IT was innocent, really.
A sneeze…which called for some hand sanitizer. Afterwards I gave you a hug. I am careful now, not to let you see how much the little things mean to me; how I could cry every time you hug me, or how as you talk to me it is difficult to focus on what is being said, only that you are speaking and not lying there…motionless…dying…
You have come so far, and I can’t help but be happy that while we are in a hospital room again, you are awake and cracking jokes. I silently thank the universe for the dinner I just had with you, complete with those ridiculous cafeteria sugar cookies.
Leaving you I see them as I walk the hall. The family members huddled in each small room around the lone television. Some of them holding spoons to their loved ones’ faces, some of them barely holding onto anything at all…
I enter the elevator and press the “L” for lobby as I’ve done so many times before, and as I brush the overgrown bangs from my face it hits me.
The smell. THAT smell.
To most, I am sure that it must be what “clean” smells like. Rubbing alcohol and lavender, it might resemble healing…it might even be pleasant.
But I know what fear smells like, and this is it.
It smells like a life ending, a gasping last breath. It smells like a dark hallway and their faces as I come running into the emergency room.
It smells like April, and the upward eyebrow tilt of my friends as I tell them about you…about your accident. It smells like the faith I so desperately wished for that night, as I watched my mother cry.
It smells like what I felt when I first saw you, dried blood covering your ears and nose….the mud on your pillow, your damp hair…the smell of that soaking wet bag they handed to us, the clothes that were cut from your body in their efforts to save you.
In the corner of the elevator I can see her. Your nurse from that first night. I watch her eyes as she tells us we may never speak to you again. As she prepares us for your departure mid-shift on a Thursday morning, I think she looks young. I think you would like her.
Suddenly, I’m standing under the overpass alone. I can hear the cars rushing on the highway above, families headed to brunch and children's soccer games. I can see the blood on the guard rail, the red fingerprints…had you tried to grab ahold? It’s windy, but the bent blades of grass are telling me your story. I can picture your struggle, and as you pull yourself to the side of the road, I am right beside you, willing you not to give up.
I walk a bit farther down this road…a road I must have passed thousands of times but never gave a second glance. Can those families see me out their shiny windows? Do they notice me, as I try to piece together the potential last moments of my baby brother’s life? The gravel writhes under my sneakers, and I pretend that the darker pools I see in the dirt are simply mud puddles…the same ones we used to jump through as kids. There is a blue latex glove strewn in the grass…had it belonged to your saviors? My personal heroes, the ones who held your hands in the rain.
I descend to the lobby completely paralyzed. Hadn’t I moved past this part? Why was it still so scary? How could a smell bring me back here? After all we have been through, shouldn’t I be stronger than this?
The doors open, and the tears stop. As I round the corner I can see the parking lot. Sunlight. I am almost running now.