A Kind of Faith
Kim Brown pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine of the family’s white minivan, her hands grasping the steering wheel as she took a moment to savor the fact that she was finally home, and her husband with her. Exiting the vehicle she walked around to the other side and opened the door, reaching in to gently run her hand over the familiar whiskered cheek the dozing passenger, softly calling his name,” Bob.”
He started slightly at the sound, opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. “Let’s get you inside,” she said, reaching across him to press the button on the seatbelt that still tethered him in place. While he extricated himself from the belt and the car, Kim opened the back door and retrieved his overnight bag. As she slung the strap onto her shoulder Bob moved to grab it and she gently pushed his hand away, maneuvering under his outstretched arm, wrapping one of her own around his waist. He quirked an eyebrow at her at the rebuff; she raised two at him in reply.
“It’s not heavy and you’re supposed to take it easy,” she said by way of explanation as she guided him away from the car, pushing the door closed with her free hand. In fact, all that the bag held was a shaving kit, a pair of dirty socks and underwear, Bob’s prescriptions and a spirometer – the last item had been given to them by the respiratory therapist with explicit instructions on how and how often Bob was to use it to improve his breathing and help clear his lungs of the infection that had settled there during his last training mission. He hated the thing, but Bob Brown was nothing if not a “good patient” and he’d follow the instructions to the letter. Kim knew that he’d do just about anything to get back to full duty status and return to his precious Unit.
Sometimes Kim wished that Bob had never passed the Selection process, never made it into the Unit, but then one look at how happy he was, how much he enjoyed his job and believed in what he was doing made her change her mind. While him being in the Unit had changed their lives in a million different ways, made her world smaller and more insular - had made her life more difficult - she loved her husband enough to make that sacrifice for him. It was nowhere near the sort of sacrifice that he was willing to make on a daily basis. When Kim thought of it sometimes, when she wished again for their simple life at Fort Bragg, she felt selfish and petty. She loved this man more than life itself and when she married him she vowed to follow him – and his dreams. She would make this work for both of them, and as stubborn and driven as Bob Brown could be at getting what he set his mind to. . . he didn’t hold a candle to his wife.
Kim guided Bob toward the front door, walking slowly, making sure that he remained steady on his feet. While she knew that she had no hope of catching him if indeed he fell, she could at least cushion his fall; she smiled at that thought. She tightened her grasp on his waist as they reached the enty, sliding her key into the lock and pushing the door open; then with a quick look up at Bob they moved forward in tandem, their arms still around each other.
The house was quiet; Serena had spent the first few nights that Bob was in the hospital at Molly Blane’s house while Kim remained at Bob’s bedside. Then her parent’s had driven over from Texas and taken their grand-daughter for a visit. They were more than happy to keep the little girl, and no doubt spoil her rotten, until Kim called and asked them to return her home. While she would miss the little dynamo immensely, as would Bob, Kim figured it was best to wait a few days until “Daddy” was up to playing again.
Bob made a move as if to go to the living room and Kim wrapped her other arm around his waist in a full hug and pulled him in the direction of their bedroom; he did not fight her on the change of direction. “No way, soldier. The doctor said bed rest and that’s what it’s going to be. You hear me?” she said, looking up at him with her sternest “mommy face” as he called it.
Bob peered down at her, signed and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
They made it to the master bedroom in a few steps and Kim turned them – a little like dancing she thought – so that the bed was behind Bob. Then she took one step back and let the bag slip from her shoulder and drop to the floor. “Stand there mister,” she instructed as she reached for his belt and quickly unbuckled it and then unbuttoned the jeans he was wearing. Bob watched her in silence, a slight quizzical look on his face. “Don’t be getting any ideas there soldier, I’m just getting you ready for bed,” she replied to him as she deftly skinned the jeans down his long legs, as she had so many times before, but for far more erotic reasons. She lowered herself to the carpet as she lowered the pants and when she reached his feet she simply said “sit” and waited for him to respond.
Bob collapsed to the mattress in more of a controlled fall than anything else, clearly his energy was waning just from the trip home; it was time to get her man to bed. Kim made quick work of unlacing and removing his boots then pulled them and the jeans off, leaving them in a puddle on the floor. She left him in his socks, boxers and grey long-sleeved t-shirt, he could rest in them for now and they’d see about dressing him in something different later. Grasping his ankles she lifted his legs from the floor and swung them up onto the bed, Bob shifting as she did so until he was stretched out on the mattress – a low sigh of contentment following the move. Kim pulled the blanket and comforter over him and then crawled onto the bed herself, wrapping her arm across his chest, resting her head above his heart. In minutes the even, if still somewhat raspy, sound of his breathing told her he was asleep.
Kim lay there with Bob for a long time, the afternoon sun flooding the room with warmth and a golden glow. It was a relief to finally be in the relative quiet of their own home, with only the familiar chatter of the neighbor’s children playing outside; after a week in the hospital with him, surrounded by the constant noise of the place: announcements over the intercom, the continuous hum of voices, the beeping and alarms of monitors, it felt almost eerily quiet. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the strong heartbeat against her cheek, thankful that it was still there – that he was still there.
She had been terrified when she got the call from Colonel Ryan informing her that Bob was in the hospital following the training mission; what that training had entailed she still didn’t know, but she had her suspicions. When she’d arrived the Colonel had been waiting for her, and the look in his eyes held not just concern but something more, although he tried to give her an update on Bob’s condition in the most positive terms “they’re worried about infection, but in a week or so he should be fine.” When she’d asked what had been done to her husband the answer had chilled her, “too much,” and with those words she saw that the “something more” she had seen in his eyes had been regret and guilt. Whatever had happened out there the Colonel knew that it had gone too far, it went beyond what should have been permitted or expected in training; when the rest of the team came to visit over the next few days she saw that same look in their eyes as well.
That first night she had sat by Bob’s beside, holding his hand and watching him sleep, listening to the heart monitor tick off his heartbeats like a metronome, it was too fast, she had fallen asleep for too many years with her head on his chest to know its normal cadence, and this was not it. The nurses had come in from time to time to check his vital signs and smiled at her reassuringly, or at least they did until just after midnight. It was then that she saw the crease on the nurses’ brow as she’d checked the monitors and Bob’s temperature - the fever that had receded earlier in the day had come back with a vengeance and quickly soared while his blood pressure began to plummet. Despite the late hour the doctor was called and Bob was soon attached to more monitors, more tubes and whisked away for a CAT scan. Kim had waited in the room, clutching his grey t-shirt which she had retrieved from the closet, breathing in his scent from the soft worn cotton, watching as the fabric darkened with her tears. An hour later Bob was returned to the room and was efficiently moved back into the small narrow bed; he never stirred despite all the man-handling which scared Kim more than anything else. Bob was a light sleeper, his job, his very life, depended on him never being taken unawares, and yet now, surrounded by noise and controlled chaos, he never surfaced..
It was well after 2 a.m. when the harried looking doctor made another appearance and told Kim what the test showed; Bob had pneumonia and pleurisy, his breathing was significantly diminished and if his ability to properly oxygenate decreased any more he would be put on a ventilator to assist him until the infection was under control. In addition, the scan had found significant bruising and bleeding to his left kidney that would have to be monitored; this injury was likely contributing to his drop in blood pressure. She had seen the bruises on his back when the nurses had turned him to listen to his lungs and it had shocked her. She could not comprehend how that the level of brutality could be inflicted upon her husband by the very organization that he had sworn an oath to; it horrified her; to now hear that the abuse had caused such damage, damage that could kill him was beyond her ability to grasp. Kim listened intently as the doctor outlined Bob’s condition, trying hard to hear him past the roaring white noise in her ears, her hand going protectively to her stomach and her unborn son resting there. Over the past few days she had been grieving again the loss of their child last year, but now, the thought that she could lose Bob – her soulmate – and that their son could grow up never knowing his father made her blood run cold and the world spin. The next thing she was aware of was sitting in the chair next to Bob’s bedside, the doctor kneeling before her, fingers on her wrist checking her pulse, asking her insistently if she was okay. She nodded ‘yes’, but she knew that if anything happened to Bob, she would never be ‘okay’ again.
The next few days had been terrifying for her, Bob’s condition worsened to the point that he was moved to ICU and the supplemental oxygen exchanged for full artificial ventilation. The doctor tried to assure her that it was just a supportive measure to help Bob, who was exhausted from the struggle to breathe and wearing himself out. This way the doctor explained he could rest and the machine would do the work for him. Even if it was true, and she wasn’t convinced, mostly because the doctor constantly gave her sidelong glances as if waiting for her to swoon again as she had that first night. Theoretically Bob was not to have visitors except for a few minutes each hour, but Kim planted herself next to his bed and dared anyone to make her move – no one tried.
That was where she stayed for the next 72 hours. Molly came by and brought her some fresh cloths; she ignored them. Tiffy came by and offered her food and coffee; she took the coffee and left the food untouched, a silent apology to her son for ingesting the caffeine but figuring that it would not do him any great harm for a few days, and she needed it. Mack, and Jonas, and Hector, and Charles each stopped by, each hovering uncomfortably in the doorway, each asking if there was anything she needed; she didn’t bother to tell them that she needed this not to be happening, each looking guilty and angry in turn, and each relieved when she bid them go. Kim had seen the bruises on Jonas’ and Charles’ faces, knew that they too had suffered, but at that moment their presence just made her angry - they had walked away and Bob hadn’t. She was only vaguely aware of Molly and Tiffy and sometimes Bob’s teammates as they took turns hovering outside in the waiting room; they gave up trying get her to rest, or take a walk, or eat or drink. She vowed not to leave Bob’s side but when finally nature, or her son insisted, someone was always there to take her chair. At first she had wanted to yell and tell them to go away, to leave her alone, to leave her husband alone, but she had held her tongue and let them enter.
She’d learned how to read all the monitors while she sat in that tiny glass-walled room with Bob, like being in a fishbowl surrounded by sharks, but here the sharks weren’t large and menacing, here they were small, microscopic, growing in petrie dishes; yet just as deadly. She sat vigil, for there was no other word for what she was doing, and watched for signs - signs that he was getting better, that the powerful drugs they were giving him were working. Two days in the ICU felt like the longest days of her life, perhaps it was counting the breaths pushed in and pulled out of her husband by a machine that made them seem so long. Perhaps it was counting the drops sliding through IV tubes that made the hours last longer than sixty minutes. Perhaps it was seeing the numbers on the monitors go up and down in unnatural rhythms, her own heart doing the same, that made her sure that a lifetime had passed while she sat there. .
On the third day the hand that she held grasped in hers, the calloused fingers that were wrapped between her two hands, tightened ever so lightly; that one small movement, and that one tiny action was all that she needed to start breathing again. It was the sign she had been waiting for – it was proof of life. Later that day the respirator had been removed and Bob returned to a regular room; only a fraction of the medical equipment accompanied him.
The following day, except for the IV and supplemental oxygen, the rest of the medical equipment had been removed, the catheter being the one item that Bob was most pleased to see gone. After the medical staff had left she watched her husband drift back into sleep; then she lay her head on the bed next to his hand and drifted off herself. She had woken a short time later to the soft tickle of Bob’s fingers grazing her cheek and to see him gazing down at her, his eyes large and clear. She’d turned her head and kissed his palm, grateful that her husband had been returned to her.
Unfortunately, their little moment of calm was short lived when a pleasant looking blonde woman had entered the room and introduced herself as a respiratory therapist – Bob later said that it was a lie and she was really the reincarnation of Attila the Hun. Kim had glared at him for that statement, but been unable to stop the laugh that bubbled to the surface. After so many days of fear and terror to hear just that little bit of “her” Bob returning, the dry humor that made her laugh at things she knew she should not find funny lightened her heart. It was at that exact moment, as he glared at the small plastic contraption with the tube he was to blow into to raise a plastic ball, an exercise that sounded so simply, but was proving exhausting to him, that she knew he would be okay. It would take time, but eventually he would be fine – they would be fine.
A soft rapping at the front door brought Kim out of her light doze and with a quick glance at Bob to see that he was still asleep; she slipped off the bed and made her way to greet her visitor. Seeing Molly and Jonas through the window was not a surprise and she smiled as she opened the door. Molly smiled warmly in return. Jonas grinned down at her from his intimidating height, but his eyes still held remorse and regret, for what exactly she would never know, but it was enough that he felt responsible. It somehow made her feel better about Bob going out in the field with this man. If Jonas had not cared, had not been disturbed by what had happened to one of his men, especially in an environment when nothing of this sort should have been allowed to happen, then she would have worried, but seeing Bob’s team leader looking contrite and in need of something-absolution perhaps - she knew that he would watch over Bob and do his damndest to always bring him home safe.
“Made a big batch of homemade soup and thought you and Bob might like some,” Molly said, reaching out to present her with an aluminum covered bowl; Kim accepted the offer, the warmth of the liquid bleeding through the container and warming her fingers. The smell was heavenly causing her stomach to growl and making her realize just how long ago it had been since she’d eaten something that didn’t come out of a vending machine or the hospital cafeteria. She placed the bowl on the table in the entry way, nudging aside the keys she had dropped there earlier to make room on the small surface.
“Thank you, you didn’t have to do this,”
“It was no problem. How’s Bob doing?”
“Asleep, the trip home wore him out, but he’s doing better. I’m sure he’ll heal faster now that he’s home and in his own bed, “ Kim said, knowing that just those few hours since their return that Bob has slept more peacefully than he had at the hospital.
“I’m sure he will, they always do,” Molly replied, “you call us if you need anything. Just take care of that man of yours okay?” Molly gave her a knowing look and then placed her hand on Jonas’ arm and the two of them turned to leave; Jonas never having uttered a word.
On impulse Kim reached out to Molly and touched her arm, Jonas looked at the two of them and continued on. “You take care of yours too,” Kim told the older woman who had done so much for her this past week, who had been reaching out to her from the day she had arrived and whom just now Kim realized had been quietly preparing her for what she had endured. Molly squeezed her hand and captured her gaze with her dark brown eyes, a wealth of wisdom evident in their depths, and then she walked away, joining her husband who was waiting for her in the driveway, twining her fingers with his as the two walked towards home.
With sudden clarity Kim knew that Molly had been in her shoes, probably many times. She had sat vigil at Jonas’ bedside, she had hovered near the telephone waiting for a call when some instinct told her that something was wrong; she had watched the black car, like a raven, a harbinger of death, turn onto her street, and had breathed a sigh of relief when it did not stop at her house; then she had gone to comfort the family whose world had just exploded into grief. Molly knew not only what it took to survive the fear and uncertainty, but how to willing do it day after day. That is what she had been trying to make Kim understand. It was the price they paid for loving the men that they did – it was the sacrifice they made. Kim didn’t know if she would ever again believe in God or religion as she once had, but she knew now that she did believe in something; she believed in herself and in her love for the man sleeping in the other room. She believed in him enough to let him live out his dream and to welcome him home again, no matter what his condition, then to heal him and let him go again. It perhaps wasn’t the faith that Molly had envisioned Kim would find, but it was a kind of faith and it calmed her fears, and for now, that was enough.
Special love and thanks to my most wonderful partner in crime – Eva, you are a terrible influence and I appreciate every minute of it.