It was October 17th and my 24th birthday was celebrated with friends, family, nurses and a heap of food. My mom was at the helm organizing, directing and encouraging everyone to eat, eat! It didn’t matter that I was flat on my back in a bed. Wherever a group of people was gathered, a feast must be had. We were never short of food growing up in my house. Seconds were always pushed at dinner. If we were full that was accepted, but not before we were asked if we wanted more. It was no different in the hospital.
“Heidi, what would you like to eat?” my mom asked. She stood by my bed, hands on her hips.
I still found eating hard. I had been fed through a tube for so long that food was something I needed to get used to again.
“You pick, Mom. You know what I like.”
And she was off, launching herself into the next task. My mom was rarely still. All my life she moved – she cleaned, she fed, she looked after. My brothers and I were safe in a love that never stopped.
The crash was especially hard on her. She was at home when it happened; seconds after Betty and I left she heard a bang. The loudest bang I ever heard she had said and didn’t say much else about it. I didn’t press her for more. She was helpless, powerless to do anything to save her daughter or make her well. She was forced to wait at the sidewalk while firefighters lifted me from the ravine and then wait by my bed, her lined hard-working hands restless by her side.
There wasn’t room for anything sad when my mom gathered and assembled everyone to sing Happy Birthday to me. Family and friends, nurses, physiotherapist and occupational therapists – the many faces of the people I loved and had come to know packed into my small room and spilling into the hallway. Over birthday cake they sang to me.
Burning candles weren’t allowed what with all the ready oxygen everywhere, but gifts were brought and laid on the tray table beside me that normally held my water, juice and vomit trays. (Anesthetic didn’t agree with me and after almost every surgery I was vomiting whatever the doctors had pumped in.) The table was cleared and in its place was bright, crisp wrapping paper and bags with Happy Birthday splashed across them filled with colorful tissue. How refreshing to have something pretty near me!
Scott gave me his gift while no one was in the room. Everyone had gone to refill their drinks, get cake and second helpings of food. He placed a small blue velvet box into the palm of my hand.
I tugged at the box and the lid sprang open. Inside was a white-gold ring with a small diamond in the center of it. The ring was dainty and delicate.
I looked at him, surprised. “A ring?”
Scott said, “It looks like you.” He didn’t slip the ring onto my finger. He didn’t touch it. He was sitting cross-legged at the foot of my bed and the ring, still in its box, lay between us in the palm of my hand as he explained.
“It’s a promise ring. It’s my promise to you. To be with you. It’s the promise of us and a future together. And the promise that things will get better.”
I said, “It’s beautiful. Thank you. I didn’t expect this.”
I took it from its box and slipped it onto the ring finger of my right hand. Both of us were clear that it wasn’t an engagement ring. Neither of us was ready for that, yet. On my finger, with me, was a symbol of hope and a reminder that I was loved.