Previously on Finding Anna: Sophie has a new boyfriend, Chase got into culinary school, and Anna’s mother goes into surgery.
Does Anna’s mother survive the surgery?Click To Reveal Results
The moment Dr. Nields calls for me, I leap off the chair and hurry to his side, my heart in my throat.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
Dr. Nields smiles in a gentle, grandfatherly way. He’s wearing lime green OR scrubs and a mask tied around his neck. His perfect white hair is covered with a hat, but he still looks handsome and reminds me of Cary Grant.
“Yes,” he says. “Your mother has pulled through fine. She had a little problem with the anesthesia in the beginning, but she did fine. She’ll be in the ICU for a little bit to recover. I think we’ll be able to move her to the floor later tonight.”
The weight sitting in my throat moves up into my eyes, but I rapidly blink the tears away and smile. “Thank you,” I say, my voice hoarse. “Thank you for taking good care of her. I’m so glad it’s done.”
He pats me on the shoulder with a heavy hand. “She’s a good lady, your mother. I have hope for her overall prognosis.”
“Were you able to remove all the cancer?”
“Yes, I believe so. We came away with clean margins and were able to save most of the pancreas. She’ll have some scarring, but I don’t anticipated it to be extensive by any means. We’ll know more as she recovers about what to expect. As soon as she’s strong again, we’ll go right back into chemo.”
“Good,” I say with a relieved sigh. “That’s good to hear.”
His forehead furrows. “Do you have any questions?”
“When can I see her?”
“Soon. If you go to the waiting room at the ICU and let them know who you are, they’ll come get you when she’s ready. I’ll be there writing orders, so let me know if you think of any questions by then.”
He pats me on the shoulder again and leaves the waiting room. I lower to a seat on shaky legs and trembling hands. Although I don’t want to be emotional in a hospital waiting room, two tears slip out. I quickly wipe them away before they burn my skin. Pop lumbers up to the door and slips inside, a half empty sprite in hand. He takes one look at me and stops.
“What is it?” he asks. “Everything okay?”
“Yes,” I say through a breath, smiling to offset my emotions. “I just spoke with Dr. Nields. Ma pulled through without a problem. They’re getting her settled in the ICU right now. He said we can go to the waiting room there and they’ll get us when she’s settled in.”
Pop grunts, sharing my relief. He grabs his jacket off the back of a chair and motions with his head to the exit. I follow him out and rein my emotions back in, relieved it’s over.
Despite the late hour, the monotonous beep of Ma’s machines, and the quiet whir of her IV pump, soothes me. Ma’s head is turned to one side, her eyes shut, and chest rising and falling evenly. Without her makeup, her hair done, or the sassy sparkle in her eye, she looks old and weak. I pull the blanket a little farther over her shoulders and lean back in the recliner at her bedside. The shuffle of nurses and IV poles pass in the hallway while an old rerun of I Love Lucy plays on the TV above the sink. My phone vibrates with a notification, and I look down to see a text message from Sophie.
A wave of shame washes over me. I haven’t been fair to Sophie lately, and she’s been nothing but loving and supportive. Although I’ve been angry at fate, I fear I’ve been taking it out on her by either ignoring her or pushing her away.
I set my phone back on the bedside table just as a commercial flips on. No matter how hard I try, every attempt at making myself comfortable in the awkward chair fails.
“Hospitals,” I mutter. “are definitely not a place of comfort.”
A red haired nurse comes in, checks a few machines, gets Ma to mumble a few answers, asks me if I need anything, and slips back out again. My eyes trail over Ma’s still, pale face, and I wonder what she’s dreaming about.
“Do you have any regrets?”
I look up to see a commercial flickering across the screen. Two old people are sitting on a park bench, their ragged sweaters pulled high on their necks. Pigeons hop around at their feet as they cast bread crumbs.
“No,” the old woman responds to the old man. “I lived the life I wanted to. Do you?”
While the old man makes a quip about switching to a better car insurance, my thoughts trail away on a tangent. Their voices seem to echo and roll through my mind with surprising strength.
Do you have any regrets?
“I’m not old enough to have regrets,” I mumble, but the question won’t leave me alone.
But you could, the old man’s voice seems to say, even though the commercial has switched to an advertisement for Applebees that makes me hungry. You could have regrets.
I glance over to Ma, wondering if she has regrets. Was her world too small? Did she ever spend her afternoons in the store and wish she were someone else, doing something more grand? I doubted it. Ma didn’t think on the same scale as I did. But maybe she did once. And maybe life pushed her into a pinhole that she never climbed out of. Now she has cancer, and her life hangs in the balance.
Do you have regrets?
I won’t, I think, feeling a little panicked at the thought. Not if I don’t let myself. I’ll do everything I ever wanted. Everything.
Ideas start pouring through my head, so fast I can barely keep track of them. A large napkin from the liquid dinner Ma didn’t eat is sitting on the bedside table, so I grab a pen, pull the napkin toward me, and start writing.
See the Taj Mahal
Climb in the Himalayas
Go on a safari
Climb an ice waterfall
Read War and Peace
Take a mud bath
Climb to base camp at Everest
I bite my bottom lip and let the ideas flow until I run out of room. I grab three paper towels from the dispenser by the sink, sit down, and let them fly. Nothing is too small, or too big. I write down every idea, every country, every continent, I’ve ever wanted to see. My dreams have always been big, and varied, and now I’m writing them all down as an external commitment. I will live life.
Build a snowman in Antarctica
Ride a zip line in Costa Rica
Swim in every ocean
Meet a dolphin
Fish in Alaska
Kiss someone on the Eiffel Tower
Ideas pour out as if I’ve kept them stemmed back for years. Once I fill up the three paper towels, I grab three more and keep going. It’s past midnight by the time I exhaust myself, and still my brain runs. Finally, around two am, when I can barely keep my sandpaper eyes open, I tuck my head down and fall asleep. Waterfalls, safari’s, and Ma back to good health runs through my erratic dreams.
I read Sophie’s text the next morning with a feeling of trepidation. The elevator dings, and I step off. There’s a Starbucks in the hospital, so I steer myself toward it and see her standing in a ray of sunshine. She’s wearing a white pea coat and flip flops. Her hair falls in perfect layers around her face, and once again I envy her lithe beauty, grace, and strange fashion sense.
“Hey,” she says with a smile and holds up a Subway bag. “I brought lunch.”
“Thanks. Why are you wearing flip flops? It’s freezing outside.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. Felt like a flip flop day.”
I nod as if I understand, but I don’t. “Let’s sit here,” I say, and we take a table near the window.
The smell of warm pastries calm my jumpy nerves. I didn’t slept well; I doubted anyone slept well in a hospital, so I felt as settled as a hot coffee bean. Sophie sets the bag of sandwiches on the table and sits across from me. Outside, the sky is a beautiful winter blue, but the air is frigid every time the main entrance opens to admit someone. While my skin puckers with cold, it feels so good to get out of Ma’s hospital room that I don’t really mind.
“I got you chicken breast,” she said. “On wheat. That’s what you like, right?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
She smiles. “Don’t worry. I bought cookies too. It can’t be flip flop day unless I’m going to eat cookies, obviously.”
The air between us is tense, as if neither one of us wants to be the first to speak. I’m not sure how to apologize. Knowing that Sophie was forgiving in nature only made me feel worse.
“I’m sorry,” I say at the same time she says, “I’m sorry,” as well. We stare at each other in shock until Sophie puts a hand over her mouth and starts to giggle.
“Goodness,” she says, still laughing. “Perhaps we’re starting to share a mind now that we’re roommates.”
“Why are you apologizing?” I ask. “You’ve been wonderful.”
“I’ve probably been annoying. Sometimes I do that.”
“No, not at all. I’m the one that’s sorry,” I say, wanting to get the heavy weight of guilt off my chest. I feel like it’s a sinking stone that’s pressing into my heart, making it feel heavy and sad. “I’ve been unbearable the past week or so. I’ve just been scared for Ma, but I’ve been taking it out on you. I shouldn’t have.”
Sophie’s eyes well up with tears. She stands up, moves around the table, sits on my lap, and throws her arm around me. I don’t care that passerby’s must be staring at us in question, I just hug her back. She feels like hugging a teddy bear with her soft coat on.
“You can be grumpy with me anytime you want,” she says, and makes no move to find her own chair. “It’s what friends do. Besides, I know how it feels to be afraid of losing everything.”
Something in her tone alerts me. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing,” she says, and flounces back to her seat. The sudden shift into her light, happy self is suspicious, to say the least. “Just that I have times when I’m scared and worried and I take it out on those I love.”
I open my mouth to question her further. I know there’s something she’s not telling me. Well, there’s always been a lot she hasn’t told me, but her expression tells me that this is different. I’m close to the truth, I can sense it.
“Not now, Anna,” she says quietly while carefully peeling back the paper wrapping her sandwich. “Please.”
I hesitate, but know that I won’t get anymore out of her.
“Yeah,” I say, pulling my own sandwich closer. “Okay. How is Garrett?” I ask, hoping that her new crush is stable ground. Her eyes light up, washing away all vestiges of desperation that lingered there before.
“He’s adorable!” she says with a squeak. She puts a hand on her chest. “Oh, Sophie. I think I’m in love. No, I’m positive. I’ve never felt this way. Not even Red Bull could give me wings like this.”
I snort through a piece of chicken sandwich, and she reaches over to pound me on the back with a giggle. Sophie launches into a dramatic, detailed account of their latest date while I listen, grateful that the normalcy has returned to our friendship, and for a moment, I can forget that Ma is upstairs fighting for her life.
Thanks to caffeine manufacturers everywhere, I push through Ma’s recovery in the hospital while still working my 2-6 am job and GoTeachGo. Pop stays overnight with Ma, I stay with her whenever I’m free during the day, and suddenly she’s home again. February is rapidly closing, ending with swirling rainstorms and plunging temperatures that make walking everywhere a blizzard-ridden nightmare.
“I just heard from the scholarship committee last night,” Mr. Darnell says as I walk into the office, bringing a wave of snow flurries with me. He stands up and leans against the doorframe into his office. “Part of the agreement in accepting is you doing promotional work for the company, remember?”
The idea of being on commercials or videos makes my stomach churn, but it’s a small price to pay for someone sending me Africa without having to front my own money.
“Yeah, of course.”
Mr. Darnell’s eyebrows lift. “The trip was just finalized. I heard from my contact in Kenya.”
“You leave May 1st.”
“That’s the end of the semester,” I say, straightening. Water drips from my scarf and onto the tile floor.
“Works out perfectly,” he says with an exaggerated fist pump that I don’t return. Perfectly? Nothing ever worked out perfectly. May was only two months away. Ma and Pop wouldn’t be in a position for me to leave. If things worked out according to plan, Ma would have already started chemo again and would need help.
“May? Uh . . . I’m not sure if that works with my mother’s health.”
His face falls. “That’s right. I forgot.”
“Can I defer to a different trip?” I set my backpack on the floor and slide out of my coat. “Maybe one in August? She’s bound to be feeling better by then, I’m sure.”
The furrows of his brow aren’t encouraging. “Maybe,” he says, forcing brevity into his tone. “I know they planned things this way because of previous arrangements and camera crews, but one never knows. If we can’t defer, do you want to turn down the scholarship?”
My heart thumps. If I turn it down, it’s not likely I’ll ever get another one again. But to leave Ma and Pop for three months?
“Yes,” I say, firm. “I can’t leave my family for three months while Ma’s doing chemotherapy.”
“You know what? I’ll send them a message and ask. Then we’ll take it from there. That sound okay?”
Mr. Darnell is smiling, and I know it’s for my benefit, but it doesn’t inspire much hope.
“Yeah,” I say in a poor attempt to return the smile. “That sounds wonderful. Thank you.”
Will the scholarship committee allow Anna to defer her trip?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.