Natalie slowly opened her eyes taking in the way too bright yellow walls. She squinted and her head pounded dully against her skull. Her nurse was standing over her talking gently. “You have a visitor Natalie. I’m going to go get her now that you’re awake. If you need anything, just buzz for me.” The nurse placed the call button which also held the controls for the lights and TV next to her on the mattress before walking out.
She knew this place all too well. This wasn’t the first time since her downward spiral that she’d passed out somewhere completely unconscious only to wake up in Lost Island General. She was a no good low life crack head and yet the nurses were so kind to her here. She almost liked being here. It was as though she belonged with the rest of the broken people and her brokenness was accepted which allowed for her to feel hope. What would it be like to have her son back in her arms? What would it be like to feel free again? She had felt it before when she was a child and all that mattered were the things that made her happy. But then one by one the negative energies of those around her started to hammer her into the ground until her head was covered with dirt and she could no longer breathe. And instead of digging her way out, she selfishly began swallowing the filthy dirt and now it had congested the free flowing light that she once felt throughout her whole being.
A light knock interrupted her thoughts and she turned her aching head to see a woman peering cautiously into her room. She was dressed like a sophisticated business woman in cream colored slacks that flared at the bottoms and a suit jacket to match. Her skin was a fair shade of black and her shiny black hair was pulled back in a bun. She took of her sunglasses and smiled in response to Natalie’s acknowledgment. “May I come in?”
Natalie nodded and the woman made her way to a comfortable distance at the side of the hospital bed. Something about her seemed anxious and impatient. Her nurse had told her that a woman and her kids who were staying in one of the beach houses had stumbled upon Natalie passed out and had called 911. So it made sense that she was that woman but why was she here? And why was she giving off an anxious vibe? Natalie studied her, silently analyzing the woman’s energy. As she allowed herself to sense the woman on a deeper level she noticed that her anxiousness was mixed with curiosity. She wanted to know something that only Natalie could tell her but what could this woman possibly want to know about some pathetic crack head that had passed out on a beach? Then it hit her like a brick. Her painting, her only picture of Ethan was gone. It was the only possession she had that could give a stranger any interesting insight into her life. That painting was the most important thing she owned and she had never lost it but this morning, she had noticed that it was gone and the nurse had promised that it was not on her when she came in the night before.
“You have my painting?” Natalie sat up in bed and began twirling her hair in a twist over her shoulders as she did every time she felt something good.
The woman suddenly looked confused. “How did you know?” No one understood the way Natalie could sense others. She wasn’t so sure she even understood it but it was something that she refused to call a gift. It was something that she had possessed ever since she was a little girl. She could almost read people’s thoughts just by sensing the energy that surrounded them. Fear and love were the strongest of the energies she sensed. This woman’s anxious curiosity gave away that she had found Natalie’s painting, assumed the boy in the picture was her son and came to find out if her assumptions were correct. It was the only thing that made sense since this woman was a complete stranger and knew nothing about her life. But there was more. There was empathy too.
Natalie quit twirling her hair and looked down at the thin white sheet that covered her undernourished legs. “My painting is gone. The nurse told me a woman and her kids found me so it only makes sense that this woman would’ve found my painting too. Did you find it and come to give it back?”
The woman smiled and Natalie could feel her anxiety ease up a little. She reached into her oversized Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and gently pulled out the painting resting in its seashell frame. Holding it against her chest protectively, the woman closed the short distance between her and Natalie and handed the painting to Natalie. “I found it after they took you away in the ambulance and I had to return it. It’s beautiful. I’m curious though, the little boy in the painting is he…”
“Yes” Natalie answered the woman’s question before she could even finish asking it. Hearing the words your son was too much for Natalie. He was…is her son but saying it out loud only served to pour salt in the wound. “I painted this for him and one day I’ll give it to him.” She continued to stare at the painting taking in every detail of it. Her son’s smiling face was the most detailed of the whole painting. It was his face that she most wanted to remember and so she had given it more details than the rest of the painting. His smile outlined by innocent dimples implied that perhaps she had been a good mother.
Tiffany watched with sympathy as the young woman in the hospital bed stared longingly at the painting. She wanted to know more about Natalie’s son but she could sense that Natalie did not want to open up. Why did she seem so sad? Where was her son? Natalie might be a drug addict wandering aimlessly around beaches so high that she passes out on a regular basis but Tiffany could sense that she loved her son just by the way she looked at the painting of him. It was almost as if Tiffany was intruding on an intimate moment between mother and son. Still her curiosity would not subside. “May I ask where he is?”
The young mother hugged the painting to her and snapped her gaze towards Tiffany. It was not a friendly gaze and the woman’s blue eyes seemed to turn a darker shade. “No…you may not”. She looked away from Tiffany again.
“My children are Preston and Elizabeth. They are the ones who found you.” Tiffany wanted to put Natalie at ease and so she offered a little insight of her own life. Natalie glanced at Tiffany and the unease had lightened but not enough to ask any more questions. Why was she curious about this girl anyway? They were strangers. But something was so real and tragic about this girl and Tiffany had never known of anything as real as personal tragedies. The people she’d grown up with considered a personal tragedy to be something as stupid as not having the toppest of top shelf vodka on their private jet or showing up at a charity event and not being the one in the most expensive designer gown. But something like losing your child…that was real…that was tragedy and Tiffany had to know more about her.
Tiffany sat in the tiny wooden chair next to the head of the bed and Natalie’s gaze followed her curiously. “I left my husband a few nights ago and my children and I are staying here until I can figure things out.” There! She had given a persuasive bit of personal confession in hopes for another.
Natalie frowned slightly with sympathy. “You can’t live a life in suffocation.”
Relief swept over Tiffany. There wasn’t a single person in her life that would ever offer her understanding and yet this druggie seemed to understand exactly what she was feeling. Suffocation. Suddenly she found herself wanting to confess everything to this girl.
“My whole life everyone has told me how to live. My husband, my mother, my father…everyone and I couldn’t take it anymore. I want to live my own life and make my own decisions.” Tiffany covered her mouth with a neatly polished hand, surprised by her outpouring of words. “Wow that was a lot. I’m sorry if that was too much.”
Natalie’s blue eyes softened even more and she smiled giving her face an even younger appearance. “It’s not too much but I don’t even know your name yet.”
“Oh my, I completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Tiffany.” Tiffany offered her hand and Natalie took it in hers before offering a confession of her own.
“My name is Natalie but you know that already. Ethan is 4. He was taken away from me about a year ago when I gave into my own suffocation. Blow is a hard habit to kick though.”
Tiffany looked at her confusingly “Blow?”
“Cocaine” Natalie offered bluntly. Tiffany shook her head in understanding.
Two hours passed and the women talked the whole time exchanging life stories, Tiffany more so than Natalie. Natalie was more than happy to talk about her paintings and how she sold them by the beach as a means of making money or how she still believed in mermaids and searched for them endlessly in the ocean water. She swears she’d even found one. Its tail that she’d seen splashing the water some distance off one night was definitely not that of a whale or a dolphin…according to Natalie. But the girl would not give any more insight as to where her son was and what had led her to choose drugs over being his mother.
Telling her own story and not being judged for once felt amazing and she had yet to tell anyone in her family or circle of friends that she’d left Jake for good. She’d told Natalie everything about her life and yet she wanted to tell her so much more. She’d only known her for a little while but she didn’t see Natalie as a pathetic druggie who’d given up her child. She saw her as an interesting woman who was temporarily lost. A friend even.
“Natalie, I have a proposition for you. I want you to teach me to paint and in exchange I will buy you groceries, clothes, whatever you need…except for the blow obviously.” The enthusiasm raised in her tone as she realized how serious she was. She needed something of her own. A hobby, a big decision, something she could start and finish all on her own without the criticism and demands of someone else. This girl was a talented painter and she could surely teach Tiffany to paint and from the looks of her thin body she could use some real food.
Natalie looked almost frightened for a minute and she wondered if she was moving too fast for the girl. She didn’t have much experience in making friends since her mother and husband had always chosen friends for her.
“I’ve never taught anyone to paint. I don’t know if I could.” Tiffany fought the urge to grab her hand in comfort.
“Your painting is beautiful. If you could just show me how you do it Natalie. I have so much time on my hands right now and I need a hobby.”
Tiffany watched patiently as Natalie soaked her offer in. The girl stared out the large window streaming in the bright morning sun. The two women sat quietly contemplating their own thoughts.
“Okay, one hundred and fifty dollars per half hour of teaching.” Natalie looked at her with a poker straight face.
“Natalie, I can’t…”
Suddenly the girl laughed cutting off Tiffany’s response. “I know, I know. You can’t give me money because I might buy more blow with it. I’m messing with you.” Tiffany thought it odd that someone could joke about a serious problem such as being a drug addict but she found herself smiling at the girl’s wittiness.
“Okay” Natalie smiled at her and it was such a genuine smile.
“Does that mean it’s a deal?” Tiffany asked.
“Yes, I’ll do my best but I’m not promising anything.”
“Wonderful!” Tiffany surprised even herself with the excitement in her voice. Looking over at Natalie she could see that she had amused her as well. The girl was giggling at her outburst.
“Your nurse says you will be released tomorrow morning as long as you’re stable throughout today and tonight. I can pick you up and we can start with our first lesson in the morning.” Tiffany was already standing, eager to go home and prepare it for her first visitor.
The women exchanged goodbyes and as she walked out of the hospital, Tiffany felt pure excitement. The thought that she had just invited a drug addict into her home was nothing more than a fleeting thought she felt had to cross her mind as an expected precaution. But in her heart she knew this woman was a mother who needed another chance, just like her. And as strange as it seemed, she couldn’t help but feel that this was the beginning of her very first true friendship.