Anniversary Night

August Cassens

 

His blue eyes meet mine suddenly as we laugh at our runny scrambled eggs and burnt
toast. I brush my hair back from my face and rub my tired eyes.

 

“What’s up, sweetheart?” I sigh, gazing at his curiously intense eyes. I want to look

away, but I can’t.

 

He just smiles, resting his hand on mine.

 

“I love you.”

 

“I know you do,” I say. I know he does. He’s said it five times already this morning.

 

His blonde hair lazily falls into his eyes as he gets up from the dining room table. Gently,

he runs his fingers through my hair, kissing me gently on the top of my head. I resist the urge to slink away, and instead I close my eyes, letting the warmth of his strong hands radiate into me. My mind flashes to the night before, lying together in bed. The same hands had tenderly traced my cheekbone, my collarbone, the curve of my hip. I had been staring into those same intense eyes, restlessly rubbing the corner of the pillowcase between my fingers.


“Have a great day,” he calls, and I’m met with reality again. Hector slips out the door, my eyes following the silhouette of his muscular figure to our driveway. I get up from the table and clear off our plates, catching a whiff of the roses that arrived on our kitchen table this morning.


“Happy Anniversary, Sophia. Another year better,” reads the card nestled in the bouquet. The roses are perfect, each petal curving and flowing seamlessly together to create a work of art, a blood-red ball balancing precariously atop its thorny stem. I touch the velvet petals, ripping two of them out. I tear them into tiny pieces, making a pile of shreds on my breakfast plate.

 

----

 

I sit silently at the table, working over a few bills due and sip on a glass of wine. It was a long day at work, with endless phone class, a meeting with the boss, and at least two breakdowns from the interns not knowing what to do. I had barely given any thought to our anniversary dinner tonight, until Hector sent me a text: “Hey Soph. I made reservations for 7 tonight. I’ll see you after work. Love you.” It is five o’clock now, so he should be home any minute.


My phone starts buzzing, and I glance over to it, expecting a “honey, I’m almost home” call from Hector, but my eyes widen when I see the name flashing.


“You know you’re not supposed to call right now. He’s almost home!” I whisper into the phone. My eyes dart out to the driveway, watching for Hector’s car.


“I know, baby, but I just miss you so much.”


I slump into my hands, picking at the label of the wine bottle. “Perry, it’s our anniversary tonight. We’re going out to dinner. I can’t talk tonight. I’m sorry.”


“Can we see each other tomorrow? Please? I really miss you. C’mon.”

 

“Hector has a golf outing during the day tomorrow, so fine. I’ll be there around one.”

 

“When is it just going to be me and you, baby? When are we going to have our anniversary?” he replies, the static from the phone making his voice crackly and disjointed.

 

Perry’s dark hair and rugged face comes to mind, and I remember the last time I saw him. We were drinking beers together, watching a movie. There was no fuss, no thousands of hugs and kisses and I-love-yous. Just hanging out. Simple.


“I know, I know. I want that too, but it’s not that easy, Perry. I have to go. Please don’t call again tonight.”

 

I finish my bills, put away the wine, and start a load of laundry. Hector still isn’t home, so I turn on the TV. There’s nothing on TV, so I pull out a book and start to read. I keep reading the same sentence over and over, so I close my book. Picking at my nails is about the only thing I can concentrate on. Hector isn’t home yet, and it’s nearly six. I try calling his phone, but his voicemail picks up. I sit on the couch, staring out to the driveway, biting my nails down to the quick. Once they start to bleed, I give up, eyeing the roses again on the table. My ears are desperate for the familiar crunch of gravel of his car pulling in to the driveway. I wait, and wait, and wait. My eyes begin to droop, and my head falls to the couch cushion, my fingers still wrapped around my phone.

 

---


I wake to the sound of the house phone ringing. The house phone never rings. My neck is
stiff and my leg is asleep as I hobble over to the phone.

 

“Hello?” I groggily ask the receiver.

 

“Is this Sophia Griffin?” a curt voice replies.

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“Mrs. Griffin, this is the chief of Henry County Police. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. There’s been an accident with your husband. He was rear-ended by a car as he was waiting to turn. Paramedics reached the scene shortly after, and your husband was immediately taken to the emergency room at Carmichael. He is unconscious now, and the extent of his injuries is not yet known. I’m so sorry.”

 

“I... I, oh my God,” I say. My voice is trembling. I can barely hold the phone in my hands.

 

“I can come escort you to the hospital now, if you’d like.”

 

“Okay... Alright.”

I crumble like a coat to the floor. I can feel my throat closing up, my eyes burning, my hands going numb. No, this can’t be happening. I have a wild idea to pinch my arm because this must be a dream. I pinch it once, and again, and again, and again, willing, pushing, pleading for this reality to go away. My arm turns red, and I can see a bruise forming. Sobbing takes over me until I can barely breathe.

 

---


I am at the hospital. The walls are screaming white, the floor an ugly, muddy brown.
Room 309. That’s where Hector is, my blue-eyed husband of five years, my high school sweetheart. I stare at the metal numbers hung on the door. The nine is crooked. I must tell a nurse to fix this, immediately.

 

I push open the door, and for a moment, I can’t move forward. There are so many tubes, so many machines, so many needles stuck into him. There must be a shortage of oxygen; my lungs feel tight and I can’t get enough air.

 

His face is bruised, cut, and scraped—the doctors said the windshield shattered and cut him up. But other than that, he looks like the Hector that left this morning, the Hector that shared breakfast with me. It’s in his brain, the doctors said. The impact sent his head to the door, and now it’s swelling. Swelling a lot.


I touch my fingers to his forehead and brush back his blonde hair. “Hector, I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I’m so sorry,” I whisper. “How could this have happened?” I lose control of my body, flopping onto the nearby chair, my hands shaking and my tears falling like hurricane rain, violent and never-ending.


The doctor comes in and I wipe at my swollen, red eyes.

“Sophia, his MRI came back just now. His scans... they show significant brain damage and swelling. He’s going to have to go on life support soon. His brain is no longer capable of supporting his vitals. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Oh God,” I cry. “Oh my God.”

 

“I know this is extremely hard news, Mrs. Griffin. Have you contacted your family?”

 

“Yes, they’re on their way now,” I chokingly reply.

 

He leaves, and I’m ushered out of the room by a team of nurses who tell me they are here to set up the life support now. I’m numb, blindly walking out into the hallway, the bright lights too much for my tired eyes.


I sit in the waiting room until a handful of family arrives. His mom and dad, his younger brother, one of his aunts. I give them all hugs, see my tears and exhaustion mirrored in their worried faces. I can’t sit by them though. I sit across the room, staring at the diamond pattern on the carpet, unable to meet their eyes. I keep rearranging the magazines on the table beside me. My hands won’t sit still.


My mother-in-law comes over and sits in the chair beside me. Her face is puffy and blotchy.

 

"Honey, this is really hard for all of us. Are you doing okay?"

 

I look at her watery blue eyes in response. Hector’s eyes.

 

“The doctors just came to talk to us. They say he’s not going to get better. There’s too much swelling... his brain is never going to be normal again,” she chokes. I’m crying again.

 

“What are we going to do?” My brain refuses to process anything. She has to be my mom now, too.


“He’s on life support, and at best he’ll be a non-responsive and completely paralyzed for the rest of his life. You know he was a big believer in organ donation, so we think the best decision here is to be able to help other people.”


Hector, always so selfless, always giving himself so fully and completely to others. To me. Always, to me.


Tears start to fall down his mother’s cheeks. “We’re going to go say our goodbyes now. You can go last. Okay?” she says.


I nod, faced with this impossible, terrifying task.


His parents and family disappear, holding each other tightly. I wait, aching inside, having little clue about what your last words are supposed to be to your husband. After his family shuffles back in, I get up, and all-too-quickly find myself outside 309. With that crooked nine. Fuck that nine. I want to rip it off the wall. I want the door of the room where my husband is going to die to be perfect.


I walk up to Hector. He looks calm, his eyes closed, his breathing forced and mechanical. I pick up his hand; it’s cold and limp, and I hate that he’s not squeezing back. My heart is beating so fast, my lips are icy, and my palms start sweating. Nothing in life prepares you for this.

 

“Hector, I’m so sorry.” I say. “Sweetheart, you don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve any of this. You are so caring and so sweet. You gave everything to me, your whole heart. I knew I could always trust you, and you always trusted me. And that breaks my heart. I don’t deserve your love, your life. Your life,” I choke. “Your life that you don’t get anymore! You did nothing wrong, and now you get this. You don’t deserve this,” I say, gesturing to the horrible machine, the screaming white room. “I deserve this! I DO!” I’m heaving now, my sobs loud and ugly.

His eyes. His intensely blue, pure eyes. I can’t see them, and I want to see them. I want to see them so badly, so he knows. I want him to know how sorry I am, but somewhere in my gut I know he’ll never know, that my Hector is never coming back to me.

 

“Happy anniversary, sweetheart. I love you. I do. I promise you, I do."

 

---

 

I wake up to the sunlight streaming into the window. I breathe in the smell of home, the faint scent of Hector’s soap in the sheets, and I stretch out my arms to Hector’s side and am met with his cold pillow.

 

And then it all comes back.

 

The silent, painful circle around Hector as they took him off life support. The surreal sight of his lungs collapsing for the last time. The car ride back, my unseeing eyes guiding me to the only comfort I could think of: the bed... our bed.


I look at the clock. 1:38 p.m. I have no idea what to do next.


Suddenly, my phone starts buzzing at me on the bedside table. I look at the name. My stomach turns.


“Perry, this is not a good time.”

 

“Baby, where are you? You said one! You’re thirty-eight goddamn minutes late! Where the hell are you?”

 

I pull the sheets over my head. “Perry, something awful happened. Hector was in an accident... a really bad accident.”

 

“What, is he dead or something?”

 

I squeeze me eyes shut, biting my lip so hard it starts to bleed. “I can’t talk to you, Perry. We can’t talk anymore. Please don’t call me, ever again.”

“Baby, no! Hey, I’m really sorry about whatever happened, but think about what this means! We could be together now, just like I said! Just you and me. Listen, I’ll come over—”


I hang up the phone. I throw it across the room, and step out of bed. Exhaustion seeps into my bones, but I walk to the kitchen and see the roses on the table. I yank the bundle out from the vase, the water dripping all over the tablecloth. I start pulling off the flowers from their thorny stem, crushing the petals in my hand. I am screaming so loud that my throat starts to burn. I keep crushing and tearing, destroying their beauty, their perfection. I’m not satisfied until the blood-red juice seeps out of my fingers and flows down my clenched arm.

 

 

 

 

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