“I’m not ready for you to go,” I whisper against our hands. Her hand rests cold and limp in mine, her body unmoving. Charlotte hasn’t responded to my touch since yesterday afternoon. “I don’t think I can say goodbye.”
Not a word. Just the harsh sounds of her lungs begging for air.
I thought we’d have our whole lives together. Turns out fate had other plans.
All I want is another five minutes. That isn’t asking for too much, is it? To hear her voice one last time. Catch one final glimpse of her sparkling green irises. Tell her I love you and that I will never forget her.
I could never forget her.
The fluorescent light above her bed hums, the only light illuminating the room flickering as often as my heart skips. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and concentrate on matching my rhythm to the one on Charlotte’s monitor.
Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Tha-thump.
Over the last week, I have memorized the rhythm of her heart. Although the sound is mechanical, hearing that constant beat has kept me alive as well. I lay my head beside our hands, my eyes heavy. I haven’t slept in days, wanting to be alert if Charlotte wakes.
Just as I’m drifting off, a blaring alarm fills the room. On the monitor, her vitals scream and my heart stops. I forget how to breathe.
A flat, red line scrolls across the screen, a red zero flashing beside it.
No. Please don’t let this be happening. “I need help in here!”
Within seconds, nurses and doctors flood the room. A bulky machine is wheeled in behind them. A chill spreads from head to toe and I freeze next to Charlotte.
“Sweetie, you need to step aside. Let the doctors help her.” But it takes me too long to absorb the command before the kindly nurse is shoving me out of the way.
The calm quiet from ten minutes ago is gone. Organized chaos takes its place.
The oxygen tube is yanked from Charlotte’s nose and replaced with a silicone mask attached to an air pump in the nurse’s hand. She squeezes the bulbous bag, forcing oxygen into her lungs.
Each time Charlotte’s chest rises and falls, my heart beats more sluggishly, my palms damp and clammy. The monitor continues screaming in the background, one of the doctors watching the flat line while performing chest compressions, asking one of the nurses to silence the alarm.
After a minute, the doctor removes her hands and my chest hollows out. Has she given up? So soon?
My questions are answered when a nurse takes a pair of surgical scissors to the front of Charlotte’s gown, cutting the flimsy material down her midline and exposing her torso. As soon as the frigid hospital air hits her bare chest, the doctor slaps two large adhesive pads into place. Gooseflesh prickles my limbs and my body convulses.
In the few seconds needed to charge the defibrillator, I age eighty years.
“Clear!” the doctor bellows.
Every person aiding in her care raises their hands, taking a half step from the bed. The doctor presses a button, and I suck in a breath as Charlotte’s body jolts upward from the sterile sheets of the hospital bed. Every pair of eyes is glued to the monitor, mine included, waiting for a response.
If there is a god in the universe, please don’t let this happen to Charlotte. I beg you.
The flat line on the monitor is unchanged. I pinch my eyes tight and repeat my previous prayer.
“Charging…” a nurse says, her calm demeanor shredding my sanity.
The nurse with the air resuscitation bag returns the silicone triangle to Charlotte’s face, pumping the bag to a rhythm in her head, a steady flow of oxygen pouring into Charlotte’s incapable lungs. I shuffle to my left, stepping out of the path of the hospital staff to get a better vantage point of Charlotte’s pale body.
Charlotte’s body bows off the bed again, and her hollowness resonates in my chest. The voltage does nothing to restart her heart, the muted heart monitor remains unchanged. The nurse at the head of the bed forces more oxygen into her chest before the defibrillator fully recharges for another round.
Everyone steps back, the image of the room blurring behind the haze of tears filling my eyes. Come on, Charlotte. Fight! For you. For us. Fight!
The pounding of footsteps and tear-filled screams enter the room, Charlotte’s mother running to my side. Sobs wrack her frame as she squeezes my hand tight. I want to console her, but then who will do that for me?
Another charge from the defibrillator pierces Charlotte’s flesh and runs to her heart.
But there’s nothing.
After multiple attempts to resuscitate her, the team pauses, exchanging glances, an unspoken agreement passing through the room. Removing the adhesive pads from her chest and setting them on the cart, a doctor closes the front of Charlotte’s gown, looks up at the clock over the doorframe and calls out the official time of death.
Charlotte’s mom falls to the floor beside me, clutching her stomach and dropping her head to the sterile, bleach-scented linoleum. Her loud cries echo out of the room and fill the entire floor of the hospital.
My feet have turned to stone—heavy and incapable of moving. My chest is a forest fire, the burn spreading from my heart into my lungs. My vision fogs, the room disappearing.
My world has stopped moving. Life transitions from living to existing.
Because I don’t want this life if she isn’t a part of it. It will always be her. Only her.
As my vision clears, my mind slips into a newfound numbness. One that feels as silent and permanent as the heart monitor’s flat red line.
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