I carry my clothes up to the bedroom and begin laundry then return to the kitchen to fix myself some food. Having spent far too much time on my broken ankle than probably recommended, I eat on the living room sofa with my foot propped up. After eating, I review the discharge instructions I ought to have read earlier in the day and decide that I should keep a bag of ice on the ankle to help reduce the swelling. I opt for more ibuprofen for dessert and I am in the process of retrieving some when Aaron calls back.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“I’m hobbling with the best of them, although I can already tell you I have overdone it today.”
“Imagine my surprise.”
“Yeah, I can already tell I am paying for it.” I almost wish I filled the prescription.
“Do you want to take the rest of the week off?”
“That feels really selfish, but here’s what I was thinking, depending on what you have planned for the week.”
“I have an ortho appointment tomorrow afternoon and I expect they are going to give me something more permanent for my foot. I’ll know more after that.”
“Is it broken?”
“Oh yeah. I forget that I didn’t really provide you with much information. Sorry. The past twenty-four hours are pretty disconnected. Yes, it’s broken, but the folks in Greybull don’t think I’ll need any surgery or anything, but like I said, I’ll know more tomorrow.”
“Two-thirty, but you know paperwork and what not.”
“I also was thinking that my work truck is still up at the Junction. Do we need to coordinate getting that back?”
“You shouldn’t worry about that.”
“Well, I thought if there’s a time you are driving up, maybe I can ride along, and then bring it back to the office.”
“I was planning on going up in the morning.”
“That would work.”
“I don’t want you to think you’re expected to be back here tomorrow.”
“Well, that’s the thing. My week is kind of a mess. I don’t know if you remember but Daniel is supposed to be back this weekend.”
“Yeah, that’s right. That’s why you were up at the cabin in the first place.”
“Yes, but now he’s supposed to be back on Friday.”
“That’s good, having him home sooner.”
“Absolutely, but he’s flying back into Cheyenne. I’d like to go pick him up, but if you need me back on the forest, he said he can rent a car and drive back.”
“So, let me make sure I understand. You want to work tomorrow morning and take tomorrow afternoon off. Then take Friday off, too?”
“I know, I’m asking a lot,” I didn’t even bother to ask about leaving early on Thursday.
“What time did you get home last night?”
“I didn’t get home last night. By the time they got through all the treatment and paperwork, they discharged me this morning around seven-thirty.”
“This morning? Well, that’s basically three eight-hour shifts already. Plus tomorrow morning, so why not just work a half day on Thursday and we’ll call it even.”
“Really? I feel like I am really slacking.”
“No, you’re not. Not even a little.”
“Thanks. I appreciate hearing that.”
“McClure, I expect you’re probably going to come out of this with some sort of commendation.”
“For finding that kid. That’s what.”
“I’m glad I could help, but I just feel like I did a scattered job of really making an effort, and then I tripped and fell and broke my foot like an idiot.”
“You shouldn’t. Everyone is impressed with what you did.”
I am completely embarrassed to be heaped with this kind of praise. This makes me feel more uncomfortable than the awkwardness of navigating around the house on my bulky, sore foot. “Thanks,” is all I can muster. “Any news regarding the search for Kenny?”
“Yeah, they found him late this afternoon.”
“Oh, good.” I’m so relieved. It also takes the praise and attention off me and puts it on the search teams where it belongs.
“No, it’s not good, McClure. He didn’t make it.”
I expect I said, ‘Goodbye,’ before we hung up, but anything Aaron added after disclosing the death of a man I ought to have saved mattered little. Jacob’s father died, forever changing the course of the boy’s life. I could ache for his loss, but I couldn’t imagine the sensation of the sudden absence. Mine left before I could even know him.
I stagger clumsily towards the bedroom, crying from Jacob’s new emptiness, and maybe some of my own. I allow myself to tremble from the reality of my failure to find them both, which Aaron wouldn’t be able to convince me wasn’t mine. I feel every ounce of exhaustion of the past twenty-four hours as I sit and then sprawl onto the empty bed.
Somewhere in Montana, another woman gives into her exhaustion and falls asleep alone without her husband. Both the fear and the facts break me.
The week remains a crazy blur as I watch for Daniel’s itinerary in my email, visit with the orthopedic specialist, exchange my vehicle in an awkwardly quiet ride up with Aaron, complete paperwork for the Forest Service, Workman’s Comp, insurance, plus get everything set at the house for Daniel’s return. On Wednesday afternoon I stop at the grocery store to stock a few must-haves in preparation, plus I spring for a pie.
The long and the short of the ortho appointment begins with my new x-rays, a boot-style contraption that allows me to remove it for showers, not that it is much easier than the trash bag mess from earlier in the week, and they schedule me for a follow up in early November, which will include more x-rays and a reassessment if surgery will be needed. They help me get a crutch, which I despise, and they suggest the possibility of physical therapy depending on how much I am able to navigate off kilter. I don’t think that’s the medical terminology, but I have not spent this much time in a medical facility since I lost Amelia, so I am trying to separate myself from the clinical aspects of treatment.
By the time I leave the office on Thursday afternoon, I provide enough paperwork to be assigned “light duty” until my follow-up ortho appointment, which basically means I am doing paperwork for Aaron and any other technicians who can cover for me. I hate others having to do my work for me, so I follow as many instructions as I can while still staying as active as possible. The problem, of course, is that even though I attempt to never overdo myself in a given day, there is no way to determine at what point I have not overdone myself, until I have crossed that line. Thursday might be the only day of the week that I manage to keep myself from aching by the end of my shift, but I am also leaving after I cover Monica’s lunch hour so I can drive to Cheyenne.
My overnight bag and a few snacks for the road are already in the car to avoid an extra stop back at the house, which I would consider is one of the reasons I overdid myself yesterday, but it will be so much easier to just hop on the highway and head south. Plus, I cannot wait to see Daniel. I am on physical and emotional overload and having my pillar by my side will undoubtedly make the next two weeks of limited work so much easier.
As I drive south on Interstate Ninety and eventually merge onto Twenty-Five, I cannot help but think of Kenny’s wife. I imagine her relief on Monday night (or technically Tuesday morning) being reunited with Jacob and then sitting idly at the hotel in Greybull waiting for her news. When it finally comes, it is horrible, and there is nothing she can do but begin the long, awful, exhausting drive back to Montana.
I am driving with excited anticipation of arriving at my destination, of seeing my husband, of being reunited and having a partner to hold me up and help me through the everyday challenges of life. If the circumstances were reversed, I do not know how I would manage hours of driving knowing that when I return to our home, I’ll never spend another moment with Daniel for the rest of my life.
NEXT: Heavy Duty – Part 39