If I Stay, Page 10Gayle Forman
“You were supposed to dress up,” a skeleton guy chastised me before offering me a beer.
“I f**king LOVE those pants,” a flapper girl screamed into my ear. “Did you get them in Seattle?”
“Aren’t you in the Crack House Quartet?” a guy in a Hillary Clinton mask asked me, referring to some hard-core band that Adam loved and I hated.
When Shooting Star went on, I didn’t stay backstage, which is what I normally did. Backstage I could sit on a chair and have an uninterrupted view and not have to talk to anybody. This time, I lingered out by the bar, and then, when the flapper girl grabbed me, I joined her dancing in the mosh pit.
I’d never gone into the mosh pit before. I had little interest in running around in circles while drunk, brawny boys in leather trod on my toes. But tonight, I totally got into it. I understood what it was like to merge your energy with the mob’s and to absorb theirs as well. How in the pit, when things got going, you weren’t so much walking or dancing as being sucked into a whirlpool.
When Adam finished his set, I was as panting and sweaty as he was. I didn’t go backstage to greet him before everyone else got to him. I waited for him to go to the floor of the club, to meet his public like he did at the end of every show. And when he came out, a towel around his neck, sucking on a bottle of water, I flung myself into his arms and kissed him openmouthed and sloppy in front of everyone. I could feel him smiling as he kissed me back.
“Well, well, looks like someone has been infused with spirit of Debbie Harry,” he said, wiping some of the lipstick off his chin.
“I guess so. What about you? Are you feeling very Mozarty?”
“All I know about him is from what I saw in that movie. But I remember he was kind of a horndog, so after that kiss, I guess I am. You ready to go? I can load up and we can get out of here. ”
“No, let’s stay for the last set. ”
“Really?” Adam asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise.
“Yeah. I might even go into the pit with you. ”
“Have you been drinking?” he teased.
“Just the Kool-Aid,” I replied.
We danced, stopping every now and again to make out, until the club closed.
On the way home, Adam held my hand while he drove. Every so often he’d turn to look at me and smile while shaking his head.
“So you like me like this?” I asked.
“Hmm,” he responded.
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“Of course I like you. ”
“No, like this. Did you like me tonight?”
Adam straightened up. “I liked that you got into the show and weren’t chomping to leave ASAP. And I loved dancing with you. And I loved how comfortable you seemed to be with all us riffraff. ”
“But did you like me like this? Like me better?”
“Than what?” he asked. He looked genuinely perplexed.
“Than normal. ” I was getting irritated now. I’d felt so brazen tonight, like the Halloween costume had imbued me with a new personality, one more worthy of Adam, of my family. I tried to explain that to him, and to my dismay, found myself near tears.
Adam seemed to sense that I was upset. He pulled the car off onto a logging road and turned to me. “Mia, Mia, Mia,” he said, stroking the tendrils of my hair that had escaped from the wig. “This is the you I like. You definitely dressed sexier and are, you know, blond, and that’s different. But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow. I love that you’re fragile and tough, quiet and kick-ass. Hell, you’re one of the punkest girls I know, no matter who you listen to or what you wear. ”
After that, whenever I started to doubt Adam’s feelings, I’d think about my wig, gathering dust in my closet, and it would bring back the memory of that night. And then I wouldn’t feel insecure. I’d just feel lucky.
7:13 P. M.
I have been hanging out in an empty hospital room in the maternity ward, wanting to be far away from my relatives and even farther away from the ICU and that nurse, or more specifically what that nurse said and what I now understand. I needed to be somewhere where people wouldn’t be sad, where the thoughts concerned life, not death. So I came here, the land of screaming babies. Actually, the wail of the newborns is comforting. They have so much fight in them already.
But it’s quiet in this room now. So I’m sitting on the windowsill, staring out at the night. A car screeches into the parking garage, shaking me out of my reverie. I peer down in time to catch a glimpse of the taillights of a pink car disappear into the darkness. Sarah, who is the girlfriend of Liz, Shooting Star’s drummer, has a pink Dodge Dart. I hold my breath, waiting for Adam to appear out of the tunnel. And then he’s here, walking up the ramp, hugging his leather jacket against the winter night. I can see the chain of his wallet glinting in the floodlights. He stops, turns around to talk to someone behind him. I see the soft figure of a woman emerge from the shadows. At first, I think it must be Liz. But then I see the braid.
I wish I could hug her. To thank her for always being one step ahead of what I need.
Of course Kim would go to Adam, to tell him in person as opposed to breaking the news over the phone, and then to bring him here, to me. It was Kim who knew that Adam was playing a show in Portland. Kim who must have somehow managed to cajole her mother into driving downtown. Kim who, judging by Mrs. Schein’s absence, must have convinced her mother to go home, to let her stay with Adam and me. I remember how it took Kim two months to get permission to take that helicopter flight with her uncle, so I’m impressed that she managed this amount of emancipation within the space of a few hours. It was Kim who must have braved any number of intimidating bouncers and hipsters to find Adam. And Kim who must have braved telling Adam.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but I’m glad it wasn’t me. I don’t think I could have borne it. Kim had to bear it.
And now, because of her, he is finally here.
All day long, I’ve been imagining Adam’s arrival, and in my fantasy, I rush to greet him, even though he can’t see me and even though, from what I can tell so far, it’s nothing like that movie Ghost, where you can walk through your loved ones so that they feel your presence.
But now that Adam is here, I’m paralyzed. I’m scared to see him. To see his face. I’ve seen Adam cry twice. Once when we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. And another time when we were in the train station in Seattle and we saw a mother yelling and swatting her son who had Down syndrome. He just got quiet and it was only when we were walking away that I saw the tears rolling down his cheeks. And it damn near tore my heart out. If he is crying, it will kill me. Forget this my choice business. That alone will do me in.
I’m such a chickenshit.
I look at the clock on the wall. It’s past seven now. Shooting Star will not be opening for Bikini after all. Which is a shame. It was a huge break for them. For a second, I wonder if the rest of the band will go on without Adam. I highly doubt it, though. It’s not just that he is the lead singer and the lead guitar player. The band has this kind of code. Loyalty to feelings is important. Last summer, when Liz and Sarah broke up (for what turned out to be all of a month) and Liz was too distraught to play, they canceled their five-night tour, even though this guy Gordon who plays drums in another band offered to sub for her.
I watch Adam make his way to the hospital’s main entrance, Kim trailing behind him. Just before he comes to the covered awning and the automatic doors, he looks up into the sky. He is waiting for Kim but I also like to think he’s looking for me. His face, illuminated by the lights, is blank, like someone vacuumed away all his personality, leaving only a mask. He doesn’t look like him. But at least he’s not crying.
That gives me the guts to go to him now. Or rather to me, to the ICU, which is where I know he will want to go.
Adam knows Gran and Gramps and the cousins, and I imagine he’ll join the waiting-room vigil later. But right now he’s here for me.
Back in the ICU time stands still as always. One of the surgeons who worked on me earlier—the one who sweated a lot and, when it was his turn to pick the music, blasted Weezer—is checking in on me.
The light is dim and artificial and kept to the same level all the time, but even so, the circadian rhythms win out and a nighttime hush has fallen over the place. It is less frenetic than it was during the day, like the nurses and machines are all a little tired and have reverted to power-save mode.
So when Adam’s voice reverberates from the hallway outside the ICU, it really wakes everyone up.
“What do you mean I can’t go in?” he booms.
I make my way across the ICU, standing just on the other side of the automatic doors. I hear the orderly outside explain to Adam that he is not allowed in this part of the hospital.
“This is bullshit!” Adam yells.
Inside the ward, all the nurses look toward the door, their heavy eyes wary. I am pretty sure they’re thinking: Don’t we have enough to deal with inside without having to calm down crazy people outside? I want explain to them that Adam isn’t crazy. That he never yells, except for very special occasions.
The graying middle-aged nurse who doesn’t attend to the patients but sits by and monitors the computers and phones, gives a little nod and stands up as if accepting a nomination. She straightens her creased white pants and makes her way toward the door. She’s really not the best one to talk to him. I wish I could warn them that they ought to send Nurse Ramirez, the one who reassured my grandparents (and freaked me out). She’d be able to calm him down. But this one is only going to make it worse. I follow her through the double doors where Adam and Kim are arguing with an orderly. The orderly looks at the nurse. “I told them they’re not authorized to be up here,” he explains. The nurse dismisses him with the wave of a hand.
“Can I help you, young man?” she asks Adam. Her voice sounds irritated and impatient, like some of Dad’s tenured colleagues at school who Dad says are just counting the days till retirement.
Adam clears his throat, attempting to pull himself together. “I’d like to visit a patient,” he says, gesturing toward the doors blocking him from the ICU.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” she replies.
“But my girlfriend, Mia, she’s—”
“She’s being well cared for,” the nurse interrupts. She sounds tired, too tired for sympathy, too tired to be moved by young love.
“I understand that. And I’m grateful for it,” Adam says. He’s trying his best to play by her rules, to sound mature, but I hear the catch in his voice when he says: “I really need to see her. ”
“I’m sorry, young man, but visitations are restricted to immediate family. ”
I hear Adam gasp. Immediate family. The nurse doesn’t mean to be cruel. She’s just clueless, but Adam won’t know that. I feel the need to protect him and to protect the nurse from what he might do to her. I reach for him, on instinct, even though I cannot really touch him. But his back is to me now. His shoulders are hunched over, his legs starting to buckle.
Kim, who was hovering near the wall, is suddenly at his side, her arms encircling his falling form. With both arms locked around his waist, she turns to the nurse, her eyes blazing with fury. “You don’t understand!” she cries.
“Do I need to call security?” the nurse asks.
Adam waves his hand, surrendering to the nurse, to Kim. “Don’t,” he whispers to Kim.
So Kim doesn’t. Without saying another word, she hoists his arm around her shoulder and shifts his weight onto her. Adam has about a foot and fifty pounds on Kim, but after stumbling for a second, she adjusts to the added burden. She bears it.
Kim and I have this theory that almost everything in the world can be divided into two groups.