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time for Hawks

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On the Edge

(Gathering Fragments)

I never thought it would come to this, the day we stood at the alter in the chapel. The preacher dressed in his serious dark suit and we attired in silky white. Ron and I radiated expectancy, smiled easily, leaned close, and whispered vows – “Yes, I love you.”  At twenty-four, what we imagined life together would be like mostly came true for a time.  But it is what entered our world during the seventh year, what would not leave, could not be accepted that causes me to write now, thirty years later.

I pause, look up.  I have surrounded my writing space with the tools I need and support items I want.  A huge cranberry candle seated in the Disney World frosted-face mug burns evenly; pictures of our grown girls, with Rhonda’s new baby girl, Olivia, rest on my table; to my left are extra pens, a ream of paper and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Some Memories of Drawings; at my right I placed the bronze statue of a Mother holding her child and the wooden Kaleidoscope that Ron gave me during the early years before the stroke.  Music fills my room, cadence and harmony sustaining, insisting that I write.  I am gathering the fragments that remain, longing to dispel my own fogginess, imagining I may enlighten myself, find more peace, some joy.

After the ride in the ambulance on that night, February 7th, 1974, sometime after 2:00 am, the doctor came to find me in the emergency waiting room. “Mrs. Hoover?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Hoover is likely going to be all right. He’s had a slight stroke, has some aphasia,” he says.

I stared up at him, not understanding.  “Stroke, aphasia, I don’t know either word?” I murmured.

“We don’t know why yet.  Possibly there is some blockage in the brain causing the paralysis, inhibiting speech.”  I said nothing and he continued. “He has been able to say a word or two, identified our keys and fingers; we think the effects of this event will disappear in a few weeks.  For now we are moving him to intensive care, on 6.  The nurse will show you to the waiting room there.”

The doctor was gone. What remained were these words “stroke, aphasia”, new, strange.

The nurse appeared and I followed her white precision along corridors with soft night sounds, squeaking shoes.  A metal door slid wide and the whirring elevator lifted us higher, deeper into the realm of hospital.  I took a seat in the dim empty room.  I waited thinking, “Where is Ron? What’s happening to my man, he who always smiles, teases me out of my stubborn timidity?”

I selected another chair, paced, and waited, “It was only 3 months ago since we were here.  They had sent us home after 5 days; the surgical team had replaced his aortic heart value; his heart was pumping as it should.  The knitting together of bone and flesh, the healing process had proceeded on schedule. But what had occurred tonight? No one mentioned his heart, why not?”

As grey morning light punched through the blinds, the white coated man was back, telling me another clot had broken loose, traveled from Ron’s heart into the left hemisphere of his brain, damaged it.  “I am so sorry; the outlook is not good,” he said.  “Mr. Hoover cannot speak, or move his right side; he may not know you, understand what you say.  When you are ready, you may go in to see him.”

Stunned, trying to remember to breathe, I thought, “Everything may not be all right for their Mr. Hoover, for my Ron.  I thought we had made it in time, would be safe once in the hospital.  Our 6 year old daughter Holly was safe, tucked into bed at her best friend Val’s, after I had called my neighbor.  Our unborn child was safe, waiting within me there, there in that cold edgy room. How would I make Ron safe?”

The nurse arrived, guided me to Ron’s room.  I made my face smile, my mouth speak, walked right up to him and said, “Good morning,” as if I’d bring breakfast soon.  He lay there looking at me, his blue eyes brightly holding to my own.  I saw no distress in those eyes, no pain on his face and I hoped neither showed on mine.  I had no idea what he wanted so I kissed him and began saying how everything would be better.  He watched, remained still, silent, never releasing my eyes.

That was the beginning. But unlike our wedding day, the officials wore white.  Ron and I were clothed in the colorless fabric of fear and the awkwardness of unspoken. We were together, held in each others eyes; the morning light continued pushing in, bringing another day.

It would be only three months before Ron walked with brace and cane.  He would be present for Rhonda’s birth and three months later accompany Holly to the street corner, where friends waited for their walk toward first grade.  At nine months Ron spoke his one word – my name.  I no longer recognized myself in the sound of it, for aphasia had stolen not only his words but the tone and rhythm of what he wanted to convey.  He did not know he would never use his hand again, and we had only the vaguest idea of what would be required to live without language.

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