Monday, July 11, 2011

Excerpt from "No Such Thing as Easy Street" (Formerly A Ghost of You)

Mid-November – New York City, NY – Present Day

“Ithaca!” my father’s voice calls. “Phone!”

I slide away from my desk, first glancing at framed photograph of our whole family at Tricky and Jett’s wedding. Ada and I were grinning not only at the fact that we got away with throwing the wedding but that our parents were engaged. I walk over to the kitchen bar and take the phone from Dad.

“This is Ithaca,” I say.

“Ithaca, it’s Arcadia. Remember your offer to monster watch?” Arcadia asks.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Our normal baby-sitter got sick on us and both Bert and I are being called in to the station. We could really use you,” Arcadia explains.

“Can you give me an hour or so to get there?” I ask.

“I think I can hold off the cap till then. Thank you so much honey. You’re a lifesaver.”

“It’s not a problem Cadi. See you in a bit.”

I hang up the phone and look over at my dad. “I’m spending the night with Hadley and Donny.”

“Remember your meds,” Dad says, sipping his coffee. “Are you still coming with me to see Lauren and Memory for Thanksgiving?”

“I wouldn’t miss the chance to get to see them for anything.”

I give my father a hug. It’s been hard for him to be so far away from Lauren and Memory. Dad really loves them both but he and Lauren can’t seem to get in the same place at the same time. They put the wedding on hold when Ada got sick and it had been on hold ever since. Every year they try to plan the perfect time to have the ceremony but somehow they can’t coordinate everyone’s schedules. I call them the Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of the Lower East Side. I want to plan them a surprise wedding like Ada and I did for Tricky and Jett. Although I don’t think it would go over as well as Tricky and Jett’s. I am always hinting at Dad that he and Lauren should just fly to Vegas and be done with it. Lauren refuses because she wants all our friends and family members to be there.

I wander back to my room and start packing a bag. I make sure I take all the dosages I would need for the next day just in case the gig turned out to be longer than either Bert or Arcadia planned. Before leaving the loft I pack my laptop so I can work on my paper after Hadley and Donny are asleep.

Making sure I had everything I would need for my night over at the Arvines’, I kiss my dad and head for the subway. I would have taken a cab but most won’t go to to Brooklyn after dark. I barely got in the door when I’m tackled by Donny and Hadley. Hadley had her stack of books next to her mother’s chair for us to read together. Just feet away from the chair Donny had his Star Wars and Transformers action figures out for our on-going epic battle. It was the Autobots and Jedis against the Decepticons and Sith Lords. Not being from the age or gender of sci-fi and action figures, I’m still learning who all these characters were. On the other hand, Hadley had My Little Ponies with names and colors I didn’t know either. Hanging with them I always manage to learn something new.

It’s a typical Thursday night for us. Arcadia gave us money for pizza and breadsticks. We had a picnic on the floor of the playroom with the harmonious sounds of Veggie Tales playing in the background. After dinner, I take our dishes back up to the kitchen and am putting them into the dishwasher when my worst fear occurred. One of the knives in the sink slipped and in my stupidity I go to catch it and miss. The blade slices down my left forearm and it starts to bleed. To make matters even worse I hear a shrill scream from the playroom. I cover my arm with a towel and apply pressure and run downstairs, nearly tripping on a pile of laundry.

Little Hadley was lying in a heap on the floor, her right leg at an unnatural angle. She was reaching for me and I stop frozen, unable to move.

“Ithy! Ithy!” Hadley sobs.

“Hadley!” I cry. “Donny, what happened?”

“She slipped on the stairs and fell down,” the little boy says, tears filling his eyes.

Hadley was bleeding from her leg wound and there was nothing I can do to help her, with my own arm bleeding faster than I can get it to stop. I can’t touch Hadley or even try to stop her bleeding without risking blood to blood contact. Pressing the towel tighter to my side, I reach for the phone to call 911. “Don’t worry, Hads. Ithy’s going to get us some help.”

“Emergency services,” the voice on the other end says.

“My baby sister just fell down the stairs and I think she broke her leg,” I say, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.

“Is she breathing?”

“Yes. Please send someone.” I rattle off the address to the dispatcher.

“The ambulance is on their way. Do you want me to stay on the line with you until they arrive?”

“Yes please,” I say to the very nice lady on the other side of the phone. Her voice reminds me of my nanna Ophelia. Caring and full of concern.

“What is your sister’s name and how old is she?”

“Hadley Arvine, she is four years old and her favorite color is green,” I ramble to the operator. “Donny, baby, please go find your coat and Mr. Chuckles. She’s going to want him.”

Before long there are sirens outside and a loud knock on the door. The knock shakes me out of my fearful stupor.

“NYFD Paramedics!” a loud voice shouts, through the door.

“Donny, stay with Hadley,” I order. “Don’t let her move.”

My calm was gone when I go to the door to let the firemen inside the house. “I was upstairs washing the dishes. I didn’t see what happened.”

“Don’t worry miss. We’ll take good care of both of you.”

I’m barely holding it together. My adorable Hadley, was lying on the floor with a broken leg and I can’t even hold her and let her cry into my shoulder like she did when she scraped her knee while we were skating outside. I can’t watch as Hadley is laid onto a stretcher by the big firemen. Donny of course thinks it’s awesome having real live firemen in his house. He had did what I told him to. He had found his and Hadley’s coats and Hadley’s stuffed frog, Mr. Chuckles. Two of the paramedics are working on helping Hadley and the other is talking with Donny.

“My mommy and daddy work at the 9th precinct in the city,” Donny tells the paramedic with pride. “They’re detectives.”

I walk with Hadley out of the house and into the ambulance. The paramedic walking with Donny sat him next to me and he laid his head on my shoulder. It’s a quick ride from the Arvines’ home to the Brooklyn Medical Center. On the way the paramedics set Hadley’s leg and cleaned my cut. It’s just my luck that Miss Helene is working that particular evening.

“Honey child, what has happened to you?” she questions, coming around the desk when the paramedics bring Hadley and I into the ER.

“I’ll explain later,” I say, still holding tightly to Hadley’s little hand. “Miss Helene, could you keep an eye on Donny for me?”

“Of course Miss Ithaca,” Miss Helene answers. She offered her hand to Donny and the little boy looked over at me to make sure it was okay.

“Go ahead Donny. Miss Helene has candy at her desk.”

The little boy grins and joins Miss Helene. Hadley and I wait for the doctor to come in and see us. The paramedics had given her a shot so she isn’t in as much pain. Her cries have moved to small whimpers. She’s hugging tightly to her stuffed frog, Mr. Chuckles. I keep my wound covered and move to cuddle with Hadley. I’m a few moments into the newest installment of the Princess Hadley Adventures, when Fitz appears at the door of our room. Hadley’s face lights up with the sight of such a friendly face.

“I think I’m going to call you two the accident twins from now on,” Fitz teases. “Hadley don’t you know you’re not supposed to pick on kids bigger than you?”

Hadley giggles and sticks her tongue out at Fitz, to which he returns the gesture. “Hadley picked a fight with the playroom stairs and the stairs won,” I explain, moving a curl from her face. “How did you even know we were here?”

“Miss Helene called up to the pediatric oncology wing where I was playing Donkey Kong with the cancer kids,” Fitz says, like it was so obvious where he had been. “She said Hadley was hurt. I figured you both could use a friendly face down here,” Fitz says, taking the empty chair in Hadley’s room. “What about you? You all right, babe?”

“Caught a knife with my arm, but I’ll be all right. It’s Hadley I’m worried about,” I say brushing another brown curl out of Hadley’s face. “Do you have your phone? I left mine at the house. I need to call Bert and Cadi.”

“I always have my phone,” Fitz says, keeping the mood light. He squeezes my hand softly. He hands me his Blackberry and I quickly punch in the number to Albert and Arcadia’s precinct.

“Yeah, hi. Detectives Albert Arvine or Arcadia Arvine please,” I say. “I’m on hold,” I say to Fitz and Hadley.

“Detective Arcadia Arvine,” Arcadia’s voice says, slightly frazzled.

“Cadi, it’s Ithaca,” I say, trying to keep the calm in my voice.

“Hey sweetie. We’re a little swamped down here. Is anything wrong?” Arcadia asks.

“We’re at the Brooklyn Medical Center ER,” I say. “Hadley and the stairs had a disagreement. We think her leg is broken.” There’s silence on Arcadia’s end of the phone. “Cadi?”

“I’m going to stay on the line till the doctor comes in. Let me talk to Hadley.”

I hand the phone to Hadley and listen while the two have a private mother-daughter chat. Fitz keeps hold of my hand, rubbing my knuckles softly. I can tell from his expressions that he knows I was far from all right. He leaves for a minute and comes back with some gauze and Permabond. He cleans my cut, seals it with the medical superglue and wraps it in the gauze. It not much longer that a very tall and very large, black man enters the small exam room. He’s sporting a tie-dyed lab coat, a stethoscope with an elephant on it, neon colored mismatched scrubs and a red foam clown nose. There’s only one doctor in the whole of the Brooklyn Medical Center who would even dare to bend the dress code rules and that doctor would be the Chief of Pediatric Medicine, Dr. Tyson McKensie. In the fourteen years that I had known Dr. Tyson McKensie, he had never been without the clown nose or his diagnostic team, his Beatles finger puppets that a mother had custom made for him and a pocket full of Tootsie Roll Pops.

He drops down beside Hadley’s bed and pops up once and then ducks back down, playing peek-a-boo with the little girl. They play the game for a few minutes before he finally pops up holding a Tootsie Roll Pop.

“A little bluebird told me, Miss Hadley, that you and the mean old stairs got into a fight,” Dr. McKensie says, tapping on Hadley’s pixie nose.

“The stairs and rotten Donny’s Obi-Wan Kenobi doll,” Hadley adds.

“And who is Donny?” Dr. McKensie asks, listening to Hadley’s heartbeat with the elephant.

“My twin brother,” Hadley answers.

“I had a brother once,” Dr. McKensie says. “But I sold him to the zoo.”

Hadley giggles. “Mommy won’t let me. She says Daddy likes him too much.”

“Well, Miss Hadley, I think you’re in tip-top shape. But I need to talk to your mommy and daddy about what we’re going to do next,” he says, handing her the sucker.

“Ithy and Fitz aren’t my mommy and daddy,” Hadley says, opening the sucker. “My mommy’s on the phone.”

Dr. McKensie looks over at me and Fitz and the recognition sets in. “Miss Ithaca Porter and Fitz Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton, when you gonna come work for me on pedes?”

“When Dr. Kaysen decides that he no longer tolerates me,” Fitz answers.

“I’m just babysitting tonight Dr. McKensie. Mrs. Arvine is on the phone,” I say. I switch on the speakerphone so Arcadia can ask Dr. McKensie any questions she might have.

“Don’t worry about a thing Mrs. Arvine,” Dr. McKensie says. “I will take good care of your baby girl. We’re just going to take some X-Rays of Hadley’s leg and will most likely be casting it.”

“That’s fine,” Arcadia answers. “Do what needs to be done. I will be there shortly.”

“Thank you Mrs. Arvine,” Dr. McKensie says. I end the call and give Fitz back his phone. Dr. McKensie turns to face Hadley. She’s really going to town on the sucker. Her face is covered in purple sticky goo. Dr. McKensie pulls out one of the Beatles from his pocket and slipped it onto his right index finger. In the worst British accent I have ever heard, he begins to explain to Hadley, as Paul McCartney, what’s going to happen next. “Miss Hadley Arvine, we’re going to take a rockin’ picture of your leg.”

“Can I see it?” Hadley asks. She loves having her picture taken.

“Most definitely,” Dr. McKensie answers. “Then we’re going to wrap up your leg up like a great big present so it can heal most righteously.”

“Mr. McCartney?” I ask. Dr. McKensie moves his hand so the puppet is looking at me. “How long will Hadley have to be in the cast?”

“Depending on the break it could only be three weeks to maybe after Christmas,” Dr. McKensie answers, in his Paul McCartney voice.

Hadley’s big brown eyes fill with tears. Dr. McKensie sees the saddened look on Hadley’s face and scolds his finger puppet.

“Now see what you did, Paul. You made Miss Hadley worry she’s going to miss out on sledding this winter. You need to say you’re sorry.”

Fitz and I have a very hard time, trying not to laugh as the big man, who was once a defensive lineman for the New York Giants, scold a finger puppet. Fitz has to turn and face the wall, so he won’t have to look at Dr. McKensie. He is shaking, trying to hold in the laughter.

Dr. McKensie holds his finger out in front of Hadley and in the same horrid British accent says, “I’m sorry, Miss Hadley. With luck you could be out of the cast before it snows!”

This makes Hadley smile. She kisses the top of the puppet’s head. Minutes later a nurse in the same mismatched neon scrubs comes into the room. She wheels Hadley’s bed out of the room. Fitz and I walk with her until we reach radiology. There we have to wait outside. The nurse goes to take Mr. Chuckles from Hadley but Dr. McKensie shakes his head.

“Fitz and I will be right here waiting for you Hads,” I say as she goes through the door. “I love you Hadley Anne Arvine!” I blow her a kiss as the door to radiology closes. Once the door latched, my composure falls to pieces. I start to sob. Big, heaving, heartbreaking sobs. I slide down the wall, just crying.

“She was hurt and I couldn’t even touch her!” I sob into my hands. “She was calling for me and I couldn’t help her! I must have seemed like a monster to her.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Ithaca,” Fitz says, sliding down the wall next to me. “You did what anyone else would have done. You called for help.”

“I shouldn’t have to,” I wail. “Albert and Arcadia left me in charge of their children. What if I had a bad reaction to one of my medications? Hadley and Donny are four years old, Fitz! They wouldn’t have known how to help me. I can’t do this. I can’t put these little people at risk like this.”

I can hear the irrational thoughts coming out faster than I can stop them. I hide my face in my hands sobbing. Fitz’s arms are around me. He whispers into my ear.

“Ithaca this was not your fault. Hadley and Donny love you like you were their real big sister. You didn’t cause Hadley to trip on the stairs. You didn’t mean to get cut. Accidents happen. Don’t let this one event cause a chain reaction that could possibly ruin a fourteen year relationship,” Fitz says. “Albert and Arcadia will understand. I’m sure once Hadley gets bigger she’ll understand why you couldn’t pick her up and hold her tight. It’s going to be okay.”

Fitz holds me tight to him and lets me cry. It’s nice to just be held. I am so lucky to have Fitz in my life. By time I had calmed from my meltdown, Arcadia came rounding the corner. I can’t tell from where I was if she’s really angry or just worried.

“Ithaca!” Arcadia calls. She runs up to us. “Where’s Hadley? Where’s Donny?”

“Donny’s with Helene and Hadley’s in X-Ray,” I say. “Arcadia, I am so, so sorry about this. I was upstairs washing the dishes. Hadley and Donny were downstairs playing. I dropped a knife and caught it with my arm. Next thing I know I hear a scream and Hadley was in a heap on the floor. Cadi, I couldn’t touch her. I just-I couldn’t. She was crying and I couldn’t help her.” I start crying again.

“Ithaca. Ithaca, it’s fine,” she says, wrapping her arm around my shoulders. “I understand. You didn’t want to risk Hadley any further. We’ll explain it to her when she’s older.”

“I don’t want to be an explanation!” I sob. “I hate this disease! I hate it!”

Arcadia wraps her arms tightly around me. I remember being held like that once before. She came to the loft a few hours after Ada had died. She held me tight while I railed against heavens for taking my best friend. Arcadia’s arms around me, then and now, are soothing and calming. She, Fitz and I sit outside radiology, waiting for Hadley. It’s very soon that Dr. McKensie and Hadley come out of X-Ray. She’s smiling and Dr. McKensie is laughing next to her.

“Wow Miss Hadley, you have a lot of visitors this evening,” Dr. McKensie says. “Mrs. Arvine? I’m Dr. Tyson McKensie Chief of Pediatric Medicine, we spoke on the phone.”

“The Chief of Pediatric Medicine makes rounds in the ER?” Arcadia asks.

“Only for very special cases,” Dr. McKensie replies, smiling brightly.

“Yeah, when Mrs. Cottonwell calls you at home,” Fitz mutters to me. I jab him in the side with my elbow. “Ow!”

“The good news Mrs. Arvine, Hadley had a clean tib-fib fracture that is going to heal nicely. Kids heal remarkably fast. We’re going to put it in a cast and she should be out of it by Christmas.”

I let out the breath I have been holding. Hadley’s going to be all right. I sneak away from my family and find an empty hallway. I slide down the wall and in my solitude I start to cry again. It was the first time in my life I truly hated being HIV-positive. I’ve never wish I can be healthy and normal like the other girls my age. I never wish that I had never gotten this disease. But right now, in this very moment I do. I hate AIDS and what it does to the human body. I hate that I have to take fifteen medications in the morning. I hate that I have it. I cry happy, terrified, ecstatic, miserable tears. I hug myself tight and let the tears fall. I am so happy that Hadley’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay. My arm will heal and Hadley’s leg will heal and be stronger for it. It takes several months for my confidence to be able to care for Donny and Hadley on my own to come back.