How Long Do You Wait? by Amber Donahue

How long do you wait?

I haven’t exactly asked anyone, but nobody’s offering up advice. There aren’t any helpful Pinterest links or Buzzfeed articles. There’s no “7 Things You Must Do When Your Boyfriend is in a Coma (And 3 Things You Must NEVER Do).”

So I’ve been winging it. And it’s exhausting.

Work has been super accommodating, which is great but also makes me feel a little guilty that I’d been applying elsewhere. I’d never even got a callback, let alone an interview, and what had seemed like a bummer at the time turned out to be a blessing. I can’t even imagine having to process Percy’s accident with a new job where you’re learning new things and can’t take any days off. As it is, I’ve been able to change my schedule as needed, which has been a lifesaver, and I’m finally back into my regular hours.

I have a new routine, which is at once comforting and disturbing.I sleep at Percy’s during the week, and I walk Clarence in the morning and the evening. I visit the hospital before work and bring coffee for the nurses (at first because I had no idea how else to show my gratitude, but now it’s because we’ve become friendly), and I stop by again after work until visiting hours are over and I have to get home to walk the dog. On the weekends, I stay at my place, popping over to Percy’s only to walk and feed Clarence. Most of my clothes, my laptop, my slippers, my dirty laundry – most of my stuff is at Percy’s.

We weren’t at the living together stage – in fact, there’s a question as to the status of our relationship on that night – but I basically live there now. It helps that his apartment is nicer and that Clarence is fun and there are no roommates. Not that I hate my roommates or anything – they’ve been incredibly supportive throughout this whole thing, and even if they hadn’t liked Percy, who wouldn’t appreciate me paying rent and utilities and not living there much?

I am starting to wonder about the future, though.

How long do I pay for his apartment? His student loans? His cell phone? His car insurance? I mean, he wasn’t at fault for the accident, but I don’t want him to have a coverage gap. His car registration is up in two months. I’ve put his Netflix, his Hulu, his gym membership on hold. I’ve paid the minimums on his credit cards. I’ve spoken with his boss, Terry, and have monitored his online bank accounts, carefully watching his paychecks full of sick days roll in every other week. I don’t know how many sick days he has left, but I know at some point disability comes into play, at least I think it does. I haven’t done much research yet. And the other guy’s car insurance, that’s a whole mess I’ve been trying to sort through. I don’t know if that covers loss of income, too. I doubt it. It’ll probably barely cover hospitalization.

I’ve kept myself busy making spreadsheets and lists. I’ve reset passwords. I’ve written to utilities and talked with his landlord. It’s weird how quickly you can just sort of take over someone’s life.

His parents are dead (he lost his mother to cancer when he was ten, and his father died two years ago of a heart attack), but his friends and some co-workers visited the hospital at first. Especially because it was right around the holidays, and everyone was full of energy and kindness and high spirits. But as the days turned into weeks, then months, their visits slowed down and disappeared altogether.

I can’t blame them. There’s nothing more useless-feeling than visiting someone in a coma. You just sit there and talk to him, and he looks like he’s just pretending to sleep, but there are tubes and cords and IVs and beeping, and nobody’s that good of an actor. So you just have a crazy one-sided conversation about mundane, trivial shit that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

But what else are you supposed to talk about? How irresponsible it is that a 33 year old single adult with no children and no family didn’t have a living will? I mean, I don’t either. It’s not something you think about in your early thirties unless you’re diagnosed with a disease, or maybe if you have kids. Percy didn’t have either, so why would he have a plan for something as happens-to-other-people as a car accident leading to a coma?

He wouldn’t.

So I’m stuck trying to figure out what he would’ve wanted.

I visit the hospital every day. And every day, the doctors tell me nothing’s changed. I can easily read the subtext beneath their updates. ‘The longer things stay the same, the more likely it is that he’s not coming back.’ And then the follow up ‘and even if he does come back, he might not come all the way back. He might not be the same.’

But I don’t want to think about that, so I focus on reading Yahoo! News articles aloud to Percy. God, he hates Yahoo! News. It’s always been a thing with us. I’m not defending their journalistic integrity, but I find myself strangely drawn to their stories.

Growing up, my mom used to say that I marched to the beat of my own drum. Percy always jokes that it’s a drum machine. I never truly understand that joke, but it cracks Percy up so I play along.

Now that it’s been over three months and the initial craziness of the situation has faded slightly, it hits me how much I miss him. I mean, we’d been dating for five months, and we’d fallen pretty hard for each other. We’d even joked, on more than one occasion, that we should just elope in Atlantic City one weekend. And then at the office on Monday, it’d be like “What’d you do this weekend?” and you could be all, “Oh, not much. Did some laundry, got married, went to a movie.”

Percy even talked about our children. He used to say it so matter-of-factly, like they already existed in our future. The timeline was already written, a foregone conclusion. Three kids, two boys and a girl. We’d talked about what names would be good – growing up a “Percival” meant he was intensely passionate and defensive about names – and where we would want to raise them. We never came to any conclusions on either topic (no child of mine is going to be named Jeremy), but it was always fun to discuss.

I knew he wanted a future with me. But I wasn’t sure, until that fight – our first real, major argument and it was so stupid– I wasn’t sure I wanted that future until it was taken away from me.

I mean, I’d already been pretty miserable, playing out the different scenarios in my head well before I received the phone call about the accident. We hadn’t talked for two days and it felt so… wrong. I felt like a piece was missing, like I was just “off.” I tried to picture how the days and years would play out. Would I ever feel normal again without him? 

The phone call just cemented what I’d already known in my heart: I was head over heels in love with this man. He annoyed me to no end, he teased me, and sure, at times I hated him a little, but my God did I love him. I loved that he could tell how I was feeling and what I was thinking with just one glance. I loved how he would wake up early to make coffee for us, even though he could’ve just set the timer on the coffee pot, just because he liked to slip back into bed, all chilled, and have me warm him up. I loved the look of concentration on his face when he was hard at work – setting up the new Playstation, making a special recipe, wrapping a present.

I loved that he’d made me a little corner of the bathroom countertop. He was very attentive, much more than I ever was, and so he’d even stocked it with brands I actually used. I loved how he’d whisper corny jokes in my ear and dare me not to laugh. I loved that he was thoughtful in bed, and good, too. Thanks to my series of previous boyfriends, I already knew how rare that was. But he was thoughtful and caring in all aspects of his life. He was good with Jenna’s kids, and Clarence was like a member of the family (not in a creepy way, though. He’s a very sweet and well-behaved dog). I loved how long it took him to pick a movie to watch on Netflix. I loved how Percy would give me a little wink from across a crowded room. Or that look he’d give me when he wanted to know if I was okay. I loved…him.

It’s been three months, six days, seventeen hours, and a handful of minutes. It feels like a lifetime, and it feels like just a moment.

Now I’m lounging on Percy’s couch, Clarence curled up at my feet. The TV’s on, but I’m not watching it. Instead, I’m trying to think of the last time we spoke – before the fight, because sometimes the flight is the thing that I remember most clearly. Five months without a single disagreement, and then a yelling match right before a coma. It isn’t fair.

I can’t remember.

When I get like this, I call Percy’s phone (which of course is sitting, silenced, on the table next to me) and listen to his voicemail greeting. It’s not like it’s profound or funny or anything – just a simple “Hey, you’ve reached Percy. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” But it’s a comfort to hear his voice. The friendly drawl. The flustered way he rushes the “as soon as I can.”

I also have a stupid video taken during a night out with his friends. That one hurts more than helps, so I don’t watch it much anymore. It’s just a stupid karaoke night, but his friend Kyle takes the phone for a minute, and he catches this shot of Percy and me, just the two of us, beaming at each other like drunken idiots, and Percy reaches over almost all the way to kiss me, and then I kind of have to hop up to complete the kiss (because Percy’s so much taller than I am), and he grabs me and holds me up, and I bust out laughing but we’re still kissing, and laughing, and it just hurts.

It seems so long ago. It seems impossible.

Clarence starts to whine at my feet, a clear indication that he needs to go outside, and I begrudgingly get up from the warmth of the couch. I check my phone, and it’s much colder outside than I thought. Figures. My only warm clothes here are my flannel pajamas, and there’s still in the dirty laundry pile.

I stand for a moment and stare at Percy’s coat rack. He has that nice warm peacoat, and it probably even still smells like him.

Gingerly, I lift it from the hook and slip it over my shoulders. It’s heavy, but comfortable. It comes down almost to my knees, but I’m instantly enveloped in warmth and Percy’s cologne and body wash and nothing else matters.

I shut off the TV, clip on Clarence’s leash, tie a clean waste bag around it, and grab the keys.

It’s cold out, cold enough that my breath is almost visible. I shove my hand holding the keys into the warm pocket of Percy’s coat, and I hit something. My fingers automatically release the keys in the pocket and grab the object, pulling it out.

Clarence trots along ahead of me, carefully maneuvering down the stairs to the sidewalk. He tugs at the leash when he realizes I’ve stopped on the third step down.

It’s a box.

The kind of box that cheesy Hollywood movies and jewelry store commercials have taught me all about.

I stand there a moment, Clarence tugging desperately at the leash in my one hand, and me holding an engagement ring in the other.

Do I dare open it?

I carefully wrap my hand around the box and shove both back into the pocket. I walk down the stairs behind the dog, feeling funny.

It feels like snooping. My first month or so “living” at Percy’s, I felt like I was snooping all the time. We’d been dating for five months, but I hadn’t had any need to dig through his drawers or under his bed or in his nightstand. Not until the coma. It still felt like snooping, when I was trying to find his little notepad with his passwords, or change his bedsheets, or find his landlord’s address, but it felt like necessary snooping. Did I find some things that he probably never wanted me to see? Definitely. But he’d understand.

But this, this is something different.

As we round the block and Clarence stops to do his business, I wonder briefly if maybe the ring isn’t for me after all. Maybe a previous girlfriend? Maybe he’s holding it for a friend.

But we’d had the exes talk, and there was no mention of a recent relationship serious enough to warrant a ring in a winter coat. And any friend he was holding it for would’ve asked me about it when Percy went into the coma.

No, it had to be for me.

In the many hours since the accident, I’d wondered thousands of times whether he had wanted to get back together. Whether we were even “broken up” or were just giving each other time to cool down. Whether we would’ve realized how stupid it was to fight about where to go on vacation, and who always gets to pick what we do.

Whether we’d just be happy that we get to go anywhere and do anything together.

I like to think so. And it looks like Percy did, too.

Now, more than ever, I want to talk to him. I want him to wake up so I can tell him everything that’s been going on, and how sorry I am, and how much I’ve missed him.

By the time Clarence and I walk up the stairs back to Percy’s apartment, I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to open the box. I’m not going to look at the ring he bought for me. It’s going to sit in the pocket of his peacoat. Waiting.

Because I want to be surprised. I want to hear him ask the question. I want to wait for him.

But how long do you wait when you realize you would’ve said yes?

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