This was the first story I wrote in “Intro to Creative Writing” during my sophomore year at Virginia Tech. Warning: Melodrama follows. Written February 10th, 2010
“How Does the Other Half Live?”
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A harsh skidding sound accompanied the skip of a heartbeat. David had slipped on the ice that thinly coated the sidewalk. A nearby municipal worker saw this. “Be careful, sir,” he warned. “I haven‟t scraped this sidewalk yet.” Perfect. Well, this is a wonderful way to start the day, David thought. He had already overslept and was going to be late for work. Slipping and taking sidewalk detours were not what he needed. Otherwise, however, it was a pretty nice day. The constant snowfall had let up—at least temporarily—from the night before and the air was crisp. Purified, as if by a reverse crucible. A gentle late-January sun reflected off the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Despite being in a hurry, David was trying to appreciate the morning. He was a block away from work when his heart skipped again.
This time it was an SUV that slipped on the ice. It skidded uncontrollably after running a red light. The Prius that it slammed into partially disappeared under the SUV‟s enormous carriage. David stood rooted to the spot for a second, gaping at the tragedy that took place less than fifty feet from him. He did not realize that he was looking around in shock, seeing that no one else was running to offer assistance. Why is no one doing anything? He saw someone take out her cell phone. 911. Good. I’ve gotta help. He glanced quickly at the traffic that remained still and ran into the street. He weaved in between the cars and ran to the crash, skidding to a halt by the driver-side door. He yanked it open. The woman inside was unconscious and the roof of her car had caved in—a blunt edge was pressing hard against her right side.
Bending down, David reached under the seat to pull the adjust bar. He eased the seat back and undid the woman‟s seatbelt. He noticed that he was calling out to her, and she did not respond. Why was she not responding? He could feel a pulse in her arm; she was breathing; her side was where the metal had touched her body, and now it was free. Why would she not awaken? David‟s vision became clouded as these questions swirled around in his head. The sounds of screeching and crunching metal grew louder as they played and replayed in his head. He fell backwards to land on his butt. There he sat in the snow while sirens grew louder in the distance. He looked up at the paramedic with a panicked face. He drew in a hiccoughed breath, then the world went black.
David groaned. There was incessant chatter and the faint hum of a machine. A deep voice cut through the noise. “Well, I‟m glad to see that you‟re awake.” David lifted his head which was resting on his arms. He saw that he was hunched on a rolling bedside table. The chair he was sitting on was next to a hospital bed. He groaned again, more softly this time. The voice said “You had us worried for a minute. We thought you were injured too, but we couldn‟t see anything wrong with you.” David‟s vision was still blurry and his senses were slowly coming back. He grumbled “You put me in the ambulance?” The doctor seemed to smile. “That‟s right. We weren‟t sure if you had sustained a head injury, but it seems you just hyperventilated. Anyway, I have a couple of questions to ask you.” David rubbed his eyes and pushed away the table.
“First of all, what is your name, please?”
“Mr. Evans, nice to meet you. I‟m Dr. Cowan. And what is your relationship to Miss Valenti?”
David suddenly became fully alert. His head snapped to the left and he saw the woman lying in the bed next to him. Miss Valenti, huh? His eyebrows furrowed slightly as he studied her features. He hadn‟t noticed before that her hair was blonde. The events of that morning were grayscale for some reason.
David remembered that the doctor had asked him a question. “Oh, I‟ve never met her before. I was walking to work when I saw the crash.” He quickly stood up. “Hey, is she going to be alright, doc?” He immediately regretted standing up so quickly because he now had head-rush. Dr. Cowan held out his hand. “Take it easy, I‟ll explain her situation.” The doctor drew in a long breath. “I‟m afraid it‟s very complicated. You see, during the crash there was blunt trauma to her right kidney. It appears there were polyps on the back of her kidney that no one saw before.” David stared at him intently, hanging on to every word. Dr. Cowan continued. “The blunt force caused these polyps to rupture and the toxins inside them have caused kidney failure—please calm down, Mr. Evans. Please, have a seat.” David faltered for a second, then sat down. “There‟s no need for concern as of yet. She‟s currently stable and we have her on hæmofiltration. If treatment is not successful she may need an organ transplant, but let‟s not do anything until it‟s necessary.”
David chimed in again, standing up almost reflexively. “Doc, if she does need a kidney transplant, and there are none available, I would be happy to be the donor.” Dr. Cowan seemed hesitant to celebrate this news. “That‟s very noble of you, Mr. Evans, but donating organs, especially kidneys, can be quite complicated. There are several factors to take into account, including blood type, and Miss Valenti has a very rare blood type: AB negative.” David smiled at this. “My blood type is AB negative, too! If you have no other donors, I‟m the one.” “Mr. Evans, we have to do tests—“ “Can you do them today? The sooner I know my compatibility the better.” Dr. Cowan could see that David was very determined to be cross-tested. “All right, we‟ll have the tests started right away.” This seemed to put David at ease. “You seem very eager to help, Mr. Evans.” “Yeah, well, I just want to make sure that there‟s always an option. I mean, kidney failure, that‟s pretty serious. Okay, can we start right now?”
About an hour later David returned to Miss Valenti‟s room. He sat next to her bed and sighed heavily. “Well,” he said to her, “It looks like I‟ll be here for a while. My boss just called to say I‟m fired for not telling him I couldn‟t be at work. I can‟t believe I was so stupid! How could I forget to call and tell him why I wasn‟t there? I guess I got too caught up in this. But why did that jerk have to fire me?! I‟m in the hospital!” His expression became focused. “Imagine if I wasn‟t late this morning. I wouldn‟t have ended up here with you. I guess it all worked out in the end. So what‟s your name, or should I call you Miss Valenti?” He got up and looked at her chart. “Rena? Wow, that‟s a beautiful name. Hmm, you‟re a Gemini. And only 26.” She’s six years younger than I am. She hasn’t even been through three decades and already her life is in danger. “You have your whole life ahead of you,” he thought aloud. The chart also listed emergency contacts: her parents. They live in Schenectady, only three hours away, well, in clear weather anyway. Who knows how long a trip in this snowstorm? He hung up the chart and went back to the seat. The following hours were filled with his discussion. He spoke of whatever came to mind. His childhood, his move to bustling Manhattan after college, and his recently terminated job. He wondered aloud what he would do next, and every statement he made was coupled with a question for Rena. She could only lie there sleeping but somehow made great company. Just by asking, David could find out a lot about her.
The nurse came in and told David that Rena‟s parents would be coming up in a few minutes. He had asked her to warn him because her grieving parents were not what he wanted to see; it would be too much for him to handle. Another one of the nurses gave him a leftover meal from her cart and showed him where the nearest waiting room was. It was more of a lounge, with a couple of couches, a big-screen TV, and an aquarium. Anything to take peoples’ minds off their sick relatives,
I guess. After he was sure that her parents had left, David went back to the room and spent the evening there. For minutes on end he would gaze at her and wonder what color her eyes were. He saw that she had a small mole near her right ear. He hadn‟t noticed that before. The fascination with Rena consumed and puzzled him. David did not believe in love at first sight until it had proven itself to him today.
The lights dimmed as the nurse went about her final rounds for the evening. She draped a blanket over David, who was sitting up with his elbows on the side rail of the bed. His soft snores could not rise above the humming of the filtration machine.
“At this point transplantation is the only option,” Dr. Cowan said to the nurse the next morning. “But even that option doesn‟t exist. I looked at the list of available donors and it‟s too short. Miss Valenti is too far down the list to receive a new kidney.” “Is there treatment we can give besides the hæmofiltration?” David stirred to these voices outside the room. He did not want to acknowledge that he was awake, for all his muscles were cramped and sore from the position he slept in. The voices continued outside. “No, and it‟s already running constantly. It looks like infection has set in and the right kidney may become gangrenous. Until we can find a suitable donor I‟m afraid things will be very grim.” “Well, let‟s not focus on that until we have to,” the nurse suggested. “I‟ll just continue the treatments for now.”
They entered the room to see David rubbing his eyes. “Mr. Evans, have you been here all night?” Dr. Cowan asked with a frown. “Yeah,” David answered. “I don‟t really want to go back to my apartment and see another crash along the way or get run over. Besides, I would have to pass by my old job and I don‟t want to think about it.” Dr. Cowan was tapping Rena‟s IV. “Well, at least venture around the hospital. We have a pool table, TVs, a cafeteria. How long has it been since you‟ve eaten?” David‟s eyes rolled up and to the right. “Uh, yesterday afternoon when one of the nurses brought me a snack. I don‟t really feel like eating.” “That‟s just your nerves. Well, I‟m hungry myself. I think I‟m going to go down and get a HotPocket. Hopefully you‟ll do the same.” He left the room and David got up and stretched. “Maybe some food will do me some good. But should I go now or later?” The nurse brought some dressings and towels from the linen closet. She said “Either way, you‟ll have to leave. I have to change Mrs. Valenti‟s dressings.” David stuttered. “W- Wait, what? Did you say Mrs. Valenti? But, …the doctor… said miss.” He had trouble taking this information in. She was married. She already had the other half.
David did not realize it but his legs had taken him to a vending machine and he was now sitting on a couch sipping a can of Ginger Ale. He was trying to reflect on the events of the past two days and on his place in all of this. He felt that he could not leave. He was a part of the situation and felt that for some reason, he was fated to see it through.
“She‟s right through there and to the right, Mr. Valenti.” The receptionist had directed a very upset man to his ailing wife. Nathan Valenti gasped when he saw her body lying on the bed. The doctor had said that her condition was critical but stable. He took the soonest flight he could from his conference in Seattle to come see her. The heavy snow over the Northeast had not made travel any easier, but he made it. A part of Nathan had refused to believe that this was real, that he would come to see her awake, that it had all been a mistake and she was fine. But now, sitting by her side, gripping her hand, it was all too real. Tears streaked down Nathan‟s face and he told her how he loved her, that he was sorry. The worst part of Nathan‟s experience was knowing that, as his wife lay dying, he had broken his promise to her. Being away on business trips opens opportunities, but it also shoves forth a flood of temptations. How easy it is to simply take off one‟s wedding ring while away from home, and no woman will know the difference….
As Nathan was drying the tears from his face David came back to her room. David had tried not to think about his worries that day, but they always came flooding back. Now he met the man whom twelve hours ago he did not know existed. “Oh, hi.” David said in what he hoped was a
warm tone. “You must be Mr. Valenti,” as he extended his hand. “Nathan,” Mr. Valenti corrected as he shook David‟s hand. “And you are?”
David thought about this for a second. “Uh, just a friend from… around.” They spoke and David tried to hide his supreme disappointment in the knowledge that the woman he had grown attached to was already spoken for—this disappointment manifested itself now in the form of a man David overheard to be a cheater.
Dr. Cowan and the nurse came in to greet Nathan. The doctor then explained the current situation, of Rena‟s rapid deterioration, of her need for a kidney transplant, of how the list was too short to be of any help and how a donor must be found soon. Nathan knew that he could solve this problem. “I can donate one of mine. I already know I‟m compatible to her—this hospital should have that info in your records.” The nurse stepped up “Okay, Mr. Valenti, let‟s go verify this and do some additional tests to make sure everything still checks out.” She and Nathan left the room.
“Mr. Evans?” the doctor asked with the sternness of a disapproving father.
“The tests have come back negative for your tissue compatibility.”
“Oh, I see. Well, if Nathan is a suitable donor, then I don‟t mind—”
“Mr. Evans,” he said forcefully, “did you know you only have one kidney?” David‟s face turned from relieved to sheepish. “Yes, I knew that,” he admitted with a quivering lip. Dr. Cowan was angry now. “You would have died if you gave up your other kidney! Why would you be willing to throw away your life for someone you don‟t even know?” David replied just as forcefully. “Because… I love her okay?, and she has more life ahead of her than I do, and- and she has someone to life for! Her family, and, and, him. She has her husband to live for, even though that scumbag doesn‟t deserve her.”
Dr. Cowan looked puzzled. “What do you mean by scumbag?” David was trying to hold back his resentment and anger. “I heard what he told Rena when I was walking in before. He cheated on her! A wonderful woman like that. How can he live with himself after something like that?” “Mr. Evans, that‟s neither here nor there at the moment. Right now the most important thing to be concerned with is the treatment and transplant.” He pointed his finger at David to punctuate his next point. “Now I don‟t want you making any waves, do you understand me?” David reluctantly agreed as Nathan came storming angrily into the room.
“This is bullshit!” Nathan‟s face was gradually becoming redder and redder. Your nurse here says I can‟t donate!” She tried to remain calm. “Sir, you have Hepatitis B. That makes you ineligible.” He spat back “That affects the liver, right? What does that have to do with my kidneys?” The nurse was about to try to explain but David interjected. “Hepatitis B? Are you kidding me? What, did you get it when you were whoring around?”
Nathan‟s face went blank for a split second, then turned twice as angry as it was before. “Excuse me?! Who do you think you are—” Jabbing his finger into Nathan‟s chest, David shouted “No, who do you think YOU are? How dare you do this—” The doctor tried to tell them to calm down, but their shouting drowned him out. Nathan knocked David‟s hand away, David grabbed a hold of Nathan‟s shirt, then Nathan lunged at David. The two of them crashed into the wall before Dr. Cowan pulled them apart. “ENOUGH! I don‟t want to see, or hear, anymore fighting. If you two so much as touch each other, I‟ll have you both thrown out.” He pointed at David. “Especially you. You‟re not even her husband!” The three of them were panting. The only other noise was the faint humming of the machine.
David walked to the other side of the room and broke the uneasy silence after a few seconds. “I can‟t believe you. You would have been able to donate one of your kidneys, but you got Hepatitis B (he waved his hands around at this) because you had to jam your dick into every hole you could find! An—and now, Rena is going to die because of you!” Tears were welling up in his eyes. Had
he really fallen so deeply in love with her that he would cry just at the thought of her imminent death? Nathan moved forward out of ire but Dr. Cowan blocked him with his arm. He said to David “Mr. Evans, I think it‟s best that you leave.” “Damn straight I‟m leaving!” He looked Nathan in the eyes. “You disgust me! You pig, betraying Rena like that. Well, don‟t worry, because after your wife dies you‟ll have plenty of time to mess around with your whores!” and with that, he left. Nathan called after him “You think I‟m proud of what I did?” His voice was choked with tears. He said more softly “I‟m so, so sorry for what I did, and now she‟s…” He did not dare finish the sentence.
“I need a shower,” David mentioned to himself as he entered his apartment. Once again the world was blurry and he had to slow his breathing to prevent passing out again. After a warm shower David drank a glass of milk and thought about his reaction. I could’ve handled that differently. I shouldn’t have let things get out of hand. He finally decided that he should apologize to Nathan for being so harsh. I don’t know what came over me. I don’t ever talk like that. Ever.
When he arrived at the hospital Rena was being prepped for surgery. He asked the receptionist why he wasn‟t notified. “Mr. Valenti said that he didn‟t want you to be.” Of course. After that, who would? He returned his attention to her. “May I ask who the donor was, ma‟am? Was it anonymous?” She looked at her screen. “I‟m not sure, it usually is. Let me check. Hmm… It says that the donor was a Mr. John Price, her father. He died only a few hours ago.” David let out a sigh—it was relief at the kidney becoming available, and at the news of Rena‟s loss, a loss that would save her life, but would bring her tears after she learned of the organ‟s benefactor. “Well,” he said to the receptionist, “It would have been better if it didn‟t have to be him. Not enough people are organ donors.” He grumbled “Didn‟t have to be him.”
David was once again awoken by the voice of Dr. Cowan. This time he was in the waiting room where he had reclined across several chairs the night before. “I see you came back.” The doctor observed. “Well, you‟ll be happy to know that the operation was a success.” David sat up at this. He felt a vicarious burden lifted off his shoulders. Dr. Cowan continued. “She‟ll still be on dialysis for a while but she‟s stable and awake.” Without missing a beat David asked to see her. “Well, I guess that‟d be alright,” he looked at his watch, “Considering it‟s now visiting hours. She‟s in room 124.”
When David was nearly at the threshold of the room a hysterical Nathan bumped into him on the way past. Looking back, David could see that he was not wearing his ring.
Rena smiled at him as he made his way to the bedside chair. She asked him about the events of and following the crash, of his unfaltering attendance, and most importantly, “Why were you willing to give me your only kidney if there turned out to be no one else?” His answer was said with an unsteady voice. “I- it‟s because… ever since I first saw you, I… loved you. I didn‟t think it could be possible to fall in love with someone so fast, especially when they were unconscious, but… there‟s so much about you I want to learn, and I want to spend an entire lifetime doing it.”
Rena seemed at once happy and distraught to hear this. “Listen, David, I can‟t say anything one way or another because so much has happened-” she started to cry and David held her hand. “I mean, the crash, my- my husband, my—(she choked on her words) my father!” Once her crying subsided she continued. “So much has happened that I can‟t even process it right now.
“That‟s okay,” he assured her, “you can take as much time as you need. I‟m sorry about your father. It‟s really unfortunate to lose your dad like that, but you can always rest in the knowledge that now he lives on in you.” “Yeah,” she responded. She smiled but her tears betrayed her. He brushed his thumb across her cheeks to dry up the tears. “Thank you, David. Even though all this has happened at once, it‟s good to know I can tackle it one step at a time.” The nurse came in and gave Rena a pill. It was supposed to help suppress her body‟s reaction to the new organ tissue. After checking a couple of things she quietly left.
David mused “You know, it‟s funny how the circle of life works. Death for one means life for another. One life is taken away, and another is given. But there‟s also a circle of lives. Where our old lives end, new lives begin.” “You know,” Rena said, calmer now, “Most people think that the name Rena means „kidney‟ in Latin because it sounds like „renal,‟ but the name actually means „reborn.‟” She chuckled softly at this. She said “You‟ve given my name meaning, David” as she squeezed his hand.
The value of life was precious to David, and that is why he was willing, for the woman he loved, to give life and to take it away.