A story that explores how an event in the past motivates a character in the present.
|Written for: "What a Character! : Official WDC Contest" March 2011
Prompt: A story that explores how an event in the past motivates a character in the present.
Frantic knocking on my apartment door awakened me. Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I glanced toward my alarm clock. Six o'clock in the morning. I groaned, and rolled off the side of my bed. I grabbed the robe from the foot of my bed, hastily threw it on, tying the sash at the waist. I stuffed my feet into the slippers and threw my hair up into a messy knot.
I wondered who could be at my door. It was way too early for visitors. I hadn't had my coffee yet and I desperately needed it. I walked dazedly to my front door. I stopped just short of the door and yelled out, "Who is it?"
"It's us Alyssa, open up, it's important." I recognized the voice as my younger brother, Jeremy. I opened the door a crack and peered out into the bright lights of the hallway.
"What in gods name could be so important that you have to wake me up at this hour?" I opened the door further, squinting, and noticed that Jeremy wasn't alone in his plight. My mom, Lorelei, was standing behind him with tears trailing down her face. Her blue eyes were reddened from crying. She wiped at her nose with the tissue that she had been clutching in her right hand. I looked back toward Jeremy and realized that he had been crying as well. Reddened eyes and drying runnels from tears lined his cheeks, shining in the blinding light from the hallway.
Mom stepped forward and grabbed onto me, pulling me into an embrace so tight that left it hard for me to breathe. With her arms around me, she said, "Alyssa, its dad."
My eyes opened wider and my jaw dropped slightly. I pulled back from the embrace enough to look my mom in the eye, "What about dad? What's happened?"
She pulled me back into the crushing embrace and started to sob. I flashed a pleading look towards Jeremy, "Mom, what is going on?"
Jeremy stepped forward, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Lys, dad is dead."
My knees started to get weak and my eyes blurred. Jeremy grabbed my arm, wrenching me from my mothers’ embrace and pulled me into a crushing embrace of his own. It was as if my family wanted me, needed me to be their rock. I was something to hold onto. No falling apart here. I knew then what I needed to do. I gathered all my strength and became the rock that my family so greatly needed.
Jeremy spoke into my neck, his breath warm against my skin, "I know, I know, I can't believe it either. When grandma told me...I didn't believe it. I mean...he is...he was only forty-seven years old." He let me go. He wiped at the fresh tears running down his cheeks. He inhaled deeply and shook his head from side to side, "It just...it can't be true. He was healthy…I just...I just don't get it!" He started to sob; his shoulders shaking.
This time, I pulled my younger brother into the embrace that he seemed so desperately to need. I ran my hand up and down his back; I was in comfort mode. I had done this so many times while working in the hospital. Provide comfort, but try to remain apart from the families' grief. 'But this is your grief too...' I thought to myself as I tried to pull my family together. My inner voice asked, 'Why do you always have to be the strong one in a crisis situation?' Good question, which I really have no good answer to.
Mom's eyes met mine over Jeremy's shoulder, wiping her eyes with the overly used Kleenex she said, "Lys, the hospital is holding his body for us. Your brother and I were on our way in to see him. Do you want to come with us?"
I inhaled deeply, letting the breath out slowly, I let go of Jeremy and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, "Of course I'll go. Just let me get dressed." I walked away and dressed alone in my room. The whole situation seemed dream-like; It just didn't feel real. My dad? It couldn’t be. I would believe it when I saw him. We left for the hospital soon after I was dressed. On we went to face the reality of my father's premature death.
Death, I had seen it many times before. Often I forget that others have not. The nurse drew back the sheet from dad's face. Upon the sight of the breathing tube protruding from his mouth, my mom and brother completely lost it. They clung to each other while I calmly walked up to my 'daddy' and laid my palm on his chest. He looked as if he were sleeping. His thick multi-colored eyelashes resting on his cheek. No color changes were visible; he still looked like the healthy middle-aged man that I loved. Usually, when I saw death, it was a person that had suffered a chronic disease that they had eventually succumbed to. That disease, took a toll on their body; slowly killing them. He, my dad, was taken from us suddenly. He remained pink, even in death. Seemingly untouched by the grim reaper. Or maybe, I was just seeing what I wanted to see.
I wrapped my fingers around my dad’s cold lifeless palm. I turned to the nurse that was now consoling my mom and brother in my stead. "How long has he been dead? And what does the doctor think the cause of death is?" I had gone directly into familiar territory; I am a nurse.
The nurse gave me a surprised look, nodded, and said, "He was pronounced DOA around four o'clock this morning. The doctor thinks that he had a heart attack. The EMT's didn't even attempt to resuscitate him in the ambulance, because he was flat-lined. There was no cardiac rhythm there to shock. They did attempt to resuscitate him at the scene though. That's why he still has the breathing tube." She looked at me apologetically. Then returned to consoling my mom and brother. My mom sat on the floor with my brother's arms wrapped around her, her shoulders were shaking visibly, her sobbing silent.
I looked back to my dad. "Dad," I shook my head from side to side trying to halt my tears in their tracks. I looked down at him and whispered, "I will miss you forever." I squeezed his hand, the hand that had held mine many times when I was younger. He led and I followed. I let go of that hand gently and wiped the tears from my eyes. My inner voice reminded me, 'It's time for you to pull yourself together Alyssa, and be the strong one. No one else will be.' I squared my shoulders and turned around toward my mom and brother with new resolve.
My whole life changed that day. I never truly mourned the loss of my father; I helped other's through the stages of grief. I lost all sense of self. It has been too long since I thought of me, just me. It has been two years since that day. Maybe I will find myself again...soon.