It was well past midnight, and all the chaos of doctors and nurses rushing back and forth had finally settled down, causing a certain stillness to seep into the vacated corridors.
“Dad,” Lexie said softly as she placed a hand on my shoulder, stirring me slightly from my sleep. “Dad,” she tried again, a bit louder. This time, she succeeded in waking me. I couldn’t help but blink against the bright lights. As I sat upright in the metal chair, I winced, feeling every muscle in my upper body protest. With a heavy sigh, I looked around the generic room, taking in the all-too-white curtains and the nightstand brimming with medication. Suddenly, I remembered where I was. Rolling my neck to one side, my eyes fell on my beloved wife. There, on the hospital bed, she lay limply. Her once-bronzed skin now held an ashen hue. A breathing tube hung beneath her nostrils while other tubes and wires surrounded her. Pain then eased into my heart. She looked so vulnerable. I raised my hands to my face and slowly rubbed my eyes, hoping all the while that this was just a nightmare. But knowing it was not so, a single tear slid down my cheek.
Reaching out, I grasped her cold hand. “Anna,” I whispered, begging her to open her eyes. But as seconds dragged by, nothing happened. Only the rhythmic sound of the ticking clock filled the empty space. Soon, seconds slipped into minutes…still nothing progressed.
“Dad,” Lexie finally said gently, leaning down to wrap both of her arms around me, tightening the hug. “Go stretch your legs for a bit,” she suggested. “I’ll watch over Mom for a while.”
It was then that I averted my eyes from Anna to Lexie. In her countenance, I saw a mixture of emotions: fear, pain and certainly regret. With another sigh, I patted her arm and nodded my head. “I’ll go grab us some coffee. I believe we both could use a strong cup about now.”
With that, a small yet tired smile appeared on her face, “Don’t forget I like lots of cream and sugar in mine.” Remembering her sweet tooth caused me to chuckle.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I assured her as I got up from the chair, grabbed my wallet from the bedside table and started to walk toward the door. While leaving the room, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Lexie had settled herself on the bedside chair, taking over my vigil. My heart went out to my daughter as I watched her grab her mother’s hand. With a shake of my head, I couldn’t help but fall deep in thought, as I resumed my walk to the café downstairs. So many questions were rushing through my head, begging to be answered.
Instinctively, I knew that I had to be patient and wait for God’s perfect timing to answer each and every one. But now I was beginning to feel guilty. For the past six months, I had been halfway across the United States, separated from my family. I had stayed focused on my own needs. Foolishly, I had neglected the needs of my beloved family.
“God, I regret having left my family, allowing my work to consume me. If I could reverse time, I certainly would.” I prayed aloud before realizing I had already arrived at the café. Quickly, I ordered two coffees and returned to the ward.
Once I reached the room, I paused before entering, hearing a muted voice sounding from within. Straining to listen, I slowly began to recognize that it was Lexie’s voice. My curiosity got the best of me. Therefore, I found myself leaning in the doorway, hesitant to enter. When I did, my lips parted in surprise at what I encountered.
There, seated on the edge of the bed gripping one of my wife’s hands, sat Lexie. With a bowed head, her shoulders were slumped in defeat. Tears streamed down her face.
Silently, I watched as Lexie’s lips moved, causing the hushed whispers to jumble her words. I stayed still, staring at the floor, refusing to allow my own flood of tears to escape. But as Lexie’s voice grew in volume, my head instantly responded by snapping up, attempting to hear each word distinctly.
“Help her, God…I beg of you. God, help my mom! Prove to me that you really do exist by saving her, God…” Lexie cried, her body shaking with deep sobs before her voice diminished again.
Hearing her say the word “God” over and over again, I realized Lexie was praying. Then and there, my heart completely broke in two. Silently, I joined her prayer with, “Let Your will be done, Lord.”
Darkness resided. Chills descended down my spine while fear entwined my heart. I held my hands outstretched and grasped at empty air. My heart raced, and my breath was labored.
“Lexie,” a raspy voice whispered as its breath fanned the back of my neck. As I turned around, a silent scream escaped through my lips. Blackness greeted me.
“Lexie,” the voice sounded again, its breath brushing across my face. Another muted scream welled within my throat. I had to get away! Not knowing which way was which, running blindly, the haunting whispers followed behind. All of a sudden, I felt cold metal clasps around my wrists and ankles, restricting me. Chains jingled. A taunting laugh filled the air. A ring of flames ignited about me as an endless flow of tears stained my cheeks. I struggled profusely against these bonds that imprisoned me. The voice grew near. An intense burst of flames scorched my flesh. Descending to my knees, a merciful cry touched my lips. Looking upward, I was devoid of hope as the flames neared and began to consume my total being. My vision blurred as my body slumped to the enflamed ground. “Someone, please help me!”
As I awoke with a start, my chest rose and fell rapidly. My eyes darted about, attempting to take in my surroundings.
“Mom,” I whispered, remembering all that had happened. She lay there on the hospital bed. Her condition: the same.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I arose from my temporary bed, my limbs protesting with each move. Stretching widely, I grimaced and rolled my neck, attempting to loosen the strained muscles. Sighing, I walked over to the window. Morning had approached and the rest of the hospital was awake. Turning my head, I stared blankly at the still form, feeling numb. What else could be done?
Remembering the events of the night before, I recalled that I had done something I had thought not possible: I had cried my heart out to God, even though I wasn’t sure in my heart that He did exist.
“You should go home and get some sleep, Honey,” an exasperated voice came from the doorway.
Glancing up, I took note of Dad’s disheveled appearance. Loosely crossing my arms, feeling open and vulnerable, I smiled weakly, “Mom needs me.”
Tenderness filled Dad’s bloodshot eyes as he stepped farther into the room. “Then you will probably appreciate this,” he chuckled, handing me a tall cup of coffee.
My eyes widened, “Definitely!” I reached out and accepted the steaming brew. Nodding my head in appreciation, my countenance slowly sobered as I turned my attention back to the hospital bed. “Have the doctors found anything?”
A look of exhaustion took over his face as his eyes followed my gaze. “No,” he breathed, shaking his head. “We just have to wait.” Pain tore at his heart. Without even asking, he knew I had experienced another sleepless night. Lowering his cup after taking a sip of his coffee, he suggested, “How about you go over and rest in the waiting room?”
Sighing, I complied and walked toward the door. Refusing to look back, I made my way to the waiting room. With each step I took, I fell deeper into thought. When I reached the glass door, I suddenly froze, my lips parting.
“Lexie!” Ian exclaimed in a hushed tone, bounding from his seat with eyes widened in surprise. Our eyes locked, but I was at a loss for words. Everything that had happened within the past few days came crashing down upon me. Ian must have noticed, for he resumed his seat and gently patted the empty place beside him. Swamped by emotions, I sank down beside him, staring into blank space.
Seconds passed before I eventually broke the silence. “I prayed last night.” Feeling his eyes upon me, I continued, “God h-has to answer my prayer…” A single tear spilled onto my cheek.
Not knowing how I would respond, Ian’s reply was hesitant, “God will always answer our prayers; it just might not be the answer we want.”
I took a deep breath and allowed silence to reside once again. Leaning back, I rested my head against the cushion and closed my eyes. Urgently, I began to repeat my prayer from the previous night, pleading with my whole heart. The words soon reached my lips, “Bring her back to us, God… I b-beg you…” Behind my closed eyelids, a well of tears formed. Exhaustion took over. I felt myself drifting off. Soon enough, the last words died on my lips as darkness took over, “Please, God…”
Ian left, leaving me to pace the waiting room. Worrying had proven to be a constant enemy. It didn’t help that my thoughts turned over repeatedly, causing the dull pain residing right behind my eyelids. I raised a hand to rub my aching temples, trying to ease out the tightness. With that, the last ounce of energy I possessed silently slipped away. I could feel myself crumble, piece by piece. Ceasing my pacing, I stared longingly into space. Numbness then swept over my body and I sank into submission, landing on a cold, metal chair. I sat there frozen, my hands resting limply in my lap. Memories of Mother began seeping into my mind. I reflected on all the happy times we had once had, but also on how things had changed. Tears threatened, so I closed my eyes and shakily breathed out while sliding my legs beneath my chair. Instantly, my warm flesh contrasted with the coolness of the metal seat. Links of unforgiving chains flashed before me. Inhaling sharply, I tried to shut out those raspy voices that began to creep back into my consciousness. Still with eyes closed, I wrapped my arms about myself. Another vision rose before me, but this was of hot flames madly leaping about. They seemed to approach furiously, wanting to devour me, to conquer and claim me! My eyes focused, I lifted them skyward and tears splashed on my cheek, making my lips tremble with fear.
“Are you allowing this to happen because of me?” I cried out, expecting a reply. Yet, no reply. “Is it?!” I yelled louder, my shoulders shaking uncontrollably. The air was deathly still, except for the steady ticking of the clock. Admitting defeat, a cry escaped through my lips, and I slumped to the floor. At last, my hardened demeanor had cracked and lay scattered about like burnt ashes. The flood I had been holding back flowed like a stream. The heart once protected from piercing arrows was now battered and torn.
Minutes had passed when I raised my eyes upward, my heart hurting with pounding pulsations.
“Please,” I whispered, my voice pathetically hoarse, “forgive me!”
After that, I do not remember a thing. I passed out on the floor from pure exhaustion. When I awoke, it was to someone gently shaking my shoulder while saying my name. As my eyes fluttered open, I squinted against the bright light that was glaring high above. Squatting down beside me was my dad, who offered a weak smile as he gently brushed the hair from my eyes.
“Hey, Sweetie,” he lovingly whispered. My eyes then finally adjusted to the light, and I met his gaze. He saw the hurt, the torture and the pain burning there.
Right then, I broke all over again. Flinging my arms around his neck, I hugged him close and buried my head in his neck, seeking comfort. “I’m so sorry, Dad,” I breathed deeply, trying to control my sobs, but failing miserably once again.
“Shh, Honey,” he comforted me, stroking my hair and wrapping his other arm around me, as if to protect me. I took a breath, attempting to regain my composure. Wiping the two trails that streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled back from my dad. Once again, that knowing smile etched into his face. Reaching inside his pocket, he pulled out a tissue and handed it to me.
“Are you going to be okay?”
Inhaling deeply for the second time, I felt a sliver of hope spring up. I smiled softly, “Yeah, I will be in time.”
Dad nodded his head knowingly and pulled me into another embrace, planting a tender kiss on my temple. “Good, because Mom will need you over these next few weeks as she recovers.”
I froze, leaned forward and looked at his face, wondering…He observed the questions showing in my eyes. A smile grew as he announced, “Mom just woke up.”
As soon as the words reached my ears, I was up and bounding down the hallway. My heart pounded loudly with each step. As I reached the room, I paused in the doorway, staring at her in disbelief. My sudden movement caught her attention, and she raised a weakened hand, motioning me to come. Putting one foot in front of the other, I approached slowly, and then the tears began again. My prayers had been answered.
“Thank you, God,” I prayed silently. “Thank you…”
Written by Hannah Schweinschaupt. This article was published in the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2015 editions of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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