Saturday, February 7, 2015

Calls of Duty: Part Two

"I'm not sure what you mean. What could we possibly need to talk about," Dylan asked in the most innocent voice he could muster. He was unsure how much his mom had heard and wasn't prepared to make any unnecessary admissions just yet. "Can't a guy just get up early and enjoy the sunrise?" He never thought when he went to bed a few short hours ago that Thanksgiving day would start like this.
His mother cocked her head to the side and stared at him with one eye. She reminded him of the parrot he had as a child. It was as if she was trying to decide whether to take a peanut from him or bite his finger.
"How old are you," she asked.
"So how long have I known you?"
"Twenty-three years, I suppose." She still had her head cocked, and in spite of the possible danger to his fingers, he reached for his coffee. “Why are you asking?” He made his best attempt at what the family called the boo-boo face. Whether he was conscious of it from that early on or not, from about the time he was able to walk, Dylan could melt his mother’s heart simply by going doe-eyed and pouty. It drove his siblings crazy, but it was his gift, and by the age of twenty-three, he had honed it to an art. 
This time, it wasn’t working.
"Dylan, do you remember when you were five and you came to me holding the two halves of the Royal Doulton figurine that the cat had knocked down?" He felt his cheeks warm when she mimed air quotes at the end of the sentence. "Well, I knew it wasn't the cat then, and it isn't the sunrise now. Moms just know. What’s wrong with Henry?"
“It’s not Henry, it’s Eva, and he’s not sure yet. They’re taking her to the hospital now. Her heart stopped.”
“And he asked you to come?”
It shocked him that she heard that much of his conversation. To himself, he cursed the paper-thin walls of the cabin and his mother’s bat-like hearing simultaneously. “He did, and I thought that if I left right after Thanksgiving dinner. . .” He trailed off, stirring his coffee to avoid eye contact.
“Dyl, this is the first Thanksgiving that the whole family has been together.”
“I know mom, but. . .”
“Let me finish, honey.” She picked up from where she left off. “This is the first Thanksgiving that the whole family has been together, but I know how close the two of you are. I can’t even pretend to understand the depth of the bond that you share as Masons, but I see glimmers of it in so much that you do since you joined; how you comport yourself; your desire to be more; the way you genuinely care for everyone around you. Your soul has expanded, son, and I could not be more proud of you.”
Dylan’s eyes pooled with tears. He pulled her in close and hugged her tight. “I don’t know what to do mom,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to disappoint the family.”
“Henry is your family, too. He needs you there.”
“I’ll wait until everyone is up, so I can say goodbye. Dad’s gonna be mad.”
“You just go, and let me handle your father. He understands more than you give him credit for,” she said, taking a large travel mug from the knotty pine cabinet above the coffee maker. “He may be a little disappointed, but he’ll understand. Now go.” She screwed the lid on tightly and handed it to him. “Go,” she added for emphasis.

The tires crunched on the gravel as he drove from the cabin. Through tears, he watched it shrink in the rearview mirror, silhouetted by the rising sun.  He said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for his family, for both of his families.

It was late morning as he walked in to the Emergency Entrance of the hospital, and it was busier than he expected for Thanksgiving morning. The Macy’s Parade played on the flat screen television that hung in the corner of the waiting area. A boy no older than four, his hand wrapped in a now ruined bath towel, turned from the floating balloons that had been keeping his attention to watch Dylan approach the triage desk. Following her son’s eyes, the boy’s mother glanced up as well as she ran her fingers through his blonde hair.
“I’m here to see Eva Ranier,” he said to the nurse in the pink scrubs.
“Family,” she asked as she typed the name into the computer.
“Yes. Family.” He didn’t love lying, but he knew it would both save precious time as well as avoid an argument (one that he knew he would eventually win). Besides, Henry was family, there was no doubt about that.
 “Curtain four,” she said, gesturing violently behind her with her head. He assumed that her willingness to put her neck in such danger meant that curtain four was all the way in the corner. “The doctor is in there now. Go on back.”
As he approached, he heard fragments of conversations – stitches, flu, surgery – through the other curtains as he passed. They’re about as thick as the walls of the cabin, he thought to himself.
He approached Eva’s curtain and listened. “We’ll take her up to surgery in a few minutes. She’s not out of the woods yet, but we’ll do everything we can, Mr. Ranier. You calling 911 saved her life.” Through the gap, he watched Henry stroke Eva’s frail hand. The pale skin was almost translucent, and it bunched easily as his thumb rode up toward her wrist. A cluster of wires rose out of the top of her blue hospital gown and disappeared behind the bed.
He wasn’t sure of the protocol for entering a curtained-off area, so he simply said, “Knock, knock,” softly as he pulled the curtain back.
Henry sprang to his feet with the speed of a man thirty years younger and engulfed him in a hug. “Dylan,” he exclaimed, a little too loud. Softer, he continued. “I can’t believe you came, son. I told you to stay with your folks. We ruined Thanksgiving.” The hug was so firm, it was difficult for him to breathe, but Dylan embraced him back.
“You didn’t ruin anything. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
Henry released him but kept his hands on Dylan’s shoulders. “You’re here,” he said, smiling through tears. “You’re actually here.” Henry pulled him in again and slapped him hard on the back, sobbing.
“How is she,” Dylan asked, mostly to the doctor.
“She had a severe MI – a heart attack. The next few hours will tell us a lot, but we have a great surgical team standing by. I’m heading up to scrub in for her open heart surgery now.” Two orderlies opened the curtain and unlocked the wheels on her bed. “Why don’t we all ride the elevator together. That’ll give you a few more minutes with her before we take her into the OR.”
The doctor brought Dylan up to speed on the situation as they were lifted toward the surgical floor. The ding that counted off floors seemed to sound in syncopation with the heart rate monitor at the foot of Eva’s bed. As the doors slid open, Henry kissed Eva on the forehead and whispered something in her ear. The doctor waited until he was finished, then waved them out first, pointing to the waiting area to the right. He and the bed carrying the love of Henry’s life turned left toward a set of broad doors on which were stenciled the words, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. Before he could get too far, Henry caught hold of his long, white lab coat. “Doc, she’s my sun and my moon. Bring her back to me. Please.” On the word please, he broke down.
“We will, Mr. Ranier. I’ll come see you the minute we’re finished,” His eyes flashed with confidence as he turned and disappeared through the wide doors.
Over the next hours, Dylan distracted Henry as best he could. He caught him up on the family. He told him about work, and he listened as Henry told him about the first time he met Eva.
Dylan tried several times to coax him to the cafeteria, but he refused to leave the waiting room in case the doctor came. Every invitation to eat was met with an apology for making Dylan leave his family.
“Quiet, old man,” Dylan smiled. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I have an idea. Maybe you can help me with the Third Degree lecture?” He already had a pretty good handle on it, but knew from experience that they could easily pass an hour or more once they got started. Halfway through the lecture, Dylan was interrupted by the ring of Henry’s cell phone. He took the opportunity to check his own phone. Not even two o’clock yet.
“This is Henry . . . She’s in surgery now . . . Please don’t go to that trouble, I’ve already messed up enough people’s holiday . . . I don’t even know when I’ll be able to get home . . . If you insist . . . You’re too kind – runs in the family obviously . . . You know where the house is. There’s a key under the potted mums on the front porch. Are you sure you want to do that? It seems like a lot of trouble . . . God bless you.” Henry flipped his phone closed and wiped a tear from his eye.
“Who was that?”
“Oh, no one. No one you know, I mean. Just a lady from church who wanted to let the dog out.”
“You seemed to fight her pretty hard over something so simple.”
“Really? You appeared to listen terribly intently to a conversation that you weren’t a part of,” he retorted, winking a little at Dylan. “Now where were we?” It was the first time Henry had smiled all day.

It was after six when the doctor came in. He walked up to them with all the poise he had when they last saw him, and they knew before he said a word that she was going to be fine.
“You have a very strong wife, Mr. Ranier. She’s going to be okay.”
“Can we see her?”
“They’re closing now, then she’ll go into the recovery room, so not for a few more hours. Go get something to eat, and be back around nine. I’ll take you to see her myself.”
“That’ll never happen,” Dylan said. “I couldn’t get him to leave these chairs since she went in.”
“Nonsense, kid. We should eat.”
“But don’t you want . . .”
“I need to shower and get some of Eva’s things for when she wakes up. I can’t give you the full meal, but I have sliced turkey in the deli drawer of the icebox, and we have a lot to be thankful for. Get your coat.”

Dylan thought it was odd when Henry had him stop at the end of the driveway. For as long as they had been friends, he never saw Henry use the front door. Henry tossed Dylan the key as he fumbled for his knapsack in the back seat.
“Head on in, my bag spilled.”
Dylan walked up the steps of the front porch and moved the key toward the lock. The door opened on its own as he did. He expected to see the stranger from church who had called earlier, but standing on the other side of the threshold was someone far more familiar. “Dad?”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Son.”

To be continued . . .