“Maybe not one hundred percent. But he should recover much of his speech and at least sixty percent of the movement on his right side,” one of them told my family.
Expecting the results was more difficult than just realizing that the estimates were far too optimistic. After a while, we came to accept the facts. There would be no complete recovery.
“He got into an accident last year and was in the hospital for quite some time,” she stopped to sip her beer.
“But he’s okay now, right?” I asked.
“I think so. I mean, it was the last time I saw him,” she said. “He broke his collar bone, a couple of ribs, and his leg. But he was supposedly on his way toward getting,” she paused. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”
“Fully recovered?” I offered.
“No. Less broken. That’s what I meant to say.” She laughed. “My English is sounding more Chinese and my Chinese isn’t getting better.”
We were sitting at a small bar in down town. The sky had been threatening to let loose with a rain storm all afternoon. But so far, the ground was still dry. If you asked her to describe the weather, she would have said the clouds were pregnant with rain and about to give birth. That was just her way of speaking. I could never tell if she talked like that to seem more interesting, or whether that was really how she thought of things.
It had been at least two years since I had seen her last and she had aged noticeably. She looked more tired now and skinnier. We had both been in China after college and had become close friends when we were teaching English at the same private college in Southern China near Guangzhou. When our teaching contracts were up with the school, I came back to live in the States. She’d decided to remain in China with her new boyfriend.
“So anyway, after the accident, I went to visit him in the hospital every day after I finished teaching. He was really out of it at first because of all of the pain killers they had to give him. I would talk to him and it was like he could hear me but he was having a fever or something. You know how you’re not really sure whether you’re sleeping or whether you’re awake when you have a bad fever?”
“It was like that’s what he was going through. It made me feel so bad for him when I saw him like that. I just wanted to stay with him and hold him all the time.” She paused and turned to look out the window. She spoke slowly and deliberately. It was as though she thought about each word before it left her mouth. It could be a maddening experience if you were used to stories that got straight to the point.
“So anyway, I went to visit him pretty much every day for about a week after the accident,” she continued after a moment. “Then one night I got a call from my mom. She told me my grandfather just died and I should come home because the funeral was going to be in a few days. I was pretty shocked and couldn’t sleep at all that night. I just kept walking around the apartment feeling bad that I hadn’t been there. The next morning I told the school what happened and that I’d be gone for a while and then I booked a ticket out of Hong Kong back home to California. I didn’t have time to go to the hospital to see Kevin, my boyfriend, but I called and told one of the nurses what had happened and asked them to let him know.”
I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I played with my glass a little bit and then took a swallow from it to avoid staring at her. I am not very good at dealing with crying. It took her another minute before she continued.
“So, you know that high speed ferry from the city near our old school in Gui Cheng that goes to Hong Kong?”
“Oh I loved riding that ferry. It feels like you’re flying over the water when you ride it,” I said. The ferry had always been one of my favorite means of travel in China. It was much faster and more comfortable than riding a bus or a train.
“Well I got a ticket for it and had a bunch of trouble with the ticketing agent. I think she just didn’t like me. But anyway, I digress. I left that afternoon, got to Hong Kong in the evening, stayed the night in a hotel, and then the next morning, I left on the plane back to California. I ended up staying in California longer than I planned because there was a lot that needed to be done with my grandfather’s house and things like that and I felt bad leaving my parents and my family to go back to China. Especially since I really only see them all once a year. So I stayed at home for a little over two weeks. I think it was fifteen days, to be exact.”
“Was everything okay with your family? I mean was your grandfather’s death very sudden?” I asked.
“Well, he’d been kind of sick here and there but seemed to be in pretty good health. So we really didn’t expect him to pass away that quickly. I think that’s why there was so much to take care of. If we’d been kind of prepared for him to die like that, things probably would have been done earlier.”
I nodded. A few more people wandered into the bar. It was almost five o clock and a couple of men greeted the bar tender by name. They were obviously regulars. She continued.
“After that, I flew back to China and got back to my apartment. It was already late in the evening when I got there so I couldn’t go to the hospital. It didn’t really occur to me that he might have already left. I just assumed he was still in the hospital, although now when I think of it, I realize that it would have been a very long stay if he was still there. The next day I had to report back to the school and let them know I could teach the following day. Then, right after that I went to the hospital and gave them Kevin’s Chinese name and asked to go see him in his room. The nurse looked his name up and told me he’d left the hospital the previous week.”
“Well that makes sense,” I offered.
“Yes, I agree. It did. Then I called his phone but it was off. So I decided to go to his apartment since he was probably just resting. I took a taxi there. But when I got there, I knocked on his door and there was no answer. I called his phone again and it was still off. As I was standing there, one of his neighbors walked by and I asked if she knew where Kevin was. The lady said she thought he’d moved away because she saw someone taking furniture out of the apartment the week before. I was so confused. I mean, where would he have gone?”
“I assume you asked around, right?” I said.
“Of course, I asked everyone I thought might be able to help. But I didn’t know many of his friends since he usually hung out with me and my friends and not the other way around. I asked another neighbor of his. I asked two of the people who knew both of us. Those were really the only people I could think of. But no one had any idea where he’d gone.”
“That’s so strange. How could he just disappear without leaving a note or anything?” I said.
“I don’t know. I’m still worried about him. That was almost a year ago. At first I was panicking and even tried going to the police. They patronized me because I’m an American. But they didn’t do anything.”
“Julie, I’m so sorry. That’s terrible,” I put my hand on her shoulder. It looked like she was going to cry again. I tried to think of something comforting to say but could not think of anything. The bar was starting to fill up now and I could tell that the happy hour specials were starting to affect the customers. Their conversations were getting louder.
“I think I’m losing my mind,” she said.
“No you aren’t. Don’t say that.”
“No, really I am. Or at least I’m losing my memory. Sometimes I’ll be standing in the shower, I’ll pick up the conditioner bottle, and I won’t be able to remember if I already washed my hair and conditioned it, or if I’m picking up the bottle for the first time. Then I won’t be able to remember if I already washed off my body with soap.” She shook her head. “This is really going to kill me or drive me to the crazy house. How am I going to live the rest of my life never knowing what happened to Kevin? I mean, I see him in the hospital, I go to California, and then when I get back to China, he’s just vanished. It’s like he never existed.”
I had no answer for her. No one did.
I glanced outside. The clouds were darker and were going into labor now and I wished I’d brought an umbrella.