If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(4)


by Gayle Forman

“What would you say if I said I had tickets to the master?” Adam asked me, a glint in his eyes.

“Shut up. You do not,” I said, shoving him a little harder than I’d meant to.

Adam pretended to fall against the glass wall. Then he dusted himself off. “I do. At the Schnitzle place in Portland.”

“It’s the Arlene Schnitzer Hall. It’s part of the Symphony.”

“That’s the place. I got tickets. A pair. You interested?”

“Are you serious? Yes! I was dying to go but they’re like eighty dollars each. Wait, how did you get tickets?”

“A friend of the family gave them to my parents, but they can’t go. It’s no big thing,” Adam said quickly. “Anyhow, it’s Friday night. If you want, I’ll pick you up at five-thirty and we’ll drive to Portland together.”

“Okay,” I said, like it was the most natural thing.

By Friday afternoon, though, I was more jittery than when I’d inadvertently drunk a whole pot of Dad’s tar-strong coffee while studying for finals last winter.

It wasn’t Adam making me nervous. I’d grown comfortable enough around him by now. It was the uncertainty. What was this, exactly? A date? A friendly favor? An act of charity? I didn’t like being on soft ground any more than I liked fumbling my way through a new movement. That’s why I practiced so much, so I could rush myself on solid ground and then work out the details from there.

I changed my clothes about six times. Teddy, a kindergartner back then, sat in my bedroom, pulling the Calvin and Hobbes books down from the shelves and pretending to read them. He cracked himself up, though I wasn’t sure whether it was Calvin’s high jinks or my own making him so goofy.

Mom popped her head in to check on my progress. “He’s just a guy, Mia,” she said when she saw me getting worked up.

“Yeah, but he’s just the first guy I’ve ever gone on a maybe-date with,” I said. “So I don’t know whether to wear date clothes or symphony clothes—do people here even dress up for that kind of thing? Or should I just keep it casual, in case it’s not a date?”

“Just wear something you feel good in,” she suggested. “That way you’re covered.” I’m sure Mom would’ve pulled out all the stops had she been me. In the pictures of her and Dad from the early days, she looked like a cross between a 1930s siren and a biker chick, with her pixie haircut, her big blue eyes coated in kohl eyeliner, and her rail-thin body always ensconced in some sexy getup, like a lacy vintage camisole paired with skintight leather pants.

I sighed. I wished I could be so ballsy. In the end, I chose a long black skirt and a maroon short-sleeved sweater. Plain and simple. My trademark, I guess.

When Adam showed up in a sharkskin suit and Creepers (an ensemble that wholly impressed Dad), I realized that this really was a date. Of course, Adam would choose to dress up for the symphony and a 1960s sharkskin suit could’ve just been his cool take on formal, but I knew there was more to it than that. He seemed nervous as he shook hands with my dad and told him that he had his band’s old CDs. “To use as coasters, I hope,” Dad said. Adam looked surprised, unused to the parent being more sarcastic than the child, I imagine.

“Don’t you kids get too crazy. Bad injuries at the last Yo-Yo Ma mosh pit,” Mom called as we walked down the lawn.

“Your parents are so cool,” Adam said, opening the car door for me.

“I know,” I replied.

We drove to Portland, making small talk. Adam played me snippets of bands he liked, a Swedish pop trio that sounded monotonous but then some Icelandic art band that was quite beautiful. We got a little lost downtown and made it to the concert hall with only a few minutes to spare.

Our seats were in the balcony. Nosebleeds. But you don’t go to Yo-Yo Ma for the view, and the sound was incredible. That man has a way of making the cello sound like a crying woman one minute, a laughing child the next. Listening to him, I’m always reminded of why I started playing cello in the first place—that there is something so human and expressive about it.

When the concert started, I peered at Adam out of the corner of my eye. He seemed good-natured enough about the whole thing, but he kept looking at his program, probably counting off the movements until intermission. I worried that he was bored, but after a while I got too caught up in the music to care.

Then, when Yo-Yo Ma played “Le Grand Tango,” Adam reached over and grasped my hand. In any other context, this would have been cheesy, the old yawn-and-cop-a-feel move. But Adam wasn’t looking at me. His eyes were closed and he was swaying slightly in his seat. He was lost in the music, too. I squeezed his hand back and we sat there like that for the rest of the concert.

Afterward, we bought coffees and doughnuts and walked along the river. It was misting and he took off his suit jacket and draped it over my shoulders.

“You didn’t really get those tickets from a family friend, did you?” I asked.

I thought he would laugh or throw up his arm in mock surrender like he did when I beat him in an argument. But he looked straight at me, so I could see the green and browns and grays swimming around in his irises. He shook his head. “That was two weeks of pizza-delivery tips,” he admitted.

I stopped walking. I could hear the water lapping below. “Why?” I asked. “Why me?”

“I’ve never seen anyone get as into music as you do. It’s why I like to watch you practice. You get the cutest crease in your forehead, right there,” Adam said, touching me above the bridge of my nose. “I’m obsessed with music and even I don’t get transported like you do.”

“So, what? I’m like a social experiment to you?” I meant it to be jokey, but it came out sounding bitter.

“No, you’re not an experiment,” Adam said. His voice was husky and choked.

I felt the heat flood my neck and I could sense myself blushing. I stared at my shoes. I knew that Adam was looking at me now with as much certainty as I knew that if I looked up he was going to kiss me. And it took me by surprise how much I wanted to be kissed by him, to realize that I’d thought about it so often that I’d memorized the exact shape of his lips, that I’d imagined running my finger down the cleft of his chin.

My eyes flickered upward. Adam was there waiting for me.

That was how it started.

12:19 P.M.

There are a lot of things wrong with me.

Apparently, I have a collapsed lung. A ruptured spleen. Internal bleeding of unknown origin. And most serious, the contusions on my brain. I’ve also got broken ribs. Abrasions on my legs, which will require skin grafts; and on my face, which will require cosmetic surgery—but, as the doctors note, that is only if I am lucky.

Right now, in surgery, the doctors have to remove my spleen, insert a new tube to drain my collapsed lung, and stanch whatever else might be causing the internal bleeding. There isn’t a lot they can do for my brain.

“We’ll just wait and see,” one of the surgeons says, looking at the CAT scan of my head. “In the meantime, call down to the blood bank. I need two units of O neg and keep two units ahead.”

O negative. My blood type. I had no idea. It’s not like it’s something I’ve ever had to think about before. I’ve never been in the hospital unless you count the time I went to the emergency room after I cut my ankle on some broken glass. I didn’t even need stitches then, just a tetanus shot.

In the operating room, the doctors are debating what music to play, just like we were in the car this morning. One guy wants jazz. Another wants rock. The anesthesiologist, who stands near my head, requests classical. I root for her, and I feel like that must help because someone pops on a Wagner CD, although I don’t know that the rousing “Ride of the Valkyries” is what I had in mind. I’d hoped for something a little lighter. Four Seasons, perhaps.

The operating room is small and crowded, full of blindingly bright lights, which highlight how grubby this place is. It’s nothing like on TV, where operating rooms are like pristine theaters that could accommodate an opera singer, and an audience. The floor, though buffed shiny, is dingy with scuff marks and rust streaks, which I take to be old bloodstains.

Blood. It is everywhere. It does not faze the doctors one bit. They slice and sew and suction through a river of it, like they are washing dishes in soapy water. Meanwhile, they pump an ever-replenishing stock into my veins.

The surgeon who wanted to listen to rock sweats a lot. One of the nurses has to periodically dab him with gauze that she holds in tongs. At one point, he sweats through his mask and has to replace it.

The anesthesiologist has gentle fingers. She sits at my head, keeping an eye on all my vitals, adjusting the amounts of the fluids and gases and drugs they’re giving me. She must be doing a good job because I don’t appear to feel anything, even though they are yanking at my body. It’s rough and messy work, nothing like that game Operation we used to play as kids where you had to be careful not touch the sides as you removed a bone, or the buzzer would go off.

The anesthesiologist absentmindedly strokes my temples through her latex gloves. This is what Mom used to do when I came down with the flu or got one of those headaches that hurt so bad I used to imagine cutting open a vein in my temple just to relieve the pressure.

The Wagner CD has repeated twice now. The doctors decide it’s time for a new genre. Jazz wins. People always assume that because I am into classical music, I’m a jazz aficionado. I’m not. Dad is. He loves it, especially the wild, latter-day Coltrane stuff. He says that jazz is punk for old people. I guess that explains it, because I don’t like punk, either.

The operation goes on and on. I’m exhausted by it. I don’t know how the doctors have the stamina to keep up. They’re standing still, but it seems harder than running a marathon.

I start to zone out. And then I start to wonder about this state I’m in. If I’m not dead—and the heart monitor is bleeping along, so I assume I’m not—but I’m not in my body, either, can I go anywhere? Am I a ghost? Could I transport myself to a beach in Hawaii? Can I pop over to Carnegie Hall in New York City? Can I go to Teddy?

Just for the sake of experiment, I wiggle my nose like Samantha on Bewitched. Nothing happens. I snap my fingers. Click my heels. I’m still here.

I decide to try a simpler maneuver. I walk into the wall, imagining that I’ll float through it and come out the other side. Except that what happens when I walk into the wall is that I hit a wall.

A nurse bustles in with a bag of blood, and before the door shuts behind her, I slip through it. Now I’m in the hospital corridor. There are lots of doctors and nurses in blue and green scrubs hustling around. A woman on a gurney, her hair in a gauzy blue shower cap, an IV in her arm, calls out, “William, William.” I walk a little farther. There are rows of operating rooms, all full of sleeping people. If the patients inside these rooms are like me, why then can’t I see the people outside the people? Is everyone else loitering about like I seem to be? I’d really like to meet someone in my condition. I have some questions, like, what is this state I’m in exactly and how do I get out of it? How do I get back to my body? Do I have to wait for the doctors to wake me up? But there’s no one else like me around. Maybe the rest of them figured out how to get to Hawaii.

I follow a nurse through a set of automatic double doors. I’m in a small waiting room now. My grandparents are here.

Gran is chattering away to Gramps, or maybe just to the air. It’s her way of not letting emotion get the best of her. I’ve seen her do it before, when Gramps had a heart attack. She is wearing her Wellies and her gardening smock, which is smudged with mud. She must have been working in her greenhouse when she heard about us. Gran’s hair is short and curly and gray; she’s been wearing it in a permanent wave, Dad says, since the 1970s. “It’s easy,” Gran says. “No muss, no fuss.” This is so typical of her. No nonsense. She’s so quintessentially practical that most people would never guess she has a thing for angels. She keeps a collection of ceramic angels, yarn-doll angels, blown-glass angels, you-name-it angels, in a special china hutch in her sewing room. And she doesn’t just collect angels; she believes in them. She thinks that they’re everywhere. Once, a pair of loons nested in the pond in the woods behind their house. Gran was convinced that it was her long-dead parents, come to watch over her.