We both lost someone that day, and we almost died along with them. That’s what we bonded over. Death really does bring people closer. I was luckier, or at least I thought I was. The bullets had only hit my legs, but for Anna, her life had been changed forever. Not just because she lost both of her parents, but also because she lost feeling in most of her body. The bullet went into her spine and left her permanently paralysed from the waist down. There were 12 people on our ward and she was the last to wake up. I knew we had at least one thing in common because no one came to visit her either.
When she did wake up, her red eyes told me stories of sorrow. She was distressed so I tried to be there for her, but I wasn’t really used to comforting people so I didn’t know what to do, and I just held her hand even though she couldn’t hold mine. It felt like the right thing. After the nurse, Steph, had checked in on her, Anna and I spoke about our loss. It was nice to finally get it off my chest.
Then, she said, I like your shirt, which had a reference to my favourite band and we went into a deep discussion about bands that we liked. After, I asked, What else do you like Anna? And she said, I like reading. When I then told her, I prefer movies to books, she looked offended but we laughed it off.
Every day was the same. I sat by her bed and asked her how she was feeling, and then we spoke about things that took our minds off our loss and injuries. And every night was the same. I shared my name, my age, and my story with the rest of the patients on the ward. I also went to sleep dreaming of my mom and my little sister, but my dreams were always haunted by the empty house and the unopened presents under the Christmas tree that would greet me once I was discharged. I didn’t want to go home and neither did the girl that I was now growing quite attached to. 21 people died that day and each loss has left its mark. But, it has also brought us closer.
One night, I woke up with a throbbing pain in one of my legs. I couldn’t even figure out which leg it was because it was that painful. I just slammed the red button and a nurse rushed over and I fell in and out of consciousness as I was being wheeled through the hospital corridors. The first thing I said when I woke up was, Anna, and I smiled idiotically when I saw that she was right there, next to my bed, squeezing my hand. The roles had reversed, but I have to admit that she was way better at comforting than I was.
I can’t feel my leg. She laughed then, and told me, You don’t have a leg anymore. Maybe I should have panicked but hearing the words coming from her put me at an ease. What happened? I asked and she said, You had an infection and they had to amputate, and I didn’t know if that was a good thing until she said, Don’t worry, I actually like boys with one leg, and that made me smile. I asked her, How many boys do you know that have one leg? And she said, Just you, and I smiled again.
She looked mortified when I then asked her, Do you have any cigarettes? But I told her to, Trust me, so she wheeled her way around the ward and, using her charm, she got me what I wanted from one of the parents who were visiting. When she handed it over, I asked, Do you have a middle name? And she said, Marie. I put the cigarette in the corner of my mouth and I said, Anna-Marie, it’s a metaphor you see. You put the thing that does the killing right between your teeth, but you never give it the power to do the killing. A smile formed on her face and she said, That’s my favourite book, so I said, I know, you like guys with one leg. She asked me, Have you read it? And I said, with a smirk, No, but I’ve watched the movie, and I could swear that she blushed but I wasn’t too sure so I ended up staring at her. Why are you staring at me? She said, and it just happened to be a great opportunity for me to quote Augustus Waters again, although it was also true, Because you’re beautiful.
I felt lucky to have met this beautiful girl and thankfully I was able to win her over by quoting her favourite book. I even got bonus points when I brought her a limited edition signed copy as a very late Christmas present. Each night she would read it to me and I would fall asleep listening to her voice, slowly then all at once.
That’s how I met Anna.