This is a short story I just recently created. It may not answer the questions on the challenge exactly, but I do feel it precisely answers the question that asks about leaving your mark and being remembered. So this is my entry in the DPchallenge.
The rain pelted the window on the east side of the hospital. Third floor. Room 412. Machines beeped and buzzed. A ventilator breathed in the background- a constant in and out, in and out. Perfectly in rhythm. The machine that read vital signs matched the rhythm with a steady beep, beep, beep. The room smelled of the typical hospital smell- clean. So clean you could smell it. It was early in the morning. The room was dark thanks to the storm outside.
The storm outside, though, was nothing compared to the storm inside his head. He lay there silent. Tubes connected every which way to his body that connected to machines. Machines that kept him hanging on. He was very sick and that’s about all he cared to know about his condition. He knew he was ever so close to the last breath he ever took, the last day he saw, and the last morning he woke. But this morning was not that one and he was thankful. He had more to tell her, more to tell them, more to tell everybody. His mind whirled a million miles a minute. Why isn’t she here yet? I need rolled over. I am hungry. I hate these sounds. I just want to talk. I want to write. I want to communicate. Where’s the typical nurse checkup every morning? I wish to be out in the rain. He loved storms- the rain, the smell, the air, the thunder, the lightning. He loved it all. But the main thing that stuck in his head and prodded his thoughts and attentions was his fear- How am I going to be remembered? Am I going to remembered?
It stung to think about. He hated the thought. That’s all he wished. He longed to make an impact somewhere. He longed to be held in a heart, held in a mind. And he deserved it, if any man did. He did everything to help anyone and everyone. As long as they were willing to earn what they needed, he’d give anything. He wouldn’t tell you that he loved you, because he assumed that it was known. And it was. It was felt by everyone around. Especially her.
She pushed open the sliding doors that opened his room to the rest of the intensive care unit and the rest of the hospital. She gently shut the doors back and strode over beside him. He put together all of his strength to turn his head toward her. She smiled, shed a tear, and put her hand in his. He squeezed her hand every once in awhile to let her know that she didn’t need to cry. But it didn’t help. Happy he was still here, mad at whatever was sucking the life out of him, saddened by the reality of it all, shocked by the rush of events, and impressed by the fight of the man. She was confused as to how she felt. But how was she supposed to feel?
“How are you feeling today?” she asked the man. Emotion filled her voice. The man in response forced as much of a smile as he could around the ventilator tubes. She let out a kind of weak giggle.
On the inside he was dying to explain his fear. He wanted her to understand. He wanted to get it off his chest. He wanted to speak. He had to. No matter how much it hurt.
“You… came a… little late… today,” every few words were cut off due to forced breaths from the ventilator.
She smiled again, “The parking lot was full this morning.” This explained why she was drenched as she would have had to run in the rain clear across massive parking lots. And that she did. “I’m sure you like this storming. I sure don’t.” She smiled as she remembered all the times he sat on the front porch just enjoying a storm.
She remembered a million good memories of the man. His laugh. How he would talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime and how he never failed to make that stranger smile. The way he would help somebody by making them work for what they needed. The way he sat in his recliner and played with his grandkids. The way he showed his love without having to say anything.
A nurse walked in through sliding doors and startled the woman. The nurse walked to the machines and checked on many different places where wires and tubes connected to the man’s body. The woman wanted to ask her a bunch of questions. How did everything look? Was he alright? But most of all- When would he get better? She constantly fought the wording of this question, leave off the when or not. Her optimism eventually got the best of her.
The woman decided against the questions. It may sadden the mood. It may dampen his mood. And it would kill her.
The nurse didn’t say a word. She finished her check of all the machines and vital signs and left as silently as she had entered.
The woman squeezed the man’s hand again. She wanted him to talk again. She wanted to make the most of the time that they had, as that time was limited by the ICU restrictions on visiting hours (which she did not approve of at all).
“The sheep are well at home. We worked them the other day,” she prodded at some sort of conversation.
“Too bad… I wasn’t there… to wrestle them…,” he needed an extra breath as the talking was cutting into his breathing. He finished, “for you.” He forced his tube-full smile.
“Yeah right!” she giggled again as more tears flowed down her cheeks. She loved hearing his sense of humor. He always had it- even in the worst of situations. But she knew all this talking was no good for him.
“I want… to tell you my…. biggest fear,” he struggled to force it out through the breathing mask.
“Is it heights?” she joked. He laughed his same jubilant, deep-bellied laugh, even against the strain of the mask.
“No,” his face straightened, “I just want…” Once again he needed a pause and a few breaths.
“Rest,” she said. “Relax and you can tell me later.”
And he didn’t fight it. He drifted off to sleep as she prayed, stayed, and waited.
After about an hour of rest, a nurse slipped in the door. She let the woman know that the visiting hours were over and that it was time for her to leave.
The woman wanted so bad to wake him, to talk to him, and to hear him again. But she eventually thought against it. After all, he needed his rest and she would see him tomorrow.
She kissed him on the forehead, whispered that she loved him in his ear, and slipped out of the door behind the nurse.
Her heart was heavy, her mind was stirring, and her body was weak from stress when she climbed in her car to return home for awhile until she could come back up to the hospital and visit again. She put her head in her hands and took a deep breath in. Out came tears. And she cried. And cried.
She threw her head back and took a deep breath. She forced herself to quit crying. As soon as she calmed herself down enough, she pulled out of the hospital parking lot and headed home.
As she drove, she reminisced. She remembered when they met. She remembered when they had their first kid and then their second. She remembered his smile. She remembered how much he cared for the well being of everybody around him. She remembered the way he wanted a successful community and how he did everything he could for that community. She remembered his laugh.
About halfway home, she looked down in the passenger’s seat. There sat a small piece of yellow paper. She picked it up, wondered how it got there, and opened it up. There in great big black letters read “Remember Me?”. It was an ad for a play at the local high school that was coming up soon. But she still didn’t know how the note got in the passenger’s seat.
When she got home, she put on the best “ok” face she could for the grandkids she had at the house. They all sat in the living room around the television.
“Would y’all like something to eat?” she wanted something to do anyway. To keep her mind off of things.
The kids all yelled in agreement. So she cooked. And that’s all she thought about for awhile.
Until she got that call. That call we all dread. She was slow to pick it up and it was as if time slowed to a stand still when she was on it. The kids saw it. They were just old enough to understand what was going on. They all shifted their attention to her. They saw her suck in air. They saw her let it out as if trying to stay calm. And she did a good job at that.
But it was still that call.
But she remembered in that moment all that was good about him. She remembered all the things he had done, all the things he stood for, all the things they shared together, and all of the people he loved. She remembered that note she found in the car.
And she remembered him.
When she hung the phone up, the kids stayed silent. But she knew that they wanted to know. So she walked over to them and knelt in front of them. She told them what had happened and they cried- her included. They all cried. Time moved on as they hugged and just sat numb.
Then, the youngest of the children whispered to all of them in the hug, “You know, I’ll never forget that man. I’ll never forget Grandpa.”
And she knew that he would always remembered. He would remain in the hearts that he had ever touched.
And she smiled.