Murmurs and beeping machines emerged into her consciousness. She moaned and stirred her arms. Men murmured. Women murmured. She could see the crimson red of her closed eyelids. She squinted up at a blurred light. Another moment later, she heard "she's awake," and sensed someone reach to clasp her hand. Suddenly, people were looming over her face.
"Who are you?" she murmured.
"Nurse Carrie Johnson. Can you tell me your name?"
"Elizabeth Smith-Levy," she blinked her eyes to clear her vision. "What happened?"
"You're at Walter Reed Medical Center. One of the Humvees in your convoy hit an IED. You were outside running, and the blast from behind and sent you airborne. What's the last thing you remember?"
Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. "Um…"
"It's all right, hon. Take your time."
She strained to clear her mind. She remembered riding in the passenger side of a Humvee. A boy came running toward them. She threw open the door and ran out –
"There was a boy coming toward us. I went out to see…"
Suddenly, she became aware that her mother, Trinity, was the woman who clasped her hand. She stared down at her, hazel eyes saturated with worry. Her smooth brown hair was pulled back messily, and she wore a wrinkled shirt.
Her blood suddenly ran cold. "Who was killed? Was anyone killed?"
There was silence in the room. Elizabeth scanned the room. She saw her husband beside her, his parents and older sister close to the end of the bed, and Tyrone's parents and two younger brothers and his sister close to them. All of them stared at her with sorrow in their eyes, silent.
"Who was killed? Please tell me!"
Tears welled in her eyes. It must be bad with such miserable expressions.
"Honey," Trinity caressed her arm with a sniffle. "Ajax was killed, Nathan was killed, Alexander was killed, and Dustin was slightly wounded. Tyrone is all right. The Woodsons are here to support you."
Elizabeth blinked away tears when she raised her eyes to thank the Woodsons. She managed to mouth the words before the tears welled over, and she raised her palms to her eyes to smear away the tears. She wanted strength to relieve her loved ones in the room, but her meltdown was humiliating.
"I know," Trinity gathered her in her arms and rocked her gently. David stroked her hair at the same time. She was unsure how long this continued, but she was aware that everyone in the room stayed with her, and she was moved.
Eventually, she asked, "W-where are the girls?"
"Your crazy aunts are watching them," Trinity answered with a small smile.
"Good," she raised her head and wiped her eyes with her fingertips. "I'm sorry for this."
"You have nothing to apologize for," Trinity insisted. "Not your wounds, and not your emotions."
"My wounds?" Elizabeth suddenly realized that her right leg was in a cast and raised up.
"Yes," the nurse answered gently. "You have moderate traumatic brain injuries, your right leg has been broken in two places, and your left leg has been amputated from the knee down."
Elizabeth sensed the wind run out of her. She scrambled to remove the blankets to see a bandaged stump beneath her knee. She started to tremble and her breathing hastened. She struggled to even her breathing, but she suddenly seemed weightless and her head ached.
"Let's get you lying down again," the nurse rushed to her side and helped her lay back. She sensed her mother stroking her arm again.
"I'm all right," she murmured.
"Perhaps we should leave," Chaviva Levy suggested in the distance of her mind.
"No," she moaned. "Please stay. You came all this way for me. Thank you."
David leaned down and pressed a kiss to her hair. Ajax was a kid. So was Nathan. He wanted to ask Kendra out. He was going home to see his mom on her birthday. Alexander planned to continue college when he returned from the Army. Their eyes met hers in her mind. She imagined what it must have been like for them to be blasted in their Humvee. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
"Come around," she heard her mother murmur. She sensed her loved ones approach her and started feeling hands lay on her arms and her head and her cast.
"Lord God, we thank You that Elizabeth survived this deployment and that she will recover. We ask that You give her strength and joy and peace again. Embrace her with Your love and console her."
She could hear the murmurs of more prayers said by those around her, but she could not hear them after a minute or so. She was granted a surprising amount of peace from their presence and their concern. Enough peace to surrender to that enormous burden of fatigue…