The first thing I’m struck by is how easy it is to see her, now that she’s dying in a hospital bed.
When I was in 6th grade I tried desperately to get a meeting with Dr. Lianna Haven, to interview her for science project I was working on, and I never made it past her secretary on the phone. I think the secretary thought it was “cute” that I even dared to try. She told me to ask my Mom to call Lianna’s PR person. And sneaking my way in and trying to show up unexpected at Lianna’s office wasn’t even a consideration. I’d never have gotten past security at Haven Tower.
But now that Lianna Haven is in a hospital, it appears that anyone can just saunter in off the street and find their way to her bedside. Even my cherry red combat boots don’t get a second glance from the lobby policeman at New York Hospital. They’d at least buy me a body scan at Haven Tower. But in order to get past this guy, I just need to answer his question—
“Do you know where you’re going?”
—with a simple “Yes.” But I only know where I’m going because I called ahead and asked the hospital operator what room Lianna is in. I offered the lie that I was her niece. But it wasn’t clear that I even needed to be family.
I suppose the world believes that safeguarding the dying is far less important than safeguarding the living.
Getting in is just about the only thing that’s easy about being here, though. Emotionally speaking, I don’t want to be here at all—this is the same hospital where my father died almost five years ago, and my heart loses a beat every time I walk into that lobby. Yet Cari convinced me I should see Dr. Haven “in the real world,” that it might influence my thoughts on what I may or may not be interacting with in the Grid. She’s right, of course. And if not for memories of Dad—my unconscious desire to never step foot in this damn hospital ever again—I probably would have thought of it myself and come here directly after my experience in SlipStream. Another moment of gratitude for Cari. She even offered to come with me, but I felt I needed to do this alone.
As I walk past the hum of IVs and monitors in the private room toward the sleeping figure in bed, the next thing I’m struck by is how pretty the “real world” Lianna looks—even in what the newsfeeds have described as sleeping the sleep of death.
Her face doesn’t have the color and immediacy of the Lianna I saw in the Grid, but it’s just as elegant and composed. I suppose I expected it to be skeletal and wasting away. But she merely looks as if she’s peacefully sleeping, not dying. So I wonder if that’s indeed what she is. Peacefully sleeping. Maybe the doctors and the newsfeeds are wrong. Maybe she’ll awake one day, very much alive and ready to pickup where she left off at HavenCorp. Or maybe she’s already awake in the Grid, somehow continuing her work there, giving me instructions to bring her family to her. Seeing her lying in bed like this, the thought does not seem unreasonable or outlandish.
Sitting at her hospital bedside, I find myself bold enough to take her hand in mine, and the warmth is not unlike that I felt in the Grid when she took mine in SlipStream. I gaze at her closed eyes, watching them occasionally sail back and forth across and underneath their closed lids, wondering if they are making the journey of dreaming. Or whether she is in fact active somehow in the Grid. I thought the answer would be clear to me the minute I saw her… Yet I find myself more confused than ever, as the words of the policeman downstairs echo in my ear. So I press softly on her hand and whisper to her the same question—
“Do you know where you’re going?”
I was on a school sleepaway trip when I was told my father’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, so I was excused early to return to the hospital—but by the time I got there he had already passed away. I felt cheated, that I never had the chance to say goodbye, to tell him things about my life that I’d want him to know, to ask questions about his past and learn more about where I came from, my heritage. I vowed not to make the same mistake with my mom. And yet living at home, I never seem to know what the right questions are, or what things I’d want to tell my mom before she passes (which I hope will be many years from now). But maybe the fact that mom is alive and healthy makes it seem like we have all the time in the world—and so when it boils down to it I don’t feel the need to be bothered with questions and heavy conversation than can easily be deferred for some rainy day. But sitting here, holding Dr. Lianna Haven’s hand, rather than pondering who or what I was interacting with in SlipStream when I saw what I think was her active avatar, all I can think of are the many questions I should ask my own mother back at home. Things that have nothing to do with Hal or the Haven family or SlipStream or The Grid.
“Excuse me—do I know you?”
I turn my head and am blindsided to find Hal staring curiously at me.
I immediately search for his eyes, and hope to make that connection I thought we shared briefly at the party…
But this time nothing comes.
Thankfully, I don’t see anger in those eyes, either, and I suppose that’s something. Because I’d be angry if I discovered a stranger holding hands with my dying mother in her hospital room. But still, I’d hopped that when we met again—or met properly for the first time, I should say—well, I’d hoped I’d see more than the mild curiosity I find staring at me now. It’s… anticlimactic. Did I dream that moment of connection?
“I’m sorry. Are we… related?” he continues.
“No! We’re not.” I surprise myself by being annoyed that he might think so. “I’m sorry—I know I shouldn’t be here—” I stammer, and suddenly anger does cross his face.
“Please don’t tell me you’re just one of my Mom’s crazy fans.”
“No. I mean, I am a fan—but that’s not why I’m here. And I’m not crazy. I swear.”
And with that, he softens. I realize I’m still holding his Mom’s hand.
“I believe you. I mean, you don’t look like a crazy fan. You’re… really familiar. How do you know Ma?”
How indeed? All of this is happening too quickly, and none of it is how I imagined or hoped it would happen. Though come to think of it, I’m also not sure what exactly I imagined or hoped for.
The past few days I thought over what I’d say to Hal when I was face-to-face with him, and now I find I can say nothing. So I’m thankful that just then, the Haven Family private nurse enters the room, surprised to see us—
“Mr. Haven! I’m sorry, I just stepped out for a moment. I didn’t see you arrive.”
“No, it’s fine. I was just talking to—”
But I’m already gone, running down a hospital corridor before Hal can make any connections and before I realize in my haste that I’ve gone the wrong direction and would need to double back to get to the elevators. See you Wednesday night, I think, feeling like an ass.
I spot a staircase and hustle down by foot, my heart in my hands, confusion in my head.
Do you know where you’re going?
No. Clearly, I do not.
You’ve been reading CHAPTER 9 from the new young adult illustrated novel ASHA ASCENDING, written by Vivek J. Tiwary with art by Sara Richard. Please FOLLOW this blog to read previous and future chapters, serialized here for free.
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