by Stephanie Hedgespeth
“Hold on, hold on, hold on, she’s coming to,” a male voice insisted, the sound of his words echoing oddly in my ears as if I were underwater. What is going on? Bubbles of memory flickered in and out of my mind but as soon as I reached out to grasp them, they were gone.
“Ma’am, can you hear me? Ma’am?” the voice erupted into my awareness, pulling me out of my dizzying reverie. Shakily, I tried to open my eyes, and suddenly there was an overabundance of colors, bright fluorescent lights lining the room, a young man’s face half an arm’s length away from mine, and I became aware of a faint ringing sound.
Whee-yoo, whee-yoo, whee-yoo, my mind discerned the faint ringing to be the sound of a blaring siren. The man, dressed in a light blue polo shirt covered in badges, spoke once again, his tone direct.
“Ma’am, I need you to listen to me. Stay awake, okay? Try to focus on my face, okay? Can you do that for me? Everything is going to be okay, just try your best to keep your eyes open and stay calm,” he said, his face filling with concern. Attempting to respond, I swallowed, and opened my mouth to speak but as I was beginning to form some kind of collected response, the side of my tongue brushed the inner lining of my teeth and I was jarred by a moment of pain.
The kind-looking EMT, as his most prominent badge proclaimed, winced sympathetically, and shook his head. As my vision began to come into clearer focus, the EMT’s face became incredibly familiar. Nate Tillman! This man, albeit clearly an older version, had almost identical features to one of my classmates, one of my favorite people I’d ever met in high school. A sense of ease and comfort rolled over me to soothe my overwhelming sense of fear and confusion. Suddenly, my brain became tired, and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. Involuntarily, I began to close my eyes.
“Steph, Momma’s right here, honey,” my mother’s warm voice cut through the confusion and overwhelming chaos of my surroundings. “Please try to keep your eyes open, honey. I’m right here.” With effort, I opened my eyes, slowly drifting from the kind Nate-lookalike’s face to a woman standing over my left side, holding onto my arm.
“Mom?” I rasped, the sides of my swollen tongue grating against the sides of my teeth. I felt my breathing become more regular, and I looked back toward the EMT, trying to figure out what was going on. Looking downward, my head spun as I glimpsed the IV needle sticking into a vein in the crevice of my arm, and the details of the room itself. Which wasn’t a room at all. I was in an ambulance, judging from the flashing red and blue lights I could see through the window slit between us and the vehicle’s driver. My breathing became less controlled, and dizziness swept through me. Flickers of the morning danced through my mind, more concrete than before, yet not enough for me to actually be able to comprehend them.
“Steph.” My mother spoke once again, softly. I turned my head slightly, just enough to catch a glimpse of her warm brown eyes filling with concern. As I clung to her familiar gaze, I watched her eyebrows begin to furrow in worry, my vision blurring. Then my world went black.
. . . . .
Two hours earlier, I had groggily rolled out of bed, just as I did every other morning to prepare for yet another day of high school. My mom had just left the room, having come in to wake me up on three separate occasions already, and this time she’d flipped on my ceiling light, signaling the inevitable. Today, I really had no choice but to wake up and face the day, because I’d been selected as one of the top three students in my APS class to take a field trip to a conference at Bradley University as well as to take a tour of the downtown Peoria courthouse. This required some actual “getting ready” on my part, which took a much more substantial amount of time than my regular three flicks of mascara, t-shirt, and quick brush through my hair look.
Accepting the fact that I had procrastinated long enough that I would have no time to actually sit down and eat breakfast, I quickly slid into the maroon dress I’d chosen for the trip and scuffled down the stairs to my basement, skipping the last step. This was an odd ritual I’d picked up somewhere around the seventh grade, but it had become a habit that I was content to keep.
As I made my way across the worn carpet of my childhood playroom to my designated makeup desk, a wave of dizziness and light nausea slid through my body. Doing my best to shake it off, I settled into the desk chair and reached for my makeup bag. Woah. My right temple began to pound, and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of overall disconcertion. Chills ran down my spine, and I shivered instinctively from discomfort. Oh no, God, please not now.
Without warning, I was bombarded by a dream. I was dreaming, but I was awake. It was the most overwhelming sense of déjà vu I’d ever felt in my life. The things that I was feeling, the events that I was witnessing, they brought a sense of familiarity with them as if I were sleepwalking through a dream that I had already experienced before. It was as if I were remembering a dream that I’d had the night before, but I’d never actually dreamt it at all. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Over the past few months, I’d experienced these moments of déjà vu, and out of nowhere, I was suddenly jolted into a memory from some kind of sense, a smell, a word, even a face. Without warning, I’d be in a haze. Regardless of what was happening right in front of me, I couldn’t focus on it, because I was too caught up in the waking nightmare in my mind. Reality ceased to exist, and the entirety of my awareness was déjà vu. Not hallucination—just an overwhelming feeling of confusion intermixed with flickers of memory. Except, they weren’t actually my memories. Each time that this happened, I had come slowly out of the daze, and after a few minutes of disorientation, I would return to a “normal” state. It was weird, but I didn’t want to worry anyone, especially not my parents.
My breathing was unsteady, and a coppery taste filled my mouth. The pounding in my brain intensified, and if I were to have been standing rather than in my perch at my makeup desk, I would have had to sit down for fear of falling. An all-encompassing dizziness surrounded me, and my vision dimmed erratically until I saw nothing but blackness and flickers of light, like what you’d see after staring into the sun for a few moments too long.
As I returned back to reality, I realized that my hands were gripping the desk with such force that all of the blood in my hands had escaped elsewhere, leaving my fingers and thumbs a sickening shade of off-white. Releasing the desk, I took a deep, steadying breath, trying to recollect myself and reset my mind. The dream-like state had drifted away, but the pounding headache was unrelenting, as was the dizziness.
Every other time I’d experienced this kind of dream-like fogginess, I’d quickly returned to normal shortly after. Yet, as I sat in front of my make-up desk trying to recollect my thoughts, I found that my brain still felt hazy, and the pain in my temple was persistent. Something was wrong. Something was different. Moments like these were usually scary, but I’d always been able to brush them off as I returned to normal. Something was seriously wrong.
I continued breathing deeply, trying to convince myself not to panic. Realizing that this plan had already been shot to hell, I shakily grabbed my phone, typed in my four-digit passcode, and began dialing my mother’s number, as she was getting ready upstairs.
“Mom? I—I don’t feel so good. Mom, I don’t know if I—Mom, can you come down here please?” I desperately tried to form cohesive ideas, but the more I tried, the less I made sense, and the more I began to panic.
I heard quick footfalls as my mother ran down the steps, and I set the phone down on the desk, the pounding in my mind intensifying.
“Steph, what’s going on?” She reached me, her eyes wide with concern and confusion. I felt myself crumple in relief and fear as my mom came rushing to my aid. Shakily, I reached toward her.
“Mom,” I said, my voice becoming weaker as my pain grew stronger. “Mom, have I told you about my dream-things? I don’t, I don’t really know how to describe them. I had another one. It’s like remembering a dream while I’m awake and then all of a sudden I feel weird and my head just hurts so bad and I just, I don’t feel good, Mom… I don’t know what’s happening to me. I—I told Carrie and Luke the other times it happened because I didn’t want you to worry, but this time was worse… I didn’t think it was a big deal, but—”
She cut me off. “Shhhh, Steph. Breathe, honey. Let’s take you upstairs, okay? I’m going to give Mr. Roth a call and tell him that you’re not going to be able to make it for the trip today, okay?”
Mom helped me make my way up the blue carpeted stairs to lie down on the couch in our computer room. Groggily, I heard her begin talking quietly on the phone, and I felt a twinge of shame for missing the trip. I’d already gotten dressed. If I would have told them earlier that I couldn’t go, someone else could have gone on the trip. I was taking someone’s spot on the trip and I wasn’t even going to be able to go. I’d actually been excited to go on this trip, and I had been so happy to see that I was one of the top three students in my class. I couldn’t just miss it. Maybe I’m just being a wimp. Just then, another rush of pain hit me, and the pounding in my brain once again intensified. I whimpered without meaning to, and the last thing I remember is my mother’s face as she hung up the phone and came toward me. Then, my world went black.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last.
. . . . .
White light. I opened my eyes slowly, escaping the comfort of the dark, to be bombarded by an overabundance of stark white light. Taking in my surroundings, I looked up to see that I was in a small hospital room, accompanied by my mother and now my father, but the kind EMT was no longer there. Along with my parents, a young nurse was in the room, and her eyes softened as she realized that I was awake.
“Hi, Stephanie,” the nurse said softly, the corners of her mouth dimpling as she smiled at me kindly. “You’re in a patient care room at Methodist Medical Center, and your parents are right here with us. Are you experiencing any pain currently?”
With relief, I noticed that the frenzied pounding in my temple had finally ceased, and as my eyes focused on the nurse’s face, I realized my sensitivity to light had also improved. I turned slightly to take in my parent’s worried faces from where they hovered anxiously on the left side of my bed.
“No…Um, I’m sorry, what happened? What is going on with me?” The ridged sides of my tongue ached as I finished, and speaking took some effort. As confused and anxious as I felt, I could barely bring myself to focus on anything other than my all-encompassing exhaustion and the dull ache of my muscles.
My young nurse, Melinda, pursed her lips for a moment, her eyes crinkling with sympathy, and she said, “Well, Stephanie, you gave your mother quite a scare this morning. Once your ambulance arrived, you were given fluids and monitored in the Emergency Room. Once your status had been confirmed to be stable, we rolled you down here so that we could get to the bottom of this.”
A lot of information was being thrown at me, but none of the information answered the questions that I needed answered the most. Deciding to trust the nurse’s discretion to not overwhelm me right away, I bit my tongue. Not literally. Because as I’d already figured out, that really freakin’ hurt. Even if that was the only thing that I’d figured out so far.
Melinda could see my confusion apparently, because after sharing a quick glance with my mother, she nodded and took a quick breath.
“Stephanie, this morning after your mother brought you upstairs, you lost consciousness and began to seize. Your mom took great care of you; she called 9-1-1 immediately, and an ambulance brought you here. We’ve been giving you constant fluids through your IV and have been monitoring you since your arrival, but we are going to need to keep you overnight in order to get enough information to tell exactly what caused your incident this morning. Your muscles are probably aching from the seizure that you experienced this morning, and the sides of your tongue may also be sore as a side effect of the seizure as well. Some seizure patients bite down on the sides of their tongues without realizing during the seizure itself, but the pain will wear off soon. We are going to take care of you as best we can, don’t worry. You’re in good hands now. Do you understand?”
As she spoke, I found my mind spinning as I tried to comprehend the meaning behind her words. I had a seizure? How is that possible? This has to be because of my dream-things, but there’s no way to say that without seeming like I’m nuts, because obviously “dream-things” is not a medical term. I can’t believe Mom had to go through that. With these thoughts twisting and turning in my head, I nodded slowly, trying to convince myself I understood.
It was sick, actually. A twisted part of me had always wondered what it would be like if something “bad” happened to me. Would it make my friends and family appreciate me more? What would it be like to have so many people concerned for me? Yet, in this moment, all I wanted was to be able to take that look of worry and concern off of my parents’ faces and to be out of this hospital bed, for my mother to have never had to dial the ambulance, for my freaking tongue to resume to its normal state again.
. . . . .
This was the second-to-last dress rehearsal before the opening night of my senior year Madrigal dinner. The prospect of my time in Madrigals steadily coming to an end filled me with nostalgia and sadness, but I forced myself to instead focus on the excitement of the week to come. Held at Rockdale Community High School every schoolyear during the second week of December, Madrigals was a tradition that meant the world to me.
We’d gone over our pieces time and time again. Every note and word was memorized, the singers and characters all knew our hand gestures and staged reactions like the back of our hands, the cafeteria was lined in evergreens, and the “Great Hall” was fully decorated. Now, it was simply time for the final finishing touches.
Sitting on the dais, I turned to watch the jugglers acting out the story that Ryan, our storyteller, was telling. I’d heard the story close to a hundred times, but I forced myself to listen in-character, smiling and laughing as if it were my first encounter with this daring tale.
From his seat directly to my right, my boyfriend and Madrigal partner, Luke, cracked a joke under his breath, only loud enough for me to hear. Laughing, I joined the other singers and performers in a round of applause as Ryan bowed after his storytelling. As the applause died down, a chill ran through my body. Clenching my jaw, I tried to shake it off, plastering a smile on my face as our rehearsal continued on. As I watched the other actors and singers, I began to feel slow, always a moment behind the others’ reactions. We began to sing one of our traditional carols, but the more I tried to invest myself in the piece, the more my head just felt fuzzy. My face felt frozen, blank, and the more that I tried to commit to the performance, the faster my thoughts drifted out of my reach.
Shit, shit, shit. With a start, I realized what was going on. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel good at all. I stopped singing, hoping that if I took more time to just breathe, some of that oxygen would reach my brain and it would alleviate the uncertainty in my mind.
Without warning, my right temple began to pound. I hadn’t felt this way since that day. What is going on? I tried my best to focus back into the performance; without realizing, I had completely zoned out, and the carol was over. From her seat in the front row of the cafeteria tables, our director, Ms. Portman was watching me, eyebrows furrowed in concern. As confusion and desperation filled me, I shakily reached over and put my hand on Luke’s knee.
Abruptly, his head swiveled from the discussion he’d been having, his eyebrow raised in confusion. After seeing the expression on my face, his eyes widened.
“What’s wrong, Steph?” he asked, urgently but lightly, as the other singers had not yet realized that anything was wrong.
“Luke, I don’t feel good,” I replied, in little more than a whimper. Before I had time to formulate anything else, Luke stood, motioning to Ms. Portman.
“Steph, let’s get you up, okay? We’re just gonna have you lie down for a bit, okay? Shhh, babe, it’s okay. You’re okay. Breathe,” he soothed. I hadn’t realized that my breathing had become strained, and the pounding in my head intensified. I focused on my breathing, but my brain didn’t seem to be effected by my elaborate effort. I couldn’t think straight. Thoughts flitted through my head, one after another, all senseless.
Dizzily, I felt myself being helped out of my chair, and with the aid of Luke, I walked slowly from the dais down the stairs to sit with Ms Portman.
“Steph, are you okay? Steph, what’s going on?” she asked, clearly panicked, but trying to keep her cool. She pressed a cold washcloth to my head. One of the other singers must have run to wet it for her.
“I—I’m fine, I’m okay, I just think I need some water,” I stammered, my words falling out of my mouth gracelessly.
“You need some water? I can get it for you,” she said, her arm around my shoulder. Looking up into her face, I blinked, trying to cut through the dizziness to focus.
“I—I’m okay, I can get it myself from the kitchen…I’ll be right back,” I said, shakily raising to stand. I didn’t want to be an inconvenience. Madrigals was in like, two days. I couldn’t. I smiled at her, summoning the most emotion I could find to ease her concern.
“Steph, no, I’m gonna come with you, just to be safe,” Ms. Portman insisted, putting her arm around my back and walking me back into the kitchen. We rounded the corner by the ovens, and without warning, I felt myself lose my balance. I grabbed for the handle of the oven, and felt the cold steel slip through my fingers. Just before I hit the ground, everything went black.
. . . . .
What the hell is going on? I turned in confusion and concern as Luke and Portman took Steph off the dais. Something was clearly wrong. She was shaking, and as she passed my chair, I caught a glimpse of her face. Blank. Her eyes were glassy, almost, and her face was devoid of any perceivable emotion. As Ms. Portman and Stephanie continued down off the dais, Luke stood on the edge of the dais, watching them, his jaw clenched and his face tense.
Something sunk in my stomach as I watched Ms. Portman guide Stephanie over to the wall, almost completely supporting her weight. After a few moments, I saw Stephanie break away from Ms. Portman, shakily walking through the corridor leading to the kitchen. Ms. Portman immediately followed her.
I turned to look toward the other singers on the dais, who were discussing call times for the following rehearsal and show nights. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked up to see Luke, who had moved where he’d stood on the edge of the dais.
“What’s going on with Ste-” I began, but was cut off when a large crash came from the kitchen.
“Somebody call 9-1-1!” Ms. Portman screamed. Chaos erupted. Too many things were happening at once. Without a word, Luke and I immediately ran off of the dais toward the kitchen, along with every other person in the room.
I reached the kitchen just after Luke, and I saw that Lindsay and Will had already reached the scene first. Someone had handed Lindsay a cell phone, telling her to call 9-1-1, but it was clear she was in no state to do so—once I ran in, Lindsay handed the phone to me, tears streaming down her face. Breathing deeply, I did my best to keep my calm and I put the already dialing phone up to my ear.
“Hello, 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” a female voice responded.
“Hi, um, we’re at Rockdale High School, my friend collapsed. Her name is Stephanie Hedgespeth, she’s 17 years old. We’re here at a Madrigal practice, and she’s, she’s seizing. She collapsed and now she’s seizing. She needs help, please, please help,” I spoke, the words rushing out of my mouth breathlessly.
“Okay, keep calm, call us back if she stops breathing, okay?” She hung up.
What the hell?!? My mind was spinning. Just as she hung up on me, I heard three words that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
“SHE’S NOT BREATHING!” someone shrieked.
WHAT THE HELL?!? With shaking hands, I redialed 9-1-1, and after a few long seconds, the woman’s voice once again greeted me. I cut her off.
“Hi, hello, you told me to call you again if she stopped breathing. Well, she stopped breathing!” I exclaimed, annoyance clear in my voice.
“Okay, ma’am. Help is on the way. Can you please describe for me what is currently happening?” her voice soft but urgent.
I realized that in my rush to reach 9-1-1, I hadn’t even seen Stephanie yet. I whirled around, just in time to see Lindsay coming toward me, eyes smeared with tears and mascara. Behind her, Stephanie was convulsing on the ground. I lost it. My throat tightened, and my eyes burnt as tears rose to the surface.
“Hello, ma’am? Ma’am?” the operator’s voice rang out from the phone, but my hand holding the phone had already slipped from my ear. Someone, Luke, I think, took the phone out of my hand and began speaking to the operator, but I couldn’t think. I couldn’t look away from the sight of my best friend convulsing on the kitchen floor. I put my face in my hands, and as I did, realized that it was wet with tears.
. . . . .
My last first night of the Madrigal dinner had begun. After a rocky week of being unsure whether or not I would be able to perform at the dinner in any capacity at all, my first night had been going incredibly smoothly. I’d successfully made it through the entrance into the “Great Hall,” the dance portion, the Madrigal riddles, and the first half of singing, and I felt immense pride in my performance. The Madrigal singers had all exited the cafeteria directly after the riddle portion of the dinner for our allotted “pee break,” and we were now entering back into the cafeteria to the sound of drums and flutists to perform another traditional Madrigal piece.
Walking across the cafeteria purposefully, rhythmically stepping in time with the other Madrigal singers, I regally held Luke’s hand in mine. With the other, I sounded my chinger on every other beat along with the other altos. As we stepped gracefully in time, we sang a Latin traditional, Pavane, a song that had been incredibly difficult for me to memorize during my first year in Madrigals, and one that still gave me issues from time to time. Part of my issue with this song was that, as I was an alto, it was also my duty to chime my chinger in my right hand on specific beats, which stressed me out beyond belief, as even a small mistake in timing was incredibly obvious, and I was a rather uncoordinated person.
We turned the corner around the first row of tables in the cafeteria, moving steadily toward the Madrigal dais at the front and center of the room. As we began to sing the second verse of the song, my concentration wavered, and I chimed my chinger on the wrong beat. Ahead of me, Zoe, a fellow alto, turned her head slightly in response to my mistake. My brain felt as if someone had flipped a control switch; I couldn’t think straight. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Luke’s head also turn slightly my way in response, but forced myself to focus as much as possible on making sure to match the other altos’ chingers on the right beats. The more we progressed into the second verse, the fuzzier my brain became. I stopped singing altogether, focusing only on chiming on the correct beats, and once again, I saw Luke’s face turn subtly toward mine. As dizziness surrounded me, my grip upon his hand tightened, and I felt his grip upon my fingers tighten in response. What is going on? We turned the final corner around the table of guests closest to the dais and I made eye contact with the Queen, Allison. My face must have shown my confusion because her regal performance broke momentarily and her eyes tightened in concern. Realizing that my face would soon be visible to the audience once again, I summoned all of my performing experience and plastered a professional royal smile upon my face.
Fear overcame me. This is my senior year Madrigal dinner. This is my very last first dinner. I can’t let myself ruin it. I can’t. A tear began to make its way out of my right eye, and I held my breath, hoping that I could stifle the fearful tears on my face, holding it together for the audience that expected me to be my best. My right temple began to pound, a telltale sign of bad things to come, and a coppery taste arose in my mouth. I can’t have a seizure. Not now. Not in front of all of these people. Everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to perform at the dinners. I can’t let everyone down. As we began climbing the trio of stairs up to the dais, I tightened my grip on Luke’ hand and after making it up to the dais, Luke and I began to make our way to the center of the table upon the dais. Before we reached our seats in the center of the dais, Carrie looked over her shoulder, making eye contact with me momentarily. Her noble smile faltered, and I saw her eyes flicker from mine to Luke’s. Thinking was becoming more difficult, and I blinked, hoping that would somehow clear my head. My dress felt too tight around my chest, and my choker felt as though it were cutting off my oxygen.
We reached our seats, standing behind them as we sang the final notes of Pavane. The blurriness in my head had increased to the point where my thoughts became white noise, and I’d never been so relieved to have a song come to an end in my entire life when the applause began. I felt shaky inside. There was no way I would make it through another song.
I turned my head, waiting for the cue to be seated. When I turned, Luke, who was standing behind the seat directly to my right, caught my eye. He tilted his head to the side, and in his eyes was a very clear unspoken question: Did I need him to take me off of the dais? I inhaled deeply, a final attempt to clear my head, to force away the confusion and dizziness in my head. As I came to the conclusion that there really was only one option—the one that would break my heart—I felt myself begin to shake slightly. Luke’s eyes were intent on mine, and I nodded my head, the motion so slight it was almost imperceptible.
Just before the applause came to an end, signaling for Madrigal boys to pull out the chairs for their female counterparts, Luke, who was still holding my hand just above my shoulder, stepped around me, and began to lead me off of the dais. Hand in hand, we made our way from the dais, down the stairs and into the backroom of the kitchen, where some of the Madrigal characters and servers were assembled.
“Get Portman. Now.” Luke said brusquely, laying me down on the floor gently. My vision blurred, and I felt a moment of dizzying déjà vu coming on.
“Luke,” I whimpered, fear and desperation draining into my blood, as my coherence and confidence drifted away.
“I’m right here, Steph. I’m right here,” he soothed. I closed my eyes, focusing on breathing. Suddenly there was a wet rag on my forehead, and someone was removing my choker necklace. My eyes fluttered open, and I saw the face of Mr. Jackson, alongside the faces of my Madrigal director, Ms. Portman, and my mother. Luke’s face was no longer hovering over me.
“Steph,” my mom began. I tried to focus on her words, but my eyes closed without any control on my part. Now there were hands on my shoulders, and someone shook me slightly. I forced my eyes open slightly, and focused in on my mother’s face.
“Steph, honey, we sent Luke back in to sing. You’re going to be okay. Just relax and try to breathe, honey. What are you feeling? Are you—”
I cut her off, panic rising in my chest.
“Mom, I have a line. Mrs. Portman, my line, I have to say my line before we sing the carol and my line is coming next. I have to go back up there I don’t want to let anyone down I dontwanttoletanyonedown, Please.” Tears were streaming down my face.
“Stephanie, you aren’t going back up on the dais tonight, okay? They are going to do just fine. We’ve been practicing for this for months. It’s going to be okay, you aren’t letting anyone down, okay? The dinner does not matter right now. You matter. Your health matters more, so we’re just going to stay here until you’re okay, okay? Can you drink some water for me?”
Mr. Jackson propped me up slightly and my mother tipped a cup of cold water to my mouth. As the wetness ran over my lips, I felt a rush of relief. The aching in my temples was steadily departing, and my brain was clearer once again. As the ache in my head eased, the ache in my heart increased. I’d had to leave the dais during my senior year Madrigal dinner. I let myself and everyone else down.
“C—can I please go back out for Silent Night?” I asked desperately, not quite sure who I was asking, my mother or Ms. Portman.
My mom looked at me closely and then turned toward Miss Portman. “What do you think, Melanie?” My heart caught in my throat with a pang of hope, and I adjusted to look up at Ms. Portman while she formed a response.
“Her skin is starting to get some color again and she’s looking more like herself. I think if she feels okay to sing with the others, she’ll be okay. And then you can take her home right after the dinner. Is that okay, Steph?”
I nodded, and a weak smile slowly formed on my face. Slowly, with the help of both my mother and Ms. Portman, I sat up. Realizing what a mess I must look like at this point, I reached for the choker necklace that lay on the floor a few feet away where Luke had left it.
Ms. Portman set my arm down gently, amusement joining the concern present in her eyes.
“I’ll let you go back out there for Silent Night on one condition: Don’t even think about putting that choker back on. We don’t need another scare, Steph.” My mom nodded in agreement, laughing.
Lindsay Orwell, one of my best friends and main characters of the Madrigal dinner came running around the corner into the room.
“Ms. Portman, Silent Night is about to start… Is Steph going out?” She asked, breathlessly. Her eyes flicked from Ms. Portman’s face to meet mine, and I smiled at her, hoping to ease some of her concern.
“Steph, let’s get you back out there, okay?” With the help of my mom and Ms. Portman, I stood, praying with all of my might that I wouldn’t feel faint when I did. To my relief, the throbbing in my head and the confusion in my brain had drifted away and I was left feeling weak, but level-headed. Lindsay walked me back out toward the cafeteria, where I stood in the doorway to the backroom and watched the Madrigal singers exit down the stairs of the dais. As Luke reached the stairs, Lindsay squeezed my hand and I made my way out of the corner to meet Luke as he rounded the corner and began to join in the first verse of Silent Night. He took my hand in proper Madrigal fashion, and we stepped in time with the 14 other Madrigal singers, heading toward the back of the cafeteria. As we began the second verse, I looked up to meet eyes with Luke. He squeezed my hand lightly and smiled at me reassuringly before looking away. We reached the line of singers at the back of the cafeteria and took our places at the center. As we hummed the last verse, a Madrigal tradition, I held in one hand the hand of the love of my life, and in the other, I held the hand of one of my childhood friends.
Tears were streaming down my face, and if someone were to have asked me why, there were a million things I could have said in response. Nostalgia over my last first Madrigal dinner, grief over almost having a seizure and having to be taken off the dais, gratefulness for the friends and family that I had… but also a strong belief that everything was going to be okay. As I hummed the final notes to Silent Night and the Master Steward, Will, finished his final speech with “Peace follow each of you this night,” my heart felt full. My mind was clear for the first time in a long time, and everything was actually going to be okay. I wasn’t sure when, I wasn’t sure how, but for the first time in a very, very long time, everything was going to be okay.