Saturday, May 24, 2014

Death of a friend - Ruth's story

This was written on August 29, 2010 on Helium. Helium is closing down but the story is still important to me so I am re-posting it here. All 300 of my articles on Helium will disappear at the end of the year and like this one, there are many I want to save. 

Ruth's story

The tubes and the heart monitor had become part of the background. The constant beeping, annoying at first, now seemed to offer comfort and hope. I watched her from the doorway, too young to be allowed in the room.

The fifteen-year-old girl on the bed was often asleep when I came to visit. I would call her name softly when I arrived. “Ruthie”, I said quietly, “Are you awake?” Sometimes her mom would be there and gently touch a spot on her shoulder that was not wrapped in bandages.

The smile that erupted when she saw me standing in the doorway was contagious. “Hi”, she would say cheerfully, “I just had the best dream”. Not believing that anything bad could come from this I said, “Tell me about it”.

“We were little. We had those old-fashioned clippers and were playing barber in the empty house next to mine. We cut off all of Jackpot’s hair”.

Laughter erupted from the doorway. “That wasn’t a dream, that was a memory”, I said. I watched her on the bed, seeing her eyes crinkle in laughter. Loving her as much as I did, I did not see the bandages or the parts of burned skin that were visible. What I saw was the curly brown hair, sometimes wispy around her face. I saw dark brown eyes that viewed the world with wonder. I remembered the two little girls, one light and one dark, cheerfully cutting the hair of the 6-yr-old boy. We had been in so much trouble.

“Do you remember that we were not allowed to ever go to the empty house again?” I asked?

Ruthie glanced up and gave what would be the equivalent of a nod. She looked tired all of a sudden. Drained from the exchange, she drifted off to sleep. Her mother, looking worried came from the room. Pulling my mom and me from the doorway, she looked for a place to talk.

“She’s had a bad day today”, Ruthie's mom said. “The skin graft under her arm didn’t take. They also had to remove three fingers from her right hand”. Ruthie's mom glanced at me.

I was horrified. How could this be happening? We were best friends. We had our lives planned. Ruthie wanted to be a nurse. Ruthie was boy-crazy. Ruthie and I were always together and had been since we were three-yrs-old. People loved to be around her, she seem to draw people to her like a magnet. She loved everyone in turn and only saw the good in people.

Ruthie was the ringleader. She had an amazing imagination and we were often in trouble. Knowing each other as well as we did, we would often start giggling in class, knowing what the other was thinking. Ruthie saw the world with humor and did not take much seriously.

I looked up at Ruthie's mother. “What!” I said. It was as if the information had just made sense. “What!” I said again, “Does she know?” Her mother shook her head no. “Are you going to tell her?” I demanded.

“No”, her mother replied, “Not now, it’s just been a rough day. When she feels stronger, we will tell her. Right now, we are letting her get as much rest as she can. The drugs help with the pain and she needs to sleep”.

“OK, I’ll go in and say goodbye”.

It was a long slow walk back to the room. Ruthie was sleeping. From the doorway I said, “Hi Ruthie”. Ruthie opened her eyes. “Hi”, she said weakly. “Did you know my mom said when I get out of here, she will let me have piano lessons?”

“Wow, that’s great”, I said enthusiastically.

“I can’t wait”, Ruthie said.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. See ya’ later, alligator”, I said

“After while, crocodile”, Ruthie replied.   

Walking out of the hospital, I had a fleeting thought that it might have been better if Ruthie had not survived the fire. After two weeks of intense pain and unbearable suffering, losing the fingers would just be too much for her to bear. Ruthie had always wanted to play the piano and although I had tried to teach her, we were both too silly to make a real effort.  

The whole thing was unreal. Ruthie was not the person in the bed. Ruthie was light itself, shining on everyone. Ruthie would be a nurse and share her generous spirit with those who most needed her help. That was who she was.

As we walked into the house after the hour drive from Los Angeles, the phone started ringing. My mom picked it up. She listened for a minute than said, “I’m sorry”. Turning to me she said, “Ruthie just passed away”.

The sun lost part of its light that day. Without Ruthie to share it with others, it never regained its former glory.    

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