“Time to wake up sweetie.” The voice is sweet. Feminine, pure, maybe a bit excited. Where am I? I can’t figure anything out. I can’t remember anything.
It’s warm right now. I am not sure how, but I can feel the sun on my face. It reminds me of a beautiful field in summer. Two summers ago, when Ashley was just learning to walk. I can almost see myself there with her. Mom and I had taken her to the park for a picnic lunch. We laid out the blanket and spread out the food. I took Ashley nearby to practice walking in the grass while mom watched. Ashley was having a heck of a time balancing, and it was adorable to watch her fall over. When she refused to get back up, I pulled her shoes and socks off so she could feel the grass on her toes. She was smiling and giggling while she wiggled her little pudgy baby toes in the grass. She called me “Wen” because she couldn’t say Lauren. I giggled with her and scooped her up for snuggles before we went to the blanket for lunch.
Oh. My. God. Ashley. Just like that, the beautiful day is gone and the heat is no longer pleasant. Now it feels like I am burning up. My eyes fly open. Am I dead? Am I alive? A million questions fly through my head as I look around, searching for answers.
A pretty middle aged nurse is looking at me from near my bedside. She looks startled as I pop up out of the bed, flailing and thrashing my head around. Cords pull me back down and I realize my arms and legs won’t move. I’m restrained to this bed!
“Oh dear, slow down. You’re going to hurt yourself. Lauren, you have got to calm down!” She sounds so calm, I can’t help but do what she says. I try to calm down, to get my bearings.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
I’m clearly in a hospital room. There is white everywhere. No flowers, no cards, no life in this room except me and this nurse. I look at her, searching for a name badge. Claudia. She is looking at me with pity in her eyes. She turns to look at the monitors next to my bed.
“Why am I alive?” I say. “I don’t have anything to live for anymore. Why on earth am I still here?”
“I understand you’ve had quite an emotional night. I will let Maggie, our social worker on shift right now, know that you are awake. She wants to talk to you right away. She said it was very important. Now, listen to me, I know you are sad right now sweetie. I understand how much you hurt. Can you promise me that you will just relax for a little bit while she comes in to talk to you? I promise, we won’t ask you to stay when she is done if you can’t.” This woman, this nurse, sounds so genuinely concerned for me. Her voice is melodic, hypnotizing me into a calm state that I haven’t felt before.
“I guess I really don’t have much of a choice right now. I am not going to do anything to myself right now, if that is what you are asking. But if I am honest with you, there really isn’t anything for me to live for. I can’t make any promises once I leave here.” I say. I don’t really have the energy to argue or try to even get up right now. I feel so drained and weak. I’m completely emotionally defeated.
The nurse nods at me, dropping her eyes, and pats my hand. She turns and walks out of the room, leaving the door wide open. I lay there on the bed feeling cold and alone. I wonder where Nikki and Trevor are. They must have called for help. I vaguely remember Trevor finding me.
I look down at my arm, raising my wrist a little. It hurts a lot, and is wrapped in thick layers of gauze. I hold my arm a few inches above the bed for a few minutes, which is as high as the restraints will move, allowing the blazing fire to course through my arm, feeling the spikes of pain everywhere as I try to let it overtake me again. After a few minutes, I cannot bear anymore and I slowly lower the arm. I roll my head to the side, defeated, and cry softly.
“Lauren? How are you feeling?” I turn my head to see a bright eyed woman, maybe in her thirties. She is wearing a navy blue pinstripe pantsuit and heels. Very polished. While she looks the part of a social worker, I can see emotions on her face I am not expecting. Her eyes are puffy and smeared with makeup. Just a little bit, like she tried really hard to clean it up. Her nose is a little red too, like she has been blowing it quite a bit tonight. This doesn’t make sense to me. I cannot imagine a situation that would make a professional woman like this cry on the job. So of course, now I am intrigued to know what is so important that she rushed in here to talk to me in this condition.
“I’ve been better.” I whisper.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve been talking to many doctors tonight about your unique situation. Are you comfortable? Is there anything we can get for you?” She is now hovering over my bed, looking at my arms, looking at my eyes which are still a little pooled with tears. “I’m very sorry, but the restraints are standard protocol, given the reason for your hospitalization. They are for your protection.”
“I don’t want anything. I just want to go back to sleep.”
“I understand. I know it has been a rough night for you. I have some information that I need to share with you. First, I need to know what you were told about the accident.”
“They are all dead. No survivors.” I whisper, choking on the tears that start flowing again.
“I’m sorry then, for what you have gone through tonight. But I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed.”
What did she just say?
There is no way I heard that right. Perhaps I succeeded, and I really am dead. This doesn’t make sense. I can’t help but look confused and dumbfounded as I lock myself away in my head to try to process this statement.
“Lauren, I need you to listen to me and pay very close attention. This may be hard to process for you, but you need to look at me.” She is looking at me, and she takes a seat in the chair next to me. She reaches out and clasps my hand, gently so as not to hurt me. She is looking directly into my eyes now.
“Ok, I need to know what you mean? Was there an accident? Is everyone okay?” I say, trying to contain the hope building in my chest.
“Yes, there was an accident. At the scene, the officers and paramedics believed everyone was dead. But then, something happened. They couldn’t explain it to me in a way that made sense, but it doesn’t really matter if it makes sense. The little girl, Ashley, she started breathing again.”
“Are you serious?” I say as I try to snap myself up from the bed. “Ashley is alive?” The pain in my wrists is so intense from jerking my body that my head falls backwards. I nearly black out.
“I see you are going to need more pain medication. Let me just handle that.” The nurse steps up to the I.V. in my arm, opens something, and inserts a syringe into the tube. I am in so much pain I can’t really see what she is doing, and my brain is screaming at me.
“Lauren, you need to stay still. You cannot do anything right now. You need to relax and listen. Don’t try to move, just listen ok?” Maggie is talking to me in a low calm voice again, and I can see tears in the corner of her eyes. Is this what she has been crying about? Has Ashley somehow survived this nightmare?
“Ashley is alive. She is in intensive care. She was flown here a couple of hours ago by MedEvac since this hospital has a specialized children’s operating room. She is out of surgery and in recovery right now. I just left her to come see you.”
I cannot believe my ears. She is alive. My little sister. My parents are dead, but she is not.
“Now, there is something we need to discuss. I don’t expect an answer right away. I know you have been through an emotional rollercoaster this evening. But, it’s my job to handle these things.”
Uh-oh. I can feel a freight train coming straight at me. All these walls I built to protect myself are about to crumble. The heroin, the vodka, the oxycodone, they have all been masking the secret that I know is about to be unraveled right here in this room by a stranger. I close my eyes and brace for impact.
It’s been three years since I almost threw my life away. I was a 4.0 student, active in tons of academic activities, on the path toward an Ivy League college and a bright future as a potential district attorney. And then one night, I lost control of myself with my boyfriend Trevor. My parents bailed me out of trouble so I could follow my path. Instead, I tore myself apart emotionally because of what I did. And then, Nikki introduced me to oxycodone she snagged from her mother. It killed the pain. I have spent three years chasing ways to kill the pain and slowly losing myself.
“Your parents are dead. Ashley has lost her guardians. According to hospital records, she was voluntarily adopted at birth. It is also recorded that if anything should happen to the adoptive parents, Ashley’s birth mother should be given priority to re-establish guardianship. Lauren, as you know, that is you. We understand she has been raised to believe she is your little sister. If you cannot take on this responsibility, a foster family can be found temporarily. The choice is up to you. I don’t want an answer right now. But, I will need an answer before you leave this hospital.”
There it is. The world explodes as she says all of this, all my secrets and lies rushing to the surface. Do I accept this responsibility, and all of the questions it brings? Or do I turn my back and trust that she is better off with someone else?
…I will have to stop everything…
…she deserves a better mother…
…could you live in this world without her now?
“Of course I will take her. I am her mother.” I say, causing a smile to slowly form on Maggie’s face as a tear slid from the corner of her eye.
It won’t be easy to admit what I have done in the past. I know eventually there will be questions to answer. I will tackle those problems when I get to them. Right now, the only thing that matters is that Ashley is alive and I am her mother. As long as I can figure out how to take care of her, nothing else matters.
***Author’s note. This story is being expanded into a YA Novel and is listed under my “upcoming projects” page. It’s in the early stages of being expanded upon. This story was a writing project for a fiction writing workshop. Many of my classmates and my teacher expressed interest in reading this as a larger novel with a more expanded story. I’ve taken their desires to heart and am working on this. Thank you for taking the time to read it!