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Your Darkest Hour
“We going to CMP tonight?”
“I can’t, remember? I have work,” Ariel said as she rushed around her apartment, struggling to put her shoes on while talking on the phone.
“CMP tomorrow, then?” said the voice on the other end of the line. Ariel could just picture his puppy eyes as he pleaded with her, trying to convince her to go.
“Of course! I’m always game for lazer tag, you know that!” she told him. An excited cheer erupted from her phone, startling her.
“Yesss?” he asked mischievously.
“Your nice little victory scream made me mess up my mascara!” Ariel licked her finger and vigorously wiped away the black smear on the corner of her eye.
“Lo siento pobrecita! I’m just exciteeeed!”
“Haha! You never get this excited about anything, what’s the deal?”
“I dunno… just excited to kick your ass!” Ariel rolled her eyes.
“You always kick my ass, though!”
“Yeah, but this time it’ll be even better!” Ariel laughed. She was terrible at lazer tag, but it was always tons of fun so she didn’t mind that Patrick and his friends always creamed her.
“Haha, we’ll just have to wait and see then, won’t we?” She grabbed her car keys off of the dresser and headed out the door.
“All right, I gotta go. Have a good night!”
“Oh… okay.” All of the excitement had left his voice, leaving a hollow shell of masculine monotone behind.
“I’ll be off at six tomorrow morning. I’ll talk to you then. I love you!” There was a small pause and she wondered if he had heard her.
“Bye.” He hung up abruptly.
Ariel sighed. He was always quick to hang up. He hated goodbyes of any kind, even if it was a simple phone call or text message. It bothered Ariel. His abruptness about it made him seem cold and harsh but she knew that he was neither of those things.
Oh well. It is what it is.
As she drove to the hospital, Ariel thought about everything that had happened in the past year. This was her third week working as a paramedic for Milwaukee’s best hospital, but she still felt as nervous as she had felt on the first day.
Nothing crazy had happened while she was on call, just the usual falls, anaphylactic reactions, and broken bones. She was grateful for that. She wasn’t sure how well she would handle a high stakes call and she was fearful for the day that she was called out to her first car crash.
Hell, I couldn’t handle it when it happened to Patrick and I….
As she was driving down the highway, her mind wandered.
“Turn it up!! This is my jam!” Patrick exclaimed, cranking up the volume on my car radio, blasting “Can’t Hold Us” out of the windows into the cool summer evening air. I laughed at his horrible dance moves as I stopped at the red light. The people in the car next to us gave us the weirdest looks, but I didn’t care. We were having a great time and that was all that mattered. The last thing I remember about that moment was seeing a grin spread across his chiseled face as I pathetically attempted to rap along with the song.
My next memory was from minutes after the accident. I opened my eyes, and saw red. Red was everywhere, my blurred vision only able to perceive the color and nothing else. The pain. I knew the pain was there. It was in my legs and abdomen; a sharp, biting, throbbing pain. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t focus on it. All I could pay attention to was the heavy pressure above my left eye. It was a hand, I could feel the fingers pressing my skin together. I couldn’t hear anything.
When Ariel snapped out of her trance, she found herself safely parked in the hospital parking lot in the same spot she always parked in. Her slender fingers were tracing the small white scar on her forehead.
I have to stop doing that…
She turned off her car and sat for a few minutes, gathering her thoughts. The accident had happened almost a year ago, but the flashbacks still bothered her.
He knew I had been having a hard week so he showed up at my house and took me out for ice cream. We were on our way to play ultimate Frisbee with friends… the paramedic told him he didn’t have to stay with me, that he was free to go on with his night. But he stayed… he gave up a night with friends to make sure I was okay.
She smiled. Before the accident, they had been your average pair of friends, but afterwards they had become inseparable. Not in a romantic sort of way like everyone always thought, just simply best friends. In a way, she was almost thankful for that drunk driver. The accident had only left her with a small, thin scar above her left eye and a perfect friendship. To her, that was a win.
In addition to that, she found her passion in life. She would never forget the paramedic who took care of her and what a comfort he was. She wanted to be that for other people, so as soon as she was well enough, she applied to the University of Wisconsin’s EMT school.
Now here she was, sitting in her car, scared to go in to the hospital.
Get it together, Ariel. Someone out there needs someone to be there for them. That someone is you.
With a deep breath, she grabbed her on call bag and walked into the medical center, prepared for whatever the night had in store for her.
As soon as her foot crossed the threshold, she was greeted by the ever-present, obnoxiously cheerful supervisor and mentor, Matt Dixon.
“Ariel Burns is in the house! Ready for some action tonight?!” he exclaimed enthusiastically, slinging his arm around her shoulders.
“If by action you mean, setting sprained joints, then hell yeah!” Ariel said sarcastically.
“Hey, it’s something! I gotta go look at blood work for a patient. I’ll catch ya later!” And with that, he was gone as quickly as he had shown up. Ariel smiled. She liked Matt. He was always so happy, which at times was rather annoying, but for the most part, it was nice to have someone so optimistic in a place that could be so dark.
* * *
The clock read 11:58am. It was almost midnight and the ER had been completely dead all night. Ariel had treated a teenage boy with a sprained ankle and a toddler with a severe cold, but that was the extent of her activities.
At three, Ariel sat down at a coffee table in the break room and pulled out her “Medical Spanish for Dummies” book.
You know it’s a slow night when you can study on the job. Ariel ran her fingers through her long, dirty blonde hair and began reading.
* * *
The bone-jarring ambulance alert startled Ariel awake, having fallen asleep on her textbook.
Ambulance with paramedic and EMT needed. Young male, twenty. Suicide attempt. Very urgent.
The voice on the PA system rambled out the address, but Ariel didn’t pay attention. Her mind was racing.
“C’mon, Burns!” called Matt as he jogged by, “time to shine!”
He seemed so calm. Some poor boy just attempted suicide. Ariel’s heart was lodged in the back of her throat, making it hard to breath.
What are we going to find? Will we be able to save him?
Ariel swallowed and quickly followed Matt to the ambulance. The roads were nearly empty, the driver raced through the streets. Eighty miles an hour didn’t feel fast enough. Ariel sat in the back across from Matt, extremely anxious. She had never felt like this on a call before. Matt watched her nervously dig her nails into the fleshy part of her calves.
“We get these calls about twice a month or so. Usually they swallowed a bunch of pills and it’s a simple stomach pump back at the hospital. Every now and then it will be a broken something from a failed hanging or a bad attempt at slit wrists, but it isn’t as bad as your probably thinking right now.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” He nodded, placing a hand on her knee, “you’ll do perfect. You’re our best new EMT, ya know that?” She smiled tentatively. She knew that it was a lie, but it was still nice to hear.
“It’s the truth,” he winked at her. Suddenly the ambulance slowed down and took a sharp turn into a driveway, slamming the gurney against the back doors and rattling whatever was in the drawers.
“We’re here!” Matt exclaimed, leaping up and throwing open the back doors.
“Let’s go save a life.” Ariel smiled. She loved his corny little catchphrase; he said it whether they were tending to a heart attack or a broken bone.
She gathered the medical bag and jumped out of the truck after him. She sprinted around the side of the ambulance, anxious to get to the victim. What she saw in front of her stopped her dead in her tracks.
The yellow, two-story house loomed at her like a menacing mountain. A Packers flag fluttered in the wind, the only sound filling the dark silent night. In the front yard, at the foot of the big oak tree, laid a black and green Packers football that was all too familiar.
“Burns! What the hell are you doing?!” Matt called from the front porch. He had already been into the house and seen the victim. She could see the urgency in his eyes. “I need your help! Get your ass in here!”
Her legs were still frozen to the concrete driveway. Ariel’s mind raced, her heart pounding out of her chest. She felt sick to her stomach.
Why? Why would he do this? Why didn’t I know? What did I do wrong? Is he still alive? What if I can’t help him?
Matt’s shriek flipped a switch in her mind. All the emotions were gone and all of her training kicked in. She ducked back into the ambulance, grabbing the tourniquet kit and extra gauze and sprinted into the house.
She knew exactly where to go. She knew the house like the back of her hand. She dashed through the living room and up the stairs to his room. His mom was bent over him, wailing.
“Mrs. Manger, I’m going to need you to leave. We need to take care of your son,” she said. The lady responded with more wails and held onto her son tighter.
“Mrs. Manger,” Ariel grabbed her shoulder and forcibly turned her around to face her, “We need to be able to work on your son. You must step away or we won’t be able to help him. You must leave.” She stopped her cries when she saw who it was.
“Ariel! Ohmigod, Ariel!”
She collapsed into Ariel, who desperately tried to hold her up. She glanced around the woman, observing the victim’s injuries. Her heart dropped like an anvil. The bright crimson streams proved a grisly contrast to his ashen skin; the dark pools like black holes, selfishly consuming his muscular frame, stealing him away. Matt was busy checking for vitals, but Ariel knew he was still alive. She could see the blood pulsing out from under the flaps of skin, but it was slowing down.
Just then, a policeman walked into the room.
Thank God! It’s about damn time.
The officer’s face was over come with disgust and it looked like he might be sick.
Oh no you don’t, I am NOT dealing with a cop who can’t handle himself.
“Officer, I need you to take Mrs. Manger to another room so we can help Patrick,” Ariel told him firmly. For a moment, he stood in silence and she wondered if he had even heard her. He slowly nodded and picked up the small woman in his arms, carrying her to their bedroom, never speaking a word.
Ariel jumped into action, pulling the tourniquets out of the bag.
“Severe lateral lacerations on both forearms. The left is worse than the right.”
“No s*** the left is worse, he’s right handed,” Ariel mumbled as she carefully placed the wrap on his arm just above the elbow.
“Wait, you know him?!” Matt exclaimed, aghast. She ignored him, focusing on saving her friend. She moved efficiently, setting both tourniquets and moving onto the IV.
She found his vein on the first try and quickly set up the bag.
“How are his vitals?” she asked once her work was done.
“There, but very weak.”
“Is he stable enough to transport?” Matt looked at his recorded numbers and took Patrick’s pulse again.
“Yea. He’s stable, but not good. Like at all.”
“Well let’s go before he gets worse.” She pulled the gurney over to the side of the bed.
“Ready? One, two, up!” They both lifted Patrick’s frame with ease.
He’s six foot two. Why does he feel so light?
One glance at the bed and the answer almost made her sick.
They raced down the stairs and got him into the ambulance.
Ariel leapt up into the ambulance and slammed the doors shut as Matt ran around to the passenger seat.
“Let’s go! Take it easy, but drive fast!” she called to the driver, who responded promptly.
As the ambulance sped down the road toward the hospital, Ariel loosened the tourniquets to see if the bleeding had subsided. The blood flowed like a red river from his arms and Ariel retightened the bandages in a flash. He wasn’t out of the clear, not even close.
She placed the oxygen mask over his face, his eyes closed, his expression peaceful. She checked his vitals; still stable, but very weak. Now all she could do was wait until they were back at the hospital.
She felt white-hot tears sting her eyes. Her best friend in the world was lying before her, his arms shredded into oblivion by his own hand. Her stomach lurched at the thought of him sliding his pocketknife over his veins, as he watched his own life pour out through the slits in his skin.
He was always cranky when people couldn’t hang out… but that’s just who he is…
Her mind wandered, grasping at anything that might possibly make the situation make sense.
His family life sucked as a kid, with the abuse and all. But that hasn’t happened for awhile… he’s always been sensitive about people not being able to hang out… he always jokingly asks if I hate him, if we’re really friends… his other friends don’t really ever make an effort to hangout with him…. actually…. he never really hangs out with anyone unless I’m there too…
A low moan pulled Ariel out of her thoughts.
“Patrick. Patrick, can you hear me?”
“Mmmm,” He was semi conscious. She checked his pulse again; it was slightly stronger, but barely.
“Patrick. It’s Ariel. I’m right here,” she told him, using all of her willpower to steady her voice.
“Mmm…mmariel?” he mumbled, his head turning toward the sound of her voice. His dark brown eyes fluttered open briefly. Her heart lurched. She didn’t know how long she could hold it together.
“I’m right here.” She squeezed his shoulder, desperately trying to reach through his pain.
“I couldn’t take it…” he muttered, the misery in his voice sending chills up her spine.
“What do you mean?” Ariel insisted, desperate to understand.
“My thoughts!” he cried out with surprising volume.
“What thoughts?” She choked back tears.
“All of them!” he broke down, painful sobs racking his body, “the belt buckle, the fists, the clothes iron!”
Oh god.. I can’t do this…
“Patrick, I’m here,” Ariel assured him. He didn’t seem to hear her, his cries louder than before.
“Patrick!” she yelled, squeezing his shoulder painfully hard.
“Patrick, listen to me,” her voice broke. She couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“They might leave you, but I don’t. I am right here. Even in your loneliest, darkest hour I. Am. Right. Here.” She held his gaze, tears rolling down her cheeks, “I am not afraid of the dark.”
Suddenly, he calmed down and turned to hold her gaze. He stopped sobbing, but tears still poured down his chiseled face.
“I know. I knew you would be.”
Suddenly the ambulance door opened and two trauma doctors climbed in, pushing Ariel to the side as they rushed to get Patrick’s gurney to the ER.
“Wait! I have to go with him!” she cried, stumbling after them. One of the nurses held her back.
“You can’t go with him,” she said.
“I HAVE TO!” Ariel screamed and struggled against his grip.
“You can wait in the waiting room. They have to take him to the OR. I’ll have the surgeon himself come talk to you when he’s finished.” He told her firmly.
Ariel looked passed him, her gaze fixated on the doors where Patrick had disappeared.
“Okay?” he said again, shaking her a little.
“Good. Go to the waiting room.” And with that, he ran off into the hospital, leaving her to stand in her misery.
With a shriek and a sob, she fell to her knees, the pain overtaking her being.
Where did I go wrong? I could’ve prevented this… what did I miss? Why?
With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Ariel sat in the empty parking lot, alone with her torment, wondering if she had been enough for him.