Jay drifted in and out of sleep, but remained calm and uncomplaining when awake. As evening approached, Scarlett and I left the hospital, not much wiser at all. It felt horrible to leave Jay there in the din and heat, without any allies, but our friends would all be at Scarlett’s by now; she had a house party to host. Besides we were tired, hungry and overheated – and we’d need to return first thing in the morning in the wild hope we might actually get to talk to a doctor. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to get a few straightforward answers under the circumstances?
We could not imagine Jay leaving the hospital but on the way home we brainstormed possible scenarios: moving him to a hotel in Perugia, getting full-time nursing care, setting up a bed on the main floor of Scarlett’s house. We discarded this latter idea. Scarlett would only be in Italy for another 10 days (my heart sank at the thought of her leaving), and no nurse would come to such a remote location. A nurse would be essential. I couldn’t lift Jay onto a bedpan.
“They can’t possibly release him,” Scarlett exclaimed, her voice rising in indignation.
I had no idea what they could or could not do.
The whole gang were now at Casa Lauro. In addition to Bruce, MaryAnne and Michael, our friend Pablo had arrived from Spain with his girlfriend, while Neil, his wife and grown son had come from New Mexico. They all looked desperately worried. As they hugged me, I dissolved in tears and clung to them.
They’d prepared dinner. Someone poured me a drink. Sipping it, I regained some composure. I sat on the terrace, gazing out over the balmy Italian evening, talking to friends from my teenage years, cross-eyed with exhaustion. Stories flowed as they tried to share all that had happened in the past forty years. It felt utterly surreal. I could almost forget I was in the midst of a crisis.
But not quite. I felt a growing urgency to contact people at home. I used Scarlett’s computer to email the few people whose addresses I had with me (not many – I had a new iPad and had only brought essential email addresses with me): my sister, the friends we were to meet for two weeks in Tuscany, a couple of others. I asked the recipients to keep the news to themselves. My son Mike was staying at our home in Stratford with his girlfriend. I didn’t want him to hear from anyone but me. I wondered if Jay’s daughter Carla had had the baby. Her wife was to text us the news, but of course I couldn’t receive texts. I texted her Scarlett’s cell phone number, but said nothing about the accident.
Scarlett’s phone started ringing: my sister called, then one of the friends we were to meet in Tuscany. I wished I had more concrete news. My sister reassured me that in Italy they would not regard wine with dinner as drinking, it was just normal. Had they tested his blood for alcohol? I had no idea. They have done blood tests certainly, but had the police requested an alcohol analysis? For all I knew, the powers that be were mounting a case against us even now.
We ate dinner, wine flowed and the conversation grew animated, even jolly. I felt remote, profoundly tired. After dinner, I broke down and called Mike, despite Jay’s directives to the contrary. Moments after reaching him, I started to sob. I could barely get the words out. He was shocked, silent. I kept saying, “He’s okay, he’s okay.” Trying to convince myself as much as Mike.
When he found his voice, he did his best to reassure me. “It’s okay, Mom, we’ll get through this. You’re strong. We’ll figure this out.” At 26, he was one of the most mature people I knew. He’d travelled the world, spent two years in Ghana, had malaria five times. Surely it must have been worse, much worse, to be in Africa with primitive medical resources, than to be in my position. But at least they spoke English in Ghana.
He promised not to tell his siblings. He had just returned from a year in England; his English girlfriend was trying to obtain a visa to work in Canada. They were taking the month of August to acclimatize and would fly to B.C. the next morning for a friend’s wedding. I knew this but it had slipped my mind. I’d called partly to feel more connected to home and family. In another day he’d be even further away than he was now. I asked if he’d heard any news of Carla’s baby; he had not. She was now ten days overdue. If I’d had any anxiety to spare, I might have been worried.
I hung up and wandered back onto the terrace, where the party was in full swing. I felt dizzy from exhaustion and stress. Stepping back, I tripped into the garden and fell hard, my head hitting the ground inches from a big rock. Everyone leapt up in a panic. I scrambled to my feet. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” I said, in a weird echo of my words to Mike. I was okay, but the next day I sported a sympathy bruise on my hip. I was really too tired to be upright.
I bid everyone good night, made my way upstairs and lay in bed listening to their laughter. Twenty-four hours earlier, Jay and I had been drifting to sleep, visions of a sun-soaked month in Italy dancing in our heads. What a bloody difference a day makes.