First Chapter Book Award for Memoir: Never Say Never Again by Lorna Penland

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Never Say Never Again by Lorna Penland is a Finalist in the Nonfiction/Memoir category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

As I moved around the hotel room, packing for the trip home, Paul lounged on the bed, putting our tickets in order.

We enjoyed four days exploring Seattle, experiencing almost perfect weather. It was time to go home to the San Francisco Bay Area and our daily routine.

Out of nowhere Paul commented, “We have a pretty good life, don’t we?”

“Where did that come from?” I laughed.

“I was just thinking how lucky we are and how good our life is together.”

Lorna Penland
Lorna Penland

Yes, our life was good. We had just spent the last few days in Seattle, hopefully, one of many adventures in our future. I was now working for United Airlines and in less than a decade I could retire with full benefits. We could fly anywhere in the world for almost free.

Paul was looking at retirement from his company after thirty years of service. We had it all figured out; with his retirement and my travel benefits, we could make trips like this one and continue our trips to Mazatlan, Mexico, our home away from home.

Our next trip would be to San Antonio, Texas. We had talked about it many times over the years, long before I ever started working for United.

Neither one of us could fathom what was in our future.

***

Many of our family members and I were with Paul that early Friday morning in September, in San Francisco. The male nurse asked us to step out so he could prepare Paul for surgery. As we walked away, we heard him ask the nurse “Where can you find a dog with no legs?

The nurse asked, “Where?”

“Wherever you left it.”

The nurse guffawed.

It was Paul’s latest joke, and we all laughed and shook our heads as we walked away.

We were allowed to see him a few more minutes, once the nurse finished with him.

“I look forward to recouping the next few days with you sitting by me.” Paul squeezed my hand.

I squeezed back. “Me too.”

We had been here before, nine years earlier for his first bypass surgery. I had been scared that time. My first husband had the same surgery years before; unfortunately, his was not successful. He was too far gone, and all they could do was close him up and wish him luck. His doctor didn’t know how he lived another seven years. It was the same team of doctors and same hospital.

After Paul’s last surgery, I knew all would be fine.

I held his hand as the attendant wheeled him away. His last words to me were “I’m scared.

Damn it; he is my strength. I didn’t need to hear that.

 

It had been a long morning waiting for Paul to get out of surgery. My brother, Kenny got me out of the hospital for a while, taking me for a walk through Golden Gate Park, a few blocks away. It was one of those September San Francisco days that most tourists do not know about, sunny with temperatures in the low eighties. A cool breeze, kept us company flitting past us like a frisky puppy, making our brisk walk comfortable. Everything was rich in colors of deep green, dark red and damp brown. The smell of growth was intoxicating. We reminisced about many visits to the park with our family over the years. It kept us from talking about what was going on in the hospital just up the hill. As enjoyable as it was, we cut the walk short. I wanted to be there for Paul when he came out of surgery.

There was still no word when we got back. Fear slipped into my thoughts and worries played hide and seek in my head. I tried to shake it loose.

Everyone there, family and friends, did their best to watch over me. I was encouraged to get something to eat around two in the afternoon.

I was sitting in the cheerless basement cafeteria pushing around the soggy noodles of a flavorless casserole when my sister-in-law, Simona surprised me. “Lorna, they need you upstairs.”

“Okay, let me get a to-go box.”

“No, now! They want to see you now.” She nervously twitched, her eyes never making contact with mine.

When the elevator opened to the waiting room, a nurse was waiting. “Mrs. Hernandez, will you please come with me? If you wish, the rest of your family can come too.”

At that moment, my body tingled as if an electric current ran through me. I wasn’t stupid. I had seen this drill before. If everything is fine, the doctor comes out and boasts about his success to the family, not caring who hears. If there is trouble, they want to share it with as few as possible.

The nurse escorted us to a private waiting room. She told us the doctor would be with us in a few minutes. It took him a good twenty minutes to show his face. By then it didn’t matter what he told us, we knew.

The waiting was excruciating. Every few minutes someone would plead with the nurse to hurry the doctor, or tell us herself.

It took the actual words, the explanation, to make it real. Suddenly there was this hollow scream, ghostly. It continued without a break. I finally realized it was coming from me. Everyone converged on me to keep me from folding to the floor. I couldn’t breathe. Someone insisted I drink water, with everyone else murmuring in agreement.

“Dolly, you are going to get dehydrated if you don’t drink it.” My mom said as she pushed the paper cup to my lips. I didn’t care. My reason for living was gone.

The doctor’s words were in need of bedside manors. “I haven’t seen this in over twenty years.”. “This is rare.”, and “I have lost only three patients during bypass surgery” were a few choice phrases that I remember from that day in 2000.

We continued to wait to see Paul. More family showed up, many of them unaware what happened. They expected to visit Paul as he convalesced. With each arrival, we had to repeat the bad news until it sounded like a monotone recording.

Finally, Mom, Paul’s brothers, and a couple of Paul’s childhood friends escorted me to see him. Paul laid on a metal gurney in an alcove just around the corner from the elevator. His body was covered up to his neck with a white sheet. I wondered at the time if he were cold.

Paul looked peaceful. His usual furrowed brow was smooth, and his eyelids were soft and relaxed. I caressed Paul’s thinning gray hair and traced his wiry brows, making memories to keep with me as I continued my life without him. It would be the last time I would ever see my sweet Paul.

I could not imagine my future without him. I was sure I would never be happy again.

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