Wednesday, August 8, 2007


As Ryan drove through the marina entrance, the parking area was dark and deserted, save for one car. The deck lights on Ecnalubma were the only source of light on the dock. He pulled up next to Dawn’s car as she turned her lights on and got out.

“Sorry I’m late,” he apologized. “We caught a late call. I left a voicemail message-”

“I almost got stuck driving out here tonight,” she cut him off. “I can’t understand why you don’t move the boat closer to town, or just sell it.” Her words were flat, dismissive. Emotionless.

“Why don’t you drive DUI Boy’s truck out here, then? He won’t be able to drive it for what, six months?” Ryan retorted just as nastily. “You sure can pick ‘em, I’ll give you that.”

Now why did I say that? Why is it that we can’t just talk any more?

“Why do we have to go through this again?” she asked tiredly. “You start the same argument every time. We can still be friends, Ryan.”

Yeah, you keep saying that, but I don’t want to be your friend. I want to be your husband.

“Sure we can!” he agreed, anger and bitterness creeping into his voice. “And how is DUI Boy enjoying my house? Bed comfortable enough for him? I know he loves my surround sound system. He told me how much he liked it, back before I figured out you were fucking him.”

“Watch your mouth!” she snapped, jerking her head toward the back seat. Caitlin had taken to repeating everything she heard lately.

Fuck,” Caitlin said distinctly as Ryan pulled her from her car seat. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Lovely,” Dawn glared at him. “Any other choice words you want to teach our daughter?”

"Don’t say that, Caitlin,” Ryan chided sternly. “Daddy said a bad word.” Despite being the bravest and most strong-willed person he had ever met, his daughter was a very tenderhearted girl. One stern word from Ryan was enough to break her heart. Right on cue, her eyes misted over and her lower lip started to quiver.

“How was therapy?” Ryan asked, eager to find a safe subject.

“We need to work on her sidestepping, and weight shifts to her weak side,” Dawn sighed. “She used her left hand pretty well today.”

“I’m walkin’, Daddy!” Caitlin exclaimed proudly, holding up her arms for a hug. Both arms. Her left hand was almost open, not tightly fisted as it usually was.

“That’s great!” he said excitedly, hugging her tightly. “You’re a big girl! Pretty, too.”

“I’m not pretty,” she told him seriously. “I’m gorgeous.” Little stinker.

“Can you hold her for a minute while I go fetch the runabout?” Ryan asked Dawn. She rolled her eyes and sighed, but nodded and took Caitlin back. He got the gas can out of his truck, took off his boots and waded out to the dock. The water was already over his knees, and the skies were still heavy with rain clouds. Ecnalubma’s aluminum runabout had a couple of inches of water in it, and the motor refused to start without a struggle.

Ryan finally won the battle of wills with Evinrude and the motor roared unhappily to life. He untied the boat and backed it into the current, making a wide loop back into the basin and beaching the boat next to the parking lot. Dawn handed Caitlin to him and he slipped her life vest over her shoulders. She held up her arms and poked them through the armholes in the vest, grinning at her daddy. Not long ago, she held that left arm tucked against her chest, unable to move it, much less use it with any purpose.

“I got my Dora vest on!” she said happily. Caitlin loved Dora the Explorer. She would wear her vest inside the cabin if Ryan let her. She settled into her spot on the floor of the boat, wetting her pants in the process, but she could have cared less. Dawn handed across Caitlin’s suitcase and stood on the bank uncertainly, eyes misting. “Bye Mommy!” Caitlin waved.

“You want to come aboard?” Ryan asked quietly, meeting her eyes. “You don’t have to rush right home.

Please say yes. Just get in the boat and we’ll spend some time talking. We’ll figure things out, and you’ll realize that we’re better together than apart.

She hesitated for a long moment, and then stepped into the boat. Ryan tried to hide his elation as he motored back to his slip. Dawn gripped the side rails nervously, white-knuckled. She had always hated the runabout – too small for her. Ecnalubma was more of a floating house than a boat. Ryan motored slowly back to his slip, easing the bow of the runabout onto the sloping ramp behind his houseboat. Giving in to temptation, he gunned the motor, just a quick little twist of the throttle and a surge of power. Dawn’s eyes widened in surprise and fear, and she flashed him a dirty look.

“Goose it, Daddy!” Caitlin cackled gleefully. Ryan put on an innocent face and Dawn’s expression softened. She even cracked a little smile. Smiling broadly, Ryan gunned the motor again, fully grounding the boat on the ramp. Shaking her head and grinning, Dawn picked up Caitlin and stepped out onto the dock. He pulled the drain plug from the boat and followed her.

“I haven’t seen you smile like that in a long time,” he told her as he opened the cabin door, and her grin instantly faded. Ryan bustled about the cabin, stowing his gear bag and briefcase, taking Dawn’s coat, putting Caitlin’s suitcase in her room – anything to escape the uncomfortable silence. Dawn was still standing near the door, nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

When Dawn was nervous, she always fiddled with her wedding ring, twirling it around and around on her finger. Her fingers were toying with that left ring finger now, unconsciously twirling a ring that was no longer there. The white band of pale skin where it used to be had even faded away. As if suddenly realizing what she was doing, she blushed and jammed her hands into her pockets. Ryan pretended not to notice.

“You want a beer?” he asked casually, opening the refrigerator. She hesitated, biting her lip, almost visibly making up her mind. “For Christ’s sake, will you relax?” Ryan exploded. “You act like we’re strangers. I just offered you a beer, that’s all. If I were trying to get in your pants, I’d offer you tequila. Remember the July Fourth party at Royce’s?” he reminded her with a lewd grin. And just like that, the tension was broken. She sighed, chuckled and walked past him, getting her own beer from the fridge.

She settled onto a barstool and twisted the top off, taking a long pull. “Which part?” Dawn chuckled. “Us in the pool house, or you having to pull over five times on the way home so I could puke? I’ve never been so hung over in all my life.” She shook her head ruefully.

Ryan couldn’t decide which was funnier – the fumbling, giggling quickie in the pool house, or watching Dawn match Royce Trenton shot for shot until he passed out and had to be put to bed. Never bet a redneck girl that she can't do something.

“I was so proud,” Ryan teased. “My wife; the nurse, paramedic and world-class power drinker. You were the redneck dream girl.”

“Some dream girl,” she snorted. “I puked my guts out half the night. You sat on the bathtub and held my hair out of the way, and handed me wet washcloths all night.”

“And I kept reminding you of the price of victory, and all you would say was, ‘Thash okay. I taught that lil’ shumbish a leshon,’ between retches.”

Dawn did a spit take, spewing beer across the room. “Well, I did teach the little sonofabitch a lesson!” she laughed.

“Sumbitch,” Caitlin said, quite distinctly. “Sumbitch, Mommy!” Dawn and Ryan stared at each other and dissolved into a fit of giggles. She put her beer on the counter and scooped Caitlin up, trying to fix a stern expression on her face.

“Caitlin, that’s a bad word,” Dawn admonished, unsuccessfully stifling a smile. Caitlin just grinned back, the spitting image of her Mommy at that age. “Go play in your room, stinker,” Dawn laughed, putting Caitlin on the floor and swatting her lightly on the rump.

“Nice to know I can still make you smile,” Ryan said, and instantly her smile faded.

Christ, what did I say now? Why is talking with her like walking a minefield?

“You always could make me smile,” she said quietly, sadly. “You just forgot how to do it yourself.” She pushed her half-finished beer across the counter and stood up. “I have to go,” she announced abruptly. “It’s dark and I still have that pig trail you call a road to navigate…” She turned and walked toward the door.

“Dawn,” he said softly, pleadingly. “Dawn. Come back and sit down, please.” She paused, her hand on the knob. Her shoulders were shaking. He walked across the room and stood behind her, wanting desperately to put his arms around her, but afraid to touch. He knew he couldn’t take it if she pulled away.

Ryan flashed back to the night they had first met. He had brought a cardiac arrest patient into a rural hospital Emergency Department, and Dawn had been the nurse on duty. She had taken over the code, running the resuscitation while the doctor stood back and took notes. “Damn, she thinks like a medic!” Ryan remembered thinking. “A good medic.” Two days later, Ryan had gone back and asked her out.

“What happened to us?” Ryan asked quietly. “You walked out on eight years of marriage without so much as a fight. You never once told me you were unhappy. It’s like one day you just woke up and decided you didn’t love me, and I don’t know why. I’m still the same person you married, Dawn.”

“No, you’re not,” she accused, turning to face him. Her eyes were red-rimmed, teary. “Not since your sister died. You still blame yourself. You act as if it doesn’t bother you, but you just quit. You went back to work the day after the funeral like nothing had happened.”

“I was okay with it,” he protested. “I hadn’t seen or talked to her in years.”

Sure you were,” she snorted. “That’s why you got into a fistfight with your father at the funeral. Sell that shit to someone who didn’t live with you. You can joke around and pretend with the guys you work with, but I was there. You just withdrew into your own little world, and you wouldn’t let me in.” Her voice rose, and her eyes flashed with hurt. “How many nights did I go to sleep alone, begging you to come with me? How many nights did I cry myself to sleep, wishing you would just come to bed and hold me? Do you know how long I wondered if it was me, wondered why you didn’t want me any more? You cold-hearted bastard! You walked out five years ago!”

Now what do I say to that? She’s right. I withdraw, and I zone out. That’s my defense mechanism. If I didn’t have that, I’d have ended up just like Renee.

“I wasn’t shutting you out,” he protested, knowing it for the lie it was. “We had bills to pay, jobs. Obligations. When Caitlin was born, I was trying to be strong for you both. I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“Yeah, you were,” she said bitterly. “You had it all under control, just like you always do. But I didn’t need Hawkeye fucking Pierce. I needed you,” she spat, the anger like venom in her voice. “Goddamn you Ryan, you made me cry again. I swore I’d never let you make me cry again.” She bolted outside, slamming the door behind her.

Aaaahhh, shit. I loved you because I didn’t have to be Hawkeye Pierce around you. All I had to be was Ryan. We used to be so comfortable together, like the female mirror image of me. Now you're gone, and I feel like a ghost. Hollow, no reflection. I’m afraid I may never again be the person I was. It scares me.

You could laugh, and I automatically knew what you found so funny, without your having to say a word. I could have a bad day, and you were the only person I trusted to tell about it. We used to be able to know what the other was thinking, and now I fumble for what to say like a stranger on a first date.

After a few minutes, Ryan walked outside to find Dawn sitting on the bow of the runabout, still sobbing. He said nothing, just pushed the boat down the ramp and climbed in. There was nothing to say, anyway. They both knew he still loved her, and they both knew that wasn’t enough. He motored back across the river and into the basin in silence, with Dawn looking down at her feet and Ryan pretending to be too busy navigating the boat to notice.

God, why is it that I can conduct a patient interview with a stranger, but I can’t find the words to talk to my own wife?

Ryan beached the boat down the embankment from her car and waited silently for her to step out. Before she did, she stepped toward him and leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. Ryan could feel her tears on his cheek. He tried to kiss her on the lips, but she pulled away.

“Goodnight Ryan,” she whispered. “Happy birthday.”

Ryan said nothing, just quickly backed away from the shore and turned back into the basin so she wouldn’t see him crying. Back aboard Ecnalubma, he found Caitlin sitting on the floor next to his chair, eyes filled with tears and lower lip quivering. “Mommy crying,” she said accusingly.

“Yeah sweetie,” he sighed, scooping her up and hugging her. “Mommy crying.”


Eagle.EMT said...

When can we buy the book?

Ron said...

Glad i checked the RSS reader once more before 'bedtime'

Epijunky said...

It broke my heart.

Please tell me I'll be able to buy it someday...

John said...

C'mon man- How far along are ya? Finished? Working on the sequel. Good, Good stuff AD- a real talent.

I would buy it in a Heartbeat- pun intended. We we had been able to run some calls together-----


Brandon said...

Damn, I hope that you publish the book, it's been great so far.

Kyle J. said...

AD, just show your publisher this blog and the comments. He can't say it won't sell. I know that.

Angela said...

WOW AD that was good (sighs) Please publish it AD asap. I so want a copy of it.

knitalot3 said...

Geeeez AD! A tissue alert would have been in line. I love it, but you're breaking my heart too.

Pseudo_Doctor said...

keeps getting better and better AD...

Scott said...

Wow! Very good writing! And very sad! Love sucks, when two people can love each other and separate.