Fly Away Page 12


Suddenly I am falling, tumbling.

I can hear voices, but the words make no sense and the pain is so pummeling, so brutalizing, that it takes everything I have not to scream.


I feel my spirit ebbing away, draining out of my body. I want to open my eyes—or maybe they are open—I can’t tell. I just know that this darkness is ugly, cold, thick as coal dust. I scream for help, but it’s all in my head and I know it. I can’t open my mouth. The sound I imagine echoes and fades away, and I do the same …

September 3, 2010

6:27 A.M.

Johnny stood outside Trauma Nine. It had taken him all of five seconds to decide to follow Dr. Bevan to this room, and it took him even less time to decide to open the door. He was a journalist, after all. He’d made a career out of going where he wasn’t wanted.

As he opened the door, he was bumped into hard, pushed aside by a woman in scrubs.

He moved out of her way and slipped into the crowded room. It was glaringly bright and swarming with people in scrubs who had collected around a gurney. They were talking all at once, moving back and forth like piano keys in play. Because of their bodies, he couldn’t see the patient—just bare toes sticking up from the end of a blue blanket.

An alarm sounded. Someone yelled, “We lost her. Charge.”

A high humming sound thrummed through the room, riding above the voices. He felt the vibration of the sound to his bones.

“All clear.”

He heard a high wrrr and then the body on the table arched up and thumped back down. An arm fell sideways, hung off the side of the gurney.

“She’s back,” someone said.

Johnny saw heartbeats move across the monitor. The swarm seemed to relax. A few of the nurses stepped away from the bed, and for the first time he saw the patient.


It felt as if air rushed back into the room. Johnny finally took a breath of it. There was blood all over the floor. A nurse stepped in it and almost fell.

Johnny moved in closer to the bed. Tully lay unconscious, her face battered and bloodied; a bone stuck up through the ripped flesh of her arm.

He whispered her name; or maybe he just thought he did. He slipped in between two nurses—one who was starting an IV, and the other who had pulled a blue blanket up to cover Tully’s bare chest.

Dr. Bevan materialized beside him. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Johnny waved the comment away but couldn’t respond. He had so many questions for this man, and yet, as he stood there, shocked by the extent of her injuries, what he felt was shame. Somehow, some way, he had a part to play in this. He’d blamed Tully for something that wasn’t her fault and cut her out of his life.

“We need to get her to the OR, Mr. Ryan.”

“Will she live?”

“Her chances are not good,” Dr. Bevan said. “Step out of the way.”

“Save her,” Johnny said, stumbling back as the gurney rolled past him.

Feeling numb, he walked out of the room and made his way down the hall and into the fourth-floor surgical waiting area, where a woman sat in the corner, knitting needles in hand, crying.

He checked in with the woman at the desk, told her he was waiting for word on Tully Hart, and then he took a seat beside the blank television. Feeling the first distant ping of a headache, he leaned back.

He tried not to remember all that had gone wrong in the Kate-less years, all the mistakes he’d made—and there were some doozies. Instead, he prayed to a God he’d stopped believing in on the day of his wife’s death and turned back to when his daughter disappeared.

For hours, he sat in the waiting room, watching people come and go. He hadn’t called anyone yet. He was waiting for word on Tully’s condition. There had been enough tragedy calls in their family. Bud and Margie lived in Arizona now; Johnny didn’t want Margie to rush to the airport unless it was absolutely necessary. He would have called Tully’s mom, even in this early hour, but he had no idea how to reach her.

And then there was Marah. He didn’t know if she’d even take his call.

“Mr. Ryan?”

Johnny looked up sharply, saw the neurosurgeon coming toward him.

He wanted to stand, to meet the man halfway, but he felt weak.

The surgeon touched his shoulder. “Mr. Ryan?”

Johnny forced himself to stand. “How is she, Dr. Bevan?”

“She survived the surgeries. Come with me.”

Johnny let himself be led out of the public waiting room and into a small, windowless conference room nearby. Instead of a floral arrangement in the middle of the table there was a box of tissue.

He sat down.

Dr. Bevan sat across from him. “Right now, the biggest concern is cerebral edema—the swelling in her brain. She sustained massive head trauma. We’ve put a shunt in to help with the swelling, but the efficacy of that is uncertain. We have lowered her body temperature and put her into a medically induced coma to help relieve the pressure, but her condition is critical. She’s on a ventilator.”

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“May I see her?” Johnny asked.

The doctor nodded. “Of course. Come with me.”

He led Johnny down one white corridor after another, into an elevator and out of it. At last they came to the ICU. Dr. Bevan walked over to a glass-walled private room, one of twelve placed in a U-shape around a busy nurses’ station.

Tully lay in a narrow bed, surrounded by machines. Her hair had been shaved and a hole had been drilled into her skull. A catheter and pump were working to relieve the pressure on her brain. There were several tubes going into her—a breathing tube, a feeding tube, a tube into her head. A black screen behind the bed showed the intracranial pressure; another tracked her heartbeat. Her left arm was in a cast. Cold radiated off her pale, bluish skin.

“Brain injuries are impossible to predict,” Dr. Bevan said. “We don’t really know the extent of her injuries yet. We hope to know more in twenty-four hours. I wish I could be more definitive, but this is uncertain territory.”

Johnny knew about brain injuries. He’d suffered one as a reporter covering the first war in Iraq. It had taken him months of therapy to become himself again, and still he couldn’t remember the explosion. “Will she be herself when she wakes up?”

“If she wakes up is really the question. Her brain is functioning, although we don’t know how well because of the medications we have her on. Her pupils are responsive, and that’s a good sign. The coma will give her body time, we hope. But if a bleed develops or the swelling continues…”

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. Johnny knew.

The ventilator’s thunk-whoosh reminded him with every sound that she wasn’t breathing on her own.

This was what it sounded like to play God and keep someone alive—a cacophony of beeping monitors, droning indicators, and the whooshing ventilator. “What happened to her?” Johnny finally asked.

“Car accident, from what I’ve heard, but I don’t have any details.” Dr. Bevan turned to him. “Is she a spiritual woman?”

“No. I wouldn’t say so.”

“That’s too bad. Faith can be a comfort at times like this.”

“Yes,” Johnny said tightly.

“We believe it helps to talk to comatose patients,” Dr. Bevan said.

The doctor patted his shoulder again and then headed out of the room.

Johnny sat down beside the bed. How long did he sit there, staring at her, thinking, Fight, Tully, whispering words he couldn’t say out loud? Long enough for guilt and regret to turn into a knot in his throat.

Why did it take a tragedy to see life clearly?

He didn’t know what to say to her, not now, after all that had been said—and left unsaid—between them. The one thing he knew for sure was this: if Kate were here, she’d kick his ass for how he’d unraveled after her death and how he’d treated her best friend.

He did the only thing he could think of to reach Tully. Quietly, feeling stupid but doing it anyway, he started to sing the song that came to him, the one that had always reminded him of Tully. “Just a small town girl, living in a lo-nely wor-ld…”

* * *

Where am I? Dead? Alive? Somewhere in between?


I feel a whoosh of warmth come up beside me and my relief is enormous.

“Katie,” I say, turning. “Where were you?”

Gone, she says simply. Now I’m back. Open your eyes.

My eyes are closed? That’s why it’s so dark? I open my eyes slowly, and it’s like waking up on the face of the sun. The light and heat are so intense I gasp. It takes seconds for my eyes to adjust to the brightness, and when they do I see that I am back in the hospital room with my body. Below me, an operation is going on. Several people in scrubs stand around an operating table. Scalpels and instruments glitter on silver trays. There are machines everywhere, beeping, droning, buzzing.

Look, Tully.

I don’t want to.


I am moving in spite of my intention not to. A cold dread has taken hold of me. It is worse than the pain. I know what I am going to see on that sleek table.

Me. And not me, somehow.

My body is on the table, draped in blue, bloodied. The nurses and the surgeon are talking; someone is shaving my head.

I look so small and pale without hair, childlike. Someone in scrubs paints a brown liquid on my bald head.

I hear a sound like a buzz saw starting up and I feel sick to my stomach.

“I don’t like it here,” I say to Kate. “Take me somewhere.”

We’ll always be here, but close your eyes.


The sudden darkness scares me this time. I don’t know why. It’s weird, really, because I harbor a lot of dark emotions in my soul, but fear isn’t one of them. I’m not afraid of anything.

Ha. You are more afraid of love than any person I’ve ever met. It’s why you keep testing people and pushing them away. Open your eyes.

I open my eyes and, for a second it is still dark, then color bleeds down from the impenetrable blackness above, falling like those computer codes in The Matrix, solidifying in strands. First comes the sky, a perfect, cloudless blue, and then the cherry trees in bloom—tufts of pink blossoms clinging to branches and floating in the sweet air. Buildings sketch themselves into place, pink gothic structures with elegant wings and towers, and finally the green, green grass, inlaid with concrete walkways going this way and that. We are at the University of Washington. The colors are painfully vivid. There are young men and women everywhere—kids—carrying backpacks and playing hacky sack and lying on the grass with books open in front of them. Somewhere a boom box is turned on as high as it will go and a scratchy version of “I’ve Never Been to Me” comes through the speakers. God, I hated that song.

“None of this is real,” I say, “right?”

Real is relative.

Not far from where we are sitting in the grass, a pair of girls are stretched out side by side; one is brunette, the other is blond. The blonde is wearing parachute pants and a T-shirt and has a Trapper Keeper notebook open in front of her. The other girl—okay, it’s me, I know it, I can remember when I wore my hair all ratted up like that and pulled back from my face in a huge metallic bow, and I remember the cropped, off-the-shoulder white sweater. It had been my favorite. They—we—look so young I can’t help smiling.

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