Chapter Two... Some "Recoveries" characters face revelations
| “David, you’re acting as if you’ve committed some sort of grievous sin. My son, is there something on your mind?
“Father… I need you to hear my confession.” Without saying a word, Father Stanislas Grozny pulled his prayer kit out of a coat pocket. The big bear of a priest kissed his stole with a reverence born of years of devotion to God, then placed it around his neck. He said a silent prayer, then took David’s hand in both of his.
“May the Lord be in your heart, mind and soul. May you find comfort as you confess your sins to Almighty God.”
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been some years since my last confession. I’ve not felt that I could confess my sins…” David spent several minutes explaining his reticence. “I know there are countless sins I’ve forgotten. But Father, there is something that has weighed on me for years.”
“David, God knows your soul… and your sins. And I know you, David. There is nothing you would do… that God could not find it in His Heart to forgive. Please, tell me what is troubling you.”
“This happened seven years ago, Father, not long after my family was killed in the plane crash. Frankly, I was a shambles. I might have self-destructed were it not for a good friend. She kept me sane, kept me focused, supported me and gave me strength.”
“David, you feel guilty over this? Please, my son, you –”
“It went too far! One night, Father… I went too far. Our friendship… her compassion… turned into passion and intimacy. I should have stopped it… but I didn’t.”
“David, I’m sure I already know the answer, but I have to ask: Did you force yourself on this woman?”
“No, Father, never! It was a mutual desire, and it happened before either of us realized what was going on.”
“Is that why you feel so guilty? Because pain turned to passion with a friend?”
“A friend who was engaged to another man. And this happened two weeks before their wedding. Christi and I talked about it the next morning. We both realized what had happened, and that it could never happen again. We loved each other, Father, but not in a way that could sustain anything beyond friendship.”
“And what about Christi? Did she get married?”
“Two weeks later, right on schedule. They’ve been married ever since. I’ve wondered if she told Roger about that night, but I’ve never asked.”
“And she’s never said anything to you?”
“No, Father. We’ve kept close ever since. Her husband has always welcomed me into their home, and I’m an adopted uncle for their two kids. They’ve made me a part of their family.”
“David, you say you’ve had this inside you for seven years. What made you want to talk about it now?”
“There was a helicopter crash this afternoon, Father. A medical helicopter based at Summit Hill Air Park. No one has told me for certain, but I think she was on board when it went down.”
“David, there’s something else you haven’t told me. I can hear that fact in your voice. What is it, my son?”
“Christi had a baby… seven months after she and Roger were married.” The old priest leaned back in silence, tapping his fingers on his ample belly. “They said that Kayla was at least two months premature, and she was very small at birth.”
“Did she survive, David?”
“Oh, yes, she survived,” he half-chuckled. “She’s now a seven-year-old terror and future heartbreaker. God help the boy that marries her, Father. He’s going to have his hands full.”
“Is she your daughter, David?”
“Christi told me several times that she wasn’t. But part of me still has this nagging doubt.”
“Is it just a nagging doubt? Or do you have some sort of proof?”
“Father, I don’t have proof of anything. I guess I’ve just kept the possibility open all this time. And part of me does like the idea; I do want to have kids some day. At the same time, I’m ashamed by all of this.”
“Ashamed because, if Kayla is my daughter, I haven’t provided for her. Ashamed that I haven’t done what a parent should do.”
“David… whether or not she is your daughter, you have no reason to be ashamed. You knew that she was fed and clothed. You also knew that she was loved… and didn’t try to damage that.”
“Still, Father… I had sex with a woman who was engaged to another man! I coveted another man’s wife!” As David collapsed into tears, the old, overweight priest moved his chair as close to the bed as possible.
“My son, did you intend for this to happen?”
“It… doesn’t… matter!”
“Yes it does, my son! It matters because God knows the difference between acts of lust and acts of compassion! He knows the difference between a boy who… Hell, David, I’ll be blunt. God certainly knows the difference between a boy who thinks between his legs… and a young man in pain who needs compassion and love.
“I’ve known you for quite a few years, David. I know your heart and mind. You are truly a man of compassion and caring, and strong decency. You’re not one to rush into anything, especially anything involving relationships.
“David, our God is a God of compassion and mercy. He helps us when we are down, comforts us when we are scared, strengthens us when we are weak, and heals us when we are ill. That applies to both physical and emotional ills. Tell me, David, would your friend have sought out a chance to cheat on her fiancé?”
“Heavens no, Father! She would have… died… before cheating on Roger. What happened that night was a fluke, a happenstance, a –”
“An act of love from God Himself. He gave you what you needed then, healing love to help you recover from your grief. And He gave both of you the wisdom to realize it was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. God always knows what is right for us, David, even if we don’t understand it at the time. Don’t feel shame for an act of love.”
“Mister, I’m not sure who you are,” said a voice from the doorway, “but get a sledgehammer. You’ll need it to get the message through his thick skull.” The voice was deep, gaunt and hollow. It was matched with eyes that needed to cry, but no longer could. Roger Pendwalton shambled into the room, his six-foot-four frame so crushed by the day’s events that he appeared a foot shorter.
“No… no, Roger. It can’t be. Not Christi!” David tried to slide across his bed, to shrink away, to mentally run from the truth he feared. As Roger drew closer, he saw the Roman Collar underneath Father Grozny’s jacket.
“Pardon me, Reverend, I didn’t mean to interrupt. In fact, I wish I didn’t have to be here. But make sure David hears what you just said, because you’re right. David… I’ve known about that night ever since it happened. Christi told me right away what happened, and why. She was also ashamed at first, and afraid of how I would react.”
“My son, if I may ask, how did you react?”
“I’m sorry, I should introduce myself. I’m Stan Grozny.”
“Father Grozny, thank you. Yes, I was angry at first. But I knew what had happened to you, David. I also knew Christi well enough to know she wouldn’t cheat on me. She loved both of us, but in different ways.” Roger pulled a chair over and sat down next to Father Grozny, then handed David an envelope. “She left this for you.” David opened the envelope and found a note dated over five years ago.
If you are reading this, something tragic has happened. Most likely I am dead. Please do not be saddened by my death; as long as I’m in the hearts and memories of those I love, I am alive.
If you are feeling guilty about the night we made love… DON’T! I’ve not felt any guilt in years. I’ve gone from the shame I felt that night to feeling proud of myself. Why am I proud? Because I helped a hurting friend start to move past his grief. And that night, David, we didn’t have sex… we made soft, passionate love. That’s because it was an act of mutual love. Neither of us took advantage of the other.
As for Kayla. I know this question has been nagging at you. She is Roger’s child, and yes, she was born two months early. She was NOT conceived the night we made love. So don’t get any crazy ideas about having shirked any duties towards her. I know you well enough to know that you’ll take on guilt and shame that you shouldn’t. So if you try to do either one of these things, I’ll come back and kick your ass!
Always know that I love you, David. So do Roger and the kids. Be there for them. I know they’ll want and even need you over time. And you’ll probably need them. Cry, yell, scream, do what you need to do. Don’t bottle it up like you did when your family died. The best way to remember me, or anyone, is to get out there and live life to its fullest. And when the time comes… let yourself love.
Till we meet again,
David folded the note and tired to hand it back to Roger. “I don’t need it, David. I was there when she wrote it.”
“Roger… how can you not be angry with me?”
“I was, for a while. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized why it happened. And I saw that Christi never loved me any less because of it. David, you’re one hell of a guy. You’ll get your chance at happiness.” Roger started to leave, then turned back. He meant to shake David’s hand, but suddenly found himself in a hug. Father Grozny put a hand on each of their shoulders.
“May God be with you in this trying time. May He comfort you and guide you, and give each of you strength. And above all, may He bless you with his everlasting love.”
“Thank you, Father,” David rasped. “Though I’m not sure I deserve it.”
“Now cut that out, David, or I’ll give you a Packers blessing.”
“ ‘Packers blessing’?”
“Father Grozny here is a big Green Bay Packers fan, Roger. You could almost call him an addict. If I’m correct, a ‘Packers Blessing’ is probably along the lines of a quarterback sack.”
“Give it to him, Father. Like I said earlier, you need things like that to get a message through his thick skull. David, I’ll let you know about the funeral. And thank you again, Father.”
“You’re welcome, my son. And know that God is with you now, and in the weeks to come.”
“Thank… thank you, Father.” Roger began to choke up. He made a hasty exit before starting to cry again.
“You see, David, God’s love is powerful. And He works in mysterious ways that we mortals can rarely understand. So lose your guilt over things that do not warrant it. Move on in life… or I’LL kick your butt! It’s getting late for me, I have to go. But I’ll visit again soon. Be well, my son.”
“And you, Father Grozny”
“Amanda, thanks for letting us invade your living room on such short notice.” Connie McKenzie was squirming on the couch, her discomfort evident. “I feel like we’re imposing on you.”
“Connie, stop it. If you guys had just shown up on the doorstep, THAT would be imposing. This is a special circumstance. It’s something you all need, so don’t worry about me. But I think it would be better if I left. That way, you can say the things you really need to say.” She said this while looking directly at Ron Jacobs, who had been silent all evening. “Everyone take care. Good night!”
“Okay, Joel,” Ron asked after Amanda had left the room. “Why was your fiancée looking at me when she said that?”
“I didn’t know she was, Ron. But she’s may have a point.” Joel leaned forward, resting his glass of A&W inside a half-empty pizza box. “We’ve been here over an hour, and you have yet to say a word about this afternoon. Is there something you needed to say only to us?”
“Frankly… Christi Pendwalton and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye. Hell, we’ve never gotten along. She was an instructor in my EMT class, and a rough grader. She was a bitch then, and she’s been a bitch as long as I’ve known her. I can’t… couldn’t… respect her.”
“And how do you feel now, Ron?”
“Emily, I don’t know what to feel! I’m sad for her family, of course. But my sympathy for her crew mates just doesn’t extend to her. All I feel for that bitch is… contempt.”
“What I feel is regret.” James Hiroshi took a sip of his root beer. “I knew Anita Keller when I was in the Army. We served in a Huey squadron together. She was the first female pilot in our unit: you can imagine some of the treatment she received. I wasn’t exactly kind to her back then.”
“How did she handle it?”
“I don’t know what she did away from the squadron, Bob. But on duty, she never said a word, never lashed out, never complained. And over time, she became a very good pilot.”
“Did you ever tell her that?”
“No, I never did. I never felt I could approach her about it. We’d talk about damn near anything else, kid each other about who we flew for, all that kind of stuff. In all that time, I never…” James gasped and momentarily lost his voice. “I never apologized to her. And now… now I’ll never be able too!!!
Connie McKenzie moved next to James and hugged him. “Jim, she probably already knew. I’ll lay money on the fact that she forgave you long ago. Now, you have to forgive yourself.”
“Why is that bullshit, Ron?”
“Because,” Ron Jacobs said as he stood up, “it’s a bunch of new-age, touchy-feely, sentimental crap. The whole lot of you need to stop crying over spilled milk and pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps. If you can’t face pain and death, then you have no business being in this line of work. So get your head straightened out… Sulu.” Jacobs delivered Jim Hiroshi’s nickname in a mocking, nasally-twinged voice. “Stop being such a fucking wimp… Sulu.”
“Just what the fuck is your problem?”
“All you bleeding hearts, Joel. You’re all acting like you lost your best friend. Tell me, how well did any of you really know these people? Okay, so you served with the pilot, Sulu. That doesn’t give you an excuse to turn into a basket case over her death.”
“And who the Hell are you,” Emily growled back, “to say how anyone else should grieve, and who they should grieve for? Tell me, how much of this diatribe is coming from your contempt, as you put it, for Christi Pendwalton?”
“That bitch should NEVER have been allowed to touch patients! She was a disgrace as a paramedic, and a pathetic teacher. She never gave anyone a chance, or any credit for trying.”
“Yet you’re still a paramedic, Ron. Ever consider that she might have been pushing you? Trying to make you do better?”
“I should have expected that kind of comment from you, Connie. You probably got a free ride through your class, what with all that ‘Women’s Equality’ crap. Hell, you’re the perfect example of how screwed up the system is. Tell me… what the hell are you doing as a paramedic if you freeze on a code?”
Connie sat down on the couch, her face in her hands for several minutes. When she looked up again, her facial expression made Ron Jacobs take several steps back. “You can be a real bastard, Ron. Yes, for several seconds, I froze in the middle of a resuscitation effort. The why’s and where-fore’s aren’t important. I was put on leave for several weeks, and told not to come back until a counselor said I was ready to. I’ve been cleared to go back to duty, but I’m still in counseling, at my own choice. I probably will be for a while yet. But once I faced my situation, I didn’t run from it. And I know I’m a better medic now because of everything that happened. I also know what happened today, whether or not it was intended, will be a test for me to face. It’s a test for all of us. I know I’m going to face it squarely, ask for help when I need it, and eventually move on. How are you going to face it?”
“A test? Get real Connie. Grow up… all of you. Like I said earlier, you all need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I don’t need this lily-livered bullshit from you freaks. I’m out of here.”
“If you don’t need us, then why did you come over tonight?”
“Because I thought you people already knew how to handle this, Joel. I figured there’d be some beer and laughter. I was obviously wrong. If you guys want to do this the right way, join me at Swanson’s Bar. Who’s with me?” No one responded. “Come on, Bob, let’s get out of here, we’ll do this the right way.”
“I’m staying here, Ron. Even if I did drink alcohol, now’s not the time.”
“Yeah, sure, Bob, get on your ‘high-and-mighty’ Baptist high horse. You gonna give me a lecture on the evils of drink?”
“No. We each have to go our own way. I just hope you don’t end up hurting yourself or someone else.”
“Yeah, sure, Bob. I’ll see you in a few days. Everyone enjoy your cry fest. Good riddance to the lot of ya!” Ron Jacobs accentuated his contempt by slamming the front door on his way out. Barreling out of the apartment complex in his two-year-old Corvette, Jacobs just missed hitting a Knightsbridge Ambulance supervisor’s truck. Jim Perry muttered several curses at the unknown driver as he walked to Joel’s apartment.
“Hello, folks,” Jim said as he walked in. “I’ve got some information… wait, where’s Ron?”
“He just stormed out of here,” Emily Hargraves replied. “He didn’t like the way we were grieving and decided to go elsewhere.”
“That wasn’t his Corvette that just about speared my unit, was it?”
“Gold Corvette, just waxed, vanity plates?”
“Yeah, Emily, that’s the car. Where did he decide to go?”
“He told us that if we wanted to ‘do this the right way’, we could meet him at Swanson’s. Somehow, I don’t think any of us are going over there. I just hope we don’t have a unit going after him later tonight.”
“Do you think he’d be ready to go to a Critical Incident Stress Debrief with StarMed tomorrow?”
“Not in his current state,” answered Bob Kerwin. “I’ve partnered with him long enough to know he wants to get drunk and drown his sorrows, whatever they may be. Plus, he’s got some attitudes about one of the deceased that StarMed may not be ready to hear. No, he’s in destructive mode right now. Be ready to send a unit to Swanson’s to take care of him; he’ll probably get into a fight.”
“I knew this was going to be a long night.” Jim sighed and shook his head. “Listen, folks, I came by to see how you were doing, and let you know what’s going on tomorrow. StarMed is staying shut down; they’re running an all-day stress debriefing and counseling session. It starts at 0800 at their headquarters, and it’s come and go as you need. All of you are welcome. Hey,” he said, looking around, “where’s André?”
“He was here for a while,” replied Emily. “But St. Vincent’s ER made him come in for his shift tonight. Something about not having enough people to spare him. When he left, he said he wanted to know about and debriefs and such.”
“Okay, I have to go there to check on some things anyway, I’ll let him know then. Look, folks, take advantage of this tomorrow. And I think you’re off to a smart start tonight.”
“Jim, join us for a few minutes. After all,” Joel said, “you did pay for the pizza.”
“Thanks, Joel. I’ve got a few minutes I can spare.” Jim sat down next to Connie, putting his radio on the table so he could easily hear it. “Mac, how are you holding up?”
“This has hit hard… but not as hard as David’s accident hit me. I’m sure some of you have been wondering why I was on leave for several weeks. The Knight 31 accident tore me up for various personal reasons.” Before she realized it, Connie had spent 20 minutes detailing her reaction to David and Jim’s wreck weeks before. When she was finished, a smile crept across her face, and she even giggled a little.
“What’s so funny?”
“Emily, I’m laughing with relief. That’s the first time in several months that I’ve been able to talk about the whole mess without crying. That tells me I’m going to survive this tragedy, too.” Before she could say anything else, Connie was hugged from behind.
“I knew you could do it,” Amanda Neuharth said from behind Connie. “The problem was getting you to realize. You’ve come a long way, Connie.”
“Maybe, but I’ve still got a ways to go. I thought you went to bed?”
“Ron’s yelling kept me awake, so I stayed up. When I heard you starting to talk, I had to eavesdrop. Just call me a nosey mouse.”
“Just so long as you don’t get too cheesy.” That comment drew a storm of throw pillows and wadded-up napkins from everyone else in the room. Soon, everyone was laughing as they threw stuff at each other. Jim Perry tried to eat a piece of pizza, only to have it smashed against his face by an errant pillow.
“You know, Jim, that pepperoni looks good on you.” Emily began to reach for a second piece of pizza, but was stopped by Amanda.
“Oh no, you don’t. Pillows and napkins are okay, but I will NOT allow a food fight in my living room! Besides, Emily, let the man have his dinner!”
“Thanks, Amanda. I didn’t feel like wearing my supper tonight. I probably should be going anyway. All of you take care, and I’ll see you soon.” Jim Perry left to a chorus of goodbyes, wolfing down a piece of pizza as he walked to his truck. “Dispatch,” he said into his hand-held radio, “ ‘ell-tee’ 12.”
“Go ahead, ‘ell-tee’.”
“Back in my truck, show me en route to St. Vincent’s ER for equipment.”
“Copy ‘ell-tee’ 12 en route to Vinnie’s for equipment. And 12? Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“ ‘Ell-tee’ 12 copies,” Jim chuckled as he put his truck in gear. “I’ll try to remember my manners… mom.” Laughter crackled back over the radio as the dispatcher noted the time. “Barring any problems, Dispatch, I should be back to The Castle in about 30 to 45 minutes.”
“Copy that, ‘ell-tee’, we’ll call you if something comes up. Dispatch clear at 21:27 hours.”