They all settled in the living room once the guests were gone. Sarah and Nola sat on the couch, Peter took the armchair on their right while Alan perched comfortably on a big cushion on the floor. They talked and caught up on each other’s lives now that they were alone.
“Stay the night, Nola. We get to meet for so little time”, said Sarah.
“Oh no, Sarah. I can’t. I have an early shift tomorrow. In fact, I should get going if I have to catch the 11 o’clock sub”, Nola replied getting off the couch.
Alan quickly got up too and said, “You are not staying but that doesn’t mean you are going alone at this hour. I’ll drop you.”, and went into the kitchen.
Nola opened her mouth to argue, but chose not to because there was no winning here. She looked at Sarah and shook her head, smiling.
“Well, I did one thing right with this son of mine. He’s right, you should go with him. It’s late”, said Sarah.
“You did most of it right”
“Hey! I did my part too”, Peter chimed in.
They all laughed at this and Nola picked up her bag hanging it across the body. Alan came carrying two bags which she knew contained packed food from the dinner. “I’m gonna put these in the car”, he said, and went out the main door.
“Okay, guys I had a lovely time. You should visit more often. It’s always great to have you here”, she said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. They had really become like her parents now and she always missed them after their visits.
“Honey, you should come to us sometime. I’ll ask Alan to bring you”. Peter put an arm around her shoulders and walked her towards the door. Sarah walked right beside them.
“Yes, Nola when will you come?” asked Sarah and her eyes lit up at the thought of having her children over.
“Probably never”, said Alan as he shut the car door, parked on the front porch, and came towards them.
“I’d love to come. Well, if your son brings me!”, she shoved Alan in the side.
“Oh great, put that on me”. They all laughed and their voices echoed in the lobby.
“Promise me you’ll come”, Sarah hugged her tight.
“Okay, I promise. Someday”, Nola said, hugging her back.
“Careful Ma, she is isn’t as innocent as she looks”
“Don’t you tease our daughter, young lad”, Peter said as he put an arm across Nola’s back for his goodbye hug.
“And promise me you’ll find him a nice girl before he loses all his charm”, said Sarah.
“I can find myself a nice girl, Ma!”
“Can you?”, Nola laughed, “He has already lost his charm, Sarah. There is no hope.”
“Oh please”, he rolled his eyes, “Let’s go before you ladies get more humiliating”
“I love you, bye”, she waved at them as Alan dragged her out of the house.
“We love you too. Take care.”, they said in unison and watched the car roll out of the porch.
“Dad asked me today if I would ever go back to surgery.”
They were in the car now. There was no heavy traffic but the roads weren’t completely empty either. The car was moving smoothly on the main road matching the mood outside.
“What did you say?”
“I said I don’t know”
“A part of me wants to go back but I don’t really know how”
“You know it, Alan. You just have to trust yourself for that”
He took a left turn. The car slowed down a little as they passed a busy street. After a few seconds of silence, he said, “I don’t though. I don’t Nola. I don’t trust myself. You know I don’t have a bad childhood or a particular incident to blame this on. It was all me. And I know, I know this is a wrong thing to say. But, I guess it gets easier if you have something to blame. I started taking drugs because I wanted to try them. I was fascinated by the idea of them. I thought I had it under control until I lost It.”, his face was flushed and he gripped the steering tighter, “I got dependent. Started making mistakes in the O.R, missed steps in examinations and then that day…”
He was called in for an emergency on his day off. A 14-year-old had come in with a head trauma. There was a brain bleed that needed to be clipped immediately. Alan always took calculated doses during work hours, he only splurged when he could. That day he just rushed to the surgery, his daily intake forgotten. Four hours into the surgery, he started getting irritable. He started losing the steadiness in his hands and snapping at the nurses. He lost his focus and nicked the wrong place which caused another bleed.
Alan froze. He knew what to do but he was too numb with fear and more than that the reason for his behavior. The assistant doctor and nurses asked him what to do and shouted the boys dropping vital levels at him, but he was unable to shake off the realization that it was happening because he didn’t take the drugs.Thankfully, the assistant snapped him out of his trance, adrenaline kicked in and he stopped the bleed. The patient survived but he could have died.
He took pride in what he did and the fact that a child could have died because of his folly became his regret. He started fearing surgery. Drugs were the reason for his downfall but now they became his solace. Instead of getting help, he used more to forget. The thoughts that the boy could have died didn’t leave him except when he stuffed his body with drugs. He was the spinner of his own cycle and he couldn’t stop spinning. Three years after that he was still struggling between wallowing and failing at rehab, then he met Nola.
Nola knew this story. He talked about it just once before. She let him be. They drove in silence for the next five minutes.
“That patient didn’t die”
“He could have”
She looked out the window. She didn’t know the right words to make him believe. She knew his condition. She was living it herself. When the regrets are haunting you, nothing makes sense. The night grew quieter and so did the car. They drove like that until they reached her apartment building. He parked the car on the side of the road and looked towards her. She looked back and turned towards him, folding one leg underneath her.
“It’s in you, Alan. Surgery is a part of you, you didn’t lose it. You lost control for a while but you have it now. You’ve been sober for more than six months. That’s the longest you’ve gone. You know you want it. Give it a try.”, she uttered every word with force making another attempt before she pushed too hard.
“Will you give it a try?”
“Give what a try?”, she asked back and straightened up again to face the windshield.
“A job. Not a lousy job at the coffee bar. One that’s worth your potential.”
She laughed loudly and looked away, doubt evident in her eyes. “I can try to find you a nice girl. At least your mom would be happy”
“That’s the best you could come up with for deflecting”, Alan shook his head, easing up a bit.
Nola opened her mouth to reply but Alan cut in, “Let’s make a promise”
“What promise?”, she looked at him incredulously.
“That we will both do it. You’ll look for a job and I’ll start surgery”
Nola started laughing.
“Why are you laughing?”
“For a second I thought you were gonna go – Let’s make a promise to marry each other if we reach forty and are still single”
Alan couldn’t help laughing himself and shook his head.
“You watch those cheesy romantic movies all the time. Who knows what you might say”
“I do not!”
Nola raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, I do, but that is not happening. I will find a nice girl, okay! Or… my mother will.” They both burst out laughing again.
Alan took a long sigh. “So you promise?”
“Okay, I promise. Maybe it is the only way we’ll move forward”, Nola said it before she could stop herself. She felt a butterfly of fear flutter in her stomach but ignored it.
“Good. Now take your food and get out of my car.”
She took the bags from the back seat and got out of the car. “Thank you, what would I do without you.”
“Probably starve to death”, he said and watched her walk towards the building.