I froze with one foot out the door and a hand on the handle, about to slam it shut. My head turned toward his voice to see he’d stopped just beside my rear wheel.
“I wanted to say good luck. I wish you and the baby all the best. And that I’m sorry.”
With barely concealed emotion, I gave it to him as straight as I could without breaking down. “I hope the rest of your life sucks. Every day, I hope you think about the vulnerable girl you used and the child you’ll never know, and I hope it eats at you until it’s destroyed you as much as you’ve destroyed my life.”
I pulled my leg in, slammed the door, and left him standing on the side of a snowy back road.
I made one stop on my way out of town. The conditions of our agreement were to keep this a secret. I’d forced myself to leave without telling Law, but there was nothing in the world that could stop me from telling my brother where I’d gone.
That was the ultimate piece that broke me.
He was so frail in that hospital bed; the sterile white room harsh on my eyes when I entered. I hit the dial to turn down the overhead lighting to give him a more comfortable setting. At the change, his eyes flitted to where I was motionless in the doorway.
The oxygen mask covering his face looked uncomfortable and foreign. Seeing him in that state tore my already abused heart to shreds. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this. To take care of my own selfish mistakes and leave my dying brother behind.
“What are… you doing… here?”
“Shh. Don’t talk. Just listen.”
I launched into the story, not leaving out a single detail. Minutes in and his hand searched the bed blindly for mine. When he found it, the tight grip sent a rush of emotion into my throat. Sadness coated my vision, and the pain at all I was going to miss carved up a permanent residence in my chest.
“I don’t want to go.”
“You… have to.” He forced out, coughing between the words. “I’ll be… okay. And so will… you.”
“I’m so scared, Witchy.” And I really was, automatically slipping into using the old nickname I’d given him.
“You’re strong. Strongest person… I know.”
The thought made me laugh. “Yeah right, I’m weak. You’re the strong one, laid up in a hospital bed and comforting your stupid sister.”
“I love you,” he croaked.
“I love you, too. I’m going to get a job as soon as I get settled, and once I do that, I’ll start sending you money, okay? Don’t you worry. I’m still going to take care of you the best I can. And, now that I won’t be in school, I can work all the time–?
His grip got painfully tight. “You will not. Finish school. Get a GED. Promise me.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know if I can. I need the money to support us.”
For the first time since my brother got sick, I lied to his face. “I promise you.”
Leaving that room was like cutting off my arm and leaving it behind. From that day forward, a part of me was always missing, hollowed out like it’d been surgically removed and the surrounding tissue never grew back in its place. With Evelyn’s birth, a new piece of me grew, but it felt like an implant, rather than a replacement for the place where Ritchie once was.
Alarms ringing and people shouting startle me awake. A nurse grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me out of the room. “Ma’am, you need to give them room to work.”
“No! Please, help her, please!” Fear soars inside of me. My beautiful baby girl is coding right before my eyes.
I’ve worked through a lot of traumas over my years as a paramedic. I’ve seen it all from infants to the elderly, but there’s nothing that could have prepared me for the horror and pain of witnessing it happening to someone I love.
“Please.” I watch them work on her, preparing the paddles to defibrillate.
Someone else clamps onto my shoulders and pulls me from the room. “Come here, Cami. They need to do their job.” His voice mirrors mine, shaking with terror at what he’s witnessing. I try tearing his arms off me, scratching and twisting in his grip, but it’s no use. He has me in a hold I can’t shake. The fight seeps from me and he takes me from the room.
Once removed I expect him to let go, to shove me away in disgust.