Royalty-free photo by Gregor Inkret and purchased from iStockPhoto.com

You Can Sleep While I Drive

“She’s not breathing. Code blue! Get the crash cart!”

“Two breaths delivered via bag mask.”

“I’m not getting a pulse. Starting compressions. Oneandtwoandthreeandfourand — ”

“Pads attached? OK, stand back to analyze … she’s in v-fib. Let’s shock her at 150 joules. Clear the patient.”

“I’m clear. You’re clear. Everybody clear … shock delivered. Resume compressions.”

“Resuming compressions.”

“Are you able to ventilate?”

“Yes, I’m getting good chest rise.”

“OK, we’ll continue with the bag mask and hold off on the intubation for now. So what’s her story?”

“Seventeen-year-old ejected from the vehicle in a semi versus car MVA.”

“Go ahead and give one milligram Epi IV. Has the family been notified?”

“We’re working on that now.”

“One milligram IV Epinephrine given.”

“andsixteenandseventeenandeighteenandnineteenand — ”

“Get 300 milligrams IV Amiodarone ready. We’ll give that if VF is still present on the next rhythm check.”

“Preparing 300 milligrams Amiodarone.”

“Let’s stop CPR and we’ll analyze. Be prepared to switch.”

I watched it all play out like it was happening to someone else. I could see myself on the table, my favorite sweater cut up the middle, my breasts exposed. I felt nothing … no sadness, no pain. I could hear everyone yelling, the doctor directing my miraculous resurrection like Spielberg directed Saving Private Ryan, only Ryan was saved and I … well, that remained to be seen.

“Persistent VF. Shock her again at 200. Administer the 300 milligrams Amiodarone IV push.”

“Shock delivered. Resume compressions.”

“300 milligrams Amiodarone IV given.”

“Resuming compressions.”

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. We were supposed to live happily ever after.

“We should go, Lara,” Nuel whispered. “We’re runnin’ late as is. You don’t wanna be here when your folks wake up, do you?”

I shook my head no and went back inside for my things. Everything I was taking with me fit into one small carry-on suitcase I’d hidden under my bed. I tiptoed back through the kitchen, past the wood-burning stove and into the living room. Each footfall echoed in my ears, amplified a thousand times by equal amounts of fear and excitement. Fee-fi-fo-fum! I thought. God, I don’t remember this old floor being so creaky before! I slipped out the front door and into the still-dark Montana morning.

Mom and Dad lived on ten acres. Their driveway was almost a half-mile long, twisting and winding its way through the dense forest that surrounded their house. Nuel had parked at the end of it — out of sight and earshot, and now we walked toward his car in the darkness. “Can we stop at the mailbox? I’d like to leave them a note so they don’t worry.”

Nuel squeezed my hand and smiled. “What’s it say?”

“Just that I left with you, I wasn’t kidnapped, that I’ll call once we get where we’re going and not to worry.”

Nuel sighed. “You know, we wouldn’t have to do this if they’d let us get married. I mean … it’s not like I’m just some Joe Blow off the street. They’ve known me my whole life.”

“I know.” I wondered why life had to be so hard and why my parents couldn’t just be happy for us. “They like you, but — “

“But what?”

“They just think you’re too old for me.”

“I’m five years older than you, Lara. Ten years from now it’ll mean nothing. No one will even notice or care.”

“A 27-year-old woman with a 32-year-old man is a lot different than a 17-year-old girl with a 22-year-old man.”

“Why? Why is it different?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. It just is.”

We stopped at the end of the driveway. Before I got in the car I scrawled I love you both very much! on the back of the envelope and slipped it into the mailbox. “Okay, I’m ready now,” I said as we pulled onto Old Highway 2, the golden porch lamps that peppered the undulating landscape disappearing one by one from the rearview mirror.

“I made us some traveling music.” Nuel rummaged around in the jockey box and pulled out a CD. “You’ll love this first song.”

I leaned my seat back and closed my eyes as Melissa Etheridge’s rich, earthy vocals enveloped me — her lullaby soothing me to sleep.

Come on, baby, let’s get out of this town
I got a full tank of gas with the top rolled down
There’s a chill in my bones
I don’t want to be left alone
So, baby, you can sleep while I drive.

We took our time traveling east. North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana … the miles, small towns, big cities, and states slipped past my window, a colorful blur that barely registered after a while. I thought about my parents, my brothers, my friends. I thought about what they’d think and how they’d worry. I thought about my childhood.

“Did you know I’ve loved you since I was six?” I asked.

“What? Is that true? You never told me that before.”

“It’s true. And why would I tell you? I was just some snot-nosed kid you didn’t even know existed.”

“Remember when I was eighteen and went to work in California?” Nuel asked. “When I got back and saw you for the first time in almost four years … damn if I could barely breathe. I sure as hell noticed you then.”

“I pinched myself after you asked me out to dinner for my seventeenth birthday. I’d dreamed about it for so long … I just couldn’t believe it.”

“Lara, since that day I’ve only wanted you. Loving you and taking care of you is all I care about. I’ll do anything — ”

I sidled up next to him and kissed him on the cheek. “I know.”

The first three nights we slept in the car on a deserted country road, under a bridge, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We were able to clean up in gas station bathrooms and rest areas, but by the fourth night we were both ready for a hot shower and a soft bed.

“You go first,” Nuel said. “I’ll go get us some food. What sounds good?”

“Oh, I would love a pizza with lots of meat. No, a big greasy bacon cheeseburger with large fries. Wait! KFC original with a side of mashed and lots of ranch.”

“You sure?” Nuel laughed.

“Mmm hmm,” I nodded.

The water was exquisite, and shaving my legs divine. I lingered there, allowing the steam to relax my muscles until the mirror fogged over. I toweled off, combed my hair and slithered into my favorite white nightgown, the flimsy cotton material sticking to my freshly-lotioned skin as I collapsed onto the mattress.

“Dinner is served, milady.”

Nuel stood in the doorway with the biggest bucket of chicken I’d ever seen. He’d even talked them into filling a small soda cup with ranch dressing, just for me. “Where’s yours?” I asked.

We ate it all, leaving nothing but a greasy puddle in the bottom of the bucket. We stretched our bodies out, Nuel on his side of the bed and me on mine. I reached over and slipped my hand under his shirt, my fingers stroking the fine hairs on his chest.

“What’re you doing?”

“Touching you.”

Nuel sighed. “God girl, you’re killing me. Seeing you in that little nightie … you’d better be careful. I’d never rush you, Lara, but you touching me like that is torture. I want more.”

I squirmed up beside him and kissed his ear. “I’m ready,” I whispered.

Nuel turned to me, a mixture of surprise and disbelief on his face. “What? But … are you sure? I didn’t mean to — ”

“I’m sure. I’ve waited seventeen years for this moment. I’ve waited for you, Nuel. I don’t want to wait anymore. I want you to touch me.”

Nuel leaned over me and extinguished the bedside lamp. He was gentle and took his time, and although I was scared to death, I felt safe in his arms.

“I love you, Lara,” he said as our bodies intertwined in the darkness.

“I love you too.”

Ohio seemed to go on forever, and I thought Pennsylvania was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. “Nuel, look!” A black horse-drawn buggy rolled down the side of the road. A little blonde girl wearing a calico bonnet stared as we passed. I waved at her, but she didn’t wave back.

“Aren’t there Amish up by where your folks live?”

“Yeah, there’s a community up the Yaak, but you rarely see them.” The road curved and dipped, and the little girl with the blonde hair disappeared from sight.

I read Olive Kitteridge aloud as Nuel drove. The time seemed to go by faster that way. I was just three pages from the end when Nuel turned to me and said, “There it is.” I followed the direction of Nuel’s pointed finger and gasped when I saw Niagara Falls for the first time. “Now we can start a life together, Lara. You scared?”

“No,” I said without hesitation. “I feel safe with you.” I unclasped my seatbelt.

Nuel looked at me. “What’re you doing?” he asked.

“I want to hug you. I want to … look out!”

A semi truck had pulled out in front of us. Goddamn truck drivers think they own the road.

“Give another one milligram of Epi IV.”

“Got hold of the family. Seems she’s a runaway — eloped with her boyfriend. Parents reported her missing three or four days ago. Boyfriend was pronounced dead at the scene.”

“One milligram IV Epi given.”

“She’s in asystole!”

“andsixandsevenandeightandnineand — ”

“Atropine one milligram IV push. What time did we start CPR?”

“Oh … it’s been about 20 minutes now.”

“One milligram IV Atropine given.”

“I don’t see the sense in continuing this much longer, do you?”

“Lara?”

I turned to see Nuel standing behind me. I slipped my hand into his and smiled.

“You scared?” he asked.

“No,” I answered without hesitation. “I feel safe with you.”

Together we watched the code team work on my body, their efforts seeming more futile with each passing minute.

“I’m calling it. Time of death, 7:23. What a damn shame.”

The doctor slipped the rubber gloves from his hands and tossed them into the trash. One by one the medical team touched me on the arm. Each one said something like, “Sorry, kiddo,” or “Rest in peace, little girl,” before leaving the room until Nuel and I stood alone at the end of the bed. It was so quiet — the silence rang in my ears.

“We should go, Lara,” Nuel whispered. “We’re runnin’ late as is. You don’t wanna be here when your folks get here, do you?”

My eyes welled with tears. “Maybe. I — ” I thought of the letter I’d left them — of the last thing I would ever say to them: I love you both very much! I wiped my tears away and looked at Nuel. “Okay, I’m ready now,” I said as we walked into the light, the pungent odors of rubbing alcohol and blood and sweat and sorrow fading one by one behind us.