Chapter 1: The accident
It was drizzling. The weather was as gloomy as my heart. Well, almost as gloomy, as nothing could be as dismal as my feeling. I turned on the headlight, switched on the wiper, and continued driving home in silence. Linda was also silent, staring at the traffic ahead of us.
We were returning home from the cemetery, where Linda's mom Brenda was lying in peace. What happened exactly one year ago, the biggest tragedy in my life, seems like it just happened the day before. It still stuck my heart painfully every time I thought about it. In fact, it stuck me excruciatingly whether I thought about it or not.
It was a sunny Wednesday morning in October. Things were looking great. Brenda had agreed to come visit me, and of course, her daughter Linda, who had been staying with me while she was attending college here. Her visit would mean a great deal to me. It would probably change the life of Brenda and myself. I loved Brenda. I had fallen in love with her since I first saw her twenty-two years ago. Things didn't work out. She got married to another man, and I got married to another woman. Brenda's husband left them for heaven. My wife left me for another man.
Brenda gained some weight, but she was as beautiful as she was the day I first met her. She had short hair coming down to her neck instead of long hair coming down to her back when I first saw her, but I could still pick her out at once when she got off the Grey Hound bus. I went over to her with a pounding heart. She gave me a smile, a familiar smile, one that I had seen countless times in my dreams. I hugged her gently and kissed her tenderly on the lips. I was very tense, and I could feel Brenda was as tense. We had not seen each other for more than twenty years. We had no communication until a few years ago.
Linda wasn't there, as she had to take her mid-term exam. I didn't have classes that morning. I would pick Brenda up and would spend a few hours with her before Linda would take her mom over when I would have to give my lecture for the afternoon class. Then I would join the mom and daughter for a delicious dinner at the best restaurant in town where I had already reserved a table.
The car slightly ahead of us in the outside lane on the ramp suddenly cut into my lane without signaling. I instinctively honked the horn and stepped on the brake. I heard squealing sound from my car's tires. I saw the car ahead of us swerving. It started spinning into my bumper. I turned the steering wheel while pressing hard on the brake. I heard Brenda screaming. I felt my car spinning. I lost consciousness.
When I regained consciousness, I knew I was in the hospital. The smell was unique. I felt unbearable pain all over my body. I didn't know what had happened. In bleary eyes, I saw the face of a woman, a stranger. She smiled at me. Her lips were moving but I couldn't hear anything. She came a bit closer and I saw a blue scrub shirt instead of her face. She was a nurse. I tried to gather what happened but my mind was blank. The nurse left me.
I saw another face. A middle-aged man in green scrub shirt and matching pants come over to me with the nurse behind him. He had the stethoscope hanging around his neck. He smiled at me and moved his lips, yet I still couldn't hear anything. He turned around and seemed to be talking with the nurse for a moment before coming closer to me. He flipped my eyelids, pulled my ears, and pressed his hands on various parts of my body. He was killing me. It hurt like hell when he had his hand or fingers on my already limp and pain-wracked body.
I started to remember what happened. I was driving Brenda home and a car hit us. Where was Brenda now? I tried to ask, but instead of making a sound, a terrible burning spread from my throat. I coughed. The nurse came over and removed something from my mouth. It took a while before I could stop coughing. It was a miracle, the moment I stopped coughing, I could hear the man talking to the nurse.
"He may need a few more..." the man said. He was only a few feet away but it sounded like he was talking from miles away.
"What happened?" I heard myself asking weakly.
"You had an accident. You're in the hospital now, you'll be fine," the faint voice of the man responded, as he turned to me with a smile.
I saw Linda. She looked like hell. Her eyes were bulked and red, and her face was pale like chalk.
"Linda, what happened? Where's your mom?" I managed to ask, my voice still sounded like I was talking from miles away.
Linda didn't say anything. Tears started coming down from her bulked eyes. Her lips twisted and arched. Her shoulder shook. I knew what happened. My mouth gaped. I felt a huge spike punching into my chest. I felt my heart being torn apart. I felt air squeezed out of my lung and I couldn't breathe. I felt tears coming down the corners of my eyes. My vision became blurred. My limbs were frozen.
Later I knew my pelvis was broken, my femur was broken, several of my ribs were broken, and I had a number of nasty cuts throughout my head and body. I stayed in the hospital for another two weeks before I could get back home. I still had the cast on my leg and it would be part of my body for another four weeks. I would have a slight limp for the rest of my life.
An ambulance took me home. Linda pushed my wheelchair into my house through the front door. She had made arrangements for the funeral of her mom to be held in the morning of the following day. I knew she made it so I could attend her mom's funeral, not because I paid for it, but because she knew I had to be there.
I saw Cathy, Brenda's older sister and only living family member besides Linda, in the sitting room. If Linda had not told me beforehand that Cathy was there, I couldn't have recognized her. It was so long since I last saw her, and she had also at least doubled her weight. I knew she drove here for the funeral. She was a single mom living on a tight budget and couldn't afford air travel. It had to be a long drive, at least fifteen hours. She was staying in Linda's room during her stay.
Cathy came over, bent forward, and hugged me gently. She didn't say anything. As a matter of fact, none of us said much during that evening. I didn't usually talk much when I was at home anyway. I had been living alone for more than five years, until Linda moved in as my guest, or, more accurately, as a tenant who didn't have to pay for room and board. Linda usually didn't talk much with me either, until a few weeks before the tragic accident, when her mom told her she was coming to visit us.
I paid for Linda's trip to get back to her mom's home to settle whatever was left behind. She made the trip after a lengthy argument with me, during which I finally convinced her that I could take care of myself in my wheelchair and promised to behave while she was away. Linda would dispose of everything except those personal things that must be kept, and move them into my house. It was an agreement. Linda was homeless and needed a place, not just a rent-free dorm, until she finished her school and could move out. It would be more of a headache if Linda had not celebrated her twenty-first birthday a couple months ago.
Chapter 2: Brenda
"Pizza?" I asked Linda when we were not far away from home.
"Yeah, okay," Linda responded briefly.
We bought a pizza from the pizzeria in a nearby mall and drove home. We ate the pizza in my kitchen in silence.
I was thinking why fate had to be so cruel to me, to Brenda, and to this young girl sitting across the table from me, when Linda broke the silence.
"Derek," Linda asked. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
"Not at all, what's it?"
"Why didn't things work out between mom and you?"
I looked away from Linda. I didn't want her to gather anything from my eyes. "I guess it's fate, and also I wasn't good enough for your mom," I said slowly.
When I returned my eyes to Linda, she was holding the piece of pizza a few inches from her mouth. She seemed to be in some thoughts.
"Why did you ask?" I asked after a while.
"You've been very sad since... Since the accident," Linda said, looking at the remaining pizza in the box. "I was only ten when grand dad passed away, and only fifteen when dad passed away, but you look more depressed than mom was during those two occasions."
"Your grand dad passed away from illness, so did your dad," I said. "They were different, they were a slower process in which your mom would have, I mean, could have, anticipated and prepared for. It would still hurt a great deal, but may be not the kind of sudden and devastating pain."
"May be," Linda echoed after a while.
I gave my pizza a bite and reached for my beer.
"Fate, maybe. I don't think you're not good enough," Linda said, looking at her pizza.
I stared at Linda, pizza in one hand, and beer in the other hand. "Why do you think so?"
"You told me you had never stopped loving mom, even during the time when you were married," Linda said, looking at my beer. "At first, I thought it was kind of, like, cheating. I mean, you weren't supposed to feel for another woman while you're married. But then, you didn't do anything, to cheat, I mean. You couldn't control your feelings and emotions. Those feelings were already there before you got married. You had to be living in pain."
I mulled over Linda's words. She could be right in some of her conclusions, but then, she didn't have the full picture.
That night in bed, I went through some of the moments I had with Brenda.
.... There is more of this story ...