It's cold

It's cold. There's snow on the ground again. How many winters does this one make? Let me see… I was eighteen, only five winters since that last day. Sitting on the bench, I wait in silence, wait for the sun to break through the clouds, wait for the pain to stop, and wait for her voice just once more. That's all life is, waiting. I used to mind that, I used to hate to wait. But now, my life has changed.

Suppose for just a moment that life had a certain course, a map laid out for all to see. Would we choose the way we thought would be best, or would we go for the slanted, sideways life of thrills and amazing highs and lows? Let me tell you something. My name is Liz Caldwell, and I would have chosen the latter. My life has been so full of fear, pain and heartache that sometimes I wanted to end it all, and I even tried it. That's what bought me a year in the Clinic. White walls, tiled floors, people shouting that the aliens were coming to get them. But I wouldn't trade it in, not for anything.

It changed my life, gave me a reason to live… I know, that's crazy, a nut house, making you want to live. But something in me wanted to prove that I could make it. Even after all that had happened. I hate to sound like one of those hallmark cards, but sometimes the battle is well worth the victory. Remind me of that about halfway through this story, okay?

~

I remember sitting in the bathroom thinking, How can they ask me to live like this? This isn't life, this is hell. The knife sat heavy in my hand, and the blade gleamed with beauty. As I raised the blade, the smallest part of my brain asked me, What about Connor? But in the end, my desire to die overcame my desire to live, and my blood spilled over the white tile floor.

I don't remember much about the trip over to the hospital, all I remember is my parents crying, screaming. Why should they care? I thought, angrily. They're the ones that shipped me off to some prissy college. But the picture that got me the most in the bombardment of images from the hospital wasn't my fiancée, standing there, staring at the gashes on my wrists, the slashes on my stomach, the scars along my upper arms. It was Connor, not moving at the far end of the hallway, watching my stretcher get rolled away. He just stood there, tears in those big brown eyes, his fists clenched beside him. My best friend, the only one I would have told about how I was feeling. But I didn't.

~

Hours later, I lay in the hospital bed, staring out the window at the obnoxiously bright sun, and hating existence. I heard the door open, heard the footsteps clicking on the linoleum, heard the soft sigh from behind me. "You should have told me," Connor said, stopping a few feet from my bed.

"And what would you have done if I had?" I asked him, not turning to face him. I knew Connor. He'd be staring at me, waiting for me to look at him, waiting for me to cry.

He was silent, I could almost hear the gears turning in his brain. He's a genius, but I'd never tell him that. "I'd probably ask you why," he said, finally, and I felt his sigh on me, he thought I betrayed him. There was another silence, a long one, labored with things unsaid. "Why?" he whispered.

"Because I couldn't stand it anymore," I replied, before I even thought about it. I felt Connor's hand on my shoulder, and I finally turned around to look up at him. I was met by those intense brown eyes. Have you ever wondered how deep eyes let you see? Have you ever met someone who's got eyes that will let you see so deep that you could get lost within the depths? That's Connor. I wanted to lose myself in him, my best friend. "I needed out," I finished, hesitantly.

He shook his head as he sat down on the bed beside me. His hands moved to mine, and for a moment, I lost all feeling. He's really concerned, I thought.

~

The next week went by really fast. Between appearing before doctors and boards, I got shoved into Bellevue Hospital for the Mentally Insane. I don't remember much about those days, Mick didn't come by much, in fact, I barely remember my parents coming by either. The only one that stayed there, through it all, the bad dreams the pain, the tears, was Connor.

Standing in the hallway of Bellevue, I stared at the sunlight filtering through the rooms. Connor stood beside me, holding my bags, staring right along with me. A voice startled us both, causing Connor to drop my suitcase, with an overly loud thump. "Hello," it said. I turned to face a rather cheerful looking woman, with long blonde hair, and big blue eyes. "I'm Ally. You must be Elizabeth Caldwell."

"Liz," Connor corrected, always looking after me. He offered his hand to Ally. "Connor Andrews, her sponsor." Ally nodded, looking at me. I didn't want her to look at me, I felt terrible staying here. Connor's arm fell around me as he smiled at Ally. "Come on, Lizzie," he said. He was the only one that called me Lizzie, the only one I would let call me Lizzie.

I never knew saying good bye could be so hard. We stood on the steps, Ally behind me, as he looked up at me. "I'll come see you every Saturday," Connor whispered, holding me tight. I felt his breath on my neck, and nodded.

"Tell Mick that I miss him," I whispered. For a moment, I thought Connor's arms loosened around me, then he came back, even tighter. "I'll see you next week." He nodded, and turned away. I almost called him back, almost begged him not to leave me alone in there. But I dug my fingernails into my palm and bit my lip.

~

It wasn't until I woke up the next morning that it finally hit me. The screams woke me, I jolted upward in my bed, pulling the blankets wildly. Voices came from the dark corridor, shouting, and the screaming. Pulling myself from the bed, I ran to the door. As it flung open, I caught a glimpse of something in the corner, a white shadowy light. But as I turned back, it was gone.

Outside my tiny bedroom was mayhem and chaos. Ally was running behind a group of male orderlies, who were fighting to get a girl to settle down. She was kicking and screaming, shouting that they were coming for her. In the midst of the fight, one girl emerged from her room, and calmly walked over to the group. "Rachel," she whispered. The girl stopped flailing enough to turn her face to the other girl. "Please, calm down… Would they want you if they knew you were behaving like this?"

As if pondering it, Rachel stopped for a moment. Rolling her eyes to look from the girl, to Ally, Rachel shook her head. "No," she replied, "They wouldn't."

I watched as the girl disappeared into a room, which I would later come to know as The Box. The second girl smiled forlornly at Ally, then moved to turn around, just as she caught my eye. After a moment, she turned to Ally and whispered something. Ally turned to look at me, then answered the girl. She nodded, and closed the door to her room.

~

That day had begun, but it was far from ending. I sat in the common room, watching everyone I didn't know. The Rachel girl joined us halfway through the day, and that's when I noticed the girl from earlier that morning. She was sitting on the couch, reading a book, when Rachel curled up beside her and started whispering.

Instantly, her eyes lifted to greet mine, and she smiled. Rachel sat up, and looked at me with a huge grin on her face. "Come here!" she called, smiling at me. I packed up my colored pencils, and moved toward the couch.

The girl smiled at me, long blonde hair, deep brown eyes, a clear complexion. "Hi," she said, offering her hand to me. "Kimberly Bronze," she said. "Call me Kim. And you are?"

"Liz Caldwell," I replied, shaking her hand with ease.

Her smile was contagious. Rachel curled into a ball in her lap, purring. "What're you in for?" she asked. At first I was startled, like the white bandages on my wrists weren't obvious? But Kim just raised an eyebrow at me quizzically. She must have seen my confusion, because she whispered, "Never jump, always ask…

That's when I understood. She wanted me to be sure I was ready when she found out why I was there. "Ice cubes," I replied. Her eyes filled with inquiry. "To many ice cubes, they made a glacier." That's when Kim nodded.

~

I hadn't known it at the time, but that strong silence of Kim's would be the cornerstone of my faith, and the final nail in my coffin. I missed my life, the life I'd left behind. I admit, I liked being left alone most of the day. Kim and I would sit at a table, with my art set. Kim would sketch jewelry designs, and I would work on my portfolio. I'd always wanted to be an artist, with a gallery in New York City. Kim said I could do it, but I wasn't so sure.

I suppose now, as I look back to those days, that if I hadn't ended up in the Clinic I would never have become the artist I am today. Something about those images changed the way I painted. For some reason, my paintings took on a life of their own, and everything changed, even as I painted them. I lost so much in the Clinic. On the other hand, I gained a lot more…

~

The first week flew by far faster then I first imagined. Before I knew it, I was leaving my bedroom on Saturday to find Connor standing before me. Abruptly, he pulled a bushel of amber and pink roses from behind his back, you know, the stained ones that look very whimsical.

Embracing him, I held tight to the sudden warmth coursing through my body. "Some how I didn't see him as this attractive," came Kim's voice from behind me. "Certainly doesn't look blonde, blue eyed," she said, eyeing his head of dark hair, and his dark eyes. "You must be Connor. Kim Bronze," she finished, offering her hand.

But Connor grinned and took her hand, replying, "Connor Andrews." Kim's eyes lit up. "Heard a lot about you, Miss Bronze."

Inclining her head, Kim replied, "Likewise, Mr. Andrews. Call me Kim, they all do. Hoping to meet you this weekend. From what Liz tells me, I didn't think Mick would come. Glad to know you will." I glared at her in disappointment. She shrugged.

Connor nodded, offering one arm to me and the other to Kim. "Call me Connor, and I wouldn't miss coming to see Liz for all the money in the world."

"Incidentally," I interjected, feeling left out, "Did I keep you from something?"

Shrugging, Connor replied, with his usual ambivalent air, "Nothing vital."

"No heart transplants?" I joked, smiling up at him. Connor had gone to Harvard Business, and had a degree in astrophysics. He ran his own corporation in Upstate California, based on technology of the future, A&M.

Another warm smile spread over Connor's face as he replied to my joke, "None but this television that should have been retired when the Nazi's were pushed back…" I giggled. For as long as I could remember, Connor had adored making jokes and spouting of repartee.

My hand slid into his and I pulled him toward the common room. "I want you to meet everyone!" I exclaimed, actually excited about sharing my new life with my bestfriend. At that moment I didn't care if Mick was coming or not, I found myself caught up in the thrill of seeing Connor.

~

That day burns on in my memory like a fire to stubborn to flicker to coal. I have a question for you. Have you ever closed your eyes and spun around really fast, until you got so dizzy you could scarcely breathe? That's what it feels like in there.

Sometimes it's the drugs, and sometimes it's the silence. Whichever it is that gets you, whichever it is that drives you crazy first, it all leads to the same thing. I watched people go mad in the hallways. One second they'd be walking in perfect silence, the next second they'd be screaming their heads off. No matter who it was, no matter the problem, Kim would be right there with the orderlies, trying to calm whichever girl was screaming.

Most of us hung out in the common room, trying desperately to grasp what our lives meant. That's when I met her. She was older then most of us, midnight black hair with streaks of gray, and piercing blue-gray eyes. Nell. The grandmotherly type, the only one some of the girls knew. She spoke of her grandchildren often, and I used to love to curl into a ball on a nearby couch, with my sketch pad, and listen to her stories. From them I would draw the most entrancing portraits. There was so little that I knew…

~

"Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road…" Nell's sugar sweet voice drifted across the common room as Kim and I sat at our usual table. Kim held the gold colored pencil, already worn to half the length since Connor had brought them a week before. Her honey blonde head lifted, and she tilted it to hear Nell a bit better. This was our favorite story of them all, the one where Nell's grandchildren put on a performance of "Wizard of Oz" at a family get together.

Kimmy looked at me, her eyes filled with sadness that was uncommon to the familiar depths. "Pitiable, isn't it?" she asked.

I raised an eyebrow, unsure of her meaning. "What?" I asked, reaching for the gold in her hand.

"Nell's condition…" she replied. Again, I arched an eyebrow. "You don't know? Daffy hasn't told you?" Let me take a second to explain something. You've heard of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, right, from Looney Tunes. Well, I'm Bugs, Kim is Taz, and Dr. Whalen is Daffy. It was a thing that Dr. Whalen tried to use as a visual aid or whatever, and Kim and I gave him a hard time. So, now Daffy is forever his label. "Nell's suffers from acute memory loss, she can't make sense of her memories and her wishes. Nell has no family, all those stories are lies. But to her, they're truth. Wait until she starts talking about her days on Broadway. Those are the interesting weeks. She starts singing and dancing showtunes, and sharing all her movie star gossip."

~

After that I was miserable. Nell's stories had lifted me up, knowing that outside the world was okay. I missed laying in my own bed at night, watching the familiar stars outside the window, and going to the movies. Dinner! I missed going out for dinner.

Suddenly, I found myself writing letters to Connor, one for everyday out of the week. They were more like diaries, one for every day. After the first two weeks I had given them to him, I didn't think he'd read them. A lot of them were about the things I missed, like movies, dinner, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, dancing, art festivals, shopping. When two weeks went by, and no reaction came when I saw him, I thought he was just laying them aside. It wasn't until a Wednesday that everything took a spin.

~

Stepping from my room I found Ally standing in the hallways with a very frazzled Kim. She was crying heavily, blood stained her front. "What's wrong, what happened?" I asked, rushing up, wrapping my arms around Kim.

"Rachel tried to kill herself, " Ally responded, her hand on Kim's shoulder. "The rope snapped, and when she fell her nose broke. Kim heard her hit the floor and rushed in. She's in the infirmary now." Kim started crying harder. But Ally droned on, "She'll have to be put under observation, and Kim can't stay alone. Do you mind giving up your private?" Ally continued. Instantly I shook my head. Connor had bought me a private thinking that I didn't want to share with any one in there. But Kimmy needed me, and I would be there.

A bit later that day, I was sitting in the common room. Kim had gone to see Daffy shortly after the moment in the hall. She hadn't returned yet. I allowed myself to drift into the picture I was forming before me. A young mother with her child, standing alone in a hospital corridor. The child was dying, and the mother was paralyzed with fear. I was still working on the contours of her fear-stricken face when I heard Ally a few feet away.

"Yes, sir, she's right over here," she was saying. I didn't tear my eyes from my work, lost completely in the moment.

It wasn't until I had perfected the look of pain that radiated from the mother's face that he spoke. "Stunning," came the soft baritone voice that had grown familiar only days after I met him.

Spinning, I found myself staring deep into Connor's soft, expressive eyes. "What're you doing here?" I demanded, leaping up to embrace him. "You only visit on Saturday!"

A slow smile spread across his lips as he held me tight. "I've come to take you away. This is the first day you have off grounds passes, is it not?" he asked calmly, as if it were the most natural assumption in all the world. I nodded, astounded at my failure to overlook such a glorious detail. "Get your coat, girl!" Connor exclaimed, giving me a playful shove. Joyously, I darted off to my room to grab my coat.

~

As I sit here in the cold, my mind begins to wander back to those days that I was with him. No one has been more of a friend to me then Connor. I sit here, thinking back to only this morning, in the snow of the field. My wedding dress hangs delicately in the closet back home, my bouquet rests in the freezer, my bridesmaids have long since gone home. As I think back on those days, I regret my decisions. I missed Connor so much, but I rarely thought of Mick. What made me say yes to him? What made me decide he was the one? I never felt the way about Mick that I did about Connor. Who did I tell my deepest secrets? Who did I run to when I needed a warm embrace? Who did I call when it happened? Connor. But who did I agree to marry? Who did I agree to give myself to, heart, body, soul? Who did I offer my life to? I'll give you three guesses, but you won't ever believe it….

~

The leather seat of Connor's fully restored 1979 TransAm felt warm and welcome against a body long used to hard plastic seats and squeaky sofas. AC blasting, music soft, and the ever present warmth of knowing Connor was near overwhelmed me. How I had missed this car! Once fire engine red when we were in high school, he'd toned it down a bit to a gorgeous metallic silver. Now with black interior and a full system, I loved it even more.

Winter snow had faded from the ground and the green promise of spring filled the trees around us as we drove toward the skyline of New York City. Connor had refused to tell me what we were doing, but he promised that if I didn't like it I would get a full refund. I had to laugh at that. He was such a business man.

When we first pulled up I thought he was joking. The movie theater! I couldn't believe it! He was taking me to a movie! He'd read the notes, he'd understood! Walking into the cinema house, I found myself in awe. Not only had we gone to a theater, we went to the Metro! Red carpets spread out before us, and the vendors pushed small carts about the lobby, nodding and smiling at me.

Connor bought me a large popcorn, a large soda pop, and junior mints. Then, he paused at the door to open it for me. Far back in my mind, a tiny voice whispered, Mick never did that… All thoughts of Mick faded from my mind as I leaned back and sighed. I was out, even if only for a day.

~

The next stop was even better then the first. The Starlight Room, for dinner and dancing. I was beside myself, I wasn't dressed for the Starlight Room! That's when the second surprise came. Connor took me shopping.

Walking into the store, I suddenly felt very exposed. Every one was coming up and offering sales, and products. I had just spent a month and a half in a hospital, I wasn't ready for that bombardment. Instantly, Connor became the protective brother type, and jumped between me and every salesperson on the floor. He chit chatted for a moment, then we moved on. Ease settled over me, at least enough to go shopping for the perfect dress.

I must've tried on four or five that looked stunning, but Connor kept sending me back into the dressing room, bringing me more and more. Finally, I stepped from the closet of a room to do a little spin, and I found him staring at me. It was a sleeveless medium length of black, with a bit of a flare, and a low neckline. "Incredible," he whispered, rising to his feet.

Without thinking, I looked at the price tag. Suddenly, my head swam. Shaking it vehemently, I replied, "I can't, it's too expensive!"

"Sweetheart," Connor muttered, "A Jaguar is too expensive… This is perfect."

"This is more then a Jag!" I exclaimed, showing him the tag.

He just shrugged, and plucked the tag from the dress. "Not for you… You're worth more."

Helpless, I watched as he walked to the register and handed her the tag. He whipped out his American Express and paid for it on the spot. I couldn't move until he came over to fetch me, putting my ratty jeans and T-shirt in a bag.

~

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I had a good time, because you know I did. I have to admit, however, that I have never been out to eat like that with Mick. Sure, I miss him. But I didn't at that moment. I enjoyed my moments with Connor, the laughter, the jokes, the instant repartee. There's lots of stuff I miss about the outside world, dancing, dinner, but most of all, it's got to be Connor. Call me crazy, but there's something about him. The way he tilts his head when he laughs, the way he brushes hair from my cheek, the way his eyes glaze over when he talking about cars. It all makes you want to engage him in a lifelong conversation about what makes him tick. Unfortunately, just as I was beginning to realize how incredible this man truly was, Mick stepped back up to the plate.