I sit on the hard plastic chair, the blue one with shiny legs that was clearly designed by someone who had never sat before in their lives, the front plastic digging uncomfortably into my bouncing thighs, the cold metal chilling my arms with an impersonal touch. I can’t stop shaking my legs, my heart is pounding and has no sign of slowing, my palms are damp. In my right hand I hold a bouquet of roses; in my left, a first edition Winnie the Pooh.
God, I hope I don’t throw up.
She’s pacing, she can’t sit even as still as me, her hands tight around each other, ringing, flapping, rubbing her head. She paces up and down the well worn carpet that has endured millions of such paces and will endure millions more. She hasn’t cried yet. She won’t, until she knows.
Then she will cry, regardless.
She turns to pace toward the opposite wall and the sunlight from the window bounces off her blonde hair, dirty and disheveled, and she reaches and rubs her head again and her messy hair falls in front of her face and she’s more beautiful than the day I met her and I can’t let myself think of what will happen to us if–
I shake my head and squeeze the book tighter.
I glance down to the roses, still bright, still happy, still alive, and my heart hurts and I don’t read the note I’ve written inside, the sloppy tear stained card, I always loved you, because I can’t, I can’t cry again, I’m going to run out of water soon. But I have to keep them. I have to remind myself of this possibility because if I hope too much and it’s taken away I will collapse and I will never get back up.
I blink and wipe away the single tear that slides down my cheek.
The small waiting room is filled with twelve other chairs but they are all empty at three o’clock in the morning. It smells like lemons and bleach and the walls are too bright, too cheery, for the number of terrible things that have happened here.
And good things, too. Good things too.
I close my eyes and try to remember what her little fingers felt like when they wrapped around mine. I don’t remember. I need to remember.
She’s sitting now, my wife, in the chair in the opposite side of the room. She looks at me and her eyes are red but dry and there’s desperation there, a begging, a plea that I can’t answer, and she glances at the flowers in my hand and stands and begins to pace again.
I always loved you, I’ll whisper to her, and I’ll lay the roses beside her tiny body, and they will be as long as she is, and I’ll hold her and sing to her and they will unplug everything and she will fall asleep and will never know anything but happiness in her entire life.
I always wanted to give my daughter roses on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is two months away.
My left thumb rubs the hardcover spine of the book in my left hand and I’m going to vomit up my heart with desperation.
Jesus, I’m gonna pass out.
The door slides open and in walks her doctor, still scrubbed from surgery though he’s wearing a clean smock so it won’t be covered with her blood. His mask is hanging around his neck and he calls us over.
My wife stands in front of him, stands tall, with dry eyes, and holds my hand.
“Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, your daughter’s heart valve has been successfully replaced. The attack left her without oxygen for an indeterminate amount of time so we don’t yet know…well, we don’t know how much higher level function she’s maintained, but we remain hopeful, tiny brains are surprisingly resilient.”
I can’t hear him. Why can’t I hear him? Why can’t I make the words go into my brain?
“But we’ve taken her off all the machines. Her heart is doing fine, her lungs are doing fine, everything is fine and will continue to do fine. She’s going to live.”
I can’t feel my face.
My wife is sobbing. I knew she would.
She’s going to live.
I don’t hear another word the doctor says as he leads us down a hallway and through a set of double glass doors to a walkway that leads to pediatric surgery. Some bullshit about quality of life and they don’t know yet and bla bla bla and I don’t care. My wife is squeezing my hand so hard I’ve never been so glad to not be able to feel my fingers.
She’s going to live.
On the walkway is a black trash can, right before the sliding doors to her unit. I toss the roses in.
She can wait until Valentine’s Day.