and if I didn’t have that, I would kill myself. At least I can communicate. How do you think our children will feel when they see their mother struggling to survive?” “How will they feel? They will feel blessed to have their mother living under the same roof with them. Do you have any idea how they have struggled these past few months? They can’t sleep at night, especially Joey. He comes into my room almost every night and sleeps in bed with me. If you want to get your life back, you must understand that some things will be difficult, and the last thing anyone needs is to worry about you hurting yourself. You need to tell me if you want to come home with us. If you don’t, I will arrange for you to live somewhere else. It’s your choice.” I get up and leave the room. I am so pissed off; I want to punch something. Jerry doesn’t follow me. I know what he is going to do, and right now, I don’t care. Diane “I don’t know what to say. Ethan is so angry with me. Why doesn’t he understand how I feel? I don’t need him screaming at me!” “Diane, you need to understand something about my brother. He has loved you for most of his life. The two of you had a happy life, and to hear you say you want to die is too much for him to handle. He has practically lived at the hospital since the accident. He sits on the floor outside your room at night just to be near you. Kellie and Joey miss you terribly. You have so much to live for Diane, but if you refuse to adapt to your new life, you will never fully feel whole.” “How do I do that Jerry? No one understands how I feel. My entire life is a blank page. If you think it’s easy to say, ‘Move on and accept what has happened,’ you’re crazy. I must face the future and all the people who know me. How hard do you think it will be for me to meet people every day who know me, and I will have to explain this repeatedly? I can’t live my life in a bubble, but that’s how it feels now. I want to hide from everyone.” “Are you saying you don’t want to go home?” “Yes, that’s what I am saying, but I don’t have a choice. I don’t want everyone putting pressure on me to hurry up and get better. It’s not going to happen quickly, and if I have added stress, it will just make me more anxious. I’d rather go somewhere else, but that is not a choice for me. I need to be able to relax and not have the added pressure of everyone hovering over me, expecting me to remember. My family may try to hide their feelings, but I know it’s there.” “Do you want me to talk to Ethan?” “No, not until he calms down.” “What about the kids? They are coming here after school. Do you want to see them?” “Yes. I don’t want to hurt Kellie and Joey by refusing to see them. It’s not the children’s fault their mother is defective.” “Diane, you are not defective. That’s a cruel thing to say.” “It may be cruel, but it’s the truth.” Ethan I can’t remember the last time I lost my temper with Diane. Why did it have to be today? The kids will be here in less than an hour, and I need to calm the fuck down. If they see me upset, they will know something is wrong. What a joke! Everything is wrong, and I do not see a happy future for any of us. Jerry texts me, and he wants to see me ASAP. Nothing good came from that conversation with my wife. Twenty minutes later, I am once again alone in my office; only this time, I am in shock. Diane doesn’t want to come home, and why am I not surprised? I had a gut feeling this would happen. She doesn’t feel comfortable around us, and until she does, it’s better for her to live somewhere else. I call my dad and tell him what has happened. “It’s okay Ethan. Your mother and I will take care of it. We will move into the apartment over the garage, and Diane can have our bedroom.” “I should be taking care of her, and not the two of you. I don’t understand any of this.” “Ethan, you are a doctor, of course, you understand. Put yourself in her shoes. Without her memories, she has nothing to tie her to your home, the children, or anything else that was a part of her life. She feels disconnected, confused, and she fears the future. Imagine how she will feel living in a strange house that she knows is hers. Give her space and the freedom to adjust Ethan. Getting angry or frustrated doesn’t help anyone. You shouldn’t have yelled at her. It’s not her fault, son. She is the victim, and until she is willing to live with you, I want you to respect her decision.” “You will do real harm if you force the situation. You will make Diane retreat further into herself if you force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. Let’s get through rehab, and she can live with us. Your mother and I will help her with the occupational therapy. Don’t force it, Ethan, or you will lose her forever. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is what we are dealing with for the next few months. Her mental state is fragile now. Any stress will push her over the edge. She should make the decision to come to you. Whether she does or doesn’t is up to her, not you.” “You’re right, Dad. I should go back and speak to her. I’ll talk to you later.” I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ve lost my wife. What else can I do but agree to whatever my wife wants? I pull up my big boy pants and go back to her room. She is still sitting on the edge of the bed. She hasn’t moved since I left. She looks up when I enter the room, and I see her face is wet with tears. Fuck! She has been crying, and it’s my fault. I walk over to her and hold her in my arms. “I am so sorry Diane. I never meant to yell at you. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. I only want you to be happy. Jerry told me what you said to him earlier, and it is okay with me. Whatever you want to do is okay with me.” “You won’t be mad if I don’t come home?” “No, I won’t be mad at you. In fact, I just spoke to my dad, and he has a room all ready for you in his house. My father, being the wise person that he is, anticipated this would happen, and he’s ready for you. Obviously, I’m too fucking stupid to see what’s been staring me in the face for a few weeks. I had hoped you would feel comfortable enough by the time you finished rehab to come home with me. That’s not going to happen now, and it’s okay. You couldn’t be in safer hands. There is no one I trust more than my parents.” I feel her body sag against mine. She is obviously relieved that she will have somewhere to live when she leaves the hospital. “Thank you, Ethan. I don’t know what else to say. I am so tired. I just want to leave this place.” I am about to respond when I see Joey and Kellie standing in the doorway. They hesitate when they see Diane crying. I wave for them to come into the room. Might as well tell them now. “Why is she crying? Did something happen to her?” The concern in my son’s voice breaks my heart. I hate doing this to them. “Diane and I had a conversation earlier, and I unintentionally upset her. I am here now to apologize. Diane does not feel comfortable coming home when she is released from the hospital. Before you say anything, I want you to understand her reasoning.” Before I have a chance to speak, Diane interrupts me. “I can talk for myself, Ethan.” Her suddenly sharp tongue grates on my nerves. “Of course, you can. I’ll leave you alone with Kellie and Joey.” I find myself walking out of this room pissed off a lot today. I’m not going far because this conversation will go downhill quickly. Diane The look on their sweet faces upsets me. Whatever I say to them will not be pleasant. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to hurt them, but it’s better if I explain this now rather than have Kellie and Joey expect something that may never happen. “Please, sit down and let me explain why I won’t be coming home with your father. It is too painful for me seeing a life that I no longer remember. There is no guarantee that I will regain my memory. Imagine how you would feel if everything you have loved in your life was suddenly gone. Everyone tells me that I have a family. I look at the two of you, and I don’t know you. I don’t know where I belong.” “I have to relearn everything. It’s not going to be easy for me, and I already feel an enormous amount of stress. I think it would be better for me to live somewhere else while I try to figure out how to live the rest of my life with no past. I don’t want to upset the two of you. It’s not your fault. It’s not Ethan’s fault. This is something that I must do for me, and no one else. Can you understand and not hate me?” Kellie is on the verge of tears. I knew this would hurt her. She looks like a sweet child. God, this is so difficult. When she reaches out to hold my hand, I fight the urge to pull back. “Where will you live? Can we visit you?” “Ethan’s parents have agreed to let me live with them. I think this is the best solution. I need help with so many things Kellie. Your grandparents are going to help me, and yes, you can visit me.” “We can also help you. I don’t understand why you want to push us away!” Joey is angry, and I don’t blame him. “It’s not that I am pushing you away. I need time to adjust to what has happened, and being in the house that I once lived in will be too painful for me. I need a neutral space where I will feel less anxious.” “You’re not the only one who lost something, Diane! We lost our mother and our best friend. Do you have any idea how lonely it is in our house without you? Do you know how much I hate calling you by your name? You are our mother!” Kellie is crying now. Something deep within me wants to comfort her, but I can’t. It’s not right if I have no feelings for her. Ethan hears her crying, and when he comes back into the room, she runs to him. Her sobs are the only sound in the room. Ethan is so tender with her. “It’s okay baby. Let’s go home, and we’ll cuddle in bed and talk about it, sweetheart.” “Yeah, I don’t want to be here. I don’t like her. She’s not my Mommy.” Joey’s eyes shoot daggers at me as he leaves the room. Ethan turns to look at me, and I see tears in his eyes. He says nothing to me as he follows Joey into the hallway. What have I done? Am I making the wrong decision? Ethan I don’t want to take the children home, not while they are still so upset. I hate this. I hate that they must suffer. This situation is impossible for everyone, and while I fucking hate what Diane is doing to our children, I understand it, even if I don’t accept it. Kellie hasn’t stopped crying since we got into the car. Joey is doing his best to comfort her, but I can see that he is also on the verge of tears. I decide that we all need something to eat. I haven’t eaten all day, and my stomach is rolling. “Is anyone hungry? We can stop at Benny’s for burgers, fries, and milkshakes.” Joey is the first to respond. “I could eat something.,” which is Joey’s code for “I’m starving.” “How about you, Munchkin, are you hungry?” “Don’t call me Munchkin anymore. I don’t like it. She called me that, and I don’t like her.” I cannot have my daughter hating her mother. This is unacceptable behavior, and I need to put a stop to it now. I find the first parking space available, park the car, and turn around to face my children. “I want you to listen to me. I will not have you saying bad things about your mother. I know you are upset. I am also angry, but you must remember, this is not her fault. She did not ask that person to hit her car. Do you think she wants to be like this? No, she doesn’t, and your mother is very upset and scared. If she needs time to adjust to everything, we will give her that time. Granny and Gramps will take good care of Mom, and we can visit at any time. We need to be understanding sweetheart; it’s not easy for Mom right now.” Kellie stares at me and doesn’t say a word, which is a sign that she’s thinking about what I just said. I pull out of the parking spot and continue driving to the restaurant. The kids are quiet as we eat dinner. Kellie plays with her food, Joey plays with his phone, and I answer a few emails. This is a miserable ending to a sad day. Chapter Eighteen Diane One Month later So much has happened to me the past few weeks. I would be lying if I said therapy was fun. It wasn’t, and my leg still aches, but I can finally walk with a cane. My arm is still a little stiff, but with continued in-house therapy, I will recover fully. My memories, however, have not come back to me. I have been seeing the psychologist three times a week, and he is helping me to cope with all of this. Ethan has been reserved and distant to me since I told him I was not coming home. He’s polite, but he is not talking to me. I don’t know what to do. Steve and Catherine visit me often, and I feel comfortable with them. My room is ready and waiting for me. Tomorrow I am leaving this place with a file full of recommendations and therapy that I must do at home. It feels strange saying the word home when I feel so alone in this world. I don’t have a home, not one that I can remember. Steve gave me a cell phone yesterday and showed me how to use it. It’s the little things you take for granted until you can no longer do them, and something as simple as using a cell phone is a big production. As I lay here in the darkness of my room, my cell rings. I reach for it, and I am surprised to see that Ethan is calling me. “Hello, Ethan. How are you?” “I was calling to ask you the same thing. I know you are being discharged tomorrow, and I wanted to talk to you.” “What is it that you want to say to me? You haven’t been very friendly the past month. I thought you no longer cared what happened to me.” Ethan sighs into the phone. “I care Diane. You have no idea how much I care. I am protecting my heart because my worse fear is that you will leave me. Once you are discharged from the hospital, your life will change, and I am afraid that we will lose each other.” “I have spent a lot of time with your parents lately, and they have shared some of their memories with me. Ethan, I don’t want to live my life alone. It terrifies me, and if I am honest with myself, I am having reservations about living with your parents. I also think that once I can take care of myself, I will feel more optimistic about the future.” “Does that future include Kellie, Joey, and me?” “I hope it does, Ethan. I just need a little time.” “Can I visit you? Maybe we can go out to dinner, and see a movie.” “I would like that Ethan. I think if we can build a new connection, life would be easier for everyone. How are Kellie and Joey?” “Well, Kellie is still mad at you. She is only eight and doesn’t understand. I have tried many times to help her, but she doesn’t want to hear it. In her mind, Mommy doesn’t love her. Joey still has trouble sleeping at night, and I am worried about him. I don’t want him to fail and not graduate.” “I feel so guilty Ethan. They are the casualties in all of this, and I don’t know how I can help them.” “I think if you let them visit often, they will feel more at ease with the way you are now.” “How am I now? How have I changed since the accident?” Ethan doesn’t answer me for several tense seconds. I am afraid to hear what he has to say to me. “I have avoided talking about our intimate relationship because I felt it was unfair to you. However, I think you need to hear what I have to say. I am still in the hospital. I’ll be in your room in ten minutes. I need to say these things to you in person.” “Okay, I’ll be waiting for you.” Ethan My heart is pounding as I run to her room. Am I doing this now? How will she accept what I must say to her? Diane needs to know how much I love her. Now is the time to tell her. Diane is sitting in the chair by the window, and she looks so much better. She finally has a little hair on her head, and her skin is no longer a sickly pale color. I walk over to her and take her hand in mine. “I am so sorry for the way I have been behaving lately. I was hurt and upset when you said you did not want to come home. The house feels empty without you. I miss coming home after a long day to a kiss and a glass of wine. We would sit for a few minutes and talk about our day. It gave me comfort knowing you are home waiting for me.” “Kellie and Joey are adjusting to not having you at home, but they are struggling with this new reality. They rarely talk about you, and that concerns me. You are still their mother, whether you live with us or not. Kellie is still mad at you, and Joey’s coping mechanism is avoidance. I don’t want him distracted, and I have been leaving him alone so he can focus on his studies. He cannot fail, or his acceptance into college will be withdrawn.” My eyes never leave Diane as I speak to her. She is twisting the blanket in her hands. She always does this when she is nervous. I don’t think she realizes that what she is doing is an ingrained behavior. Are some things coming back to her? I don’t want to press the issue. I promised to give her time, but I also want to give her something to think about, and that is how much I love her. “I miss you, Diane. I miss arguing about who is going to load the dishwasher. I miss arguing about whose turn it is to help Kellie with her homework. I miss feeling your body pressed up against my back at night while you sleep. I miss making love to you Diane. There isn’t one damn thing that I don’t miss. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since the accident. Thankfully, Joey is now sleeping in his room.” “I don’t say these things to make you feel uncomfortable. I say this because I love you madly, Diane. You own my heart, and I am terrified of losing you. I don’t know how you feel about us, how you feel about re-connecting as a family. Can you keep an open mind and let us in slowly? Can we rebuild our family? It may not be the same as it once was, but I know we can have a happy life together. I believe that somewhere deep within you are trapped memories. We must find a way to bring them to the surface. Are you willing to work with me?” Diane “I have had a lot of time to think about everything since the last time we spoke to each other. You were so angry with me, and I don’t blame you. Dr. Griffith has been working miracles with me these past few weeks. I’m sorry that I said I wanted to die. I don’t want to die. I was so emotional that day, and it scared me to realize how close I came to dying. It scared me seeing you so angry with me.” “What I fear most is trying to live in a world that is foreign to me. If you asked me what school I taught at, I couldn’t tell you. If you asked me how to cook something, I would say I don’t know. I feel like the world overwhelms me. I lay in bed at night and worry about everything. Your mother and father have been so helpful. Steve bought me a new phone, and Catherine moved some of my clothing to my new room. They try hard to keep a positive attitude. I wish I could do the same, but as soon as my mind thinks about the challenges that face me, I crumble. I want so much to lean on you Ethan, but I can’t. I have to do this to feel normal. I have to prove that I can re-learn what I had lost.” “I am also worried about Kellie and Joey. I do not want to lie to them and say I have feelings that I don’t have. They deserve the truth, even if it’s not what they want to hear from me. Tomorrow I start my new life, and I plan to take it one day at a time. Steve has a list of things we need to work on. Next week, it’s learning how to wash my clothes, and he has arranged for a tutor to help me learn how to write. Catherine is helping me with my reading, and we have a few cooking lessons also.” “I want you to know that I am very grateful for everything you have done for me. I would like to know you Ethan, and I want you to share with me memories of our life together. I want to feel a connection to you, Kellie, and Joey because if I am to live my life with no past, I need to know things about myself.” Ethan smiles at me, and I know I’ve made him happy. “I am so glad to hear that, Diane. I’ve been so worried about the future. My days are lonely, and the nights are hell for me. I won’t lie to you and say that I am happy about this arrangement, because I’m not happy, but I do understand the reason why you chose not to come home with me. My parents are thrilled that you trust them with something so important. All that I ask is you keep the lines of communication open with all of us. Kellie and Joey will want to visit you. It’s only a matter of time before they get over being angry.” “I don’t want them to be upset with me. I don’t want anyone being mad at me. I’m trying the best I can, Ethan. I just need a little space.” Ethan reaches behind my wheelchair and hands me a gift bag. “What’s this?” “It’s a present for you. I thought you might want to have us with you while you’re at my parent’s house. It might help you to see your past, rather than me telling you about it.” I pull out the tissue paper from the bag, and inside it is several photo albums, each one dated. It’s a very thoughtful gift. The first album is of our time in high school. My eyes burn with tears as I look through some of the pictures. I don’t recognize myself, but I do see the happiness in my eyes. “It feels strange looking at this face, knowing it is me, and yet the only thing I recognize are my eyes. Thank you, Ethan. This is a wonderful gift, and I will treasure it always.” There is another present at the bottom of the bag, a ring box. I look at Ethan, and I can see by the look on his face that he is having second thoughts about this gift. When I open the box, a set of beautiful rings sparkles at me. The diamonds are beautiful. “Oh Ethan, what is this?” “My brother removed all of your jewelry before the operation. I hesitated to give this to you so soon. However, they will always belong to you. I gave you a new set of rings for our twentieth anniversary. I want you to have them as a testament of my love for you. I wear a matching band, and I will never remove it from my finger. I want you to wear them on your right hand, and when the time comes that you feel you are ready to go home, move them to your left ring finger. When I see the rings on your left hand, I will know that you are once again my wife, in every way that matters most.” I remove the rings from the box and slide them onto my right ring finger. They fit perfectly, as I expected them to. Ethan leans forward and kisses my ring finger. My heart skips a beat when he kisses my hand. I hope I remember how much I loved him, because Ethan is a good man, and I can only assume that we had a good life together. I hope the pictures give me a glimpse of my life with him and the children. “Let’s get you back into bed. It’s getting late, and I can’t have you getting tired the day before you are discharged. My brother will kick my ass.” I nod in agreement, and when I am settled in bed, Ethan bends down and places a kiss on my forehead. I know he wants to give me a hug, and to my surprise, I want him to wrap his arms around me. “Good night sweetheart. I’ll be here early tomorrow morning with my parents.” “Good night Ethan. Thank you again for the beautiful gifts. I will always treasure them.” My last night in the hospital is filled with dreams of the future. I lay in bed twisting the rings on my finger. They feel smooth to the touch. After several attempts at sleep, I turn on the light and start looking at my past. Ethan If my car had wings, I’d fly the fuck home. That’s how happy I feel at the present moment. I never expected Diane to accept her wedding rings. It makes me happy knowing she will wear them, and every time she looks at her hand, they will be a reminder of how much I love her. I hope the pictures give her a sense of how happy we were as a family. I picked specific pictures for her. I want Diane to see the progression of our lives together. I included many pictures from high school and college, some of our wedding, and the births of our children. The majority of the pictures are of our life with Kellie and Joey. I want her to see the children growing and maturing. I want her to see the silly birthday pictures, school outings, family vacations, and most importantly, pictures of the two of us taken during our summer getaways at the Jersey shore. Those weekends alone with Diane in the hotel bring back happy memories. Joey is waiting for me again when I arrive home. He helped me compile some of the pictures, and I know he is anxious to know how they were received. He follows me into the kitchen. “Well, what happened? Did Mom like the pictures? Did you give her the rings? Jesus Dad, spill it already!” I surprise my son when I pick him up and spin him around the room. “She liked all of it Joey, and she is wearing her rings on her right hand. I told her when she feels comfortable, move them to her left hand, and that will be my signal that she is ready to come home.” “Are you kidding me? Mom accepted everything without hesitation?” “Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I am so fucking happy. This is a good sign Joey, an excellent sign.” “I want you to do something for me. I want you to keep an open mind and visit your mother as much as possible. Take Kellie with you. Your mom needs all of our support to get through the next few months.” “I want to visit, but I don’t know how to treat her. How do I talk to her?” “Just be yourself, and she will see the intelligent young man that you are. Kellie, on the other hand, is going to be a problem. She is still mad at Mom, and nothing I do or say sinks in. She is her mother’s daughter, stubborn and unreasonable. Why am I not surprised?” “Maybe you should talk to her one last time.” “Maybe I should, but I need a beer first.” “Can I have one too?” “You can only have one, and do not tell your grandparents. I’d never hear the end of it, and you know my mother remembers everything.” “Are you afraid of your mom?” Joey is mocking me. “Yep. She may be small, but she can kick my ass!” ***** When I open my bedroom door, Kellie is in my bed. She is holding the stuffed animal that was a birthday gift from my wife. She looks so small and fragile. Her tiny heart misses her mother, and I am not a replacement for her mother’s love. “Hi, Daddy.” She rubs her eyes. I walk over and sit next to her. I run my fingers through her hair. “Hi, baby. Are you tired?” “Yeah. I was waiting for you to come home.” “I went to see Mommy. She is leaving the hospital tomorrow.” “Is she still going to Granny and Gramps house?” “Yes, she is honey. We talked about this last week. Mommy needs a little quiet time to get better.” “I’ll be quiet. Why can’t Mommy come home?” How do I make my daughter understand something that I have trouble understanding? I don’t want to lose my patience with her. I’ll try another tactic that I hope works. “Kellie, do you remember when Mommy would read to you because you could not understand the words?” “Yeah, I do. It was hard learning how to read. I had trouble with the big words.” “And, do you remember when you learned the alphabet?” “Yeah, that was fun. Mommy had cards, and we played games. If I got the card right, she would give me a cookie.” “Well, Mommy has that problem now. When she hit her head, she forgot how to read, and she also does not remember the letters in the alphabet. She has to learn them again, and she also has to learn other things too.” “What kind of other stuff?” “Oh, something that we take for granted. Like, learning how to use the washing machine. Learning how to cook, how to count the money. Mom has to know the difference between ten dollars and twenty dollars.” “Is this why she doesn’t want to come home?” “Yes, honey. Mommy needs time to learn these things, and Granny and Gramps are going to help her.” “Can I help her too?” “I am sure your Mom would love it if you helped her.” “Daddy, I’m sorry I said I hate Mommy. I don’t hate her; I miss her.” I lay on the bed and hold my sweet daughter in my arms. “I know honey. You are upset, and it’s okay to be sad, but I want you to remember how much you love Mommy. She needs us to help her. Maybe in a few days, we can visit her. Would you like that?” “Yeah, I would Daddy. Can I sleep here tonight?” “Yes, you can sleep with me, sweetheart. Go change into your pajamas, and I’ll put on the cartoon channel for you.” Thirty minutes later, my daughter is asleep in my arms, and I soon follow her into blissful sleep. Chapter Nineteen Diane My room is full of doctors and nurses, all wishing me well as I pack my few belongings and sign the discharge papers. Ethan is watching me with a smile on his face. I smile back at him and rub the rings on my finger. They are a constant reminder of the life I once had. Stephen and Catherine have assured me that I will be comfortable at their house, and I believe them. Without their help, without Ethan’s consistent patience, I would be lost, literally lost and afraid. I must continue my sessions with Dr. Griffith twice weekly, as well as physical therapy on my still aching leg and arm. There is so much that I must do to survive, and while I am scared, I am also excited, because I see this as a test of my determination. I am surprised when I see Kellie and Joey enter my room, and I have to fight the urge to shy away from them. Last night as I was looking through the photo albums, I notice the resemblance I share with them, especially Joey. I smile at them, and I see them relax. This is good. I don’t want them to feel nervous when they see me. “Hi, I am happy to see both of you.” Kellie walks over to me and hands me a gift bag. “I thought you might like to take George home with you. He’s been my special stuffed animal for a long time, and I thought he could keep you company, so you won’t feel alone.” George is a well-worn teddy bear. I am so touched by Kellie’s kindness that my eyes fill with tears. Kellie takes a few steps closer to me, and everything in me wants to hold this beautiful child. I follow my instincts and open my arms to her. She looks at Ethan, and he nods his approval. It hurts knowing that she is afraid of me. The minute I feel her in my arms, something happens to me that I cannot explain. It feels like I am in a time warp. This feels so familiar to me. I take a few seconds to enjoy the feeling. Could this be a distant memory? “Thank you so much, Kellie, for this thoughtful gift. I will make sure George stays with me in my room, and every time I look at him, I will think of you.” “Do you really like him?” “Yes, I do. I won’t feel so lonely with George to keep me company.” “I can come to visit you. I can help you learn the alphabet, and to write your letters and numbers. I am good at writing my letters.” “I would love it if you would help me, Kellie. I have so much to learn. Can you visit me tomorrow?” “Really? I can visit you tomorrow?” I nod my head yes, and the smile on her beautiful face touches me deeply. For the first time in many weeks, I feel optimistic about the future. Can this sweet child be the balm that soothes me? It’s Joey’s turn to give me something. “I have a few of my eight grade textbooks on math and English. I would be more than happy to tutor you.” I clutch the books to my heart and let the tears flow. I am overwhelmed and so very grateful. It’s obvious to me that I was a good mother. “Oh, Joey. Thank you for this gift, and your offer to tutor me. I very humbly accept your offer. Just know that I am a clean slate. I don’t know how receptive I will be, but I promise to be a good student.” “If it wouldn’t upset you, I’d like to say something that all of us want you to know.” I nod my head yes. I want to hear what he has to say. I look at Ethan, and he gives me a hesitant look. I don’t think this was planned. “I’d just like to say that all of us understand the struggles that you are facing. As far as I am concerned, I’ll visit you every day and bring Kellie with me. We miss you, but we also know that this is what you need to do, and we support your decision. I wasn’t happy with this when Dad first told us, but I’ve had a lot of time to stew in my anger. I am not proud of my behavior, and I’m sorry if it upset you in any way. I want to be your friend, and I promise I won’t make you feel uncomfortable or put pressure on you to remember. I only want to spend time with you, if you would let me.” God, I want to cry. I am so relieved that they finally understand me. I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my chest. I can finally breathe and not feel guilty. I pat the bed next to me. “Come over here and sit next to me.” Kellie sits on my left, and Joey is on my right. Once again, an odd feeling overtakes me. I will have time later to think about it. “The two of you are so very special to me, and I am so relieved that you understand how I feel. It upset me to think that I hurt you in any way. Your father gave me a few books with many pictures of all of us. It is evident to me that we were a happy family. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I would very much like to know the two of you. I may never regain my memories, but I know we can make new ones. You are still my children, and I want to share my life with you.” I look at Ethan and say, “And that also includes you, Ethan. Please visit me often. I have so many questions about our life together.” ***** Everyone walks beside me as I leave the hospital. I never anticipated this when I woke up this morning. This is an unexpected surprise and a very welcome one. Steve and Catherine are waiting for me in the lobby of the hospital with a portable wheelchair. My leg is still weak, and putting pressure on it is uncomfortable. “Are you ready to leave this place, sweetheart?” “Yes, Steve. I am all set to get out of here.” I say goodbye to Ethan and the children, and Steve wheels me out to his car. The drive home is pleasant, and the sun feels warm on my face. I feel free for the first time in many weeks. As I watch the scenery pass by me, I try very hard to remember where they are taking me. The streets do not look familiar. The houses do not look familiar. Nothing registers and I feel depressed. Catherine is sitting in the back of the car with me, and she takes my hand in hers. “You are frowning Diane. Stop trying to remember every little detail. It will only make you crazy. I always told my kids to ‘go with the flow’ when they had trouble studying. Sometimes if you try too hard, it makes remembering more difficult.” “I guess I’m a little nervous. I’ll try to relax.” “Don’t worry about anything, honey. We will take good care of you.” I am surprised to see Ethan, Kellie, and Joey waiting for me when I get out of the car. The short trip to my new home has exhausted me, both physically and mentally. I just want to lie down and take a nap. Joey runs up to the car to take my suitcase. Kellie follows him and carries the flowers. Ethan soon follows and lifts me up into his arms. I am caught off-guard, and my brain can’t react fast enough. Strangely, it feels nice having him carry me. “Take her to our room, Ethan.” I hear Steve say. I don’t have the time to take in my surroundings because Ethan has me in the bedroom before I can blink. The room is lovely, and the bed is calling out to me. Ethan puts me down gently, and I fall back onto a mattress that molds to my body. I could get used to this. Ethan sees me smiling. “My dad bought that mattress last year for my mom. She is having problems with her back. The mattress is made of memory foam that molds to your body and takes the stress off your pressure points. You should feel very comfortable sleeping in this bed.” “I already feel better just sitting on it. This is so sweet of your parents, Ethan. I appreciate what they are doing for me.” Ethan kneels before me and for a second or two, my heart races. The look on his face is so serious. “I want you to relax and follow your discharge instructions. Take it easy for a day or two and get acclimated to your new home. The kids will visit you tomorrow after school. We only live a few houses down the street.” Ethan hands me another phone. This one is white. “This phone is just for me. You have a direct line to all of my numbers. If you feel lonely, or you just want to talk, please call me anytime, day or night. I’m only a few houses away, and I’ll be here as soon as I can. I also want you to remember that your recovery will be slow. I don’t want you to feel frustrated if you fail at something the first time you try anything new.” “Next week, when you feel a little better, we will go out and have dinner, and see a movie. Just the two of us. No pressure, and no talking about the past unless you want to know something. We must look towards the future now. I want to know everything that you are doing, good and bad. If I can help with anything, or if you have questions, you only have to ask. I’d do anything for you, Diane.” I look at the phone in my hand. This is a direct link to Ethan. My heart is so full of gratitude and acceptance. For the first time since the accident, I feel that my family will accept me, with or without my memories. “Thank you, Ethan. You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ll call you tomorrow.” I say goodbye to Ethan and the children. Tomorrow is the first day of my new life. Chapter Twenty Diane Two months later So much has happened to me in the past two months. My first few days with Steve and Catherine were awkward. It felt like they were walking on eggshells around me. My physical therapy continued for at least six weeks, and I had a moderate amount of pain, but I got through it, and now I can walk without assistance. Kellie and Joey continue to visit me every day. The school year is almost over, which will give us more time together. At the beginning of my journey, Joey was very patient and helped me with my reading and writing. It surprised me how quickly I re-learned some things. Once I started to concentrate and let go of the anxiety, I was able to read quickly. Now, I am reading novels without difficulty. Catherine has a rather impressive assortment of contemporary romance novels, and some of them are wicked. Did I enjoy reading something like this before my accident? Thanks to hot, sexy men, my reading skills are just fine. Joey also helped me with math, which again, I found easy to re-learn. Every day I discover something new and exciting, and my mind races with all of this new information. Kellie is such a sweet child and talks my ear off. She is animated and easily emotional. Our routine is simple. She has a huge bag of coloring books, crayons, and colored ink markers. We lay on the floor, or sit on my bed and color. Who knew something so innocent could be so relaxing. Catherine bought me adult coloring books, and every night, I take at least an hour before bed to color. Joey graduates from high school in two weeks, and Ethan has asked me if I would like to attend the graduation ceremony. I am more than a little worried about being seen in public. I still have not found a way to deal with people who knew me before the accident. I remember the first time I went out to dinner with Ethan. I was not aware that we went to our favorite restaurant. I was just starting to feel at ease when someone approached our table and started talking to me. I felt myself become anxious, and Ethan saw my discomfort. He very politely explained that I was recovering from a car accident, that I had a severe concussion, and that my memories are fuzzy. I was very grateful he glossed over the truth. Our relationship, if you could call it that, is growing stronger every day. We have a nightly ritual where I will call him, and he will tell me something about our life together. It’s funny, but as I listen to him, it feels like he is talking about someone else’s life, and not ours. He has so many funny stories about the children, and I find myself laughing all the time. It would be so easy to fall in love with him again, and honestly, I am starting to have feelings for him. He is a good man. Every time I look down at my hand, I see the evidence of his love for me. Several times I fought the urge to kiss him. ***** Today is my birthday, and Ethan has a special day planned for me. I am excited because, for the past two months, life has been good to me. I may not have my memories, but I have made new ones over the previous months. I am hopeful for the future. Ethan sent me a strange text yesterday. He wants me to be ready to leave the house at eight in the morning. He wants me to wear something comfortable. Catherine went to my other house yesterday afternoon and brought back several outfits for me to choose from. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I’m willing to see what happens. Ethan and I will spend the entire day together, and tonight, we will celebrate my birthday with Steve, Catherine, and the children. I am trying to decide what to wear. I have everything laid out on the bed. Should I wear a dress, or a pair of capris and a blouse? I thought it would feel strange looking at my old clothing, however, looking at them did not make me feel sad. I am not sure when that feeling left me, and I only just realized that I haven’t felt sad for a few weeks. Catherine helped me get ready for my date. It sounds strange saying we are out on a date, but that’s what it is. If I think too much about it, I will back out of the date. I feel a little excited, and I feel good. One hour later, I do not recognize the person staring at me in the mirror. Catherine did a fantastic job with my makeup. I finally look healthy, and it’s an incredible feeling. The face staring back at me almost resembles the person in the photo albums, except for my hair. I now have short spiky hair, and I look cute. I am wearing red capris pants, a red and white tank top, a white blouse, and matching red sandals. I hear someone whistling, and when I turn around, Steve is standing in the doorway. “Wow, is that you Diane? You look positively stunning. Ethan will swallow his tongue when he sees you!” “Do I really look okay?” “Honey, you look beautiful. How do you feel?” Laughing, I say, “I am so excited about our date today. I feel a little silly.” “It’s okay to feel that way. It’s been a rough few months for you and Ethan. It’s good to laugh and feel happy.” “Yes, it is. I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done for me, and I am grateful you still want me living with you. I think it’s time I gave you back your bedroom. I’ll move into the apartment over the garage.” Steve opens his arms, and I walk into his embrace. “We love you sweetheart, and I have enjoyed every minute of our time together. This will always be your home.” I sigh as Steve holds me in his strong arms. I feel safe with him, and then I think about my parents, who haven’t visited me since I left the hospital. “Steve, do you ever think my parents will accept the new me? They haven’t visited me since I came home from the hospital. I don’t know what to do.” I see the hesitation in his eyes. He’s keeping something from me. I want to know what it is. “Whatever it is Steve, please tell me.” “Before I say anything, I want you to know that it was their decision not to see you. We’ve tried to make your parents understand, and they refused to listen to us. Please sit, and I’ll tell you everything.” I sit on the edge of the bed, and Steve begins to tell me what happened after my surgery. I am shocked and saddened by what he has said to me. How could they blame Ethan or Jerry for what happened to me? None of this is their fault. The person who hit me is responsible, not them. “And so you see Diane, unless they can accept your new life, they won’t see you. I’ve talked to them numerous times. I've told them how much you’ve improved in the last two months. Whatever I say goes in one ear and out the other. Catherine and I love you, and we are thrilled to have you living here with us.” “Honestly, the relationship that you have with your parents has been strained for many years. Your mother is a difficult person to get along with. She made your life miserable for as long as I can remember. Your father tolerates her behavior. I don’t understand the dynamics of their relationship, and I really don’t want to know. All you need to remember is that Catherine and I have loved you from the first time Ethan brought you home to meet us. The happiest day of my life, other than the birth of my children and grandchildren, was the day Ethan married you.” It upsets me knowing my parents are so rigid. I’m kind of happy I don’t remember the bitter relationship that I once had with them. “They didn’t make it easy for Ethan, did they?” “No. My son has a temper, and it took all of his energy to stay focused on you. They said some harsh things to my son, and I’ll never forget it. I don’t hold grudges, but I cannot forgive anyone who hurts my family.” “Remind me never to piss you off!” Laughing, he said, “You never did, and you never will!” “Good to know.” Ethan My parent’s house is quiet. “Hey, where is everyone?” My mom runs down the stairs and hugs me. “Wow, look at you! I haven’t seen you this relaxed in a long time.” I look down at myself and shrug. I’m wearing shorts, a polo shirt, and sandals. “Honestly, I don’t feel relaxed. I’m a little nervous. I hope what I have planned for today goes well.” My mom pats my arm. “Why wouldn’t it go well? Diane is excited about today. Take it one step at a time, and have some fun. It’s been a long time sweetheart. The both of you deserve a break.” My dad follows her down the stairs. “So, I hear you have an all day date with a beautiful woman.” “Yes, I do. And, where is my beautiful Diane?” “Here she is.” I look up, and when I see Diane descending the stairs, my heart beats a little faster. She is wearing those little red capri pants that make me hot every time I see her wear them. I am instantly hard. Shit, I can’t let her see this. I walk over to stand behind the recliner near the door, effectively concealing my hand as I attempt to adjust myself. I don’t know how much longer I can be near her and not want to make love to her. It’s the worse form of torture. I’ve jacked off so much the last few months that it’s a miracle I don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome! “Wow, Diane. You’re beautiful. I like the new hair style, and your outfit is gorgeous.” “Do you really like it?” “I love it honey, and I will beat the crap out of any man who so much as looks at you.” Diane surprises me when she walks over to me, wraps are arms around my neck and kisses my cheek. Dear God, give me the strength to get through this day without my head exploding! ***** I thought long and hard about where to take Diane for her birthday. I did not want to go anywhere where people will recognize us. Diane is just starting to feel comfortable being out in public. She has had contact with a few of the teachers at her school and to say the meetings were tense would be an understatement. No one knows how to react, and this makes Diane extremely nervous. It’s bad enough she must fight every day to feel normal. I don’t want outside forces adding to her stress. I make a last minute decision to take her to Atlantic City. It’s a beautiful day, and I hope she enjoys the new experience. I take her hand in mine and say, “Well, honey, are you ready for your birthday date?” “Yes, I am. Where are we going?” “Now, why would I tell you and ruin the surprise? Are you ready to have some fun in the sun?” Diane claps her hands and does a little happy dance. I love seeing her smile. “You bet I am. Let’s hit the road!” Diane I am so excited, I can’t sit still. Ethan is driving a convertible, and the top is down. Now I know why Catherine put a scarf in my tote bag. I feel free, and with the wind swirling around me, I feel happy. I tilt my head back and let the warmth of the sun beat down on my face. “This is so exciting. Why won’t you tell me where we are going?” “Because I want it to be a surprise. You’ll know soon enough where we are going. Sit back and enjoy the ride.” I do enjoy the ride. I’ve spent too much time in the house, afraid to venture out and experience new things. This feels different. Is it because Ethan is with me? Do I feel safe with him? Yes, I do, and it surprises me how comfortable I have become with him. I can see why the person that I once was loved him. Will I one day feel the same? I hope so because he is a good man. I close my eyes and enjoy the ride. I must have fallen asleep because I feel Ethan’s hand touching my arm. We are no longer on the highway, and the air smells different. When I look at my surroundings, I see tall buildings. A lot of them. “Where are we?” “We’re in Atlantic City. I wanted to take you somewhere where no one knows us. I want this day to be stress-free and fun.” “Where is Atlantic City?” “It’s in New Jersey, about ninety minutes from home.” Once we park the car, we walk to the boardwalk. Ethan is taking pictures of me on his phone, and before I can say anything, I see the ocean before me. I have never seen anything so beautiful or so powerful. The waves crash up against the sand, and the sound it makes is soothing. I take off my sandals and run down to the water. I feel like I’ve done this before. Will this trip spark a memory? I have given up hope that I will remember our life together. All I have now are new memories, and I cherish each and every one of them. The water feels cold on my feet. The ocean is so beautiful. It makes me sad that I have lost this memory, but I refuse to let this spoil my day. I want to make new memories. I bend down and run my hands in the water. Ethan is standing next to me and is taking pictures of me. I want him to send them to me. I want to see the happiness on my face. “I want to see everything, Ethan. Show me Atlantic City.” My heart skips a beat when he holds my hand. He made a quick call and said, “I have a surprise for you.” I realize that I like surprises. I follow Ethan back to the boardwalk. Waiting for us is a man with two…“What are they?” “They are three-wheeled bicycles, and we are going to ride them.” “I don’t know how to ride a bike. What if I get hurt?” “You can’t get hurt because they have three wheels. Do you trust me?” My immediate response is, “Yes, I do.” Five minutes later, I am riding a bike! I am having so much fun, and I don’t want this day to end. Ethan I can’t find the words to express how I feel as I look at Diane. My emotions are all over the place. I do know that it is my mission in life to make her happy. Watching her ride the bike in front of me, and hearing her laughter is the best medicine for me. I haven’t seen her this relaxed since before the accident. I want this person back in my life. I will not rest until she is in my bed, where I can hold her in the dark and tell her all of the things that I have been keeping to myself. I miss that time with her. Often, we would lay awake in the dark and whisper our hopes and dreams to each other. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me, and I don’t believe I will ever rest peacefully without the warmth of her body against mine. I am so distracted by my thoughts that I fail to hear her talking to me. “Ethan, where are you? I’ve been talking to you, and you’re not hearing me. What’s wrong?” “I’m okay, Diane. My mind is wandering. Sorry, what did you say?” “I said I was hungry. Is there a good place to eat nearby?” “Darling, the best food on the boardwalk is a hotdog with cheese fries. Let’s get rid of these bikes, and I’ll feed you!” After we hitch the bikes, I take her hand in mine and lead her to my favorite place to eat, Phils. I swear they make the best fries in the state. We haven’t been to the Jersey shore since last summer. I never appreciated what I took for granted until I no longer have it, and this is one of those times. Diane and I loved spending the weekends at the shore. The kids went nuts running up and down the beach collecting seashells. I miss those days. I miss the peaceful existence of our lives together. I miss the quiet moments with my children. I just miss the life that I once had, because what I feel now is a living hell. I hide my feelings from my children because if they see that I’ve lost hope, they will lose it too. They are growing closer to Diane as she is now. Joey and Kellie rarely speak about the past, and that makes me very upset. Our children have memories, and while I understand that their intentions are pure and come from the heart, I don’t want them to lock away those memories. “Ethan, you’re doing it again. What are you thinking? Please talk to me.” “Let’s get our food and find a quiet spot, and I’ll tell you.” “You’re making me nervous.” “Don’t be nervous. It’s all good.” Diane Ethan finds a quiet spot on the beach, and we sit down in warm sand and eat our food. I have the strange sensation that I’ve eaten this particular food before today. As a matter of fact, I’ve had the same feeling the past two weeks. It feels like déjà vu. Is it possible that my memories are trying to surface? I hope so. I want to remember. “Wow, these fries are delicious. What kind of cheese do they use?” “Um…I think it’s cheddar cheese. Whatever the hell it is, it’s fantastic. I love his food.” “We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Is this why you are so distracted? You know, you can talk to me about your memories. It won’t upset me, and honestly, I need to know more of our life together.” Ethan is quiet for a few minutes. I can see that he is trying to filter his words. “Just say what you need to say, Ethan. Please, the last few weeks have been good for me, and I think it’s time we discussed the past.” “Are you sure Diane? I’ve wanted so much to talk to you, but I’ve been holding back. I don’t want this to be a sad day.” “Why would it be a sad day?” “Because I bring up memories that may upset you.” “It’s time Ethan. It’s time to know my past, good and bad.” Ethan sighs and leans back on his elbows. “Every weekend during the summer months we would bring the kids to the beach. My parents have a summer house in Cape May, but the kids always wanted to come to Atlantic City. They were fascinated by the big casinos and the brightly colored buildings. You packed the cooler with enough food to feed an army. I took care of everything else, and the kids had a good time. Kellie and Joey would run up and down the beach collecting seashells. You always brought a couple of tote bags for their stash, and all winter long, you found crafting projects to occupy their time. I always loved those days, because we were so happy. On Saturday night, Mom and Dad took care of the kids, and we would have a date night.” “You loved to play the slot machine, and I loved watching how excited you became when the machine paid off. We booked a hotel room for the night, and we made love, ate ice cream in bed, and watched a movie. We did all of the things that we could not do during the week. The next morning, we had breakfast in bed and made love in the shower. I won’t lie to you, Diane. It is so difficult not thinking about those days. I am tired of filtering everything I say and do, for fear it will upset you. It’s exhausting, and I want to talk about the past.” “I want you to know everything. I’m lonely without you. I lost my best friend in that accident, and I am so afraid she will never come back to me. I don’t want you to feel upset or guilty about what I’ve just said to you. I never knew how much I needed to talk about our past with you. I’m afraid that if I don’t talk about it, the memories will fade away, and it will kill me to lose that connection with you. I hope you understand that I’m not pressuring you to come home.” Ethan turns his face away from me, and I see him wiping at his eyes. God, he’s crying, and I feel like shit. What in God’s name is blocking my memories? I remember a conversation I had with my therapist a few days ago. Maybe it’s time to discuss this with him. “Ethan, please look at me.” “No, I need a minute to calm myself,” Ethan said and walked away from me with slumped shoulders. He doesn’t go far, and I give him this private time. He sits on the sand, folds his arms around his legs, and lowers his head. Something tugs at my heart and I try to bring what I am feeling to the surface. It doesn’t work, and I am getting pissed off. Chapter Twenty-One Ethan Isn’t this just fucking great? I bring Diane here to have a pleasant day, and what do I do? Well, I am tired of hiding my feelings, and it is time to face the past. I can’t look at her now. My nerves are raw. Talking about our summers at the shore hit a nerve with me. I need a few minutes to calm the fuck down. When I raise my head, Diane is standing in front of me. She reaches out and runs her fingers through my hair. Memories of her doing this while we made love attack me. I can’t bare her touch, but I am too weak to move. “Ethan?” When I look up at her, I see something different in her eyes. What is it? Sadness? Pity? I don’t need anyone’s fucking pity! I hear her voice again. “Ethan, take a walk with me.” I am too emotionally tired to say no. I take Diane’s hand in mine, and we walk along the water. Neither one of us knows what to say, so I break the silence. “I’m sorry Diane. I’m acting like a fucking idiot.” “No, you’re not. You are expressing your feelings to me. There is nothing wrong with telling me what’s in your heart. I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry I upset you.” “It’s not you Diane; it’s me. I can’t handle this any longer. I need something from you.” “What do you need, Ethan?” “I need your friendship, Diane. I need companionship, someone that I can talk to when I can’t sleep. I need date nights and walks in the park. I want us to spend time together as a couple.” Diane stops walking and points to a pair of benches under a pergola on the boardwalk. “It’s getting hot. Can we get out of the sun? I need to talk to you about something my therapist recommended a few days ago.” Once seated, Diane turns to me with apprehension in her eyes. “Dr. Griffith wants to try regression therapy. He feels I may remember something, and I’m not sure what I should do. Have you ever heard of this type of treatment?” “I am not a psychologist, but I have read your case file. The correct terminology for your type of amnesia is traumatic amnesia. It can lead to anything from a brief loss of consciousness to coma. Traumatic amnesia is often transient; the duration of the amnesia is related to the degree of injury and may give an indication of the prognosis for recovery of other functions.” “I have noticed that once you started the occupational therapy, you were able to recover your reading and writing very quickly. Mom told me that you pick up things quickly. It also explains why your speech improved so quickly. The brain synapsis remembers how to do these things, but your long-term memory is impaired by the injury.” “With traumatic amnesia, it could take weeks, months, maybe even years to regain long-term cognition. I think it is a good idea to try this type of therapy. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by cooperating. Do you want me there with you?” “Yes, please. It will make me feel so much more relaxed if you are with me. I’m scared this won’t work. What if it doesn’t work?” “Then we will find something that does work. Let’s take one more walk, and then we’ll go home for part two of your birthday celebration.” “I think that's an excellent idea.” As we are driving home, Diane asks me about the fucker who hit her. “Did the police ever find who hit my car?” “Yes, the police arrested him at the scene of the crash. He was drunk. He told the officer that he works odd hours, and after work, he went for a few beers with his friends. Apparently, he had been drinking for a few hours. He fell asleep at the wheel, and hit your car.” “The trial was a few weeks ago, and the jury’s verdict is two years’ house arrest with an ankle monitor, five years’ probation, and two thousand hours of community work. Also, his license was permanently revoked. He’s in the system now. My cousin Brian told me after the verdict that he got the maximum sentence, and I’m just happy he’s off the street, and can’t hurt anyone else.” “Did he say anything after the jury verdict?” “He said he was sorry about the accident and is sorry he fell asleep. He should have thought about that before he put the key in the ignition.” Diane When we parked the car in the driveway, there are balloons and a banner in front of the door that said, “Happy Birthday Diane. We love you.” Kellie is sitting on the step, and when she sees Ethan’s car, she runs to my side and taps on the window. “I thought you would never get home. Come on; I want some cake and ice cream!” Ethan laughs and so do I. “Well, we can’t keep the princess waiting. Let’s have our cake and eat it too!” Steve and Catherine went out of their way to make my first birthday, post accident, a success. As I was about to open my presents, the doorbell rang. “Who could that be?” Catherine asks as she walks to the door. My parents finally decide to visit me, and I feel the atmosphere change in the room. Ethan moves closer to me, and I feel his concern. Barbara hands me a small box. “Hello, Diane. How are you?” “I am fine. Thank you.” “How do you feel?” “I am getting better every day.” Bill asks, “Still no memory?” “Unfortunately, no.” Barbara grabs my hand, and I am immediately tense. “You need to stop this nonsense, Diane. I don’t believe you have amnesia. What kind of game are you playing?” I am too stunned by her aggressive move to respond to her question. The box she handed me falls to the floor. “That’s enough!” Ethan shouts Joey and Kellie move closer to Ethan’s parents. Barbara screams at Ethan, and my anxiety ramps up a few notches. “She has all of you fooled. How can anyone lose their entire memory?” She looks at me. “Is this payback for something I did to you? I know we’re not close Diane, but this is cruel, even for you.” Ethan is furious, and when he grabs Barbara’s arm, Bill punches him in the face. Ethan lands hard on the floor, and everyone is screaming. Steve grabs Bill by the shirt and shoves him towards the door. “Get the fuck out of my house. If I see your face again, I’ll call the police. If my son decides to file assault charges against you, I will be more than happy to testify. What you said to Diane is cruel and insensitive. If you cared enough to visit her when I asked you to, you would have seen how hard she has worked to get to this stage in her recovery. She may not remember the past, but she has total recall since the accident. I am sure she will never forget what you said to her today. Get out now!” I watch in horror as Steve shoves both of them out the front door and slams it in their faces. Ethan is still sitting on the floor with an ice pack on his face. He will have a nasty bruise tomorrow. I get down on my knees to inspect his beautiful face. I run my hand over his now swollen cheek. “Oh God, Ethan, I am so sorry. Does it hurt much?” “No, honey, I’ll be okay. I believe you still have a few presents to open.” I bend down to pick up their gift. I walk into the kitchen and throw the box in the trash. Everyone tries to regain the momentum, but the enjoyment that we felt earlier has disappeared. Kellie takes it upon herself to lighten the mood. “Bill is a bugger head and a ferret face, and he farts like an elephant!” While everyone is laughing, I open my presents. Steve and Catherine gave me a beautiful angel charm bracelet. “Oh, this is so pretty. I love it. Thank you.” Next, is Ethan’s present. I am almost afraid to open it. When I do, I see a reoccurring theme. Inside the box is a necklace made of two angel wings shaped like a heart. “Oh, this is so lovely, and it matches the bracelet. Thank you so much, Ethan.” The last gift is from Kellie and Joey. The box is so big. When I open the lid, my heart literally stops beating for a second or two. I am almost afraid to touch it because it is breathtakingly beautiful. I now know the significance of the seashells. Inside the box is a huge styrofoam heart, and glued to the heart are little seashells, all painted in different pastel colors and sprinkled with glitter. This day has been so emotional for me, and I can no longer hide my tears. Kellie moves closer to me and wraps her arms around my shoulders. “Don’t cry, Diane. Joey and I want you to have this. We collected tons of shells last summer, and we wanted to make something pretty for you. Do you like it?” I wrap my arms around this sweet child and nod my head yes because my throat is so tight with emotion, I cannot speak. The remainder of the night is pleasant for all of us. We eat cake and ice cream and watch a movie. By the end of the evening I’m exhausted, and so is everyone else. Once everyone leaves and I finally go to bed, I can’t sleep because I am so angry, and oddly enough, hurt by what my mother had said to me. I am so upset that I call her. Ethan programmed her number into my phone a few weeks ago. I never imagined I would have to call them, but here I am, about to have an argument with people I hardly know. How absurd is this? “What do you want Diane?” “I want to know why you said what you did, and why Bill hit Ethan?” “Don’t call your father by his name. He’s Dad to you.” “He is not Dad to me. How many times do you need to be told that I have amnesia? Why can’t you accept who I am now?” “You always were difficult to talk to Diane. What happened to you? You were so adorable when you were little. I am still trying to figure out when you became a bitter woman!” “How fortunate for you that I don’t remember our relationship. Otherwise, I’d say something sarcastic. If this is how you feel, why bother visiting me? Just leave me alone!” “I’d be more than happy to do that, but your father is under the mistaken impression that you are actually sick.” “Well, you can give him a message for me. The correct terminology for what I have is traumatic amnesia. Look it up, and maybe one day you will understand what I’m going through and have a little compassion. If you can’t do that, I don’t want to see you!” Chapter Twenty-Two Diane The conversation with my parents weighs heavily on my mind. What time is it? It’s one in the morning, and I am so upset, sleep escapes me. I don’t want to wake Steve and Catherine, but I need to get out of here for a few minutes. I get dressed and quietly leave the house. I am so distracted by the conversation repeatedly looping in my mind that I fail to notice where I am walking. Oh god, it’s so dark, I have no idea where I am, and I don’t have my phone with me. I’m lost and suddenly terrified. I find the first safe place to sit and hide the best I can. I don’t want anyone seeing me out at night, by myself. I’m in a park, and it’s very dark. I’m hiding behind a bench, lying on the wet grass. What have I done? Ethan I hear the house phone ringing. What the hell time is it? I look at the clock, and it’s two in the morning. There are only two reasons why my phone would ring at this ungodly hour, and neither of them is good. I reach out for the receiver. “Yeah. Who is this and why are you calling at this hour?” My mother’s screaming voice pierces through my sleep addled brain. “Ethan, I need you. Diane is not in the house. I don’t know where she is, and she doesn’t have her cell phone with her.” I am instantly awake. “Mom, calm down and start from the beginning, please.” I hear my mother take several deep breaths. “I was worried about her after the altercation with her parents. I couldn’t sleep, so I went over to the house to speak to her. The light was on in her room, and I thought she was still awake. When I got to the front door, it was partially open. I went back to get your dad, and when we walked into the house, I didn’t see anything strange. I thought maybe we forgot to close the door.” “When we went into Diane’s room, she wasn’t there. Your father searched the house, and she’s not here. Both cell phones are on the table by the bed. We have to call the police. She’s out there somewhere all alone with no phone. Oh, Ethan, I’m scared. Why would she leave the house?” If I live to be one hundred, I will never forget the paralyzing fear that I feel at this moment. My wife is out there somewhere, alone and probably scared out of her mind. “Mom, I need you to come over here and stay with the kids. I’ll be at your house in five minutes. Is Dad still there?” “Yes, he’s here.” “Put him on the phone.” Several seconds pass. “Dad, did you check the entire house, and the yard.” “Yeah. That’s the first thing I checked. Diane’s not here. What the hell made her leave the house at night?” “I don’t know, but something upset her. What other reason would she have to leave the house at night? Why didn’t she call me? That’s the reason why I gave her the second phone. Do you think she went for a walk and got lost?” “Possibly. Get over here quickly, and we’ll patrol the neighborhood. We’ll find Diane, Ethan. I swear we will find her.” Ten minutes later, I am in my car. My father is behind me, and we part ways at the end of the culdesac. He goes East, and I go West. We are in constant contact by phone. My mind focuses on every possible scenario, and none of them are good. Where the hell is she? I feel like I am driving in circles. It’s still dark and my night vision sucks. I’ve resorted to turning on the high beams, and wouldn’t you know it, at this time of the morning, a fucking police car flashes his lights at me. I pull over and reach for my wallet. “Sir, may I see your drivers license and registration? You are driving with your high beams on, and why are you circling the neighborhood at three-thirty in the morning?” I give the police officer my identification, and he flashes a light in my face, then looks at my license. He recognizes me. “Dr. Miller. Is there a problem?” “Yes, I have a problem. My wife has amnesia, and she left the house early this morning and had not returned. I’m worried she may be lost and scared. Can you help me?” “Do you know what she was wearing.” “No. Before Diane went to bed, she was wearing red capris pants, a red and white striped tank with a white blouse, and red sandals. We have to find her.” “Is anyone else looking for her?” “Yes, my father went East, but I haven’t heard from him yet.” “How far do you think she is able to walk?” “Well, she has just recovered from a broken leg, so I would assume not far. Maybe a mile or two.” “What is your wife’s name?’ “Her name is Diane Miller.” “Okay. Continue searching the neighborhood. I’ll branch out and have a few patrol cars expand the search area. We’ll find Mrs. Miller. Give me your cell phone number.” I give the officer my number. “Thank you, officer.” Where the fuck is she? My father finally calls me, and I can hear his anxiety level ramping up. We have to find her. Diane It’s so dark, and I’m scared. I hear strange voices all around me. Where am I? My head is throbbing, and I feel sick. Oh, Ethan, please find me! I squat down between a bench and a large bush because I don’t want to be seen. I hear the voices again. They are getting closer to me. A cry escapes me before I can cover my mouth. “Hey, Mikey, did you hear that?” “Hear what, asshole?” Oh, God, they can hear me. I cover my mouth with my hand to stop myself from crying, but it doesn’t work. I’m too afraid to halt the trembling of my body. I can’t breathe, and it is impossible to remain quiet. “There it is again. I swear I’m not fucking with you! I hear something over there, by that bench.” They are coming closer to me. I have nowhere to run. Please don’t let them see me. I suddenly feel someone grab a handful of my shirt, and pulls me to my feet. “Well, what do we have here, boys?” “Please don’t hurt me. I’m lost. Please, let me go!” There are three of them, and they smell like beer. The big man grabs my arm and pulls me into his body. “What’s a pretty thing like you hiding behind a bush?” I’m too afraid to answer him. His strong hand grabs my arm again, and he digs his nails into my skin. “I asked you a fucking question!” My body is shaking uncontrollably. I can’t breathe. His breath smells foul, and I feel like I am going to be sick. The tall man shoves me into the other man. His hands are all over me. He tries to put his mouth on me. “No, don’t touch me.” I slap the man, and he pushes me to another man. “I think she needs to be taught a lesson. It’s not nice ignoring a question.” The man they called Mikey raises his hand and slaps me across the face. The pain is intense and radiates up my face and into my throbbing head. The other man is pulling on my shirt. He’s trying to take off my shirt. I fight him the best I can. I scratch his face with my nails, and he hits me again, this time knocking me onto the grass. I can taste blood in my mouth. I see him undoing his jeans. He bends down and rips my shirt down the front of my body, and pulls at my bra. The other man grabs my arms and pulls them over my head. Another man holds my legs and pulls down my pants and underwear. “You scratched my face bitch! You’ll pay for that. I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” The other man stands over me with his penis in his hand. He’s twisting and pulling on it, while the man holding my legs continue pulling at my clothing. I am going to die. I have no one to save me. The pain in my head intensifies. My body shakes uncontrollably. It feels like I am having a seizure. I can’t stop shaking. The two men have a hard time restraining my arms and legs. “What the fuck is wrong with her? Let’s get the hell out of here before someone sees us.” “Not until I come on her. I need to mark the bitch before we leave.” Take me now and spare me from this humiliation. As the pain increases, my vision blurs, and the last thing that I see is this man stroking himself. I black out, and I am relieved to be once again in the darkness that I find so comforting. It’s peaceful here. I don’t have to worry about what people think of me. I don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. I don’t have to worry about anything. I want to stay in the darkness. It’s safe here. I don’t want to leave this place. My mind is at peace where I am now. My body feels weightless, and the tension is gone. My life is over. I will never go back to where I was before. It’s too difficult trying to adjust to that life. This is where I belong... now and for always. Chapter Twenty-Three Ethan I have been in my car for three hours, and I am about to lose my fucking mind. It’s early morning which makes it easier for me to see what is around me. I’ve driven in circles all night. I’ve been in constant contact with my father, but I have not heard from the police. I am about to drive through the area again when I see several police cars near Cranston Park. My blood runs cold, and I have the strangest feeling that something is terribly wrong. I call my father. “Dad, where are you?” “I’m near Pennypack Diner. What’s wrong?” “I’m not sure, but I have a bad feeling. I see several police cars near Cranston Park, by the playground. Can you come over here right away?” “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” I park my car, and as soon as I start walking across the grass, I see Diane’s red sandals. Oh my, God, she’s lying on the ground. Several police officers are standing around her, and off in the distance, I hear sirens. My legs refuse to move. I am paralyzed with fear. The police officer that I met earlier sees me and runs over to me. “I think we found your wife. Come with me please.” I have never had an out of body experience in my life, but I can say with the utmost certainty, that I am having one now. My peripheral vision is blacked out, and I see white spots in my central vision. The tightness in my chest makes it impossible to breathe. Is this what it feels like when you die? The police officer is still holding my arm, and he is dragging me towards my wife. He is rather forceful in his movement, and the sudden jerking of my body clears my vision. When I look down, my beautiful wife’s battered body is all that I can see. “Oh my God, Diane! What has happened to her?” I fall to my knees and check for a pulse. The pain in my chest is intense; it feels like my heart is about to explode out of my chest. Diane’s pulse is slow and thready. I can’t lose her now. Not after everything we’ve been through the past few months. Her clothes are torn from her body, exposing her breasts. Her pants are half way down her legs. Dear God, was she raped? The sirens are getting closer. I feel someone pulling at my arm. “Ethan, get up. The EMT’s are here. Let them do their job!” It’s my father. I take one look at his face and shatter into a million pieces. I crumble onto the grass and take him down with me. My body is shaking uncontrollably, and I can’t stop it. I hear voices all around me. They are talking about Diane. When I look up, they have her on a gurney, and she has an oxygen mask on her face. Did she stop breathing again? Is she dead? That’s the last thing I remember before I lose consciousness. ***** When I open my eyes, my head is on my father’s lap, and he is running his fingers through my hair. Our eyes meet, and I feel hot tears running down the side of my face. I don’t have the strength to lift my head. I’ve lost the will to live. “Where is she? Where is my wife?” One of the police officers answers me. “The ambulance is taking your wife to Mercy Hospital. Your father filled us in on what’s been happening the past few months. We received a call from a jogger who found her body and called us. He said he didn’t see anyone in the area and stayed with her until we arrived. I instructed the EMT’s not to disturb her clothing. There is DNA material that we will need as evidence.” “Dad, can you help me get up and take me to the hospital? I don’t think I can drive my car.” “Dr. Miller, let us take you. This is an emergency. You can leave your car on the street.” My dad said, “Go with the officer, Ethan. I’ll follow you, and call your brother.” The twenty-minute ride to the hospital is the longest twenty minutes of my life. When I arrive at the hospital, I run into the emergency room to find my wife. Several of the nurses know me and lead me to her room. What I witness is beyond my worse fear. Diane’s eyes are open, and she is staring blankly at the ceiling. When I approach the bed, she doesn’t turn her head to look at me. She’s not blinking. She’s not moving. She’s catatonic! She is still fully clothed, and now that I can take a look at her, I see the DNA evidence on her breasts and stomach. Her tank top is ripped down the middle, and her bra is open. Her pants and her lace panties are half way down her legs. I feel someone tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn around, I see my brother, another doctor and a police officer with a camera standing next to me. “Ethan, please come with me. The police officer and the doctor need a few minutes alone with Diane.” “No, I don’t want to leave her Jerry. I need to be with her.” “You don’t want to see this Ethan. Please, step outside and let the police and the doctor do their jobs.” I turn one last time to look at the love of my life, and the pain that I feel at this moment is so intense, I have no words to adequately describe it. The doctor has a rape kit in her hand. My heart tightens at the thought of my wife being violated in that way. Two fucking hours later, I am allowed to see my wife. Diane is moved to a private room, and thankfully, she has been bathed and is wearing a hospital gown. Her clothes sit on a chair in an evidence bag, and the police officer is writing something on the evidence tag. The officer walks over to me and touches my arm. “I am sorry this has happened to your wife, Dr. Miller. I will have my report ready by the end of the day and deliver it to our sex crimes unit.” All I can say is, “Thank you.” What else can I say? Kill the fucker? ***** I’ve read the medical report, and the only two words that resonate with me are, “no penetration.” The semen is localized to her chest and stomach. She has a few cuts and bruises on her face, a sprained right wrist and scrapes to her hands and legs. The psychological trauma is much worse. Diane hasn’t moved or blinked in the two hours that I’ve been in her room. Craig Jenkins recommends nasogastric intubation for the immediate future, and I agree with him. In her current catatonic state, eating and drinking are not an option. Diane is unresponsive to verbal command and stimuli. The MRI shows no signs of a stroke or bleeding, which is good news for her. Therefore, the problem is psychological, not physical. Once again, my family is in the waiting room. My children haven’t stopped crying since they arrived at the hospital. My father wants to speak to me privately, and we go back to my office. “What’s wrong?” I ask him. My father sighs and shakes his head. “I called Barbara to tell her what has happened, and she said she had an argument with Diane last night. She accused Diane of faking her amnesia, among other things. I think the argument is why she left the house. She was upset and probably went for a walk and got lost.” “That fucking bitch! How could she do this to her daughter? I don’t want them near her. If I see her fucking face in this hospital, I’ll have her thrown out!” “Calm down, Ethan.” “Why should I? This is her fault! She has always been a bitch towards Diane. I’m done with them. I don’t want them near Diane or the kids. You make sure they stay away from my children.” I don’t leave the hospital for the next ten days. Diane remains in a catatonic state. Her skin is a sickly pale color, and she’s already lost weight. I’ve had meetings with several different psychiatrists, and they all say the same thing. They recommend giving her Benzodiazepine. I will not approve this treatment option because Benzodiazepine is highly addictive. Diane has never shown signs of mental illness. Whatever triggered this episode has nothing to do with a mental deficiency. I have also made the decision to take her home. I’ve applied for and was granted an indefinite medical leave. There is no one more qualified to take care of my wife than me. I want her out of this hospital and home with the kids and me. This will be the best environment for her, and it gives me time to come up with a treatment option. Diane I am floating on a cloud of nothing. It is dark and lonely. I welcome the dark. I am not afraid of the dark. My life is over. I have tried to cope, but I can’t do it anymore. This time…I want to die. I want to die and fade away. Chapter Twenty-Four Ethan The day before I bring Diane home from the hospital, I have a serious discussion with my children. Kellie is no longer the active child she was a few months ago. Kellie is withdrawn and moody. She tends to stay to herself and has not played with her friends much since the accident. My heart aches for my sweet girl. No child should have to see a parent sick and broken. I cannot hide this from my kids. Joey understands the gravity of his mother’s illness, but Kellie is just a child. I find it difficult keeping it simple for her, and tonight, I struggle with how much she should know. It will be impossible hiding the intubation tube, catheter bag, and the medical equipment. It shocks me how quickly Diane’s appearance has changed in the past few days. Her skin is very pale which makes the bruises that much worse to look at. I have to face reality. Diane could be in this condition for many months, and my kids must face this truth. I don’t want my wife in a nursing facility. I don’t want strangers touching her. We all know these facilities do not have adequate staffing, and I will not risk her health to spare my children pain. I sound like a bastard saying this, but what else can I do? I need to take care of her. We’ve talked about this after Kellie had been born. However, you don’t anticipate having to make this type of medical decision in your forty’s. We have a health directive and a living will, but I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me what I should do. I am violating one condition in her health directive. I will not let my wife starve to death. Artificial nutrition is necessary for this situation. And so, tomorrow, I have the unfortunate duty to throw my children into the adult world, whether I like it or not. I decide to take them to my parent’s house in Cape May. Mom and Dad are coming with me. I know I am going to need them. ***** “Where are we going, Daddy?” “We are going to Granny and Gramps house in Cape May. You like it there. Remember last summer?” “Yeah, I had tons of fun. Can we stay there?” “No, this is only a day trip, sweetheart.” “Is it because of Mommy that we have to come back today?” “Yes, baby. Mommy is coming home tomorrow, and I need to make sure the room is ready for her.” “Oh, that’s okay. I won’t have any fun today.” My father is driving the minivan, and I’m in the back of the van with my children. My phone chimes with a text message. It’s from Joey. What’s going on, Dad? Is something wrong with Mom? Not now Joey; today is about you and Kellie. Why are you evading the question? What is it? Just say it already. I have a few things I need to discuss with the two of you before Mom comes home. Is it something bad Dad? No. I just want to prepare the two of you for what you will see. You’re scaring me. What are we going to see? I need a few minutes to rest my eyes. Please, we’ll talk about everything when we get to the house. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep because I just need a few quiet minutes to settle my mind, and firm up what I want to say to the kids. By the time we arrive at the house, I pretty much know what I want to say. After having a light brunch, we walk towards the beach, tote bags in hand. We never miss an opportunity to collect seashells. It’s such a beautiful day, and I feel like shit because I have to spoil it for my kids. Kellie senses something is wrong with me, and oddly enough, she starts the conversation. “You’re sad Daddy. Is it because of Mommy?” I take her hand in mine, and we walk towards a quiet spot on the beach. Kellie crawls onto my lap, and Joey sits next to me, sifting sand through his fingers. “I wanted a quiet place because I need to tell you a few things about Mommy before she comes home tomorrow. When she comes home from the hospital, there will be a lot of medical equipment, just like when she was in the hospital. The only difference is that Mommy can’t eat, and she has a little tube in her nose that helps her to eat.” “I don’t understand Daddy? How can she eat through a tube?” Before I have a chance to answer her question, Joey screams at her. “Grow the fuck up Kellie! Mom is practically a vegetable. She’s as good as dead!” Joey’s sudden anger shocks me, and my brain can’t react fast enough to say something to him. I just sit there on the sand and watch my son run down the beach. Kellie is hysterical. She’s crying and can’t catch her breath. I can see my daughter is about to throw up. I hold her the best I can as she becomes sick. “It’s okay baby. Joey didn’t mean what he said. He’s just upset about Mom.” “He is so mean to me. Why did he say that? Is Mommy going to die?” “No, honey, Mom is not going to die.” How do I tell my daughter what Joey said is partially correct? “Are you sure she won’t die?” “I’m as sure as I can be, Kellie.” I carry my daughter back to my parent’s house. She still feels a little sick, so I give her a little orange juice with ginger ale and sit with her until she falls asleep. My mother follows me out of the room. “What happened at the beach, Ethan? Why did Kellie get sick?” I am so angry with my son, and I don’t hide it from my mother. “Joey lost it and said something awful to Kellie. He said Diane is as good as dead, and what he said traumatized Kellie. I know we are all under tremendous stress, but he has no right to say that about his mother. I need to find him.” “Do you want me to come with you?” “No, thanks, I need to handle this alone. I have never been more disappointed in my son than I am now. He hurt his sister deeply.” “You knew this might happen. He’s been holding in everything the past few months. It was bound to come out at some point. I don’t like that he chose today to explode and hurt Kellie. Take it easy on him, Ethan. I’m sure he feels like shit for what he said.” ***** It doesn’t take long for me to find Joey. He’s sitting on a rock by the edge of a sand dune. He doesn’t see me. I take a few minutes to watch him, and what I see breaks my heart. My son is suffering in silence. I have tried to respect Joey’s need to internalize his feelings, and I now realize that I am partly responsible for what has happened today. I do not want to force my son to talk to me, but I can no longer allow him to remain silent. Joey sees me approach him, and he gets up and starts running down the beach. “Joey, don’t run from me!” I manage to catch up to him and grab the back of his jacket. We both take a tumble onto the sand. “Get off me Dad. I don’t want to talk to you. I can’t face you after what I said to Kellie. I can’t look at you and see the disappointment in your eyes.” Joey’s words sting because they are true. I said so not fifteen minutes ago to my mother. He’s kicking me in an attempt to break free from my hold on him. I won’t let go of him. I’ll never let go of him. “Stop fighting me Joey and talk to me. Get it off your chest son.” One minute my son is fighting to break free from me, and the next, he’s wrapped around me sobbing. I don't want us to have a public display for all to see, however; I’m afraid that if I let go of him, Joey will never let me help him. It’s a pride thing with my son. Always so independent, even as a child. He never let me help him with his homework or school projects. This time, it’s different. I will not let him deal with this alone. After several minutes of wrestling on the sand, Joey finally stops fighting me, and we get up and walk back to my parent’s house. He doesn’t say a word to me and walks with his head down, and his hands in his pockets. I stop him before we reach the house. I want to have a private conversation with my son, and so I steer him to the back of the house where my parents have a gazebo. “Sit down Joey. We need to talk, and I want you to be honest with me. I’ve given you the privacy you’ve asked for, but now I see that it was a mistake. I should have forced you to talk to me. So now, I’m forcing the situation. I want to know why you said what you did about your mother. That was an awful thing to say to Kellie. I don’t think you realize how much you hurt her. Kellie is just a little girl. You fail to understand that sometimes, and she notices how you treat her.” “I’m sorry, Dad, about everything. I don’t understand why this had to happen to Mom. She never hurt anyone, and now look at her. She doesn’t even know we are in the room. What’s happened to her? I’m scared that she will always be this way, and I’ll never again get a chance to talk to her, to tell her that I love her, to have her in my life. I miss her, Dad. I miss her so much. She is my best friend. I can’t stand coming home from school and not seeing her. I know I’ve been hiding in my room, but I can’t help it. The house is so empty without her. I don’t want her to come home tomorrow. I don’t want to see her every day with that vacant look on her face. And, when she does open her eyes, a stranger is staring at me. Mom is gone, and I’m so afraid she won’t come back to us.” Hot tears run down my face as I listen to my son finally express his feelings. He hasn’t said one thing that I haven’t thought of myself. Hearing his fear, his loneliness hits me hard because I also feel it ten times worse than he does. I reach out and wrap my arm around my son. When I do, Joey shatters before my eyes. His body is shaking, and I just hold him close to me and let him cry. I see my father looking out of the kitchen window. He has his hand over his mouth, and I know he is crying. I close my eyes and cry with my son. I don’t know how long we held on to each other. Joey finally stops crying, and when he looks at me, I see the sorrow and regret in his eyes. “I’m sorry Dad. I never meant to hurt Kellie.” “I know son. All of us are under a lot of stress, but you have to remember that Kellie is a child, and she doesn’t understand the harsh realities of sickness and death. I try to keep it in the simplest terms for her, and I don’t want you upsetting her. I want you to come to me when you feel this way. It’s not going to be easy seeing your mother every day the way she is now. We don’t know how long she will be like this, and I don’t want her in a nursing facility because they won’t take care of mom as well as I will. It’s that simple Joey. Your mother needs me. In sickness and in health means something to me, Joey. Go into the house, splash some cold water on your face, and lay down for a few minutes. You can talk to Kellie when she wakes up from her nap.” “Okay. I need a few minutes to calm down. I love you Dad, and I’m sorry if I upset you.” “I love you too, Joey. Nothing you could ever say or do will change how much I love you.” ***** If I were a drinking man, I’d drink myself into oblivion. Unfortunately for me, two or three beers is all I can handle, so it is with great relief when I see my dad walking towards me with two beers in hand. I gratefully accept the cold bottle and sigh with relief as I down half the bottle in one gulp. “How’s Joey. He looked pretty shook up when he came into the kitchen. Your mother told me what happened with Kellie.” I sigh and rub my temples. “Joey is a mess Dad. I don’t know how to help him, other than to let him vent when necessary. I never in a million years thought my children would have to face life and death situations at their young age. It kills me knowing I cannot shield them from all of this. It will only get worse when we bring Diane home tomorrow. Am I making the right decision, or should I place her in a nursing facility? Am I acting selfishly at the expense of my kids?” “What other choice do you have? It would be just as difficult having the kids see their mother in a facility with so many other sick people. At least with Diane at home, the atmosphere is more settling for them. Don’t start the ‘what if’ game, Ethan. You are making all of the correct decisions for our girl. Follow your heart son, and you will never have to worry if your decision is right or wrong.” “Thanks, Dad. I am so tired. I feel like I could sleep for a year.” “Why don’t you go over to that very comfortable hammock and take a short nap. I’ll check on the kids, and I’ll wake you in an hour or two. I’m ordering take-out from Lombardo’s for dinner.” “That sound so good. I could use a nap.” ***** I feel like I can’t breathe, and when I open my eyes, Kellie is lying on my chest. “Hi, Daddy, did I wake you up?” “You did, sweetheart. You’re so heavy. I can’t breathe. Lie next to me before I faint.” “You’re silly Daddy. I’m not heavy.” I lift my arm to accommodate my daughter’s little body next to mine. “Are you feeling better baby?” “Yeah, I’m sorry I threw up on your shoes.” “It’s okay honey. It’s happened before; it’s nothing to worry about.” “Is Joey still mad at me?” “He’s not mad at you Kellie. Joey is upset about Mom and said something stupid. We’ll talk to him when he wakes up.” “Oh, okay. I don’t like it when Joey screams at me. Why does he do that?” “Joey’s not screaming at you, honey. He just talks loud.” “Yeah, like my math teacher. Mr. Randall is always talking loud, and sometimes he spits. It’s so gross Daddy. All the kids laugh at him.” “It’s not nice to laugh at someone Kellie. You wouldn’t like it if someone laughed at you, would you?” “I would get mad if someone laughed at me. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” “It’s not nice to make fun of someone.” “I know. I’m sorry.” “Are you hungry sweetheart. Granny and Gramps want to get take-out from Lombardo’s for dinner.” “Oh, can I have spaghetti?” “You can have whatever you want.” “Do we have to share the spaghetti with Joey?” “Yes, we do.” “Hey, I heard that squirt. You know I like spaghetti!” I look over to see Joey walking towards us. He looks more relaxed than he did a few hours ago. Joey opens his arms, and Kellie jumps off the hammock and runs to him. He picks Kellie up and holds her close to him. Kellie is happy to have his attention and wraps her arms around his neck. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to yell at you. I said some bad things to you, and I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Do you forgive me?” “You scared me, and I got sick. Why don’t you like me?” “I love you, Kellie, and sometimes I act stupid.” “That’s okay; I act stupid too.” The heart of my beautiful child is so forgiving, and I can see Joey visibly relax. I think he will always remember this day, and hopefully, he will be more involved in his sister’s life. We enjoy a relaxing dinner and are in the van by eight in the evening. The kids are in a carbohydrate coma and are asleep as soon as we hit the road. I’ll admit that I’m also a little tired, and the motion of the car lulls me to sleep. Chapter Twenty-Five Ethan The family room is now a hospital room, complete with a hospital bed, and all of the equipment needed for nasogastric intubation. I also have a full-time nurse who will help with her bathing and feeding schedule, and another full-time nurse to attend to her physical therapy. I feel sorry for my son because he graduates from high school on Friday. This should be a happy time for our family. It’s not, and there is nothing that I can do to convince him to attend the graduation ceremony. “I can’t do it, Dad. I can’t sit there and pretend that I’m happy when I’m dying inside. I don’t care about a goddamn diploma, not when Mom is so sick. I just want to be here with her.” I understand my son’s concern, and I don’t want to pile more shit on his shoulders, so I drop the subject. I just pray that this does not derail his plans for college. I’m almost afraid to ask him about it. Diane’s first night at home is very tense. I had an extra bed delivered, and I’m sleeping in the room with her. I am so afraid to leave her alone, not even for a few minutes. My parents are helping me, and we have agreed to rotate sitting with her in four-hour shifts. I can’t physically be with her twenty-four-seven. If something happens to me, who will take care of her? The room is eerily quiet, and it is impossible for me to sleep. I am once again reminded of the gravity of my wife’s illness because the familiar sounds of clicking and beeping are all around me. I walk over to my wife’s bed, and I just want to cry. Diane is asleep now, which is the only time that I feel comfortable being close to her. “What has happened to you, my love? What made you so terrified that you withdrew into yourself? Why did you leave the house? Why didn’t you call me? I would have helped you through this Diane. Why, a thousand times, why? What are you thinking about? Can you hear me when I speak to you? Can you feel the children when they touch your hand or kiss your cheek? Do you have any idea how devastated they are to see you like this? I feel helpless Diane. Only you have the power to come back to us. Don’t lock yourself away in your private prison. Come back to us my darling. We love you so much. I love you with all that I am. I don’t know how to reach you. How do I reach you?” Diane I hear a beautiful voice speaking to me, but I don’t have the will to listen. He is asking what happened to me? He wants me to come back to him, but I can’t. I don’t want to face the world again. It’s too painful. The angry man hurt me, and I am afraid to go back. I am surrounded by darkness. It pulls me deeper and deeper away from the light. This is where I feel safe. My body feels weightless. I can’t feel anything. I can’t see anything I can finally let go of everything and just…drift away. I am sorry I don’t have the strength to fight for my life. I really am…defective! Ethan The months that follow are without question, the darkest days of our lives. Kellie and Joey refuse to leave the house. One morning, in particular, tore me up inside. It was early in the morning, and I was half asleep when I heard Kellie come into the room. She was holding the teddy bear that she gave to Diane when she came home from the hospital. Kellie climbed up onto the bed and curled into her mother. She took the teddy bear and placed it on Diane’s chest. Kellie whispered, “I brought George, so you won’t be lonely. Can you hear me, Mommy? It’s me, Kellie. Me and Joey miss you, Mommy. Can you come back to us? I’ll stay with you until you open your eyes.” Kellie laid her little head on Diane’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “I’m kinda mad at you Mommy. You said you would always be my Mom. Do you remember saying that? If you don’t, that’s okay; I’ll keep reminding you.” My sweet daughter closed her eyes and fell asleep next to her mother. Can you hear what she said Diane? Can you feel us all around you? Can you feel the love that we have for you? I hope you can because I’ll tell you every day how much I love you. I lift Kellie into my arms and take her back to her bed. I don’t want my daughter living in this room, this sick room with all of the machines around her. I don’t want this vision of her mother stuck in her head. When I return to her room, I debate with myself whether I should lay next to her in bed. It’s been a long time since I felt her body against mine. I’m a selfish bastard. I want this connection. I have to believe that she can hear and feel us near her. I take off my tee shirt and climb into bed next to her. She is lying on her back, and I gently lift her head and slide my arm under her neck, slowly pulling her closer to me. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I am. I spend the next few hours talking to her, hoping that she understands me. “Hi honey, it’s Ethan. I’m right here with you baby. I’ll never leave you. Please come back to me, Diane. The children and I miss you so much. Do you remember our day at the beach? We had fun, didn’t we? You should have seen your face when you got on the bike. I love seeing you happy Diane. I want you to be happy. Where are you, sweetheart? Can you hear me?” Diane Someone is talking to me again. I recognize the voice. It’s Ethan! Oh God, where am I? I can feel him touching my arm. His body feels warm next to mine. I remember the beach. We had fun that day. I remember riding a bicycle and eating hot dogs on the beach. Then, we went home for my birthday party. Oh, I remember the argument. I can’t focus my thoughts. The darkness is dragging me down, taking me to a place far from Ethan. And then I remember what happened to me. Those men tried to hurt me! They hit me! I was so afraid. My head hurts again. I can’t focus. The darkness claims me once again. I am…dying. Ethan It’s now the middle of August and my son is having second thoughts about college. “Joey, there has been no change in your mother’s condition since June. How long do you expect to stay in this house? You have a life to live son. Your mom would hate knowing you’ve put your college education on hold because of what happened to her. You will lose your scholarship if you don’t show up. Is this what you want?” “I feel guilty leaving, Dad. What if something happens to her and I’m a thousand miles away. How can I concentrate when all I do is worry about her?” I grab my son’s arms and shake him. “Listen to me. Besides me, Granny and Gramps, I have two full-time nurses practically living in this house. Your mother is never left alone. If it makes you feel better, we can Skype every night. I don’t want you to miss this opportunity, Joey. You won’t get a second chance at a full scholarship. Think about it. You still have two weeks before you need to register.” “Ok, I will, but I do not promise anything.” “Fair enough, the final decision is yours, and I will support whatever decision you make.” “Thanks. I love you, Dad. I know I don’t say it enough.” “I know son. I love you too.” Later that night, I hear Joey come into the room. The room is semi-dark, and I pretend to be asleep. I want to give my son the opportunity to sit with his mother. I can see him clearly, and it breaks my heart when he reaches out and kisses his mom’s hand. He’s holding her hand against his cheek. God, this is killing me. “Hi Mom, it's Joey, I don’t know what to do Mom. I have a scholarship, but I don’t want to leave you. How can I leave you like this? Dad will be disappointed if I don’t go to college. I wish you could talk to me. Can you hear me? I hope you can, Mom, because I love you, and miss my best friend. I’ve worked so hard to get into this college, and if I don’t show up, I’ll never get a second chance. I must go. I have no other choice. I hate this Mom. I hate what’s happened to you. I hate the people who hurt you. You don’t deserve any of this.” I watch my son lean in and kiss his mother gently on the lips. My gut is rolling, and it’s all I can do to keep myself from vomiting. I take a few deep breaths as I watch my son leave the room. Hot tears flood my eyes as I look over at Diane. She hasn’t moved the entire time Joey talked to her. Did she hear him? I pray that she did. I want her to know that we love her. One week later, my son is on his way to college. My father went with him. I will never forget how I felt when I saw the car pull out of the driveway. This should be a happy day for my family. Having your first-born take the leap into college should be an exciting time in our lives. I see no sign of happiness in his eyes. I see sadness and resignation. He cannot control any of this, and frankly, I want him to live his life and enjoy his first year in college. I will miss my son terribly, but I also know that it’s time for him to spread his wings and fly. Diane I have spent so much time in the darkness, and I want to go home, but where is home? I hear people talking to me. I feel people touching me. It feels nice whatever they are doing to me. I miss Ethan. I miss him so much. I don’t know how to break free from the darkness. I want to leave this place, but how do I do that? I’m afraid I will die if I stay here much longer. The darkness no longer comforts me. It’s a cold place, and I feel like I’m all alone in this dark place. I want to live. I want to know my family. I felt Kellie put George on my chest. She is such a sweet child. I’m sorry what happened to me hurts Kellie and Joey. I don’t want them hurting because of me. Please, please help me leave the darkness. I want to see their beautiful faces. I want to tell Ethan that I heard every word he has said to me. Chapter Twenty-Six Ethan Mid October The day started like every other day. Patti arrived at our house around eight in the morning and at once went to work. The other nurse, Linda, came ten minutes later. While Patti worked on massaging Diane’s arms and legs, Linda filled the basin with warm water. Therapy and a sponge bath are the morning rituals, followed by changing the intubation tube and replacing the nutrition bag. As they were going about their individual tasks, they started talking about Linda’s upcoming wedding. Linda’s fiancé wants an all chocolate cake, while Linda wants something more traditional. While they are talking, I left the room to get a cup of coffee. I am sitting in the kitchen drinking my coffee when Linda runs into the kitchen. “Patti needs to see you right away. Something’s happened with Diane.” My heart leaped in my chest as a thousand different scenarios run through my head. I am almost afraid to walk into the room. When I do, Patti motioned for me to stand next to her. She whispered to me, “Diane made a sound deep in her throat and moved her wrist. We were talking about Linda’s upcoming wedding, and how she and her fiancé are arguing about what kind of cake they want for the reception.” I don’t think I will ever be able to explain adequately how I feel at this moment. Months of praying, of watching my beautiful wife waste away before my eyes is something that I never imagined I would live through. I’m afraid to be optimistic. I’m afraid to wish for something that may never happen. As Patti continues Diane’s therapy, she made a sound deep in her throat once again and smiled. All three of us took a step closer, and when I touched Diane’s hand, she smiled again. I leaned in and whispered to Linda, “Keep talking about the wedding. Diane hears you.” Patti picks up the conversation. “So, what did you decide on the cake? Are the two of you still arguing about it?” “Yeah, we still can’t decide. I’m thinking about having two different cakes because Josh will not cave. He want’s chocolate, and unless I beat the crap out of him, he won’t give up his chocolate. I think he’s addicted to it.” I should laugh because Diane and I had a similar conversation before our wedding. I told them so. “I remember a similar argument with Diane before we were married. I wanted a vanilla cake with buttercream icing, and Diane wanted a marble cake with chocolate frosting. We argued for I don’t know how long. Neither of us wanted the other cake, and at some point, I threw up my hands and said that she could have whatever she liked. I just wanted to marry her. I didn’t give a damn about the cake.” Both women laughed. “What was the final decision?” “I had no clue what type of cake she ordered for the reception. My jaw hit the floor when it was time to cut the cake. She had the baker make two halves of one cake, vanilla with buttercream on one side, and marble with chocolate on the other. Remind me to show you the pictures.” There it is again. Diane smiled and briefly opened her eyes, and everyone saw it. I had to lean against the doorjamb to keep from falling on my ass. “I don’t believe it! I need to call Craig Jenkins!” Within an hour, Craig was in the house. While I was waiting for him to finish the examination, I called my parents. The three of us paced the confines of my home for what felt like an eternity. Finally, I see Craig coming out of the room. He has a smile on his face, and I am almost afraid to ask him anything. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I feel like I’ve swallowed a handful of sand. Once again, my dad bails me out. “Well, what’s going on, Craig?” “I have good news. Diane is showing signs of awareness. She reacted to several different stimuli, but she had a significant reaction when the nurse gave me a teddy bear that Kellie gave to her mother. I placed it on Diane’s chest, and she smiled. Not only did she smile, but she also moved a few fingers and part of her arm. It is crucial that you continue to surround Diane with sounds and stimuli. Carry her out into the living room. Keep her engaged as much as possible. Something is happening to her, and I feel she may soon come out of it. I don’t want to get your hopes up because I have no way of determining Diane’s mental capacity once she is awake. We need to take this one step at a time, but this is a good sign.” It is more than a good sign. Today is the first time in over four months that Diane has shown any movement, and we are beyond excited. I had another hospital bed delivered and set up in the corner of the living room. Later that night, I skyped Joey and saw him burst out in tears. I wish I could hold him in my arms. “Oh, Dad, that’s great news. I wish I could be there to see this.” “You’ll be home in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. I can’t wait to see you, son.” “Me too, I miss everyone.” “Stay focused Joey. Your grades are excellent.” “Um, Dad, can I talk to you about something?” “You know you can. What is it?” “I want to switch my major to pre-med.” I am stunned to hear him say this to me. Joey has never expressed an interest in medical school. “Wow, I’m a little shocked to hear this, son. What made you change your mind?” “Honestly, it is seeing what Mom has gone through this year. I talked to my counselor and explained everything to him. I have researched a few specialized fields, and I picked Neuroscience.” “Wow, again Joey. You’ve made me happy, and I am so proud of you. If there is anything that I can do to help you, please ask. I know Uncle Jerry, and your grandparents will be happy to help you study. This is so exciting. There will be three generations of doctors in the Miller family. Your Grandparents will go nuts when they hear this.” “I have more good news.” Laughing, I say, “I don’t know how much more I can take for one day. Lay it on me!” “My counselor suggested I transfer to Temple.” “Are you kidding me? Are you moving back home? Please, don’t bullshit me!” “I’m serious. When I come home for Thanksgiving, I’m home for good.” “Thank you, Jesus, I’ve missed you.” “I miss you too, Dad.” Chapter Twenty-Seven Ethan The following night, and every night for the next three weeks, I carry Diane into the living room after the family ate dinner. It’s not easy with all the machines, but I manage with my parent’s help. Mom and Dad have been so supportive these past few months. My mother has grown closer to Diane if that’s even possible. I watch my mom as she interacts with my wife. My mom is a very touchy-feely person, and it brings me to tears watching her gently touch Diane’s face, and hold her hand. All of us sit near her bed and tell stories to her. We talk about the fun we had as a family. I read a few pages from the book she was reading before the accident, and Kellie goes on and on about what happened in her life that day. My dad picks the movie, and we all enjoy a movie night. I sit close to Diane’s bed and tell her about the film we are watching. I look at her intently as I speak to her, and I see signs of REM, which is something that I have not seen in the months since she came home to us. Something is happening, and while I try to be patient, the stress is getting to me. I miss my wife, miss my son, and miss working at the hospital, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I am so tired of being tired. We are now at the end of week three of our nightly ritual. My father picks a ridiculous movie to watch tonight. I have no desire to look at it, and I rest my head on the mattress. I could use a power nap. I must have fallen asleep because I am dreaming that Diane is running her fingers through my hair. Diane My memory returns to me like a flash of light. The operation, our day at the beach, the birthday party, and…. what happened in the park? I am happy, and then I realize I still do not have my memories before the accident. The pain in my head is intense, and then I see nothing but another flash of light. And then I feel it. I feel the darkness leave me. It is a wonderful feeling. I see Ethan standing before me, and he looks so handsome. I want to touch him. I want to run my fingers through Ethan’s hair. My hand is in Ethan’s hair. I can feel his hair! Is this a dream? Where am I? Where is he? Where is Ethan? Where are the children? Ethan I don’t want to wake up from this beautiful dream. I miss Diane touching me. Something wakes me from my sleep, and when I open my eyes, Diane is running her fingers through my hair. I’m afraid to move. I am so wound up right now because I know I’m awake. Diane is touching me. I reach up to touch her hand, and she doesn’t pull away from me. She keeps running her fingers through my hair. When I raise my head to look at her, Diane’s eyes are closed, but her face looks different. I can’t pinpoint what the difference is; I only know I see a change in her. I am trying to get my father’s attention, but the stupid fucking movie is so goddamn loud, a bomb could drop, and no one would hear it. I pick up the book that I was reading and throw it across the room. It hits my mother’s leg, and when she looks over at me with a questioning expression on her face, I signal for her to come over to the bed. When she does, the look on her face is priceless. Diane’s hand hasn’t stopped touching me for the last five minutes. Then it happens; Diane opens her eyes. When she sees me, a single tear runs down the side of her face. I whisper to my mother, “Get Kellie out of the room. I don’t want her to see this in the event we have a problem. Tell Dad to call for an ambulance. I need to get Diane to the hospital as soon as possible.” My mother walks over to my father and whispers in his ear. He looks over at me with a stunned expression on his face, nods, and leaves the room. My mother then walks over to Kellie. “Ok, young lady, it’s time to go to bed. You are up way past your bedtime.” “Do I have to Granny?” “Yes, you do, sweetheart. Granny and Gramps are a little tired, and we want to go to bed. You can finish watching the movie tomorrow. Go on now, run upstairs, brush your teeth, and put on your pajamas. I’ll be up in a few minutes to tuck you in.” “Okay, Granny, but I protest. It’s summertime. I should be allowed to stay up as late as I want.” “Well, listen to you! Don’t make me tell you again.” “Okay…okay…I’m going.” ***** Once Kellie is out of the room, I stand and sit next to Diane. Her eyes are wide and focused on my face. I lean in and whisper to her, “Welcome back sweetheart. I’ve missed you.” Diane tries to speak, but the nasogastric tube is irritating her throat. I try to soothe her. “It’s ok sweetheart. I’ll remove the tube now. Close your eyes, honey.” I don’t want her watching me remove the tube. My mother stands next to the bed and holds her hand. Diane gags a few times as I remove the tube. “Does that feel better honey?” Diane nods her head yes. “Do you know who I am, Diane?” Another nod yes, this is good. “Do you know where you are?” I raise the bed, which makes it easier for Diane to see the room. Her eyes focus on the pictures of our children. She raises her hand and points to them. I walk over to the wall and remove the picture of them taken last Christmas. When I give it to Diane, she clutches the picture to her heart. Oh, God, does she remember us? I’m so afraid to ask her, and it takes all my strength to keep my mouth shut. Off in the distance, I hear the sirens. While I wait, I call Craig. He answers on the second ring. “Is everything okay, Ethan?” “Diane is awake. I’ve called for an ambulance, and we should be at the hospital in less than 30 minutes. Can you meet us in the emergency room?” “I’m still at the hospital, and I’ll meet you at the emergency entrance.” ***** Thirty minutes later, Diane is in an exam room. She hasn’t let go of my hand the entire time we were in the ambulance. Diane is frightened; I can see it in her eyes. She is still holding the picture of our children. Her mouth is moving. She’s trying to say something, but her throat is raw from the nasogastric tube. Sensing her fear, I climb onto the bed and hold her in my arms. When Diane curls her body against mine, I feel like I’ve awakened from a nightmare. Whatever happens in the future, my wife feels safe with me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted since this nightmare began. I no longer care if she regains her memory. I just want to hold my wife in my arms and feel her respond to me. Craig is surprised to see us in bed together. He smiles and asks me to leave the room. This time, I’m not in a state of panic as I wait for him to complete his examination. My father and brother are in the waiting room with me. “Is Mom with Kellie?” “Yes,” my father said. “Kellie is sound asleep, and we thought it would be best to let her sleep. How is Diane?” “She is awake, and Craig is with her now. She let me hold her, Dad.” Just saying the words breaks me. I sink into the chair and cry like a goddamn baby. I don’t care who sees me crying. The relief that I feel is immense. I know I can handle anything as long as Diane is conscious. My brother sits next to me and drapes his arm around my shoulder. The three of us sit in silence and wait. All I seem to do lately is wait. Wait for a response. Wait for movement. Wait for my son to come home. Wait…Wait…Wait. I am not known for having patience, but the past six months have tested me to the point of madness. I have never felt as emotionally and physically drained as I am now. Months of sleepless nights combined with constant worry have changed me. I now see age lines around my eyes and gray around the temples. I’ve gained a few pounds because I am unable to jog or go to the gym. My constant fear of leaving Diane alone has caught up to me. Her health and wellbeing are foremost in my mind. As I wait for Craig to finish his examination, I pray to a higher power to help my wife. The thought of her having a permanent disability is incomprehensible. My mind refuses to go there. Chapter Twenty-Eight Diane I am so confused. Why am I in the hospital again? It takes me a few minutes to realize that I’ve been sick again. A doctor is asking me questions, but I can’t focus on what he is saying. It takes all my concentration to listen to him. What is wrong with me? “Diane, my name is Craig Jenkins. Can you understand me? Nod your head if you understand me.” Why is he asking me to nod my head? I do as he asks, and he smiles at me. “That’s good Diane. Do you know where you are?” Of course, I know where I am. I’m in a hospital. What’s wrong with my voice? I nod yes again. While he is speaking to me, a nurse is sticking me with a needle. Why do they always have to stick me with a needle? A flash of memory hits me suddenly. I’ve done this before. I look down at my arm, and I don’t see a cast. It’s all coming back to me, and my head is throbbing. I had an operation. I had a broken leg, arm, and ribs. I had problems with my memory. They cut off my hair. I bang my hand on the table to get the doctor’s attention. I move my hand along the table to simulate writing. He gets what I am trying to say and gives me a piece of paper and a pen. I write, “Where is Ethan? I need him, now.” I hand the paper to him, and he asks the nurse to get Ethan for me. While I wait for him, I make a decision that will change my life as I know it now. I move my rings to my left hand. I don’t want to be alone in this world. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but today, I am going home to my family. Ethan I am so lost in thought; I do not see the nurse standing in front of me. “Dr. Miller, your wife is asking to see you.” I am stunned. “Diane is asking for me?” I ask like a fucking idiot. “Yes. Come with me please.” I look at my dad, and he is smiling at me. “Go. We’ll wait here for you.” My legs feel like rubber as I follow the nurse. When I walk into the room, Craig hands me a piece of paper. What I see has me falling to my knees. Gut wrenching sobs escape me. I can’t help how I feel at this moment. I hold the piece of paper to my chest. I want to keep it forever because these words will stay with me for the rest of my life. The note said, “I remember everything after the accident. I need you, Ethan. Please hold me. I’m afraid.” I don’t know how long I remain on the floor. I can’t move. My body feels frozen in time. My mind is racing. I hear movement in the room, and then I feel Craig’s hand on my arm. He’s whispering to me. “Ethan, get up off the floor. Diane needs you.” Diane needs me. That’s all the motivation I need to stand. When I do, her beautiful face is smiling at me. “Everyone, out of the room,” I bark. I look up to see the nurses smiling as they leave the room. “You have ten minutes, Ethan. I’ll be back. We still need to run a few tests.” “Close the door on your way out, please.” Diane is looking at me, really looking at me. I see something different in her eyes. I see the recognition, and most importantly, I see the connection we have with each other. I sit next to her, open my arms, and hold the love of my life. I’m crying again, and it feels wonderful. “Oh, Diane, I’ve missed you so much. How do you feel, honey? Is your throat sore?” Diane nods her head yes, and reaches for the notepad. “I remember what you said after the operation. I died, Ethan. Then…. then what happened in the park. I was so upset after the argument with Barbara. She said awful things to me. She upset me, and I don’t know why I left the house.” “Those men, they would have raped me if I hadn’t fainted. My head felt like it would explode, and then everything went dark. I lost the will to live, Ethan. I wanted to die. I never wanted to feel that pain again. I didn’t want to leave all of you, but I just could not face another day without my memories.” “I heard everything that went on around me. I heard you reading to me. I heard Kellie and Joey talking to me. I felt Kellie lying next to me and placing George on my chest. Where are they, Ethan? I need to see them.” “Joey will be home tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Mom is at home with Kellie.” “How long have I been sick? Don’t cover it up, Ethan. Tell me the truth.” “It’s been almost five months Diane. The incident at the park happened on your birthday. Your parents arrived uninvited to the party we had at my parent’s house. There was an argument, and my dad asked them to leave.” “I remember. Bill punched you in the face. I’m sorry that happened to you, Ethan. Why do they do this to me?” My anger is simmering close to the surface. “I don’t know why your parents act the way they do. Let’s not talk about them. How do you feel sweetheart?” “I feel a little confused, and I’m having a little trouble concentrating. Is that normal?” “Yes. It’s a normal reaction. You’ve been through a lot the past six plus months. It’s going to take a little time to sort through everything. Physically, how do you feel?” “My throat feels like it's on fire, and I feel weak like my legs are tired.” “Don’t worry about anything. Craig is an excellent doctor, and he will take good care of you.” “I’m not worried as long as I have you. Ethan, please kiss me.” I have waited so long to hear those words from my beautiful wife. My hands gently caress Diane’s face, as I’ve done thousands of times over the years. This time, it feels different. It feels like I am touching her for the first time. Her eyes fill with tears, and I lean in and kiss them away. “No more tears, baby. You’ve come back to me, and I love you with every fiber of my being.” When my lips touch hers, I feel like I’ve come home from a long journey. I close my eyes and lose myself in a moment that I will never forget. Diane’s fingers run through my hair, and when I reach up to touch her hand, I freeze and break the kiss. I look at her with eyes that burn with love. “Are you sure?” I whisper against her lips. “I remember what you said to me. You said that when I felt I was ready to come home, I should move my rings to my left hand. At the time, I was so worried that I would never remember our life together. I was just starting to have hope that we would eventually resume our life together, even if I never regained my memories. Please take me home, Ethan.” ***** Three hours later, Diane signs the discharge papers. Craig gives me a therapy plan with recommendations for speech therapy along with a psychological workup. The next few weeks will be difficult for her, but I vow I will never leave her side. The months of lying in a catatonic state have taken its toll on her body. While her esophagus is functioning normally, lack of use now requires a blended diet while we work on speech therapy, along with physical therapy. My father and brother are still waiting for me, and when I wheel Diane into the hallway, my dad kneels in front of Diane and holds her in his arms. It unnerves me to see my dad cry because it's something that I’ve only seen once in my life, and that was when my Grandmother passed away. Seeing my dad cry for my wife is a humbling feeling. “The heart never forgets, sweetheart. Welcome home honey, we have missed you terribly. Let’s get out of here.” Diane picks up the notepad. “Yeah, I never want to see another hospital for as long as I live.” Chapter Twenty-Nine Ethan The lights are still on in the house when I park the car, and as I lift Diane out of the car and into the wheelchair, the front door opens, and my mother runs down the driveway. She stops in front of Diane and burst out crying. “Oh, Diane honey, I have missed you so much. I am so happy you are finally home with us. How do you feel sweetheart?” I look down, and my wife’s face is a mixture of happiness, trepidation, and fear. This must be an awful shock for Diane. To realize you’ve lost months of your life, months that you’ll never get back is unnerving, to say the least. Diane is struggling to answer my mother’s question. “Mom, Diane’s throat is sore from the nasogastric tube, and she’s having difficulty speaking. Give her a minute to write her response. It will take a few days for her throat to recover.” Diane looks up and smiles at me. Picking up the notepad, she writes, “I feel tired and a little confused. All I want to do now is go to sleep. Can we talk more in the morning, please?” My mother leans down and kisses Diane’s forehead. “Whatever you want sweetheart, I’m just happy you are home. Kellie is sleeping, and I’ll stay the night, just in case the two of you need anything. Jerry told me that he would pick up Joey at the train station tomorrow morning. Oh, he is going to be so happy to see you, Diane. We’ve missed you so much.” Just mentioning Kellie and Joey have my wife smiling, and it’s that moment in time that I know that eventually, everything will be as it should be. Patience is a virtue, and I will need it because I know at some point in the next few days, or maybe weeks, PTSD will set in, and Diane will need me. I lean down to whisper to my wife, “Let’s get you in the house and into a comfortable bed. We can discuss all of this later today.” Once I wheel Diane into the house, I stop for a few seconds as my eyes scan the living room. We have lived in this house for close to fifteen years, and I can say in all honesty that I have never appreciated my home more than I do now. It is comforting to me and filled with precious memories that I will carry with me until I take my final breath. Just knowing that Diane is finally home, and she is once again in the comfort of our home means everything to me. The hospital room is still set up, and at this hour of the morning, it’s easier for her to sleep there, but I don’t want my wife to see all the medical equipment. I don’t want Diane to know, at this point anyway, how serious her condition was. Instead, I lift her into my arms and carry her up to our bedroom. I want to hold my wife in my arms. It’s all I’ve thought about for many months. When I kick open the bedroom door, I hear Diane whimper against my neck. She is crying, and I can understand why. This day is so emotional for the both of us, Diane especially. I know she has many questions to ask me, and I will tell her the truth. However, tonight I just want to hold her in my arms and close my eyes. I gently place her on top of the bed and shut the door. She is still wearing the hospital gown, and I want to take the fucking thing off her and burn it. I never want to see her wear it again. I walk into the bathroom and fill the tub with warm water. I want my girl to feel good again, and a bubble bath is just what she needs. When I return to our bedroom, I lift Diane into my arms and walk towards the bathroom. Her eyes dart back and forth. She is taking in her surroundings and looks up to me as we approach the bathroom. I whisper in her ear, “My girl needs a warm bubble bath and a beautiful nightgown. Let me take care of you, honey. Just close your eyes and relax, sweetheart.” The smile that lights up my wife’s face blind me. I’ve missed Diane’s smile, and I am so grateful to see it again. Once the water is warm enough, I remove the offending gown and throw it in the trashcan. I lift Diane into my arms and gently place her in the tub. “I know you don’t remember this Diane, but over the years, we’ve taken many baths together. I don’t want you sitting in the tub by yourself. You are still weak, and it’s not safe for you. If you feel funny about this, I’ll keep my boxers on. I just want to hold you in my arms.” Diane nods her acceptance, and I let out a sigh of relief. She watches me as I undress, and I see a faint spark of lust in her eyes. I feel my cock twitch, and I must tamp down the urge to stroke it. Tonight is all about Diane. I sit behind Diane and wrap my arms around her body. When she leans back and rests her head against my chest, my heart feels like it is about to burst from my chest. I reach for the washcloth and begin bathing Diane. She moans in pure joy as the water sloshes around her body. It’s been a long time since she has had a proper bath, and I am beyond happy doing this simple task for her. “How does this feel, sweetheart? Nod your head yes if you like it.” Her head goes up and down several times, and when she turns her head to look at me, she kisses my cheek. I play with her. “What? I only deserve one kiss on the cheek. You can do better than that, Diane.” I turn her around a little, put one hand on her face, and place a light kiss on her lips. To my surprise, Diane reacts to my kiss. Her hand comes up, and I feel her nails dig into my arm. Several seconds later, we break the kiss. Diane’s face is flushed pink, and her eyes sparkle with tears. “I know baby. We’ll talk about all of it when your throat heals. For now, let's finish bathing, and get you into our bed, where I will hold you until sunrise.” And that’s just what I did. I lay awake all night holding my wife in my arms until I hear the familiar sound of Kellie banging on the bedroom door. “What is it, Kellie?” “Why are you sleeping up here Daddy? I went into the room, and Mommy’s not there. I’m scared, Daddy. Where is Mommy?” Diane is now awake and hears Kellie crying on the other side of the door. I whisper to her, “Are you ready to see Kellie?” “Yes,” she said, somewhat hoarsely. Thank God, her voice is coming back to her. “Kellie, give me a minute, and I’ll explain. Go downstairs and ask Granny and Gramps to come up with you. I promise everything is ok.” “Are you sure, Daddy?” “I’m sure, sweetheart.” “Okay, I’ll be back in three minutes. Don’t make me wait for you.” “Don’t worry sweetheart; I won’t make you wait too long.” I hear her footsteps run down the hallway, and I know she will be back at my door in three minutes. “Our little girl is going to be a handful when she hits the teenage years. She is telling me not to make her wait. She is so precious to me, Diane. She is your mini-me. I cannot wait to see her face when she sees you. How does your throat feel this morning?” Diane coughs a few times to clear her throat. I jump out of bed and get her a glass of water. “Take a few slow sips honey. Your throat hasn’t worked much for the past few months. Fill your mouth with water, that’s it baby, now lower your chin, and swallow. You must do this every time you drink or eat something.” “How does your throat feel now?” “Not as bad as last night, but it’s still a little scratchy. Help me sit up. I don’t want Kellie to be afraid to see me. How do I look?” My throat tightens as I answer her. “You look beautiful, my darling, absolutely beautiful.” Right on cue, Kellie is once again banging on our door. “Hold on a minute, will you. I’ll be right out.” “Come on Daddy, what’s going on? Where is Mommy?” I laugh and shake my head. “Just one time I would like our little munchkin to have a little patience.” I get out of bed, and when I open the door, Kellie sees her mother in bed. Mom and Dad stand behind her with tears in their eyes. Kellie screams and runs into the room. I grab her around the waist to stop her from propelling herself onto the bed. “Easy now Kellie, Diane is still feeling a little sick. Go easy on her baby. Slow down and walk over to the bed.” Kellie is trembling in my arms. She looks up at me and says, “Ok, I’ll be careful. Can I hug her?” “Yes, baby. I believe she is waiting for a hug from you.” When I look up at Diane, her arms are outstretched. “See, Mommy is waiting for you to give her a hug and a kiss.” I tap my daughter on the ass and propel her forward. She is hesitant at first and unsure of how to act. Diane breaks the tension in the room. “I have missed you, Kellie. Can you give me a hug?” For a second or two, Kellie stands in the middle of the room as the words sink in. Then she realizes what Diane had just said to her. In a high-pitched screeching voice, my baby girl screams “Mommy” and runs into her open arms. Diane’s face is a mixture of relief and happiness, as tears well in her eyes as she holds our baby girl in her arms. “Mommy, Mommy, I missed you. Did you miss me? Do you remember me?” “I missed you too Kellie. I still don’t have my memories, but it no longer matters to me. I just miss you.” “Oh, you don’t remember me when I was a baby?” “No sweetheart, I don’t, but you know what is more important to me?” “No, what’s more important, Mommy?” “What is more important is that I have a second chance to know you and Joey. I know I am your mother, and starting today, I want you to call me Mommy. I am going to live here with all of you, and we will make new memories. Would you like that Kellie?” The damn finally breaks, and it kills me seeing my daughter shatter, but her tears are happy tears. “Hush my sweet baby; it's okay baby. Mommy is going to be fine. No more tears sweetheart. I only want to see a smile on your beautiful face.” Kellie nods as she wipes the tears from her face. “I was scared, Mommy. I visited you every day. I let you sleep with George. Did you know that George kept you company when you were asleep?” “I did. When I woke up, George was next to me, and the first person I thought of was you.” “That’s good Mommy. I knew George would keep you company while you were sleeping. Does your head still hurt?” I also want to hear her answer. We have so much to discuss, but today is not the day. Joey will be home in a few hours, and I want all of us to have a Happy Thanksgiving Day. I am truly thankful to have my family with me, and whatever happens tomorrow, I feel stronger in my resolve to help my wife cope with what I expect will be good days, and not so good days. “My head still hurts a little, but it’s not too bad Kellie. I will need some time to get better, but I’ll be okay sweetie. Mommy will be okay, and then we can do something fun, just the two of us.” “Can we go to the mall and see a movie?” Kellie wipes the tears from her eyes. “Can we get ice cream too?” Diane laughs. “You can have whatever you want sweetheart.” Kellie looks at me and asks, “Can I have a dog?” My daughter always tries to manipulate me into getting what she wants. That will not work this time sweetheart. “Let’s discuss this again when Mom is better. I don’t want a dog running around the house while Mom is recovering. She may trip on the dog and get hurt.” “Oh, no, I don’t want that Daddy. I really don’t need a dog anyway.” I bend down to kiss my daughter. “We can discuss this in a few months. We need to give Mom a little time before Joey comes home. Why don’t you go downstairs and have breakfast? We’ll be down soon.” “Okay, Daddy. Bye Mommy!” My parents are still standing in the doorway, and my father bends down, scoops up Kellie, and hauled her over his shoulder. Kellie’s infectious laughter fills the room. I look over to see Diane crying again. I can only imagine how she is feeling now. My mom smiles at us and closes the door. Alone again, I climb back into bed and gather Diane in my arms. “That was emotional, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, Ethan, is this really happening?” “Yes, it is. I’ve waited for a long time, hoping you would come home. We need to take it one day at a time, Diane. There is no rush to do anything but enjoy each other’s company. I’ll sleep downstairs for the immediate future. I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything. I do have one request. I’d like to come up here at night and hold you in my arms until you fall asleep.” “I don’t want you sleeping in another bed. This is also your bedroom. I feel safe in your arms, Ethan. This is where you belong.” “You will always belong in my arms, Diane.” My throat is tight with emotion. I can’t help the tears that form in my eyes and run down my face. Months of stress flow out of me. When I turn my face from Diane, she stops me. “Don’t hide your emotions, Ethan. We must be honest with each other. It’s the only way for us to move forward.” “Yes, I know. It’s difficult for me. I’m not a person who cries. I can’t help it now. The frigging tears will not stop. I’m so relieved you are home with us, Diane. You have no idea how relieved I am.” “I think I know how you feel.” Changing the subject, she asks, “Where is Joey?” I look at the clock. It is eight in the morning. “Joey’s train arrives at eleven fifteen. Jerry is picking him up at the train station. I told him not to say anything. I want him to be surprised when he walks in the front door and sees you sitting in the living room.” “I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see Joey.” “You will be seeing much more of him because he’s transferred to Temple. On top of that, he also switched majors to Neuroscience. He wants to be a doctor. Can you believe that?” “What convinced him to take such a different career path? If I remember correctly, didn’t Joey want to be an Architect?” “It was you, honey. What you went through these past six months is the catalyst for Joey’s career path. He wants to help other patients who’ve had head injuries. He told me that seeing you fight to recover changed him. I am so proud of him, Diane. Joey has grown up so much these past few months. My father is beside himself with joy. All I hear is, ‘three generations of doctors in one family.’ He won’t shut up about it.” “We have so much to be thankful for, but I’m afraid. What happens next for me?” “I have the case file that Craig gave me last night when we left the hospital. The first order of business on the list is for you to have speech therapy. You haven’t eaten solid food in almost six months, and you need to strengthen the muscles in your larynx. I will call Dr. Marshall tomorrow and schedule an appointment.” “Second order on the list is physical therapy. Your muscles have atrophied over the past few months. I have two full-time nurses who will be thrilled to see you up and awake tomorrow morning. They’ve taken excellent care of you honey, and because of their loving care, your recovery time will be shortened considerably.” “What about my mental state? I imagine once I acclimate myself to the day-to-day routine, I’ll have flashbacks. It’s inevitable.” “That’s where I come in honey. No one knows more than I do what you have endured the past six months. When I tell you it was a living hell for me seeing you that way, I speak the truth. Let’s focus on the other two issues for the next week or two, and see how you feel. We are a team Diane and always have been. When you suffer, I also suffer. Remember the words honey, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. I told Joey months ago that those words mean something to me, and now that I have you in my arms again, they mean so much more.” “When I opened my eyes last night, it felt like I had slept for such a long time. Do you want to know what my first memory was?” “Yes, I would like to know.” “My first memory was when you took me to Atlantic City, and we rode our bicycles on the boardwalk. I was so happy that day because I felt something for you. It’s hard to explain really. It just felt right, you know? Does that make sense to you? Something inside of me knew you, even if the memories of you did not exist in my mind.” “I know what you mean, Diane. That was a tough day for me. We had so many happy memories there with the children. I thought of the many times we booked a hotel room to get away from them! Mom and Dad needed a little private time. I looked forward to the weekend because I knew I had you all to myself for a few precious hours.” “What was it like for you, Ethan? How did you cope with everything?” “Honestly? It was the worse form of torture I’ve ever experienced in my life. When you woke up from the surgery and looked at me as if I were a stranger, a part of me died. I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life without my best friend.” I have to clear my throat before I cry like a baby. “The nights were hell for me. I had to come into this bedroom and sleep without you next to me. I missed the way you crawled up my back at night while you slept. I couldn’t sleep, and no matter what I did, the memories of us together in this bed haunted me.” “The only time I actually slept was when Joey and Kellie slept with me. They suffered too Diane, more so than me. I fought hard to keep us from falling apart as a family. That’s why I decided to bring you home after what happened in the park. It helped our children to see you every day. It helped me knowing you are here with us, and I could see and touch you whenever I wanted to.” “I’ve been on medical leave of absence from the hospital since August. My primary concern is your health, and until I feel confident that you have recovered both physically and mentally, I’m not going back to work. We need this time honey. I’ll do whatever is necessary to help you.” Chapter Thirty Diane I am at a loss for words after hearing Ethan tell me how my family has suffered the past six months. It feels strange saying ‘my family’ but that’s who they are to me, and it’s time for me to live my life. When I think of what I have lost because someone carelessly got behind the wheel of his car drunk, I want to lash out and hurt him. It makes me even angrier to know my children suffered because of what happened to me. I lost precious time with my kids, time that I will never get back. I already see a change in Kellie. My daughter has grown a few inches since I’ve been sick. I wonder what Joey will look like when I see him later this morning. I cannot think about what I’ve lost because if my mind goes to that dark place, I will go insane. It also angers me that my parents acted so horribly not only towards me but also to Ethan and Jerry. I remember what Ethan told me about the surgery and their accusations. God, it scares me knowing I almost died during the operation. You take life for granted, and you just don’t realize that in the blink of an eye, your entire world could end. When I think about it, I want to cry. Today is not the day for sad memories. Today is a day for celebrating life. I don’t want to live with the dark memories. However, they flood my mind constantly since I woke up. I remember how it felt to be entrenched in total darkness, with no hope of light. Ethan’s voice breaks through the sadness. “What is on your mind sweetheart?” “What am I not thinking about? My mind is a whirlwind of memories, and most of them are not good ones. I know I will need some type of counseling, and I’ll do whatever it takes to live with these memories. I want you to come with me.” “I think we could both benefit from counseling. You see, I also have bad memories, and we can’t push them aside. We must face them to get past them. Now, let’s get you out of bed and dressed before Joey comes home. We should get some food into your stomach. Do you feel hungry?” “Yes, I’m starving, but how can I eat?” “I have that covered my darling. Mom went shopping early this morning and bought a ton of baby food. Also, I can make you a protein drink, but first I need to show you how to swallow while we wait for your first therapy appointment. It’s simple really. Because the esophagus branches off in three different directions, we must be careful that you do not aspirate liquids. Therefore, when you have something in your mouth as I showed you earlier, lower your head until your chin touches your chest, then swallow. This way, the liquid goes up over the larynx, and into your stomach, rather than your lungs. We’ll work on this honey. Don’t worry about anything. I’ll be with you for all meals. I also have a box of Thicken that Craig gave me. You need liquids, and this will add bulk to whatever you drink, which will also help you to not aspirate.” “This is a lot to take in Ethan. I’m a little scared.” “Don’t be honey. You have me, and I’ll take care of you.” “What would I do without you? I’m a mess.” I laugh at her description, “Well, yes, you are, but you’re my mess, and I love you madly.” “Oh Ethan, I don’t know what I would do without you. I hope one day to return those words to you.” “I know baby. You are the other half of my heart. I am nothing without you, and I will wait for however long it takes for you to say those words to me.” “Stop before you make me cry. There has been enough crying in this house to last a lifetime. I want today to be a happy day.” “I can almost guarantee more crying when Joey gets home in a few hours.” “Well then, I need to look good for my son. Help me get dressed, and ask Catherine to come up and help me with my makeup. I don’t want to look sick when Joey gets home.” Thirty minutes later, Diane is dressed in a comfortable pair of sweats and a loose-fitting sweatshirt. “Sit tight, and I’ll get Mom for you. And, by the way, you look beautiful, with or without makeup.” Ethan The house smells fantastic with the scent of turkey cooking in the oven. I feel sorry that Diane will not be able to share dinner with us, but it’s not about the food, it’s about the people who share this day with you. I sneak up on my mom and plant a kiss on her neck. She screeches and almost hits me with a spatula. “What the hell are you doing sneaking up on an old woman? Do you want to give me a freaking heart attack?” “No Mom, sorry if I scared you. Do you have a few minutes to help Diane? She wants to put on some makeup for Joey. She wants to look good for him.” My mom’s eyes fill with tears. God, I wish everyone would stop crying. My heart can’t take it much longer. “Please Mom, no more tears. We must put this behind us. I know it will be difficult, but I want us to have a positive vibe around Diane. She’s already apprehensive. Can you do that for me, and for Diane?” “Of course I can. I’m just so happy to have Diane home again. I can’t promise I won’t cry today, but I’ll put a cork in it if it makes Diane feel less nervous.” “She needs some time to relax and absorb everything. We are in for a few tough months, as she comes to grips with what happened to her. I want you and Dad to keep an eye out, and if you see something’s not right, I need to know about it as soon as possible.” “I will watch over her son, and I know Dad will keep an eye on her. We’ve missed her terribly, and I expect we’ll be all over her for a few weeks. Dad is very perceptive to this type of issue. I know he’ll be looking for any signs of PTSD. We both will, I promise.” “Thanks, Mom. I don’t know what I would have done the past few months without the two of you helping me. I’ll never be able to tell you how much I love both of you.” My mother throws herself into my chest and holds me tight. I wrap my arms around her and breathe in the familiar scent of her perfume. When I hear a throat clearing, I look over to see my dad standing by the kitchen door. He walks over to us and wraps my mother and me in a bear hug. We stay like this for a few minutes until I hear Kellie come into the room. “Why is everyone hugging? Can I get a hug too?” I release my mom and bend down to pick up my daughter. When Kellie’s arms go around my neck, I hold my daughter like my life depended on it. I think she senses something in me. I see my mom leave the room, and at that moment, I feel a sense of total peace. ***** I receive a frantic call from my son at approximately eleven eighteen in the morning. Joey waited exactly three minutes to place the call. “Dad, why is Uncle Jerry picking me up at the train station? Why aren’t you here? Is something wrong with Mom?” “Okay, son, back up a minute. First, Uncle Jerry volunteered, and I accepted his offer. Second, there is nothing wrong with Mom. I wanted to sleep a little late this morning and took him up on his offer. You can cool your jets and get your ass home, son.” “God, I was so nervous Dad. Are you sure everything is ok?” “Yes, I’m sure. Granny cleaned your room the other day, and we are ready and waiting for you to come home. She also made your favorite dessert, mince pie.” “Yeah, I was hoping she would make that for me. We’ll be home in a little over an hour. There is a lot of traffic from the train station.” “Tell your Uncle to drive safe. He is carrying precious cargo.” “Give it a rest, Dad. I’ll see you soon.” “Love you, Joey.” “I know, I love you too Dad. Ask Granny to warm up a piece of pie for me. I can’t wait until after dinner.” “No worries son. She made three pies just for you.” “Damn, I love her. We’ll be home soon. Uncle Jerry is on I-95 now.” ***** After ending the call with Joey, I run up to our bedroom, and my heart almost stops when I see Diane sitting on the edge of the bed. She looks like a little girl in some ways. Her body has shown signs of her illness. I can see that she’s lost weight, and her limbs look too thin. It will take months for her to regain muscle tone, but I know she can do it because I also see the determination in her eyes. I shove down the emotions and walk over to her. When she looks up at me, she smiles. “I look pretty good, don’t I? Catherine did an excellent job with the makeup. At least I don’t look sick.” “Honey, all of us knows what you’ve been through, and you don’t have to cover up how you feel around us. We understand and want to help you. Promise me that you will always tell Mom, Dad, or me, how you feel because it is the only way you will recover. Holding in your emotions is not healthy. And one more thing, you look stunning to me. You always have, and nothing will ever change how I see you, or how my heart feels about you. We are in this together, and it doesn’t matter if you look like an old hag! I’ll still love you.” Diane lowers her head, and I see her hands trembling. “What did I ever do to deserve such a beautiful, loving, and caring husband?” “Um, you said yes?” “I wish I could remember our wedding. I’m so tired of trying to force myself to remember. If it never happens, I’ll have to live with it, and after what I’ve been through, I’m just happy to be alive. Now, I think it’s time you carry me downstairs. Joey will be home soon, and I can’t wait to see him.” I lift Diane into my arms and carry her down to the living room. She feels so light in my arms. When I help her get comfortable on the sofa, I walk into the family room and bring in the wheelchair. I place it next to her, and when she looks over at it, I can see the sadness cloud her face. I lean in and whisper, “It’s only for a short time honey. The nurses will help you get your strength back.” Diane nods her head yes and takes a deep breath. Before she says anything, Kellie runs into the room and sits next to her. She is overly excited, and she needs to calm down. I sit next to her. “Kellie honey, I need you to calm down, you’ll make yourself sick.” “Sorry, Daddy. I’m excited to see Joey. He is going to be so happy to see Mommy.” She gets up and runs to the bay window at least a dozen times before she sees Jerry’s SUV coming up the driveway. “He’s here,” she screams as she runs for the door. I chase after her and pick her up, but her legs continue to move. “Go into the kitchen and help Granny make the rolls for dinner, sweetheart.” “Okay, but I don’t like it.” I laugh. “I know Kellie. Do it for your brother.” “Okay, okay. I’m going.” Diane I am holding my breath as I wait for the front door to open. It feels like forever since I’ve seen Joey, but I know it’s only been a few short months. How much has he changed since I last saw him? I want to scream to open the damn door already. Ethan gets up, walks towards the door, and opens it. I know what he is doing. He wants to block Joey’s view of me. Oh, god, I hear my son’s voice and its music to my ears. It feels strange calling him my son, but I like how it feels. “Hey Dad, it’s good to be home.” “Damn right it is Joey. I am so happy you’re home.” I see Ethan turn around, so he is facing me, and not Joey. He winks at me. I can’t hear what he is saying to my son. “Listen, I have a surprise for you. Close your eyes until you get into the house. I’ll lead you, and do not open your eyes until I tell you.” “What is it, a coming home present?” “Um, yes, you can say that. I know you will love it.” “Okay, now I’m curious. Lead the way, Dad.” I see Joey cover his eyes with his hands as Ethan leads him into the room, and walks him over to where I am sitting. I’m so excited I almost say something. My throat feels better that it did this morning. I want to reach out and touch my son. Steve, Catherine, and Kellie walk out of the kitchen, and I raise my finger to my lips, imploring my sweet child to be quiet. Steve solves the problem by covering her mouth with his hand. “Before you open your eyes, I want you to know that I love you with all that I am, and I am beyond happy having you home again. I am so proud of the young man you’ve become, and I couldn’t be more pleased with your career choice.” “Okay, Dad, you are scaring me. What is it? Can I uncover my eyes now?” I nod my head yes to Ethan. “Okay son, look at your surprise!” My son is staring at me with shock in his eyes. I know of only one thing to say that will convince him that I remember. I raise my arms to him and say, “Can I give you a hug, Joey?” I feel like I’m watching a scene in slow motion. Joey doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move from the spot he is standing in. Joey is looking at me and blinking furiously. It takes a few seconds before comprehension sinks in, and in a matter of seconds, my son is on his knees with his hands covering his face, and he is crying. Ethan kneels next to him, and Joey collapses into his father. His sobs echo around the room. I want so much to get off the sofa and hold my son, but my legs are so weak, I’m afraid to move. “Am I dreaming Dad? Is this really happening?” “You’re not dreaming, Joey. Mom woke up last night, and the first thing she asked for was a picture of you and your sister. She held onto that picture all night.” “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it!” “Believe it son. Why don’t you hug your mother? She’s been waiting all morning to see you.” Joey looks up at me with tears streaming down his beautiful face, and when I open my arms to him, he leaps off the floor and comes over to sit next to me. One strong arm wraps around me, and I finally feel like I am home. I sigh and lean into him. I feel his lips kiss my temple, and I can no longer hold back the tears. “I’ve missed you so much, Mom. I never expected this when I got on the train this morning. Uncle Jerry can keep a good secret.” I sniffle and laugh at the same time. “I wanted it to be a surprise. I want you to know that I still do not have my memories, but it no longer matters to me. I am home where I belong with all of you.” “Oh, Mom, you’ll never know how much I missed talking to you. This is the happiest day of my life because my best friend came back to me.” Okay, that got to all of us, and when I look up, everyone is crying, even Kellie. I reach out to her, and she sits on my left. I finally have my two children in my arms, and it feels wonderful. When I look up at Ethan, his father has his arms around his son, and I can see his tear stained face. Will he ever tell me just how difficult the past six months was for him? I intend to ask him tonight, and I want him to tell me the truth. However, for the rest of the day, there will be no tears, only laughter. Chapter Thirty-One Ethan Watching my children hug their mother breaks me, and if it weren’t for my parents, I would be on the floor. My legs are shaking, and it takes all of my control to remain on my feet. My heart beats furiously as I try to control my ragged breath. I hear my Dad’s voice in my ear. “It’s going to be okay Ethan. Our girl is home where she belongs. Whatever happens in the weeks to come, she has all of us to support her. This is a happy day for all of us.” “I love her Dad. I never knew just how much I loved her until I had to face a potential life without her. I can’t begin to tell you how I felt last night when I held her in my arms.” “I know how you feel Ethan. I feel the same way about your mother.” “You can let go of me now. I won’t fall on my ass.” I walk over to the sofa, lift Kellie into my arms, and sit down next to my wife. For the next hour, the kids talk nonstop about everything and nothing. By early-afternoon, Diane is fading fast. “Okay, kids. It’s time for your mother to take a nap before dinner. Joey, go upstairs and unpack your bags. Kellie, help Granny set the table. I’m taking Mom to the family room for a little nap.” “Thanks, Ethan. I am a little tired.” “No worries my love. I’m taking a nap with you.” There is no way I can avoid having Diane see all of the machines that are still in the room, and we will need it tomorrow when the nurses arrive. Before I wheel her into the family room, I lean down and whisper to her, “Don’t worry about all of the machines. They look scarier than they really are, and you needed them at the time. You no longer need them, and I’ll have Jerry take them back to the hospital when he leaves tonight.” “I know Ethan. I can’t avoid what happened to me. I might as well see all of it.” I give Diane credit for not overreacting when I wheel her into the room. The hospital bed takes up a significant portion of the space. On one side of the bed are the IV pole, catheter bags, and the cardiac monitor. On the other end of the bed is the Enteral Feeding Pump with the nutrition bag still attached to the pole. Diane sucks in a breath when she sees all of the equipment. “Oh, this looks awful. Was I really attached to all of this?” “Unfortunately, yes. You needed all of this to survive honey. I won’t lie to you, Diane. It’s important that you know the truth, but I’m not sure today is the day to discuss all of this. Let me remove everything from the room, and then we can lay down for an hour or two, and just relax and hold each other.” “Yes, I agree with you. I don’t think I can handle hearing it today. I just want to spend time with my family. Let’s discuss this tomorrow. And, Ethan, you will tell me the truth, won’t you?” “I have never lied to you, sweetheart. Why start now? Unless we face what happened, we won’t get past it. We will have to discuss this anyway once we start therapy. We might as well discuss it tomorrow. But, before I say anything, I want you to remember that we are in this together, and you will tell me how you feel. I will not negotiate on this one point, Diane. I do not want you holding in your feelings. If you feel the need to scream, do so. If you want to cry, don’t hold it in. Promise me, Diane.” “I promise Ethan. I don’t want to hold in my feelings. How did I handle things before the accident?” I laugh as I remember our many spirited conversations. “Let’s just say that you have always been blunt in expressing your opinions and feelings. You have been vocal over the years, and my eardrums can attest to that. Give me a minute to get all of this out of the room, and I’ll make you comfortable in bed. I really could use a short nap. I did not sleep last night.” “Why couldn’t you sleep? Did I keep you awake?” “No honey. I was so happy to have you in my arms again, and I didn’t want to close my eyes. It felt too good holding you and feeling your warmth against my body. I’ve missed that, Diane.” Five minutes later, the room is cleared out, and I am once again in bed with my wife. I hear Diane’s sigh of contentment as she lays her head on my chest. My arm goes around her as it has always done, and I hear Diane sigh again. “Are you happy sweetheart?” “Yeah, and so very grateful for my life, my family, my beautiful children, and you, Ethan. I know I have hard days ahead of me, but as long as we have each other, I know I’ll survive them.” The sincerity in her words and her voice humbles me. I’ve cried so much these past few months, and I can’t seem to stop the tears. Will I ever be the same after this ordeal? I don’t think so, because as I’ve said before, we took our life for granted, going about our day without stopping to, as they say, ‘smell the roses’. That will not happen again. Our lives have changed, and no matter what we do or say, the memories will never leave us. It’s what we do next that matters most. “We can survive anything sweetheart as long as we have each other. To have and to hold, until death do us part, my beautiful wife. Those words mean more to me today than when we were married. Now, close your eyes my beauty, and have a little nap. I’ll be here when you wake.” “Oh, that sounds so good. I am so tired.” “I know honey. It will get better with time, I promise.” That’s the last thing I remember until I feel Joey shaking my arm. My eyes feel dry and crusted over as I open them. It takes me a minute to get the brain working. Diane is still sleeping. “What time is it?” I ask, still somewhat groggy. “It’s five thirty. Granny is ready to serve dinner.” “Okay, give me a few minutes to wake your mom.” Joey looks over at Diane and smiles. His eyes tear up, and he shakes his head to clear his thoughts. “She looks good Dad. How is she emotionally?” Before I can answer, I feel Diane chuckling against my chest. She opens her eyes and looks up at Joey. “I want you to stop worrying about me. I know I have challenges to face, but as long as I have all of you as my support system, I’ll make it Joey, because I refuse to be the victim.” Joey is stunned for a second or two, then laughs. I laugh with him. “Listen to your mother, Joey. As you can see, her voice is clearer than it was a few hours ago. Your mom is a fighter, don’t ever forget that son. Now that you are home with us, the family is whole once again, and there is nothing that we cannot conquer.” Diane agrees with me. “That’s right Joey. I will recover. Will you help me?” “God, Mom, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for you. I’ve told Dad that I don’t want to live off campus. I want to be near you, and I’ll help in whatever way I can.” “What you can do now is lean in and give me a kiss.” My heart is so full of love at this moment. I watch as my son leans in and gently kisses his mother on the lips. I know some people feel that parents kissing their children on the lips is taboo, but not in our family. Our kids came from our bodies, and in my mind, this is an expression of unconditional love. It always will be. ***** My mother outdid herself this year. The table looks beautiful. I am surprised to see her china on the table and raise a questioning brow, as I look her way. Mom only shrugs and smiles at me. I get what she is conveying to me. She wants this to be a special day for Diane, and I agree. We have so much to be thankful for on this special day. As we enter the dining room, the people that are near and dear to our hearts surround the table. It makes me happy having my brother with us today. Jerry is a perpetual bachelor, and he always told me that his career and the time spent away from home gets in the way of his relationships, and until he finds someone like Diane, he will still be single. As I lift Diane out of the wheelchair, I feel all eyes are on me. I want to put a stop to this now because it will only make Diane feel uncomfortable. When I take my seat, I address everyone. “Well, before we say grace and enjoy our meal, I want to address everyone. All of us have lived through a few terrifying months, and if all of you feel the way I do, it will take a week or two for everyone to calm down. While I understand how you feel, and believe me, I do, what I don’t want is for everyone to walk on eggshells in this house. All of us know that Diane has challenges to face, and I am committed to seeing that she has everything she needs to help with that. What she needs most from all of us is normalcy.” “This wheelchair is temporary, and when you see me lifting Diane in and out of the chair, please do not worry. I can see it in your eyes, and so can Diane. We don’t want you to treat her differently, because I can assure you, in no time at all she will be walking, maybe with a cane for a few weeks, but she will be walking.” Diane nods her head in agreement. “Ethan is right. I told Joey earlier that I do not want to feel like the victim. We haven’t discussed what it was like for all of you, but I will have that conversation with him very soon. I want to know what I missed when I wasn’t with you, and I need a promise from everyone at this table. Promise me that you will not treat me differently, that you will look at me as I once was, not as I am now because I will recover. It’s only a matter of time and my will to see it through.” I am so proud of my wife, and I know that everyone agrees with me, because the atmosphere in the room changes quickly. My Mom plates the food, and when I see what she has for Diane, my heart constricts with love for her. My Mom served an assortment of baby food on a beautiful vintage baby food warming plate. I immediately recognize it as being in our family for many years. The plate is cream colored, with images of bunny rabbits, a fox, and pink roses with a green ribbon decorating the lip of the plate. My mom smiles at me. “Do you remember this dish, Ethan? I fed you and your brother with this dish. I remember the day I found a set of them at a flea market, with matching cups. They were in pristine condition, and I only paid ten dollars for them. I’ve kept them wrapped in bubble paper with the intention of giving them to Joey and Kellie when they have children of their own. For the time being, I want Diane to have something pretty to look at while she eats, what I can imagine, is disgusting food. Now I know why babies cry when you feed them. I’ve also made a shake for you, and I’ll put that in the cup with a straw.” Mom sits next to me. “Once you meet with the speech therapist, and we have a firm diagnosis of Dysphasia, and we have the results of the Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Study, we can move towards a blended diet. Your father has already prepared a dietary menu, which will allow Diane to have a nutritious meal. When is your appointment?” “I have to call them tomorrow to schedule it, but in the meantime, I’ve shown Diane how to tuck and swallow, and I’ll be with her at every meal.” “I feel like a science project,” Diane said with a sarcastic tone to her voice. My dad barks out laughing. “Oh, honey, shouldn’t you know by now that with three doctors in the family, we would be all over your medical needs.” “That’s right,” Jerry chimes in. “Just wait until Joey graduates from medical school. Dad will crap his pants in excitement.” “Yuck,” Kellie screams at us. “You wouldn’t crap in your pants, would you Gramps.” Oh, God, everyone cracks up laughing. This is just what we need. My dad taps his glass with a knife to get our attention. “Okay, people, settle down. Today is a very special day for our family. Diane sweetheart, Mom and I love you so very much, and we are beyond happy that you can share this day with us. I won’t lie to you and say the past six months have been easy because they weren’t. All of us need to focus on the future, and we will do that with the knowledge that our beautiful daughter is now where she belongs, at home, with her family. Therefore, on this day of Thanksgiving, I would like to lead the prayer. Everyone, please hold hands.” “God of all blessings, the source of all life, giver of all grace, we thank you for the gift of life, for the breath that sustains life, for the food of the earth that nurtures life, for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. We thank you for the mystery of creation, for the beauty that the eye can see, for the joy that the ear may hear, for the unknown that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder, for the expanse of space that draws us beyond the definitions of ourselves. We thank you for this day, for life and one more day to love, for bringing our daughter, whom we love more than life itself back to her family, husband, and children. We love you beyond words sweetheart. For these and all blessings, we give thanks, eternal, loving God, through Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.” “Amen,” we say together. I reach out once again to hold Diane’s hand, and my world rights itself. Kellie as usual breaks the silence in the room. “Can we eat now? I’m starving!” ***** Later that night after everyone left and the kids are in bed, Diane and I sit in front of the fireplace. It is our favorite spot to relax after a long day. Today has been exceptionally long and emotional. Diane is tired, and I know we should go to bed, but I just can’t move right now. “Thank you for today, Ethan. It was a lovely day for me, and I want to thank you for making me feel so comfortable.” “I love you sweetheart, more than I can say, and I will do anything necessary to make life easier for you. Why don’t we get you into bed? You must be tired.” “I am exhausted, but can we sleep down here tonight. It’s too much trouble carrying me up the stairs all the time. It’s only temporary, and I need to be down here when the nurses arrive tomorrow morning.” “Whatever you want sweetheart, I only want to make it easier for you.” “This is easier for the two of us. As long as I have you in bed next to me, I don’t care where we sleep.” “Your voice has grown stronger during the day. How does your throat feel? Is it still sore?’ “No, I only feel it when I swallow.” “You did great today at dinner. How did it feel eating baby food?” “That food is disgusting, but I know I need the vitamins. The shake, however, was delicious.” “Hopefully, we will have you on regular food soon. Let’s go to bed. I am so tired.” “Ethan, can I ask you a question?” “You know you can, honey. What is it?” “What do you see when you look at me?” “What do I see? I’m not sure what you mean.” “I mean, what do you see? Do you see a woman or an invalid?” I know where this is going, and I need to convey my thoughts properly. I turn my body to face Diane and hold her hand in mine. “What I see is what I’ve always seen. I see my beautiful wife, who I love more than my own life. I know what you are thinking Diane, and I want you to know that you are beautiful to me. This situation is temporary, honey. I don’t want you to feel different because you’re not.” Diane’s eyes fill with tears. I can see her mind working, and I wait patiently for her to talk to me. “Ethan, will you kiss me again, please?” My heart races at the thought of kissing her again. This is what I’ve wanted since the accident. I lean in and caress her face with my fingers. I feel Diane shutter under my touch, and that makes me happy. In my heart, I know this is the beginning of a new connection between the two of us. Leaning in, I gently touch my lips to hers. I feel Diane’s intake of breath as she leans into the kiss. It takes me back to the first time I kissed Diane back in high school, sweet and tender. My hand moves down to the nape of her neck, and I pull her closer to me. When I feel her mouth open to me, my inner beast rages to the surface. The inevitable tingling in my balls causes me to pull back from the kiss. I immediately see the hurt in her eyes. “Why did you pull back from me?” “It’s been a long-time honey. I’m starving for you, and I don’t want to rush what is developing between us. If you see me pull back, I want you to know why.” “Oh,” she said as her face turned a lovely shade of crimson. I can see that I’ve embarrassed her. “Yeah, I didn’t want to mention it, but when you kissed me, my body reacted.” “I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t kiss you.” I reach out to stroke my fingers along her cheek. “I want you to kiss me, Diane. I can’t help how my body reacts to you, I never could. I only want to hold you in my arms.” Diane sighs and leans in closer to me. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since that day on the beach. I feel something, Ethan. I’m still trying to sort it out, but it’s there. I don’t know if it’s instinctive, but it’s there.” “The heart never forgets Diane. Maybe somewhere deep within you remembers our life together.” “I hope so. I’m a little nervous Ethan.” “Don’t be honey. You already broke the ice.” It surprises me when she laughs, and it lightens my heart. “I guess I did. Was I always so direct?” “Oh, honey, you have no idea how direct. Let’s get you into bed. It’s late, and I’m exhausted.” A few minutes later, Diane is in one of her cute nightgowns, and resting comfortably in bed. My emotions are all over the place. I felt the sexual zing I always feel when I kiss my wife, but I cannot, and I repeat, I cannot show her how I feel. I don’t want her to feel pressured into resuming our sexual relationship. The fact that I can hold her at night is enough for me, for the time being anyway. After helping Diane to bed, I climb in beside her and pull her body into my chest. This is our favorite position at night. I remember many nights when we just held each other and talked into the early morning hours. It’s difficult sleeping with her now, and not having that connection. “Oh Ethan, this feels wonderful.” “There is no place else I’d rather be honey. I’ve missed this too. My heart feels whole for the first time since the accident.” Diane rolls over to face me. She looks sad, and that hurts me deeply. “What’s wrong honey? You look sad.” “I am sad because my body disgusts me. I’ve lost so much weight, my hair is gone, and I can’t stand on my own two feet.” I knew it was coming all day. Diane breaks down and sobs into my shoulder. Her body trembled against mine, and all I can do to comfort her is hold her tightly against me. “It’s ok baby. We’ll get through this. I love you with all that I am, sweetheart. You are beautiful to me; you always have been. Nothing will ever change how I see you.” “How can you say that? I look pathetic!” “Baby, look at me.” I tilt her chin up because I want to see her eyes. “I am going to tell you the story of a young couple who knew from an early age that they belonged together. This beautiful girl agreed to be my date for the junior prom. Diane, I was all glasses and braces, but you decided to go with me. Since that day, we have been best friends, boyfriend and girlfriend, lovers, and husband and wife. I made vows to you the day we married, and I take them seriously. I remember the day before the wedding. We drove to Atlantic City and walked the boardwalk all day. I remember how we talked about having children, owning our own home, and the plans we made for our careers. We were ambitious, and so much in love.” “I love you, Diane, more now than the day I married you. Watching you struggle these past few months broke me. I’ll never be the same, and neither will you, but we must get past this bump in the road. When I look at you, all I see is love. Everything else will work itself out with time. I predict that by the beginning of summer next year, you will be running circles around me. Don’t let what is happening now derail your determination.” “I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. I just want to feel normal again. I don’t want you to look at me and not want me.” God, how can she think I don’t want her? I’ve never seen Diane so unsure of herself. This is not okay. I need to make her understand how I feel. “Oh, honey, how can you say that to me? I want you to listen to me and remember what I’m going to say to you. It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel at this moment. The day you had the accident, I thought I would have a heart attack. It felt like a piece of my heart died. The terror that I felt when you stopped breathing is something I will never be able to put into words. All I could think about was what my life would be like without you in it. Honestly, I couldn’t face that possibility.” “Having you here with me like this is a dream come true. I prayed Diane, more than I have in my entire life. I thought if you would just open your eyes and look at me, it wouldn’t matter if you never remembered the past. I love you, and nothing else matters to me. I will always want you. You are my wife, my best friend, and the love of my life. I am nothing without you. When you feel sad or depressed, remember these words.” “Thank you, Ethan. I needed to hear the words. I feel funny, and I hope this feeling goes away soon. I don’t like how I feel.” “It will go away once you’re on your feet again. Give it time sweetheart. You have months of inactivity to work through, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Chapter Thirty-Two Diane I awake to the most delicious feeling of Ethan’s body wrapped around mine. I don’t want to move, but the need to go to the bathroom is urgent. “Ethan, wake up. I need to use the bathroom.” “What time is it?” I hear him ask sleepily. I look over at the clock hanging on the wall. “It’s six-thirty.” “Okay, it’s time to get up anyway. You need to be dressed and have breakfast by eight, which is when Linda and Patti arrive. I can’t wait to see their faces when they see you!” “I cannot wait to meet them. Patti and Linda have helped me so much the past few months, and I want to thank them.” “That’s sweet of you to say, honey. Linda and Patti have become part of the family.” After Ethan helps me into the bathroom, I take a quick shower with his help. Ethan places a fold up chair in the tub, and it felt so incredibly good having the warm water soothe my aches and pains. I know therapy will be painful, but I am determined to walk unassisted by Christmas. Breakfast this morning is a thick protein shake, and surprisingly, my stomach feels full. Several times, I had to stop drinking because I felt like I was choking. Ethan had to remind me again to tuck my chin before swallowing. Hopefully, once I see the speech therapist, this will become easier. I need to gain weight. This morning I had a good look at my body and didn’t like what I saw. I look emaciated, and I’ve lost a significant amount of weight. Since my hair is still short, I spike it up with styling gel, and Ethan helps me to get dressed. None of my clothes fit me, and so I have no choice but to wear sweatpants with a drawstring to keep my pants from falling down my legs. I topped off my plain outfit with a tee shirt and sweater. I’m sitting up in bed drinking a cup of tea with Thicken in it. I read the label, and it's just cornstarch, but it helps me swallow without aspirating. The consistency once added to my tea is more like thick honey. Ethan wants me to drink at least four protein shakes a day, in addition to the baby food. I don’t know if my stomach can handle all of this, but the shakes are only eight ounces at a time, and if I spread them out throughout the day, I should be okay. I hear the doorbell ring and the voices of two women. This must be Linda and Patti arriving. Ethan stops them at the door, and I hear him talking to them. “I want to let you know that there has been a change in Diane’s condition since you last saw her on Wednesday. We spent the night in the emergency room. I just want to prepare you for what you are about to see.” “Is her condition worse that it was on Wednesday?” one of the nurses asks him, her voice full of concern. They are going to slap him when they see me. “No, her condition is not worse, just…different. You’ll see how different in a minute.” “Oh, okay.” I hear another voice say. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. She’s our girl now, and we will take care of her.” Her words touch me deeply. I don’t know these women, but for the last six months, they have been my lifeline, because I know it down to my soul, that without their care and compassion, I would not be physically where I am now. I can’t wait to meet them. I hear Ethan opening the door, and I place my teacup on the table next to me. I feel nervous, and the thought of that has me laughing to myself. When the door opens, and two young nurses walk into the room, they stop, slack-jawed, and stare at me. No one is moving, and I find this hilarious for some reason. A laugh bubbles up and out of me, and I reach out my hands to them. “It’s so nice to finally meet the two of you. Ethan has told me so much about how you have taken care of me, and I want to thank you.” The blond-haired nurse is the first to move, and she catapults herself into the room and is by my side in a matter of seconds. I look at her name tag. This is Linda. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re awake. Look at you! You’re gorgeous! I’m so happy for you.” Then she starts to cry, and I cry with her. The other nurse, Patti, is standing on the other side of my bed. “This is a fantastic day for us Diane! We’ve taken care of you for so long, that all of you have become a part of our family.” She turns to Ethan and asks, “What is on the agenda as far as physical therapy?” Ethan reaches for a folder and hands her several sheets of paper. “Craig gave me a workup when we left the hospital Wednesday. Today I need to make an appointment for the first consultation regarding speech therapy, and we will see where I go from there. For today, keep up what you have been doing, but increase the time by fifteen minutes. Craig gave me a prescription for several items, and I am going to the hospital this morning to get the items on the list. We’ll need leg weights, resistance bands, a walker, an adjustable cane, and I think I want to get several rubber floor mats in the event Diane loses her balance. It’s just a precaution, but one that I believe we may need.” “You also need to pick up an electrical stimulation machine with eight pads,” Patti said. “We need to work on the calve muscles which will swell once she starts putting pressure on her legs. The stimulation will help heal the muscles quicker.” “Okay, I’ll get everything on the list and if you think of something else, text me. I’ll be back in a few hours.” Ethan leans in and kisses me. Patti and Linda sigh as they watch us. I laugh as I watch Ethan leave the room. “You have an incredible husband Diane,” Linda said to me. “He has been by your side every day. He slept in this room every night. You are so blessed to have him.” My throat tightens, and my eyes tear up because I know she speaks the truth. “Yes, I am so very blessed. Ethan and I have been together for twenty-seven years. I still do not have my memories before the accident, but I’ve decided that life is too short to worry about it. We can make new memories.” Patti reaches out for my hand. “Well, then I suggest we’ll get started with your therapy. What we are going to do today are basic stretches, leg lifts, and massage therapy. We’ll also work on your arms. I have one-pound weights, and we’ll take it slow. If you feel pain or discomfort, please tell me, and we’ll stop. I still can’t believe that I’m talking to you.” Two hours later, I can honestly say that every muscle in my body is screaming at me. I’ve had enough for one day and said so to both Patti and Linda. “Enough. I can’t take it anymore. We need to stop.” “You’ve done very well today Diane,” Linda said. “Let's take off your clothes and Patti will give you a massage, which will help your sore muscles.” “Oh, that sounds fantastic.” After several minutes of undressing, I am lying naked on the bed, with a sheet across my upper body. My eyes are closed, and as soon as I feel warm hands touch my legs, I want to cry for joy. The kneading and pulling on my legs is so soothing. I must have fallen asleep because when I open my eyes, the room is empty and I hear voices again. “She did very well today Ethan, but we need to take it slow for a week or so. Her muscles show signs of moderate muscle atrophy, and if I push it, she will feel pain. I don’t want that for her.” “I agree. We need to go slow. Did Diane like the massage?” I hear Linda laugh. “Diane fell asleep within five minutes. You might want to include this in your daily activity when we’re not here. The more we stimulate the muscles and get the blood flowing, the easier it will be when we work those muscles.” “I can do that. It’s not a problem. Thank you, Linda. I’ll see the two of you on Monday. Enjoy the weekend, and thank you for all that you have done to help my wife.” “It’s our pleasure, Ethan. You have a lovely wife and family. You are a lucky man.” “Yes, I am,” I hear Ethan say as I drift off again. ***** The weeks that follow are not only difficult for me, but also at times painful. The physical part of my therapy is tedious, and at times boring. My mind wants my body to move, but my legs have a mind of their own. Linda tells me that I am progressing ahead of schedule, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I am starting to get frustrated and at times, a little bitchy. I don’t mean to be that way, but I am just so ready to get my life back. After three weeks of what they call swallow therapy, I am on a soft diet of real food, and I can say goodbye to baby food. I am also pleased to see that I’ve gained close to ten pounds, and my clothes don’t feel as loose as they once did. I’ve also taken short steps with the walker. I’ve managed to walk from the family room to the kitchen, and back without falling on my face. Ethan hovers over me like a mother hen when I’m walking, and I am happy he is helping me with my therapy. Secretly, it only makes me want to work harder for him, and the children. Every night, Ethan massages my aching legs, and I must say, this is the best part of my day. It doesn’t escape me that Ethan’s hands slide up my legs a little farther each day. The rhythmic swirling of his hands and the gentle way he talks to me has me needing something more from him. I feel aroused, and I am so happy I feel this way. I worried that I would not feel a sexual attraction to him. At least this part of my body still works correctly. I can see that it will take longer than I expected to gain my full strength, but I am determined, and I won’t quit until I get what I want. Linda and I have been talking about water therapy for the past few days, and it sounds like a good idea. Christmas is in two weeks, and I want to walk to the table without the walker, so today, Linda and Patti are taking me to the hospital where they have an aqua therapy pool. I like this idea because it will allow me to work more of the muscles in my legs. When we arrive at the hospital, it surprises me when several of the nurses say hello to me, ask me how I feel, and wish me well. The same thing happens when we hit the pool. There are several patients in various stages of therapy in the water, along with their therapists. A few of them wave to me, and I wave back to them. I’m a little afraid, and when I see the harness that will lower me into the water; I relax and let Linda strap me into the contraption. Once they drop me into the water, my body feels weightless. This is the point of aqua therapy. The harness takes the pressure off the muscles, which gives the patient a more intense workout without the stress. I like this very much and stay in the water for a long time. Linda and Patti guide me through my exercises, and honestly, my legs do not ache. It feels fantastic being able to move my legs without the aching and cramping. Two hours later, they finally lift me out of the water, and that is when I see Ethan, standing tall in his hospital jacket, watching me. The smile on his face is infectious. I feel happy for the first time since I woke up. Maybe this is what I need to speed up my recovery. “I feel so good Ethan. I want to do this every day. Can that be arranged?” “Anything can be arranged, Diane. You only need to ask. When we get home, I have a surprise for you. I think you’ll like it.” “A surprise, what is it?” “If I told you, it would ruin the surprise.” I turn to Linda. “Do you know what it is?” “Of course, I do. I helped Ethan buy it for you, and no, you won’t get it out of me.” After much pouting and harrumphing, I get dressed, and Ethan drives us home. When we pull up to the front of the house, Ethan doesn’t open the garage door. “Why are you parking in the driveway? Is the garage door opener broken?” “No, it’s not broken.” “Then why are you parking in the driveway? What’s going on?” “I can’t park in the garage because your present is in there, and my car won’t fit.” “What could be that large that you have to park in the driveway?” “Give me a minute, and I’ll show you.” Ethan helps me out of the car and wheels me into the house. The garage has an entrance door in the kitchen. “Before I open the door, I want you to know that we still have a little work to do in there, but everything will be finished by tomorrow night. Are you ready to see your surprise?” “What do you think?” “I take that as a yes.” When Ethan opens the door, my jaw hits the floor. The first thing I notice is a wooden wheelchair ramp that covers the two steps leading into the garage. What I see next astounds me. In the center of our garage is a spa pool. Ethan wheels me into the garage and over to the pool. “You have a spa pool in the garage? Are you serious?” “Yes, I am serious honey. This is a home spa with a treadmill at the bottom. It is perfect for aquatic therapy. It has resistance jets for non-weight running and walking. You can also use it as a Jacuzzi. I should say we could use it as a Jacuzzi. You can use this every day to exercise your arms and legs.” “I love it, and hopefully, it will speed up my recovery. This is a very thoughtful gift Ethan, and I appreciate everything you are doing for me.” Ethan bends down and whispers in my ear, “You’re my wife honey, and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for you. I love you. I also want to tell you that we received a settlement check from Michael Dougherty’s insurance company for two hundred thousand dollars to settle the claim for the accident.” “That’s a lot of money. It doesn’t make me feel any better about what happened to me.” “I know honey. It’s not about the money. What do you want me to do with it?” “I want the kids to have the money.” “That's a very good idea. I’ll take care of it after Christmas.” “Why does having that money make me feel weird?” “You shouldn’t feel this way, Diane. He hurt you, and it is the insurance company’s responsibility to reimburse you for the injuries you sustained that day.” “I know. I just want to forget about what happened to me, and the money will be a constant reminder. If I must accept it, I want my children to have a good start in life.” “This is why I love you, Diane.” Chapter Thirty-Three Ethan Diane is keeping secrets from me, and Linda and Patti are her accomplices. They have become good friends over the past few weeks. Today is Christmas Eve, and I’ve been out of the house all day shopping for presents for the kids. I already have Diane’s gift. I hope she likes it. The past few weeks have been hectic for everyone. Diane is more comfortable in the house, and the atmosphere is less tense. Our relationship has changed. Diane is more relaxed around me, and the time we share in bed has become more, I guess you could say, intimate. We still haven’t made love, and I won’t do that until Diane is ready to take the next step in our new relationship. It feels like it did when we were in college. Those years were happy ones for us. We spent our first year in college sleeping together every night, but not making love. We touched, we teased, and we tasted, but never crossed the line. The children are once again happy, and our house echoes with laughter and the occasional bickering between Kellie and Joey. Only this time, Joey is patient with Kellie and doesn’t become upset. I think he remembers what happened in Cape May. Mom and Dad are back in their house for most of the day, but share dinner with us every night. Mom comes over when the nurses leave, and I can see a new bond forming between my mother and Diane. So, tomorrow is Christmas, and in all honesty, I never imagined it to be a happy one for my family. The car is loaded with presents already wrapped, and my feet are killing me. It’s time to go home. I stop at my mom’s house to drop off Kellie’s gift. As I pull up into the driveway, I sit and stare at the house. Joey and my dad did an excellent job of decorating the house. I’ve been so involved with Diane’s therapy, that I just did not have the time this year. I see the lights on in the garage through the glass, and I know Diane is in there. What is she up to so late at night? I get out of the car, and like a stalker, I peek into one of the windows. What I see surprises me. Diane is walking on the treadmill and holding on to the handrails. I want to run into the garage and yell at her for being so careless, but when I look at her face, all I see is a huge smile, and then, I see my dad come into view, and he’s clapping and laughing with her. Now I know the secret. I can’t let Diane know that I saw her, so I run into the house and make a little noise as I approach the kitchen. “Hey, where is everyone?” My dad yells back, “We’re in the garage.” When I open the door, Diane is sitting on the bench, and the whirlpool is running to the maximum. The cheeky smile on her face doesn’t get past me. I always know when she’s lying to me. I’ll give her this one. “Don’t you think it’s a little late for therapy?” “Therapy was this morning. I wanted to relax in the whirlpool for a few minutes. Steve was kind enough to help me.” I look at my dad, and he just shrugs at me. “I was in the house. How could I say no? Have you finished shopping for the kids?” “Yes, and remind me not to wait until the last minute next year. The mall is full of crazy people, myself included, but I got everything on the list. The kids are going to freak out tomorrow.” “Where did you put Kellie’s gift?” “I stopped by your house on the way home. Mom has her gift.” “Good, then I guess I’ll go home. Your mother and I will be over for breakfast tomorrow morning, and we will bring Kellie’s gift. Don’t open anything until after breakfast.” “Okay, Dad. I’ll see you and Mom tomorrow.” After my father leaves the house, I walk over to the edge of the pool and lean into Diane. “Don’t move. I’ll be back in five minutes.” I run into the house, strip down to my boxers, grab a towel and a bathrobe, and run back to the garage. Diane is resting her head with her eyes closed, and she looks happy. I clear my throat to get her attention. I have never shared this with her, but I feel today is the perfect day to take the next step. Diane and I have been playing the flirting game with each other. Her attitude changes as her body changes. “Do you mind if I join you?” “No, not at all, there’s plenty of room for the two of us.” I strip out of the bathrobe and sink into the deliciously warm water. Damn, if I knew it felt this good, I would have invaded her space last month. God, the water is so warm and soothing. The bench is big enough for the two of us, but I move as close to her as possible. Our legs touch under the water, and it surprises me when she turns into my body and entwines her legs with mine. “So, how are you, Ethan?” “I’m okay honey. How are you?” “I’m fine. What would you like to do?” “Hum, what would I like to do? Well, how about this.” I take her by surprise when I turn her face towards mine and ravish her mouth. My hand slips between her legs, and she opens for me. I can’t remember ever kissing her the way I do now. I haven’t felt her around my cock in so long, and I want her desperately. I take my other hand and guide her down to my throbbing cock. On instinct, she squeezes me, and my hips jerk as I take the kiss deeper. Our tongues dance around each other, as our hands work each other. I’m about to go off when she digs her nails into a spot between my sack and ass. Total bliss is all I can think about as I come hard, taking Diane with me. Many minutes later, Diane said, “I love you, Ethan.” At first, I thought I was dreaming, because I didn’t say anything. “Ethan, are you awake? Did you hear what I just said to you?” I open my eyes to look at her. “Yeah, I heard you, but I was so afraid I was asleep, and it was just a dream. Say it again, Diane. Please, say it again.” “I love you, Ethan.” Those four words break my resolve, and I cry like a fucking baby. It takes me several minutes to stop the tears, and when I am finally able to speak, I tell her, “I have waited so long to hear those words. I love you so much, honey. Welcome home sweetheart.” ***** Christmas morning in the Miller house is as it should be, loud, crazy, and full of love. Kellie is up and out of bed at six in the morning, I know this because I’ve been awake since the butt crack of dawn the minute I felt Diane roll over and press herself against my back. I swear that Diane subconsciously remembers things about our life before the accident. This is one of those times. The way she touches me is another one. Could it be that her memory is slowly returning to her? I don’t want to get my hopes up, but covertly, I am looking for clues. I still can’t believe Diane said she loves me, and for the first time since she came home, I know, we will be ok. My daughter banging on the bedroom door is a signal that Christmas has begun. “Get up Mommy and Daddy. I want to open my presents.” I yell back at her. “We are not opening anything until after breakfast, so I want you to go downstairs and watch TV until Granny and Gramps come over to eat with us.” “Okay, I’m going.” I hear Diane laughing against my shoulder. “I guess she’s telling us to get our asses out of bed. What time are Mom and Dad coming over for breakfast?” My heart skips a beat, and it takes me a second to answer her. Mom and Dad? That’s the first time she’s referred to my parents as Mom and Dad. “Um, I’m not sure, but last year, they were over early, so we better get up. You can stay in your pajamas. We never get dressed on Christmas Day.” “I wish I remembered that.” “You will, for our next Christmas together. No looking back honey, only look forward.” “I know. Why do I torture myself this way? It’s been over nine months since the accident, and I should accept the fact that I will never regain those memories. It’s depressing to me Ethan. I look around the house, and I know everything in it is a memory. I look at the pictures on the walls, and when I see myself, I don’t recognize the person staring back at me.” “I remember when Kellie had trouble with reading,” I tell her. “I remember what you said to her. You said that if you concentrate too hard, sometimes it makes it more difficult learning. It’s the same with your memories. The harder you try to remember, the thicker the block. Let’s not worry about it until after the New Year. We have an appointment with the psychologist January third. Let’s just have a happy day with the family, and we’ll worry about everything else next year.” “You’re right. It’s funny, though. If I don’t think about it, I feel good. The minute I look back, I screw myself, and I know it.” “That’s because your analytical mind is trying to figure this out. There is no easy way to get around this honey. It is what it is, and we have to accept it and move forward.” “Okay, you’re right. Help me get downstairs so we can have breakfast before Kellie pops a vein. I know she is dying to open her presents.” ***** When we reach the bottom of the stairs, Kellie is sitting in front of the Christmas tree shaking boxes. She does this every year, but this year, she will never guess what her gift is. Joey is asleep on the sofa. The past few weeks have been intense for my son as he gears up for a change in curriculum. I carry Diane over to the recliner and laugh inwardly because I know she is keeping a big secret from the family, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she will spring it on us today. I hear the back door open, and my dad’s booming voice fills the room. “Ho, Ho, Ho, everyone, Merry Christmas!” When I look up, my father is wearing a pair of blue pajamas with Christmas lights. Where did my mother find the material to make this hideous pair of pajamas? And, when I look down, he’s wearing antler slippers. My mom is tastefully dressed in light blue pajamas with snowflakes. My dad walks over to me and wraps me in a bear hug, and bends down to kiss Diane. “Merry Christmas honey, how are you feeling today?” “I feel good, Dad; Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas son, I love you.” Then he whispers in my ear. “Did you hear Diane call me Dad?” “I did. Isn’t it wonderful? I love you too, Dad, but I would love you more if you lose the slippers.” “Not happening Ethan. I had a bitch of a time finding them in my size. Let’s help your mother make breakfast. I’m starving.” The kitchen is busy with everyone pitching in to make breakfast. No one makes pancakes better than my mother. My mom planned the menu of pancakes, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and toast, and all the food served this morning is something that Diane can eat. Thirty minutes later, we sit at the table, and as I look at everyone, something clicks in my mind. This is the first time since the accident that the entire family sat at the table and shared breakfast with each other. My thoughts flashed back to when Kellie smashed her face in whipped cream. As I look at Diane, it makes me so happy to see her eating, and I no longer need to worry about her choking on something. It’s obvious to me that she is happy today. I want her to be happy every day. “Kellie, don’t you want to put whipped cream and sprinkles on those pancakes?” “Daddy, you remembered about the whipped cream! That was funny. Can I show Mommy what I did?” “You sure can, Munchkin. I’ll get it for you.” “Okay, Mommy, this is what happened. I wanted to have whipped cream and sprinkles on my pancakes. Granny makes the best pancakes. Joey teased me and said only babies eat pancakes that way. He dared me to mush my face in them, so I did it. And then, Daddy came into the kitchen and took a picture. It was so funny! I want to do it again.” Everyone sits and watches as Kellie re-creates that day, which also includes smashing her face once again in whipped cream with red and green sprinkles. Diane’s eyes light up with amusement. It is the perfect Christmas morning breakfast. After I clean up Kellie again, all of us go back into the living room. Everyone is still laughing as we sit down to open our presents. My mother is carrying Kellie’s gift. I want her to open it first. I walk over to the tree and gather all of her gifts. To make it easy for me, I had them all wrapped in the same paper. “Kellie honey, do you want to open your presents first?” “Yeah, I can’t wait any longer. What’s in the big box? Is it for me?” I look up at Diane, and she is smiling because I clued her in on the secret present. “Yes, that big box belongs to you.” I watch as my daughter crawls over to the box and stare at it for a few seconds. When the box moves, she screams. “What’s in the box?” I laugh at her. “Open it, and you’ll find out what’s in the box.” If I live to be one hundred, I will never forget the look on my daughter’s face when she opens the box. For the first time in her young life, she is speechless. I swear, she’s looking down into the box, and she’s not saying a word. “Kellie honey, do you like your gift?” She looks up at me, and then the tears flow, and I mean, loud, I’m about to pass out crying tears. Joey jumps off the sofa and sits next to her. “Take it out of the box.” Kellie bends down and very carefully lifts out of the box a snow-white poodle with a pink rhinestone collar. She hugs the little dog to her chest and cries again. “Is it really my dog, Daddy?” “Yes, it is honey. Mommy and I thought it was time for you to have a dog. I want you to remember that taking care of a dog is a big responsibility. You have to feed it, bathe it, take it for a walk, and clean up after it.” “I promise I will take good care of my dog. Oh, this is the best Christmas ever. Mommy is home, and I have a poodle. Can I open my other presents?” “You sure can, sweetheart.” I watch in amazement as Kellie rips open the other packages in record time. She has everything she could possibly need for a dog, and I have never seen my daughter so happy. “Have you picked out a name for your poodle, honey?” Kellie thinks about this for a few seconds, and said, “Yeah, I want to call my dog Fluffy.” Joey is next on the list. “It’s your turn, Joey. All of the packages in gold are yours.” My son is not demonstrative by nature. He tends to hold in his emotions. However, this past year has changed him in many ways. I want to give my son something special this year, something that he can use when he returns to his studies. The first gift is a new laptop with all the bells and whistles. The second is an IPad with a keyboard. The third one is a new I-Phone. I want my son to be prepared with all of the technology he needs for school. When my son looks up at me, there are tears in his eyes. “Dad, I don’t know what to say. I love all my gifts. Thank you so much, Mom, Dad. This means so much to me. I love you.” After my parent’s exchange gifts with the kids, and we exchange gifts with them, there are three presents under the tree, and all of them are for Diane. My kids and I wanted to give Diane something special this Christmas, and I think our gifts are very right considering what we have been through this year. The gift from our children is a gold charm bracelet. All the charms are heart shaped, and on each heart, there is a laser image of the children at different stages in their life. Diane holds the bracelet in her hand and inspects each heart. She then holds the bracelet against her heart and cries. “Oh, this is so beautiful. I love it so much, and every time I look at my wrist, I will think of my children. Come over here and give your mother a hug and a kiss.” I see my mom taking pictures, and my dad wiping the tears from his face. The image of Diane holding our children in her arms will stay with me for a long time. “I love the two of you so much.” I give my children a minute or two to hold their mother. My mom is furiously taking pictures. I want to capture every moment of this day. “Okay, you too, it’s my turn to give your mom a gift.” I walk over, sit on the arm of the chair, and hand Diane her gift. The box is small but significant. The purple velvet box holds a one-carat heart shaped diamond, set in platinum, with baguettes on the shank of the ring. “I want to give you something that represents how much I love you, and how much our children love you. I know we have challenging days ahead of us, but this gift represents the future. When you look at it, I want you to remember the love, Diane. You will always have our unconditional love.” I take the ring out of the box, slide the ring onto her right ring finger, and kiss her hand. “Oh, Ethan, I love you. This ring is so beautiful. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have anything to give to you in return. I never thought about Christmas gifts.” “We already have our present, Diane. We have you.” There isn’t a dry eye in the house. All of us surround Diane and take turns hugging and kissing her. I already received the usual Christmas gifts from my children, a wallet from Kellie, and an e-reader from Joey, because my old one died months ago. My parents are overly generous this year. Kellie received a new bike, and over a dozen toys and Joey received a new leather jacket, and a $1000 gift card for school supplies. The gift from my parents to me is the most emotional gift of the day. My gift is a first edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetry. I always loved her poetry, and my mind flashes back to my wedding. I recited one of Browning’s poems to my wife before our first dance as husband and wife. When I open the cover, a note sits inside in my father’s handwriting. It says, “One day soon, you will recite another poem to the woman you love on your new wedding day. I feel it in my bones. Love you, Mom and Dad.” Diane is watching me. Everyone is looking at me, and I can’t help but choke up a bit as I hold the book in my hands. Diane does not know the significance of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in our lives. I must explain it to her, and when I sit next to her, I show Diane the note. Her hands shake as she reads what my father wrote, then she looks at me, and I can see what she is thinking. My heart leaped in my chest when she leans in and whispers, “I cannot wait for that day Ethan. I want it so much.” I kiss her temple and whisper back to her, “We will get there sweetheart. I know it in my heart.” My mom and dad give Diane their gift, which is a gift certificate for a full day at the spa. Diane laughs. “Are you telling me I look bad?” “Of course not honey,” my mom said. “We are telling you that you deserve to be pampered.” “Yes, I do, and I thank you. I just remembered I do have one gift for all of you. If you would step back and sit down, I’ll give it to you.” I know what Diane intends to do, and I hold my breath and anxiously wait for the surprise. It takes Diane a minute or so to get out of the chair, and when she reaches for the walker, she takes a step back and moves it out of her way. My nerves are raw as I wait for Diane to take her first steps unaided. Kellie and Joey are watching her intently. “I have been working really hard with Linda and Patti for the past two and a half weeks to get to this point in my therapy. And now, I intend to walk to the dining room table and back again to the chair, without the walker. Ethan, will you stand behind me just in case I need you?” I nod in agreement because my throat closed with emotion, and I do not want my children to see me cry. I walk two steps behind Diane as she slowly walked to the dining room, around the table twice, and back to the living room, where everyone surrounds her with hugs and kisses. The rest of the day passes quickly, and by nine at night, everyone is ready to go to bed, myself included. Once the children are in bed, and my parents have gone home, Diane and I sit in front of the fireplace. “Thank you for today, Ethan. Everything was just wonderful, and I am so happy that I could eat dinner with all of you.” “I’m happy too, honey. I know you have worked very hard the past month, and I am so proud of you. I predict by this time next month; you’ll be able to walk with a cane.” “Oh, that would be so wonderful, Ethan. The whirlpool really helps strengthen my legs.” “Speaking of the whirlpool, I caught you walking on it last night. When I parked the car, I saw the light on, and I peeked through the glass and saw you walking.” “Why didn’t you say anything to me?” “I know you, and the nurses have kept secrets from me, and I suspected that what you did today is one of them. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise by telling you what I saw.” “You’re a little sneaky, aren’t you?” “Yes, I am. How do you feel honey?” “I feel relaxed Ethan. I haven’t felt this comfortable since I came home.” “Do you want to watch a little TV?” “No, I want you to tell me a little about our life together. Tell me a Christmas story.” I have to think for a few minutes, and then I remembered our first Christmas as a married couple. This is the perfect memory to end, in my opinion, a perfect day. “Sitting here with you in front of the fire reminds me of our first Christmas as a married couple. We had no money, and I mean we were broke. I was still in residency, and you just started a new job at the high school as a substitute teacher. We agreed that we would not buy each other presents because we were saving for the down payment on our first home. We had only been married a little over four months. Mom and Dad invited us to sleep over and spend Christmas day with them. After my parents had gone to bed, we sat in front of the fire, as we are now, toasted marshmallows, and you made smores. At midnight, you reached into your handbag and pulled out a small gift box.” I unbuttoned my pajama top to show her the gift. “You bought this for me for our first Christmas. This is St. Luke, the Patron Saint of Doctors. The only time I remove this is when I am in the operating room. You see, my love, you are always with me. I also had a gift for you, and if you give me a minute, I’ll run upstairs and get it for you.” I run up to our bedroom, open Diane’s jewelry box, and take out my gift to her. After so many years, it still looks perfect to me. I want Diane to wear it again. When I reach the last step, I take a minute to watch my wife as she relaxes in front of the fire. The glow of the flames shimmer around her, and God, she looks so beautiful. I sit next to her, open my hand, and show her a gold heart shaped locket on a thin chain. Attached to the necklace is a little key. “I gave this to you for our first Christmas, and I want you to wear it again on the first Christmas of our new life together. The locket represents my heart, and you hold the key, honey.” With shaking hands, I secure the chain around her beautiful neck. Diane’s hand comes up to caress the locket, and I see tears in her eyes. Neither of us says anything. I pull her close to me, close my eyes, and end the day with my wife in my arms. This is the perfect ending to the perfect day. Chapter Thirty-Four Diane I haven’t been able to sleep all night, and I feel terrible that I’ve kept Ethan awake also. I’m nervous about my appointment with the psychologist in the morning. I know it’s time to face what happened to me, but talking with a stranger unsettles me. Ethan has been so patient with me since I came home, and I know we’ve spoken about this, but now that I have to face it, I’m scared. I don’t know how talking about what happened in the park will affect me emotionally. “If you bounce around darling, you will toss me out of bed. Do you want a cup of tea?” “That sounds good. I’ve given up on sleeping tonight.” “Are you hungry? Do you want a little snack?” “That sounds good. Just bring up a couple of cookies.” It’s time to face reality, and while I’ve had the past several weeks to recover physically, my emotional health is fragile. I try to keep a smile on my face, but the memories of that awful night haunt me. Ethan and I decided that we would not talk about it until we meet with the therapist. I do not want that ugliness in our home. I do not want my children to see me upset. Joey starts the new semester in a few days, and Kellie is bouncing around the house with a smile on her face and an adorable dog that follows her everywhere. I want my children to be happy. Ethan returns to our bedroom with a tray loaded with food. “I said a couple of cookies, not the entire refrigerator!” I can’t help but laugh at the expression on his face. “What? It’s not that much food. I just have a few cookies, cheese and crackers, some pound cake, and tea. We can’t watch television in bed without eating something. It’s tradition honey.” “What the hell, pass the food and turn on the lights. I need to see what I’m eating.” “What are we watching?” Ethan asks as he places the tray on the bed. I pass the remote to him. “I have no idea. Find something good for me to watch while I make a pig of myself.” Ethan scrolls through the channels until he comes to a comedy channel, and we watch something called Blue Collar Comedy. The two of us laugh so much, and several minutes later, there is a knock on the bedroom door. It’s Joey. “What the heck is going on in there? I can hear you laughing in my room, and guess what? I see Kellie coming out of her room.” Ethan yells out to them. “Come in and join the party.” Something shifted inside of me as I sit in bed with Joey on my left, and Kellie on my right. They picked at the food on the tray, and together we watch television until they fall asleep. Surprisingly, Ethan and I managed to catch a few hours’ sleep. The next time I open my eyes, Ethan and I are alone in the bed, our bodies wrapped around each other with the sun peeking through the curtains. Whatever happens today, I know in my heart that I have my family to catch me if I fall. Ethan The drive to the hospital is a quiet one. Diane has been picking at an invisible piece of lint on her coat for the past ten minutes. Every time I look over at her, she is wringing her hands together so hard, her knuckles are white. I already know today will be a shitty day. We made the decision not to talk about what happened in the park because Diane had so much on her plate. I did not feel the added stress of discussing it would be good for her. When I park the car, I reach over to hold her hand. “Are you nervous honey?” “Yeah, I’m a little jumpy. No, that’s a lie. I’m terrified of talking about it.” I turn to face her. “I want you to remember that we are in this together, honey. You’ve made such significant progress since Thanksgiving, and I won’t lie and say today will be easy for either of us. I still don’t know all of what happened to you, and honestly, I’m scared too. When you hurt, I hurt also. It’s not easy for me knowing I wasn’t there to protect you. Let’s get through the appointment, and then we’ll go somewhere quiet, just the two of us, okay?” “Yeah, okay. Let’s get this over with.” Diane I feel like I’m walking to my execution. As soon as Ethan wheels me into the hospital, I can’t breathe. I’m back in the wheelchair, and I don’t like it, but the walk from the car, through the parking garage and into the hospital is too much for me. I hate this fucking chair. I hate that I’m once again in a hospital, and I especially hate how I feel now. I feel my nervousness ramp up as we approach the doctor’s office. “I don’t know if I can do this! Please don’t leave me alone with her! I want you to be in the room with me. Please, Ethan, I’m afraid.” “I’ll be with you, honey. Please, try to calm down. We can’t avoid this any longer, and the sooner we talk about it, the sooner we can deal with it. Just take a few deep breaths, and try to calm down.” “Not happening anytime soon, Ethan. I’m too nervous right now, and no amount of breathing will help me. I just want to get this over with and go home.” “I’m right there with you honey.” When we enter the waiting room, the nurse greets us at once. “You must be Dr. and Mrs. Miller. Hello, my name is Evelyn. Please take a seat, and the doctor will be with you shortly.” Less than five minutes later, I see her walk into the reception area. She walks over to Ethan and shakes his hand. “Hello Dr. Miller, it’s good to see you again. Mrs. Miller, it’s a pleasure meeting you. My name is Marilyn Carpenter. Please follow me, and I’ll take you back to one of the session rooms.” I don’t know what I thought I would see in a phycologist’s office. However, I wasn’t expecting the beautiful room that we entered. Soft pastel colors fill the room. Large plush furniture occupied the space. The room is nice. There are several plants on the windowsill, and soft music plays in the background. In front of the sofa is a table with water and coffee, along with cookies. “Wow, this room is lovely,” I say to Marilyn. She smiles at me. “Yes, it is. I have a similar room for my male patients. I find that it relaxes the patient if they are in a soothing environment.” Ethan helps me out of my chair, and once I sit on the sofa, I relax a little. The atmosphere in the room is very calming. Ethan sits next to me and wraps his arm around me, securing me tightly against his warm body. “If you don’t mind Diane, I’m going to ask you some questions and take notes about what you say so I can keep it fresh in my memory. I have reviewed your case file, and I understand the reason why you are here today. If I say or ask anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or brings up a bad memory, please stop me. It is not my intention to upset you. We are here today to address the issues currently going on in your life.” “Thank you, Dr. Carpenter. I feel a little nervous.” “Everyone has a different perspective on what the problem is, and who or what the solution is. The point of counseling is to create positive changes as rapidly as possible without feeling hurried. How do you see the problem or how do you define it?” “When I lost my memory, I didn’t know how I could live without my past. Ethan’s parents welcomed me into their home because I felt uncomfortable living in my house with Ethan. He was a stranger to me then, and even though everyone told me that he is my husband, in my mind, I did not know him. I felt good in the weeks that followed. I slowly had the opportunity to know my family, and I was happy. I was optimistic about the future, with or without my memory. It wasn’t until the day of my birthday that everything changed.” I need to stop for a minute because I feel the anxiety creeping up my neck. Ethan reaches out to hold my hand. I would be so lost without him. “From what I have been told, my relationship with my parents has been difficult for many years. They showed up at my in-law's house, and my mother accused me of lying about my amnesia. There was an argument, and my father punched Ethan in the face. Stephen threw them out of the house. I was so angry that they ruined my happy day, and when everyone went to bed, I called Barbara. We had another argument, and I could not sleep. I don’t know what I was thinking about when I left the house.” “We all have problems or challenges that we must face,” the doctor said. “Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future? If the situation with your memory never resolves itself, how do you feel about living the rest of your life without those memories? Although feelings aren’t right or wrong, good, or bad, every problem has a way of making us feel one way or another. So, how does this issue typically make you feel? Do you feel sad, mad, hopeless, stuck, or what?” “I guess I feel stuck because while I have my memory after the accident, there is so much that has been lost to me: our wedding, the birth of my children, and all of the special moments with Ethan. They are all lost to me, and when I look at pictures, it feels like I am watching someone else’s life.” “How does the problem affect your self-esteem or your sense of guilt?” “I have nothing to feel guilty about! This wasn’t my fault! I didn’t ask for any of this!” Ethan squeezes my hand. “Calm down honey. It’s okay. Take a deep breath.” I feel like an ass for snapping at the doctor. She is only trying to help me. “I’m sorry; I know you only want to help me.” Dr. Carpenter leans in and pats my leg. “It’s okay Diane. I want you to express your feelings, good and bad. I don’t want you holding back. If you are pissed off, shout it out to me. If you are happy, I want to know that too. There are no rules once I close that door. You can say whatever you need to say to me.” “That makes me feel a little better. I have been so afraid that once I start talking about it, I’ll break into a million pieces.” “Ethan, can you also answer this question? I would like to know your thoughts as well as Diane’s.” “I have a lot of guilt. If I hadn’t volunteered to take the children to school, Diane would not have been on that road when the car struck her. I’ve gone over it a million times in my head since that day, and there is no way around it. I have to live with the knowledge that I could have prevented the accident. It eats away at my heart, and there is nothing that I can do to change the outcome.” Marilyn nods and continues taking notes. “This is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. You replay the accident repeatedly in your mind, looking for an alternative solution. Unfortunately, accidents happen, and while you believe you could have prevented it, I’m afraid that’s not the case. Look at it this way. What would have happened if you had been on that road instead of Diane the day of the accident? The outcome would be the same, wouldn’t it?” “I don’t see how this is helping me.” “Think about it, Ethan. Accidents happen, and while we try to take every necessary precaution, bad things happen to good people.” “An awful thing happened to the most wonderful person I know. I don’t think I’ll ever get over what happened to Diane. Intellectually, I hear what you are saying. Emotionally, I am a husband whose wife sustained a serious injury. I am having a hard time blending the two together.” “No set rule says you have to accept one theory over the other. I am not here today to tell you to forget what happened because neither of you will. Our goal is to accept and move forward, without the trauma. Both of you are still young, and you have many years ahead of you.” “Diane, if you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life? Setting goals creates focus. What is your attitude about change? What are your positive change goals? How would you like to improve your life to be more satisfied and happy?” “I want to get out of this chair. I want to walk on my own two feet without help. I want to have my children ask me to help them with their problems. My son is hesitant around me, and while he thinks I can’t see it, I do. They don’t know how to act around me. I don’t want them to see me as a weak person. I want a real marriage with my husband. I want to teach again, but how can I do that without the knowledge that goes with it? I feel like an empty shell, and all that you see is just window dressing. There’s nothing inside of me that makes me feel useful.” “Ethan, how do you feel about this?” “I agree with Diane. All we’ve done since she woke up is take care of her. I’m just as guilty as everyone else is because I have been so worried about her physical health that I did not see the underlying issue. We can remedy that quickly enough.” I turn to Ethan and look at him. His eyes look troubled, and I can see the guilt. I don’t want him to feel guilty. “Oh, Ethan, we are really screwed up, aren’t we? We should have talked about this before today.” “Honey, we agreed to let it rest until after Christmas. We will have plenty of time to discuss everything.” “I know. I just feel like we’ve added a lot more stress to our life today. I don’t want to feel stressful anymore.” “I know, Diane; I don’t want to feel stressful either. We’ll work through it.” Marilyn looks down at her notes and continues with the questions. “Diane, overall, how would you describe your mood? Feelings come and go like the weather. Some of us are moodier than others are or pick up someone else’s mood like a cold. Still, others are thick-skinned about emotional events. In your case, what makes you feel anxious? Is your mood like a roller coaster, or is it steady? What brings you down or makes you feel blue? What’s guaranteed to make you feel up?” “I would say my general mood is lethargic. I have my good moments, but in general, I feel depressed and sad. I feel sad because it’s taking longer than I thought to get back on my feet. Lethargic because I can’t do anything but sit, read, and watch television while I look at the world pass by me. My aquatic therapy is working, and I’ve taken steps in the house without help, but it’s a slow process. I’m not a patient person. The only time I feel happy is when I have my husband and children next to me.” “Ethan, how do you feel? I want you to be honest with me.” “I feel like my head is about to explode. I constantly worry about Diane, and I worry about the future. I’ve pretty much accepted that she will never regain her memory, and while I am happy that she is home with me, I wonder when Diane tells me she loves me, is it the same kind of love as before the accident. I feel stupid saying this because all I’ve wanted several months is to hear those words from her, and now that I do hear them, I second-guess the meaning. I feel like an ass because I don’t know what I would do without Diane in my life.” “The months that she was lost to me were a living hell for all of us. I sat with Diane for countless hours holding her hand, talking to her, and telling her how much I love her. I prayed she would hear me. I prayed that if Diane just opened her eyes, everything would be okay. I have never felt so alone, or so emotionally out of control in my life. I couldn’t have a breakdown because my kids needed me, Diane needed me, so I held in those emotions.” “Ethan, can you tell me a little about how you felt?” “Honestly, I thought my world would come to an end. I thought I would never hold my wife in my arms again. I mentally prepared myself to live my life without the woman who was my wife, because the person laying in a hospital bed was not the girl I knew. I hate saying this, but it’s the truth. I had no way of knowing how Diane would be if she ever opened her eyes.” “Diane, how do you feel about what Ethan just said?” “It makes me angry that the person who hit me got off with a light sentence, while my family is still suffering. I don’t want this hanging over our heads when we are sixty years old! I don’t want my husband questioning the meaning behind my words. I love you, Ethan, as I am now. I love you. Please don’t look for something that isn’t there. Am I the same person before the accident? No, and neither are you. You’ve said so before, and I don’t want us constantly looking back, and second-guessing everything we do or say. That will drive me crazy!” “I don’t want it either Diane. It kills me feeling this way. I love you, and it makes me happy just hearing your voice, and I’m sorry if what I said upsets you.” Dr. Carpenter takes a minute or two to take notes. We still haven’t discussed the elephant in the room. The park and what happened in the park. It’s coming, and I am trying so hard not to panic. “Diane, I would like to focus on the night of the attack in the park. Why did you feel compelled to leave the house?” “I’m not sure now. I remember feeling agitated. Barbara upset me terribly, and I only wanted a little fresh air. I walked to the end of the street, and then I just kept walking. Before I knew it, I was lost, and I did not have m…my phone. It was so…dark ...and I didn’t…know where I was.” I can’t go on and break down sobbing into Ethan’s shoulder. His other arm wraps around me, and I feel safe and loved. “It’s okay baby. You don’t have to talk about this now. Do you want to go home?” I take a few seconds to answer him. “No, I need to talk about this. I need to get this out of me.” A few minutes later, I continue. “I don’t know how long I walked when I saw the park. The streetlights weren’t bright, and I felt afraid, so I hid between a bench and a large bush. I heard voices, and I crouched lower. I didn’t want anyone to see me, but I was so afraid, and I made a noise. They heard me, and then I felt someone pulling me by my shirt.” “I fought the best I could, and I scratched one of them, and when I did, he…he….he hit me in…the face. I fell to the ground, and….and then….then….two of them held me down and I…I felt my clothes tear. He pulled my pants down and…and…tore my shirt and bra. The man standing…over…me…pulled out his….penis and stroked himself. My body shook uncontrollably, and my head…felt like it would explode from the…pain, so much…pain. I prayed I would die. I didn’t want to live through this, and then the world…went dark.” Ethan abruptly stood and paced the room. “That’s enough for today.” “I agree,” Doctor Carpenter said. “We can resume this next week. I will have my assistant schedule the appointment. Diane, I want to say something to you. I think you are a very brave woman for coming here this morning and sharing your story with me. I’ll see you next week.” I feel drained emotionally and physically, and I can’t even stand to get into the chair. Ethan picks me up, places me in the wheelchair, kisses my neck, and whispers to me, “I love you, and I am so proud of you.” Chapter Thirty-Five Ethan I have a primal urge to find the fuckers who hurt my wife, cut off their dick and balls, and shove them down their throats until they choke to death. That’s how pissed off I am now. I can’t let Diane see how angry I am, because it will only upset her further, and that’s the last thing I want to do. Diane was asleep five minutes after we left the parking garage, and I can understand how this morning drained her energy. If my reaction is any indication as to how she feels, it’s not surprising that she passed out in the car. I take the longest route home because I need to calm the fuck down, and driving does that for me. After hearing what I did this morning, I know I made the correct decision about delaying this conversation until after the holidays. If my kids ever saw me as angry as I am now, it would change our relationship. They would fear me, and that’s the last thing I need now. I pull into a parking lot and text my father. I’ve never needed him more than I do now. Dad, I need you at my house ASAP. Where are you? We’re on the way home from the hospital. Is Diane ok? No, neither of us is ok. I need you. I’ll be waiting for you. Drive safely, son. Thanks, Dad. I love you. Love you too son. Diane slept the entire drive home, and when I pull up into the driveway, the front door opens, and my mother and father are standing on the porch. Diane stirs from her sleep as I lift her out of the car. “Are we home already?” she asks sleepily. “Yes, sweetheart, we’re home. I’m taking you upstairs, and we’ll get you into your comfortable pajamas, and then you can go back to sleep. Does that sound okay honey?” “Yeah, that sounds so good. Love you, Ethan.” “Love you too baby.” Fifteen minutes later, Diane is sleeping peacefully. I close the door quietly and go down to the kitchen where my parents wait for me. My father has his coat on and grabs my arm. “Get your jacket. We’re going for a drive. Your mother will stay here until we get back.” “Where are we going?” “We’re going to the cabin.” The cabin is a little shack where my father goes fishing. It’s about an hour’s drive from my house, and as my dad drives, I stew in my anger. Even my body feels overheated. “Why are we going to the cabin?” “You need a place to vent your anger. I can see it all over you. I don’t want you to explode in front of the kids or Diane. You need to do this in private.” I can’t blow my stack in front of everyone, and by the time we get to the cabin, I’m about to implode. I get out of the car and scream at the top of my lungs. I’m surprised I did not bruise my larynx. I scream for a good five minutes, then fall to my knees and cry from the deepest part of my soul. My father sits on the cold ground next to me and cradles my head in his lap. His firm hand runs over the top of my head, and I lose it again. Months of worry, frustration, and loneliness pour out of me. I can’t stop it, and even if I could, I need to get this out of me before we return home. My baby girl is just beginning to relax, and she does not need to see her father have a meltdown. “What they did to her Dad, you should have heard what they did to my beautiful Diane. They pinned her arms and legs to the ground. They tore at her clothing. One of the fuckers jacked off in front of her while she watched him. That’s when Diane lost consciousness. It’s what saved her. If she hadn’t had the seizure, they would have raped her. Oh, God, why Dad, why did this have to happen to her? She never hurt anyone, and the fucker who hit her sits in his warm house with an ankle monitor, while my wife continues to suffer. I want to hurt someone. I want to take my bare hands and beat someone violently. I have never felt such intense rage and hatred against another human being, but I swear to you, I could kill someone and not feel one ounce of remorse.” My throat is killing me, and I don’t have the energy to get off the ground. My father continues to hold me in his arms while I cry like a fucking baby. I knew this would happen when we finally talked about what happened in the park. Diane and I have been living in denial, I know this, and yet, hearing those words coming from her hurts like hell. I can’t bear knowing I couldn’t protect her. Why did she leave the house? I’ve asked myself this question hundreds of times over the last several months. Why didn’t she call me that night? And then it hit me! I’m angry with Diane. I am fucking furious, and I feel like shit because I’m mad at her. I sit up and face my father. I need to get this out of me now. “I just realized that I’m still angry with Diane for leaving the house that night. Why didn’t she call me, Dad? I gave her an extra phone just for the two of us to communicate. All she had to do was pick up the phone, and I would have been at your house within minutes.” My father looks troubled, and I don’t know why. “Let’s get off the ground and go into the cabin. I need to talk to you.” Several minutes later, we sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. He stares into his cup of coffee for a long time, I assume, to gather his thoughts. When he looks up at me, there are tears in his eyes. “Your mother and I agreed to never discuss this with you or your brother. It was a difficult time in our marriage, and I want your promise that you will never discuss this with him. Do I have your promise, Ethan?” “Of course, Dad, you know you can trust me. What happened with you and Mom?” “Eight months after Jerry had been born; we found out that your mother was pregnant again. We knew almost immediately that this would be a high-risk pregnancy. At twelve weeks, we knew we were having twins. I was excited and terrified at the same time. Your mother suffered horribly with morning sickness, and at around sixteen weeks, preeclampsia set in. Catherine’s blood pressure had been dangerously high, and we decided on bed rest until she delivered. Your mother was under strict orders to limit her activity to one hour a day. We hired a housekeeper and a nanny to help with the house and your brother. Two months later, I came home from the hospital and found your mother on the kitchen floor, lying next to a stool, and she was bleeding. Jerry was in his crib screaming at the top of his lungs.” “By the time we arrived at the hospital, both of my daughters died in utero. To this day, I can’t bear to think about what might have been. When your mother told me that she lost her footing and fell off the stool, I was so angry I wanted to punish her for killing our babies. It was the worst time in our marriage, and I honestly did not think our marriage would survive the loss of our daughters. We fought constantly. Your mother suffered from post-partum depression, and she ignored Jerry for almost a year. I relied on both of our parents to take care of your brother.” “I slept in another bedroom for a few months because I couldn’t stand to look at your mother. I did not see how she had been suffering. I only thought about what I had lost. I stewed in my anger until one day when my mother called me to tell me Catherine was in the hospital. She overdosed on sleeping pills. I almost lost her that day, and I have never forgiven myself for leaving her alone. After months of therapy, we learned to live with our loss, but we never forgot Gail and Carol. We visit them every year, and we will always love them.” “I tell you this because I do not want you to play the blame game. No good comes from it. Bad things happen to good people. Your mother or I could have been on the road that day. Keep your focus on the future, Ethan. Diane needs you now more than ever. Don’t you think she questions her actions daily? I can assure you Diane struggles with this as well. Support each other, and you will survive this difficult time in your life.” “How did you and Mom get past the grief?” My dad leans forward and holds both of my hands. The expression on his face has me tearing up again. I see the love in his eyes, and it humbles me. “We had our rainbow baby. We had you, Ethan. I never wanted you to know just how much you saved us, son. I love you and your brother deeply, but I feel a special bond with you, Ethan. I love you so much, son.” “God, Dad, I love you too. I am so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.” “What can you say? It happened forty-five years ago. I sometimes wonder what they would have looked like. I still cry when I think about my babies, but at the end of the day, we must celebrate and be grateful for the life that we have now. Be grateful Ethan. You have Diane and two beautiful children who love you. Live in the moment and do not let what happened to Diane derail your lives. In time, you will learn to live with the event, but you will never forget it. Make each day special and be happy son. Let’s go home.” ***** “Where did you go?” I hear Diane ask me as I close the bedroom door. “I went for a drive with my Dad. I had to clear my mind, honey. No need to worry.” “I am worried. I know what I said today upset you. I’m sorry if I upset you. I just needed to get it out of me. Can you understand?” “I do now Diane,” I say as I climb into bed with her. “I understand, and I want us to talk about it. I don’t want you holding in your feelings, good or bad. It’s not healthy. How do you feel after our first appointment?” “I’m scared, Ethan. I want my life back. I don’t want to be a burden to all of you.” “Honey, you are not a burden to me. Please don’t say that to me again. I would do anything for you. I love you, Diane.” “I love you too, Ethan.” “So, how do you feel?” “I feel a little less burdened now that someone other than our family knows what happened to me. Sometimes it seems like it happened to someone else, and not me. I am tired of pushing it to the back of my mind, because at night, I have dreams, vivid dreams, and it scares me. I hope that by talking about it, the dreams will go away. I don’t want to live my life always being afraid of everything. I know I should leave the house. I know I must live my life. I don’t want to always look behind me in fear of someone approaching me.” “Dr. Carpenter will help you with this honey, and so will I. Today is the first step in your recovery, and I know that with time, we will get past this difficult time in our lives.” “How do you feel, Ethan? I know something happened after you left the house. Can you tell me about it?” “I was so angry after hearing what happened in the park. I had no outlet for my anger, and my father knew it. He said he could see it all over my face. We took a drive to the cabin that my dad uses when he goes fishing. I lost it, Diane. I stood next to the car and screamed for a good five minutes. I had to get the rage out of me. I couldn’t bring that into our home. I did not want the kids to see me so out of control. It hurts Diane. It hurt seeing someone that you love suffer.” I then tell Diane about my sisters. Diane buries her head in my chest and cries, not only for what my parents lost but also, for what we lost. The two of us finally grieve for the loss of what made our marriage so important to us. It almost feels like we buried that part of our lives, and we came out on the other end still intact. It feels like a rebirth, and in some ways, that’s exactly what it is. Chapter Thirty-Six Diane Three months later So much has happened to me in the last three months. My legs have completely healed, and I can walk on my own two feet, without anyone’s help. It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to climb the stairs, go for a walk, or just stand in the kitchen and wash the dishes. I feel happy again, and I never want to lose this feeling. Ethan went back to work last month, and the house is quiet during the day with the kids in school. Today is our last appointment with Doctor Carpenter, and today’s session will be different from the others. Ethan and I get to ask each other questions, and I’m a little nervous about what he will ask me. We are on our way there now, and neither of us is talking in the car. The silence creeps me out. “Are you okay, Ethan?” “Yes.” And, we continue our drive in total silence. When we arrive at the hospital, Ethan doesn’t say a word as we make our way to her office. I can feel his eyes on me, and I don’t know what’s bothering him. Whatever it is, I’ll find out soon enough. As we wait for our appointment, I watch Ethan as he bounces his leg up and down. He’s twitchy, and the constant movement of his leg makes me crazy. I put my hand on his leg to stop the twitching. He looks over and smiles at me. “Mr. & Mrs. Miller, the doctor will see you now.” Here we go, I think to myself. Today we are in her office, and not in our regular therapy room. I already feel uncomfortable. “How are you today Diane? I see you are walking quite well now.” “I’m good Marilyn, and happy that today is our last session. No offense, but I’ve had enough therapy to last a lifetime.” Marilyn laughs. “No offense taken Diane, I want my patients to leave me at some point in time.” “Ethan, how are you today?” “I'm all right.” Marilyn and I exchange glances with each other. Even she notices something is bugging Ethan. “Ok then, let’s get started. Since this is our last appointment, I want to give the two of you some time to ask each other questions. We’ve discussed many different things in the last three months, and this is your opportunity to ask whatever you feel is left unsaid between the two of you. Diane, what would you like to ask your husband?” I look down at the piece of paper in my hand, and I suddenly feel awkward, but I have a question that needs answering. “I only have one question. Ethan, it’s obvious to me that I will never remember our life together. You tell me every day that it doesn’t matter to you, but are you actually telling me the truth, or are you just saying what I need to hear?” Ethan doesn’t say anything for several very long seconds before he answers my question. “I won’t lie to you Diane and say that it doesn’t bother me because it does. We’ve known each other for half of our lives, and it breaks my heart that you have no memory of what we have shared together. It upsets me deeply that I cannot talk to you about the past, or share memories with you. Sometimes I don’t know how to talk to you, and when I do, I have to filter what I say because I don’t want to upset you. Every day we make new memories, but it’s not the same honey. It will never replace what we’ve lost.” “I have been so focused on you that I failed to see that I’ve also lost something important to me. I’ve also lost our past because I can no longer share it with you. I’ve dreaded the day when you would ask me this question because there is no easy answer. It is what it is, and I have a hard time reconciling my feelings with the overwhelming relief that you are still my wife. I suspect the kids feel the same way, although I’ve never discussed this with them.” “Diane, how do you feel about what Ethan just said to you?” “If you treat me differently, I will never feel normal. I don’t want you filtering what you say to me. Do you think I don’t see how you are with me? You keep me at arms-length sometimes. You hold me in bed; touch me a certain way, but it never goes further than that. I want a real marriage Ethan, and if you hold back from me, we will never get over this. I am your wife, and when I decided it was time to live with you, I made a commitment to make this work between us. Sometimes, I don’t feel that coming from you. I’m walking on my own now, and I feel good physically. I’ve gained weight, and I feel stronger every day. It’s time to move forward Ethan. Can you do that for me?” I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t Ethan laughing at what I just said to him. I am very confused. He doesn’t say two words to me all the way here, and now, he’s laughing at me. Marilyn is as confused as I am. “Ethan, can I ask why you think what Diane just said to you is funny?” “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh, but I can’t help it considering what my question is for Diane. Can I ask her now?” “Yes, please Ethan.” “Oh, Diane, do you have any idea how much I love you. I know I tell you often enough, and I am sorry if I haven’t shown you how I feel. The past few months have been stressful for everyone. My focus was on your physical health, and I’m sorry if I neglected other aspects of our marriage. The truth is, I want you every minute of the day, and that’s why I need to ask you this question.” I watch in disbelief as Ethan kneels in front of me, and takes my hand in his. He takes off my wedding ring, puts it in his pocket, and then slides my engagement ring from my finger. “Diane my darling, I love you with all that I am. I want many more years with you sweetheart, and I thank God every day for bringing you back to me. I want today to be the first day of our new life together. Here is my question. Will you, Diane Susan Miller, marry me again, and make me a happy man? Will you live with me and love our children and me for the rest of your life?” Ethan is looking up at me and waiting for my answer. Oh, God, is this happening? It is, and I am so happy. I choke out, “Yes, yes, I will marry you.” Ethan puts my engagement ring back on my finger but keeps the wedding ring. Both of his hands cradle my face, and when he kisses me, I just melt into him. Doctor Carpenter watches us with a smile on her face. Several seconds later, we break the kiss, and when Ethan sits down again, I go to him and sit on his lap. He reaches for his phone and makes a quick call. “Hey Mom, Diane said yes. Don’t tell the kids. I want them to be surprised. We’ll be at your house by five. Make sure the kids are there before we arrive.” I hear my mother-in-law screaming on the other end of the line, and I laugh, I mean I really laugh, and it feels wonderful. “Well,” Marilyn said, “I think we are having a happily ever after moment. I am so happy for both of you, and I hope I get an invitation to the wedding.” “You will be the first name on the list,” Ethan said. Ethan holds me in his arms, and we stay like this for several minutes, then hand in hand, we walk out of the hospital and into our new life together. Ethan “The kids are going to go nuts when they hear we’re getting married again. I can’t wait to see their faces.” I reach over to hold Diane’s hand, and her fingers link with mine. It just feels so right. “Are you happy honey?” Diane squeezes my hand. “I had no idea when I woke up this morning that this would be the happiest day of my post-injury life. Now I feel guilty about my question. I’m sorry Ethan.” “Why should you feel sorry? We both agreed we would be honest with each other, and you were. There’s nothing to be sorry about, because at the end of the day, I have what I want, and that’s you, sweetheart.” Diane laughs and squeezes my hand again. “Is this really happening? It feels like a dream!” “Yes, my darling, it is actually happening. When do you want to get married?” “You don’t waste time, do you?” “Nope, I’m not letting you get away from me. I want us to be married very soon.” “I remember Dad saying they have a house near the beach. Could we get married on the beach?” “That’s a fantastic idea. We could have a small intimate sunset wedding. We could have a tent erected on the beach, and have the food catered. I’ll ask Dad to apply for the beach permit. Why don’t we get married in June? That will give you time to buy a wedding dress.” “Oh, I can ask Mom to go with me. This is so exciting. I’m so happy Ethan. I love you so much.” “I love you too, sweetheart.” “Where do you want to go for our honeymoon?” I ask Diane. I’m thinking about Italy, and her answer surprises me. “I want to go to Atlantic City. I want to walk on the boardwalk, ride bikes, eat junk food, walk on the beach, and curl up in bed with you every night to watch a movie and eat ice cream.” God, I love her so much. Whatever she wants I’ll be more than happy to give to her. “I think that is a fantastic idea honey.” ***** The minute we walk into my parent’s house, Kellie is all over me. “Granny said you have a surprise. Is it for me?” “Why do you think every surprise is for you, munchkin?” “I’m a kid and kids like surprises. Mommy, are you going to tell me?” “No honey, not now. Where is your brother?” “He’s in the kitchen with Gramps. I’ll get him for you.” Kellie runs towards the kitchen screaming, “Joey; Mommy and Daddy are here, and they have a surprise for us.” I groan. “God help us when she’s a teenager. Let’s start drinking now.” “I heard that,” I hear my Mom say behind me. I turn around and open my arms. My mother walks into my embrace, and I see tears in her eyes. She whispers in my ear, “I love you, my rainbow child.” Taken aback by her comment; I look down into her eyes. I don’t know what to say. “I talked to your father this morning, and he told me he spoke to you about the girls.” “I’m so sorry Mom. I don’t have the words.” I hold her tight against me and feel her slender body shake against mine. “It’s okay son. It happened a long time ago. I hope your father helped you that day.” “Yes, he did. More than you know, Mom.” I hear my Dad’s booming voice. “Hey, get your hands off my woman!” I laugh as I pass my mom to him. Diane is watching the dynamics between us, and I can see that she is a little confused. I whisper to her, “I’ll explain later.” Before I have a chance to speak, Diane said, “I have something to say before we give the kids their surprise.” The look on her face is so serious. I give her the floor. “I have learned through months of therapy that is important to tell the people around you how you feel about them. I never thought my life would be as it is now. It is hard living without the past, and the odds of me remembering anything is slim to none. I’m not going to worry about it any longer because all of you hold a special place in my heart. I don’t have to tell any of you how difficult the past several months have been for our family. As I laid in my, for lack of a better word, coma, I heard all of you speaking to me. It’s hard to explain in words. I felt trapped in a dark room with no doors or windows, but at the same time, I felt safe from the outside world. What happened to me forced my mind to shut down to protect myself, and in the process, weakened my body.” “Ethan, you never gave up hope. You took care of me when I was at my most vulnerable. I felt you near me. I felt you touching and kissing me, but I was too entrenched in the darkness to respond. I felt all of you around me. Kellie honey, George was a good companion for me. Joey, I am so proud that you had the courage to leave home to start your college education. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for you, and I am happy you are home once again.” “Mom, Dad; I have no words to tell you how much I love you. You took care of me when I was unable to take care of myself. The two of you showed infinite patience while I acclimated myself to this new life. I want to apologize to everyone for the pain I caused by leaving the house that night. I still do not know or understand why I made that decision, but it’s changed all of us. We will never forget what happened, but starting today, I want to put it behind us. Today is the first day of my new life with all of you. The only tears I want to see going forward are happy tears.” Diane reaches out for my hand, and I stand next to her. “We have a surprise for everyone. Ethan and I are getting married…again, in June.” I bend down to pick up Kellie, and she hugs me tightly. “Does this mean that Mommy will never leave us again?” “Yes, honey. Mommy will never leave us.” Joey jumps out of his chair and propels himself towards Diane. He lifts her off the floor and spins her around the room. “I love you Mom, and I am so happy you and Dad are getting married again.” “I love you too…son.” I have an important question to ask my son. “Joey, I would be honored if you would be my best man.” I open my arms to my son, and for the first time in almost a year, I can finally relax. “I would be honored, Dad. I am so happy for you and Mom.” Chapter Thirty-Seven Diane The Dreams I am wearing a pink prom dress, and I have a lovely corsage on my wrist. I’m excited about going to the prom with Ethan. He’s a little geeky, but he is so cute. My girlfriends think I am crazy for going to the prom with him, but I sort of like him. Ethan left sweet notes for me and stuffed them in the vents of my locker door. I know he likes me. When we get to the auditorium, I suddenly feel nervous as if everyone is watching me. Ethan sees that I’m nervous and holds my hand. Some of the boys on the football squad want to dance with me, but Ethan keeps an arm around my waist, and it feels nice. “Do you want something to drink Diane? They have a soda table in the corner of the room.” “Can you get me a coke?” “Sure. I’ll be back in a minute.” While Ethan is gone, one of the football players, Mitch, walks over to me. “What are you doing with that geek? Did he pay you to take him to the prom?” “No, he did not pay me. I don’t like what you just said. Why don’t you leave me alone?” “Oh come on. I was only joking. Why are you so serious all of a sudden?” Before I have a chance to answer him, Ethan returns with our soda, and Mitch gave Ethan a shoulder bump and almost knocked him to the floor. I screamed. “That was fucking rude, Mitch!” “Whatever,” he yells back as he walks away from me. I feel Ethan standing behind me, and when he wraps his arm around my waist, he whispers to me, “Don’t worry about him. Do you want to dance with me?” “Yes, I Do Ethan. Let’s dance!” I bolt upright in bed and look over at Ethan as he sleeps peacefully next to me. That wasn’t a dream; it was a memory! I remembered something about our life together. How did this happen? I can’t tell him, not yet, because I want to make sure this isn’t a one-time event. The next night, I have another dream. Ethan and I walk along the shoreline. It’s a beautiful day, and I am so happy. Tomorrow is our wedding day. “I am so happy,” Ethan said to me. “I’ve waited for this day for so long, and after tomorrow, you will be my wife. Wow, it sounds funny when I say it.” “I know. I’ve been walking in the clouds for a couple of weeks. It’s hard to believe that we’ve known each other for almost seven years. My mom is still bitching about us getting married. Mom thinks we are too young, blah, blah, and blah. I hope she doesn’t cause trouble tomorrow. Why does she act this way towards me? I don’t understand what I did to piss her off.” Ethan wraps me in his strong arms, and I feel safe and loved. “Don’t worry about your mother. Nothing will stop me from marrying you tomorrow. You are my girl.” “Will you still call me your girl when I’m sixty years old?” I whisper in his ear. “You will always be my girl for as long as I live,” he whispers back to me. We walk along the beach until we find a somewhat private spot. I sit in front of Ethan, and he wraps his arms around me. I have never felt such a sense of rightness as if my world centers itself just by having Ethan near me. I close my eyes and lean against his chest. I feel his soft lips glide up and down my neck, and chills surge through my body. We made the decision to wait until we were married before making love. I know it’s an old-fashioned concept, considering it’s the eighty’s, but it feels right to us. I want our wedding night to be a memory that we will remember for a very long time. When I open my eyes, I feel tears running down the side of my face. I want so much to talk to Ethan, but I can’t, not now. I need to speak to Dr. Carpenter. Something is happening to me, and before I tell the family, I need to talk to her. I look at the clock, and it is just after midnight. I am too excited to sleep, so I get out of bed slowly because I do not want to wake up Ethan. I walk downstairs, make a cup of tea, and go into the family room. I feel comfortable here, and I think part of the reason I feel this way is because I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in this room over the past several months. I sit on the leather sofa, grab a book, and pray that at some point during the night, I will get a few hours’ sleep. My mind races as I remember both dreams. ***** Someone is shaking me, and I want this person to go away. “Honey, wake up.” “Don’t want to,” I mumble. Now I feel warm lips on my neck, and suddenly I am awake. “Mmm, do that again.” “Not until you open your eyes, my darling.” God, the sound of Ethan’s sexy voice goes directly to my girlie parts. I open my eyes, and he is bending over me with his sexy morning hair and scruffy beard face. It should be illegal for someone to look so goddamn sexy in the morning. “My eyes are open. Are you going to kiss me now?” ‘Hell yes. When I woke up, and you were not in bed next to me, I panicked for a second or two. Why are you in the family room?” “Kiss me first, and then I’ll tell you.” Several minutes later, we finally come up for air. “So, why are you sleeping in the family room?” I cannot tell him the truth. “Well, I couldn’t sleep and wanted to read for a while. I did not want to turn on the light and wake you, so I came down here, made myself a cup of tea, and read my book for a few hours, and eventually, I fell asleep. If you get off me, I’ll make breakfast.” “I don’t want to get off you.” I laugh and kiss him again. “Well, in about ten minutes I will have two starving children to feed. So, I’m asking you again to get…off…me…now, or I’ll let you explain why I did not fix breakfast.” Ethan reluctantly stands and pulls me up off the sofa. “How many more weeks do we have until the wedding?” “Um, I think we have three weeks. Why do you ask?” Wow, the look in his eyes answers that question. “If I don’t make love to you soon, my dick will shrivel up and fall off my body.” I move closer to him and reach down to stroke his cock. “I can guarantee you it will be worth the wait.” I kiss his cheek and leave the room. My poor Ethan looks down at the tent in his pajamas, shakes his head, and sits down. We can’t have the kids seeing their father with a raging hard-on. Ten minutes later, Ethan comes into the kitchen and invades my personal space. Whenever he does this to me, my legs quiver. He whispers in my ear, “That was hitting below the belt Diane. I think you need to take care of me, in the shower, after breakfast.” Once I’ve “taken care of” Ethan, and he leaves for work, I call Dr. Carpenter. “Diane, it is so good to hear from you. How are you these days?” “I’m happy Marilyn. I wanted to speak to you for a few minutes because I’ve been having dreams.” “What kind of dreams?” Marilyn asks me. “Um, well, I think the dreams are memories, but I’m not sure.” “Can you expand that for me, Diane? What kind of dreams are you having?” For the next ten minutes, I explain both dreams to her. Marilyn is silent for a few minutes, and I begin to worry. “What do you think? The dreams were so vivid, and it felt like I lived those dreams. Does this make sense to you?” “It does make sense Diane. The brain is the most complex organ in the body. Without being too technical, neurotransmitters and neurohormones control memories while you sleep. Also, your body releases cortisol while you sleep. It is entirely possible that due to the changes taking place in your life, for example, your upcoming wedding, your mind is at peace with your life. This translates into a relaxed state of mind while you are sleeping.” “What should I do? I want to tell Ethan, but I’m afraid the dreams will stop, and I can’t do that to him. It would be cruel to get his hopes up, and I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t know what to do!” “I want you to write down the dreams. Keep a detailed record and after the wedding, make an appointment for the two of you, and we’ll discuss it then. I don’t want you to panic Diane. This is a good sign that whatever is blocking your memories is weakening. I want you to relax and enjoy the wedding preparations. You deserve to be happy Diane.” “Thank you, Marilyn. I feel better now that I’ve talked to you.” “Just remember Diane that whatever happens in the future, your life is happy, and every day you make new memories.” Every night for the next two weeks, I’ve had dreams, and my notebook is full of memories. I’ve dreamed of our first wedding, the births of my children, vacations, school plays, and summers at the shore. I can feel something changing within me. The brass ring is so close; I can almost touch it. I just need to have a little patience. Chapter Thirty-Eight Diane It’s seven in the morning, and I’ve been awake for a few hours. Ethan sleeps peacefully next to me. It’s hard to imagine that two days from now we will renew our wedding vows. As I lay here, I look across the bedroom at my wedding dress hanging in a garment bag on the closet door. I wanted something simple but elegant, and my dress is beautiful. Catherine helped me to find my gown, and yesterday I had the final fitting. I was unsure about spaghetti straps, but when I put it on yesterday, I felt like a princess. The bodice of the gown shimmers with seed pearls, and the train flows around me. My veil is short because I wanted something simple. This afternoon, Mom and I are getting a manicure and pedicure. Catherine asked me last month if I wanted my parents to attend the wedding, and I told her no. Since I’ve been home, they have not visited me once, and while I am sad about that, I can’t worry about it either. When I roll over, Ethan is staring at me. “Good morning sweetheart.” I move closer to him and kiss his beautiful mouth. Ethan and I decided to wait until our wedding to make love. I know it sounds strange, but without my memory, this is a new experience for me, and I wanted it to happen on our wedding night. “What do you have planned for today, honey?” “Well, if I ever find the energy to get out of bed, Mom and I are having a girl’s day out. It’s manicure and pedicure first, then I need to make a quick stop to pick up Kellie’s dress, then we are having lunch. I’m looking forward to spending the day with Mom. What are you doing today?” “I’m driving down to Cape May with Dad this morning to help him set up for the wedding. We have to pick up the tent, the tables and chairs, and a few other things. Joey is coming with me, and we’ll stay at the house until the wedding. Jerry will drive you, Kellie, and Mom, tomorrow afternoon. Are you excited?” “I am so excited I can’t stand it. I’ll miss you tonight.” Ethan opens his arms, and I curl up against him. This is where I want to be for the rest of my life. This is where I belong, in his arms, in his heart. “Can we just stay like this for a few minutes?” “Oh, definitely, sweetheart, this is where you belong, in my arms.” “I was just thinking the same thing. I love you so much, Ethan.” Ethan holds me tighter against him, “In a few days, we start the next chapter of our lives, and I want to tell you now that I am so damn proud of your strength and your determination to put everything behind you and move forward with your life. I know it’s not easy, and I know that we will have flashbacks. I want you to promise me that you will tell me if or when this happens. I’ll promise to do the same. I want us to have a happy life, honey.” “I promise. I know that a few months of therapy is not a cure-all. I still think about it and probably always will. It’s a part of who I am now, and pushing it to the side or ignoring it is not healthy. Right now, I feel fantastic, and I don’t want anything to spoil our wedding day.” “Well, my darling, I won’t let anything ruin our special day. I’ve waited a long time for this day.” ***** Three hours later, Ethan and Joey are on the road, and Jerry takes Kellie to the zoo. I’m so excited to spend the day with Mom. “So, what do you want to do first?” Mom asked me. “I think we should pick up Kellie’s dress. She is going to love it. Her only requirement was that she wants to look like a princess.” Catherine laughs. “I think you nailed it. Pink silk with a sequins bodice and the sash at the waist with the big pink bow is icing on the cake. Kellie will flip out when she sees the dress. Pink is her favorite color.” “I wish I knew these things. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t know what makes my daughter happy.” Catherine pats my hand. “It is going to take time Diane to know these things. Think of it this way: every time you learn something new; it will become a memory for you. Sit back and enjoy the ride.” “My life feels like a rollercoaster. So much has happened; it’s hard to keep up most days, but I love every minute of it.” “That’s how it should be honey. Do you have everything packed for the wedding?” “Pretty much, but I need something pretty to wear under my gown, and for the wedding night.” “Oh, I know the perfect place to pick up a few sexy things. Let’s go there before we pick up Kellie’s dress.” “How sexy, Mom?” “Very hot, Diane, Ethan will pop a vein when he sees you.” ***** “I don’t know about this, Mom. Isn’t this a little too sexy?” “Oh, no it is perfect, and you look so beautiful.” I look at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in months, I do feel sexy. My stomach flutters at the thought of Ethan removing this from my body on our wedding night. I look at the sexy bra and panties that Catherine holds in her hand and my heart races. While I stand in the fitting room looking at my reflection, another memory hits me. I’ve done this before. I see a younger version of myself standing in front of a mirror wearing a short nightgown and matching robe. Oh, God, it’s happening again, and I am so excited because I’m not sleeping this time. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself. I don’t want Catherine to know what’s happening to me. “You’re right Mom, I do feel sexy, and I think I’ll need one in every color they have.” Twenty minutes later, I have a bag of sexy items guaranteed to make my husband happy. After leaving the store, we head out to get Kellie’s dress. As we are leaving the shopping mall, an SUV almost hits Catherine’s car. She swerves to the right and almost hits a street light. “Goddamn idiot, watch where the hell you’re going!” Catherine yells out the window. My head feels like it is about to explode. A searing pain shoots through my temples, and on instinct, I reach up to hold my head. “Diane, what’s wrong. Did you hit your head?” Catherine’s voice echoes in my mind. I can’t focus. I can’t answer her. I feel her hand on my arm, and then a flash of bright light explodes behind my eyes. I can’t stop shaking. I feel the car moving again, and when I open my eyes, we are once again in the parking lot of the mall. I hear Catherine say, “What is it, Diane? Do you need me to call 911?” I smile as the pain recedes. “No, I’m okay Mom. The car coming at us scared me a little, but I’m ok now.” I can’t tell her that I had a flashback to the day of my accident. “Are you sure you’re ok? You look a little pale honey. Do you want to go home?” “I’m fine really. Let’s pick up Kellie’s dress.” By the end of the day, we’ve had lunch, a manicure, pedicure, and picked up Kellie’s dress. I’m exhausted but so incredibly happy. Later that night, I write what happened today in my journal. Ethan calls me around eleven, waking me from a deep sleep. “I’m sorry honey. Did I wake you?” “Yeah, but I don’t mind. I need to hear your voice.” “Did you have fun today?” Did I have a good time today? It is the best day of my life. “I had an excellent day; you have no idea how good it was.” “I’m happy you had a good day. I miss you, sweetheart.” My throat constricts with emotion. “I miss you too Ethan. You have no idea how much I miss you.” “Go back to sleep, sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” “Yes, you will Ethan. I can’t wait to see you.” “Love you, baby.” “Love you too, so much.” I fall asleep with a smile on my face. Life is good. Ethan Diane is acting very strange. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is different with her. She is bouncing around all over the house, and she is hugging everyone. Kellie and Joey also notice something weird about her. “Mom’s acting weird,” Joey said to me. “She’s just excited about the wedding.” “No, it’s not that. It’s something else. Have you seen the way Mom’s moving around the house? I can’t pinpoint it, but she’s acting differently.” I noticed it too, but I attribute her exuberance to happiness, and by judging the look on her face, Diane is happy. My dad has the barbecue going, and we are about to eat dinner. When I walk out into the backyard, my breath catches in my throat. Diane is dancing around the lawn with Kellie in a very sexy one-piece bathing suit, and for a minute, my mind flashed back to last summer. Diane sees me and runs over to me. She jumps up, wraps her arms and legs around me, and plants one on my lips. My cock immediately reacts to her sudden and rather a bold move, considering we are at my parent’s house. “What are you doing Diane?” I growl out as she grinds herself against me. “You’ve just given me an erection in front of my parent’s and our kids.” “Oops, sorry honey, I’m just happy to see you.” I walk over to the side of the house with Diane still in my arms. I see my mother smirking at me as I walk away from them. Once we are on the other side of the house, I crush my lips to hers. I devour her mouth and grind my cock into her. Thank all that’s holy that I have my swim trunks on because I can’t stop the climax that threatens to blow off the head of my cock. “You started this Diane, and I’m going to finish it.” I have Diane pinned against the side of the house. I need to come now. “Take me out of my trunks honey; we don’t have much time. I can’t stop now.” Diane reaches between us and takes out my cock. The relief that I feel is immediate. Her hand works me hard and fast, and after several hard twists, I come so hard, I see white spots in front of my eyes. I bury my face in her neck to stop myself from screaming. When I look down, thick cum covers Diane’s hand, and it’s the sexiest fucking thing I’ve seen in a long time. I tuck myself back in my trunks and carry her over to the pool. “Get in, and I’ll take care of you.” Once we are in the pool, I slip my hand into the side of her bathing suit and work her clit until her legs tremble. I slide two fingers into her, and she falls apart in my arms. “God I needed that,” she mumbles into my neck. I laugh and hold her tight against me. “You’re acting strange today Diane. What is it?” “I’m happy Ethan, and I want everyone to know it.” “Well, my cock thanks you.” “Glad I could be of service.” When we rejoin everyone, my mother is still smirking at me. “What are you looking at?” “Nothing son, I was just wondering why the two of you are wet.” “It’s hot, so we took a quick dip in the pool. What’s for dinner?” I need to change the subject quickly. “We have hot dogs and hamburgers. It’s the only two things your father knows how to grill.” We spend the next two hours talking about the wedding tomorrow. “The crew arrives at ten in the morning, and they should have the tent erected in about an hour. The caterers will be here at noon to set up the tables. We have a little wooden dance floor inside the air-conditioned tent and a wooden ramp that extends from the edge of the boardwalk to the pergola where we will exchange our vows. Father Collins will be here at three.” “Wow, you did a lot of work today,” Diane said. “I can’t wait to see everything tomorrow. I’m so excited I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight.” I lean into her and whisper in her ear, “I know a guaranteed way to help you sleep tonight.” Diane whispers back to me, “Not until tomorrow night. I promise you’ll be happy.” “I’m already happy Diane. Are you happy too?” “Yes, Ethan. I am incredibly happy.” Chapter Thirty-Nine Diane I love waking up to the scent of sea air, and a cool ocean breeze blowing through the window. I have been awake for a few hours because I am so excited about today. Last night I had so many images of our life together that I felt like I was watching a slide show of my life. Image after image appeared in my mind. It’s only a matter of time before it all comes back to me. I’ve spent the last hour writing in my journal, and tonight I will show it to Ethan. I don’t want to cry today, but I know it will eventually happen. I look at the clock, and it’s eight in the morning. Ethan slept in the other room with Joey, and Kellie slept with me last night. She’s still sleeping, which is odd for her. I guess all of the activity last night was a little too much for her. “Kellie honey, it’s time to get up. We have to get ready for the wedding.” “Do I have to get up? I’m still tired.” I pinch her tummy, and she giggles at me. “Don’t you want to see your princess dress?” Her eyes open and ten seconds later, she is out of the bed. “Where is it? Can I see it now?” “Yes honey, you can see it now, but please do not scream. Granny and Gramps are probably still sleeping.” “Ok, I’ll be quiet. Where is my dress?” I walk over to the closet, unzip the garment bag, and take out the dress. Kellie’s eyes go wide with surprise. She walks over to me and touches the dress. “It is so beautiful, and it’s pink. I love pink. Thank you, Mommy, for the beautiful dress.” “You’re welcome, honey. I’m so glad you will be my flower girl.” “Me too, I’ve been practicing how to throw the petals. Granny helped me with the rose petals last night. They are so beautiful.” “So are you, munchkin, so are you.” ***** It’s two in the afternoon, and it’s time to get dressed. Kellie is already in her dress, and surprisingly, she sits patiently waiting for me to put on my dress. I think she’s afraid something will happen to it if she gets off the bed. My hair is still short, so I don’t have to do much with it, and Mom helps me with my makeup. After I put on my gown, I stare at myself in the mirror, and I finally see me, not a shell of my former self. I see…me. I reach out my hand for Kellie, and together we walk out of the house and towards the beach. I can see the tent in the distance, and I feel my heart flutter. Dad meets us at the edge of the boardwalk and opens his arms to me. I walk into his embrace, and we stand like this for a few seconds. “You look beautiful sweetheart. I am so happy for you and Ethan. He loves you so much.” “I love him too Dad, so very much.” My father-in-law extends his arm to me, and we walk down the ramp to the beach. Catherine lined the ramp with beautiful pink and white impatiens flowers in white clay pots. As we approach the pergola, I see Ethan and my son looking at me. Ethan is so handsome in his tuxedo. In my minds-eye, I see a much younger Ethan waiting for me at the altar. I see bridesmaids, flowers, and a priest. I see people in pews, and white silk bows lining the isle. I see our first wedding. Flashes of images bombard my mind. As I get closer to him, intense pain erupts behind my eyes, and I stumble as I walk. A scream escapes my lips, and then the world goes black once again. In the darkness, I see my life flash before me. All of it comes crashing into my mind, and it feels like I see my life in reverse. I remember the day of the accident. I remember making love to my husband. I remember the day before the crash when we had dinner at the diner. I see the car hit me, and I remember thinking about my babies. I remember…everything. Ethan One minute I see Diane walking towards me, and the next minute, my father is on the ground with her in his arms. Joey and I run to them, and all I can think about is please God, don’t take her from me. Did she have another heart attack like the day of the surgery? A million different things flood through my mind in the fifteen seconds it takes me to run to her. “What happened Dad?” “I don’t know. One minute we’re walking and the next, Diane screams that her head hurts, and she fainted.” I throw my keys to Joey. “Get my bag out of the trunk of my car. Hurry son.” While I wait for Joey, I feel for a pulse. Thank God, Diane’s pulse is strong and steady. Her skin feels a little hot, but it is June. Several seconds later, I hear Diane moan softly and open her eyes. When she looks at me, her eyes fill with tears. Joey returns with my bag, and I perform a quick exam. Linda and Patti stand behind me and hand me a bottle of water. I help Diane sit up, and I give her a little water. By this time, everyone is standing behind us. Diane looks up at me and says, “Hi snickerdoodle.” I feel like I can’t breathe. Only two people on the face of the earth know the significance of the nickname snickerdoodle, Diane, and myself. It takes me a minute to realize what has just happened. “What did you just call me?” “I said, hello snickerdoodle,” Diane said again with a huge smile on her face. “How is this possible?” I ask in barely a whisper. “I’m not sure. All I know is that when I saw you in your tuxedo, my mind flashed back to our wedding, and then I felt intense pain in my head and fainted.” Diane reaches out with both hands and touches my face. “I remember everything, Ethan. I…remember! Help me up. I want to get married today.” “Are you sure honey? We don’t have to do this today.” “Try and stop me, Ethan. I am getting married today!” The laugh that escapes from me feels so incredibly good. “Whatever you want honey. Whatever you want is okay with me.” ***** The tent is full of the people who are close to us. My brother Jerry and his date Joan, my mother, Patti, Linda and their guests Pete and Greg, Marilyn Carpenter and her husband Leonard, and Craig Jenkins. The guest list represents all the people who helped Diane and saved me. The waiters serve champagne, but I’m too nervous to drink. If I did, I would probably throw up. I won’t feel at ease until I hear, “I do.” Then it will be official. I see my father waving at me, and that’s the signal to start this over again. I don’t think my racing heart will slow down until I see Diane standing next to me. I now see Kellie walking towards the trellis where Diane and I will renew our vows. She looks so cute in her pink dress, and her face scrunched in concentration as she carefully throws the petals onto the sand. And then I see her; I see my Diane, the woman that I married so many years ago. I can’t begin to explain how I feel right now, knowing that when we renew our vows, my wife, the woman that I love more than life itself will be right next to me. God, she looks so beautiful. I want to cry for joy and scream to the Heavens, thank you a million times for this day, for this life of ours. I am so blessed. The band plays softly, and I watch my angel come to me. The smile on her face reminds me of our first wedding, and for a fleeting second, I have a sense of déjà vu. Dad kisses Diane and hugs me, then takes his seat. Father Collins begins the ceremony. “We are gathered here to reaffirm the marriage of Diane and Ethan Miller. It is my understanding that Diane and Ethan have written their renewal vows. Ethan, please recite your vows to Diane.” “On our wedding day, I pledged to love you in sickness and in health, and for better or worse. The past year has tested those vows, but our enduring love for one another has prevailed. I come here today to make a fresh start, to renew our vows of love, honor, and fidelity, and to reaffirm my love for you. I cannot breathe without you, Diane. When I look at you, I feel incredibly blessed to be loved by such a beautiful woman. I want everyone to know that you are the love of my life, my reason for existing, and the joy that fills my soul. What makes this day so special for me is the knowledge that you remember our life together. You remember the love we have for each other and our children. I renew my vows to you, pledging my eternal love for you, and eagerly await what life may bring us.” “On our first wedding day, I recited a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to you before our first dance as husband and wife. Today, I would like to recite it to you once again Diane, my love, because I love you more with each passing day. The poem is titled: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1850. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways I love thee to the depth, and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight I love thee freely, as men strive for right I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love with a passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! And, if God chooses, I shall but love thee better after death.” Father Collins turns to Diane. “Diane, please recite your vows to Ethan.” “With great joy, I pledged my love and commitment to you on our wedding day. Our family and friends first showed us how to love, helped us grow, and supported us when we found each other. I hope they will continue to love and support us as we love and support them. Therefore, I am delighted today, in the presence of these witnesses, to reaffirm my commitment to you. Once again, I promise to love you, honor you, and comfort you, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better and for worse, as long as we both shall live. I love you to the moon and back snickerdoodle.” I cannot wait for the priest to say you may kiss the bride. I pull Diane into my body and kiss her with an intensity that shakes me to the core of my being. A discrete cough from Father Collins has me breaking the kiss. Father Collins continues. “Diane and Ethan have had a challenging year, and I am happy to see that the love they shared is as strong as ever. By the way, Ethan, you kiss the bride when I tell you. You have chosen to seal your vows by the giving and receiving of rings. The ring forms a perfect circle without a beginning or an end, and is thereby a symbol of eternity and signifies the duration of the commitment you are making. Let us now exchange these rings.” Ethan: “I give you this ring, as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and with all that I have. I will honor you.” Diane: “I give you this ring, as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and with all that I have. I will honor you.” “And now, by the authority vested in me by the Catholic Church, and by the laws of the State of New Jersey, I now pronounce you man and wife. Ethan, now you may kiss the bride.” And that’s what I did. I kissed my beautiful wife and knew at once that she had returned to me. Her kiss is as it should be because I know this kiss. I don’t want this to ever end. I hold Diane close to me, and whisper to her, “I’ve missed you, baby.” Diane’s eyes stare back at me with love and recognition. “Oh Ethan, I have so much to say to you, but first, I need to hug my children.” Diane turns around, opens her arms, and Joey and Kellie run to her. I hear camera’s clicking in the background, and I know that we will cherish these memories for the rest of our euphoric lives. Diane I can’t tell you how good it feels to hold my children in my arms and remember every minute of their young lives. Ethan bends down to pick up Kellie while I still hold my son. Joey shakes in my arms, and I hold him tighter. “Mom, I can’t believe this is happening. What’s my favorite color?” “Gray,” I tell him. “How did I break my arm?” “You did a wheelie, and the bike went one way, and you hit the ground.” He’s testing me, and I suppress a laugh. “What do I like more, pizza, or hoagies?” “That’s an easy one. You like Pat’s hoagies with oil, no mayo, onions, lettuce, hot peppers, pickles on the side, a bag of chips and a large coke.” “Who is my best friend?” “That’s an easy question. I am, Joey. Are you done testing me?” My son hugs me tighter. “Yeah, I just wanted to be sure before I stopped wishing for the impossible. It’s really you, Mom. I can’t believe it. I’ve missed you so much. I love you, Mom.” “Oh baby, I love you too, and we’ll have plenty of time to catch up. I need to hug Kellie before she has a fit.” Ethan passes Kellie to me, and my precious daughter cries so hard, her little body shakes against mine. “Hush baby, it's okay. Mommy’s here, and I love you.” “Mommy, is it really you this time? Do you remember me, really?” “Yes, I do sweetheart. Do you want to ask me a question?” Kellie thinks for a few minutes before responding. “No, because I know it’s you.” “How do you know?” I’m curious as to how she knows. “Because your eyes look at me the way they did before you hurt your head.” God, my heart is beating so fast, I think I may faint, and when I look over at Ethan with tears in my eyes, he moves closer to me and wraps his arm around my waist. I immediately relax. His touch always calms me. After several hugs and many kisses later, the party begins. I walk over to the band and ask for a song that Ethan and I danced to at our first wedding, “Unchained Melody.” I open my arms, and the two of us once again dance to our new life together. “When did your memory come back honey?” “I’ve been having dreams, and after a few days, I realized they were memories and not dreams. I was so afraid to tell you because I didn’t want to hope for the impossible. I called Marilyn, and she asked me to write everything down and relax. Something was happening to me, and I need to let it happen without worrying about it. I have the journal, and I intended to tell you tonight. I didn’t expect to faint and then wake up with my memory. I am so happy, snickerdoodle. I can’t wait to make love to you.” “You should have told me right away, but I understand why you waited until tonight. By the way, when we get home, I insist you make me several dozen cookies, and we’ll eat them in bed with hot chocolate. Do you remember?” “Oh yeah, I remember. You worked so hard the last year of your residency, and the only time we had together was at night. I made enough cookies for the week, and every night we sat in bed, ate cookies, drank hot chocolate, and watched television. Do you remember the night I told you I was pregnant?” “I do remember. That evening we had chocolate milk, and you put a pacifier in the glass. When I got to the bottom of the glass, I almost choked on it.” “We’ve had a good life Ethan, and I am so grateful to have my memory again. I never want to forget what we’ve shared with each other. It feels strange to me because I have dual memories. It seems like I’ve lived two different lives.” Ethan’s soft lips kiss the nape of my neck. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it, honey. Let’s enjoy the day.” As I lean in for a kiss, I hear Dad’s voice behind me. “Mind if we cut in son?” I turn around and hug my Mom and Dad. Dad’s eyes fill with tears, and he hugs me harder. Mom holds my hand. I would be lost without their love and support. It’s sad that Ethan’s parents hold a special place in my heart when I want so much to feel this kind of love from my parents. I’m not sorry I did not invite them to our wedding. This day is too special for us, and I don’t want the tension they would project towards me. It’s not worth the aggravation. “This is a miracle sweetheart. I have missed you terribly. Who could imagine that something so simple would bring back your memories?” “I was really scared, Dad. I saw everything in rewind, like a movie played in reverse. I saw flashes of images, and then it all came back to me.” We stop talking and walk back to the table when Ethan clinks his glass with a knife. “I would like to make a toast to my beautiful wife. Twenty-four years ago, when Diane and I were married; we had many plans for our life, and all of them have come true. God has blessed us with two beautiful children, and a loving home. I knew the day I married Diane was the best day of my life, followed by the births of our children. To say that the past year has been difficult would be an understatement. I cannot find the words to tell you how it feels when you lose the other half of your heart and soul. Diane, my darling, I love you with all that I am, and today is without a doubt the happiest day of my life because you are once again in my arms. To the lamp of love, may it burn brightest in the darkest hours and never flicker in the winds of trial.” ***** “The sun is setting. Do you want to take a walk on the beach?” Ethan asks me as he takes off his shoes, socks, and tuxedo jacket. “That’s an excellent idea.” Ethan and I have walked this beach many times with the children, but today it feels different because I guess I’m different. I’m not the same person I was before the accident. Ethan holds my hand as we walk along the waterline. “Mom and Dad volunteered to stay with the kids for however long we want them to, and I think we need a good two weeks alone in a soft bed with no interruptions. It will be just you and me, with nothing between us.” “This entire day feels like a dream Ethan. I’m sorry I didn’t share my dreams with you. I wanted to, but I was so afraid it was a fluke. I couldn’t do that to you when I wasn’t sure if what I had dreamed were in fact memories. Then, every night I had a different one. I knew something had happened to me, and I called Marilyn. She got a little technical with me talking about neurotransmitters and cortisol, but I understood what she said to me. I wrote all the dreams down in my journal. I also had a vision when I went shopping with Mom, and the fact that I had one when I was awake excited me. I guess it was only a matter of time before the wall broke and it all came flooding back to me. I never expected it to happen today of all days, but I am so grateful that it happened today.” Ethan’s eyes fill with tears. I wish he would stop crying. “The worst is over for us, and now that I am myself again, we need to put this in the past. I know it is easier said than done, but I want my life back to where it was before the accident. Please Ethan, no more tears.” Ethan pulls me close to him, and I feel his body shake against mine. “I need time honey. I’ve held this in for almost a year, and I can’t just shut it off. My mind is still processing what happened today. I never imagined in a million years that the day would end the way it did. I have you back my darling, and I want to lock myself in a room with you and devour every inch of your body, but first I want to enjoy the sunset with my beautiful wife.” The day ends with Ethan and me holding hands as we watch the sun set over the ocean. Ethan It’s a little past midnight, and the last guests have left, leaving only my parents, brother, and kids in the tent. Kellie is sleeping on the floor, and Joey is talking to his mother. I’ve noticed throughout the night that my son is clinging to his mother, the way he did when he was a small child. Diane has her arm around his shoulder, and they are laughing. God, it’s so good to see them bonding again. My poor baby wore herself out early in the evening and crashed on the floor. My brother walks over to me and sits next to me. “I have to say this was an exciting day, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, you could say that. Did you have a good time today? I noticed you were very cozy with Joan. Who is she?” “Her name is Joan Randall, and I met her in the hospital a couple of months ago. She is the hospital’s pharmacist. I like her a lot, Ethan.” “Wow, you’ve kept her a secret. Can I assume there is something between the two of you?” “You could say that, yes. I’m falling in love with her, and it scares the shit out of me.” Can this day get any better? I’ve waited a long time for my brother to have someone in his life, and now he tells me he’s falling in love! I slap my brother on the back and laugh. “Relax Jerry. You’ve put your career ahead of your personal life for a long time, too long if I'm honest with you. It’s time for you to be happy Jerry. Don’t be an ass and fuck up this relationship. You may not get a second chance at finding happiness.” “And how do you expect me to fuck up?” “You know how Jerry. You work way too many hours. You never take time for yourself. You work weekends and bring work home with you. You’re almost forty-six years old brother. It’s time to step back a little and have a life. I know it’s what you want Jerry; you can’t hide that from me.” Jerry doesn’t respond for several long seconds. I see him watching Diane and Joey. “I never could fool you. You’re right; I want it badly Ethan. I want what you have with Diane. I always did, but my career consumed so much of my time, that I ignored my personal life. It’s not too late for me to have a family. Watching how you coped with everything has opened my eyes, Ethan. The way you took care of Diane and how you made sure the kids had your undivided attention touched me deeply. I love you Ethan, and I am so proud to be your brother.” “I love you too Jerry, and if it were not for you, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. You saved my wife, and in turn, saved me. I know you broke protocol and hospital policy by operating on a family member. That decision put you in an awkward position.” Jerry looks at me with a shocked expression on his face. “Do you think I did not know the ramifications of your decision? I did, and the Board of Directors summoned me to their inner chamber the day after the surgery. They made it very clear to me that you were in deep shit for breaking hospital protocol. I told them that it was my decision, and I wanted you as her surgeon. They said if I signed a waiver exonerating the hospital from legal action should Diane’s condition worsen, they would leave you alone. I never told anyone what happened that day, and I never will. You risked everything to save Diane, and for as long as I live, I will never forget it.” Jerry lowers his head and rubs his eyes. “I’d do it again Ethan. Diane is my sister, and I love her very much. Is that why I always had a shadow following me when I saw Diane?” “Yeah, that was one of the stipulations of letting you continue as her primary care doctor. It’s all about the fucking reputation of the hospital. Diane is secondary in their minds. I was so pissed off that day, but I had so much on my mind that I signed what they wanted me to sign. I told them that if you did not remain her doctor, I would transfer Diane to another hospital. That got their attention. Imagine one of their doctors who doesn't trust the care they offer and moves his wife to another hospital. The scandal it would create forced them to capitulate.” Jerry sighed and lowered his head again. “I need to do something else with my life. I need to slow down and enjoy myself.” “Have you considered a teaching position?” “I have, but I’ve been reluctant to make a move in that direction. Maybe now it’s time since I’ve met Joan. I’m tired, Ethan. I’ve worked non-stop for over twenty years. It’s time for me to slow down and get a life.” I move closer to my brother and put my arm around him. “Do you realize that we’ve hardly done anything together as brothers in a very long time, and I mean a very long time. We’re not getting any younger Jerry, and after what my family has been through this past year, I’m considering pulling back on my hours. I’ve missed so much with Diane and the kids. I can’t go back in time to make it right, but I can control what happens now. I think I may start a private practice and ask Patti and Linda to come with me. Kellie will be a teenager soon, and once that happens, I’ll lose my baby. I want to spend time with her while she is still young enough to want to be around me!” Jerry nods his head in agreement. “Wow, I never thought you would make that move, but I believe that it's an excellent idea. You have the experience to be an excellent GP. Talk to Dad before you make a move.” “Yeah, and you talk to Dad about taking a teaching position.” I glance over at Diane, and she is giving me that look. I think it’s time to start the honeymoon. After saying a quick goodbye to my family and children, we make a quick stop at my parent’s house to change clothes. It’s after one in the morning, and honestly, I am a little tired. Diane, however, is buzzing with excitement and I pray I can keep up with her. I’m sure once I have her naked in my arms, all thoughts of being tired will leave me. Chapter Forty Diane Every nerve in my body is on fire. Since I’ve regained my memories, all I’ve thought about is making love to my husband. My mind has finally calmed somewhat since my sudden and unexpected swan dive on the boardwalk. Ethan reaches out and links his fingers with mine, and the sexual zing shoots up my arm and settles between my legs. I miss him terribly. I miss the warmth of his body on top of mine. I miss the slow burn of him as he thrusts into my body and the way he stills above me and savors the feel of himself in me. I miss the slow thrust, the swirl of his tongue against mine. I miss…everything. Now that I think about it, our kisses have not been the same, because I’ve not been the same. It just dawned on me that our relationship to this point has also been different. The way Ethan holds me at night is different. The way he looks at me and touches me is different. I need to talk to him about this, and I need to do this before we get to the hotel. “Ethan, when we get to the hotel, I need to talk to you for a few minutes before we go in.” I feel his hand tense in mine. I don’t want him thinking something is wrong. I only want to clarify a few things in my mind. “Nothing is wrong Ethan. I only want to say a few things to you before we get out of the car.” “Oh, okay. You had me a little worried.” A few minutes later, we pull into the parking garage. Ethan finds a spot, turns off the ignition, and turns around in his seat to face me. “What is it, honey? Is something worrying you?” “No, I’m not worried. I just thought about something as we were driving and I need to tell you.” He’s frowning at me, and I want to kick myself because I’m not saying this the correct way. I sigh and shake my head. “It occurred to me as we were driving here that our relationship before today is different than before the accident. Now that I have my memories, I’ve been comparing what we had before to what we have now, and I see differences in the way we are together. For instance, you did not kiss me, or touch me in the same way you did before the accident. I’m not sure why that is, and I wanted to ask you about it. Please, before you answer me, I do realize that things were different between us because of my lack of memory. I can probably guess how you will answer me, but I want to hear it from you, Ethan. I want to hear how you felt about me when I had no memory of us.” Ethan takes a very long time to answer my question. His brows furrow in concentration and I try my best not to squirm in my seat. It’s unfair of me to ask this now, but I want the air cleared before we go up to the room. Once I close that door, I want nothing to come between us. I want my life back, and after tonight, I will not talk about this again. Finally, Ethan speaks to me. “I have treated you differently, and I’m sorry. I never wanted to rush you or put pressure on you to resume our sexual relationship if you were not ready to take the next step. Deep down, I think I was afraid to make love to you for fear it would be different. The fact that you noticed a difference in the way I am with you upsets me. I never wanted you to see that hesitation, but I guess I’m not that good at hiding it from you. I never fully grieved for what we had lost Diane, and by not doing so, I left the door open for hope, for some higher power to intervene and bring you back to me.” “Every part of me missed you, Diane. At night, I lay in bed and cry for you, cry for what I lost, and cry for what may never be in the future. I promised myself to give you whatever time you needed to accept me, and maybe someday love me again. When you said you loved me in the whirlpool that night, a glimmer of hope warmed my heart. I longed for the caresses in the dark, for the kisses that I craved so much. I wanted to touch you, to give you pleasure, but I was so afraid to take the next step. When you agreed to marry me again, I finally felt hopeful for our future.” “I was scared shitless when I saw you unconscious in my father’s arms. My mind flashed back to the surgery, and I was so afraid you had a heart attack, and then you opened your eyes, smiled at me, and called me snickerdoodle. I love you so much, Diane. I never knew just how much I love you until the thought of losing you hit me like a sledgehammer. This past year has been life-changing for all of us, and I want to open my eyes every day and see you staring back at me. I’ve been so lonely not having you to talk to every day. What made our life special is having that connection to the past, to be able to speak about it, laugh at the silly memories, and have a connection only the two of us shared with each other. When I lost that, I lost a piece of you. It wasn’t the same honey, and I tried so hard to put the past to bed and get on with our lives. I want today to be a new beginning for us.” This is what I want to hear from Ethan. “I worried so much about not being able to live up to the memory you had of me before all of this happened to us. I want so much to forget this past year, but I can’t, and neither can you. I also want today to be the start of a new life for us. I want to spend time with you Ethan, quality time without the worries of work, what patient needs you in the middle of the night or anything else that pulls you away from me. I want to teach again. I want to laugh and act silly and argue with you. I want it all Ethan, and I want it with you.” Ethan We should have had this discussion in January, and all of this is my fault. I wish Diane told me sooner that she had doubts about how much I love her. I also wish I had the courage to face my doubts and to see that I projected those doubts and fears to her. Never again will Diane not feel how much I love her. Tonight, I will show her, not with words, but with my body. As soon as we walked into the lobby of the hotel, I felt the excitement surge through me. The receptionist recognized us from the previous summer. “Mr. and Mrs. Miller, it is so nice to see you again and congratulations on the wedding. I assume you had a renewal ceremony?” “Yes, we did,” Diane said jubilantly. “We’ve been married for twenty-four years, and thought it was time to renew our vows.” There is no need to tell her why. “Well, congratulations, and we have your usual room ready for you.” “Thank you, Mary. Is it possible to have room service deliver my order?” “Your mother called to tell me you are on your way to the hotel. It’s already in your room.” ***** As soon as I close the door and throw the suitcases onto the floor, I turn around and open my arms. Diane smiles as she walks into my embrace. God, I have missed her so much, I’ll never be able to express it fully. I only know I have her back in my arms where she belongs. Neither one of us says a word. We just stand in the middle of the room holding each other. Finally, I look down into her eyes, and I see her. I see my Diane, the woman that I fell in love with so many years ago. I see our history in her eyes. My hand shakes as I gently caress her beautiful face. “I’ve missed you so much, Diane.” “I know Ethan, I know. I’ve had a few days to adjust to the sudden return of some of my memories. I was so afraid they would go away, and I’d be lost again. You looked so handsome standing under the pergola, and then it all came back to me. Our wedding day, the church, the flowers, all of it. I’m so happy Ethan.” I laugh and hold her closer to me. “I don’t think happy is an adequate word for how I feel right now. Euphoric? Elated? Overjoyed? Ecstatic? I could go on, but I’d rather kiss my beautiful wife.” When our lips meet, I’m taken back in time to our first kiss. Diane’s arms wrap around my neck, and she leans into me. Bliss is all I can think about as I intensify the kiss. Months of wanting what I couldn’t have flowed from me. This is what I want more than my next breath. My body reacts, and I take a step back. I don’t want to act like a beast. Yes, I want her more than I can say, but tonight is about reconnecting. I suddenly have a brilliant idea. “I want you naked Diane. I want you naked and in the tub with me in five minutes. Don’t keep me waiting,” I say as I walk towards the bathroom. Diane’s eyes follow me, and I take one last look at her as I close the bathroom door. Now that I am alone, I take a deep breath and quickly undress. I turn on the faucet and fill the tub with water and some of the shit they have on the shelf. It is almost full when I hear the door open. Diane stands before me naked, sexy as hell, and all mine. I help Diane into the water, and I sit behind her. Diane leans into me, and I hear her sigh with contentment. I whisper in her ear. “Do you remember the last time we took a bath together?” “Yes, I do. It was the day I came home from the hospital. You were so gentle and caring Ethan. I was so afraid that day, but you took that fear away from me. I’ll never forget how you took care of me.” “I’ll always take care of you, honey.” I reach over to the shelf for the washcloth, load it with liquid soap, and run it over Diane’s shoulders and back. The act is much more intimate this time because Diane reacts to my touch. I can no longer fight the tears and cry like a goddam baby. Diane turns around in the tub to face me. “What’s wrong Ethan? Why are you crying?” “I can’t help it, Diane. I remember that day and how terrified I was of losing you. Just when I think I’ve gotten it out of my system, a memory hits me, and I lose it. I’m having a hard time getting past the memories.” “I don’t think we will ever forget Ethan, but I want us to be happy again. This is a new beginning for us, for our family. The point of therapy was to accept what happened and live with the memories. Please Ethan, no more tears. I’m so happy, and I want you to be happy also.” “God, Diane. I am incredibly happy. You have no idea how over the moon happy I am right now. When I look at you, I can see the love you have for me. I can see the love you have for our children. Your eyes speak for you. It’s one of the things I missed most about you. I could always tell how you were feeling by the way you looked at me. I could also tell when you were pissed at me.” “Oh really? How could you tell I was pissed at you?” I laugh at her question. “Oh, no. I’m not giving away trade secrets. A guy needs a defense strategy.” “Let’s finish bathing, and go to bed. I want you to hold me all night long in your arms while I sleep.” “That sounds wonderful honey. There’s no place I’d rather be.” Several minutes later, we are wrapped in warm, soft bathrobes. “Let’s go to bed. I have a surprise for you.” “A surprise, what is it?” I take her hand in mine. When we walk back to the bedroom, there is a cart in the corner of the room. It takes Diane a few seconds to realize what’s on the tray, hot chocolate in a carafe and snickerdoodle cookies. She jumps up and down and runs over to the cart. “Who did this for us? I can’t believe this!” “I called the hotel after the wedding and asked them if they could make a batch of snickerdoodle cookies for us, and to make sure we have hot chocolate to go with them. When I explained the significance of what I had asked for, the hotel was more than happy to accommodate me.” “Wow, this brings back a lot of memories. Let’s get into bed, turn on the television, and end this perfect day with the perfect memory.” At three in the morning, Diane and I sit up in bed, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate, and watch the comedy channel. High on sugar, we fall asleep holding each other. This is my idea of heaven. Chapter Forty-One Diane I feel like I am slowly dying. I’ve thrown up every day for the past week. I recognize the signs, and I don’t want to get my hopes up until I pee on a stick. I call my mother-in-law because I need her help. “Hi Mom, can you come over, I need your help.” My throat is raw from the vomiting, and I sound bad. “What is it, Diane? Are you sick?” “Yeah, I can’t get off the bathroom floor. Ethan’s already gone to work, and I don’t want the kids to see me sick. I need your help.” “I’ll be there in five minutes, honey. I’ll take care of you.” Less than five minutes later, Mom is knocking on the bathroom door. “Come in Mom.” I must look like shit judging by the look on her face. “Oh baby, what’s wrong?” Four words reduce me to tears. Mom helps me off the floor and back into bed. I sigh in relief as I hit the mattress. “You don’t have a fever. Do you want me to call Ethan?” “No. I need you to go to the drug store and pick up a few pregnancy tests. I think I’m pregnant.” Mom’s eyes fill with tears, and I start to cry with her. “It’s okay honey. I’ll take care of you. Would you like a little tea and toast? It will settle your stomach.” “That sounds good Mom. Thank you, and don’t say anything until I’m sure we’re pregnant.” Mom holds my hand. “Don’t worry. I won’t say a word.” After I’ve had my tea and toast, I hold my breath and pray it stays in my stomach. An hour later, Mom leaves to pick up the tests, and I fall asleep. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep when I hear knocking on the door. “It’s me, honey, I have what you need.” I sit up and thankfully, the room doesn’t spin on me. “Where are the kids?” “Dad took them to lunch. I had to tell him, but I made him swear on a stack of bibles to keep his mouth shut. Come on; I’ll help you into the bathroom.” I pee on three sticks and hold my breath in anticipation of this life-changing event. The five minutes that I must wait for the result passes so slowly; I feel like screaming. Mom sits on the edge of the bathtub and waits with me. After the required waiting period, I stand up and walk over to the vanity. When I look down, all three tests say ‘pregnant.’ My hand instinctively goes to my abdomen, and I cry like a baby. Mom stands beside me and holds me in her arms. “I am so happy for you honey. Are you happy?” “Oh, God yes, I am so happy. I need to see my gynecologist as soon as possible.” I call Doctor Richards, and she agreed to see me this morning. Mom comes with me, and two hours later, I am walking on clouds, and about three weeks pregnant. I know exactly how I want to tell Ethan. “Mom, I need you to take the kids tonight. I want to tell Ethan about the baby.” “Give me a minute to text Dad, and we’ll take care of the kids. I think they need a sleepover at the shore and some beach time. Congratulations, Grandpa! OMG…really? Yes. Diane wants to tell Ethan tonight. Let’s take the kids to Cape May for a little beach time. Hold on while I ask them. Green light for the beach. We’ll be home in thirty minutes. Okay. I’m so happy for them. So am I honey. “It’s all set. Dad will be home in thirty minutes. It shouldn’t take long to pack a few things. I’ll take care of Kellie’s bag. Take a nap for a little bit, and I’ll wake you when we leave.” “I will in a minute. I have to get something from the storage room.” Two hours later, the house is empty, and I’m making a light dinner of pasta and chicken, with a little surprise in Ethan’s wine glass. Ethan The smell of home-cooked sauce hits my nose when I walk into the kitchen. Diane is in front of the stove wearing a cute sundress with flats, and she has an apron wrapped around her. I walk up behind her and nibble on her neck. “Are the kids in the house?” “Nope, we are all alone until Sunday. Mom and Dad took the kids to the summerhouse for a little beach time. This is Mommy and Daddy time.” “I like Mommy and Daddy time very much. What’s for dinner?” “I made a pot of sauce, and I have chicken and Italian bread on the warming tray. Go upstairs and put on something comfortable. Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.” It’s hard to believe how two months can change a person’s life. I love coming home to Diane every day and see a smile on her face. She’s happy, and that’s all I want in life. I’ve started the process of reducing my patient load while I put the wheels in motion for my private practice. Gerald Landers retires at the end of the year, and I have agreed to assume his practice. My lawyer and his are working out the details. He has a large patient list and capable staff, and it shouldn’t be difficult for me to fill his shoes. I take a quick shower and change into cargo shorts and a tee shirt. When I walk into the dining room, the table is set, and the lights are dimmed. “What’s the occasion?” I ask somewhat confused. “Did I miss something?” “I thought it would be fun to use the good china since we’re alone. Have a seat, and I’ll serve dinner.” Diane I am so nervous it takes a lot of effort to stop my hands from shaking. To steady myself, I place my hand over the tiny baby growing in my body. I already love this child more than my own life. Once I have the food on the table, I go back into the kitchen for Ethan’s wine glass. He doesn’t know it yet, but at the bottom of his glass is the yellow pacifier that I used to tell him I was pregnant with Joey. I know he doesn’t like red wine but won’t complain. My eyes are glued to his wine glass, and I want to scream, drink the goddamn wine! We take our time eating dinner, not saying much to each other. Ethan doesn’t like to talk while eating, and I’d rather keep my mouth shut until he drinks the damn wine. Finally, I see him pick up his glass and drink some of the wine. Then, he drinks more of it, and I can see the top of the pacifier, and so does Ethan. His hand freezes in mid-air as he stares into the glass. I wish I had my phone to take a picture of his face. His expressions range from shock, disbelief, happiness, and back to shock. He looks up at me as he takes the pacifier from the glass and holds it in his hand. “Is this for real Diane? You’re pregnant?” Ethan is up and out of his chair before I have a chance to answer his question. Ethan kneels in front of me and places his hand on my abdomen. “My precious baby is nestled safely in your beautiful body. You’ve made me so happy Diane, so incredibly happy.” “It’s very early in the pregnancy, about three weeks. I’m so excited I could cry.” Ethan leans in and kisses my stomach. I run my fingers through his hair, and I feel him crying on my lap. “This is our rainbow baby Diane. We’ve created a new life, and I can’t wait to meet my new baby. How do you feel? Are you sick? Do you need anything?” “I am okay, and no, I’m not sick now, but I was this morning, and all I need is my family.” “The kids are going to go nuts when we tell them you’re pregnant. When do you want to share the good news with them?” “We’ll tell them in a few weeks.” “I love you, baby.” “I love you too Ethan.” Diane It’s the Labor Day weekend, and it’s time to tell the kids about the baby. Ethan and I decided to spring it on them the same way I told Ethan. We bought at least fifty pink and blue pacifiers, strung them with ribbons, and hung them along the deck railing. This morning we are having breakfast on the deck. I made baby cookies and decorated them with pink and blue frosting. Joey is the first one out the sliding door followed by Kellie, and he freezes mid-step. He turns around to look at me, and I smile and hand him a cookie. He looks at it as if it will explode in his hand. “Are you serious? You’re having a baby.” I smooth my hand over my little bump and laugh so hard; tears run down my face. “Well, judging by how many pacifiers decorate the deck, my answer is yes.” Joey picks me up and spins me around a few times. The sudden movement makes me a little sick. “Put me down Joey before I throw up on you.” “Oh, sorry Mom, I’m just excited about the new baby.” Kellie is confused by all of the excitement. “Who is having a baby, Mommy?” “I am, sweetheart. Daddy and I are having a baby.” Kellie looks at me horrified and points to my stomach. “In there? How will the baby fit in there?” “Don’t worry honey. The baby will fit perfectly. Are you excited?” “Yeah, now I won’t be the baby. Can I help with taking care of it?” ‘Yes, you can. The new baby will need a big sister.” That made her day. ***** I’ve debated with myself several times whether I should call my parents. I’ve had no communication with them for so long that maybe now is the time to heal old wounds. “What do you think?” I ask Ethan as we lay in bed. His soft hand gently rubs my expanding belly, and the movement of his hand calms me. I don’t like confrontation, which is the main reason why I’ve avoided my parents for so many years. My mother’s acid tongue and blatant hostility towards me are the primary reasons why I’ve avoided her. The casualty in all of this mess is my father, who I miss terribly. “I won’t lie to you and say that I like your parents because I don’t. That being said, they are your parents, and I think it’s time to discuss their behavior towards you. Maybe if you understand what’s in their minds, you can accept how they treat you. Don’t expect miracles, honey. It’s been too long, and there is too much water under the bridge to mend fences.” “I’ve thought about this for a long-time Ethan. I’ve tried to remember when our relationship changed. My mother never was an outgoing person. Most of my childhood memories are of my father and me, and I have very few memories of my mom. It’s sad because I’m sure there is a reason behind why she is the way she is. I just wish they would tell me. Do you think if I force the issue, they will be honest with me?” I feel Ethan tense against me. I take his response as a firm no. “If you do this, I want to be with you. I don’t want you alone with either of them. You’re pregnant, and the last thing you need is added stress. I won’t compromise on this honey. You and the baby are my primary concern.” “Oh, believe me, after what happened the last time I had contact with my parents, I don’t want to be alone with them. I’ll call my father tomorrow and invite them for dinner.” Ethan tensed again. “Just make sure the kids are out of the house. Your mother is unpredictable, and I don’t want the kids to be hit with the backlash of her animosity towards us.” “That’s not a problem. Once I’ve set up the meeting, I’ll ask Dad to take them to dinner.” “How are you feeling honey?” “I feel good now that the morning sickness has subsided somewhat. I’m not barfing every morning if I keep eating bland, boring food. I really miss ice cream, but it makes me so sick.” “Ah, my poor baby, I know you miss eating chocolate in any form. It’s only for a few more months. I think you can hold out for six months.” “Ugh! Six months without chocolate is a sin; it really is, but I endeavor to persevere.” “I really love you, baby.” “I love you too, Ethan. More than you know.” Chapter Forty-Two Diane The next morning, I call my parents. My father picks up the phone. He doesn’t know I’ve regained my memory. How will he react? I’m not sure, but I’ll find out soon enough. “Hello,” he answers gruffly. This is not a good sign. “Hi, Dad, it’s Diane. How are you?” I hear silence on the other end of the phone. Did he hang up on me? Then I hear his voice. “You called me Dad. Does this mean you remember me?” I hear something in his voice. It sounds like he’s about to cry. God, I hate this. I hate it, and I want it to end for all of us. “Yes, Dad,” and I start to tell him what happened on our wedding day. “Why didn’t you invite us to the wedding?” “I think you know why Dad. Have you forgotten what happened on my birthday?” “No honey, I haven’t forgotten what happened that day, and I am so terribly sorry for all of it, especially how your mother treated you that day.” “Where is Mom? Can I talk to her?” Again, there is silence between us. “Diane, I don’t want to tell you this over the phone. Can I come over to see you later today?” “Yes Dad, Ethan will be home after five. I’ll cook dinner for us.” “Okay honey, I’ll see you later.” I call Ethan to let him know he needs to be home early today because my father is coming for a visit. I then call Catherine to ask if they could take the kids to dinner tonight. I don’t want them in the house. I hear the concern in Catherine’s voice. “Are you sure this is wise honey? You’re pregnant, and I don’t want anything upsetting you.” “I’ll be okay because Ethan will be here with me. I need to know why my parents treat me the way they do. I deserve an explanation, and I should have done this a long time ago.” “Okay, it’s your decision, honey. Let me know if you need me.” “I’ll always need you, Mom. Love you.” “Love you too sweetie. Call me later.” “I will. Thanks again.” ***** Ethan is making me nervous with his constant pacing back and forth. “Honey, please sit down. You’re making me nervous.” He walks over to the sofa and sits down. “Sorry honey. I know you need to do this, but I keep remembering the fist in my face the last time we saw each other.” “I know it was unpleasant, but like so many other things this past year, I have to confront this to put it behind me, and if I never have contact with my parents again, at least I’ll know I offered the olive branch.” “That’s very magnanimous of you darling,” Ethan said sarcastically. “This is the new and improved me. I won’t let anything get in the way of our happiness.” The doorbell rings and my anxiety level ramps up considerably. Ethan answers the door. “Hello William, please come in.” My father offers his hand. “Thank you, Ethan. How are you?” “I’m fine; it’s good to see you again.” My father shakes his head. “You’re a good liar Ethan, and I’m sorry I hit you. I’m sorry about a lot of things.” My dad has a huge bouquet of roses in his hand. He bends down to kiss me. “Hi, honey. How are you?” I take the roses and stand up to hug my father. It’s then that he notices my little bump. A smile forms on his face. I smile back and hug my dad for the first time in close to twenty years. It feels so good being in his arms. I never knew until this moment how much I’ve missed him. A sob escapes me, and he holds me tighter. “Oh baby, please don’t cry. I’m so sorry about everything. I love you, honey, so much.” “I love you too Daddy. Can we sit down and get the ugly business out of the way before I lose my courage?” My father sits next to me, and Ethan pulls up the ottoman to sit in front of me. “I did not want to discuss this on the phone Diane, but I’m tired of hiding it from you, and once I explain what’s going on with your mother, I think you will have a better understanding and maybe a little compassion for your mom.” “What is it, Dad? I’ve never heard you talk like this before. Is she sick?” “Yes honey, your mother has been ill for a very long time. A few years after you had been born, we were pregnant again, and I was so happy. Your mother wasn’t, and one day a neighbor called me at work to tell me Mom was walking down the street in her underwear, and she had blood running down her legs. I was terrified Diane, and when I got home, I took her to the hospital. We lost the baby, but what happened after that changed all of our lives. Your mother became argumentative; she would wander the streets at night, and she became very confused. We fought constantly, and then she began to ignore you. When I came home from work, your diaper hadn’t been changed all day, and she would forget to feed you. Once, she left you in a shopping cart in a department store. The police became involved as well as child protective services. She forgot you Diane, and I was so angry with her.” “That was the breaking point for me, and I had your mother admitted for psychiatric evaluation. Honey, your mother suffers from schizophrenia. The diagnosis floored me, and the next few years were tough for us. My mother moved in with us, and she took care of you while I worked. Barbara spent most of her time in bed in a confused state. She would either lash out or regress. It took a long time to get the medication right for her to function normally.” Ethan’s face turns red, and he is about to lash out at my father. I shake my head no because I know what is on his mind. I need to confront this issue. “How does this affect my children and me? Do I have the recessive gene? Why did you keep this a secret? This is serious Dad. I had the right to know that I may carry the same gene and at any point in my life; I could suffer the same fate as Mom. I’m so angry with you Dad.” My father’s face pales, and I don’t care about how he feels. He kept this from me. I want answers, and I want them now. “You do not have the gene, Diane. As soon as we had a diagnosis, I had you tested, and every year until you went to college, I had you checked during your annual physical. Thank God, you do not carry the gene. If you did, I would have told you when you were old enough to understand. I never wanted you to suffer the way your mother has. I did what I thought was best for you at the time.” “Is this why Mom alienates herself from me? After so many years, didn’t you think at some point that I deserved to know the truth?” “I argued with your mother until I was blue in the face. She never forgave herself for neglecting you when you were a baby. It’s a part of the illness honey. Your mother has difficulty accepting reality. You saw it yourself when you were sick. I couldn’t stop her from seeing you. She slips in and out of reality so easily these days, and if she doesn’t take her medicine every day, it gets worse. We know what happened in the park, and your mother blames herself for what happened to you. She’s had a psychotic break, Diane. Barbara has been in a psychiatric facility since that night.” ***** My mind is a whirlwind of emotions. I’m angry with my father, deeply upset for my mother, and resentful that I’ve lost so much of my childhood with her due to secrets and lies. “What do you want me to do about this Dad? I can’t go back in time. How do you expect me to live with this? My children do not know their grandmother or you because of lies and secrets.” “I don’t want anything Diane. I only want to explain why we’ve stayed away from you. Managing your mother’s condition is draining honey, and I’m pushing seventy. I don’t know how much longer she will be able to live at home. It kills me saying this, but it’s time for your mother to have full-time care. I no longer have the strength to help her.” I am about to make a decision that I know may hurt me emotionally. I need to see my mother. “I want to see her as soon as possible.” “No,” Ethan yells at me. “You are not putting yourself in a position to be hurt again. I won’t let you do that to yourself. You’re pregnant for god’s sake. Think about the baby.” “Ethan,” I say as calmly as possible, “The baby is fine. I’m going to do this with both eyes open this time. I know what to expect, and I know that whatever my mother says to me it’s because she’s sick. It’s different this time, Ethan. I need to see her.” “I’m coming with you, or you won’t see her. I’m not backing down on this Diane.” “I want you to come with me. I don’t want to do this alone.” I ask my Dad, “When can we see her?” “Is tomorrow too soon?” “Tomorrow’s fine. It’s Saturday, and Ethan doesn’t have hours at the hospital on the weekend. What facility is she in?” “Your mother is in Bayview, room 401. Visiting hours are from ten in the morning, until six at night. I want to come with you. What time do you want me here tomorrow?” “Be here at twelve. I need time in the morning. I’m still suffering from morning sickness, and I need a little extra time. Let’s have dinner.” I manage to shove some of the food down my throat, but I don’t taste anything. Ethan and my father barely speak, and an hour later, my dad goes home. I’m drained emotionally, and Ethan and I need a few minutes to absorb this devastating news. “Everything makes sense now Ethan. How sad is it that my parents would not share this with me?” “It’s a personal issue, Diane. I’ve seen patients not share a diagnosis with family members for fear of being ostracized or treated differently. Mental illness is still a sensitive subject for many people. They go out of their way to appear as normal as possible. Your mother probably felt that way and made your father promise not to tell you. As a doctor, I can understand this mentality, but as your husband, I’m angry that this was kept from you. Any type of genetic inheritance should be shared with everyone involved. I shudder to think about how this could have affected our children, including the baby you carry now. At least your father had the foresight to test you at an early age. The genetic markers are easy to diagnose, and I thank God you do not have the gene.” “That’s why I am so angry. I could have passed this to our children without every knowing this existed in my family. As a parent, it is your responsibility to protect your children, and having a mental illness is not something you keep a secret.” “Will you be okay seeing your mother tomorrow?” Ethan asks me with concern in his voice. “I think so. At least I hope I’ll be ok. I haven’t had a normal conversation with my mother since I was a teenager. We’ve always bickered about something. I don’t want to do that tomorrow, so if you see me going off the rails, squeeze my arm.” “I will honey. I’ll always have your back.” I sigh and lean into my husband. “And that’s why I love you so much.” Ethan wraps his hand around my neck and pulls me closer to him. His lips brush against mine as he intensifies the kiss. He is about to push me back onto the sofa when I hear Kellie scream, “Yuck, do you have to do that on the couch?” Ethan breaks the kiss and cracks up laughing. “Doing that is how we got you, little girl!” “Too much information Dad,” I hear Joey yell as he drags Kellie from the room. God, I love my children. Chapter Forty-Three Ethan I am not happy about this visit today, but I cannot stop my wife from seeing her mother. I worry that Diane will not have the closure she is expecting to receive. She’s trying to hide the fact that she’s nervous, but I can see it on her face. “You always have the choice to cancel the visit, Diane. I don’t want you to get sick today. How do you feel?” “I’m a little nauseous, and thankfully I didn’t throw up this morning. I have crackers and ginger ale in my bag just in case I feel yukky. I’m just past the first trimester, and I hope the morning sickness goes away soon.” William arrives at our house at eleven-thirty, and he looks as nervous as Diane does. This is not going to be a comfortable visit, and if I see it going downhill, we’re leaving as quickly as possible. The drive to the facility is quiet. William is behind us in his car, because I don’t want him in the car with us. Diane stares out the window and twists her fingers as she usually does when she’s nervous. I reach over and cover her hands with mine. “We can still turn around and go home, Diane. Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay. I just want to get this over with and leave as soon as possible. Let’s go someplace fun when we leave.” I think about this for a minute. Bike riding is out of the question, and I decide a trip to the zoo is just what we need. Twenty minutes later, I park the car and hold Diane’s hand as we follow William into the building. We check in, receive our visitor tags, and walk to the elevator. Diane looks pale, and I ask her again if she’s okay. Diane nods her head yes. I’ve never been in this facility before today, and it’s a nice place, overall. As we approach Barbara’s room, Diane pauses and takes a deep breath. “Ready?” I ask her. She nods again, and we walk into the hospital room. Barbara is sitting in bed watching television, and when she hears us come into the room her eyes fill with tears, and she covers her face with her hands. My beautiful wife has a kind heart and walks over to her bed, sits next to her, and holds her mother’s hand. “Is it really you Diane? Daddy told me you remember us. Do you remember me, baby?” “Yes, I remember you, Mom. Did Daddy tell you about the baby?” “Yes, he did, and I am so happy for you honey. You are my beautiful little girl. You do know Mommy loves you. I’m so sorry honey. Daddy told me he spoke to you about my sickness. I’m sorry you have to see me this way. I must look awful.” “You look beautiful Mom. You always have. How do you feel today?” “I have good days and bad days. Today is a good day because you came to visit me. I have so much to say to you, Diane.” I have no idea what she wants to say to Diane, but I will listen without judgment. I can visibly see that she is sick, and it breaks my heart because she is still Diane’s mother. I remember the confrontations I had with her parents, and I now understand the behavior and William’s unwillingness to intervene. I stand behind my wife and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I was so happy the day you were born. I always wanted a baby girl, and I was so happy when we brought you home from the hospital. Daddy and I had a good life until I got sick. It’s hard to explain. I felt fine one minute, and the next I felt confused, disoriented, and tired. I was afraid to leave the house. I couldn’t keep the house organized. I did not take care of you properly. Everything scared me. I couldn’t sleep, my friends no longer called me, and I just didn’t care about anything. It got worse when I lost the baby. I wanted to die, and then Daddy took me to the hospital.” “I found out a few years later that some of my relatives on my father’s side of the family suffer from mental illness. I was afraid to be around you, Diane. The voices in my head told me to hurt you, and I fought so hard not to hurt my baby. They gave me powerful drugs that dulled my mind. I didn’t want you to see me that way, so I pushed you away from me. I had to push you away to protect you from me. I made Daddy swear he would never tell you the truth. I had to protect my baby.” She looks up at me and continues speaking. “You are a good man Ethan, and I am so happy you married my baby. The two of you have beautiful children, and it saddens me that I am not a part of their lives, but the illness changes me. I become a bitter, ugly woman. I don’t want them to see me that way. I’m sorry about what happened that night. You’ll never know how sorry I am. I know this will kill me some day, and I can leave this world with peace in my heart because my daughter has you to love her.” “Diane honey, I’m having a clear day today, but this is not the norm for me. Most days I am confused and don’t know where I am. Daddy’s tried his best to take care of me, but I think it’s time to face reality. I’ve spent so many years avoiding reality and look where I am now. This is where I belong, in a treatment facility. Today is a good day because you came to visit me. I want to hold on to this day until the illness robs my mind of my memories. Now I know how you felt after the accident. I didn’t believe you because my mind couldn’t face reality. When I’m gone, take care of Daddy. I do love him. Before you leave, please tell me you forgive me. You are still my little girl, and I love you so much.” “I do forgive you Mom, and I love you too.” Diane I kiss my mother goodbye and follow my father out of the room. Ethan is behind me and when I get far enough away from my mom’s room, I lose my composure and fall into Ethan’s arms. “Get me out of here, please.” I take one last look at my father as I walk toward the elevator. My mind is reeling with ‘what if’s.’ I’ve lost so much time with my parents, and none of this was necessary. Did they honestly believe I would shun my mother because she has an illness? How little they think of me if that’s how they thought I would react. Well, now I know the truth, and it does nothing to ease the ache in my heart. My mother will slowly lose her mind. How can I help her? Do I want to help her? Once we are in the parking lot, I feel like I can breathe again. I don’t need this turmoil while I’m pregnant, but how can I turn my back on my mother? Ethan is all over me. He’s holding me in his arms, and I feel his hand move down to caress our baby, and then moves to my pulse point. “Take a few deep breaths, honey. I can feel your pulse racing. This is not good for the baby. Take a deep breath in through the nose, exhale through your mouth. That’s it sweetheart, nice and slow. Do it again. Everything will be okay baby; I’ve got you.” He does have me, and I love him with every fiber of my being. I feel myself relax and laugh when he checks my pulse again. I’d be lost without Ethan. I need him as I need the air to breathe. “I’m okay now. Can we get out of here?” As I get into the car, I see my father exit the building. The look on his face crushes me. He looks dazed, confused, and so sad. I’ve never seen my dad look the way he does now. At that moment, I remember all the fun we had together when I was a little girl. He compensated for my mother, and I never saw it. I am so lost in my memories that I never noticed Ethan turn onto Girard Avenue. We’re going to the zoo. We park the car and walk to the zoo’s entrance gates. I love it here, and I have happy memories not only from my childhood but also with Ethan and the kids. The fountain draws my attention because it was the first picture Ethan showed me after I awoke from the operation. I sit on the ledge and cry for all of us. Ethan sits next to me and wraps an arm around me. “It’s going to be okay baby, let it out. I know this is a sad day for you, and I’m sorry about your mother.” “All I can think of is why? Why did they keep this from me? Am I such an awful person that they couldn’t trust me, or think I wouldn’t understand? She’s sick, and I never knew it. How do I live with this?” “As difficult as this is Diane, you must remember that with any illness, it’s the patient’s prerogative to keep the facts of their illness a secret. I’ve seen it many times honey. It’s not your fault, you are not to blame, and you will not bear the burden on your shoulders. Your mother and father made an informed decision. It’s not your responsibility to understand why. Your focus should be on our baby growing inside of you. Everything else is secondary. Your parents had over thirty years to share this with you. They failed you in many ways Diane, and I don’t want you to get sick over this.” Ethan’s right, but why do I suddenly feel like I need to do something? “What can I do? This illness is incurable, and even with drugs and therapy, there’s no magic pill to take it away from my mother. I have one seriously fucked up family, don’t I? In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t know about this when I was younger. I don’t think I would have handled it in the proper way when I was a teenager.” “If your mother feared she would hurt you, your parents made the correct decision for your safety,” Ethan said with sincerity in his voice. “We can’t go back in time, wave a magic wand, and wish the problem to go away. Schizophrenia is a serious illness, and stress can worsen the condition. Whatever you want to do, I’ll support you.” “What I want to do is help my mother. Whatever happened or did not happen in the past, she is still my mom, and the little girl inside of me still loves her.” Ethan kisses my neck, and I feel his love for me. “Then that’s what we’ll do. Come on; let’s take a walk around the zoo. I know you want to see the flamingos.” “I do, and then I want a hot dog, cheese fries, and a large soda. I am eating for two these days.” ***** One week and five visits later, I now know why my father kept this from me. The highs and lows, along with the sharp changes in temperament are painful to see. My mother’s mood changes hour to hour, and I’ve seen this firsthand. Several times, she had to be sedated. After a particularly rough visit, I asked my father to have lunch with me. We found a nice restaurant not far from the hospital, and after we place our orders, my father reaches across the table and holds my hands in his. I have a sudden urge to cry. It’s been so long since my dad had shown me any type of affection, and I feel like I’m five years old again. “I am so proud of you Diane,” my father said in a gruff voice. “I know seeing your mother today was difficult. She has been like this for close to three years. The bad days now outnumber the good ones. There is only so much medication can do to minimize her symptoms. We’ve tried all of them, and some had serious side effects. It will only get worse as time passes. I want you to be prepared for the day when she no longer recognizes you or wishes to see you.” I am saddened to hear this. “How bad is it, Dad?” “Your mother slips in and out of reality more often than usual, and I was so afraid to leave the house. Several times, when I came home, all the burners were on high, and your mother was asleep in the living room. She could have burned down the house. I asked her why she turned them on, and she couldn’t remember why. We became prisoners in our own home. After your accident, Barbara appeared to be okay, so we went to the hospital. In hindsight, I should have gone alone because Barbara’s condition deteriorated when we saw you after the operation. She went downhill fast, and her condition has gotten worse. It’s no longer safe for her to live in the house. I constantly worry something will happen if I leave the house for something. After what you had been through, and well, also because of our strained relationship, I felt it was best to handle this by myself.” I squeeze my father’s hand. “I’m sorry Dad for everything. I’m sorry you felt you could not trust me with the truth, but I do understand that you had to respect Mom’s wishes. It was an awful position for you to be in because it affected our relationship. Ethan and I went to the zoo last week, and I had so many happy memories of us going there as a child. I missed so much time with you, and I want you to know my kids, including the baby that I’m carrying now. It’s not too late for us Daddy. I want you in my life and in my children’s life. You have a standing invitation to dinner every Sunday, and I want to see you often. Please Daddy; I need to spend time with you.” “I’d like that sweetheart, more than you know.” “That’s good because I will be angry if you bail out on me.” My father and I enjoy a relaxing lunch together and drive back to the hospital. I’ve had enough for one day and went home to my family. The only things I can do for my parents are to love and support them during this difficult time. My mother’s health will continue to deteriorate, and it is no longer if, but when I will lose her. Ethan Eight months later It’s two in the morning, and I’m on bottle duty. My daughter, Olivia, is awake and screaming for her bottle. This is my favorite time of the day because I get to spend quality time with my daughter. Kellie is beside herself because she now has a sister. Joey is so busy with school that we hardly see him, even though he lives in the house with us. Barbara’s condition continues to deteriorate, and most days, she does not recognize us. Diane stopped going to the hospital when Olivia was born. I think it’s just too much watching her mother slip away. It’s sad because Barbara will never know her new baby granddaughter. I believe it is why Diane spends so much time with Kellie. The two of them are joined at the hip, and I can understand why. Kellie is no longer the hyperactive child she once was. Having a baby sister has changed her. She’s ‘more mature’ now that she is a big sister, she tells me, and I can see it in her. Kellie has a close bond with Olivia, and I hope as they grow and mature, my daughters will always have a close relationship. I’m still holding Olivia when I see Diane come into the room. She walks over to me and runs a gentle hand over Olivia’s soft hair. “Did she take the entire bottle?” Diane asks in a whisper. Olivia is almost asleep, and I love the little puffs of air that I feel on my neck. “Yes,” I whisper. I walk over to the crib and lay my baby down to sleep. Please, let her sleep a few hours. Diane and I very quietly leave the room. “Well, we’re awake now Ethan. Do you want a snack?” “What kind of snack?” “Oh, really Ethan, you ask me the same question every week.” “And don’t you always have the same answer every week?” “I guess I do. Get back into bed, and I’ll bring it up. Put on the television but keep the volume low. I don’t want to wake up the kids. I also need a few minutes to pump milk for the baby.” I follow Diane down the hallway, grab her by the waist, and press her against my body. My hands slide up to caress her tender breasts. I gently pinch her nipples and feel the milk coat my fingers. Diane moans and rubs herself against my hard cock. I whisper in her ear, “Can I have a taste baby?” I suppress a laugh when I feel Diane tense against me. I’ve never asked this of her with our other children. Why am I so incredibly turned on just by thinking about sucking on her breast? “Did you just ask me if you can taste my breast milk?” “Yes, I did baby. I’ve wanted a taste for the past two weeks. Are you going to let me have a sip?” “Why are you doing this to me, Ethan? You know we can’t have sex for another eight weeks.” I love winding her up. “Who said anything about making love, darling? Turn around Diane and let me taste you.” “Not in the hallway,” she said to me as she pulls me back into the bedroom. Once we close the door, I am all over her. I’m starving for her. It’s been more than a few months since we’ve made love, and while I like a good blowjob, I want to suckle her. I want her breast in my mouth. I slide her nightgown over her shoulder, and take one of her breasts into my mouth and swirl my tongue around her sensitive nipple. Diane’s breasts are plump and luscious. I’ll miss this when she stops breastfeeding. My other hand reaches down to caress her clit. Diane moans and pulls my head closer to her breast. Her fingers slide into my hair as she digs her nails into my scalp. She is wet for me, and that’s how I like it. I feel Diane pulse around my fingers and with a few hard thrusts of my fingers; I take her over the edge. At the same time, I feel milk squirt into my mouth and like and adolescent teenager, I come in my pajamas. Panting, Diane leans into me to catch her breath. I’ve never tasted breast milk before, and I think I like it. When I look down, both breasts are leaking milk. I run my thumbs over both nipples and Diane pushes my hands away from her body. “Oh, no Ethan not again, I need to pump now before I leak all over the floor. Get back into bed, and I’ll bring up the tray in a few minutes.” “Take your time,” I say to her. “I need to take a shower.” Diane Wow. All I can say is wow. I never thought Ethan would do that to me. My breasts are leaking all over my nightgown, and my clit is throbbing. I wonder how long I can breastfeed because that was fucking awesome. After I pump a few bottles for Olivia, I make the hot chocolate and plate the snickerdoodle cookies. I wonder how many of these we have eaten during our marriage. It’s funny how something so simple has become a significant part of our lives. I remember the early years with Ethan. It wasn’t easy taking care of Joey while Ethan worked so many long hours at the hospital. He always was ambitious, and I see those traits in my son. Who would have thought I’d have a baby at forty-five years old? Not me, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier in my entire life than I am now, even with the situation with my mother. My father asked me to stop visiting my mother, and I’m relieved. It’s not easy watching her slip away from us. Each day is worse than the one before. My father has aged this past year significantly, and I worry about him. My children love Gramps #2, and without them, my dad’s life would be a living hell. He needs time away from the hospital, and I think he finally realizes the end is near. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. I can’t continually dwell on this because the only thing that I can do is to take care of my father. I place a few more snacks on the tray and go back to our bedroom. When I get to the doorway, Ethan is propped up on a few pillows, and he looks so sexy in nothing but his black boxer briefs. Whoever invented boxers should be nominated for a Pulitzer. Ethan takes one look at me and rubs his hands together. “Bring that food over here woman! Feed your man!” “Feed yourself! This is the twenty-first century!” Ethan laughs and grabs a few cookies. “You would think after twenty-five years, I’d be sick of these cookies, but they taste just as good as they did all those years ago.” “Why do you suppose that is Ethan?” I ask. “I don’t know. I guess the cookies are a metaphor for a simpler life, of young love. I’m not sure. All I know is I can’t live without them, and I can’t live without you and the children.” Epilogue Diane Today is the two-year anniversary of the accident, and while I try not to think about it, it’s hard not to as I watch Ethan help Kellie get ready for school. I’ve thought a lot about that day. Part of my therapy is to accept and move on, and I’ve done that, but occasionally my mind flashes back to the accident. Today is one of hose days. Ethan and Kellie continue to bicker about her eggs. It’s funny when I think about it. Two years later, and Kellie still does not like how I cook her eggs. Talk about déjà vu! My beautiful son finally moved out of the house and into his own apartment, which his father and I subsidize. It’s difficult for him to concentrate with all the noise in the house. Fluffy is a terror, and between the baby, the dog, and Kellie, I think my son was about to jump off the roof. Kellie misses her brother, but her primary focus is on Olivia. She no longer plays with her friends after school. She comes home from school and plays with her sister. It is so sweet seeing how they bond with each other. “Let’s go, Kellie. You will be late for school.” “Okay, Dad, I just want to kiss Olivia goodbye.” It doesn’t escape me that Ethan is now Dad and not Daddy. My baby is growing up. Once the house is quiet, I feed Olivia and clean up the kitchen. I am about to give Olivia her bath when I hear the doorbell. It surprises me when I see a registered letter from Ethan’s cousin, Brian Williams. When I open the envelope, there is a letter and another envelope inside it. Dear Diane, I know this comes out of left field, and I am sorry if this upsets you. Last week I received a call from Michael Dougherty. He has completed his sentence early, and the judge released him from home monitoring. He called me and asked if he could speak to you. I told him that is not possible, and instead, he wrote you the enclosed letter. It is up to you whether you want to read what he has to say. I have an obligation to deliver the letter to you. I hope you, Ethan, and the children are well. Give my best to your family, and Carol and I will visit soon. Take care, Brian What could he possibly have to say to me? I don’t want to read the letter. It’s been two years, and I’ve put this behind me. The last thing I need is to re-open old wounds. I pick up my daughter and go into the living room, where I place her in her crib and sit in the chair next to her. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I need to hear what he has to say, and once I do, this will be the end of it for me. I take a deep breath and open the letter. Dear Mrs. Miller, I have thought about you for the past two years, and now that my sentence is over, I felt it was time to say a few things to you. First, I’ll never know if you have read this letter, and that’s okay. Part of my therapy is to atone for past mistakes. It is part of the AA twelve-step program. I had a lot of time to think about my life and figure out where I went off the rails. I never thought I had a problem with alcohol until that awful day. This was not my first arrest for driving while intoxicated, but it certainly is my last. The memory of that day will never leave me. When I saw how you were injured, I wanted to die because it was my fault. I knew I was tired when I got into my car. I should never have stopped for a few beers with my friends. After the verdict, my parents made me attend AA meetings, and at first, I wanted nothing to do with them. I was in denial, and my parents physically dragged me out of the house once they got permission from the court that it was okay for me to leave the house. If I refused, they would contact the judge and have me remanded to the custody of the court. I was angry with them, angry with myself, and angry at the world. My friends took the high road because I was no longer their drinking friend. It took a long time for me to not only realize but also accept that I have a problem. I will always be an alcoholic, and it has taken me two years to find the courage to say these things to you. What happened that day will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I saw how the paramedics had to cut the roof off your car, well, I will never forget that image. I pray every day for you and your family. I pray that eventually, you will forgive me for the pain and suffering that I inflicted on you. It hurts more than I can say knowing I caused another human being pain. I have been sober for seven hundred and fifteen days. I attend meetings every day at the Chestnut Street center, and my sponsor is now my best and only friend. I’ve left behind my old life. I want to start a new life sober, and with the knowledge that I must remain steadfast in my resolve. It is my mission in life to remain sober. I never want to hurt another person. I want to live a good live Mrs. Miller. My sponsor helped me to find a job that is rewarding to me on many levels, and in a few months, I will be a sponsor to another unfortunate soul who needs help. Please forgive me, Mrs. Miller. I never meant to hurt you, and until I die, I will always regret that day. With respect, Michael Dougherty ***** My eyes burn with tears as I fold the letter and place it back in the envelope. I am lost in my own thoughts when I hear Olivia make gurgling sounds next to me. It’s not lost on me that we have our beautiful daughter because of the accident. I can say with certainty that I did not want to have another baby; however, Olivia is our rainbow child. Our daughter healed both of us. I know what I need to do. I pick up Olivia and carry her upstairs. I need to meet Michael Dougherty. Ninety minutes later, I park my car in the lot next to the building. It’s a little past ten in the morning, and I see several people waiting for the doors to open. I stand in line with everyone else when I see two men approach the line. Several people say hello to Michael. God, he looks so young. How can someone so young have this problem? When the doors open, I follow everyone because I have no idea where I’m going. Michael looks at me, smiles and holds the door for me. “Thank you,” I say to him. “You’re welcome. Is this your first meeting?” “Um, I’m here today as a visitor.” “Oh. That’s okay. Everyone is welcome. Have a seat and the meeting will begin in a few minutes.” “Thank you,” I say again. I look around the room, and it surprises me to see so many young people. I try not to stare at Michael, but it’s difficult. Five minutes later, the meeting starts. “Hello everyone, my name is Michael, and I am an alcoholic. I have been sober seven hundred and twenty-five days. I would like to tell you my story.” I sit and listen to Michael tell the people in this room how he hurt me. It is difficult watching him break down several times and cry. The remorse I hear in his voice is genuine. Several people rise from their seats to comfort him and seeing this does something to me. Michael cries for several minutes as he tells everyone about his struggle to overcome his addiction, and his newfound strength, thanks to his sponsor. Michael continues. “If you take anything away from this meeting, know that actions have consequences. I lived in denial for a long time, and if it weren’t for my parents, I would probably be dead, or in prison. I regret many things in my life, but hurting someone changes you. Please, before you pick up a drink, call me, or call your sponsor. I do not want anyone living the hell that I’ve lived the past two years. I regret my actions every day, and nothing I do or say can change what happened that day. The only thing that I can do now is live a sober life because picking up a drink is no longer a choice for me. I can’t do it again, because if I do, I may kill someone. I never want to cause another person to suffer because of my careless actions. It’s that simple.” As I listen to Michael, I glance around the room. There is a lot of sadness in this room, but I also feel a sense of optimism. Everyone in this room acknowledges that they have a problem, and draw strength from each other as they cope with their daily lives. I have something to say and raise my hand. Michael acknowledges me. “Yes, do you have something that you would like to share with the group?” “Yes, thank you. Hello, everyone, my name is Diane. I am not an alcoholic, but I have a story to share with all of you. Two years ago, I was hit by a drunk driver while I was on my way to work. My injuries were severe. I had surgery to repair a head injury; I had a broken arm, leg, and ribs. When I awoke from the surgery, I had lost my memory. To make a long story short, my life and the lives of my husband and children were affected by what happened to me. It took many months for me to regain my memories.” I feel Michael staring at me, and when our eyes meet, there is a silent recognition that passes between us. “I kept asking myself, why did this happen to me? I had to relearn everything because I had no memory. Imagine how I felt when my teenage son had to help me with reading and math, or my eight-year-old daughter helping me with the alphabet. I wanted the person who hit me to suffer. I was happy with the court sentence. I recovered eventually and moved on with my life, but I never forgot that awful day.” “Today I received a letter from the person who hit my car, and it brought me to tears. His letter is sincere, and I feel his regret with each word. I know he is sorry for what happened that day. I’m sorry too, but we can’t go back in time to fix things. Somehow, we must accept what happened and find a way to live with it. I thought I had done that until I received his letter. What I find amazing is how I reacted to his letter. I sat for a long time holding it in my hand. My baby was next to me making gurgling sounds, giggling, and just being the light of my life.” “I wanted to come here today to tell all of you that there are consequences to the decisions we all make, and I admire and respect all of you for having the courage to overcome your demons and live a productive life. I also wanted to tell you, Michael, that I forgive you, and I wish you a happy life. My life is good, and I don’t want you obsessing about whether I read your letter. I did read it, and I will keep it always as a reminder that no one on this earth is perfect. We atone for our sins and strive to live a better life. I want you to have a good life, Michael.” It breaks my heart when Michael falls to his knees and cries. Everyone in the room surrounds him and this as my cue to leave. I’ve said what I needed to say, and it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Today is a good day, and tomorrow will be even better. ***** Later that night, as Ethan and I lay in bed holding each other, I tell him what happened today. He’s a little pissed, and I can understand why. “Calm down Ethan. It’s all good. Don’t you see? I had to tell him my story. I wanted him to know how what he did hurt not only me but also our family. His letter touched me deeply. I felt his regret. I felt his sincerity and his desire to change his life. I had to see it for myself, and now that I have, I never want to talk about it again.” “I would have gone with you, Diane. Why did you do this by yourself?” “I sat in the living room with Olivia next to me, and all I could think about was the past two years, and about how what happened changed our lives. I realized that because of what happened to me, we now have Olivia. It’s difficult to explain. I feel like this puts an end to what happened to me. I had to face him, Ethan. I had to tell him how his careless decision affected so many lives. Maybe now he will be able to relay those feelings in future AA meetings and help someone else before he or she makes a careless choice and hurts someone. Now I can finally bury these memories and live my life. It’s liberating when I think about it. We have a wonderful life, Ethan. I have a husband that I love with every fiber of my being, and three beautiful children. When our time comes to leave this earth, I leave knowing I’ve lived a full life and loved completely.”

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