68 15 20

Attention: slight trigger warning for parts 9 - 12. Trauma, injury.

This is just a dream, though, and just like the rest, it can't last longer than that. Dreams always seem to end at the best parts, don't they?

I was pulled back awake by the braking of the ambulance as we pulled in front of the doors of the hospital emergency services, or rather, just the suddenness of it, the unexpected shift from speeding down the highway, moving faster than cars were typically even allowed to go, to a complete stillness. The stillness didn't last, but it was nice while it did.

I was taken out of the car and as I passed through the hospital doors, I saw that my father was already inside.

"What happened?" he asked to my mother who was trailing just a few feet behind the team of paramedics who pushed my gurney.

"Will people stop asking me that? I don't know! Here, take Joy." I could hardly see her, but I listened as someone pulled her aside to ask about insurance information.

The gurney stopped. "Are you the father?" a voice asked. It wasn't of a paramedic but of someone else who must have worked at the hospital. A nurse, probably.

My father came to stand beside me. "Yes. Can you tell me what happened?"

I looked up at him, chest and head held tall like a soldier. He had had the time before leaving home to dress himself in one of his nice suits, the navy blue one which had tiny silver threads subtly weaved into the fabric. His hair, longer in those days than it is now, was combed and gelled, without a single strand falling past his ears. Curled around the small of his back, I could see one of Joy's feet, naked and still a little wet from the beach. As it kicked about, little grains of dirt transferred onto the sportscoat. I wanted to see her face, but it was hidden behind my father's chest. I could hear her whimpers, toes flickering downwards synchronically with each sob. If I could just see her – if she could just see me – maybe, we could comfort each other? "D-dad..."

My father placed a hand on my shoulder. I waited for him to look down to me, but he never did.

"Well, we don't really know what happened. We were hoping you could help. Your wife – "

"What about my wife?" He was irritated, and he didn't mind showing it.

The nurse was startled, I could tell, but continued on after only a minor pause. "She hasn't given us much information, sir."

"I'm sure she's given you all of the information that she has." He took his hand off my shoulder. There was frustration in both of their voices, both his and the nurse's.

"All we know is that he climbed up the rocks and fell, but we don't know how or why."

"And it's my wife who is supposed to know this? She wasn't the one who fell, was she?"

As the volume of their words continued to increase, so did the volume of Joy's sobs. After a few minutes, they had successfully escalated from light sniffles and whimpers to screaming cries and moans. I thought about how rude it was for them to be doing that, two adults fighting back and forth, arguing over nothing with meaning and feeding their arguments round after round with brand new jabs carrying exactly the same information as before, only louder and more forceful this time, all the while letting the pure soul who sat on my father's hip cry out without stopping to offer her any comfort.

I began to feel a new pressure in my chest, one much deeper than before, and at the time, I thought it was because I wanted to cry. I tried to hold it back with long, deep breaths, but with each one, the pressure only aggravated, until the only breaths I could make were sharp, shallow inhales which pushed out my belly more than my chest. Every hurt that I was feeling worsened, especially the pointed pain in my left side. A wave of heat began to circle around my eyes, spreading itself quickly to my temples, my cheeks, and to the tips of my ears. I tried to drift back into my sleep, sadly without any success.

My breaths continued to become faster and now more audible – from my inability to breathe properly or from the panic that was settling in, I'm not sure. This got the attention of the nurse, who abruptly ended her conversation with my father, sending him away with a "You'll need to wait here, sir," and a quick gesture to a set of empty chairs in the waiting area. He turned to go towards them, and as he did, I caught a glimpse of my baby sister, whose screaming had reddened her face as deep as the blood-stained water at the beach.

Her eyes locked with mine for a moment, and our spirits connected in a way only those of siblings could. The same rush of calm fell over the two of us simultaneously; I saw it happen in her eyes, and I could feel in my bones the slowing of her heartbeat. In knowing this, so did mine. These moments of connection, forever too few and forever too brief, they were what I would long for the most in the months after her passing, and it is what I long for most now, as I recount this story in my mind.

I was almost immediately broken away from her, rushed out of the emergency room lobby to leave her to be cared for instead by my father. My mother would return soon as well. I knew she would not be alone.

I was comforted slightly by this thought, but not enough to be able to ignore the pain I was feeling. My breathing never slowed, and the breaths never deepened. I didn't dare attempt to speak now. I looked to the ceiling as I dragged along on my stretcher, down lurid hallway after lurid hallway in a seemingly endless race across the hospital building. As the gurney rolled on, it seemed to increase speed at the same rate of acceleration of my heartbeat.

Doctors and nurses talked over me. "Is it a panic attack?"

"I don't know! This started so suddenly!"

"Well, get him a scan immediately!"

"Did someone take his vitals?"

We passed through a final set of double doors into a door just slightly dimmer than the hallways. I heard the thump of the doors closing behind me, and my gurney finally stopped. There was more talking over me, mostly medical words and phrases that I didn't understand. The more I tried to listen, the less I could hear, it seemed. Between my noisy breaths and the chattering of doctors and – what was that? Metal falling to the floor?

No matter, really. All these sounds, they soon would mix together in my mind into one singular buzz. A buzz which only intensified as they started up one of those large scanning machines and lifted me onto its bench. It had a wide circle which traveled up and down this bench for a long time without me seeing anyone beside me. I took this time to remember the moments of stillness that had passed, bringing myself back to them as best I could. I stared up a gray streak in the marble patterned ceiling and tried to make my inhales last longer, counting the number of seconds I could go before having to release.

Everything that Can Never BeWhere stories live. Discover now