My eyes curiously scanned the pastel painted walls of the hospital as they swept out of my vision, and I acknowledged the nurses who waved to me with a silent nod or the best smile I could muster. My knee ached, and there was a dull throb in my mouth, even though morphine had already been pumped through my veins. The nurse pushing my wheelchair – a very chipper woman, indeed – prattled with my parents about this special part of the hospital, one meant just for patients who were zero to seventeen. My mind still fixed on the previous events of the day, I hardly listened in to her explanation. It was still hard to fathom that I’d been laying down on a slippery road only hours ago, blood dripping from my mouth and painting the snow red. I could still feel the impact of the car’s bumper slamming into my knee, still hear the choked groan that escaped my mouth when I landed on the cold ground. I inwardly shuddered. It was one thing to witness another person become hurt, but to hear your own body experiencing trauma …what I’d give to rid myself of the memory.
The wheelchair turned towards a room before suddenly jerking to stop. I blinked, pulling myself out of my daydreaming, and I looked up, my face twisting into one of confusion. There was a crib in the room, a mobile dangling from the ceiling above it. Surely, they didn’t expect me to sleep in a baby’s bassinet.
“Oh… that’s odd,” the nurse muttered, “This is the only free room left, and I was told that there was a bed here for you. I hope you don’t mind, sweetie, but I’m going to have to put you with a roommate.”
Instantly, I said, “Oh, no, it’s fine.”
I felt no need to complain. If anything, I was just eager to finally get some rest.
But as I was being wheeled away from the room, my room, the realization set in. Less space. Less privacy. Less quiet time. The introvert in me was practically screaming.
The nurse wheeled me slowly, almost carefully, into the room that I’d be sharing. By now, it was around three in the afternoon. The nurse introduced me to a girl sitting in bed. She had brown hair pulled into a high, messy ponytail. In the darkness, I couldn’t quite make out the details of her face. But her eyes looked virtually void, dark. Her arm was in a sling, resting gently in her lap, and the thin, green robe she wore, that I’d soon have to wear, hung loosely across her shoulders. The sheets to the bed were strewn about her, carelessly piled in some places. She looked older than me, but not by much. I guessed at sixteen. The girl gave me a kind, polite smile, a small one with her lips pressed together. I smiled, too, and by then, I’d been wheeled onto my side of the room.
A curtain was all that separated us, a green curtain with navy blue pattering on it. The room was painted a placid teal and I luckily had the side with a window, a small amount of sunlight filtering in. A television on the wall faced my bed, which I was more than eager to watch. Dance Moms came on that night, a brand new episode.
As I was settling into my bed, the nurse spelled out the foods I could and could not eat. Truly, I didn’t have much of an appetite in the first place. She went on to tell my parents about a specialist what would put my tooth back in place. While I should have been at least somewhat interested in this, my attention shifted to the commotion taking place on the other side of the curtain. Subtle lights flashed and I could hear the faint sound of buttons being pressed. Whoops and hollers rang out clearly, a steady, undefined, beat of tribal drums rumbling beneath the shouts. The clashing of metal on metal pushed its way forward in the disturbing cacophony and I visibly cringed. My nurse, sensing our distaste, went over to the other side of the room.
“Honey, what game are you playing?” the nurse asked my roommate, her patient tone of voice teetering on one of annoyance.
“Oh, it’s a ninja game!” the girl replied, her voice light, “I just got done fighting another clan. It only gets loud on those parts,” she assured. In truth, the loud noises had gone away, and now all that could be heard was a subtle breeze and the chirping of crickets.
“Well, could you please turn it down a little bit? It gets pretty rowdy,” the nurse finished.
“Oh, yeah, I will,” the girl replied. She kept her word and the volume decreased, though not by much.
No Dance Moms for me, I thought.
Soon, the evening came, and with it, a flood of gifts. Balloons bounced against the walls and the ceilings, decorated with bright and happy images along with the standard wishes of, “Get Well Soon!” My side table overflowed with cards and stuffed animals: bears, an elephant, and even a plush pink unicorn. I had visitors galore: my brother, his wife, my sister, her best friend, even my mother’s co-workers dropped by. Despite the pain I was in, I was too overwhelmed with love to notice it.
Later on that night, when all the visitors had left, save for my parents, I looked over to the closed curtain that separated me and my roommate. The only sounds I heard from her side were the ones from her ninja game. Any visitor that had walked into our room had been my visitor. There had been no greetings or laughs shared with her, not that I could hear, at least. There’d only been the sound of the game, getting louder at its usual places. No cards, balloons, stuffed animals. Nothing.
My mother tucked me into bed once the quiet hours began, and I adjusted my pillows, ready to get some sleep after such a long day.
But the game continued, still.
It had to be around eleven o’clock by now. My dad sighed and stared at the curtain, rubbing his head. I shook my head before he could speak.
“It’s fine,” I mouthed, not wanting the girl to hear us talking about her.
Where I had smiling faces to laugh with me and keep me company that night, she’d only had clans of virtual ninjas to keep her occupied. While I had teddy bears to hold, she only had a game controller to grasp in her hands. “I’ll be alright,” I mouthed once more, closing my eyes. Dad seemed to be pacified, for now, and while he went home, my mom spent the night with me, stretched out, snoozing on a recliner.
Why was she sitting in her room all alone? I wondered. Had her family visited earlier in the day? Could they not afford to buy her a get well card or a colorful balloon? But even then, I feel like her side of the room had just been too empty. There were absolutely no signs of another person having visited, no jackets or blankets from home. I told myself that perhaps I’d just overlooked something, a bear tucked under her arm or a card folded up on the table. Maybe I’d just missed it. Still chewing over the thought, I drifted off to sleep. A part of me knew, though, that something wasn’t right.
In the morning, my mother and I both awoke to my roommate crossing the curtain to use the bathroom, which happened to be on my side of the room. In the light, I was finally able to see her face. Dark bruises circled her eyes, and she had a cut on her chin. Regardless, she still smiled.
“What happened to you?” She asked directly, but softly, noticing my own damaged face. I told her the same story that I’d told to several others: how the car had sped down an icy road without being able to stop and had hit me in the crosswalk while I’d been walking to school. I told her that it had been an unfortunate accident and that I was blessed to be in the condition that I was in, not even having the energy to be bitter about the ordeal.
“And you?” I asked after I finished. I looked at her arm, still in a sling.
“In the girls home that I live in, a group of girls jumped me, beat me up. At one point, they lifted me into the air and dropped me on the ground. I landed on my arm the wrong way and that’s how I broke it.”
Like me, she didn’t seem vengeful at all while telling the story. She spoke clearly and eagerly, almost with no sadness, as if she’d rehearsed the tale several times in her mind, as if she’d been waiting for someone to listen to her story, to care.
“Oh, sweetie…” my mom whispered, a pure look of concern on her face.
“That’s terrible,” I murmured, my face drawn into a sympathetic frown.
Still, she smiled. “Oh, I’ll be fine. Maybe now they’ll finally move me to a different home.” she said, studying me for a moment. Her smile brightened. “You’re so sweet, you know that? If anything, you’re the last person who deserved to be hit by a car. My dad used to always tell me that bad things happen to good people.”
With that, she went inside and used the bathroom. When she walked back out, her eyes immediately fixed onto the unicorn on my bedside table. It had a glittering horn, elegant white hooves, and it was a cute, bubblegum pink. In a squeal, she exclaimed, “Oh, it’s so cute! I love it! That is the most adorable thing!” Her eyes sparkled, and her grin was infectious. Sixteen she may have been, but in that moment, she could have been six; with just one look, the unicorn had stolen her heart.
After she went back to her side of the room, my mom and I glanced to one another, our smiles gone, replaced by looks of concern and disbelief. No wonder there were no visitors for the girl. She lived in a home with just other girls, some of them being responsible for her broken arm. Her parents were surely not in the picture, and apparently no relatives meant to start caring for her, either. My roommate lacked the supportive circle of friends and families that I had around me during this whole experience. No wonder things were so silent over there. My heart sank, weighted by guilt as her empty half of the room seemed to become even emptier, as I slowly understood why there weren’t any balloons or gifts.
Without much of an appetite, I ate a light breakfast of fluffy pancakes, golden hash browns, and apple juice, gingerly chewing and taking small sips. My dad arrived by that time, a nurse following after him.
The nurse’s face looked the most chipper it had ever been, and her eyes darted excitedly from me, to my mother, and then to my father. With the way she chewed her lip, I knew the words coming out of her mouth before she even spoke them. While I’d usually anticipate them, I had a sinking feeling of dread beginning to well up inside of me. That was when she announced, “I have good news! Katelynn can go home! The doctors have cleared her to make the trip back to town. All you have to do is schedule an appointment with the facial specialist to get her surgery in the calendar.” She turned to me and nodded, calmed down a bit by this point. “Other than that, stick to soft foods, sweetie, and you’re good to go.”
My parents smiled to one another, before my mom turned to me, beaming and rubbing my leg. I smiled back to her, thanking the nurse and sitting myself up in bed as my dad began gathering my things together.
I paused as, on the other side of the curtain, I heard the soft whimpers of my roommate, accompanied by the reassuring coos of another nurse. Coincidentally, she was receiving the same news that I was. Elated as I was to be going home, I couldn’t help but to be saddened by her plaintive wails.
“I don’t want to go! Please, I just want to stay here! Please, can’t I just stay here?”
That was the first and probably the last time I’d ever heard someone beg to stay in a hospital. But my roommate wanted nothing more than to stay, in that moment. She bawled, her fear of going back to her girls home spilling out like a waterfall. It was then that I knew what I could do, what I had to do, if I was about to leave this place and surely leave this girl behind without ever seeing her again.
I couldn’t change her situation, no matter how much I wished to. But as I prepared to leave, pulling my jacket around my shoulders, I knew that there was something I could at least give her, something a bit softer than a game controller.
Slowly, I took a peek around the curtain that separated us. The girl’s nose was pink, her face wet. Her nurse, and elderly woman, rubbed her back gently, trying to console her. My roommate looked over at me, and almost immediately, more tears gushed down her face. My own tears, which had been welling up for quite some time now, began to do the same.
With an abundance of stuffed animals in my wheelchair, I picked out one of them and turned to her, placing it in her hands: the pink unicorn she had so adored. Through sniffles and tears, I barely managed to say, “I want you to have this. I know it’s not much, but I saw how much you loved it when you first laid eyes on it. It’s yours.” Hardly being able to speak, we embraced one another, both of us swallowed up in tears. “I hope and pray everything gets better for you. I know they will.”
As I pulled away, she gazed up at me, her eyes bright with disbelief, the tears caught in them making them shimmer sadly. Her lips trembled as she hastily pulled a bracelet from wrist, holding it out to me. “And I want you to take this. It can be a friendship bracelet.”
With a tender smile, I accepted the gift. It was one of those bracelets that were woven out of tiny, colorful rubber bands. The colors had started to fade, and when I pulled it on, it was snug around my wrist.
“C-Can we write each other?” she asked.
The nurses glanced at one another, unsure. But without hesitation, I wrote my name and address on a sheet of paper for her to have anyhow.
“Just write me a letter, and I promise I’ll write back,” I replied, smiling at her. She returned her signature grin and we pulled each other into yet another embrace. For several moments, we clung onto one another, and all the while, I hoped that this was enough. I didn’t want to leave, not just yet. But I had to go home, and with a few more parting words, I left.
Sitting in my wheelchair, heading to the exit of the hospital, I looked down at my lap. Every stuffed animal I’d received sat there, snug on my thighs, all except for the pink unicorn with its glittering horn. A part of me did miss it, considering how soft and bright it was. But with one look at the bracelet that now adorned my wrist, I knew that it had all been worth it.
She’d been right. Bad things do happen to good people. I made a decision that day, though, not to wallow in that realization, not to complain at how unfair the world is. Good can come from bad. If I hadn’t been hit, if I hadn’t been hospitalized, I would have never been able to meet that girl. Even if that unicorn wasn’t much, I wouldn’t have been able to even think of giving it to her in her moment of despair had I not been in that hospital room with her. If I had the chance to change anything about the day I was hit by a car, I can firmly say now, three years later, that I wouldn’t take it. The pain, the fear, the worry … it was all worth it in the end. No, I wouldn’t change a thing.