Noel’s Memory Book:
The thing about Liz is she never told me she was dumping me. She told Rose. Well, she didn’t so much tell Rose as Rose confronted her when she hadn’t been to the hospital to see me in a month. Liz wasn’t answering her cell phone, so Rose went to her apartment, the one bedroom dump that Liz and I had shared before my accident. I wasn’t there, of course, but I’ve heard the story so many times, I feel like I was.
“You haven’t been at the hospital to see Noel in a while,” Rose said to Liz when she answered the door.
I imagine Liz kept her composure, because she had a lot of practice doing so. It’s not easy being the only female ortho resident. I bet she jutted out her chin and said, “You don’t know what it’s like, Rose. I’m on overnight call every three days. Anyway, it’s not like he even knows I’m there.”
“He knows,” Rose insisted. Although I’m not sure I did back then.
“I think we’re kidding ourselves,” Liz said. “Deep down, you know he’s not going to get any better, you just won’t admit it. He’s not in there anymore. Come on. Look at him.”
“If it were you in that hospital, he’d never leave your side,” Rose pointed out. That one was absolutely true. “He gave up a lot for you.” I’m not sure if she actually recounted the fact that with my grades, I could have gone to the best surgery residency in the country if I wanted, but I stayed put so that Liz could do orthopedic surgery. It didn’t feel like such a big sacrifice though and I never allowed her to feel any guilt about it. I just wanted to be with her.
I don’t think Liz had much to say to that one. I guess she knew I loved her more than she loved me.
“So that’s it?” Rose said. “You’re not coming to see him anymore?”
And then Liz said something along the lines of that she’d always be there for me as a friend. It’s not you, it’s me. And she returned the ring.
“It must be nice,” Rose said to her, “to just be able to walk away.”
When I first became a little bit lucid, I thought about Liz. Before I could remember her name, I could see her face. I knew she was someone important, someone I loved. I always expected she’d be coming to see me. But she never did.
I wasn’t big on questions during the first part of my rehab stay. I couldn’t talk that well. The dominant part of the brain controls speech and that’s the part I damaged. I had so much trouble getting words out for a long time. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t think of the right words. Sometimes I said something that I thought made sense, but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about. And of course, my speech was pretty slurred at first. I had a lot of difficulty getting my tongue and lips to move the way I wanted them to.
That said, one of my first coherent sentences was, “Where’s Liz?”
My mother and Rose told me tearfully: Liz moved on. I wanted to ask them if Liz knew I was getting better and if she might come back. But there was no point in asking. I already knew the answer.
Rose showed me the ring. I remembered picking it out for her, agonizing about how to pay for the diamond she deserved. I cried when I saw it. I’m glad Liz didn’t see that.
After some amount of wandering around, completely lost, I manage to locate the surgery resident lounge. It’s not locked, thank god.
I step inside and I can actually smell testosterone. It’s like the smell of a hundred boxer shorts. Actually, now that I’m looking around, I realize that there actually IS a pair of boxer shorts lying on one of the chairs. Ugh, I hope it’s not used.
The walls of the lounge are covered with call schedules, bone-related pictures, and then of course, there’s the porn. There’s literally porn on the walls. It’s all photos of naked girls, of course. Three photos total that look like they’re ripped from some magazine.
I plop down on a chair to wait for Elizabeth Woodhouse. I’m fifteen minutes early, so I figure I might be waiting a while. I end up waiting almost an hour. I’m actually debating if I should just leave when this woman comes into the lounge, looking tired and pissed off. She rips her facemask from her chin and I can see she’s pretty in a thin and angular way. She doesn’t even look at me when she walks in. She just makes a beeline right to the wall of porn and stares at it, her eyes wide and furious. “Goddamn it,” she mutters. She rips the photos off the wall and crumbles them up in her hands, then tosses them in the garbage.
I’m too scared to say anything. I am really intimidated by this woman. I’m afraid if she notices me, she’ll slice me to bits with her scalpel. Actually, I kind of wish I hadn’t come. What was Dr. Conrad thinking when he paired us up? He must have formaldehyde-induced dementia.
Finally, she sees me. She narrows her eyes, like maybe a velociraptor would before it pounces on its prey. I squirm and she walks over to me. “Are you Chloe?”
For a second, I actually consider saying no. “Yes.”
“I’m Elizabeth,” she says.
She holds out her hand and I shake it. Her skin is very dry and cracked.
She plops down onto the couch next to me. She looks exhausted. “Don’t become a surgeon,” she says. “It will ruin your life. The male surgeons will never accept you and you’ll have no life outside of the hospital. It’s a mistake. Don’t do it.”
“Okay,” I say obediently.
“Why do you want to become a surgeon anyway?” she asks me.
“I don’t,” I admit.
She stares at me. “Then why the hell are you here? Why are you wasting my time?”
“But… you just told me not to become a surgeon!”
“Yes, but…” Elizabeth bites her lip. “You’re supposed to tell me that it’s your dream and you’re never going to give it up no matter what I tell you. And then I’ll keep trying to talk you out of it, but eventually you’ll do it anyway.”
I don’t know what to say to that. She’s certainly thought about this a lot. “Sorry?”
Elizabeth sighs and leans her head against the cushions of the couch. “I hate being the only female resident in the ortho department.”
Funnily enough, I’m finding myself starting to relax. Elizabeth doesn’t seem so bad anymore. She’s just… I don’t know. Lonely, maybe? She looks really unhappy. Part of me wonders if Dr. Conrad didn’t assign me to her more for her than for me. She looked really excited at the prospect of having a little protégé. I feel bad letting her down.
“Well,” I say slowly. “I haven’t ruled out surgery. I just don’t know what I want to do yet.”
“More women need to go into surgery,” Elizabeth says enthusiastically. “All you need is confidence, good dexterity, and good knowledge of anatomy.”
Well, zero out of three ain’t bad.
“But,” Elizabeth amends, “I didn’t have any of those things when I was at your phase of training. I… I wasn’t very confident at all.”
I am shocked to hear this. Elizabeth seems like the picture of confidence.
“Also,” she adds in a confidential tone, “I almost failed anatomy.”
“Oh?” I say, trying to sound casual. “Um, how did you end up passing?”
Elizabeth smiles and she gets this far off look in her eyes. “My boyfriend helped me. He… uh, tutored me a lot. Actually, if not for him and Dr. Conrad, I don’t think I’d be here right now. He encouraged me so much. He was amazing.”
I look down at Elizabeth’s right hand. She’s wearing a white gold engagement ring with a diamond that almost blinds me. “Your fiancé?” I ask.
“No, he…. We broke up.” She looks down. “It didn’t work out.”
I’ve heard residency wreaks havoc on relationship. But it seems like she’s found a nice guy. Or at least, a rich guy. It’s funny though because I could swear from the way she’s talking that she’s still a little hung up on that guy from med school.
Elizabeth gets paged away to another surgery, but we make plans to meet up for dinner sometime. She’s going to convince me to be a surgeon. Well, actually, probably not. But I’ll let her try.
Noel’s Memory Book:
You know what I miss? Driving.
I used to love to drive. I got a learner’s permit on my sixteenth birthday and I couldn’t wait. I was behind the wheel that same day with my father.
I always considered myself a great driver. I had a few close calls the first year I had my license, but I was pretty comfortable behind the wheel. I would hop on the highway, weave in and out of lanes, driving maybe 80 miles per hour. Okay, I was a little reckless. But I was a good driver. I really was.
It kills me that this happened to me in a car accident. Why couldn’t I have gotten shot by a disgruntled patient? Eight years of perfect driving without one accident, then I fall asleep at the wheel and nearly kill myself.
I can’t drive at all now, which is really frustrating. Being without a car is more crippling than having two legs that don’t really work. I guess I could try moving to a place where I don’t need a car, but that would involve moving away from my family. Anyway, there’s a shuttle from the hospital that goes nearly to my apartment. I make it work. And Rose helps me out when I need it.
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to drive again. I really want to. I can’t do it now, when my memory and sense of direction are so poor, and my seizures are apparently still active. Plus I can’t see out of my left eye. So it looks pretty bad for me, I guess. I probably shouldn’t be driving for my own safety and the safety of everyone around me.
So somehow I’m out on a date with Graham Kingsley. This is surreal.
He picked me up and brought me a rose. That was really sweet, although I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with it. I held it during the ride to the restaurant and then ended up leaving it in his car.
The restaurant he takes me to is really nice. Swanky. It’s the kind of place where instead of a hostess, there’s a maitre d’. Everyone is dressed up really nice and I wish I were wearing something better than the short black dress I settled on. We’re seated at a small table for two with a single candle between us. I see the prices on the menu and gasp a little. Hopefully, we’re not splitting the check. Actually, I think Graham is loaded, so I shouldn’t worry about it. Just another thing he’s got going for him.
Graham orders a steak. I can’t eat steak right now because it reminds me too much of the cadaver, so I order chicken. Somehow it seems fitting.
“You look nervous,” Graham notes.
“Nervous?” I squeak.
He laughs. “Relax. It’s just me.”
It’s very hard to relax though, especially with the way Graham is looking at me. I’m thinking maybe this whole date is a mistake.
“What’s wrong?” he says. “Talk to me, Chloe.”
“I just feel like…” I wring my hands together. “We don’t have anything in common.”
“Well,” Graham says thoughtfully, “we’re both med students. In fact, we go to the same school. And we’re in the same class. Plus we’re in the same lab group. So actually, we have quite a bit in common.”
He raises an eyebrow. “But you’re nice and I’m an asshole?”
I almost choke. To my surprise, he starts laughing. I guess he’s realistic about himself.
“You know what your problem is, Chloe?” he says and I wince. I hate it when people say that. “You want everyone to like you. Well, it’s not possible. Everyone can’t like you.”
“Well, I don’t want everyone to hate me.”
“Sometimes it’s the only way to get what you want,” Graham says thoughtfully. “Besides, everyone doesn’t hate me. You don’t hate me.”
I don’t say anything. There were moments when I thought I hated Graham, but this isn’t one of those moments.
“In fact,” Graham says, “I think you like me.”
“Hmm,” I say. “It’s possible.”
“That’s good,” he says, “because I like you.”
I want to ask him why, but I’m afraid he might ask me the same question. Instead, I let him kiss me. Honestly, at this moment, I can imagine being in a relationship with Graham Kingsley. And it’ll be great because we both know it won’t last so it will be fun and free. Graham and I aren’t going to fall in love. But man, is he a good kisser.
Noel’s Memory Book:
When I talk to other people who have had a brain injury, one thing that’s important to all of us is being independent. When I was in rehab, I thought about how I was going to dress myself and feed myself. When I lived with my parents, all I could think about was how I was going to manage to move out on my own.
Now I live by myself, but I’m still not independent. My parents and Rose sort through most of my finances. Rose updates my appointment book and drives me places. Any time there’s any break in my routine, I get thrown off.
I asked Sonya if there’s any chance that someday I won’t need this help. I know that the longer it’s been since my injury, the smaller the chance that I’ll get better. At this point, I’m really not getting better. I’m just learning techniques to compensate for what I’ve lost.
Sonya told me she thinks I could do it. There are ways to set up automatic payments online. I could hire people to help me around the house if I needed it.
Thinking about that keeps me going. I hate thinking I’ll always be dependent on my family. And the truth is, part of me is hoping that maybe someday I’ll have a family that’s dependent on me. Like, a wife or something. But that just seems so far off right now. I don’t want to even mention it to Sonya because I’m sure she’ll think the idea of someone like me even attracting a girlfriend much less a wife is pretty ridiculous, and that I’m pathetic for even daydreaming about it.
Everyone knows Graham and I hooked up. It’s the biggest news in class. I am famous. I think the Paparazzi have been following me all day.
Honestly, I’m kind of enjoying the attention. Everyone is looking at me with awe. The girls are super impressed… and jealous. I don’t know if anyone has ever been jealous of me before. It’s actually really fun. I feel like I totally missed out by not being one of the popular kids at school.
I was afraid Graham might be embarrassed about the whole thing, but he isn’t. He is completely cavalier about it. I overheard someone ask him if he was dating me and he shrugged and said, “Yeah.” I mean, I would have liked it better if he was more effusive, but at least he didn’t deny it or anything.
After class, Graham and I wait for the elevator together to get down to the anatomy lab. These are things that med student couples do together: go to anatomy lab. Granted, he doesn’t actually talk to me. He’s holding the anatomy lab manual and flipping through it.
The elevator doors open and Noel is inside. I freeze up as Graham boards the elevator and motions for me to follow him. “Chloe, you coming?” Graham says. Noel is holding the door for me. I feel like I can’t move.
Okay, honestly, I didn’t want Noel to know about me and Graham. It’s not like there’s something going on between me and Noel, but… there’s kind of a tension between us. I like him. I think about him a lot and I look forward to seeing him every day. And I can tell by the way he looks at me and the way he talks to me that he feels similarly. Yes, Noel is… messed up. But somehow that’s what I like about him. Unlike Graham, he’s not perfect.
But anyway, I’ve got to get in this elevator.
I board and Noel smiles at me. A big smile where I can see several of his teeth. I’m the only med student that he smiles at. And now I have this horrible sinking feeling. I’m trying to stay far away from Graham, thinking he’s pretty absorbed in the lab manual. Graham barely knows I’m here. I mean, why would he…
Oh hell, now Graham’s got his arm around me. I don’t know how that happened. It’s like he sensed I didn’t want him to do it, so he did it. I wish I could pull away, but I can’t. And Noel is staring at us, his jaw dropped open. He’s shaking his head in disbelief. I can’t even look at him. Oh god.
The doors to the elevator open. “Nice job, elevator guy,” Graham says in kind of a sarcastic voice.
“Have a nice day,” Noel says in a voice that completely lacks intonation.
Well, that went horribly. And Graham is just walking along to the lab like nothing happened. I’m more upset about this than I thought I would be. I feel like crying. I kind of want to get back in the elevator and try to explain, but what would I say? “This isn’t what it looks like”? It’s exactly what it looks like. I’m dating the biggest jerk in my class.