By Elizabeth Arlen
It was the last thing I ever wanted to see. The very sight of it made me sick inside. Was it possible that this was a dream? Just a bad nightmare that had been brought on by one too many episodes of CSI or Law and Order? No, I thought, my mind knows better than to conjure such a frightful sight. All of this went through my mind as I took a gasp of air in. I felt myself say something.
"Help." Louder, it had to be louder, "Help!" I shouted suddenly; my voice flew into action, "Somebody please help! Call an ambulance!" Her friend, Jasmine heard me first and came into the bathroom quickly. I could tell she was thinking the same things that I had a moment ago.
"No." I heard her murmur as she whipped out her cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. I leaned down and checked Imial's pulse; it was weak, but it was there. I heard Jasmine give the ambulance the address of the church.
"Is everything all right?" I heard my husband call through the bathroom door. I couldn't find it in me to respond; maybe I just wanted to say it.
"She tried to kill herself," Jasmine whispered almost inaudibly, "I can't believe it." I could hardly believe it myself; Imial was always so cheerful, wasn't she? Richard, my husband, finally knocked on the door and entered. Like Jasmine and myself, he gasped and actually spun on his heel back out of the girl's bathroom. I thought I heard the sound of retching.
"I need to leave," Jasmine said. I nodded, trying not to flinch at the blood oozing onto the white tiles of the bathroom. I stood above the girl, unsure what to do before the ambulance came. I knelt down and sat with her, my fingers hovering on her pulse to assure myself that she'd be ok until they came to fix her. Richard reentered a time later.
"They're here for her, is she still alive?" He asked quietly. I nodded my fingers still on her neck. "I was worried about her, but I never thought she'd do this."
"Worried?" I echoed. He had said that once, hadn't he? That he was worried Imial was suicidal? That he had seen some bright red cuts on her slender, pale arms? I had blown that concern off; not Imial. A sweet girl…it didn't seem too long ago that she was seven years old, staring indignantly back into my face. Witty when she spoke, but otherwise unbearably quiet. Now? She wasn't too different from before; her thoughtful silence still alienates many from her, but on the occasions she speaks, she leaves a strong impression. At seventeen, that impression held firm; the girl turned heads in every room she entered, not because of her beauty, for she was rather simple in looks, but because of the presence that emanated from her curious stares. Was it really her? I asked myself. This girl…I should have suspected it; my husband was good at knowing people. I hadn't seen it.
The men from the hospital came in and quickly rolled her away down to Good Samaritan hospital. Richard and I went outside to see her off. As he got in the ambulance as her guardian, he looked at me.
"She's going to die," I said, "She's killed herself." Richard shook his head.
"I don't believe that," He replied, "And I wish you wouldn't."
"You need to go," I said solemnly, "I'm going to change and then I'll follow." She would be all right with Richard.
I washed up in the kitchen in the hottest water I could stand. I wanted to avoid the bathroom and the puddle of blood that invariably still sat there. Scrubbing mercilessly, my skin was left feeling raw; I didn't want a single molecule of blood left on my skin. I changed into the spare clothing I kept in my home office and ran to my car to drive to the hospital. Maybe she would be ok. Maybe.
My husband and I paced around the hospital waiting room while Jasmine sat in a chair, quietly pretending to read. It took me a long time to realize that she was only staring at the pages, but she hadn't turned the page once and her eyes didn't move across it. I felt as bad for her as I did for Richard. Jasmine and Imial had been through a lot together. When Imial had lost her father years ago, Jasmine had kept the girl from falling apart. Imial was always an unstable and unsure person, but I had put too much faith in Jasmine and Richard to keep Imial strong all the time. I took it for granted.
Richard made a deal with her grandparents that if they would take care of most of her school expenses, he would house and feed Imial in order to avoid ripping her from the environment she had known her entire life. He was her second cousin on her father's side and they had never been close, but her grandparents reluctantly agreed after much urging from Imial. I too had been reluctant to attempt to integrate a troubled young girl into our already strange family, but Richard had assured me that she would adjust. Had we done something wrong? I decided that whatever had spurred her to such a dangerous decision—it had probably been reached for her own reasons and by her own volition.
"Is there any news on her?" Mark. It was Imial's boyfriend, Mark Craegan that both Jasmine and Richard abhorred; Jasmine had outwardly expressed her concern to Imial and Richard had admitted his own worries to me privately. Jasmine slammed her hardback closed and slowly turned her head toward Mark. I almost expected her to snap at him and I prepared myself for a public scene. But my worries weren't justified.
"No the doctors haven't said anything," The girl shook her head quietly, clearly rethinking something harsh she had planned on saying.
"Th-that sucks," He stuttered sensing the coldness and hostility emanating from Richard and Jasmine. "Can I get any of you something?" He inquired, "Coffee or something?"
"That would be great," I said quietly, "Just black, for me, at least." I looked around but Jasmine and Richard weren't looking at me.
"I'm fine, thanks," Richard said stiffly.
"Me too, but thank you," Jasmine added. Her response could have come out as a polite refusal, but it sounded more like she was hoping her negation would bring Mark a slow, hard death. I gave Mark a quiet, reassuring look and he nodded slightly, heading off to get the coffee. When he returned a short while later, I murmured a 'thank you' and finally sat down. He stood nervously for a few moments seemingly wondering if he should sit down and if so, where? Or should he stand pacing with Richard? Finally, he chose a chair next to my own and it was then that a doctor appeared.
"Is she all right?" Richard demanded. The tall, Korean doctor took a deep breath and paused. The five whole seconds of silence were unbearable and I found myself unable to look at anything but my coffee cup. He was going to tell us she was dead; I could feel it.
"She lost a lot of blood and we had to resuscitate more than once, but," He paused, "She should, physically, be fine."
"I…she said some things that the two of you should read."
"One of the nurses took it all down."
"Are you two her guardians?"
"Yes, I'm Richard Bailey and this is my wife, Sarah." I stood with a sluggish feeling and walked numbly and silently with Richard behind the doctor, leaving Jasmine and Mark sitting there awkwardly alone.
"During one of her resuscitations, she said, 'Please let me die; I don't want to live like this,'" Richard and I exchanged glances, each of us utterly stupefied by the message.
"I don't understand," I voiced gently. It sounded as if Imial was implying that she had an awful life, and maybe I didn't know everything, but I thought that Richard and I did an ok job.
"I don't either," Richard agreed. He and I were good to her. I didn't know much about Mark, but I knew that he was harmless. And my husband was an overly gentle man; neither posed a threat to her and I knew it wasn't Jasmine or myself. She didn't want to live like what?
"We've called in a psych consult for tomorrow, they'll probably want to talk to you and her friends as well," The doctor said looking up from his clipboard. We both nodded slowly. I couldn't think of any danger to her but herself. That thought alone scared me enough to want to run immediately to where she was so that I could reassure her. Richard spoke my thoughts.
"When can we see her?" He inquired solemnly.
"About two hours, I'm sorry for the wait, but we want to ensure that she stays stable; it's simply a precaution." I nodded again.
"We understand," I said taking Richard's arm. I led him back to the waiting room where we found staring angrily at each other. They were clearly having an argument. Mark slammed himself back into his chair and Jasmine sat back down and opened her book again. Richard and I also took back our original places.
"What did he say?" Jasmine asked.
"We can see her in two hours, and it looks like she'll be ok," I informed her. Mark sighed and rubbed her eyes.
"I wish she'd have told me," He whispered.
"No one had a clue," I said knowing it was true for at least Mark and myself. I wasn't so sure that Richard and Jasmine had no suspicions about how far-gone she was. We sat there in silence from that moment forward, anticipating a meeting with Imial.
"Hi, this is Jasmine, we can see her soon," She informed Imial's other good friend, Marian.
"Does Ray know?" Ray was a man Imial had known for a short amount of time and they weren't exactly best friends, but Ray cared about Imial and everyone knew it but Imial. Most of the time they were angry with each other more often than they were friendly.
"I wasn't sure if I should call him; I can ask Sarah," She pressed her palm to the voice piece on her cell phone, "Should we call Ray, Sarah?" I pondered over her question for a moment. Ray was a nice guy; I'd worked with him personally, but I wasn't sure if Imial would want him to know.
"It couldn't possibly hurt," Richard inputted staring at me. He nodded a few times indicating that he thought it was a good idea. So I told Jasmine that it was all right to go ahead and call him, giving him all the information we had.
"She's unconscious, but if you like, you can see her," The Korean doctor had returned, this time wearing a pair of black framed glasses.
"I'll go first," I decided when no one stood to follow him.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Richard asked compassionately, putting his hand on my shoulder. I shook my head.
"I think I'll go alone for now, but thanks for offering," I replied walking after the doctor to room 306. The man smiled at me reassuringly and walked away, leaving me alone at the door. Simply turning the knob on the door was one of the hardest things that I've ever done. I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to talk to her if walking into the room was so difficult.
She was pale and sickly looking; lying completely still. The heart monitor beeped incessantly. Her arms were outside of the covers and her wrists were heavily bandaged. It was utterly awful to see her lying so still; she had always been fidgety, not necessarily active, but certainly always moving. I wondered if it was safe to shake her into consciousness and at the same time I wondered if I even wanted to. When she awoke, what would I say to her? What could I? Why had she done it? Did it even matter? If she hadn't told me before, what were the chances that she was willing to tell me now? I had always considered that she thought me a confidant, but perhaps I had taken that for granted as well. May she had been too afraid to tell me. But what could have given her that kind of fear? As I pondered all of these questions, I moved to the side of her bed where a lonely chair waited for me. I sat down in it slowly and stared at her once more. Now a look of unhappiness was easily discernable on her face and I reflected on how I had never seen it before. Or maybe I had and I simply hadn't wanted to notice. It was one of Imial's sayings, 'A person only sees what they're comfortable seeing.' That should have been a clue.
I reached out slowly and took her hand between both of mine. It was surprisingly warm, the opposite of what I expected. Not that she shouldn't have been so; she was a living, breathing human being. I realized that I'd continued thinking of her as if she had succeeded where she hadn't.
"I don't understand why you did this," I whispered into her ear, "But I don't think any less of you, I'm not even disappointed in you. I just wish you had told me that you needed help." I sat up, planning to remain with her for a few more minutes before getting Richard or Jasmine to sit with her, but I found a pair of brown eyes dazedly gazing up at me. She was awake.
She groaned her voice hoarse from the intubation. My breath hitched in my throat as she stared confused back at me. "You said…?" I hadn't meant for her to hear me, but graciously, Richard knocked on the door to her room and let himself in.
"Oh," He said upon looking at her," You're awake…" He sounded so un-welcoming. I could tell that while I was just sad, he was angry with her for making such an attempt. Imial could feel his frustration and she visibly cringed.
"Richard, I…" But there wasn't anything she could say to assuage his anger so she simply trailed off. I tried to catch his eye but he wasn't looking in my direction, almost deliberately. It wasn't until I stood up that I realized I still had her hand in my own. When I tried to remove it, she responded by holding onto me gently. I looked at her and she was looking back and forth between Richard and myself.
"Imili," He began using his pet name for her, "We're really disappointed in you—" I winced and the girl looked at me, "But we still love you."
"Please, don't continue," Imial murmured, "I'm not going to explain myself to you, Rich, I know that's where you're going," I smiled inwardly at how well she knew him. She'd heard what I said and decided that it was no one's business but her own. Maybe she would tell me…I wanted to know and at the same time, I was so scared that it might be my fault, at least partially. To some extent, it was everyone's fault, simply for not noticing that she was at this level…it was our fault. I should have paid closer attention to Richard'' perturbations. I would know better now. Quickly, I made a mental note to pay close attention to all teenage behaviors in the future. The tension was thick in the room as my husband and my almost daughter engaged in a tense staring contest.
"Fine then," Richard stated. I think he was surprised to see Imial say something with such a strong tone. "I can accept that. Jasmine and Mark are waiting outside for you and Ray will be here soon. I'm going to leave; Sarah?" I looked away from the girl in front of me. She squeezed my hand and I thought she was going to ask me to stay with her, but she dropped my hand from her grasp. I walked out of the room backwards watching her, holding what was my captive hand up as a 'good bye.'
I stared at my hand while Jasmine and Mark each took a turn with her. Why had Imial chosen to connect with me? Jasmine or Richard or even Ray seemed like a more logical choice than I did. I usually got my information from one of these people. But now it was me who had it. I ran my fingertips over where she had gently but firmly held my hand with her own. Again, I felt the need to run back to her, even if it was to sit quietly and enjoy her company in silence.
Ray arrived soon after Jasmine allowed Mark in and escaped the room. I stood up at his arrival.
"She's going to be ok," I said. Ray sighed and ran his fingers over his head. Then he rubbed his temples slowly as he took a seat next to me.
"Why would she do this?" He inquired softly.
"Don't bother asking," Richard snapped. Ray looked at him in confusion.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He asked sounding almost angry. It was my turn to sigh, and I hoped they wouldn't get into an argument.
"It means I asked her and she made it clear that she wasn't going to say why she did it because it was her 'own business,'" Richard snapped back.
"Maybe if you had supported her instead of telling her you were disappointed in her," I suggested nonchalantly. My husband glared at me, but I simply shrugged my shoulders.
"You did?" Ray inquired softly.
"I was trying to be honest with her, besides, I told her I loved her right afterwards," Richard defended looking uncomfortable, "I've always been honest with her, there's no reason for me to change that," He added, stopping his continuous pacing. I looked over at Jasmine who was either thoroughly engrossed in her book or was pretending to be.
We were all silent after that until Mark stormed out to us, grabbed his jacket and walked out.
"What happened?" I asked him after running to catch up with him.
"She broke up with me!" Mark fumed. Stunned, I froze in my tracks, but the boy kept going and he was gone.
I returned the group, "She broke up with him," I informed them.
"She did!?" I frowned at Richard and Jasmine's enthusiasm.
"Why don't you both go celebrate, throw a parade or something?" Ray berated. He stood and stretched, "I guess it's my turn, then."
"Just keep a constant eye on her for a while and keep her away from cooking; knives, et cetera, you know what I mean." The nervous, small man from the Psych department instructed me carefully.
She was waiting for me with a small bag of the things that we'd brought her over the week. I nodded at her and smiled and she smiled back at me. She looked so empty and more mature than she had before "the accident" as Richard had begun to refer to it. Yet…there was something about her that was almost childish.
"Let's go home," I said holding my hand out to her. I longed to feel her soft, warm palm grasped in my own, like before. She didn't keep me waiting and took my hand. We left together.