Fly Away Page 55

“Do you think she knows how many people are praying for her?” she asked.

“I hope so.”

Dorothy fell silent after that. She sat back in the comfortable leather seat and watched the scenery go from city to town to country, from high-rises to low fences, from bumper-to-bumper traffic to slow, winding tree-lined roads with only a few other cars in sight. At home, they pulled up behind the ambulance and parked.

Dorothy hustled ahead to open the front door and turn on the lights and led the paramedics to Tully’s bedroom, where the Ryan kids had tacked up a huge WELCOME HOME, TULLY poster.

Dorothy shadowed the paramedics, asked them questions, and studiously wrote down their answers.

All too quickly, it was done. Tully was in her room, apparently sleeping, and the ambulance was gone.

“Do you want me to stay?” Johnny asked.

Dorothy had been so lost in her own thoughts that his voice surprised her. “Oh. No. But thank you.”

“Marah will be here Thursday. She’s bringing food. And I’ll be here for the weekend with the boys. Margie and Bud gave us the keys to the house across the street.”

Today was Monday.

“And Margie wanted me to remind you that she’s only a few hours away. If you change your mind and need help, she’ll be on the next flight.”

Dorothy forced a smile. “I can do this,” she said, as much to herself as to him.

They walked to the door. There, Johnny paused and looked down at her.

“I wonder if you know how much this would mean to her.”

“I know how much it means to me. How often do second chances come around?”

“If you get overwhelmed—”

“I won’t drink. Don’t worry.”

“That wasn’t my worry. I want you to know that we’re all here for her. And for you. That’s what I was going to say.”

She stared up at this gorgeous man and said, “I wonder if she knows how lucky she is.”

“We didn’t,” he said quietly, and Dorothy saw regret etch itself into the lines of his face.

Dorothy knew better than to say anything. Sometimes you simply made the wrong choice and you had to live with it. You could only change the future. She walked him out of the house and watched him drive away. Then she closed the door and went back to stand by her daughter’s bedside.

An hour later, the nurse showed up and handed Dorothy a care list and said, “Come with me.”

For the next three hours, Dorothy shadowed the woman’s every move; she learned step by step what to do to care for her daughter. By the end of the visit, she had a notebook full of notations and reminders.

“You’re ready,” the nurse said at last.

Dorothy swallowed hard. “I don’t know.”

The nurse smiled gently. “It’s just like when she was little,” she said. “Remember how they constantly needed something—diaper changes, a little time in your arms, a bedtime story—and you never knew what it was until they quieted? It’s like that. Just go through your list. You’ll be fine.”

“I wasn’t much of a mother to her,” Dorothy said.

The nurse gave her a little pat. “We all think that, hon. You’ll be fine. And don’t you forget. She can probably hear you. So talk, sing, tell jokes. Anything.”

That night, when she was alone with her daughter for the first time, Dorothy slipped quietly into the bedroom and lit a gardenia-scented candle and turned on the bedside lamp.

She hit the bed’s controls and elevated it to an exact angle of thirty-five degrees. She paused it there and then lowered it. Then she raised it again. “I hope this isn’t making you dizzy. I’m supposed to elevate and lower your head for fifteen minutes every two hours.” When she was done with that, Dorothy gently peeled back the blankets and began massaging Tully’s hands and forearms. All the while, as she massaged her daughter’s limbs and gently put her through passive exercises, she talked.

Afterward, she had no idea what she’d even said. She just knew that when she touched her daughter’s feet, smoothing lotion onto the dry, cracked skin, she started to cry.

* * *

Two weeks after Tully left the hospital, Marah had her first meeting with Dr. Bloom. As she walked through the empty waiting room, she couldn’t help imagining Paxton there, with his sad and soulful eyes, and the black hair that continually fell across his face.

“Marah,” Dr. Bloom said, welcoming her with a smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

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Marah sat down in the chair facing the polished wooden desk. The office seemed smaller than she remembered, and more intimate. The view of Elliott Bay was beautiful, even on this gray and rainy day.

Dr. Bloom sat down. “What would you like to talk about today?”

There were so many choices; so many mistakes to work through and things to figure out and so much guilt and grief. She wanted to fidget and look away, or count the leaves on the plant. Instead, she said, “I miss my mom and Tully’s in a coma and I’ve screwed up my life so badly I just want to crawl in a hole somewhere and hide.”

“You’ve done that already,” Dr. Bloom said. Had her voice always been that gentle? “With Paxton. And here you are.”

Marah felt a shock of recognition at the words; a new understanding muscled its way in. Bloom was right. It had all been a way of hiding—the pink hair, the piercings, the drugs, the sex. But she had loved Paxton. That, at least, had been real. Broken, maybe, and unhealthy, and dangerous, but real.

“What were you hiding from?”

“Then? Missing my mom.”

“There is pain you can’t outrun, Marah. Maybe you know that now. Some pains you have to look in the eye. What do you miss most about your mom?”

“Her voice,” she answered. And then, “The way she hugged me. The way she loved me.”

“You will always miss her. I know that from experience. There will be days—even years from now—when the missing will be so sharp it takes your breath away. But there will be good days, too; months and years of them. In one way or another, you’ll be searching for her all your life. You’ll find her, too. As you grow up, you’ll understand her more and more. I promise you that.”

“She would hate how I treated Tully,” she said softly.

“I think you’d be amazed at how easily a mother forgives. And a godmother, too. The question is: Can you forgive yourself?”

Marah looked up sharply, her eyes stinging with tears. “I need to.”

“Okay, then. That’s where we will start.”

It helped, Marah learned, all that looking back, all that talking about her mom and Tully and guilt and forgiveness. Sometimes she lay in bed at night, drawing her memories close and trying to imagine her mother talking to her in the dark.

Because that’s what she missed most: her mother’s voice. And through it all, she knew what she would someday have to do; she knew there was a place where she could find her mother’s voice when she was strong enough to go looking.

But she needed Tully to be with her. That was the promise Marah had made to her mom.

* * *

For weeks afterward, Dorothy fell into bed at night exhausted and woke tired. The to-do care list was never far from her grasp; she held it almost continuously and reread it over and over, afraid always that she had missed something. The tasks ran like a litany through her head. Elevate and lower, fifteen minutes every two hours; check fluids and food, check nasogastric tube, massage her hands and feet; apply lotion; brush her teeth; exercise her limbs through a gentle range of motion; keep bed dry and sheets clean; turn her from side to side every few hours; check tracheobronchial suction.

It took her more than a month to stop being afraid, and it was more than six weeks before the visiting nurse stopped adding to the notations on her list.

By late November, when the leaves had begun to fall and drop their bits of color onto her black, muddy, overgrown garden, she began to think—at last—that she could really do this, and by her first Christmas with her daughter, she had begun to leave her to-do list behind. The cycle of her days became routine. The nurse—Nora, a grandmother to twelve kids who ranged in age from six months to twenty-four—came by four times a week. Only last week she’d said, “Why, Dot, I couldn’t do better myself. Honest!”

As Christmas Day 2010 dawned crisp and clear over the town of Snohomish, she finally felt at peace, or as at peace as a woman with a daughter in a coma could feel. She woke earlier than usual and set about readying the house to feel like a holiday home. There were no ornaments in the back storage closet, of course, and she had no problem with that. Making do was one of her life skills, but when she was in that dark closet, she stumbled across the two cardboard boxes full of Tully’s mementos.

She paused, straightening, and stared down at them. A gray layer of dust covered the top.

When Johnny had delivered these boxes, along with Tully’s clothes and toiletries and photos, Dorothy had thought they seemed sacrosanct, for Tully’s eyes alone, but now she wondered if the contents could help Tully. She bent down and picked up the box marked Queen Anne. It was light—of course. How much would a seventeen-year-old Tully have thought to save?

Dorothy wiped away the dust and carried the box up to Tully’s bedroom.

Tully lay still, her eyes closed, her breathing even. Pale silvery light shone through the window, pooling and writhing on the floor, the pattern shifting with the movement of the trees outside. Ribbons of light and dark chased each other across the floor, amplified by the glass beads in the dream catcher hung at the window.

“I brought up your things,” she said to Tully. “I thought maybe, for Christmas, I could talk to you about what’s in here.” She set the box down by the bed.

Tully didn’t move. A fuzz of graying mahogany hair had begun to grow back in, giving her a chicklike appearance. The bruises and lacerations had healed; only a few silvery scars marked where they’d been. Dorothy put some bee cream on her daughter’s dry lips.

Then she pulled up the chair and sat down at the bedside. Leaning over, she opened the box. The first thing she pulled out was a small Magilla Gorilla T-shirt; at its touch, she felt slammed by a memory.

Mommy, can I have a brownie?

Sure. A little pot never hurt anyone. Clem, pass me the brownies.

And then: Dot, your kid is flopping all over …

She stared down at the T-shirt. It was so small …

She realized how long she’d been silent. “Oh. Sorry. You probably think I left, but I’m still here. Someday you’ll know it meant something, that I kept coming back. I always knew where I belonged. I just couldn’t … do it.” She set the shirt aside, folded it carefully.

The next thing she pulled out was a large, flat photo-type album, its plastic cover dotted with blue forget-me-nots and a pioneer-type girl. Someone had written Tully’s Scrapbook across the top.

Dorothy’s hands were shaking as she opened the book to the first page, where there was a small, scallop-edged photograph of a skinny girl blowing out a candle. On the opposite page was a letter. She began reading it aloud.

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