Not until I see Dad’s face does my anesthetized shield begin to recede, leaving in its place pins and needles of feeling, sharp and stabbing, fear piercing through me at his distressed look. I find myself pleading in my head Deb, please don’t be dead. Please, please don’t be dead.

Just like that, for the first time I let myself consider the possibility. And then I shove it away violently.

I rush into his arms and he enfolds me tightly. “Dad, what happened? How is she?” I can’t breathe, demanding and fearful of the words I’ve been waiting hours to hear.

“There was an accident.” His voice is hoarse, tight. He swal ows and I want to say I know that already! I want him to skip to the end and assure me that she’s alive, but I bite my tongue and let him gather his thoughts and his courage and speak. “At the hospital, during her rounds. She… she slipped. There was a wet spot on the floor, and she slipped.

She fel and hit her head.”

Wet spot. Floor. Fel . Hit her head. This is terrible, horrible, but oh so much better than the accident of my imagination—mangled metal, blackened and twisted in the middle of a busy intersection. Infinitely better than the massive loss of blood, the scarring, the internal injuries, the potential paralysis, the possible fatality. I nearly giggle with relief, but it evaporates in my throat because my father hasn’t loosened his hold. “Dad?” My voice is muffled against his chest.

“She’s had a closed head injury, Dori. Before your mother and I arrived, she was unconscious, and then lucid and talking for an hour or so, but then her brain started swel ing, and they haven’t been able to get it to stop. She’s been unresponsive since we’ve been here.”

I pul away and look into his eyes. “Unresponsive? You mean like a coma? But why—? You said she slipped and hit her head, but I mean how hard could she have hit it—

she’s as short as me—we’re close to the ground, remember?” My pitch is somewhere between eager and hysterical, my mouth stil turning up into a smile because no part of me is accepting that word. Unresponsive.

He squeezes me tight and releases me. “Let’s get your luggage. I need to get back to your mother. We can talk on the way.”


We’re silent except for hol ow exchanges like I can carry this bag, you take that one. With the push of a button, he releases the locks on an unfamiliar vehicle, a compact SUV

in a jaunty red. The rental, more wel -appointed than either of our cars, smel s faintly of pine and strangers. We stow my luggage in the back, stil mute until our seatbelts are fastened and the engine has turned over, cool air blowing too briskly from the vents. I reach to the one aimed at my face and point it towards the window as Dad grabs my hand. I open my mouth to say Let’s go, let’s go, but his head is bowed and the plea hangs in my throat.

“Lord,” he begins, eyes closed, voice breaking, “we believe in your healing power. We believe in your promises.

You watch over the sparrow when he fal s. You were watching over my little girl when she—” his voice breaks again and I clasp his hand firmly, tears streaming down my face.

In that moment, I experience a blinding explosion of self-realization: I am two people. The Dori everyone knows is trusting, hopeful and light—like a spark, like a feather. I am ful of faith, and nothing is impossible.

The anti-Dori has been hidden away since her formation. She’s skeptical and riddled with doubt, doggedly probing dark theories of disbelief. In the wake of my father’s fragmented prayer, his gut-wrenching pain that echoes mine, it’s her words I hear. No fate, no destiny, no meant-to-be.

I want to believe that God is everywhere—in the miracle of life, in the love we have for one another, flying in the face of death. I want to believe there’s a reason and a purpose for what happened to Deb.

But there is no reason.

My two selves are old adversaries, forever circling, persistently employing the same inadequate arguments.

Each is close-minded, deaf to the other, and I cannot reconcile them.

Chapter 34


Funny thing about not waking up hungover on days off—

there’s more day off to the day. I can’t believe I actual y dreaded this. I was certain I’d be bored as hel inside 48

hours—evenings without the usual entertainment fol owed by entire days to fil . But what’s to miss about headaches, nausea and acute sensitivity to light and sound? My enthusiasm may have as much to do with Vancouver itself as it does the lack of hangovers. I wouldn’t know; before this project, I’ve had little experience with either.

It’s our first Sunday off, and Chelsea and her husband, Chad, invited me along to explore Gastown, an area of the city with cobblestone streets and smal shops, gal eries and restaurants. A bodyguard trails us, but hasn’t been necessary. Vancouver is known as Hol ywood North, and the locals are semi-inured to celebrity sightings. No one’s bothered us, though cel phones are frequently aimed in our direction and I’ve heard my name and Chelsea’s hissed emphatical y a dozen times.

I lace my fingers behind my neck and stretch my sore shoulder careful y. The screenwriter is working the bruise into the storyline for the shirtless scenes because hiding it is impractical. It’s huge and ugly, and I wonder at my sanity over the fact that I’m more amused than annoyed by it. I frequently left the Diego house lightly bruised and battered, as did Dori. Once, I pointed out a purple welt on the back of her thigh, and she twisted to look at it. “Hmm,” she said, shrugging. “I’ve had worse.” I wanted to slap myself for how hot that was.

“This city is marvelous,” Chelsea says now, opening a menu. Chelsea is fond of words like marvelous and fabulous and splendid, lengthening the first syl able as though she’s trying to remember the rest of the word. She smiles at her husband. “I think we should move here.” We’ve found a corner bistro across the way from an idyl ic green space that’s commonplace in Vancouver, mixed in with the modernized buildings and concrete. This one boasts a fountain. As kids are tossing coins and making wishes, one smal boy pockets a handful of change and throws his baby sister’s shoe into the water instead.

Out of nowhere, I’m fighting the urge to cal Dori and tel her about it. I want her to tel me I’m mean and try not to laugh as I mimic my costar’s unnatural love for multi-syl abic adjectives. I wonder if she’d be more sympathetic or amused that I got slammed with a chair during a simulated bar fight.

“I hope you’re suggesting that I become a kept man,” Chad says, “because I don’t think my license from the California bar extends this far north.”

“Oh, no, no. You’re the sugar daddy and I’m the bril iant artistic type in this marriage.” Chelsea purses her lips endearingly, while I battle a desire to punch one or both of them in the face.

My cel buzzes with a text from Tadd, and I’m elated at the distraction from both the Chelsea and Chad lovefest, and futile thoughts of Dori.

Tadd: Hey dude, are you in vancouver now? Rob and i are flying up later this week. Would like to meet for dinner if you can. Let me know.

Me: I think i can squeeze you in, haha. Text me when you get here.


By the time Dad and I reached the hospital, it was close to midnight. “Oh, Dori,” Mom said, throwing her arms around me as though I was a life preserver and she would sink and drown without me. She was a wreck—her face blotchy, eyes red, a smudge of mascara dissolved under each eye, giving her delicate skin a gray cast under the greenish fluorescent lighting of the critical care waiting area. We held each other as Dad looked on helplessly.

Deb’s medical team gives us periodic updates, much of it too complex to understand. I’ve tried to take notes, but mostly end up with scraps of paper covered in scribbles l i k e increased intracranial pressure and epidural

hematoma and Glasgow coma scale—5. I don’t know what hematoma and Glasgow coma scale—5. I don’t know what any of it means, but the words are menacing and my mother is shaken by them, so I know the prognosis isn’t favorable. Deb had a seizure shortly after the accident, one of the many reasons for her sedation.

“The increased pressure inside her skul from the brain swel ing is common in this sort of injury,” one of the doctors intoned, but it was clear this wasn’t meant as reassurance.

If the swel ing doesn’t stop, my sister could die.

These aren’t the circumstances under which any of us wanted to meet Bradford. Deb told me once that he’s seldom overcome with emotion because he deals in the realities of death and dying every day. Sitting next to me in the hospital cafeteria, though, he’s visibly anguished, hands clasped and rigid on the tabletop, next to his tepid coffee.

“Hardly anyone at the hospital knows about our relationship.” His voice is hoarse, his handsome face pal id and drawn. “As far as most people know, we were distant acquaintances. I’m not expected to be… not expected to feel…” I put my hand on his arm as he struggles to stay composed.

When my parents are given Deb’s belongings—the clothes and jewelry she was wearing when the accident occurred, a beautiful, unfamiliar solitaire threaded onto a long gold chain is included with her things. Bradford’s swift intake of breath and compressed jaw is al the answer we need to confirm that this is Deb’s engagement ring—

hidden from her coworkers, worn next to her heart.

Dad and I travel back and forth between LA and Dad and I travel back and forth between LA and Indianapolis while Mom remains steadfastly by Deb’s side.

When she can be coaxed to leave the hospital for a few hours, she spends them at Deb’s apartment, where she tends my sister’s balcony ful of plants but doesn’t get enough sleep to remove the circles from under her eyes.

My mother and sister have both always been slim. Now, they’re both more emaciated every time I return from LA.

Once I apprise him of the fact, Dad and I begin to press food on Mom—jars of cashews, buttered blueberry muffins, turkey sandwiches topped with avocado.

I postpone my admission to Berkeley for a semester. I don’t tel my parents that at the moment, I can’t imagine myself there at al . Thanks to donated air miles, Dad and I get into a rhythm of swapping off—hospital, home, hospital, home—so we don’t impose further on anyone to watch the house or feed and walk Esther. I hardly see my father, our flights passing each other like that saying about ships in the night. My strongest feelings are reserved for anything relating to a change in Deb’s condition.

Her doctors used innovative, controversial approaches to lessen the swel ing in her brain, and the terror that we could lose her diminished, too. There’s been little change since she was successful y removed from life support. The monitors prove a low level of brain activity, and when she’s awake, her eyes are open. But if I move directly into her line of vision, it’s like I’m made of glass. She just stares right through. She doesn’t speak or react to voices unless they’re very loud—and then her only responses appear to be irritation or pain.

Most Popular