For the second time that day, his cell phone rang with an unknown number. Annoyed, he answered. It was the hospital calling to say his son had been in a minor accident and had broken his arm.
Having arrived at St. John’s Medical Center, he stormed the information desk demanding to know where his son could be found. He gave his last name and after a frustratingly long wait, was handed a visitor’s pass and directions to the Critical Care Unit. Utterly confused by the ward assignment, but terrified, he ran through the corridors until he finally shoved his way through the CCU doors. Other than the sound of beeping monitors and a few muffled sobs coming from behind closed curtains, all was very hushed and quiet within. His son was sitting in a chair off to the side – cast on his right arm, eye blackened, head swathed in bandages. He rushed to the boy and hugged him until he heard a small gasp of pain. “Thank God you’re alright. What happened, bud? Why are you in CCU? Where’s your mother?”
“Mr. Seftling?” As he turned, he saw a large nurse standing behind him.
He rose to his feet and answered, “Yes, I’m Robert Seftling.”
“Please, sir, come with me. We need to speak in private,” her eyes shifted to the waiting child.
Glancing back at his son, he was confused. “I don’t understand.”
She looked at him with great sympathy in her eyes. “Sir, Robbie suffered a nasty fall, but he’ll mend in no time. Now please, step over here for a moment.” Without waiting for his approval, she firmly grasped his upper arm and guided him farther down the hall, out of the boy’s range of hearing.
“It’s regarding your wife. The hospital contacted her at 2:37 p.m. to report Robbie’s accident. I’m afraid that in her rush to get here, Mrs. Seftling suffered an accident of her own.” As a tear formed in the hardened nurse’s eye, he knew; she was gone. He looked back at his son, dropped his eyes to the floor and barely nodded. Clearing her throat, the nurse continued, “She was apparently traveling on Route 391 when her car careened off the road. It took the rescue crew over an hour to reach…”
Interrupting her, he simply said, “Please… stop.”
Pausing for a moment, she allowed the news to take root before placing a gentler hand upon his shoulder. For the first time in twenty-three years as a CCU nurse, she allowed the tears to come. She barely spoke above a whisper. “Someone has been waiting to speak with you.” She gestured with her head to a young man still partially dressed in a fireman’s uniform. The man got up and walked over while the nurse returned to her station.
Fumbling with the straps on his overalls, the young man began, “I… I was the last one to speak with your wife, sir. She asked me… she wanted me to… she was weak, but made me promise to give you a message.”
Robert wanted to reach out and choke the younger man, grab him, hug him, scream and yell his fury; his devastated rage. This man was his final link to his wife. Again, Robert nodded his head as his world collapsed in on him.
“She told me her name was June, said it was important that I repeat her name for you to understand. Even in the condition she was… well, even after what’d happened, she was calm, almost sweet, reminded me of my own… Anyway, she asked me to tell you she was sorry.” Looking uncomfortable, the young fireman shuffled from foot to foot. When it became obvious the other man wasn’t going to respond, there was nothing more to do but leave. He ruffled Robbie’s hair as he passed him and walked out the doors.
A brief smile flickered across Robert’s face; her name wasn’t June. It had been a running joke between them for years. Her name was Nan – just Nan, not Nancy or Anita or anything else Nan might have stood for, and she hated it. So he’d always called her June as a reminder of the month they’d met; his June-bug was saying goodbye.
Turning back, he walked to Robbie and gently grasped his left hand. “Come on, kiddo.”
The nurse began to approach him again, “Sir, there are some forms the hospital needs you to sign. We can’t release…”
He waved her off and managed to croak out, “We have no one else. I’ll come back tomorrow, if that’s alright?” He glanced down at his son.
With pinched lips and a smudge of mascara on her cheek, she placed the clipboard back on the counter top and mouthed, I’m so very sorry…
He knew there would be tear-filled goodbyes, paperwork to be handled, arrangement to be made; but not right now. Now he needed to take Robbie home and somehow make him understand his mommy wasn’t coming back.
(part two of two… yesterday, ‘H’, was part one)
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