Beep … beep … beep … beep …
I wake to a steady sound, slamming into an unfamiliar shell of a body, which as it turns out is mine. A dreamlike haze envelopes me, and when my surroundings come into focus, I’m met with white walls, white blankets, white machines connected to white wires leading to a strip of white tape on my wrist holding an IV in place.
I’m in a hospital.
I try to remember how I got here, but it’s like trying to recall someone else’s dream—an impossible task. And it only makes the throbbing inside my head intensify.
“My wife …” My words are more air than sound, and it’s painful to speak with a bone-dry mouth and burning throat.
“Mr. James?” A woman with hair the color of driven snow leans over me. So much fucking white. “Don’t move. Please.”
She’s a calm kind of rushed, hurried but not frenetic as she makes her way around the room, pressing buttons, paging for assistance and adjusting machine settings.
The room fades in and out, murky gray to pitch black, and then crystal clear before disappearing completely. The next time I open my eyes, I’m fenced by three more women and one white-coat-wearing man, all of them gazing down on me with squinted, skeptical expressions, as if they’re witnessing a verifiable miracle in the making.
I’m certain this is nothing more than a bad dream—until my head pulsates with an iron-clad throb once again, accented by a searing poker-hot pain too real to be a delusion.
“Mr. James, I’m Dr. Shapiro. Four weeks ago, you were involved in a car accident.” The doctor at the foot of the bed studies me. “You’re at Hoboken University Medical Center, and you’re in excellent hands.”
They all study me.
I try to sit up, only for a nurse to place her hand on my shoulder. “Take it easy, Mr. James.”
Another nurse hands me water. I take a sip. The clear, cold liquid that glides down my throat both soothes and stings. I swallow the razor-blade sensation and try to sit up again, but my arms shake in protest, muscles threatening to give out.
“Where’s my wife?” Each word is excruciating, physically and otherwise.
She should be here.
Why isn’t she here?
“Your wife?” The nurse with the water cup repeats my question as she exchanges glances with the dark-haired nurse on the opposite side of my bed. “Mr. James … you don’t have a wife.”
I try to respond, which only causes me to cough. I’m handed the water once more, and when I get the coughing under control, I ask for my wife once more.
“Has anyone called her?” I hand the cup back. If I’ve been out of it for weeks, I imagine she’s beside herself. And our kids. I can’t begin to imagine what they’ve been going through. “Does she know I’m awake? Have my children seen me like this?”
“Sir …” The nurse with the dark hair frowns.
“My wife,” I say, harder this time.
“Mr. James.” Dr. Shapiro comes closer, and a nurse steps out of the way. “You suffered extensive injuries in your accident …”
The man rambles on, but I only catch fragments of what he’s saying. Shattered pelvis. Spleen removal. Internal bleeding. Brain swelling. Medically-induced coma.
“It’s not uncommon to be confused or disoriented upon awaking,” he says.
But she was just here …
She was just with me …
Only we weren’t in this room, we were at the beach—the little strip of sand beyond our summer home. She was in my arms as we lay warm under a hot sun, watching our children run from the rolling waves that rolled over the coastline, leaving tiny footprints up and down the shore.
A boy and a girl.
My wife smelled of sunscreen, and she wore an oversized straw hat with a black ribbon and thick-framed cat-eye sunglasses with red rims that matched her red sarong. I can picture it clearer than anything in this damn room.
I can hear her laugh, bubbly and contagious.
If I close my eyes, I can see her heart-shaped smile—the one that takes up half her face and can turn the worst of days completely upside down.
“We’re going to let you rest, Mr. James, and then we’ll order a few tests.” The doctor digs in a deep pocket of his jacket, and then he sneaks a glance at his phone. “I’ll be here for the next eight hours, if you have any additional questions. The nurses will ensure you’re comfortable in the meantime. We’ll discuss your treatment plan as soon as you’re feeling up to it.”
He tells the nurse with the dark hair to order a CT scan, mumbles something else I can’t discern, and then he’s gone. A moment later, the room clears save for myself and the third nurse—the one who’s done nothing but stare at me with despondent eyes this entire time.
“There must be a mistake. Someone needs to call my wife immediately.” I try to sit up, but an electric intensity unlike anything I’ve ever experienced shoots up my arm and settles along my back and shoulders.
The thought of her not knowing where I am sends a squeeze to my chest. What if she thinks I left her? What if she thinks I disappeared? What if she has no idea what happened? And what was I doing in Hoboken when our life is in Manhattan?
“What’s her name?” Her question comes soft and low, almost like she’s trying to ensure no one hears her. “Your wife?”
I open my mouth to speak … only nothing comes out.
I can picture her as vivid as still blue waters on a windless day—but it’s the strangest thing because her name escapes me.
Nothing but blank after infuriating blank.
“I … I can’t remember.” I lean back, staring into the reflective void of a black TV screen on the opposite wall.
The nurse’s gaze grows sadder, if that’s possible. “It’s okay. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”
She doesn’t believe me.
“Would you like me to call your sister?” she asks.
My sister … Claire.
If I can remember my sister’s name, why can’t I remember my own wife’s?
“Yes,” I say. “Call Claire. Immediately.”
She’ll be able to sort this out, I’m sure of it.
“Would you like me to adjust your bed?” The nurse straightens the covers over my legs. “I’m Miranda, by the way. I’ve been assigned to you since you arrived. I can tell you just about anything you need to know.”
“Just … call my sister.”
“Of course, Mr. James. Can I grab you anything while I make that call?”
I lift my hand—the one without the IV—to my forehead. “Head’s pounding like a goddamned jackhammer. Got anything for that?”
“Absolutely. Be right back …”
Miranda hurries out the door, and I’m alone.
If I close my eyes, the room spins, but I can picture my wife with impeccable lucidity—the square line of her jaw, her heart-shaped lips that flip up in the corners, the candy-apple green of her eyes.
My heart aches, though it isn’t a physical pain, it’s deeper.
Like the drowning of a human soul.
I remind myself that the doctor’s said it’s normal to be disoriented, and I promise myself everything will come back to me once I get my bearings.
The clock on the wall reads eight minutes past seven. The sky beyond the windows is half-lit. I haven’t the slightest clue if it’s AM or PM. I couldn’t tell you what day it is or what month it is for that matter.
“Mr. James, your sister is on her way,” the nurse says when she returns.
She hands me a white paper cup with two white pills.
So much fucking white.
If I never see white again after this, I’ll die a happy man.