“I’m sorry,” I say, or try to say, but I don’t think the words make it past my lips.
He touches my face, my neck, my forehead.
“Jesus,” he says, over and over again. “Jesus.”
He pulls the blanket off and I’m colder than I’d ever thought possible.
“Jesus, Maddy, you’re burning up.”
“Cold,” I croak, and he looks even more terrified.
He covers me and cradles my head, kisses my wet brow, lips.
“You’re fine,” he says. “You’re going to be fine.”
I’m not, but it’s nice of him to say so. My body pulses with pain and my throat feels like it’s swelling shut. I can’t get enough air.
“I need an ambulance,” I hear him say.
I roll my head around. When did he get to that side of the room? Where are we? He’s on the phone. He’s talking about someone. Someone sick. Someone is sick. Dying. Emergency. Pills not working.
He’s talking about me.
He’s crying. Don’t cry. Kara will be fine. Your mom will be fine. You will be fine.
The bed sinks. I’m in quicksand. Someone’s trying to pull me out. His hands are hot. Why are they so hot?
Something glows in his other hand. It’s his cell phone. He’s saying something, but the words won’t come clear. Something. Mom. Your mom.
Yes. Mom. I need my mom. She’s already on her way. I hope she’s close.
I close my eyes and squeeze his fingers.
I’m out of time.
And starts again.
Released, PART ONE
I don’t remember much, just a jumbled mix of images. The ambulance. Being stabbed in the leg once. Then twice. Adrenaline shots to restart my heart. Sirens wailing from far away, and then much too close. A TV flickering blue and white high in a corner of the room. Machines beeping and blinking all day and all night keeping vigil. Women and men in white uniforms. Stethoscopes and needles and antiseptics.
Then that smell of jet fuel, that smell that welcomed me before, and leis and the scratchy blanket wrapped twice around me, and why does the window seat matter when the shades are drawn closed?
I remember my mother’s face and how her tears could make a sea.
I remember Olly’s blue eyes gone black. I closed mine against the sorrow and relief and love I saw there.
I’m on my way home. I’ll remain trapped there forever.
I’m alive and don’t want to be.
My mom has transformed my bedroom into a hospital ward. I’m propped up by pillows in my bed and attached to an IV. I’m surrounded by monitoring equipment. I eat nothing but Jell-O.
Each time I awake, she’s by my side. She touches my forehead and speaks to me. Sometimes I try to focus, to understand what she’s saying, but the sound is just out of my reach.
I wake again sometime (hours? days?) later to find her standing over me, frowning at her clipboard. I close my eyes and take inventory of my body. Nothing hurts or, more accurately, nothing hurts too badly. I check in on my head, my throat, my legs. They’re all fine. I open my eyes again to find her about to put me back to sleep.
“No!” I sit up much too quickly. I’m dizzy and nauseous at once. I mean to say I’m OK, but no sound comes out.
I clear my throat and try again. “Please don’t make me sleep anymore.” I at least need to be awake if I’m going to be alive.
“Am I OK?” I ask.
“You’re OK. You’re going to be OK,” she says. Her voice trembles until it breaks.
I pull myself to seated and look at her. Her skin is pale, almost translucent, and it’s stretched too tight across her face. A painful-looking blue vein stretches down from her hairline to her eyelid. I can see other blue veins just under the skin of her forearms and wrists. She has the frightened, disbelieving eyes of someone who witnessed something horrible and is waiting for more horrors to come.
“How could you do this to yourself? You could’ve died,” she whispers.
She steps closer, hugs a clipboard to her chest. “How could you do this to me? After everything?”
I want to say something. I open my mouth to say it, but nothing comes out.
My guilt is an ocean for me to drown in.
I remain in bed after she leaves. I don’t get up to stretch my body. I turn my face away from the window. What do I regret? That I went outside in the first place. That I saw and fell in love with the world. That I fell in love with Olly. How can I live the rest of my life in this bubble now that I know all that I’m missing?
I close my eyes and try to sleep. But the sight of my mom’s face earlier, all the desperate love in her eyes, won’t leave me. I decide then that love is a terrible, terrible thing. Loving someone as fiercely as my mom loves me must be like wearing your heart outside of your body with no skin, no bones, no nothing to protect it.