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Room for Two

Three

I didn’t sleep much that night. In the morning I told my family it was because the living room couch was uncomfortable. But the real reason was that when I closed my eyes, I relived opening the door to the apartment, hearing the gunshot, running back to find Krista’s body. The only way to stop the images was to keep my eyes open and think of Hope. I thought about the last time I saw her before she had been taken to the waiting helicopter. The nurses had brought her out in a transportation unit where, if possible, she looked even smaller and more helpless. She was attached to a large machine that would keep her on life support during the short flight. I pressed my hands against the plastic shell that encased her. I wanted to hold her in my arms and whisper into her tiny pink ear, "Everything’s going to be all right. I’ll see you soon."

At some point sleep must have overpowered me for a few moments because at two thirty in the morning I awoke suddenly. I walked to the kitchen and stared out the window at the street, which was dark and quiet. I noticed my dad’s truck in the driveway and wondered when he had arrived and why he hadn’t come and talked to me.

After a few minutes, I saw a car drive down the street in the direction of the house. My heart leaped as I envisioned the car pulling into the driveway and seeing Krista emerge. I saw her run towards me, the two of us laughing and crying as we embraced. Instead the car stopped made a U-turn.

I paced back and forth around the kitchen for a few minutes, then returned to the window hoping to see another car or some sign of Krista. This went on for almost an hour in the dark, cold kitchen. I returned to the couch only when my legs were too cramped and tired to stand.

I stared at the ceiling until dawn.

 

***

The next morning my dad drove me to Primary Children’s Hospital. The floor of the pickup was littered with fast food wrappers and soda cans — signs of his seven-hour drive to Ogden. I could see bags under his bloodshot eyes. Considering how exhausted he looked, I was a surprised that he volunteered to drive me to the hospital.

We made the drive in silence. I expected him to ask questions about the previous day, but he didn’t. Maybe my mom had answered them all last night after he arrived. Or perhaps he was still in shock and couldn’t think of anything to say. Personally, I was glad for the silence. I was tired, and my mind was still having a hard time accepting the events of yesterday as being real.

My dad drove the speed limit the entire way to Salt Lake City, despite the fact it was Sunday morning and traffic on I-15 was nonexistent. I kept glancing over at the orange speedometer that continually hovered right above or below sixty-five miles per hour. I wanted to ask my dad to drive faster but kept telling myself that the truck was old and slow and my dad was tired.

It took an hour to reach the hospital, which was nestled in the foothills above downtown Salt Lake. Once inside we followed the signs to the neonatal intensive care on the fourth floor. A sign on the door informed us that all people needed to call the nurses’ station to be admitted. I picked up the receiver of a white phone on the wall next to the door.

"Yes?" The voice on the other end of the phone seemed weary, as if she had been working all night.

"I’m here to see my baby," I said. I hoped that would be enough to get inside.

There was a loud click as the wooden doors unlocked. A heavyset woman sat behind a desk at the end of the hall. She waved us back when we entered. We walked passed a waiting room where a father and two children were spread out on the couch and chairs. They looked worn-out and sad.

"Can I help you?" the woman said. It was the same tired voice I heard on the other end of the phone.

"My daughter was flown here last night. I’d like to see her," I said.

The woman asked my name, my daughter’s name, and then for some identification. I handed her my driver’s license.

"You’re the baby’s father?" she asked.

"I am."

"Just a moment," she said. She copied some information from the driver’s license, then handed it back to me. She paged someone, then returned her attention to a pile of paperwork in front of her. She didn’t look back up.

Next to the nurses’ station was a whiteboard with the first name and last initial of all the babies in the NICU. I scanned the list until I came to the last name on the board. Baby Keogh. Next to her name was yesterday’s date and room number.

"Are you baby Keogh’s father?" A nurse approached. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were the color of the sky. She was smiling. She reminded me of Krista. "I’m Peggy, one of the nurses caring for your baby. Let’s get you scrubbed up, and I’ll take you to her."

Peggy turned on the light in an oversized janitor’s closet next to the whiteboard. The far wall of the closet was filled with large bottles of antibacterial soap, boxes of plastic gloves, face masks, and other medical supplies. A large stainless steel sink was bolted next to the door. "Wash your arms up to your elbows," she said.

We scrubbed our hands and arms and followed Peggy to a large room at the end of the hall that was decorated in muted pastel blues, pinks, yellows, and greens. I figured those colors were to brighten the sterile-looking room, but I wondered how cheerful any of the parents ever were. There were four babies in the room, three in incubators. The fourth, alone on the far side of the room by a window, was bathed in a bright light from a lamp directly above her. I knew right away that this was my daughter.

Hope was hooked up to even more IVs and monitors than she had been the previous night. She lay on several soft blankets, and had round cotton patches over her eyes to protect them from the light. The patches made her look like she was wearing thick baby-sized glasses. The pink bow was still in her hair.

"She sure is cute," my dad said.

I looked around at the rest of the babies. "How come Hope’s not in an incubator?"

"She’s hooked up to too many machines to fit comfortably in one," Peggy said. There was a touch of sadness to her voice.

I gently touched Hope’s hand. I kissed her head and whispered, "How’s my little girl?"

Then I did something I hadn’t done the night before. I studied her face. Looking at Hope was like looking at a smaller version of Krista only with my brown hair. Hope had Krista’s chin and narrow face. I could almost visualize my little girl all grown up, looking like her mother’s twin. I heard footsteps approaching. I turned half expecting to see Krista. Instead a thin, middle-aged man with glasses approached. He was wearing a blue shirt and canary yellow tie underneath a white lab coat. His shirt and tie reminded me more of a businessman than a doctor. He carried a clipboard with an inch-thick stack of papers attached. He introduced himself as Dr. Green — Hope’s doctor.

"Your little girl’s quite a fighter," he said. "Her body has gone through a lot of trauma in the last twenty-four hours." He flipped through the papers on his clipboard.

"Is she going to make it?" I said. I dreaded the answer that was coming. I was not optimistic.

Dr. Green pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose. "It’s hard to give her a long-term prognosis at this time. She’s responded well to the various tests we gave her last night. However, there’s a good chance that if she survives, she’ll have some long-term brain damage." His voice was calm and professional, but from the look on his face I could tell he was worried.

"Long-term brain damage?" As I repeated the doctor’s words a dark, ominous fear grew inside me.

"We’re not sure how long your daughter was deprived of oxygen before she . . ." Dr. Green paused as if he was searching for the right words, ". . . came into this world. Do you know if lifesaving measures were performed on your wife?"

"I don’t know. I wasn’t in the room."

"If your daughter went without oxygen for an extended period of time, there’s a good possibility she could have difficulty learning to walk or talk. It may mean she has a harder time intellectually when she becomes older. Of course, she may be perfectly healthy. Right now, we don’t have enough information to determine anything. We need to run more tests."

"How long until you know more?" I said. It felt like my voice was being stretched in my throat, as if I didn’t know how to ask the questions I should ask.

"A few days. I’ll work with some specialists to come up with a more accurate diagnosis." The doctor stroked Hope’s arm with his finger. "Do you have any questions for me at this time?"

I shook my head. I was still numb. I watched Hope’s chest rise and fall with the sound of the respirator. I wanted some time alone to think.

"My office is down the hall. If I’m not around, please have a nurse page me."

I watched Dr. Green walk toward the door, his soft-soled shoes padding away soundlessly. My dad pulled out his camera and started taking pictures of Hope. After a few flashes filled the room, he asked me to stand next to her so he could get a picture of the two of us. I didn’t want my picture taken but agreed to it anyway. I reasoned taking pictures would help Dad feel useful. Taking pictures, after all, was what he did for a living.

"Smile, Abel," he said. I didn’t know if my face remembered how to smile, but I tried to raise the corners of my mouth into something more than a grimace. Later, I would look at these pictures and see a deep sadness to my face that no smile could hide.

After another series of flashes the camera made a whirling sound as the film rewound. My dad searched his pockets for some film. "I must have left the rest of the film at home," he said dejectedly.

"We can take more pictures tomorrow," I said. I hoped that any more photographs would not involve me.

"I’m going to call Mom and see when she’s coming down," Dad said.

"Thanks." I said. I was grateful to have some time to myself.

On the way out of the room my dad stopped and looked at the other babies. From where I was standing I could tell they were all larger and healthier-looking than Hope. The baby nearest Hope yawned and opened its eyes for several seconds before going back to sleep.

I placed my index finger in Hope’s hand. One of the things I liked about babies is that they instinctively grab your finger. I waited for Hope to grab mine. She didn’t move. Gently I curled her hand around my finger. Her hand was so small that it couldn’t fit all the way around. I thought about taking Hope home from the hospital, healthy as ever, and tucking her safely in her crib. I thought about her learning to crawl, walk, and talk, and taking her to her first day of school. I thought these things because it was what I wanted to do even though I didn’t they would ever happen.

A tinkling noise like that of a small bell chimed from the computer next to Hope. I looked up at the screen. A small light was flashing. I looked frantically around for a nurse. Peggy was cooing and talking with the baby closest to the door.

"Something’s wrong with Hope," I said.

Peggy stopped what she was doing and walked over. She smiled and pushed a mute button on the machine. The ringing stopped.

"What’s wrong?" I said. I didn’t like Peggy’s calm demeanor. I wanted her to be as worried and anxious as I was.

"The bell’s a reminder to change one of her IV bags." She pointed to an empty bag hanging near the lamp. She unhooked the bag from the IV stand and walked out of sight. She returned a moment later with a full one.

"What’s in the bag?" I asked.

"Breakfast."

Peggy readied the new IV bag. In less than a minute the clear liquid was once again heading to Hope’s arm, one drop at a time.

"Would you like to hold her?" Peggy asked.

"Can I?" I said. It looked impossible considering how many IVs and machines she was hooked up to.

"It’ll be a little tricky, but we can do it."

I pulled a high-legged stool from the wall and placed it next to Hope’s bed. Peggy moved the respirator close to my chair and removed the cotton patches from Hope’s eyes.

"Let me double check these wires and tubes," Peggy said. "We don’t want them popping off." She inspected the length of each one carefully. Another nurse walked over to help and slowly lifted Hope from the bed. Peggy placed a blanket under Hope’s body, then carefully wrapped her in it. Together the two of them placed her in my arms.

I was amazed how little Hope weighed. It was like holding a large doll instead of a baby. Hope’s head rested against my chest. The warmth from her head slowly worked its way through my shirt.

"You won’t be able to move much," Peggy said. "Some of those wires are pretty tight."

I sat up straighter and adjusted Hope’s position in my arms. Peggy was right, I couldn’t move or adjust Hope without putting further tension on the tubes and wires.

"Are you comfortable?" Peggy said.

I nodded, and Peggy left to attend the other babies.

I looked at Hope and wished she would open her eyes or provide some indication she was aware of me and the world she was in. But Hope didn’t move. Her eyes remained closed.

I held her until my arms and back screamed for relief.

***

On Tuesday morning Detective Smith called and asked if we could meet. He said he had some follow-up questions. I told him I would be at the hospital all day, and he agreed to meet me there. I wasn’t worried about the interview. There had been two articles in the paper about Krista’s death. The second one, which had appeared Monday morning, contained a statement from the police stating that Krista’s death had been officially ruled a suicide.

When the detective arrived at the hospital later that afternoon, I was sitting in the waiting room with my dad. The room was full of parents talking in hushed tones and bored-looking kids playing with toys or watching cartoons on the television that was bolted to the wall.

"Is there a place we can talk privately?" Detective Smith said.

The neonatal intensive care unit had two private family rooms. What these rooms were used for I did not know, but I had seen a couple come out of one crying. I asked a nurse if one was available. She knocked quietly on one door and slowly opened it. "You can use this one," she said.

With the exception of the television mounted on the wall, the room could have passed for someone’s living room with its thick carpet, a La-Z-Boy in one corner, and well cushioned couch. I sat on the couch. The detective turned the La-Z-Boy so it was facing me and sat on the edge of the chair. He leafed through the pages of his legal pad and took a few moments to read his notes before he started the questions.

 "After we last spoke," the detective said, "I returned to your apartment. Near your bed we found a photograph that was torn into small pieces. Do you know why Krista would do that?"

"Who was the picture of?" I asked.

"I don’t know."

I couldn’t think of any photograph Krista would destroy.

"Without seeing the photograph, I can’t help you."

The detective nodded and wrote something on the pad. I wondered if the detective knew the identity of the person in the photo and wasn’t telling me.

"We found a second key to your gun case in the apartment. Have you located the last one?"

"No. I haven’t been back to the apartment." I thought of the last time I saw our bedroom — the packing boxes soaked with blood and a large bloodstain near Krista’s body — and shuddered.

The detective cleared his throat before the next question. "The last time you spoke to your wife, did she say anything to indicate she was going to kill herself?"

"No. I mean she didn’t seem completely with it, but I never thought she was suicidal."

"What do you mean she didn’t seem with it?"

"She seemed preoccupied. Like she wasn’t listening to anything I said."

While the detective was writing, a question passed through my mind, and I thought now was the time to ask it. "Did you find a note?"

The detective looked up from his notes. "No. "

"Don’t people usually leave some type note when they kill themselves?"

"It depends. Those who plan to kill themselves generally leave a note."

"And those who don’t?"

There were several moments of silence. The detective took a deep breath before answering. "Those people are usually out of their mind." The detective closed the legal pad. "That’s all the questions I have," he said. "How’s the baby?"

"She’s alive, but no one here seems to know if she’ll make it."

"If for some reason she doesn’t survive, will you let me know? I’d like to make a note in the file."

The detective’s comment struck me as cold and heartless. I told myself that it wasn’t his job to become emotionally involved in cases.

"Okay," I said. "I’ll let you know."

***

On the way home from the hospital that evening I asked my dad to stop by the apartment. Now that the police investigation was finished, I wanted to retrieve some clothes. For the last three days I had been wearing borrowed clothes from a cousin and was eager to wear something more comfortable and familiar.

It was dusk when we arrived. The street was quiet. The apartment building itself was dark. Not a light shone from the other three units. It was as if everyone had decided to move away from a building where people killed themselves. There was no longer yellow crime scene tape across the door.

"The clothes I need are in the bedroom closet and the top drawer of the dresser," I said. "They should be anyway. I don’t know if the police moved anything." I handed my dad the key to the door and a list of clothing I needed.

"I’m sorry, but I don’t know what kind of condition the room is in." I said. Images of blood-soaked boxes and carpet were seared in my mind. I told him this so he would be prepared for any mess that remained. It was also my way of telling him I had no desire to go inside.

My dad walked slowly up the stairs to the apartment as if he was dreading what he would discover. He opened the door and disappeared into the darkness. A moment later the living room light came on, and I watched his shadow move across the blinds as he walked back to the bedroom.

It seemed like my dad was gone a long time. While I waited, I wondered if all my clothes had been moved or if the mess had been too much for my dad to handle. Finally my dad emerged with a cardboard box full of clothes — a few shirt sleeves hung over the side.

My dad set the box next to the truck and I rummaged through it to make sure there were enough clothes for the next few days, and also a suit and tie for Krista’s funeral. In the twilight I was unable to tell if any of the clothes had blood on them. I would have to check for that later.

"I’m sorry that took so long," my dad said as I looked through the box. "It took me a minute to get Krista’s message off the answering machine."

I froze. "There was a message from Krista?"

"You don’t know about the message?" My dad seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t know of its existence.

"What did she say?" A dark feeling began to grow in the pit of my stomach. I braced myself for the worse.

"She said ‘No matter what I do, the consequences are the same.’"

I sat down on the curb and repeated the words again in my mind. Consequences? What consequences?

"Does the message mean anything to you?" my dad asked.

"No, nothing."

But I wasn’t thinking about the message anymore, my thoughts were on the answering machine. I remembered before I left to pick Krista up that I called the apartment only to have the phone ring over and over. Later, while the police worked to resuscitate her, someone had called and I had to take the phone off the hook. Both times the answering machine did not pick up.

The question was how did Krista leave a message on the machine? We didn’t have cell phones. Unless she called from her grandmother’s place or a pay phone before she arrived at the apartment, she could not have left a message. I put my head in my hands and rocked slowly back and forth. I thought back to when I dialed 911. The phone had been next to the answering machine. As hard as I tried, I could not remember the message light flashing.

"Was there a green light flashing on the answering machine?" I said, looking at my dad.

My dad stoked he beard with his left hand the way he did when he was thinking or lost in thought. "I don’t believe so."

"What made you check the answering machine?"

"I don’t know." He paused again, thinking. "I felt I should check it. To be honest, I don’t know how your answering machine works. I started pushing buttons and I heard her voice."

Suddenly everything clicked. Krista hadn’t called our phone and left a message. She had erased our old greeting and made a new one. However, after she had created the new message, she forgot to turn the answering machine on. That was the message she wanted me to hear when I called her before driving over. I explained the theory to my dad.

"To me it confirms that Krista wasn’t in her right mind." Dad said after thinking about it for a minute. "Why else would she leave such a cryptic message?"

"I don’t know," I said. "I don’t know."

***

When Dr. Green invited my dad and me into his office, I knew the news wasn’t going to be good. All of our previous conversations about Hope had taken place next to her bedside. I assumed he wanted to use his office because it was a place where we could have some privacy.

Dr. Green’s office was small, barely large enough for a filing cabinet, a desk, a bookshelf, and a couple of chairs. It had thick blue carpet. Diplomas and certificates hung on the far wall. Hope’s medical file lay open on his desk. The doctor pulled his chair around to the front of the desk so he was directly in front of me. We were sitting so close our knees almost touched.

"Several specialists have conducted a series of tests on Hope in order to get a clearer picture of her long-term health. We’ve done some brain scans and tested her nervous system." He picked up the scan of Hope’s head from the file. The scan was taken from the top of her head. I could see the two hemispheres of her brain. There were several large dark spots on the scan.

"These dark spots," Dr. Green explained, "are where there’s blood on her brain. This is usually a sign of severe brain damage. As far as the specialists and I can determine, she has little or no brain activity." He said the last sentence slowly and looked me directly in the eyes as he spoke as if to make sure there was no misunderstanding.

Even though the results weren’t a complete surprise, my heart lurched at the news. The doctor, my dad, and the blue carpet blurred together. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from falling.

"Is there any chance that she might recover from her injuries?" my dad’s voice broke through the darkness. It sounded like he was choking back tears, too.

"There’s an outside chance her condition could improve a little," Dr. Green said. "However, even a slight improvement would still mean Hope would depend on life support as long as she lived. Babies in Hope’s condition who are left on life support typically don’t live past their second birthday. They live their life pretty much as Hope is right now. They are rarely aware of their surroundings or of those who might be caring for them."

One tear fell to the blue carpet, then another. I heard the doctor pick up a box of tissues from his desk. I blindly grabbed for the box but was unable to find it. I opened my eyes and grabbed a few tissues. The tissue box was bright green and had pictures of daisies. The box struck me as strangely beautiful.

My dad placed his hand on my shoulder. I handed him some tissues.

"Since Hope can’t speak for herself," the doctor continued, "you’re the one that needs to speak for her. You need to let us know what sort of lifesaving measures, if any, you would like us to take if her condition worsens. You don’t have to make that decision today. Take some time and think about it. But we’ll need to know soon. Hope’s condition could change very rapidly."

I nodded and reached for another tissue.

"Do you have any questions?" Dr. Green said.

I shook my head, then held my head in my hands. My daughter had been part of my life for only four days, yet the knowledge that her odds for survival were slim to none brought me to the lowest point in my life. Until that moment I had never truly understood the love a parent has for a child. Knowing that Hope would not make it was like learning I was going to lose my arms or legs. Just as one might have seen no way to live without them, I saw no purpose in my life without her.

"Thanks, Doctor," my dad said. "We appreciate everything you’ve been doing."

"I’m always available if you have any questions," Dr. Green said. "Please stay here as long as you need."

The doctor moved his chair behind the desk. I stared at the medical books on his shelf until I heard the doctor shuffle past and the door close. I grabbed another handful of tissues, wiped my eyes, and blew my nose. I looked at my dad whose eyes were red though no tears had fallen. He stroked his beard and was looking past the desk at the far wall. I could tell he was searching for the right combination of comforting and encouraging words. Finally he cleared his throat and asked, "What are you going to do?" From the sound of his voice I could tell he already knew the answer.

"I want to be alone with Hope," I said and walked out of the room.

I sat by Hope’s side and cried until my head throbbed. When I was done weeping, I looked out the window next to her bed. From it I could see a panoramic view of the Salt Lake Valley — from the skyline of downtown Salt Lake City all the way to the orange and yellow hills of the Bingham Copper mine. I watched the sun inch its way toward the horizon.

Years ago I reached the conclusion that someone who was dependent on life support for survival wasn’t really alive. I resolved that if I ever needed to make such a decision, I’d do it without hesitation. However, the hypothetical person I thought about was a nameless, faceless ghost. I never thought about removing life support from a family member or loved one. And I certainly never thought of making this decision for a baby — let alone one of my own children. Now that Hope was part of the equation, all my previous reasoning seemed hollow and empty. It didn’t matter that Hope was unable to respond to the world around her. Every morning I arrived at the hospital hoping she had made a miraculous, overnight recovery. But each day as more tests were performed the true nature of Hope’s condition became apparent. She never opened her eyes or voluntarily moved her body. She never gripped my finger or responded when the nurses poked her foot to draw blood. I tried to rationalize away her lack of response by telling myself it was because of the large amounts of painkillers and muscle relaxants that were fed into her body twenty-four hours a day. But my gut told me something else. She was in her current condition because she had been deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time. Her health would never improve. Her life, as long as I chose for it to continue, was going to be lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

Removing Hope from life support was a decision I didn’t want to make alone. Hope was part Krista, part myself. More than anything, I wanted Krista by my side. In the seven years I’d known her, Krista always had a unique way of looking at situations and providing valuable insight, no matter what the issue. Right now, I desperately wanted her arms around me and to know what she thought the right course of action was.

My thoughts were interrupted by other people talking nearby. The parents of the baby closest to Hope had arrived. They talked in quick, excited voices. The baby cooed and smiled in response to their attention.

"Can you believe we can finally take him home today?’ the mother said. There was a joyful lilt in her voice. She squeezed the father’s hand. A nurse came and unhooked an IV and handed the baby to the mother. She sat in a rocking chair and began to talk and play with her son.

I tried to ignore the happy couple and their baby, but my attention kept returning to them. The nurse gave them instructions on taking care of their baby, but the mother and father weren’t paying attention. Their happiness bubbled all over the room, and I leaped from my chair and walked out the door.

***

It wasn’t until Saturday morning — a week after Hope came into the world — that I made the decision to remove her from life support. Instead of staying late at the hospital like usual, I left early. At the time I told myself I needed to be alone to make sure I was taking the right course of action. Looking back, I was already starting to say good-bye. I worried that if I stayed by Hope’s side for too long I would change my mind.

Mom seemed surprised to see me when I walked in the door early that afternoon. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and needed to rest. I went to the temporary room my parents had set up for me in the basement and lay in bed. I tried to think about Hope and my decision, but my mind was too distracted. My body was sore and lethargic. Exercise, especially running, was a daily requirement for me. I hadn’t run since the day Krista died. Perhaps a jog would help clear my mind and focus my thoughts.

I dressed in cold weather running clothes: shorts, running pants, T-shirt, long-sleeve T-shirt, sweatshirt, and a hat. Quietly I slipped outside into the cold November air. There was a business park half a mile down the road. Since it was Saturday I knew it would be quiet and deserted with nothing but miles of empty streets to run on. I could almost feel the solitude of that place pull me to it.

The cold air burned my lungs, nose, ears, and cheeks as I headed into the business park. I ran past warehouses and empty parking lots, abandoned railroad cars, and idle eighteen-wheelers. Soon beads of sweat started to run down my back and chest. For the first time in a week I was flush with energy.

I ran until my legs burned and my lungs felt as if they were going to explode. I stopped and knelt by the side of the road. My breath came in ragged gasps. I had pushed myself too hard. I dry heaved several times before my body began to relax. Cold air crept through my clothes. I looked around to get my bearings and discovered I had run around the entire perimeter of the business park — a little over six miles.

I walked the half mile to my parents’ house and showered until the water turned cold. I put on shorts and a T-shirt and went straight to bed. I thought of Hope lying alone in the hospital. I realized I would never have a chance to know my daughter. Hope would never take her first steps or utter her first word. I would never have the opportunity to take her to her first day of school. She would never be anyone’s best friend, wife, or mother. I lay on the bed and cried silently. I needed confirmation that removing life support was the right thing to do.

Slowly a warm, peaceful feeling spread through my body. The feeling started in my stomach and spread to my arms and legs. In that moment my mind was opened, and I knew it was Hope’s time to go. I had made the right choice.

Despite the feeling of peace, it wasn’t the answer I hoped for. My heart was still holding out for a miracle. I wanted to take my daughter home. I wanted her to be healthy. She had done nothing to bring this condition on herself. It wasn’t fair that she had to die. In spite of my thoughts the peaceful feeling remained with me. I closed my eyes and let it fill my body. At some point I fell asleep. It was the most sound, peaceful sleep I had all week.

***

The next morning I sat next to Hope for several hours watching her chest move up and down in sync with the respirator. I was looking for any sign of life, but Hope lay just as she always had, still and unmoving.

I told a nurse I wanted to speak with Dr. Green. When he stopped by a few minutes later, I told him I wanted Hope to have a final brain scan. The look on the doctor’s face told me he wasn’t optimistic that anything had changed.

"Is there a reason you’d like another test?" he said.

"I want to be sure I’m doing the right thing."

"I’ll order another one." The doctor picked up the cream-colored phone next to Hope’s bed, dialed an extension, and requested a last-minute appointment. He hung up the phone, flipped through Hope’s chart, and made a few notes.

"There’s an opening in ten minutes," he said. "I’ll have the nurses prepare her to be moved."

So two nurses arrived and began adjusting the life support monitors. One of the nurses removed Hope from the normal respirator and quickly attached her to one with wheels. The moveable respirator was older and louder. Instead of a quiet whoosh each breath being forced into Hope’s lungs came with a banging noise that reminded me of the knock of a diesel engine.

I kissed Hope’s forehead and returned to the waiting room where my family and Krista’s best friend, Bekah, were waiting. Mom and Bekah looked like they’d been crying all morning.

"Hope’s going to have one last brain scan," I said. "If the results show no activity, I’m going to remove her from life support."

Everyone was quiet.

"I’m going outside. I need some air," I said.
"I’ll come with you," Bekah said.

She followed me to a small garden area just outside the hospital’s main doors. The garden consisted of wooden benches and an artificial stream. Most of the flowers had wilted and turned brown weeks ago. I was sure it had been nicer during the summer. I wondered if seeing colorful, live flowers gave more comfort to those in my position. Bekah and I sat on a bench near the head of the stream. The sound of water running over the rocks was soothing.

After a few minutes Bekah said, "Do you think the new scan is going to show any improvement?"

"No."

"Then why do you want one?"

"I need to know nothing’s changed."

We sat in silence. I watched cars enter and exit the hospital’s parking garage. I sensed Bekah had something to say but wasn’t sure of the best way to bring it up. I closed my eyes and listened to the stream. I wondered what part of the hospital Hope was in and how the scan was progressing.

"I just don’t understand why she did it," Bekah whispered.

"I don’t think anyone does."

"No idea at all?"

I had been thinking about it since that day Krista died, and the only thing that I kept coming back to was that maybe some of her mother’s or father’s mental illness had trickled down to her. Krista’s father was manic-depressive, and her mother was schizophrenic. They’d met at a mental hospital, and Krista was conceived several weeks later. For as long as I’d known her, Krista had always lived with her grandmother. I’d assumed her parents were dead. It wasn’t until I was seventeen that I learned she had parents whom she visited most weekends. But despite everything Krista had always seemed normal. I often wondered how the genes of two mentally ill people could combine in such a way to produce a child free of her parents’ afflictions. I never told anyone, but as Krista’s pregnancy progressed, I would often lie awake late at night wondering if Hope would be more like her mother or her grandparents.

An ambulance turned the corner, sirens wailing, and headed toward the emergency room entrance on the other side of the building. After a moment, the sirens abruptly ended, leaving a chilly silence.

Bekah’s voice startled me out of my reverie. "Her grandmother told me at church a few weeks ago that Krista wasn’t acting like herself."

"Yeah. She had become really withdrawn, as if she didn’t care about anything. But I thought it was just the pregnancy. I thought she would snap out of it."

A family of three walked past the garden. The mother looked like she’d been at the hospital all day, worn-out, perhaps grief-stricken. Those two things appeared the same on people’s faces sometimes. The dad carried a young girl in his arms, and her head rested on his shoulder. I followed them with my eyes until they walked into the entrance of the parking garage and were enveloped by blackness.

 "I should have been more concerned with her behavior," I said. "I should have known it was more than her pregnancy."

When I had mentioned Krista’s behavior to friends and coworkers who had kids, one of them told me his wife was a different person when she was pregnant. He told me it was like living with a stranger. That described Krista perfectly — a stranger. For the last two months I didn’t know who I was living with. But I was willing to put up with it until the baby came. I thought it would all end when Hope was born.

"Do you think she wanted the baby?" Bekah said quietly, almost hoping I wouldn’t catch it. She sounded afraid to hear the answer.

"Krista was so excited to be a mom," I said. I had to stop and compose myself. I had a clear memory of Krista showing me the results of the pregnancy test. She pulled me into the bathroom and enthusiastically showed me the little pink line on a test strip. Her face radiated excitement, and she laughed, ‘We’re going to have a baby! We’re going to have a baby!’ Her blue eyes sparkled, and what I saw in her face was pure joy.

Bekah put her arms around me. "I can’t believe she’s gone," she said. "I should’ve been a better friend."

"You were a good friend, Bekah. Probably the best friend she ever had."

Cold from the bench oozed through my jeans, and I shoved my hands deep inside coat pockets to keep them warm. A wind blew across the parking lot, chilling my ears and nose. I looked at my watch. I wanted to say, Hope should be back in the NICU shortly, but I didn’t. The next words, I’m pulling her off life support today, were stuck in my throat and my heart.

"Let’s go back inside," I said. "I’m freezing."

***

The doctor held two scans of Hope’s brain, one in each hand. He held the first one up to the window by Hope’s bed.

"This is scan we showed you several days ago," he said. "As you know, the dark area is where there’s blood on her brain." He held the second image next to the first. "Now this is the scan we just completed. Do you notice a difference?"

"The black spots are bigger in today’s scan," I said.

The doctor nodded. "Unfortunately this means she’s not going to improve. I’m sorry but with this type of brain damage, the odds for any sort of recovery are very, very small."

The results weren’t unexpected, yet I was still consumed by grief. The only thing I wanted now was some time alone with my daughter, though I realized I wanted years with her, not minutes or hours.

"I’d like a few minutes with her," I said.

"Take all the time you need," Dr. Green said. "We’re going to move your family to a private room. When you’re ready, we’ll do everything there."

I held Hope’s tiny hand and looked at her. Aside from her size, she looked like a healthy baby. Her skin was pink. The mat of brown hair on her head was soft and thick. She has Krista’s sharp chin and heart-shaped face. She had my hair and ears. The doubt inside washed over me like a wave onto a shore. I couldn’t stop it; I couldn’t control it. I looked out the window. An inversion layer of haze and smog — a common occurrence in the winter — hung over the Salt Lake Valley like a dirty, brown blanket. The world seemed so ugly. I thought about the place where Hope’s spirit will soon arrive — a beautiful place where Hope wouldn’t have to depend on machines to live. I took one last, long look at Hope for any sign of consciousness — anything that would indicate that the doctors and the test are wrong.

She lay motionless, her face so still, as if she were dreaming of heaven.

***

My mom, dad, three sisters, one of my brothers, and Bekah were waiting in the same room where the detective had last spoken to me. I sat in the chair where the detective had been, while my family sat on the couch. The nurses worked quickly. One by one they disconnected the electrodes and all of the IVs except for the one that contained painkiller. The last device to be removed was the respirator. When it was turned off, the room was silent, then slowly filled with the sounds of my family crying. A nurse wrapped Hope in a white blanket and placed her in my arms. Hope gasped for breath. One of the nurses left. The remaining nurse sat on a stool near the door and looked at the floor.

I kissed Hope’s head and combed her brown hair with my fingers. I told her over and over how much I loved her. After ten minutes Bekah stood and kissed Hope and whispered good-bye. She wiped a tear with the back of her hand as she walked out the door. One by one my brother and sisters did the same. Finally Mom kissed Hope on the forehead. Then it was just Dad, the nurse, myself, and Hope. Her occasional breaths, like small sighs, were the only sound in the room.

"She’s beautiful, Abel," my dad said. There were tears in his eyes.

Hope’s breaths became farther and farther apart. Within forty minutes it was thirty seconds between breaths. I cradled Hope in my arms and held her close. After an hour there were minutes between breaths. When five minutes had passed and Hope hadn’t taken a breath, I looked at the nurse.

"I’ll find a doctor," she said.

She returned with a doctor I hadn’t seen before. He had a salt-and-pepper beard and hair. He placed the stethoscope over Hope’s heart and listened intently. He moved it around different areas of her chest.

"I can’t find a heartbeat," he finally said. He checked his watch. "Time of death is 6:53 p.m." The nurse wrote the time on Hope’s chart.

"You can spend as much time with her as you like," the doctor said. "If you brought something to dress her in, you can do that."

I had brought to the hospital a white dress a neighbor made for Hope. It was intended to be used for her blessing in church after she was born but now would be used for her funeral. The dress was tiny and beautiful and covered with lace. I couldn’t bring myself to dress her in it. Looking at my dead daughter was more than I could bear.

"I want to go home," I said.

I handed Hope to the nurse. The nurse unwrapped Hope from the blanket and removed the final IV. She spread out the white dress and unzipped the back. I took one last look at Hope, then walked out the door.

It was dark when we left the hospital. My dad and I made the hour long drive to Ogden in silence. On the way back, I remember thinking I had left something at the hospital. I kept searching my pockets to make sure I didn’t leave my keys, wallet, or new cell phone behind.

I was searching for something I had lost but would never be able to find and take home.

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