“Finally!” Rosana exploded, as the ambulance crew pushed a stretcher through the door of Room 117. “So much for Marine efficiency! It’s been an hour and twenty-seven minutes! Good thing she wasn’t having a heart attack! You could have just sent a hearse!” A twinge of remorse at her own diatribe made her glad Norma probably couldn’t follow the angry English.
“It’s been a busy morning.” The EMT looked from one woman to the other. “What’s wrong?”
“My mother-in-law has blood in her urine. Lots of blood.” She pointed to the bed. The EMT looked and grunted. He took her vital signs before two others lifted Norma out of the recliner, onto the stretcher, tightened the straps and wheeled her out.
“I can stay here for when Carlos and ‘Celo get back,” Olinda suggested, looking around the tiny hotel room.
“Might as well wait in your room. This one smells pretty bad. Give me your cell phone number, and I’ll let you know what happens.” They exchanged numbers and grabbing her purse and Norma’s, Rosana climbed up into the ambulance to their mother-in-law’s side.
Mrs. Carlos Delacruz turned around.
“Congratulations, Newlywed,” Rosana offered with a half smile as the EMT closed the ambulance doors.
As the driver turned on flashing lights and pulled out of the BEQ parking lot, Rosana watched two police cars drive in and park in front of the office.
“Now they get here,” she snorted to herself. Olinda would have to deal with them.
The ride was bumpier than she expected, and Rosana clutched the oxygen tank to stay upright. Except for the radio calls the driver was making, the ambulance was quiet. She smoothed the hair out of Norma’s face and smiled at the look of relief which spread across the aging features at the sight of the purses in her lap.
“I brought them,” Rosana assured her, holding them up. “Can’t face all those handsome doctors without a little lipstick, right?”
Rosana looked out the window, then at the grim-faced EMT who sat across from her in the lurching ambulance. “Why does everyone look so sour? Did we call you out too early?”
“Rough morning,” he replied tersely. “Lost two Marines this morning. Me and Farley up there,” he jerked his thumb toward toward the cab, “were on the clean-up crew.”
“Lost? Like they died?”
Rosana reflexively glanced out the window toward the gray water. “Bummer,” she said.
The EMT looked away.
Military family member identification cards in hand, Rosana trailed behind her mother-in-law’s stretcher as the automatic doors of the Emergency Room whisked open to receive them.
“Let the paperwork begin,” she muttered drolly to the check-in clerk, trying to suppress a nagging sense of disquiet which began working its way into her psyche at the smells of the hospital. “Everything is just fine. Norma is going to be fine. Just thank goodness he has free healthcare,” she assured herself.
“Just a moment, Ma’am,” said the clerk, pattering away from the reception desk without looking up.
The air blasting from the ceiling vent carried with it the scent of disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, and floor wax. Rosana wrinkled her nose. A hundred memories crowded in. Her brother, pale and intubated being wheeled to surgery. Her mother, in the hospital garden, chain smoking. The dim “death room,” where they said goodbye. She pushed the mental pictures aside with difficulty. The carpet and chairs in the waiting area swayed slightly, and she was glad for the sturdy support of the reception desk.
“Mrs. Delacruz? Ma’am?” Rosana concentrated until her focus returned, and to her surprise, found a cluster of medical and law-enforcement personnel surrounding her. She shuddered involuntarily.
“Yes? What? Is Norma alright?”
“Norma?” said a middle-aged man in a Marine uniform, a cross by his rank insignia. A chaplain.
“Norma. Norma Delacruz. My mother-in-law.” The look of confusion on his face annoyed her. “Hello? They just took her down the hall! Did someone miss the fact that we are in the Emergency Room because she needs to see a doctor?”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” this time the speaker was a cutie with a yellow and black ‘MP’ armband which even she knew stood for ‘military police,’ “are you Rosana Delacruz? Spouse of Marcelo Jose Delacruz?”
The uneasy feeling swelled inside Rosana, spreading through her limbs until they began to shake with the effort to contain it. She glanced wildly at each face in the group surrounding her. Each held the same look. The look every member of Jamie’s team gave her the night he – She shouldered her way passed them. “I gotta find Norma.”
“Ma’am.” It was a statement, and it was accompanied by a firm grip on her upper arm. She whirled to face the MP. “Don’t you ‘ma’am’ me, bud. And get your hand off me.” She shrugged violently, desperately. “I gotta get outta here.” She turned around, but the exit had somehow disappeared. She heard them talking. About her.
“I don’t think she knows.”
“Didn’t they talk to her at the BEQ?”
“They talked to Olinda Delacruz. She’s on her way. This is Rosana.”
“Why is she here then? Did her mother-in-law collapse?”
“My mother-in-law,” Rosana interjected too loudly, “is here because she has blood in her urine and needs to see a doctor. Is there a problem? Huh? Is there a problem? Does everyone here have a problem?”
A big black woman in nurse’s scrubs stepped forward and took Rosana’s hand, leading her to a bank of chairs under the ER Waiting Room windows. The Rosana allowed herself to be tugged toward the East-facing windows. Glancing up, she saw the bright, California morning sun glinting off the windows of the Monastery on the hill. On the other side of the freeway.
“Sit down.” The voice was kind, but firm, like a mother with a petulant child. Rosana sat. The woman took her hands.
“Honey, you need to know your man had an accident this morning. It was a bad accident, and he died. His brother died, too. And now you have to be strong. Which is what we women have to do when we lose our men. You hear me? We got to be strong.”
“I don’t believe you.” Rosana jerked her hands away, folding them tightly in her lap.
“Prob’ly not. But it don’t change the truth. A witness said they was standing up to they knees in the water. Some biggish waves come and knock one of ‘um down. There’s a powerful undertow there. Signs all over the place to warn folks. Prob’ly one went to help the other, but must neither of ‘um been able to get back. It’s a tragedy, sure enough. Marines and brothers.”
Rosana said nothing. There was nothing to say. She stared up at the Monastery windows and wondered if the view from those windows was different this morning. Whether the sea was a different color.
“Shanita, I’ll get her some coff-”
“She don’t need no coffee, Jack! Y’all go along and hover somewhere else. I got her.” And she did. Shanita – whoever she was – pulled Rosana’s stiff form into her arms and hugged her with the strength of someone who knew.
“Who did you lose,” Rosana asked her, blankly, when the embrace was over.
“My husband. In Afghanistan. Got blowed up by a roadside bomb. He was driving.”
Rosana regarded her for a moment. Yes. It was there in her eyes. A depth. An understanding.
Shanita grabbed her wrist. “You got kids?”
“Uh uh. Can’t.”
“That’s a blessing and a curse, then. A blessing you don’t have to tell no one they Daddy ain’t comin’ home. A curse ’cause you don’t get to see him in they faces. You know Jesus, baby?”
“What?” Rosana shook her head to focus on the woman beside her.
“Do you know Jesus? If you don’t, you’re gonna wanna get to know him, ’cause the next few months is gonna be tough. Real tough.”
Rosana leaped to her feet.
“Norma!” she gasped. “What am I gonna tell Norma?”