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Living with Secrets
By Lisa E. Cleveland
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Lisa Cleveland
All rights reserved.
Is there ever a good way to receive or give bad news? It's like an unexpected phone call at two in the morning or an in-law who shows up at your workplace with a solemn look on her face. You know right then and there that this is not going to be good. That's how I felt when I answered my cell phone and heard Charles's voice on the other end. In the thirteen years that Charles and Reva have been married, I'd never received a call from him. I didn't even know he had my number.
He didn't go into details; he just said Reva was at the Abington hospital, and he asked me to meet him at the trauma center — the trauma center, not emergency room or doctor's office. What in the world is going on? I felt my hands shaking as I started the car. I knew I had to calm down and think positively because the last thing I wanted to do was panic or cause an accident. Maybe it's nothing serious, I told myself. Normally, I'm calm under pressure, but this was best friend, Reva. The fact that Charles called me also was alarming. Obviously, she was hurt; otherwise, she would have called me herself. I began rationalizing the phone call. Maybe she called Charles and asked him to phone me. Maybe that was how he got my number.
My heart began to settle, and I was able to see and hear again, but that was short-lived. As I pulled up in the valet parking lane and received my parking ticket from the attendant, I heard my heart pounding in my ears again. "Breathe, Sydney. Breathe," I muttered.
I hurried through the sliding doors, anxiously looking for signs directing me to the trauma unit. My mouth was so dry that I could barely speak as I asked the receptionist for directions. As she turned to point down the hall, I saw Charles walking toward me.
I ran to meet him, locking my eyes with his, hoping to understand. I felt as if I was going to pass out. Tell me she's okay, I thought. Just tell me she's okay. As much as I wanted to know about Reva's condition, I didn't want to know. I didn't think I could handle what I was sure was bad news.
Charles must have sensed my fear because he immediately pulled me into his arms and whispered in my ear, "She is alive."
Oh, my God. I felt my body fall limp as the tears rolled down my face, and he led me to a seat along the wall.
"Can I see her?" I asked. I thought if I could just get to Reva and see her for myself, I would be okay. I needed her to know that I was there for her. "Charles," I said, "I need to see her now. Where is she?"
Charles gave me a quick update — nurses were cleaning her up and monitoring her vital signs; then they'd move Reva to a room. He drew a long, slow breath. "Sydney," he said, "Reva is in a coma."
"A coma?" I said. "How long has she been like this? Did she hit her head? What are they doing for her?" I had so many questions.
Before Charles could respond, a nurse approached us and told Charles he could go back and join Reva in the trauma room. I grabbed his hand tightly. Charles knew I wasn't going to stay behind, so he introduced me as Reva's sister and said I would accompany him. It didn't seem like a lie. Truly, no blood sisters could have loved each other more. And now, I knew Charles needed my support as much as I needed his. We both were doing our best to keep it together.
At this point, I was still unaware of what had happened. Am I ready to see her? Can I handle seeing her bruised or broken? Jesus, did she lose a limb? I stopped in my tracks. "Charles," I said, "what happened?"
His lips were a thin line as he swiped at the tears in his eyes. "Car accident," he said. "She suffered some bruising in her chest and ribs when the car's airbag exploded, and there's some concern about internal bleeding. She was thrown from the car and has cuts and bruises. Nothing is broken, although there's a little swelling in her face."
I took a deep breath and followed Charles into the room.
Upon entering, I stood in shock when I saw my friend. She was so still, and tubes were everywhere.
My legs felt heavy, but I forced myself to move next to Charles alongside the bed. As I reached for Reva's hand, he slid a chair under me, and I sat beside her. Her head was bandaged. I could see a few cuts and scratches on her cheeks and arms, but she looked like an angel, resting. "I'm here, Reva," I whispered. "Charles and I are right here. Can you hear me, Reva?"
I couldn't hold back the tears that streamed down my cheeks, and a large knot formed in my throat, making it impossible for me to say anything else.
Charles leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Reva," he said, "baby, you must wake up." He choked back tears as he rubbed her cheek. "Come on, Reva. Let me know you hear me."
This was the first time I'd even seen Charles vulnerable and broken. He fell to his knees and wept beside his wife.
My heart cried for the both of them.
Charles and Reva shared a deep love and the utmost respect for each other. They had stood together through all the ups and downs of building their dream. It might sound like a cliché, but they truly did complete one another; their lives were so intertwined. It broke my heart to see Charles so helpless.
Still on his knees, Charles gently bowed his head and closed his eyes, clearly seeking the only help he knew. As he prayed, I closed my eyes and thought about what he must be asking God. I wanted to pray too, but I found myself at a loss for words. My heart was praying, but my mind was reflecting on the lifelong friendship Reva and I shared. I guess I thought that my praying would somehow acknowledge that she was in real danger. I was not ready to say, "Have your way, God." I wanted Reva to wake up and talk to me. I believed God knew my heart and would know that I wanted healing and nothing less. I hoped Charles didn't see me as rude or faithless. Truthfully, I was just afraid for my friend.
The doctor came in the room and assured us that the bandages made the injuries appear more severe than they were. His concern was the internal bleeding and her loss of consciousness. "We're still awaiting results from x-rays and scans to determine the location of the bleeding," he told us. Then he explained what each machine was monitoring and what they were hoping to see within the next few hours. "There's cause for concern," he admitted, "but I'm not overly alarmed at this time. The blow to the head caused some swelling and pressure. There is brain activity, but she needs to remain calm and relaxed while she heals."
Charles and I nodded our understanding, and after the doctor left the room, we sat quietly, observing Reva for signs of movement.
It's amazing what you can see and imagine when you want a miracle. I knew Reva felt my presence, and I just knew she was trying to talk to me. I hoped I could reach her through some kind of telepathy and will her to awaken. I watched her intently so I wouldn't miss a sign, a movement, or some form of communication.
There was a a police officer at the nurses' station outside the room and heard Reva's name mentioned. Charles and I walked to the door of the room just as a paramedic was handing the nurse Reva's belongings.
"I'm Reva's husband," Charles said. "Are those her things?"
"Yes," the officer said, approaching Charles. "We collected these things from the vehicle."
Charles accepted the bag of Reva's belongings and asked, "Were you there? Do you know what happened?"
The officer nodded. "I was first to arrive on the scene. Your wife was thrown from the vehicle — she wasn't wearing a seat belt. A witness said your wife was driving too fast, given the weather conditions, and she seemed to lose control of the vehicle. No other cars were involved in the accident, but her Mercedes was totaled. The police will have information on where it was taken. Your wife is very fortunate to have survived the car accident."
"Did you speak to her?" Charles asked. "Was she conscious?"
The officer shook his head. "Semiconscious. And she went into shock while we were examining her. She didn't say anything."
"Thank you," Charles said woodenly.
The officer extended his hand to Charles. "I hope she has a speedy recovery." He started to walk away but then stopped short, as if he'd forgotten something. "I'm sorry about her friend."
Charles blinked rapidly, not comprehending.
I stepped forward and asked, "Her friend?"
The officer nodded. "The passenger in her car." He looked from me to Charles and then back to me, registering our blank faces. "I'm ... I'm sorry. I assumed you knew. There was a male passenger in the vehicle. He ... didn't make it — dead on arrival. His wife and daughter are here, talking with the investigating officer." Charles and I were dumbfounded, and the paramedic clearly realized he'd said too much. "I'm sorry. I would suggest you talk to someone at the nurses' station. Again, I hope your wife has a speedy recovery." He turned and quickly walked away.
I suddenly felt cold and rubbed my arms to warm them. "Charles, did you know —"
"No," he said. "No one mentioned anything about a passenger — and certainly not that he was deceased."
This situation had just taking a whole other turn, and now we were concerned for more reasons than one. Charles asked me to stay with Reva while he tried to find out more information on the accident. The nurse located the police officers who had been on the scene, and they escorted Charles to a private room.
I returned to Reva's room and began to talk to her again. "Reva ... wake up. I need you to wake up and tell me what happened. Who was in the car with you?"
She remained still and quiet. I sat back down beside her and tried to recollect the last conversation we'd had. Had she mentioned giving a ride to anyone?
Suddenly, a nurse came in saying Reva was being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit on the third floor. She told me to take the visitors elevator and to wait in the waiting room and that someone would notify me when Reva was situated. I grabbed Reva's belonging and asked the nurse at the nurses' station to let Charles know where we'd gone. As I rode the elevator to the third floor, I thought about how long Reva and I had been friends. Kindergarten — that's when we first met. I could see her with her hair in two braids and plaid bows tied at the ends. She was always a girlie-girl — bows, dresses, fancy shoes — while I went for jeans, T-shirts, and sweaters. Somehow, we clicked, and that was all that mattered.
As I stepped off the elevator, I knew I was near the ICU. It sounded like a Pentecostal revival. Folks were praying in tongues and singing. The waiting room was full of people comforting one another — and I just knew that everyone was there for Reva. I think every leader from the church was there. You must be kidding me, I thought. Really, people! I felt agitated by the loud talking and quoting of random Bible verses. It was hard to hear myself think. I found a seat and was able to relax my feet. In my mind, I could hear Reva's voice, and I felt her smiling at me. I knew she would have said, "Calm down; they mean well." I smiled and closed my eyes.
I have always had to share Reva with the world. I shouldn't have been surprised that so many people would want to be here for her and Charles. After all, they are the pastor and first lady of a congregation of more than two thousand people. But Reva is my best friend, not first lady. I needed her to wake up so we could talk, and I wanted these holy-rollers to shut up. It was times like these that I embraced my Baptist heritage. Baptist people pray quietly, and we meditate on the Word in times of crisis.
As I sat back and closed my eyes, I reflected on the privilege of being a person's best friend. We have had our issues, but we always have had one another's backs. Ours was a lifetime of growth and acceptance. As we struggled through childhood, adolescence, our twenties, and beyond — we were now in our mid-thirties — our characters, dreams, and goals varied, and we found ourselves. We learned to embrace our commonality and accept our individuality. After Reva married, it was hard to accept that she was no longer as accessible to me as she had been. Eventually, however, we both saw the need for a degree of separation.
Reva is my alter ego. At times, I find myself imitating what I feel is her persona, especially if I need to get through a situation that I am too timid to handle. I will say to myself, Okay, time to put on your Reva hat.
Reva has a very direct, type A personality. My natural instinct is to just go with the flow and not make any waves, but in the corporate dog-eat-dog world, there is no room for passive behavior, not if you are an executive. If you are too casual, you will end up a casualty. I found Reva's style of communication more effective. Our CEO appreciated my occasional authoritative voice as well. He would say things like, "Sydney is a lamb, but she has tiger blood in her veins" I liked that.
Reva spoke her mind. She was not concerned with how people perceived her; being able to express herself and address the issue was more important to her. She was not ruled by her emotions but by the facts. At times, people were offended or taken aback by her responses, yet she had no problem with that. If she was proven wrong, an apology would follow, but she was definitely going to be clear on the facts. Due to her direct personality, many people stayed out of her way. No one wanted to go head-to-head with her unless there were no other options. As our student government president in high school, her ability to speak effectively and passionately was evident. Looking back, I'm not sure if I drew closer to Reva or if she pulled me beside her, but there I was, and here I remained. How many people can say that they have been friends with someone for thirty years when they are thirty-five?
My mind went back to Charles and what he might have learned from the police officers. I also wondered if I would get to see Reva again this evening. The noise in the waiting room seemed to get louder as more people joined the group. In reality, it probably hadn't increased in volume — the ICU nurses wouldn't have allowed that — but I needed a break from the chaos, so I decided to go to the cafeteria. I was hungry for a snack and a cup of coffee.
I sent Charles a text message, letting him know where I was headed. I really hoped to see Reva once more before I left for the evening. I wanted to tell her that I loved her. It was bothering me that I hadn't said it earlier when I'd had the chance, but I'd been in shock and fearing for her health.
Charles answered my text, asking me to come back to the third floor in fifteen minutes. He was going to give the church members an update and then ask them to leave the waiting area, which — as the hospital staff had pointed out to him — was meant for only the immediate family. As I was approaching the elevator to return, the doors opened, and I saw many of the church members leaving and saying their good-byes to one another. I waved good-bye and hoped the waiting room would be cleared when I got there.
No such luck; the crowd had actually grown. A few were disappointed that they were not permitted in Reva's room. I listened to them strategically plan who would leave next. Charles came out and escorted me and two of Reva's sisters back to the room. A few of her other siblings were there as well. I hadn't seen some of them in years. When we entered the room, two elders from the church were praying on either side of her bed. Her sisters approached Reva, so I stepped out into the hallway, and Charles followed me.
"Sydney," he said, "how well you know Beverly and Alex Wakefield?"
I was taken back. Why would he be asking me about them at this time? "Not well," I responded. "I'm not as close to them as Reva is. I haven't seen either of them since college." Truthfully, I never understood the dynamics of their friendship with Reva, but they had the same religious background and appeared to have a language of their own. Beverly had been our dorm counselor in college, and her husband, Alex, was a professor there. Beverly had started a Christian sisterhood conference that Reva and I had joined, but I hadn't attended any of the retreats since college.
"Why are you asking?" I said.
Charles sighed heavily. "Alex was the passenger in Reva's car."
"Yes, Reva was attending their annual conference, and somehow, Alex was riding with her. Beverly and her daughter were following behind and saw Reva's car speed off the road. I sat and had prayer with Beverly and her daughter. They are downstairs, taking care of the arrangements for Alex's body to be transported back to Boston."
Excerpted from Nobody Knows by Lisa E. Cleveland. Copyright © 2016 Lisa Cleveland. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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