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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 38-46

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The Worry Stone

Catherine Ryan Hyde

The first time I saw Vida I was still enmeshed in that no-man's-land, that numb, foggy shock that follows one around in the wake of a traumatic event. It's a blessing. It really is. You wake in the morning with no orientation. No memory of what was lost. Then it comes back on you like a sleeper wave. All you have to do is get up and wash your face. Then you call a friend and say you got up and washed your face, and your friend says, "Fabulous, Richard. You will survive." No mention is made of the finer details: the day's work, the unbalanced checkbook, the stacks of bills and messages. No one would dare suggest what they later will tirelessly insist: that life goes on from here. For the moment, simply putting one foot in front of the other is a source of pride. It's a blessing. It is. I wouldn't mind having it back.

For a full six days, I didn't drive the forty miles to see Vida in the hospital. First I had to have that small oil leak fixed, and it took the mechanic a few days to fit me in. That one detail I was not about to numb away for later. If some innocent soul were to skid off the road in a fine, early rain--the mist of water sitting on a wash of filmy crankcase oil, unable to soak into the pavement, just pooling there where the rubber meets the road--it was important that none of the oil be mine. That this new disaster not be any of my doing. I was allowed this strange obsession, too. It was part of the no-man's-land. It was my right.

When I arrived at the hospital, her mother was nowhere to be found. I even asked at the nurse's station on Vida's floor, but as far as they knew, she had gone home for a nap. So I was able to let myself in to the girl's room alone, without introduction, which I then realized was preferable. No one watching my face, able to observe that I'd come with an agenda, some indistinct expectation for gain.

I expected her to be asleep, but she sat half-propped up, her dark eyes wide open and staring at me. There was some startling element in them, something wild and intense. I'd expected, I guess, to see her groggy and half-conscious. Just a handful of days after such traumatic surgery--wasn't she on some kind of heavy painkiller? If so, what must her eyes look like normally? [End Page 38]

I couldn't imagine she was nineteen, though I knew from her mother's letter that she was. She seemed high-school age, underweight and frail--perhaps borderline anorexic--with dirty blonde hair, which might actually have been dirty, or maybe that was just the look of it. Not really fair to judge a person's appearance as they lie in a hospital bed, but try to stop yourself. She had dark circles under her eyes, a body strangely slack and at rest. Only her eyes seemed fully alive. Only her right thumb was in motion, rubbing an obsessive, repetitive pattern over a small oval object. Above the neckline of her hospital gown I could see the top of the scar: angry, obvious, and raised. It caught and tingled in my stomach and made me feel squeamish, as though I should sit down.

"You're the guy," she said, "huh?"

I didn't bother to ask how she knew. I figured I must be wearing it on my face, entering her room with an expression that only one person in her world could possibly use. "Yes," I said, and I moved closer and sat down in a hard plastic chair. I remember a vague sense of disappointment. I'm not sure what I thought I might see, but I didn't see...


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