Authors: G. J. Walker-Smith
The real troubles in life are not the day-to-day struggles of being stuck in a job you hate or dealing with people you don’t like. Real trouble is the phone call you get in the middle of the day that you never saw coming – the one that changes your life in an instant.
I was in my father’s office at the time, discussing the merger we’d brokered the day before. If there was one thing my father detested, it was being interrupted by inane phone calls. I silenced Ryan’s call twice before giving in and answering it. One phone call was a lipstick-on-the-face emergency. Two calls probably meant something more serious.
Ryan didn’t give me a chance to utter a word beyond hello.
“Adam, there’s been an accident,” he blurted. “Bridget fell off the climbing thing at the park. We’re at the hospital.”
Fraught with worry, my mind went into autopilot. I managed to ask which hospital they were at. That was the only thing I asked, too worried that he’d overload me with information. Until I got there there was nothing I could do, and there’s no worse feeling than hopelessness.
I shoved my phone into my pocket and jumped to my feet. I was almost to the door before I offered my father an explanation for my quick exit. “Bridget’s been in an accident.” The horrible words swelled in my chest. “I have to go.”
“I’ll call for a car,” he replied. “It’ll be faster than a cab.” With the phone balanced between ear and shoulder, my father prompted me along. “Go, Adam,” he urged. “Everything will be fine.”
Charli’s phone kept diverting to voicemail. I left her a message, doing my level best to play things down despite the ugly thoughts spinning through my mind.
By the time I made it outside a car was waiting for me, and less than half an hour later I was barrelling through the front doors of the emergency department demanding to see my daughter.
A polite but slow-moving nurse buzzed me through the double doors and escorted me along the corridor. I didn’t ask her anything and she didn’t speak until we reached a room at the end. “In there,” she said quietly.
I swiped back the curtain.
Bridget looked tiny, swallowed up by the big hospital bed. I pulled her into my arms, utterly relieved that all the worst-case scenarios I’d been conjuring up in my mind weren’t even close to being true. There was no blood, and no broken bones. She was crying, but she sounded more scared than hurt.
I lifted my head and noticed a nurse at the foot of the bed. I asked her what was going on; rewording the question a few times to make sure I was understood.
“A doctor will be in shortly,” she replied, still writing notes on her clipboard. “He’ll explain everything.”
Her reply fell short. I wanted to know exactly what was going on, and if she wasn’t able to explain it she was useless to me.
“Get someone in here now,” I demanded. “If you can’t tell me what I need to know then get someone who can.”
“Let her do her job, Adam,” came a voice behind me.
I turned around and noticed Ryan for the first time. He was leaning against the wall, looking more worried that I’d ever seen him. “What the hell happened?” I choked.
He didn’t get a chance to reply. Bridget’s head fell forward and she vomited straight down the front of my shirt. She was beyond hysterical now, which meant calming her down took precedence over dealing with the foul ordeal of having her lunch seeping through to my skin.
Ryan handed me a wad of paper towels. “Thank you,” I muttered, pointlessly dabbing at my shirt.
My brother opted to wait outside after that. I understood why. I didn’t want to be there either, but I wasn’t going anywhere without my kid. As he left, he offered to keep trying to get hold of Charli. It shifted Bridget’s focus from the horror of throwing up to the worry of not having her mom there with her.
“Ry’s going to call her now,” I assured her. “She’ll be here soon.”
Her tiny voice came in staccato rasps. “I want Mummy.”
I wished Charlotte had been there to hear her plea. It would’ve gone a long way to mending both of them. I held Bridget a little bit tighter. “Soon, baby.”
Once I calmed her down, I asked what had happened. Her answer took some deciphering. It was fair to say that her claim of being pressured into flying off the climbing frame by a pack of wild squirrels wasn’t quite true, but the end result of a crash landing was.
“The mean one said ‘just fly off here’,” she dramatically explained. “But I fell down.”
More tears came. All I could do was hold her. Until Charli arrived, it was just Bridget, vomit and tears.
I didn’t touch the chocolate cake, which could only mean I was in a really bad way. I allowed myself two hours of wallowing. Anything beyond that was pathetic, and Olivia wasn’t remotely important enough to affect me long-term.
After my third cup of tea I came up with a plan for the rest of the afternoon. I’d pick Bridget up from Ryan’s and we’d head to the park. We had some serious ground to make up, and there was no better way to do it than with a bit of playground therapy.
The instant I switched my phone on, my grand plan fell apart. The screen lit up with a slew of missed calls and messages that had all come in the last hour.
I didn’t need to listen to more than the first. Nothing could describe the horror of hearing Adam tell me that Bridget was hurt. I could barely think straight, and had to replay the message to find out which hospital to go to.
Pulling myself together as best I could, I found some money to pay my bill and dropped it on the table.
A waitress was by my side before I stood. “Everything okay?”
I slung my bag over my shoulder, gearing up to run. “Fine, thank you.” I declined her offer of waiting for my change. I just wanted to get out of there.
“Awesome,” she crowed, waving the fifty dollar bill. “You’ve just made my day.”
Something about her happy demeanour brought me one step closer to despair. Forcing a smile, I hurried out the door. I did an okay job of holding myself together, managing to hail a cab on the street for the second time in two days. Maybe looking desperate was the trick.
Tears eluded me for the entire cab ride. My daughter was lying injured in a hospital bed and I wasn’t crying. I’d wasted so much valuable emotion on my wretched mother that I hadn’t saved enough to deal with the situation at hand. Perhaps I really was an awful, dreadful mother, just like my own.
When we pulled up outside the emergency department, I fell out of the taxi – literally. My heel got caught on something, possibly my conscience. I landed awkwardly on one knee, letting out yelp reminiscent of a wounded dog.
The cab driver jumped out and rushed to help me to my feet. “I’m fine,” I insisted, shrugging him away. “Thank you.”
He pointed down at my knee. “You might want to get that looked at, Miss.”
Playing down the embarrassment and the pain, I straightened my skirt and pulled myself together as best I could. “I guess I’m at the right place then,” I mumbled.
With an awkward smile and a nod, he told me to take care and left me to it. Once he drove off, I surveyed the damage I’d done to my knee. It was a mess, and the blood running down my shin reminded me that it was just as painful as it looked.
I took off my shoes and limped toward the door. I didn’t make it past the waiting area. Ryan collared me, grabbing my elbow as I passed.
“Where is she?” I demanded.
“Adam’s with her,” he replied. “She’s okay.”
Hearing that brought me relief, but I was having trouble stringing the words together to say so. I stared at him, trying to decipher the reason for his quizzical frown. I must’ve looked like hell, and the first words out of my mouth were a strange attempt at explaining why. “I fell off my shoes.”
Ryan nodded, but the frown remained. “Do you want me to get someone to have a look at your knee?”
“No. Where’s Bridget?”
“I’ll take you to her,” he offered.
When we passed through the doors of the waiting room, panic finally set in. My recent experience with hospitals hadn’t exactly been positive, and just being there threw me straight back to the endless days I’d spent holed up with Jack and Alex while Gabi was ill.
Along with panic came urgency. I didn’t even realise I’d started running until Ryan ordered me to slow down. “You don’t know where you’re going.”
He was right. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I rarely did, and on days like this it was to Bridget’s detriment.
The walls of the room closed in on me the second I walked through the door. Bridget lay on the bed and Adam sat beside her, looking far more damaged than our daughter.
“She was sick?” I asked, staring at the stain on his shirt.
Adam let go of Bridget’s hand and stood, frowning at me. “Yeah. Are you alright?”
There had to be an element of shock screwing with my thought processes. I couldn’t seem to find the right words, and everything I said came out wrong. It wasn’t appropriate to lead with a vomit-related question. I should’ve been taking my daughter in my arms and demanding to know if she was okay.
Instead, I stood by the door as if she was contagious.
“Sit,” Adam ordered. I did as I was told, grateful for the instruction.
“You hurt your leg, Mama?” asked Bridget.
I reached for her hand and told her it was no big deal, but she knew I was lying. It’s hard to downplay blood. Adam grabbed some paper towels from a dispenser on the wall and pressed them against my knee. “What happened?”
“I fell,” I replied before turning to Bridget. “You had a crash too?”
“It was very dangerous,” she explained. “It knocked me up.”
“Knocked you out,” corrected Adam with a smile.
“She was out?” Finally, my voice sounded appropriately concerned. “For how long?”
“Three days,” replied Bridget.
Adam’s answer was more accurate. “Just a minute or two. They’re going to do a CT scan as a precaution.”
Bridget must’ve concluded that a scan was a surgical procedure. She burst into a flood of tears and begged us to take her home.
I didn’t know how to settle her. It was the exact same feeling of hopelessness that used to plague me when she was a baby. Adam always knew what to do, which was a double-edged sword. On one hand, he could calm her. On the other, it highlighted the fact that he was almost always the more capable parent.
I took the towels off my knee and stood, moving aside so he could comfort her. “We can’t go home just yet,” he explained, cradling her as best he could without letting her near his shirt. “But it won’t be long now.”
The whimper that escaped my lips as I began to cry was unintentional. Adam looked at me. I didn’t want attention. I just wanted Bridget to be alright, and at that point he was the only one who could reassure her that she was.
Maintaining his hold on our daughter, he held out his hand to me. “We’re okay,” he assured us both. “We’re all here, and we’re okay.”
I accompanied Bridget to her scan, giving Adam an opportunity to get cleaned up. Bridget didn’t take kindly to the procedure, but fatigue was getting the better of her. Hysterics gave way to shallow whimpering, and the lack of complaining on her part made the process run much smoother. The ordeal was over in a few minutes, and they returned us downstairs to a room on a ward.
It was a lot more comfortable than the emergency room, and the lights had been dimmed, casting a warm glow that put us both at ease. It wasn’t ideal, but it was doable.
Bridget finally settled, too tired to protest any more. I sat beside her, stroking her hair. I was weary too. The whole day had been nothing more than a giant sapping of self-worth, energy and confidence
“No girls can fly,” she mumbled.
I smiled at her. “
might disagree, baby.”
Her dark blue eyes were heavy, threatening sleep at any moment. “No magic, Mama. It’s not real.”
I wondered if the bump on her head had brought on her new non-believer status. I wasn’t about to demand an explanation, but I was curious. “Who told you that, Bridge?” I whispered.
“Ry,” she whispered back.
I pulled the covers a little higher. “Go to sleep,” I urged. “I love you.”
“I need my daddy to come back.”
“He’ll be here in a minute,” I promised.
“I need him.”
“I know.” I tucked her hair behind her ear. “Just go to sleep.”
Adam’s connection to Bridget was hard to define. It was a complex web of a hundred little things that made her see him in a perfect light. Unlike me, he was never indecisive or worried about letting her down – because he never did. I always felt like I stood on much shakier ground. I wasn’t often her first choice as the go-to parent, and most of the time I was content with that. I was the one who fired up her imagination with fairy-tales, increased her vocabulary by putting scrabble letters in a bag, and encouraged her stubborn fascination with wearing gumboots – and then panicked that I was making her weird because of it.
Adam gave Bridget stability and I gave her magic. If Ryan had taken that from me, I was lost.
Light bulb moments usually hit when you least expect them. Bridget’s playground mishap forced me to re-evaluate things. After months and months of procrastinating, everything suddenly became clear.
The way I divided my time between my family and my job was grossly unbalanced. Too many hours were spent cooped in an office working a job I hated while my brother hung out at the park with my daughter.
I didn’t resent Ryan. I was hugely grateful that he was prepared to give up his afternoons to help us out. If anything I was jealous, which was ridiculous considering I’d had the power to change the situation all along.
There was no need to for me keep my job on the pretence that it was temporary. If Charli decided to renew her contract at the gallery, life in New York could be ongoing for a while. And if that was to happen, I was determined to make sure I was the one who’d be spending afternoons in the park with my kid.