The first time I kissed her was on the roller coaster. Hard plastic underneath me, the scent of sunscreen coming off her skin, she had reached over and pulled me to her like it was nothing. Like it was natural that we would spend that moment, as strangers, exploring each other’s mouth. She had been so gorgeous, so vibrant. It was like God had pumped so much life into her that it was spilling out; she overflowed with it. Just being with her, in line, on that ride, her hand in mine... it was intoxicating. That kiss was my first injection and she became my addiction, from that point forward. Addiction made me come back when she told me about the other man. When she shared that I would be one of two, owning only half of her heart. I worked it out then, and I don’t care now. I only need her in my life. The rest will fall into place.
It isn’t working. I push against her chest harder, the wet suit slick beneath my palms, my movement awkward on the thin board, a large wave knocking me off balance when I lift from her chest. I look to shore and lay down, as gently as I can, atop her body, and paddle as fast as my arms will go.
I have paddled hundreds of miles. Accelerated bursts of speed to catch up to a wave. Long sprints to race another surfer back to shore. But never has my stick moved this fast. I gasp for air, my heart squeezing in my chest as I move my arms, listening, straining my body for a hope of air, a movement in her limbs, a sigh. Something. I try to calculate time, to know how long it has been, but panic sets in, and I push those thoughts to the side. I notice the blood halfway to shore. Beads of liquid streaming down the board, coming from her head. Do the dead bleed? I scream, the shore approaching, and heads look up. Feet move along the sand towards us and I clear the final distance ‘til it is shallow enough to stand, and I sweep her cold body into my arms.
Her lips are blue. Her face is slack. I have failed her. I hold her tight to my chest and run out of the water.
HACK SHACK: (noun) Hospital
I have only ever loved four women in my life. The first two are dead. I have lost communication with my sister. I am praying fervently for Madd. The paramedics surround her, their red polos bent over, voices crawling over each other and all I can see are her feet, sticking out, pointing to the sky, in a way I have never seen them. She curls into a ball when she sleeps, her feet tucked, her head often on my stomach or my arm, her mouth curved into a smile even when she is sound asleep. They push me aside, won’t let me close enough to see, but I can hear their words. There is a siren in the distance, and all I can do is thank God that we are in Venice. Where there is medical staff on the beach, ambulances around the corner. Not up in Lunada or out in Malibu where empty mansions would quietly watch her die.
There is a cough and my heart leaps. More coughs. Hard, hacking sounds that she has never made, the type of sound that must come from a grown man. Her foot moves, and I pray to God a medic didn’t bump it. An engine rumbles, and I am pushed aside once again as an ambulance pulls onto the sand. The last thing I see is her limp feet as she is placed on a stretcher. They wouldn’t load a dead person on a stretcher, wouldn’t send them in an ambulance.
I get the attention of an EMT, grabbing his arm when he shuts the ambulance doors. “I’m her boyfriend. Can I ride with you?”
The man turns, his thin face looking me briefly up and down. “They won’t let you in the hospital without a shirt and shoes. We’re taking her to Venice Regional. Why don’t you grab some clothes, for you and her? Just in case. Also, if she has any identification, numbers of friends and family... grab that type of thing and meet us there.” He moves around me and opens the passenger door. I turn, my feet slipping on the hot sand, and run. Past familiar faces, past a dread headed stranger who is examining my board, jumping over a handrail, my feet pounding a path that I have taken many times before. With Madd and without her. I round the corner to an alley and bump into a man’s chest, stumbling past him, ignoring his curse. Two blocks. One block. Then I am taking the stairs, knocking over the ceramic frog that Madd brought back from Tijuana, grabbing the key and turning it in the lock.
Home. It will never be home without her. Even now, with her scent in the air, the sheets twisted from an early morning f**k, it feels wrong. I shut the door, not wanting to let out any of her air, and move to the counter, grabbing her keys, phone, and wallet. I am torn between wanting to examine every item, to grab her sweater and inhale her scent, and the urgency that pushes me forward. She may be alive. She may die. I need to get to the hospital. I grab a trash bag from underneath the sink and stuff into it the first two stacks of folded clothes from the top of the dryer. Folded by her. I shove my feet into flip flops and run downstairs, pocketing the key, yanking the door shut behind me.
The hospital. I’ve broken at least nine laws to get here. I leave the truck under a blinking red sign that says ‘ER’ and grab her things, running into the lobby and approaching the desk.
She is alive. It is the first thing I ask and is answered without hesitation, followed instantly by two words that make my heart drop and chest ache. “For now.” I can’t take this roller coaster. The high that I hear at the announcement of her breath, intense joy flooding my veins. Despair at the possibility that I might still lose her. They won’t let me back there. Not yet. Not until some future point that is not explained by the haggard receptionists. Then the door opens and a woman in white steps out, her eyes finding me and stepping forward.
“Are you the boyfriend?”
She smiles, the motion not reaching her eyes. “She is breathing, but it is assisted. She’s had pretty severe head trauma. That, combined with the six or seven minutes she was without air... we have induced a coma until we can get her stabilized.”
“Induced a coma? So she can be brought out of it?”
She looks into my eyes. “If she still has brain function. She may not make it to a point where it is feasible to pull her out of it. You should call her family. Any close friends, and have them come here. She may not survive the night.”
I ignore the sentence, even as it stands in the center of my mind and shouts, overpowering any thought process I struggle to have. “Can I see her?”
She glances at her watch. “They’re working on her now. I’ll have someone come out and bring you in in about thirty minutes.” She smiles grimly and turns, her coat flaring out, and she is gone, the white doors swinging shut behind her.
They’re working on her now.