I try turning my head to see where the yelling is coming from, but I can’t. I’m on my hands and knees in the hospital corridor. It isn’t until the coldness seeps through my hands that I realize I’m the one screaming. That wretched sound is coming from me. Me. My throat raw, my eyes burning, and my heart irrevocably broken. No words need to be said. No confirmation given. I don’t need them to bring me to a place where we can “talk quietly.” It’s at that moment I finally know what everyone else knows.
My brother bends to pick me up, my body enveloped by his warmth. He carries me to the little white room I didn’t want to enter. He sets me on a chair, and my father’s strong, warm arms wrap around me. I rest my head on his shoulder while my mother takes a seat on my other side. My father cradles me in his arms. Pieces of conversations float around me as I try to come to grips with the life-changing news.
“It was a head-on collison.”
I turn in my father’s arms and ask in a hoarse voice, “Where is he?” I try to stand, my legs still weak.
“Honey,” my father says as he stands up with me, putting his arm around my shoulder to give me the strength to remain standing. “I don’t think …”
“I need to see him.” I can hear the resolve in my tone. I need this. I look at Crystal, who can see my determination in my eyes. My best friend nods and holds out her hand to me. I put my hand in hers, and the strength in her grip gives me the push I need.
“I have to warn you …” She doesn’t have time to say anything else because, at that moment, two officers walk into the waiting room. They look around, and once their eyes fall on me, they freeze. Frank Vincent, one of the officers, and I went to high school together. I can see the pity on his face as his eyes meet mine.
He takes his hat off as he makes his way to me with a brown bag in his hand. “Hailey. I’m so, so sorry for your loss.” I don’t know what to say, so I just nod. “Here are Eric’s belongings from the scene.” He hands me the small brown bag folded at the top, weighing only a few pounds. My hand reaches out to grab a piece of my husband. “If there is anything you need or if you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call. Again, I am just so sorry.”
I nod absently at his sentiment, but I can’t pull my eyes away from the bag. This bag holds the last things my husband touched. If I had known he wouldn’t be coming home tonight, I would have stopped him from flying out the door this morning. I would have grabbed him for another kiss, or hug, or just stared into his eyes. Instead, the last memory I have of my husband, Eric, was his trademark smirk as he walked out the door.
Blake shakes Frank’s hand as Crystal drags me away from their whispered conversation. She pulls me into a separate room where she closes the door behind her.
“Listen, Hailey. I know you want to see him, I do. I know. But I’m going to be very honest with you. You won’t recognize him.” She stops talking as she takes a deep breath. “I promise you that if I thought seeing him would help you, I would bring you to him right now, but it’s not Eric. It’s not your husband.”
I look into her eyes and see the pain in them. Is that how I look right now? Tortured? “This is a dream, right?” My eyes well with tears, and I have no chance of stopping them as they flow freely down my face. “This isn’t happening to me. It’s not him, right? It’s just a terrible misunderstanding. That’s the only way any of this would make any sense.”
“I’m so sorry, honey. It’s him. I wish I could take your pain away. I would do anything to take it away.” She wraps me in her embrace, running her hands up and down my arms, the heat burning my arctic skin. My sobs start quietly, but before long, my wails are echoed down the hallway as I allow my eyes to close and let the darkness take control.
“I caught her before she hit her head,” I faintly hear Crystal tell someone. I open my eyes as I’m lifted off the floor for the second time today. Blake carries me out of the hospital, my hand still clenching Eric’s brown bag against my chest. I’m in a daze as Crystal opens the passenger side door, and Blake gently places me on the seat, pulling the seat belt across my body and clipping it into place.