I O U

Excerpt from the chapter "I O U."

Dave was happy to see me, as he was every time I showed up at the hospital. He was unfazed by the doctors’ MRI findings.

For the first time, the nurse suggested we sit in Dave’s room. Normally, visitors were forbidden in patients’ rooms.

“Dave’s case has changed,” the nurse quietly explained. “We’re not sure he belongs here anymore. You two can have some privacy.”

Dave lay on his bed with his clothes and shoes on. I pulled a chair up to the side of his bed, and he reached out to hold my hands. We sat and stared at each other.

“Something’s wrong with your brain, ya know?” I said gently.

He nodded gravely and rolled his eyes with a shrug. Dave’s body language and facial expressions had always been so meaningful. He could communicate volumes with a raised eyebrow. Since he was speaking less, these supplemental gestures were substituting for words more and more. It was amazing how well I understood what he meant by these telling looks and movements.

“Now we know why you’ve been acting so weird. Once they figure out exactly what’s wrong, they can figure out a way to fix it,” I tried reassuring us both.

Dave nodded in agreement, also trying to reassure us both.

***

The small consolation to the news that Dave was a seriously ill man being held captive in a sad, dreary place was that he’d be allowed to go outside.

After the meeting, Dave went outside for the first time in a month. He squinted dramatically as we stepped from the dim building into the bright spring day. We crossed the parking lot and headed to a picnic table in the adjacent park.

Dave didn’t sit for long. He was anxious.

“Let’s go,” he said and nodded to my car.

“We can’t, Dave. You’re stuck here for a few more days,” I sighed. Our helplessness was discouraging; I wanted Dave to be free. Yet part of me was grateful to have time to myself before sick Dave would become my charge.

Dave wandered around the park, taking a kind of inventory of the objects there. He picked up sticks and rocks, examining each with careful curiosity. He ran his hands over the wooden seat and iron armrests of a park bench. He slapped trees, testing their strength. I followed him and touched each tree after he did. I was comforted by earth energy and the trees’ unflinching stability.

After some wandering, Dave beelined for a tree stump. There was fresh sawdust on the stump and a strong wood smell. The once-massive tree had been cut down very recently. Dave patted the smooth top of the stump and collected a handful of the sawdust. He smelled the dust before sprinkling it on the grassy ground.

I stepped onto the beckoning stump, feeling grounded and secure. Dave stared up at me with a half-smile. I held my hand out to him, and he climbed up with me. It felt rejuvenating to hold my love under the sun.

After Dave stepped back to the ground, I stayed on the tree platform with my eyes closed and chin raised. I felt raw: fearful, confused, and out-of-control, but very alive and present. That moment of awareness was prayerful.

I opened my eyes and looked down. There, amidst the sawdust, I saw an intricately patterned woodchip.

I bent to pick up the piece of wood. As I held it in my hand to look closer at the pattern, I saw the letters: I O U.

I looked closer. The grain of the wood indisputably spelled out “I O U.” My heart swelled and tears rose in my eyes. It was a clear message from the universe, from God. It was a cosmic nod. It was the reassurance I needed to know I was doing the right thing. No matter the fear and pain, I was doing the exact right thing at the exact right time.

I felt the universe saying, “You may be losing everything right now, but there will be a reward.”

I’d lived through darkness and loss. I’d seen light after what felt like total devastation. I knew everything I’d lived through to that point made me who I was: a strong survivor. I knew, just as shitty things happened, good things happened too. I knew the brightest light comes after the darkest dark.