Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please. For those of you awaiting flight 825 to Cleveland, we have been informed by Air Traffic Control that our aircraft has just departed Cleveland. We are projecting its arrival here at approximately 7:34 local time. We have some weather working its way east, so we have not yet been informed of our projected departure time westbound.
It is 6:50 pm. My flight was due to depart approximately 15 minutes ago. The monitors had initially projected our departure for 15 minutes from now, which resulted in my having to literally guzzle down the quin-schnozzle-strength margarita that arrived 20 minutes late to my table at the overcrowded Mexican restaurant I left 4 minutes ago, and which is now rapidly souring in my stomach. And the air conditioning is not functioning in this concourse.
In L’Inferno, Dante takes us on a tour of the nine circles of hell.
Circle Four is located in Newark Airport.
How I arrived here is a rather interesting story.
The First Circle: Monday
Annie and I slowly made our way out of the Board Room, where we had just narrowly avoided a hostile takeover bid, launched by the facility that holds the lease to the daycare center we have jointly run since 2002.
Fighting back a combination of giddiness and nausea, we discussed the possibility of moving the center into the new high school being built across the street. After three years, we might finally have the opportunity to integrate the curriculum to include GED and parenting classes to serve the 40% of our families headed by high school drop-outs.
I hugged Annie. “You did good today, Sister.”
She pulled back and looked me in the eye, “Only because we’re a team.”
I turned to leave the building. Five seconds later, I heard the sound of books hitting the lobby floor and turned just in time to see Annie come down, hard, on the hip she broke last February. Her head followed quickly, so quickly that it was clear to me she was unconscious well before she hit the floor.
Eyes fixed on the ceiling, her body twisted with the seizure. I turned her so she wouldn’t choke on her tongue. “Annie? Annie, stay with me honey. You’re OK. Stay with me.” I screamed to the reception desk, “Call 911!”
After 30 seconds that felt like 30 minutes, Annie’s storming brain finally released her body. I held her as she stared at me, wordless, still unable to control her movements. Tears slowly welled in her eyes. Her right side lay limp; her left side tremored slightly. It was then that I realized she’d been slurring her words a bit as we said goodbye.
I kissed Annie’s head and dialed Annie's cell phone.
“Sarah? It’s Beth. I work with your mom at the center. Baby, I need you to call your dad right away. I think your mom's just had another stroke.”
The CAT scan showed two minor bleeds in Annie’s occipital lobe. I had recited the litany of her medical history to no fewer than six people in the last 2 hours. “She has Lupus. You need to be careful, because it makes her veins fragile. No, you can’t stick her in the left arm; she’s a breast cancer survivor and they took her lymph nodes. Yes, she broke the hip on Valentine’s Day. Yes; she’s had minor hemorrhagic stroke before. The last one resolved last August. No; I don’t know if she’s on anti-seizure medication. No; I’m just a friend.” In the meantime, I had held Annie’s hand through the unbearable pain of a broken hip and nine more seizures. After each seizure, she had said the same thing. “Please. Please don’t leave me.”
“I won’t leave you,” I promised her.
“How will we save the school now, Beth? How can we do it? How can this be happening?” Annie started to cry again.
“We’ll figure something out. Don’t worry now. We’ll make it work. Please don’t cry. It’ll bring another seizure. Don’t worry. Just get better.”
The nurse touched my shoulder, “The LifeFlight will be here in about 15 minutes to take her over to University.”
Annie’s gaze shifted to her husband, Rick, who had arrived an hour earlier, and who since then had offered little in the way of information and nothing in the way of comfort to his terrified wife. Annie started to cry. “You’ll come and see me there this time, won’t you? I get so lonely and scared there. Please, Rick. Please come and see me at the hospital.”
Rick held her gaze for a moment. Then he turned and walked away.
Annie looked back to me and I fought back my own tears. ‘Hey, I’m teaching a class at University this month. I’ll stop in and see you after class each day, OK? I’ll even sneak you in a decent cup of coffee and some cheap romance novels.” I winked at her.
“You can’t get any closer than this, Ma’am.” The LifeFlight paramedic yelled into my ear and held out his arm, as we walked out onto the roof. I kissed Annie on the head. “Love you, Sister. Don’t hassle the nurses too much, OK? I’ll come see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” Annie mouthed to me in reply, as her hand slipped from mine.
The throbbing of the helicopter beat deeply within my chest as it lifted off the roof. I was grateful for it; it almost gave me an excuse for the pain that tore at my heart.