Release

“It’s late, and we probably should let him rest,” said Mary Lou.

I looked over at her husband, who’d been so much better than I had imagined he would be just twenty four hours after open heart surgery.   He had been jovial, able to talk and eat and stay engaged with the conversation.  He’d proudly shown me the scar on his leg where they’d removed a vein for use in his heart, and told me directly that the doctors expected him to make a full recovery.   He could clearly see my undercurrent of fear and strove to allay it, something my mother had never been able to be aware of in the hazy days after her surgery.  Everything about my several hours long visit smacked of the differences between the two situations.  Now that I’d succeeded in comforting as well as being comforted, it was clearly time for me to leave.

“Well, now that I see how ornery the patient here is, I know he’ll be fine,” I laughed.  “But I’ll be up in a few weeks just the same to make sure you’re staying out of trouble.”

“I’m counting on it,” came the drowsy words in response.

I gathered up my purse and coat, glancing at the clock.  It was seven or so now.  I hadn’t eaten since eleven this morning.  If I wanted to stay awake on the drive back home, a two hour stretch, I’d better hit the cafeteria and get some food and coffee before I left.  “I’m just going to run to the cafeteria and grab something before I hit the road,” I told Mary Lou.

“Let me buy you both dinner,” she replied.  “He needs rest, and we haven’t eaten yet either.”

I could see Ray’s uneasy glance towards the floor from the corner of my eye.  It had been easy enough to avoid interacting with each other here in the hospital room with his father; even after surgery, his presence filled the space and allowed us both to push aside the strangeness of seeing each other again.   He shifted slightly from foot to foot, waiting for my response.

“Sure,” I replied.  But I could already see the red flag of anger waving frantically behind my eyes.  Not having the shared task of making his father feel better to unite us was going to be dicey.  What would he say?  Would he take the opportunity of a quiet moment to apologize to me for having dumped me via telephone?  Or would he talk about his life with his wife in Germany?  Would he ask about my mother?  Or Zach?  I tried to steel myself as we all sat down ten minutes later in the restaurant across the street from the hospital.

As it turned out, my anger boiled over and was served hot and spicy well before our meals came to the table.  I threw out one liners so caustic in response to Ray’s non committal responses to my conversation generating questions that Mary Lou finally had to call a truce between us.

“Look,” she said, a hand on each of our arms.  “I care about both of you, and I know you both care about his father.  I don’t know all of what went on between the two of you a few years ago, and I don’t want to know.  But you’re both here now, and we can either take a quiet moment and and regroup, or we can just end this meal now.  This is not what anyone needs right now.”

I looked down at my hands.  As suddenly as my anger had risen in my chest, it froze and dissipated just as fast.  I felt immature and foolish and out of control.  “I’m sorry,” I answered, actually meaning it.  “You’re right.  Me creating more problems on a day like today isn’t going to make anyone’s life better.  It just was harder than I anticipated.  Not just seeing you again, Ray, but also being in a hospital and all of the memories that has brought up.  I apologize, to both of you.  I’m done, I promise.”

And I was.  Somehow, some way, saying all of the harsh, angry words that had been stuffed down in my chest for nearly four years released them.  I really was done.  The anger was gone.

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