I was waiting for Marty in the lobby of the hotel when it happened. A gaggle of young women gathered around one of the comfortable chairs for a group selfie and, laughing, wandered back through the double doors at the entrance when one of them ran back inside. “He’s unresponsive,” I heard her say to the slender twenty-something at the front desk. And in that moment, I knew.
We were in Portland to pack my things and put them on a moving truck, so they could make their way to Nebraska. I’d spent the week introducing Marty to friends I’d known since college and before. He drove me past apartments he’d lived in years ago and took me miles down a lush, green country road toward a place he’d worked when he was twenty.
He wrapped breakable things in stiff brown paper and carefully put them in boxes striped with packing tape while I sorted through drawers and cleaned out my closet. We ate drive-thru and dined at diners and sipped scalding coffee from paper cups. We told old stories and dreamed of telling new ones. It had been the perfect week—until today.
Grasping my dog Adele’s leash firmly in a clenched fist, I ran out the door and saw Marty lying face down on the sidewalk, a group of strangers clustered around him. One of his shoes had come off and was lying sideways on the ground, and a woman in a headscarf was talking on her phone to an EMT. “Don’t touch him,” someone said.
Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. It’s happening all over again, I thought. Just like when Michael died. And then, like people do when they find themselves caught in a situation too awful to comprehend, I mentally squared my shoulders and put one foot in front of the other.
I saw the pool of blood before I saw his face. I remember thinking it was too bright, too viscous. Touching him lightly on the back, I said his name. He moaned and tried to get up. “Help me turn over,” he pleaded. “I can breathe better if I sit up.”
“Don’t move him,” I heard a voice behind me say, but I ignored it. I grasped Marty under one arm, a stranger took the other, and we propped him up against the building.
“Can you tell me your name?” I asked, remembering my undergraduate psychology classes and the importance of accident victims being oriented times three. “I’m Marty,” he replied, touching the cut above his eye gingerly and trying to breathe through his bloody nose. The entire side of his face was dark with the congealing stuff. “Where are we? Is this a bad dream?” he asked.
“No,” I said quietly, “We’re in front of our hotel in Portland. Do you know who I am?” Marty looked up at me, his sea-blue eyes huge. “You’re Chuck,” he said finally.
A fire truck followed by an ambulance turned into the circle drive, and EMTs asked me pertinent questions about Marty’s medical history before putting him on a gurney and easing him through the doors of the waiting vehicle.
A nurse smiled at me and asked if I was Chuck when I opened the door to room 17, where I saw the man I love lying in a narrow bed in the middle of the room. His left eye was black and swollen shut and his lip was twice its normal size.
“Hello,” Marty croaked, handing me a crooked grin.
“Hey, Baby Boy,” I said. “You scared me to death,” My voice choked, and my eyes filled with tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said, gripping my hand.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” I said, “But how did this happen? Did you trip on the curb?”
“No, I just got going too fast, and I couldn’t stop myself.”
I sat beside him and held his hand during the endless nine hours that followed while doctors and nurses tested Marty for every gruesome possibility his fall could’ve caused.
As the results of a CAT scan, an ultrasound, X-rays, and an EKG all came back negative, I breathed a sigh of relief and realized how bad things could have been—that I’d come within inches of losing someone else I loved.
During the next five days, Marty slowly improved. The swelling from the broken bones in his nose and face started to go down, and he was able to get around more easily. He was so determined that things go back to normal that we boarded a plane home just two days after the accident.
Is everything back to normal? Not yet, but we’re getting there. I worry that something could still go wrong all the time, but other emotions run around in my head, too. I’m also grateful—grateful that things weren’t much worse–that I still have Marty in my life. And, once again, I understand that this life and those I love are both infinitely precious and hopelessly fragile.