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A Life for a Life
Bethany rolled over and looked at her clock. Three bright yellow digits showed her it was time to get up. Slowly, and quite unwilling, she pushed the covers off of her face and sat up straight, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Rubbing her eyes, she made her way to her bathroom where she carried out her usual morning hygiene routine, however brief and uninvolved. She didn’t need to look perfect. He wouldn’t care. Once she had prepped herself enough, she found herself in the kitchen, preparing a travel cup of coffee. Not fully awake, she burned her tongue on the first sip and scowled as she shut the front door behind her, and headed off to the car.
Not even fifteen minutes later, she pulled her little beat-up sedan into the driveway of a rather large, elaborately landscaped yellow house. The sight of her childhood home always brought back memories, some good, others not quite as pleasing. But she couldn’t let anything bother her now. She was here to brighten someone’s day, not dampen the atmosphere with her woes. So as she walked up the brick lined pathway to the front door, she put on a smile and allowed a subtle spring in her step.
“Good morning, Daddy!” she called after opening the door. There was no answer. Perhaps he had slept in this morning. She didn’t mind. She’d been trying to get him to sleep more lately anyway; the rest would do him some good. She peeled her sweater off and noticed the normally high temperature in the house. Slipping her shoes onto a mat by the entrance, she stepped into the hall. Walking down to her father’s room, she felt a shiver go down her spine. Second room on the left, she opened the door and peered inside with a whisper, “Daddy? You in here?” Bethany thought for a moment and tried to listen for her father’s soft voice. The only sound that answered her was the subtle dripping of the master bathroom faucet. So she went to turn it off. What she found was worse than a leaky pipe.
Oh my God. No. No. Not like this. No. Her mind raced with horrified thoughts as she ran to lift her father’s head out of the toilet. His limp body was folded up around the bowl, and his hands lay lifeless at his sides. With his neck lying over the rim, he was a ghastly sight. Quickly, his daughter dragged him from the wet floor back into his bedroom where she propped him up against a pillow on the floor. Then she did what she was dreading most: checked for a heartbeat. She leaned in and placed her cheek against his chest. His nightshirt was damp and cold. Though she couldn’t hear or feel any sign of a pulse, she could feel a slight rise and fall in his chest. He was breathing. Not much, but enough. With the knowledge that her father was indeed alive, if only for a moment longer, she rushed to the phone and called 911.
“Miss Collins, you can see your father now.”
Excitedly, Bethany got up and surprised herself by how much she had jumped when the male doctor spoke to her. She smoothed her jacket and followed him down the hall to a room where she was to see her dad. When she entered, he was sleeping, or so he seemed to be. A nurse followed her in and picked up the clipboard attached to that all-too-familiar hospital bed.
“Collins, Avery. No allergies. Intravenous dietary supplements,” she began to read.
“Hello. Are you the daughter?”
“Yes. Is he going to be OK? What happened?” Bethany inquired hesitantly.
“Perhaps,” the nurse began carefully, “we should wait—“
“Tell me… what’s wrong… with my father” Bethany demanded through gritted teeth, suddenly unable to contain her frustration.
“He’s in a coma,” was the blunt response. “And his condition isn’t improving. The doctors are saying he won’t survive the kind of trauma he suffered when he fell. He’s old, dear. And…”
Bethany wasn’t fully able to comprehend the rest of what this woman was saying. It was as though the room went black and all she could see was her father, the love of her life, in a deep pit, wasting away. She reached over and tried to hold his hand, but it was too far away. He was drifting off, leaving her, departing this life, and she could do nothing about it.
“Miss Collins? Are you alright?”
Out of her trance, Bethany realized she had been standing on the spot with her hand ever so slightly reached out toward the plastic contraption her father now lay atop. She nodded in response, and listened again to the nurse.
“Miss Collins. I’m sorry to say this, but because you are his closest living relative, and he isn’t able to make his own choice right now—“
“No. He’s a fighter. Don’t take him off the machines. He’s going to be OK, I know it. No. Let him live. Please.”
“Very well,” the nurse said, and she turned to leave the father and daughter alone.
As soon as she had gone, Bethany pulled up a chair by her father’s bed, took his hand in hers, and laid her head by his side.
Hours later, she woke up feeling troubled. Then she remembered why. She allowed herself a quick glance at the man in the bed beside her. She had seen him like this before. Too many times, she remembered coming to the hospital and watching as her father had to be revived or treated or have some drastic procedure. And now, she couldn’t help but feel that this would be the last time. Her pale hand still clenched around his limp one, she gave it a squeeze and began to speak to him…
“Daddy… I love you. I only want what’s best for you. I’ve… I’ve been thinking a lot. I know that you love to see me every day, and I know you appreciate what I do, but I can’t go on like this. My whole life, I’ve lived to care for you. Of course, id never do anything to keep us apart, but I think it’d be best if… when you wake up… you should go live at Shady Oaks. I did some research and… they seem to have a great staff, and they’ll let me see you as often as we like, and I think it would be best for both of us.”
At this point, she thought his saw his eyelids flutter a bit. Leaning in very close, she placed a hand on his cheek and waited for him to move again. He didn’t. So she kept talking to him. She knew he wouldn’t hear, but it was a way for her to tell him without him being too upset just yet. She dreaded the day she had to explain to him why she was going to put him in a home.
“I’m lonely, Daddy. I don’t have friends to go out to dinner with. I don’t have a husband or a family of my own to buy Christmas gifts for. I don’t go to parties; I don’t work full time; I have no hobbies… I’ve sacrificed all of that to make sure that you have all the care you need. I’ve given up everything I have to take care of you, and I’m ready to start my own life now. I can’t go on like this.”
With this final statement, Bethany got up and left the room, intending to go home. As she shut the door behind her, her father slowly opened his eyes and stared about the empty room, misery flowing from his eyes and down his cheeks. The last words his daughter had said hung in the air like daggers ready to plunge through his ancient heart at any moment. After what seemed like hours, the fragile man rolled over on his side with a groan of pain and looked at his bedside stand with the clipboard attached. He fixed his eyes on it for a long time before switching his gaze to the machine with all the lights and tubes and buttons… he followed the tubes from the metal box up to the pouch hanging above him and back down to his arm, where there was a wad of gauze under some tape holding the needle in place.
He thought about what his daughter had said. My whole life, I’ve lived to care for you… I can’t go on like this… He felt ashamed. He knew his daughter loved him; he knew he was lucky to have her. But he never realized how selfish he could be. Never once did he consider that she wanted to have her own personal life. How could he do this to her? And now that he was in his worst state yet, he couldn’t bear to see her suffer with him any more than she already had.
Bethany had gotten about halfway home when her cell phone rang. She ignored it. Not wanting to talk to anyone, she turned it off as soon as she pulled the car into her own driveway. With a heavy heart and much less spring in her step, she found her way up her yard and into her house. She didn’t make it to the bedroom, but simply collapsed on the sofa. There, she slept. Tossing and turning all night, she couldn’t help but worry about her father as she always had. Then she realized that it didn’t matter where she was, or where her father was; she would always worry about him. He could be in his big yellow house, watching TV, or he could be sitting up in a small, one-room living space in a large senior’s home. Either way, Bethany would still go see him nearly every day, and she would still be thinking about him all the time she wasn’t there.
When morning came, Bethany rolled off the couch and turned on her cell phone. Remembering what she had thought about the night before, she told herself she would go back to the hospital today to see if her father was doing any better, then she would go to his house and get it all cleaned up and ready for him to come home. She’d decided that he needed her and she had no right to deny him his happiness. After all, she needed him too. He was the only one in the world whom she told everything to. They were best friends, and friends don’t send each other away to die at someone else’s hands.
Noticing her phone, she saw the screen aglow with the signal telling her she had new messages. She opened it up and discovered that she had fourteen missed calls from between the first one on the car ride home up until just an hour or so before she had woken up. There were no voicemails, but the caller ID and her heart told her it was the hospital that had called, and without hesitation, she ran out the door.
Upon arriving there, she went straight for the wing where she knew her father’s room was, but was abruptly stopped in the hall outside by the nurse from before.
“Honey, I’m so sorry,” she said
“What…” Bethany choked, “what happened?”
At that moment, a doctor came from the room and gestured for her to follow. She did so, and felt a knot forming in her stomach. When she got past the sliding curtain wall and saw her father’s empty bed, sheets crumpled and soiled, she knew what was going on.
“There was nothing we could do,” spoke the doctor.
“I’m terribly sorry. I know he loved you. He left this—“
Bethany’s bloodshot eyes scanned down to the man’s outstretched hand which was holding up her father’s clipboard. Across the top, a message was scribbled in her father’s usual half cursive, half print handwriting:
My dear Bethany-
I am ever so sorry to have been such a burden. Please know that I love you with all of my heart and I want nothing but the happiest of times for you. I understand that these past few years have been hard, but go now, and life your life how you want to live it. Don’t let anyone hold you back. But while you do so, remember this—all my life, I’ve lived for loving you. And you made it the happiest life it could be. I love you, Sweetheart.