He said there was something seriously wrong with me.
That fact weighs down on my chest as I walk through the sterile white halls, winding my way past patient rooms as I try to locate the entrance in the maze. It just feels… surreal. Like somebody had tampered with my fate, with the way my life was supposed to progress. I mean, I had grown up as a normal child. Nothing had been wrong with me; in fact, I'd had very few illnesses throughout my life. I always assumed nothing could affect me.
And yet, something had definitely affected me. It was something the hospital had never seen before.
I finally locate the entrance after carefully following the signs. Giving a polite little wave to the woman at the front desk, I begin to exit. Even though I know it's impossible, I wonder if any of them—the hospital staff, the waiting patients, even the people in the parking lot—can tell that there's something abnormal about me. Are they staring at me, wondering at what made me so freaky? Can they tell solely by the way I walk, by the way I hold my shoulders? Probably not, but still, I ask myself that as I begin walking home.
Today is a ridiculously nice day. It's warm, but there is a breeze that lowers it to the perfect temperature. I suck the air into my lungs, as close to tasting it as physically possible. If only every day could be as nice as this, I ponder. If only it wasn't today.
I wondered if it meant I was going to die soon. The thought of death sped up the pounding drum in my chest, and I had to close my eyes to focus on something else.
Walking past a park—which was located between my house and the hospital—I watched the children sprinting around. Two little boys were fighting over a swing, and one girl was spinning around in circles, thoroughly enjoying herself. I wondered briefly if any of them had anything wrong with them, and were unaware of it. If they did, then they were lucky; they didn't have to deal with the worry of knowing.
My mind wonders towards my children, Kylie, Meagan, and Ian. What were they going to do once they found out? Ian and Meagan were probably too young to care, but Kylie's smart. She'd figure out something was wrong, and when she did, she'd lose it. I really hoped Melanie would be able to keep herself under control when I broke the news to her; it was the only way of keeping the children out of it.
Before I could have been satisfied with my thoughts, my feet were stepping over the imaginary line that drew out my property. Based on the sounds coming from the backyard, Kylie and Meagan were playing in the leaves again. Even though it seemed like a ridiculous thought, I sadly wondered if I would ever rake leaves again.
I don't know how they heard me coming—maybe their daddy-radar went off—but both girls went sprinting toward me, tackling my legs with all the force they could muster. It nearly knocked me over, making me laugh at their enthusiasm. "How are you girls?" I asked, momentarily forgetting about how my day had been spent.
"I'm good!" Kylie announced. "I got one-hundred percent on my spelling test, Daddy!"
"That's awesome!" I exclaimed, knowing that the eight-year-old had been struggling with this spelling section. "I'm so proud of you, Ky!"
Wanting my attention on her, Meagan informed me, "I drew a picture of the whole family in arts and crafts class! Wanna see it?"
"Well," I said, knowing Melanie was going to want to hear the news, and wouldn't want to hear in front of the girls, I told her, "I wouldn't want to take you from your playing! Why don't you show me at dinner?" Meagan brightened up, obviously excited about the idea of presenting it in front of the whole family. I gave both of the girls a quick hug, untangling them from my legs, and left them to continue playing.
It felt unnatural to have a conversation about school when everything was so wrong.
The moment I walked through the door, I knew that Melanie had been worried all day. Although there weren't any tangible signs, I could feel it in the atmosphere of the air. I scanned the room for her, finally locating her through the entrance to the kitchen. Taking in a deep breath—one that unfortunately wasn't as sharp or cool as it was outside—I began approaching her.
She sensed me as soon as I stood in the doorframe. Immediately spinning around to look at me, she breathes, "James!" Her slim arms flung around me, encasing me in all of her love and worry. I could feel it seeping into my bones, beginning to influence my emotions too. I can't let it, I told myself, but it won't keep the fear at bay.
"Hey," I said, leaning in to give her a quick peck.
"Ian's taking his nap," she immediately said, as if to say I want you to tell me now, while there's still a chance for talking. Hesitantly, she asked, "What- what'd the doctor say?" I watched as she chewed on her bottom lip, her eyes widening, the beginning of tears in the bottom eyelid. There's no good way to say this, I realized.
Taking her face in my hands, keeping her head steady, I said, "Mel, it's… it's not good."
"Oh," she said, shock registering on her face. I felt her begin to step away from me, her bloodshot gaze focusing on the floor, her blue eyes avoiding mine. "Oh."
"They're having me go back tomorrow," I explained, realizing immediately that she was no longer listening. As I talked, she slowly turned around until her back was to me, and I could see her shoulders shaking. "Mel?" I asked, stepping closer to her.
The movement caused her to turn toward me, her eyes sparkling with tears that were preparing to flow down her face. "What are we going to do?!" she demanded, her voice trembling uncontrollably. "What about the children?!"
"We pretend," I instantly responded before I could even think it through. "We pretend everything is alright. And nobody knows, but I might be fine. Odd, freaky, but fine. Please, don't cry Mel. Be strong for the kids."
She nodded, and in that moment, we made a silent decision to not let the children know, to operate as if everything was perfectly fine. As our eyes disconnected, we began our acting.
It was surprisingly successful; Mel didn't cry at all during dinner, and even seemed happy, while I listened intently to what the girls and Ian had to say. I even took some time to play a board game after dinner and watch some television with them. Despite the morning, we had a thoroughly good time, and I was sad along with them when Mel tucked them into bed.
When it was our turn to try to sleep, we didn't even try to speak. We just laid there, both of us finally worrying about what tomorrow would bring. I could feel her silent sobs beside me, and I was doing my best to not do the same.
When I found the door labeled "Dr. Laureen Augustine, Cardiologist," I pushed it in, entering a messy office. At the desk sat an olive-skinned woman, her fingers digging through files on various patients, trying to locate mine. Without a glance up, she said, "Hello, James Kendall. How are you this afternoon?"
"Obviously not good enough," I told her, coming to sit in front of her desk. It was very rarely that someone was in the office of a doctor, but here I was, sitting in Dr. Augustine's chair. It definitely wasn't a good thing.
A smile graced her lips, as she responded, "Very true, Mr. Kendall." Finally locating the file, she slipped it out, her inflamed eyes snapping toward mine. "I hear that there is a problem with your heart."
"Yes," I nod, feeling my heartbeat begin to increase. "It's been doing something… weird."
"Your face looks strange too," she observes, standing from her seat and coming to be near me. "It's an… odd color, I guess."
Panicking, my heart rate speeding, I asked, "Have you ever seen anything like this, Dr. Augustine?" I hoped she would say something like, All of the time; in fact, it's pretty curable. But, I wouldn't be in here if that was the case.
Taking a seat on the edge of her desk—a couple of pages sliding over in the process—she mused, "No, I certainly haven't. My team of cardiologists has been consulting with other hospitals all night, and none of them have ever had a patient like you, Mr. Kendall. It's a curious case, that's for certain."
I closed my eyes, all of the hope from earlier this morning draining from me. "Is there anything I can do?" I asked, keeping my eyes shut so I wouldn't have to see her facial expression. But, I didn't have to hear an answer. I already knew the answer.
"At the moment," she said matter-of-factly, "we have nothing we can do for you. However, if we conduct some research, we might be able to find some more information. Sorry I couldn't help you anymore." I slid my eyes open, taking in the sympathy on her face. She really wishes she could fix me, I thought, and knew it to be true.
"Can I?" she asks, staring at me. "I know the doctors wouldn't lie to me, but… I just want to know for certain." I nod, and watches as her hand reaches forward to rest its icy, dead touch on my chest. I can see in her eyes—her bloodshot, lifeless eyes, much like everyone else's—that she feels what frightened my wife two nights before.
The constant thump thump, thump thump, thump thump of my heart.