Jim’s eyes would flicker over to the dozens of flowers and plants situated around his room, some had balloons tied to them, others-small stuffed animals. Since he’d been moved to an inpatient room on the 1st floor of the Ascension Seton Medical Center he was allowed to have gifts delivered to his room, 143, as often as people liked. It had become somewhat of a florist in his room, and he’d been asking Pam to bring some home so he could continue to see out the large windows at the city skyline. The kids, though, brought presents every time. Those gifts, Jim knew, would stay right by his bed on his side table. Usually, they were drawings of himself and Philip driving a racecar, or a book report Cece had gotten an A on. These were his prized possessions. His favorite though, was a photo of the five of them, circled around him in his bed the day after he came back.
Despite Pam’s protests, both kids had gotten on top of the bed, Philip giving his dad bunny ears, Cece with her arms wrapped around his neck, and Pam looking down on all of it. His nurse had captured it after he’d been moved out of the ICU; he looked at it at least ten times a day. Jim knew his journey was far from over, the migraines were terrible, he hadn’t even begun physical therapy to walk again, and for now, he moved from place to place in a chair. It may have left him with a little less dignity, but feeling the spring breeze against his face in the courtyard, and sitting in a cafeteria with his children drinking grape sodas and playing checkers was worth the feeling of a little less pride.
He glanced up at the clock, it was noon, Pam was working on a sketch on the other side of the room, possibly something for the class she was teaching, maybe another charcoal of himself, he wasn’t sure, but he’d loved to watch her. She’d glance up every few minutes and smile softly at him, making sure he was still there with her, and then go back to her drawing. His job had been so accommodating during this entire time. Clients had sent him dozens of gifts, cards, and notes of encouragement. Athleap continued to remind him that work would be there when he was ready, but truth be told, he didn’t know if or when that day would come. Sure, he would work again, but when? The migraines made it impossible for him to look at a phone screen, and when Pam had given him back his iPhone, he didn’t even know what to do with it. Thousands of emails cluttered his inbox. He’d find himself going back through photos of last year and begging Pam to show him what he had missed from her own phone.
There wasn’t much, she had admitted to him. Taking photos had been something they’d both always cherished and been great at, but this year, things had been different.
“So when did he finish therapy?” Jim asked that afternoon, breaking Pam out of her daze. She looked up from her sketchbook,
“About two months ago. Suzanne felt as though they’d gotten through the majority of his fears, but he is still dealing with some separation anxiety,” His stomach turned, filled with guilt. He needed to know these things, but felt so much responsibility for the trauma that his family had gone through. He knew logically this wasn’t his fault, and had of course spent his awake hours with Pam expressing to her she wasn’t at fault either, it was an accident. Tears were shed, she didn’t believe him, but he was there, and right now, that was enough for her.
“Should he go back?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
Pam focused on him for a moment, confused by his question,
“I mean, I don’t see why, you’re here and-”
He laid his head back on the bed, the light bothering his eyes,
“I’ll shut them off, hang on,” Pam got up and moved to the lightswitch, darkening the room, Relief swept over him.
“Pam, I’m not going anywhere,” he started,
“I know,” she gave him a toothy smile,
“No,” he spoke seriously, “I’m not leaving here anytime soon, and I don’t want the kids to just think things are going to go back to normal, I don’t want them-” he was rambling. She moved to the side of his bed,
“Jim,” she took his hands in hers, “If you think he should go back, I’ll take him back. They know this is just the beginning.”
“Do they?” He met her eyes. She watched as they brimmed with tears,
“Does she?” He pointed to her stomach. Pam moved her hands toward her stomach and set them on top of her bump.
“She’s going to be fine,” Pam attempted to convince herself, “We’re both going to be fine,”
“I can’t be in the room for the c-section,” Her breath caught in her throat as she remembered this conversation with the OBGYN. “And you’ve never had surgery, and I don’t want you in there alone,” Jim. Always concerned about her, and never himself.
“Babe, I’m sure they can make it work, I’m sure we’ll figure out a way for you to be there,”
He turned immediately and looked out the window, refusing to let tears spill out of his eyes, he knew he’d be in a waiting room, or in this very bed when she gave birth, and not with her, holding her, putting the baby on her chest when she couldn’t do it for herself.
This pregnancy had become more complicated than the other two, and Pam had been ordered to stay on bed rest until the C-section in two weeks, but bed rest for Pam, just meant spending her days in a recliner, and continuing to make the kids dinner and putting them to bed.
“Push over,” she mumbled, and he picked his body up carefully on his palms, lifting himself slightly to the left. His legs felt like dead weights. She’d moved next to him, running her thumb around his forehead, wondering if the scars would ever fade, wondering if these memories would ever fade.
“Cece’s asking to be here more,” He stated, breaking the silence. Pam popped her head up,
“When did she say that?” Pam questioned, lifting an eyebrow.
“She’s been texting me...on her ipad” Jim answered carefully.
“Jim, you know we’ve told her not to do that, she’s not supposed to be talking to anyone without our permission first,”
“It’s me, Babe,” he furrowed his eyebrows.
“I just don’t like the idea that she’s figured out how to do that,” Pam shook her head, “Pam, she wants to finish school remotely so she can be here more, and home to help you with the baby,”
“No.” she shook her head matter of factly. “She’s already missed so much school, she needs the socialization, and you’re here every day after 3:15. No.”
“So that’s it, we're not even going to discuss it?” Jim cocked his head,
“Jim, I’ve been with her-” she stopped herself mid sentence, eyes widening. She’d hit a nerve and shut him down, he’d turned on his side facing the door and closed his eyes. This was his tactic. How he told her he was hurt, and was done talking for the time being. She cursed herself and got out of the bed.
“Honey, I just don’t think that she’d handle the transition well,” she walked around so she could face him, but his eyes were snapped shut,
It was quiet for a long time before he spoke. It felt like hours had passed, maybe days, before he looked up at Pam seriously.
“Cecelia thought I was dead, Pam. She saw me get hit by her school bus. Frankly, if she wanted to quit fifth grade all together, I’d let her. I will never be able to save her from that memory. I never can take it back. She saw me a bloodied, crumbled mess. I know you think I haven’t seen the photos from the accident, I have. I have access to Google. I want her here.” He paused, closed his eyes, and pulled the blanket around him. And that was that.
“Wait...seriously?” Cece’s eyes lit up that afternoon when Pam picked her up from school. She glanced at her mother from the back of the car in the rear view mirror, eyes bugging out of her head.
“I can just stay with Dad, all day?” she asked, a bit hesitant.
“Until the baby’s born, and then I’m going to need some help. Grandma is going home soon,” Pam pursed her lips. She thought this idea was awful. She wasn’t okay with Cecelia quitting soccer, so the agreement was, she could homeschool with her Dad during the day, but soccer after school hours and helping around the house at night. She thought it was a fair compromise.
Cece pulled her long hair up into a bun, brown curls slipping out and around her face, and shoved a pencil in to hold it up.
“One other thing,” Pam glanced up again, “Two rules. You don’t text anymore on the ipad without permission. even if it’s Dad.” she nodded, sheepishly. “And two, you and Daddy can watch one movie a day. One and it better be educational,” she smiled to herself, careful not to let her daughter see her upturned lips. Maybe this would lift his spirits. Maybe his daughter would bring him some hope and will to work harder, to think positively, and to pull him out of his funk. Maybe you couldn’t be somebody’ss everything.