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Beauty in Pain
By Alice V. Benton
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Alice V. Benton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVALERIE was in the middle of a good dream when she heard her ten year old daughter, Candy speaking. Candy's voice was very faint and sweet, but soft which is why she could hardly hear it. Valerie had fallen into an unusually deep sleep on the living room couch.
Candy said, "Mommy, mommy."
Valerie lifted her head instinctively, but barely opened her eyes wanting desperately to go back to sleep. Her head dropped.
"Mommy," Candy said again pausing and then she screamed, "Valerie!"
Valerie lifted her head and said, "I know I didn't just hear you call my name. What'd you call me?" She said sternly and without thought before dropping her head and closing her eyes again.
"June's been in a car accident," Candy said.
Suddenly, the words registered and Valerie sat up and questioned, "What? My sister what?" but Candy was gone. Valerie screamed, "Candy! Candy! What did you say about June?"
Candy came back into the living room and said, "Chuck called and said his mother was in a bad accident. He's talking to mom. They're on the phone, but I think you need to get up."
There was something about the way Candy said, "I think you need to get up." Those words hit her like a ton of bricks. Valerie immediately sprung up off the sofa to go ask mom what happened, but mom was already coming down the stairs with Samantha.
It's strange how things work out sometimes. Samantha never spent the night in Brooklyn. Whenever she came over she would always be in a hurry to rush home to her husband. Last night was different for some reason. Samantha came over and announced she was here for the weekend.
Valerie sarcastically joked, "Are you serious? Your husband is letting you stay out? I didn't know Peter could survive being in New Jersey alone."
"Ha, ha, ha. Very funny." Samantha replied, mockingly.
In fact, talking to Samantha was why Valerie was so out of it and couldn't crawl up the stairs to her bedroom last night. Samantha's stay was so bizarre they stayed up all night talking and drinking red wine.
Samantha and mom came into the living room. Mom said "Valerie, June's been in a car accident and Chuck says it was bad. He's trying to get to the hospital. Theresa was left a message and Melody will be there tomorrow."
"Thank God Theresa lives in Georgia too. So Chuck won't be alone. How did Chuck find out?"
Samantha answered, "A chaplain went to the house to notify her family."
"A chaplain?" Valerie questioned.
"Yes, a chaplain." Samantha repeated.
Valerie began to involuntarily picture loved ones passed on, one after another. They were everywhere simply standing in and about the room looking onward. Although Valerie found these images warming, they were also disturbing. First, she saw her grandparents, then various aunts and uncles. She did her best to ignore them, trying to stay focused on the issue at hand asking, "What hospital is she in?"
Mom let out a sad exaggerated gasp before answering. She said, "June was taken to Douglasville County Hospital but should have been taken to Grady because of the trauma she experienced."
The chaplain is taking Chuck to the hospital. He took him to the hospital and they arranged to have June moved to Grady Hospital by helicopter.
Valerie called Grady Hospital to obtain an update about June, but got nothing. Someone answered quickly, but when they transferred her to the trauma emergency line she was placed on hold. While listening to Grady's telephone recording about the hospital, which seemed to last a lifetime, she learned a little information. It mentioned how the hospital services most of Atlanta's ambulance needs and how they were best in dealing with traumatic injuries. Valerie thought, I guess June's in the right place.
"Hello, how may I help you?" the hospital clerk said.
"Hi, my name is Valerie Peterson. My sister, June Peterson, was brought to your emergency room and I would like an update on how she's doing."
"Please hold." The clerk said. She returned less than a minute later saying, "I'm sorry Ms. Peterson, I can't say much on the phone, but a June Peterson was brought into the trauma emergency room and is being operated on as we speak. Also, it's absolutely imperative that a family member be available inside of the hospital for decisions."
Chuck and the chaplain couldn't move as fast as the helicopter, but they were on the way.
Valerie asked, "What kind of decisions need to be made?"
"Sorry, ma'am, that too cannot be discussed over the telephone. We need someone here in the hospital.
"Alright, her adult son is on his way."
Theresa first found out June was in a car accident through voicemail. Samantha called her, but could not get through, so she left a message. Theresa heard the house phone, but she had things on her mind and ignored it. Then her cell phone rang. She let it go to voicemail. They'll leave a message if it's important. When the message tone blurted she freaked and instantly called to listen to the message.
It was then that Theresa heard Samantha's voice telling her about their little sister, June. Theresa tried to reach Chuck, but couldn't until later. When they finally spoke, Chuck was already at the hospital.
Theresa asked, "When are visiting hours?"
Chuck screamed, "Just come now! I don't know how much time you have!"
Theresa dropped everything and began running frantically to the nearest bus stop. She reached it in no time. The bus doors were closing when she lodged her hands between them attempting to pry them open. Theresa wasn't strong enough, but wasn't going to let go even if it forcibly dragged her away from the curb. "I can't miss this bus!" she screamed angrily.
The driver let her board the bus, but that's when Theresa realized she had no change. She dashed quickly forgetting to get coins. The severity of the situation began to hit and she cried hysterically at the thought of having to get off the bus. She pleaded, "I need to get to Grady Hospital. Please don't kick me off the bus. I have to get there now."
The driver said, "Don't worry. I'll get you there."
The ride was long, but she finally reached Five Points. The bus let Theresa off right in front of the hospital. Once inside, Theresa walked all over the emergency room peeking in on people trying to locate June. Eventually, she found June in a recovery room. Theresa took one look at her sister and cried."
Back in Brooklyn, it was time to head for Georgia. The family rapidly made plans to be at June's side. The earliest available flight was at 1:00 p.m. That would leave just enough time to pack and go.
The doorbell rang and Valerie ran to open the door. It was Peter and he was crying. He said, "Chuck told me that June hasn't had any brain activity for at least forty minutes. This is really serious."
Peter and Samantha had been together for a long time. They were that neighborhood couple that seemed like they had always been dating. In grade school, Peter took one look at Sam and said, "You're mine." And that was it. She was his. They've been together ever since. So he's been a part of the family longer than all the other siblings. He truly is like a brother.
Yet, in all that time, Valerie had never seen Peter cry, at least, not until today. This was the first time, Saturday, April 22, 2006, leaning against the door in the foyer. Peter was delivering the worst news ever and sobbing. Valerie was shocked at first, but shouldn't have been because he and Sam helped to take care of June.
Peter went upstairs and repeated what he just said to his father-in-law, "dad", as everyone called him. Peter left it to dad to tell "mom," as everyone called his mother-in-law. Peter went and told his wife and daughter, Jan. Samantha swiftly said she couldn't go to Georgia, but would send Peter to represent her branch of the family tree.
Samantha and Jan would stay home with all the children and dad. Samantha thought Jan and I can lean on each other. The pair would comfort and take care of the homebound family. They would hold it together for the children.
Peter parked his car in the garage and they caught a cab to the airport. Mom and Valerie carried rosaries in hand. Mom also had prayer cards and a Bible. Valerie was sitting between mom and Peter feeling pressure from each side. That's when she realized that she was physically holding them up. Valerie wondered, who's gonna keep me from falling. They were already well on the way.
Usually, the trip to Georgia wasn't a bad one, but this time they needed to get there extra fast. Earlier, they were awakened about 7:30 a.m. and half the day had passed. The flight was delayed repeatedly. They didn't make it to Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport until about 6:00 pm. Going up those long escalators in the airport on the way to baggage claim, Valerie began to experience a horrid feeling. Never before had she been in this airport without June being around.
June was usually near the escalators, always waiting somewhere nearby. The last time Valerie visited with mom and her children, June was there waiting. She wasn't in the usual spot, though—at the top of the escalators, she was kind of far away. Valerie looked around and wondered what happened, as she turned right to go toward the baggage claim. As Valerie approached, she noticed this beautiful girl smiling. The girl leaped forward and gave her a hug. It was June! Generally speaking, June was a looker, but today she looked radiant. She was beaming from head to toe.
Now, on the day of the accident, it was different. June wasn't in the airport and she wasn't coming. Subconsciously, Valerie began to visually search for June. Instead, she saw her nephews, Chuck and Rick. They never picked her up, so as they emerged, her heart slowly continued to break.
Chuck and Rick looked different. They hugged and kissed their aunt, but it wasn't the same as it had been in the past. Typically, Chuck's big beautiful eyes would be bright and he'd just walk up with wide arms and immediately give a huge embrace and kisses to everyone. Whereas, Rick would display a faint version of his gorgeous smile and wait to be embraced because "the kid", as he would often call himself, prefers the attention to be brought to him. Their faces had a strange uncomfortable look in different ways. They both immediately gave a light hug and said they were glad the family made it safely.
There they were again. Valerie could see our family members who passed on standing in the airport. They were watching and moving in perfect step with everyone. Valerie's sightings were increasing. She couldn't get them out of her mind. She desperately wanted them to go away, but they hadn't. It bothered Valerie because it felt as if they were all going to see June, both the living and the dead. Some would be saying goodbye and others would be welcoming her home.
Valerie decided to go and help mom and Rick get the bags at baggage claim. As Valerie approached, she started to wonder what she packed. Let's face it, this was no vacation and she really wasn't paying attention. The goal was to skip town as soon as possible and that mission was accomplished. The clothes were definitely mix matched and no shoes were packed. A black sneaker-shoe styled Diesel adorned her feet and that was fine. They weren't here for a fashion show and the quick exit was necessary.
Rick walked up to Valerie slowly. He spoke to his aunt as if in denial. Rick said "Aunt June is really bad. She's swollen and everything is too big. Her eyes and tongue look like they're coming out of her head and every now and then she blinks unnaturally. Oh, and her eye has a hole off to the side of it."
Valerie looked at Rick in desperation and said, "Please tell me that's not what you were just saying to my mother."
He said, "No, but I don't know if mom will be able to handle it. June's hooked up to a lot of machines."
Peter saw Rick in his urban gear and went crazy. He started yelling, "Pull up your pants boy! Pull up your pants!"
Chuck said, "You know how his style is Peter." Chuck tried to lighten the mood further saying, "Maybe we can stop at a store and buy him some suspenders."
Joking didn't work because Peter was full of rage. He attempted to charge Rick in the airport, in the parking lot and once again while they were riding in the van. Peter even yelled at Chuck in the worst ways while he drove ... Chuck ... whose mother was fighting for her life. Peter was riding shotgun and Rick was in the back of the van. The distance from the airport to the hospital wasn't far, but that was a long explosive ride.
When they finally made it to the hospital Chuck helped mom out of the van on the left side. Peter got out on the right and stood there with an indescribable look on his face. Valerie was seated behind Peter and also got out on the right side of the van. Rick exited from the back on the right and Peter charged again. Valerie yelled, "No one is going to hit them today, especially not Chuck, not during this tragedy." She leaned back in toward the van and slammed the sliding door shut. That's when Peter started screaming at Valerie and hit her hard making her fall in the street.
While he was screaming, Valerie flashed back to a younger time. She remembered spilling some juice on the kitchen floor and Peter yelling at her for being sloppy. He literally grabbed Valerie by the hair and forced her to sit down on the floor. Peter dragged her across the kitchen floor; wiping the mess up with her body. Valerie cried as she tried to loosen his grip while trying to keep the hair close to her head to lessen the pain. She went back and forth over the tile becoming soiled by the juice. Afterward, Peter laughed, "Next time you'll be more careful. Won't you?" It was like old times ... whenever her parents left the house.
Now, this hit standing by the van surprised Valerie, but it shouldn't have. Suddenly, Valerie heard him shout, "If you want to fight like a man you'll be hit like one! Stay out of my way!" Valerie thought who was trying to fight except him? Clearly, he's confused.
Mom waved her hand at Peter and Valerie to go inside. Theresa was standing on the hospital steps. Unfortunately, Valerie was too caught up in the moment to stop and greet her properly, as she should have. Valerie simply made a gesture and kept moving. They'd come this far and now it was time to see June.
Suddenly the tension in the air found its way to Valerie. Peter gave her a dirty look as they entered the hospital lobby. Valerie responded to it by screaming, "This isn't about you! Mom doesn't need this! Her daughter is in here fighting for her life! How dare you make this about you! You want to fight; then let's fight, but I'm going to fight back!" Mom started crying near the information booth and they both stopped in their tracks. That also happened to be when they noticed a couple of people just staring at the rowdy New Yorkers.
Ironically, Chuck wasn't going there with Peter. Rick, the resident family comic and warrior didn't want to come to blows either. Rick wouldn't shut up, but for once, he didn't want to fight. He just kept saying, "If you want to hit me, just hit me. I'll let you have that." That was the first recognizable sign that this incident was changing the family. Rick was growing up. Chuck was trying to hold on to his mother and the adults were crumbling at the seams.
They found out that June was located on the seventh floor and being taken care of in the Intensive Care Trauma Unit. As they approached her room, the couple from the lobby was leaving it crying hysterically. Their faces reflected horror. Initially, Valerie ignored the disturbing glimpses being displayed on their faces. She thought, damn, we should have known better. They know June and we're acting out in front of them. Valerie braced for the worst.
They went in immediately to see June and this person lying before them was not recognizable to Valerie. Her first honest internal reaction was one of relief. She thought how do they know it's her? Maybe it's not June, mix ups happen and for a second Valerie was privately joyous. Admittedly, that was an awful thought to have because if it were not June, it would have been someone else's sister, mother, daughter or niece. Valerie would have been ecstatic, in that moment, if it were another person. After staring at this individual for a while an uncomfortable familiarity began to rise. Valerie could kind of see it—June's face. June's features were emerging slowly and Valerie's brief gleam of hope was diminishing.
Excerpted from Beauty in Pain by Alice V. Benton Copyright © 2011 by Alice V. Benton. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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