I have my breakdown while my aunt rubs my back. “I need to go clean my face. Hailey will be here in a couple of minutes, and I have to be strong for her.” He just looks at me. “Dawn.” I look at the desk and find it’s not just Dawn, but also Cori, Melanie, and Marie all standing there. My work wives all ready to hold me up.
“We can do this,” Cori says as they all nod next to her.
“I need to wash my face.” I turn, walking into the bathroom, and splash my face with cold water. I look at my face; the redness of my eyes evident. “You can do this,” I tell my reflection. “You have to do this.” I do what I do best—close myself off, remove myself. Except no matter how much training I’ve had, nothing could have prepared me for what is to come. Nothing.
I come out of the bathroom and go to the nurses’ station. Sitting here, I look at the clock. The ticking from the second hand echoes loudly in the room full of hustle and bustle. The nurses are still working. Patients are still coming in. It’s almost as if I’m watching this from out of my body. My eyes try to focus on the movement of my aunt when she finally sees Hailey walk in. Her eyes scanning everywhere as she looks for answers. Her face pale, drained from the happiness there just this morning when she was gushing about Eric being back after being gone a month. She looks up at Blake, asking him questions while she walks down the hallway. I walk around the desk, and her eyes find mine.
She stops in her tracks. I look at her, my brain telling me to remain focused, but my heart takes over as I try to calm my trembling lower lip. She tries to walk forward, but instead, she falls to her knees. When her blood-curdling wail fills the room, I rush to her. She turns her head, not aware the sound is coming from her.
She is on her hands and knees in the middle of the hospital corridor. Her eyes find mine, and her screaming stops. I don’t think she realizes she is the one screaming because she has detached from her body. But by the look she gives me, I know she knows. A look of helplessness overtakes her. She knows nothing will ever be the same again. Her eyes close as I hold her in my arms as she turns her face to me and her tears soak through my blue scrubs.
I rock her from side to side until Blake approaches us. He picks her up as I peel her off my chest. She doesn’t even stir; he carries her to the dreaded fucking white room. The room of death as we all call it. He places Hailey on a chair as my uncle cradles her in his arms.
I get up, and Blake pulls me to the side. “What the fuck happened?”
“It was a head-on collision,” I say with a low voice, hoping no one else hears me. “He was DOA.” I’m about to tell him something else when I hear Hailey’s broken voice.
“Where is he?” She tries to stand, her legs still weak. My uncle turns to her, trying to talk her out of it, but she snaps.
“I need to see him.” I know from her tone that it isn’t a request. She’s demanding to see him with her own eyes; she needs to see this isn’t just a dream. She looks up at me, and I know nothing will change her mind. I hold my hand out to her, trying to give her my strength. I try to give her whatever she needs from me in order to get through this.
“I have to warn you …” I try to find the words to tell her that it isn’t him. He doesn’t even look like himself anymore. I don’t have a chance to tell her 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. One of the officers is Frank Vincent, and we went to high school together. His face says it all as he tries not to make eye contact with Hailey. He comes forward, taking off his hat, carrying a plain brown bag in his hand. It looks like the bags we hand over to the family members when the patient is no longer with us. The only things left of that person is in one fucking bag. I don’t even hear what Frank tells her because my eyes focus on the brown fucking bag.
She nods at him, while he hands holds the bag while her eyes stay focused on it. I drag her away from everyone, walking us into another room, and close the door behind me. Her eyes never fucking leaving that bag that she holds in her hands.