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November 18, 2004

Chapter 8 ... in progress

Katelyn heard voices downstairs at the edge of consciousness and tried listening to their conversation. She didn't know how long she had been asleep but didn't think it had been very long, judging by the angle of light coming in the window. Her head didn't hurt as much as before so she tried to sit up slowly, trying to keep her head still, and was surprised and relieved when she could sit up and not feel too dizzy. She slowly moved to the end of the bed to look out the window and saw a long black wagon out front. She had hoped that his body would be gone by now.

She flipped open her laptop and waited for it to boot up, trying to remember the last time she had checked her email. The past few days had run together in a blur. Was it really only yesterday that Bernie had held her while she cried? For some reason, he felt miles away.

Katelyn clicked on her email icon and let her email download. Not much there, just some SPAM and some listserv mail, nothing she had to get to any time soon. On a whim, she remembered she had put Bernie's email address in her address book after he gave her his card with his email address on it. She decided to drop him a line just to let him know what had happened.

Just wanted you to know I got your message last night. My dad passed away sometime after midnight. I'll call you soon.

She felt awkward emailing him but she needed to reach out and didn't quite feel up to talking yet. After she clicked send and made sure it was on its way, she shut down her laptop and moved back around to the head of the bed. She picked at the food Barbara had left for her, finishing off the now cold toast and drinking the juice. Her phone was sitting next to the tray and Katelyn picked it up, feeling the weight in her hand, trying to decide what to do. She knew she should call the office but she really didn't feel up to it. She pressed the power button and turned it on, intending to just listen to her voicemail, if she had any.

Her phone rang immediately and Katelyn looked at the screen. New voice and text messages. She decided to check the text messages first. She had 2.

"Please call" from Sydney. That one I'll have to return soon.

"Call home. I love you" from Michael. Not on your life, shithead.

Katelyn put her phone down for a minute, trying to steady her hands. She decided to try to go to the bathroom down the hall and carefully stood up, making sure to hold onto something as she walked around the perimeter of her room to the door.

As she walked down the hall, she could hear voices from downstairs. Barbara and the coroner were still doing paperwork and she didn't necessarily want to listen, or even think about her father right now. She continued down the hall to the bathroom, turned on the light and turned to look at herself in the mirror. She wasn't expecting what she saw.

Her right eye, which was bloodshot and swollen, was surrounded by a shiny dark bruise. A bandage covered the worst of it, right over her eyebrow. She suspected that the skin was cut there since it had stung when Barbara was dressing it earlier. The entire right side of her face looked swollen, really, and Katelyn had a vague recollection of her face stopping her fall last night. If she covered the right side of her face, she almost looked normal except for the fact that her left eye was swollen and puffy from crying. Her hair, which had gotten soaked last night in the rain and then been left to dry as she slept on it, stuck up every which way in frizzy clumps that would not calm down no matter how much she ran her fingers through it. She decided she would feel better after a shower so she took the bandage off of her face and undressed.

She turned the chrome handle to the left as far as it would go, waiting for the water to get hot enough. The steam began filling the bathroom, billowing out under the curtain, making the plastic stick to her legs as she stepped in.

Katelyn stood under the shower, letting the hot water work on her muscles, trying to relax in the steam. She wet her hair and rubbed shampoo through it, feeling how gritty her scalp felt where she had fallen. She really made a mess of things and the worst part was that she didn't remember what made her fall apart last night. She thought of Michael, of Sydney, tried to conjure what had her in tears and, before she knew it, she could feel the waves of panic lapping at her edges again. The pressure started in her chest like a giant hand trying to hold her down under a swelling tide, trying to drown her, a phosphorescent wake clinging to her, outlining every curve, every line.

Just let go, let the thoughts take over, focus on the edges and they will stop wavering, this will pass eventually, she kept thinking as she leaned back on the cold tile, pressing, testing the solidity. It was Barbara's voice she heard in her head, words she spoke that morning, words that Katelyn figures she will have to train herself to remember to repeat whenever the panic begins to rise.

She closed her eyes tentatively, but she felt lit up inside like a lantern, a jack-o-lantern, hollowed out, stringy inside, decaying, just as she had feared. I'd rather take this one with my eyes open, she thought, leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling, studying how the bumps threw tiny shadows seemingly away from her, from the light emanating from her eyes, her mouth with its gap-toothed grin. It will stop soon, it has to, just keep breathing, she keeps repeating, keeping time, making a mantra.

Her flesh felt as if it was humming, light waves flickering around her electrically, arcing. She was almost afraid to lean into the shower, images of a toaster in a bathtub and her charred face flashing, but this, she knows now, is irrational, for she's been standing under the water for a while not and hadn't sizzled yet and in that moment of realization, she feels the subtle descent begin.

Sinking to the bottom of the tub, sitting beneath the stinging shower stream, she can feel her muscles releasing, the panic passing, and her light fading. Then the tears came, on cue, but she wasn't sure why she was crying. She was vaguely aware of a banging coming from somewhere and realized that someone was calling her name.

Barbara was pounding on the door, calling her name. She heard the shower running while she was doing paperwork downstairs and had come up to find the bathroom door locked and now Katelyn wasn't answering. That girl is in no shape to be up and around. Stubborn, just like her father! she thought. Barbara knew that if anything happened to her, she would never forgive herself. After all, she was the one that gave Katelyn the concussion.

Barbara stopped pounding on the door. It's useless, she can't hear me anyway, she thought as she took her key ring from her pocket and leaned over to try to pick the lock. She was still on her knees with her face at the knob when the door suddenly opened inward, spilling out a wall of steam. Katelyn had pulled herself to the edge of the tub and was sitting with the shower still running, shivering and wet. Barbara got up and turned off the shower, wrapping Katelyn in a large bathsheet and pulling out another towel for her hair. She was hoping to get Katelyn dried off and warmed before the heat in the bathroom dissipated. After her little stint in the freezing cold rain last night, the last thing she needed was to catch another chill. She needed all her strength to get through the next few days.

As Barbara dried Katelyn off, she began talking to her. "You know, if you had waited, I would have washed your hair for you. Not that you didn't do a good job, but you could have fallen and hurt yourself." Barbara wrapped Katelyn's hair up in the towel, piling it on the top of her head. "We'll brush though that later." Katelyn's eye was more swollen than before, her teeth were chattering and her lips were bluish. Barbara noticed that the skin across her neck and back was quite red in patches, almost as if it was sunburnt. She rubbed very gently with the towel, realizing that she must have scalded herself in the shower. No wonder she can't stop shivering, thought Barbara. She can't regulate her body temperature.

"Were you cold, Katelyn?" Barbara asked, tying to find out if she meant to turn up the water that high.

Katelyn tried to talk through her chattering teeth. "Just w-wanted t-to b-b-be cl-clean ... d-didn't mean ... so t-tired."

Once Barbara had her wrapped well, covering as much of her damp skin as possible, she helped Katelyn back down the hall to her bedroom. Once again, she dressed Katelyn, though this time it was a little easier since Katelyn wasn't unconscious, though she was very sleepy. Between the painkillers and the hot water, maybe now she'll stay put. After putting her into bed, Barbara gently combed Katelyn's damp hair, as she promised. Once she got the worst of the knots out, she wove it into a long braid and ended by tucking the blanket up under her chin. She should be out for a few hours anyway.

Barbara walked slowly down the stairs, taking her time, for the first time looking at the framed photographs that covered most of the wall on the way down. These must all be Katelyn's work. How did I not notice it before? It looked like a who's who of local and world politics, with a few celebrities thrown in. She knew Katelyn was a photographer for the Washington Post but the scope of her work didn't really sink in until she saw the picture of the President hugging a firefighter in New York City. That photograph had been carried on the front page of newspapers across the country, even their little rinky-dink paper here.

At the bottom of the stairs were some color photographs, places Barbara could only dream of seeing. There was a Mediterranean island and a snowy mountaintop, a desert plateau at sunset and a cliff overlooking crashing surf. Grouped together closer to the front door was a series of photos of people, mostly children, in Ireland. These looked vaguely familiar. Barbara noticed the magazine on the table beneath them, where she usually put the mail. Of course, I saw them in here, she thought, picking up the National Geographic and turning to the article about orphans in Ireland. There was her name, plain as day. Photographs by Katelyn McKenna. For some reason, it hadn't occurred to her that the woman upstairs was 'that' Katelyn McKenna.

Barbara stepped outside on the porch, pulling her sweater close around her. She felt tired. Not like she usually did after a patient dies. No, this was something more. This one had hit her hard. When she had arrived, the tension was thicker and more oppressive than the humidity here, which was considerable. Katelyn was antsy, conflicted, knowing she had a duty to perform but hating every minute of it. Over time, she had become more than just antsy; sometimes she acted like a caged panther, pacing back and forth in the house, on the porch, in the yard, as though she was hungry. She didn't eat much, though, hardly sitting long enough to take two bites. No, she was eager to get back to her life, to get back on the road, to do what she loved. Being here was killing her.

For his part, Big Jack had been moody, which was understandable, but he was always respectful and grateful for her presence. He had asked her, several times, who was paying for her, usually when Katelyn wasn't around. As a matter of fact, they did most of their talking when Katelyn wasn't here. She found Big Jack to be charming and funny when he wasn't in pain. He enjoyed telling stories and, near the end, he talked almost constantly to her. She liked to call it the 'urge to purge'. The need, as a patient nears the end of their life, to make sure that their memories, their legacy is passed on.

Barbara had often wondered why he didn't talk like this to Katelyn. Watching them sit together, Barbara was reminded of the saying that "still waters run deep". Both father and daughter talked on the surface or, even worse, didn't talk at all. It wasn't exactly an uneasy silence, it was more practiced, as if they both had given up a long time ago and, having already given up, neither was willing to be the first to make a concession, to admit that they needed each other. The worst thing was now that Big Jack was gone, Katelyn would never know how he really felt about her.

Nothing had prepared her for Katelyn to behave as she was now, though. She had seen a lot of family members fall apart, slip into depression or alcohol, but that usually happened before the death. By the time the death occurred, there was an acceptance and, usually, a relief, a peace. That was why she was such a proponent of hospice care for terminally ill patients. The grieving process seemed to go so much smoother for families when they all went through it together, including the patient. There was plenty of time together and, in the end, families were much readier for death to come than she had seen in her years in the ICU at the hospital. There, families would fight for their loved one to live, top keep them plugged in, hooked up, artificially alive long past the time when they should be gone. Barbara was grateful she didn't do that anymore. She always felt a pang of guilt keeping patients alive when she could see they were ready to go.

This was more than just losing her father. Something else was going on and Katelyn hadn't let her in on it.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on November 18, 2004 8:57 AM.

Chapter 7 ... in progress was the previous entry in this blog.

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