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Another Place, Another Time
“Let’s just go home, this party sucks,” Tiffany slurred. This was the third party this week that had been awful; all frat boys and their weird friends. I don’t know why Tiff had thought this one would be any better. I opened my mouth to agree with her, but realized she wouldn’t have been able to hear me over the sudden burst of noise. I held up a finger to tell her I’d be back in a second, then left to find James. I could see him from across the entire room, since he was a good four inches taller than everyone else. Snatching his arm, I snuck in a kiss and, practically screaming in his ear, told him that we were leaving. He nodded and took my hand. We fought our way out to our car, grabbing Tiff from her perch on a ratty sofa on the way. She got the rest of our group together, and we made our way toward our cars.
“There’s no way I can drive,” I announced. I was too drunk to even think about being in control of a car.
“I can drive you,” James told me softly. I could smell the beer on his breath.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I can definitely drive you. I barely drank at all,” His voice was calm and controlled.
In the two years we’d been dating, James had always been the responsible one. Whenever I wanted to blow off my homework or skip studying to go out, he always talked me into doing at least a little bit of work. He helped me balance my schedule so that I was doing well in my classes but could still have fun. James brought out the best in me, but sometimes he was fiercely protective. He had grown up having to take care of his two little sisters because his mom was an alcoholic, so being protective was his nature. I knew he would never put me in danger. If he thought he could drive, I wasn’t worried.
I crawled into the passenger side of my huge Chevy truck, not caring that I got mud all over the newly cleaned interior. James started driving with one hand on the wheel, the other gently resting on top of mine. He was warm and familiar, and I felt safe. I stared idly out the window, too tired to make conversation. Through my window the yellow lines all blurred together, and I started to feel dizzy. Suddenly the lines were dancing all over the ceiling and the walls, faster and faster. We were rolling, the ceiling becoming the wall becoming the ground becoming the ceiling again. My eyes couldn’t register anything quickly enough to make sense of it. My mind was replaying the frenzied yellow lines over and over, like a broken record. Then everything stood still. It was silent for a split second, and I thought it was all over. But then there was an explosion of sound. The ugly clash of metal on metal rang in my ears and immediately the smell of something burning crept into my nostrils. I watched helplessly as James fell forward, his hand wretched out of mine. I didn’t even have time to be scared before everything went black.
When I woke up, I had a blissful few minutes where I forgot what had happened. I was floating on a cloud, far away from the real world and everything in it. I felt no pain and I was warm. But once it dawned on me that this was not my room, or even my house, I freaked out. My bed was too warm, the lights too bright; everything around me was too real. The realization wrapped around me and threatened to drag me back under, but I had to know what had happened. Whenever I tried to remember, I got a searing headache. My memory was blank. The only image I could remember was yellow lines, yellow lines... Suddenly my door burst open, waking me from my confused stupor.
“You’re awake!” I recognized my mom’s voice as she exploded into my room. Wearing a sloppy sweatshirt and jeans, her hair thrown up in a ponytail, my mom looked like she hadn’t slept in days. I quickly realized that this could easily be true. I then wondered how bad I looked, considering how bad I felt. My headache was pounding now, and my entire body ached. The world went in and out of focus, but I was so happy to see my mom. I couldn’t fall back under right as she got here.
“How do you feel? No, no, don’t try to move. Just stay like that. What do you remember?”
“Everything hurts,” I croaked out. No need to lie to my mom. Then I tried to remember what had happened. But I was just so tired and everything hurt and maybe if I closed my eyes I would remember...
When I awoke again, my mom was gone. What time could it be? Or what day? I hadn’t a clue, and it bothered me. And I still didn’t know what had happened. Or James?! Where was he? My blood started racing in fear, imagining the worst. I had to find James. He had to be okay. I lifted my left hand, the one he had been holding before, and looked for any trace of him. All I found was an IV, which I carelessly ripped out. I had a flash of a different IV in a different hand, memories of years ago. A papery hand, close to death. I shuddered, then made myself focus on trying to find James. I stood up and promptly fell over. Now there was a gash on my hand, warm with slippery red blood. I flung open cabinets until I found a cloth, pressing it hard onto my hand. I wobbled towards the door and started out into the hallway where I thought James’ room might be, desperately clutching the wall with my uninjured hand. I had nearly made it to the end of the hallway when a panicked nurse flung herself at me.
“You can’t leave your room, miss! You need to stay resting for at least another three days!” She gasped out in between breaths. The impact of her body into mine doubled the pain that had been slowly creeping back, and I collapsed on the floor. There was a sharp jab in my left hand, then everything was dark again.
When I awoke for the third time, it took awhile for everything to come back. But after it did, I was angry and confused. But I felt stronger than I had last time. I tried to stumble towards my window to get some idea of what time it was. Outside it was pitch dark, with only the outlines of buildings visible to my unadjusted eyes. How many hours had passed this time? I couldn’t guess. All I knew was that I had to find James, to make sure that he was okay. I replayed the last time I had seen him over and over, with him falling forward and the flash of his green eyes that, in the very last second, had been looking at me. I had to find him. Moving slowly, I put on a new dressing gown I found in one of the cabinets and tried to look somewhat presentable. All of the clothes I had worn to the party were gone, and my shoes, too, so I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t a patient. I walked steadily down the hall, not trying to hide. I started to come up with a plan. The hallway was emptier than I’ve ever seen it, including the time we came at 2:30 in the morning a few years ago when my dad had a seizure. The memories came flooding back and my heart ached. Being in the hospital brought back all the memories of him and his last days. I slouched against the wall and let myself remember for a few minutes. Then I stood up and got on my way. There was nothing I could do about Dad now. He wouldn’t have wanted me to be upset. That had been another place, another time. I told myself I would just focus on the present.
There were still doctors and nurses coming and going though the rooms, but none of them paid any attention to me as I lumbered toward what looked like the main lobby. But when I got there, it wasn’t the main lobby. It was just a room attached to another hallway. I walked down three hallways that were all identical before I gave up. The nearest room was a check-in center, so I decided to chance it.
“Um, ma’am?” My voice was wobbly. The woman glanced up at me when I spoke. She was wearing a bright pink shirt that made my eyes hurt, and had a carefully arranged expression of concern. I wondered if this was the emotion she always wore.
“I’m lost,” I whimpered. I made myself start crying, a skill I had picked up at camp last summer. “I can’t find my mom’s room anywhere, and I was supposed to be there half an hour ago. I just want to see her.” I wiped my eyes and wondered if the lobbyist was buying any of this.
“Oh honey, don’t you worry. I’ll help you find her,” she cooed softly. “What’s your mom’s last name?” The woman didn’t even bat an eye as she typed in James’ last name.
“I don’t see that name here, are you sure she’s staying here?” The woman asked sweetly. My stomach dropped and I had to stop my whole body from trembling. If James wasn’t here, that could only mean one thing: he hadn’t made it.
“Oh wait, here she is!” Are you effing kidding me? I wanted to punch this woman in the face. She had made me think James was dead!
“Now honey, your mom’s in intensive care, are you sure they said you can see her at this hour?” she questioned.
“Oh yes, there were special arrangements made since I’m family,” I explained in the nicest voice I could muster. “I just miss her so much!” I quickly thanked her with a big, fake grin and limped away towards where she had told me James’ room was. I put the woman out of my mind and put all my thoughts into finding the room number. Intensive care, room 415. 415. 415. I worried. I quickened my pace. I worried some more. 391. 403. 407. 411. 415! The door was closed and the sign said that the next nurse wasn’t due to check on him until 4 a.m. I vaguely wondered what time it was now. I raised my hand to open the door, but stopped myself. I was afraid of what I was about to see. What if he wasn’t okay? Or he didn’t remember anything? What if he looked like my dad had on the last few days, with hollow eyes and the life already left him? I don’t know if I could handle that. But I had come this far; I had to check. Praying to every god I had ever heard of, I slowly pushed the door open. I crept in, quiet as a mouse. There on the bed was James, my James. His chest rose and fell evenly with life. I felt my heart shudder with relief. He was alive. James was here and alive. But looking closer I saw all of the tubes he was hooked up to: a drip, at least three IVs, and some weird looking bags on one side. I took three small steps towards him.
“James... wake up, James. It’s me. It’s Chrissy.” My voice was shaky, some syllables coming out too loud and some barely making any sound at all. I didn’t feel like I was talking to James, someone I had known for five years. I felt like there was a complete stranger laying on the bed before me.
I waited a few moments before saying, “Please, James. Just for a few minutes. I just want to know that you’re okay.” I waited with bated breath, desperately watching his face for any hints of consiousness. Then I saw his eyelids flutter, just barely. A shimmer of hope electrocuted my body. Not wanting to jinx my luck, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even breath. I just waited. Slowly James’s eyes hinged open, as if they each weighed a hundred pounds. He gazed straight ahead for awhile, as if in a trance. His eyes lazily closed. However, when they opened again they were frantic. I recognized this as the time when he realized where he was. I patiently waited for him to notice me. Finally, his green irises swept over to mine. His face changed from bewildered to afraid. I didn’t understand this. Why would he be afraid? Didn’t he recognize me?
“James,” I let out the breath I had been holding. The sound seemed too loud in the quiet space. “It’s Chrissy. How do you feel?”
“Chrissy.” James seemed to shrink down under his covers as he spoke the word.
“Yeah. You remember me, right?” I had a sudden lurch in my stomach again and the world started to spin. What if he really didn’t remember me?
“C-c-Chrissy. Chrissy. Andrews.” Thank God. He at least remembered my name.
“Yeah, that’s me. How are you? What hurts?” I asked carefully. I leaned in closer to inspect the damage, but he was all bundled in blankets. Tubes stuck out everywhere.
“Chrissy,” His eyes looked pained. “You- you- a-a-a-are okay?”
“I guess so, I feel okay.” This was a huge lie. My painkillers had worn off a long time ago, and I was feeling dizzy. But I couldn’t let him worry about me.
“James, what happened? I don’t remember anything except yellow lines.. dancing all over..” Great, now he would think I was crazy.
“C-c-car. And a tr-tree. I’m s-so s-s-s-” He stopped without finishing his sentence. I decided that this was enough for one night, to know that he was okay and to know how we had ended up here. His eyes closed again, and I started to go back to my room. This had been too much for my broken body, and my mind was tired from the effort of worrying. But just as I was about to step out the door, I heard his voice again.
“I’m s-s-s-so. Sorry. Chrissy.” I didn’t have to fake the tear that slipped down my cheek as I left.
A few days later I got released from the hospital, with strict instructions to rest and be careful for the next two weeks or so. My concussion would take awhile to heal, and the rest of my body was bruised and battered. I still felt awful most of the time, but whenever I felt hopeless, I reminded myself that James was going through worse. I had been back to see him a few times, but doctors had been in and out of his room so often that we mostly just made small talk. We avoided talking about that night and the accident altogether, but my mom had filled me in on what had happened. We had been driving on the main road, the one we drive down every day. James went to turn a corner and lost control of the car, skidding into a tree at nearly 40 miles an hour. The paramedics had said they couldn’t believe we survived, judging from the damage of the car. Everyone had assumed that James had been awfully drunk, since he would never have just lost control like that. But when they took his blood alcohol levels at the hospital, they were just 0.06. Too low for him to be arrested, but much more than “barely drinking at all,” as he had told me. My memory of that night had been coming back in snippets, and this was one of the few details I could remember. I had also figured out that the yellow lines had been my drunk mind’s interpretation of the road as we spun around the corner. Other than this, I couldn’t remember much.
Whenever I visited him, James was constantly trying to cheer me up. He made the nurses bring me pink lemonade, which had always been my favorite. It was comforting to know that someone was going through the same feelings I was, but I really needed to talk to him, about that night and about my dad. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it when he was in such a fragile state.
It wasn’t until nine days later that James got released and felt well enough to hang out. We went to our secret spot in the woods, a spot with high maple trees that were just starting to turn colors for fall. The extreameties of the leaves were all tinged gold in the sunlight. I helped James sit down, since he still was having trouble with his knee. We hadn’t spoken a word the whole way there; our regular weekend routine seemed strange after all that had happened. We had both been through so much since the last time we had been here. James and I sat for awhile before I spoke.
“You were nearly drunk that night. You lied to me,” the words came out harsher than I had intended, and the look on his face made me want to take them back. But I had to say this. “Why didn’t you just tell me, James?” I asked softly.
He was looking down, not answering me. “Why, James? You know we could’ve just gotten a ride with someone else. So why?”
He was still looking down as he answered me, so quietly that I could barely hear him: “I didn’t think I was that drunk. I thought I could drive... It was only a few miles...I’m so sorry. And I’m just- I just- ” Now he looked up and locked his eyes with mine, “I screwed up, Chrissy. Bad. And I understand if you can’t- if you don’t- wanna be together anymore.” He looked down again, his entire body defeated except for his hands, which tapped nervously. It was exactly the same way my mom had acted when she came to tell my sister and I about Dad’s diagnosis. There was a long silence where I didn’t say anything.
“Yeah. You messed up. But we’re alive, right? We’re okay,” we both let this settle in our minds. We were alive. We were going to get better. We would be okay.
“And I don’t know if... I don’t know if I want to stay together. I just- I don’t know.” I knew it was cruel to leave him hanging like that, but I needed to think about this. Then another thought crossed my mind: my dad. I had been longing to tell James for days. Even if things were weird between us, I knew he was the only one who would understand, and I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“You know how- You know how I told you that my dad died a few years ago from those seizures?” I blurted out, anxious to get the words out of my mouth. James’ expression showed his confusion at the sudden change of topic, but I continued. “Being in the hospital reminded me so much of that. Of him. And everything. And I just- I just miss him so much.” Now there were silent tears streaming down my face, and I hoped that James understood. I needed him to understand how much this hurt, how much seeing the hallways and the IVs made the memories come back; made me remember all of the hurt.
James looked like he didn’t know what to do, but in his usual, calm way, said exactly the right thing: “I’m really sorry. I- I can tell he meant a lot to you. And it’s okay to be sad. And if you ever need to talk about it, I’ll be here, I mean, if you want me to be. Okay?” He looked expectantly at me, waiting for an answer.
“Yeah.” I smiled through my tears. It was then that I realized I needed James in my life. I needed his clarity in moments like this. I needed him because he could understand me. Without saying anything, I moved closer and hugged him. I knew he could never forgive himself for getting us in the accident; he would never be able to look at his scars and not feel a pang of guilt. But he was still my James, the one who had been there for me for so long and I knew would do anything if I asked him to. Sometimes people make terrible mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I had to make another one by letting him go. I also knew that I would never be able to forget about my dad. There would always be a little piece of me that hurt from missing him, but I couldn’t let that keep me from living in the present like he would have wanted me to. Our lives would never be the same, but there would always be another place, another time. Another chance to start again.