July 10, 2017, 7:00 A.M.
Crunch. I bite off a piece of my oatmeal protein bar, while simultaneously flipping through the pages of my Spanish 201 book. It’s exam day and I am terrified. I could miss my bus and the exam, and even if I got there I could just get all the answers wrong instead—the possibilities of failure never ended. But before I really get worked up by my test-day anxieties, I hear my phone ring. The caller I.D. says it’s my friend, Sarah.
“Liz, I’m so sorry, but there’s been an accident. It’s Amy. She was in a car wreck, and I don’t know more than that. I’ll call you when I find out what happened.”
Accident. Car wreck. Accident. Amy. Amy. My brain chases these words over and over in my head, taking over my entire mind with each syllable. Accident. Amy.
I walk into my Spanish 201 class. I don’t speak; I feel like I’ve been hollowed out, an unfamiliar being sitting in the same seat next to the creaky window of Hepner Hall. It looks exactly like the room where I first met Amy in our sociology class. Amy and I would sit together and laugh during class, sitting in the same kinds of seats I sat in now to take my exam. Everything around me looks familiar, everything the same. Except me. And Amy.
Mr. Alvarez bursts through the double doors, cheerful as usual, and begins handing out our final exam booklets. Why am I here? Is Amy in surgery? Is she afraid? I couldn’t focus on the exam. Salty tears burned my cheeks before they hit the cold tile floor.
My friend Hannah lightly touches my shoulder. She probably means it to be comforting, but every fiber of my being wants her—wants everyone—to stay away from me. She looks at me, concerned, but before she can speak, I walk out of the classroom. Somewhere between the staircases and the parking lot, that walk turns into a run.
My phone buzzes with a text from Amy’s sister.
“Liz, Amy is at Mercy General. She has a deflated lung, broken vertebrae, bleeding in her brain. This is all too much. She’s in a coma. They induced her.”
My heart freezes and cracks with that text. Piece by piece, it breaks into a thousand shards. I don’t want to believe it. I don’t. But even though I’ve been dreading this message, it confirms one thing: She is not dead. She’s alive. She’s alive, and she’s a fighter. So there’s a chance.
One bouquet of flowers and 40 minutes of driving later, I finally arrive at Mercy General. I feel like I just ran a marathon, my head aching and eyes red and swollen. I step out of my car and breathe deeply, praying for serenity. The tall, gray cement of the hospital building stands before me as I start to walk inside. Before I enter through the automatic front doors I send a text: “Hey girl, I’m here, sorry it took so long.” After hitting send, I pause. I just texted Amy.
My stomach churns, sick. Last year at a Christmas party, I grabbed a glass of cold eggnog, only to find it spoiled. I can taste that same rotten feeling in my mouth now. Amy is in a coma. A coma.
Is that her? She doesn’t look like Amy. The Amy I know smiles and has beautiful, black curls, but this person—this stranger—doesn’t. Her hair is cropped short in the back from surgery. Every machine and tube in the dimly lit hospital room connects to her body.
I can’t bear to look at her face to see if it really was Amy.
Her family tries to talk to me, their faces kind and worried. I open my mouth to speak, but the only noise I can make are broken sobs. Amy’s sisters look at me with kind, tired eyes as we leave her room. I stand outside the glass doors, unsure as to whether my best friend would ever wake up, or even live. We stood there for what seemed like hours. Part of me wanted to walk out of the cold, double doors of the hospital and never return. The other part of me wanted to lay beside her and never wake up.
When I have to leave, I say my goodbyes to Amy’s sisters, hugging them. I never really hung out with them before, but now they’re the closest thing to Amy I can grasp.
I check the time on my phone as I head out the doors. My eyes are so swollen it’s hard to think about doing anything but sleeping. Hannah’s texted me. She wants to know what’s wrong with Amy. Word of the accident must have spread to our other friends. What am I supposed to say to her? The doctors can’t even tell us if she’s going to die or not. I scroll down, ignoring her text. Two missed calls and a text from my worried mother, urging me to drive safely. When I dial her number, hearing her voice makes me cry even more, but she’s the only person I want to talk to right now.
2 months later, 4:00 P.M.
I throw my backpack onto the floor and begin preparing spaghetti. I go through the motions, dicing the onions, garlic and tomatoes, even pouring out a glass of wine. Staying busy is the only way I can keep myself distracted while Amy is in the hospital. The doctors have been trying to wake her up but to no avail. I’m not allowed into her room anymore. No one is, except her immediate family.
I desperately want to talk to her. I can’t, so instead, I continue to build IKEA furniture, chop my vegetables and close my door to the world.
It’s Friday night. I should be out with my friends—with Amy. I should be laughing and talking to my friends about their crushes. But I don’t want to be around my other friends yet. It wouldn’t feel the same without Amy. I don’t want to know how it would feel without her. So instead, I sit alone, staring at the last meatball on my plate. As I attempt to finish my wine in one large swig, I hear a small beep from my phone. It’s a text from Amy’s sister.
“Liz, she’s awake.”
*Note: Names and dates have been changed.