Friday, August 3, 2007

Our Lady of Sorrows (Short Story)

She sat on the leather chair, alone in the dark living room, holding a pearl rosary in her hand; a glass of water untouched on the side table. Her eyes were closed as she silently said the same prayer over and over again.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…
Hours passed before the front door opened and she heard steps. His steps sounded different, but she knew him. She'd guided his first steps. Now it was hopeless to even try.
"Where were you?" she asked, knowing the answer already. She stood and faced him, searching his eyes in the dark. He also searched and tried to focus on hers. Hers were swollen. His were wild.
"Where…" she tried again.
"I went out with friends," he answered.
"The same friends?" she asked, maintaining her stare to prevent him from lying.
"The same friends," he answered.
"How many times have I tried to get you away from those people? But no matter what I do, you always go back. Do you realize the heartache it gives me to see you like this?”
He didn’t answer.
“What else can I do?" She searched his face. "Tell me what to do!"
He looked down. "I've tried..."
She allowed herself to collapse on the chair; no more energy to cry. Placing her hand over her chest, she tried to ease the pain of her heart. "Where did I go wrong? If only I'd seen the early signs. If I could make you feel the way I feel, you would never try it again."
He went to her and leaning over the back of the chair, embraced her. "I love you the most, and I hurt you the most," he said.
At that moment, she recognized the scared boy. She felt the softness of his fair skin, smelled the sweetness of his baby-fine hair. She allowed her hand to reach his face, to caress his cheek. "Go to sleep," she said. "I have a doctor's appointment in the morning. After that, I'll come home to check on you."
He kissed her cheek and embraced her one last time. Then obediently, he went to sleep.

In the morning she went to check on Dani before going to her appointment. He still slept. She left breakfast ready on the kitchen counter in case he woke up before she came home.
“Wake him up,” her husband said coming down the stairs. “Irresponsible! I work hard to provide for him, and all he does is throw his life away. What time did he get home last night?”
She went to tighten the knot on his tie and straighten the lapels of his jacket. “I didn’t look at the time.”
“You waited up for him again, didn’t you? Because I know you didn’t come back to bed until after four in the morning. He got himself into this mess, he better get himself out.”
“Let him sleep, Oscar. I’ll wake him up later.”
She knew her husband was at the end of his rope also. Rehab had been their last hope. It had been torture to watch Dani go through it, but three months out of rehab and he was back with his friends again.
“Do you want me to talk to him? Try to reason with him?” Oscar asked.
“No, you’ll just get into another fight. Let me handle it this time. There’s no reason left in him. The drugs have taken over.”
He placed his hands on the sides of her face and looked sadly into her eyes. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said with a sigh and kissed her. “Call me if you need anything.”

She arrived early to her appointment; still the waiting room was already crowded with patients. The nurse greeted her and asked her to print her name and time of arrival. She wrote down the information with shaky hands. She hated doctors’ offices, even if the doctor was her friend.
“How’s your son?” Betsy, the nurse asked her.
She looked up from the paper directly into the nurse’s eyes. “Fine. He is fine,” she answered, trying to sound polite. She grabbed her purse from the nurse’s station and turned to find a chair. If someone, anyone, had given her even the smallest warning.
Don Emilio, the elderly school custodian whose daughter now lived in her neighborhood, rose from his chair to greet her. She had planned to grab a magazine and pretend to read until her name was called, but Don Emilio was a sweet man, so instead she sat next to him and made an effort at nice conversation.
When it was her turn, Dr. Martinez came out personally into the waiting area to greet her. “How have you been, Nadia?” he asked her.
“Hi, Junior,” she greeted him and as soon as the door to his office was closed they exchanged a warm hug.
He sat down behind his desk and studied her chart. He shook his head before looking up at her. “So? Are you ready?” he asked.
She avoided his eyes. “I don’t know.”
“Why? What’s the matter? Everything’s set up for the surgery.”
“I’m not ready to tell my family I’m having open heart surgery.”
“I thought you were not going to tell them.”
"They'll find out," she thought to herself.
“I have spoken to the best cardio surgeons. You need this surgery. Everything’s ready.”
“I know. But it might not be the right time for me to leave home.”
“Nadia, what’s going on? Is it Dani again?”
“No!” She had to look away so he would not see the tears forming in her eyes.
“Nadia, Dani chose his own life, you must take care of...”
“That’s not Dani’s life. That’s no way to live a life. What kind of mother would I be if I let him go?”
“You men! You all want to be fathers, but you wear it as a title. Dani was born from me. I feel his pain, his struggle, and it’s all so... hopeless. I can’t. I just can’t.”
Instead of pressing her, he sighed and leaned back in his chair. He waited a few seconds, letting her dry her tears, before speaking again. “How’s Suzanne? I heard she got a good internship and she hopes to graduate next year.”
She smiled and slowly was able to look at him again.
“You know,” he continued, “my boy had his heart set on Suzanne when they went to school together, but she never paid any attention to him.”
She had known about that. “Suzanne has a boyfriend now.”
“From out of town, I hear. Just like her mother. All the town beauties want their boyfriends to come from out of town,” he said looking intently at her with a sarcastic smile.
This time she laughed. She had known about that too.
He was right. Suzanne was too much like her. She had turned out pretty and tall, with golden skin, a delicate face and a curvy body. All the boys had their eyes on her.
There was a time when she had worried about Suzanne. Her daughter had started dating and she had wanted to be there for her. She took her daughter shopping and drove her to her friend’s parties, always taking advantage of their time alone to warn her about boys. It had been easy and fun to talk to her daughter.
Why hadn’t she done the same with Dani? Dani was a boy, and he was younger. She had thought she still had time to talk to Dani. It’d seemed she had less to worry about where he was concerned. But she had missed something. She had looked away for a second. She had blinked her eyes and before she realized, Dani was out of her reach.
They were her life-her children were her life and she would do anything for them. “I’ll be at the hospital next week.”

After her doctor's appointment she came home and opened the windows and the back door to let the cool autumn air into her home. She went into the kitchen and noticed the breakfast she'd left on the counter remained intact.
She ran out of breath as she climbed the stairs, but she used her last bit of energy to slam open his bedroom door. "Daniel, wake up. I don't care how high you got last night. I didn't raise you to be a slob."
She left his room door open, and went back down to the kitchen to start the noon meal. She placed the steak in the oven and chopped onions, tomatoes and green chile for the salsa. Still, no grand appearance from her son.
"Daniel Oscar Hernandez! Come down here. Now!" she yelled from the base of the stairs. "If you’re going to miss classes again you better start looking for a job. Or your father is going to kick you out of this house. He warned you about it!"
No answer. No sounds.
"Dani, you're going to kill me one of these days with all this worry." She yanked off her apron and stood at the foot of the stairs looking up. She silently cursed her son for making her walk upstairs again.
He was still in bed, in the same position she'd left him that morning, but this time, she noticed something different. She didn't have to turn the lights on or open his windows to know there was something wrong. Fear overshadowed fatigue. "Dani, wake up."
She slowly walked around his bed. His right arm was outstretched. “Dani..." She removed the blanket that covered his face. His eyes were half-open, and white foam dribbled from his mouth.
Her screams brought the neighbors running. They found her kneeling next to her son, her arms embracing his body.
"Call an ambulance!" someone shouted.
“Call Dr. Martinez. He’s her doctor,” another voice said from the bedroom door. “I saw her in his office this morning,”
The noises inside the house grew louder as more people walked in and out. Some softly tried to calm her. Some forcefully tried to get her away from her son. She would only scream hysterically.
Dr. Martinez arrived and with obvious sadness, he pronounced Dani dead. “I knew your blood pressure was higher for a reason,” he said looking down at her. “This is going to destroy your weak heart.”
“He was so sweet last night. I was angry, I didn’t tell him I loved him,” she said, talking for the first time. “Oscar told me to wake him up this morning. I should’ve...” She cried and cried.
Dr. Martinez had pity on her and sedated her. Two neighbors carried her to her bedroom.
In her semi-comatose state she could still hear people's voices.
“The boy died from a drug overdose,” a woman said far away.
“My daughter says Dani had been using drugs since he was thirteen.”
“That boy is burning in hell. No way he could’ve repented before dying.”
My Dani in hell? How could this happen?

Her life had been perfect. The perfect home, the perfect husband, and for a long time, the perfect children. Dani had always grabbed his sister's hand when crossing a street, he looked up to her, but a few years later they seemed to be going through a phase.
She should’ve paid closer attention to the changes. Dani’s grades had dropped, but he hadn't suddenly become a monster. He had always remained her sweet boy, her baby.
“They’re teenagers,” Oscar would say, dismissing the subject.
It surprised her one day, when she came home and found her children fighting. As she walked upstairs, she heard Suzanne accuse Dani of cutting classes and hanging out with the wrong crowd. When she opened the door to Dani’s room, Suzanne paled and hid a plastic bag behind her back.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Dani looked at his sister with pleading eyes, but Suzanne handed her the bag. Dani's betrayed face brought tears to Suzanne's eyes.
“He’s been using drugs for over a year. It was just pot at the beginning,” Suzanne said, looking guilty.
She didn’t know if there was a right way for a mother to react to such news. She stared at the needles and bottles inside the bag. Before she knew it, she slapped Dani with an anger her children had never seen before.
"Mama!" Suzanne cried out.
Nadia looked at her son's hurt face and knew she would regret that moment until her dying day.

Dani in hell? Time passed. Minutes when she closed her eyes. Hours when she kept them open. Her husband was on his way, someone came in to tell her. He was going to pick up Suzanne from her dorm and bring her home.
My poor Suzanne. How will she take the news?
A lady she barely recognized woke her up to change her clothes. As the lady put a black dress over her head, a veil also seemed to drape over her body, over her entire being. Everything she experienced from then on she experienced through the black veil.
Suzanne, sobbing, put her arms around her, as if embracing her in slow motion. Her husband talked to her with tears in his eyes. He asked her questions. Was she supposed to know the answers?
They took her somewhere, she didn’t know where, she didn’t know what was expected of her.
“Can you walk?” someone asked her. “One step at a time,” she thought he said. “Here, I’ll hold on to you.”
They sat her on a chair. Suzanne sobbed on her right shoulder. Oscar held her left hand and looked forward, tears streamed down his face. She followed the direction of her husband’s stare. There he was. Dani, lying peacefully inside a dark coffin, his hands crossed over his chest. Her screams echoed inside the veil, and she was taken away.

Time. Time again. It kept moving, although the hands on the clock didn’t make sense to her anymore. Sometimes she lay in bed, sometimes she walked around. Sometimes there was light in the room and sometimes everything was dark. Only Dani’s image became clear when she closed her eyes. Dani in flames. Dani screaming her name. She had to help him. She had to get him out of there.
My rosary, where is it? Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners...
The pain inside her chest was also real, but the veil had become too heavy. Sometimes, the veil would cover her soul so entirely she could almost reach out her hand and touch Dani’s. He seemed so close those times, but no matter how close she could never completely grab his hand to pull him out.
“Mama,” she heard Suzanne say. “The doctor is here to see you.”
She recognized the doctor. He’d been visiting often.
“Have you thought about what I said last time?” he asked.
“I don’t remember,” she heard herself answer.
“Your blood pressure won’t go down. You need surgery. We talked about it before Dani died.”
“I couldn’t leave Dani.”
“It’s time now. If you wait any longer, it’s going to be too late.”
“Will I die?”
“Yes. There’s something clogging your arteries, and it’s weighing down on your heart. If you leave it unattended, you will die.”
If I recover, I will have a chance at a normal life again. I will attend Suzanne’s graduation. I will have to convince her to go back to school. I will be there when she gets married and has children. Oscar will retire and we will travel together, or stay home and help take care of our grandchildren. But will my life ever be the same? Could I recover from losing Dani?
Oh, Dani, why? “What did you give me?”
“What do you mean?” Dr. Martinez asked.
“The day Dani… when you came in, the day Dani…”
“Valium. I gave you a shot of valium.”
“Give me a prescription.”
“Nadia, the surgery.”
“Please, tell my daughter I love her. Take care of her for me. Oscar won't be strong enough.”

Time flew by. Days? Weeks? They went fast. She was again lying down. Suzanne sobbed on a chair, close to her. Oscar held Suzanne’s hand and stared into space.
“You hurt so much for him. You loved him more than anyone,” Suzanne said between sobs.
“It’s not that I loved him more,” she whispered in her daughter’s ear, wishing she could stroke her hair and ease her pain. “But right now, he needs me the most.”
The veil lifted from her soul. She arose from her coffin, and went in search of her son.
Now and at the hour of our death.

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