Family Legacies Chapter 34

(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)

Cottonwood, Arizona, September 1989

[Nine years later, Kate and Al are retired and face new challenges.]

Kate stared out the window at the red butttes and monoliths. She waited for the speech therapist to come in and talk to her. She had just finished another session with Al, and Kate expected a progress report. The tiny office — nothing more than a box with a desk and computer inside it — almost made Kate claustrophic. She moved her lips and twisted her fingers while she waited.

“Mrs. Cullen,” Jane Foster said, as she entered her office and closed the door behind her. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine.” Kate impatiently crossed her legs and waited to hear what Jane had to say. “Well?”

Jane sat down at her chair. She placed her hands over several files which were piled on top of her desk. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cullen. There really doesn’t seem to be much progress.”

“I know. But will he get better?”

“Mrs. Cullen, it’s been almost a year since your husband suffered his stroke. If speech is going to return, it usually returns within a few months. Dr. Cullen certainly tries to improve, but there is no improvement.”

Kate sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“I’m sorry.” Jane stared at Kate, waiting for her to respond.

“This has been such a difficult year.”

“I know. He’s handled it very well, I think.”

Kate frowned and crossed her arms. “I didn’t mean him. I meant me.”

Jane creased her brows. “Of course. These things affect everyone involved.”

Kate stared at her feet, then at Jane. “So there’s no point in coming any more?”

“I would not want to suggest that there’s no hope, Mrs. Cullen. But it does seem unlikely that your husband will ever speak again.”

Kate nodded. “Well, I guess he can use his book.”

“Yes, he has learned how to cope without speech. The book he uses to point to familiar words and phrases and people you know is a huge help. I understand he can read a menu and point to what he wants.”

“Yes.” Kate felt tears come to her eyes. She didn’t know what else to say. She looked at a small plant sitting on a corner cabinet. “Your plant needs water,” she said. “I water my plants every day.”

Jane nodded and laughed. “I’ve not got much of a green thumb.“ She stood up and picked up a small watering can and poured a small amount of water on the plant. She set down the can and returned to her desk. “Mrs. Cullen, I know things are not the same, are they?”

Kate sighed deeply. “No, and it never will be. I wish I could go back a year and take back that day.”

“I understand. Have you and your husband been in Cottonwood long?”

“About five years. We actually moved here before Al had retired. We like it better here than Prescott.“

Jane agreed by nodding her head.

Kate stood and shook Jane’s hand. “Thank you, Jane. I’d better go find Al. He’ll wonder what’s happened to me.”

“Of course.” Jane walked to the door with Kate and opened it. “Please drop by now and then and let me know how both of you are doing.”

“Of course,” Kate said, knowing full well that it was unlikely she would ever do such a thing.

She found Al waiting in the outer lobby. He smiled and stood when she approached, and they walked to the car together. Despite his stroke, Al still drove. On the way home, they didn’t speak. It’s always silent now, Kate thought. I’ve lost my best friend, and I’m never going to get him back. She looked at Al, but his eyes were on the road. I would give anything to have the old Al back, even the one who cheated on me and who I couldn’t trust. She looked again at Al. I could even stand a little argument. A discussion. Anything but grunts and nods and pointing to words in a book.

Al turned and smiled at Kate. They pulled into the driveway, got out of the car, and headed inside. Al turned on the fans immediately, and Kate changed into more comfortable, cooler clothing. Although September, temperatures were still reaching into the 90’s by mid-afternoon. Kate felt a small pain in her chest, but she ignored it. It’s nothing, she thought. As the day passed, Kate became more frustrated. She approached Al shortly after noon with a proposal: “Al, let’s drive down to the cabin for the weekend.”

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Al smiled, nodded his head, and indicated he approved of the idea. They had built their cabin in the Gila National Forest near Pinos Altos before Al had resigned from NMSU in Las Cruces. Afterwards, they had decided to keep it as a get-away: no telephones, no mail, no interruptions. If nothing else, it was a great place to store many of the items Kate had inherited from her mother: her grandmother’s dining room set plus all the appliances from her mother’s kitchen. They each packed a small bag with a change of clothes, and Kate prepared sandwiches and snacks while they were in the car. In six hours, they were at the cabin.

That evening, Kate set the table for supper and warmed up some pizza. The cabin had been warm and stuffy and they had spent an hour just airing out the place and unpacking their bags. Kate was tired and all day she had had a pain in her chest, sometimes extending down her left arm. Al looked at her from across the table. He knew she was not feeling well. He nodded his head and caught her attention.

“What is it, Al?” she said. She hated asking a question because she knew it might take an hour to figure out what he wanted.

Al opened up his book and pointed to a page about aches and pains. He pointed to the word “headache.”

“No, I’m fine, Al. Just a little tired.”

Al shook his head and waved his hand at her.

“No, I’m fine, Al. Eat your pizza. Then we’ll watch the movie we rented.”

They finished their supper in silence, each wishing that things could be different. Afterwards, they picked up the dishes, but it was Kate who started the dishwasher and put the video in the VCR because Al could no longer do these simple tasks. Every time Kate had to do something that Al had once done, she found herself angry. Why did this have to happen to me? she would ask herself.

Neither Kate nor Al finished watching the movie they had rented. Al could not keep his attention on it, and Kate continued to feel chest pains. About halfway through the movie, she told Al that she was going to go to bed and she asked him to join her. Again, Al expressed concern but she insisted she was fine. The night passed slowly with Kate getting up numerous times to try to find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Al was nearly always awake, attempting to soothe her. By morning, Al made it clear with his gestures that he felt that Kate needed to get home; Kate didn’t disagree. They packed and loaded the car in less than an hour and were on their way.

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Sunday, September 10, 1989, was a long, long day for Kate Cullen. When they got home, she was exhausted, although the pain had subsided. She ate a light supper, took a shower, put on a flowery bathrobe, and laid down on the bed. I’ve had aches and pains before but this doesn’t feel right, she thought. It’s lasted too long. It hurts too much.

“Al!” Kate’s harsh scream reached Al’s ears in the kitchen. He rushed into the bedroom and saw the look of terror in Kate’s eyes.

“Al.” Her words came slowly and in gasps. “Al — I need help. The pain — God, the pain.” She tried to sit up, but she could not. She looked towards the phone. Despite his disabilities, Al knew how to dial nine-one-one and that is exactly what he did. He handed the receiver to Kate and watched with anxious eyes.

“Nine-one-one. What is the emergency, please?” an efficient and clear voice asked.

Kate struggled to find her breath. The pain was so intense that she felt it was draining her of all air. “I — I — I need help. I can’t breathe. The pain.”

“Yes, ma’am. What’s your name?”

“Kate — Kate Cullen. Mrs. — Kate Cullen.”

“Where are you, Mrs. Cullen?”

“712 Twilight Street, Cottonwood. Please hurry — much pain.” She didn’t want to say “I’m dying,” for fear that Al would understand. I’m dying, she thought. I know it.

“Thank you, Mrs. Cullen. Someone is on their way right now. Is anyone with you?”

“Yes — my husband.” It was all Kate could say. She had no more air in her lungs, the pain in her chest blocking all rational thought.

“All right, Mrs. Cullen. Everything’ll be fine. Someone’s on their way.”

Kate gave the phone to Al. Her strength gone, she could see the troubled look in Al’s eyes.

“It’s all right, Al. I’ll be — all right. They’re coming. I’ll be all — right.” Her words were slow, labored, controlled. She didn’t believe them and neither did Al. “Al,” she said, “I — I — “ but she was unable to complete her thought. “Al,” she said again, “my father — “ but she could not say any more.

As Al held Kate’s hand, Kate closed her eyes and her body relaxed. Al stroked her hair and cried. Oh, Kate, no, he thought the words he could not speak. Please, Kate, no. I need you. I love you. I told you I would love you the same fifty years from now, and I have, Kate. I’ve been loyal to you and loved you forever. Oh, Kate, no. No, don’t go.

Al heard himself scream “Kate,” but the words did not actually come out of his mouth. Kate looked pale, asleep, and calm. Kate, he thought. No, no, no, no, no.

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He remained beside her for what seemed like hours but was actually only a few minutes. When the doorbell rang, he did not at first want to leave Kate’s side, but then he rushed to the door. A tall young man stood there. “Sir,” he said. “I’m an ambulance attendant. We received a call from this house. Are you in need of assistance?”

Al said no emphatically — it was one of the few words he could say. It was the wrong response; however, it was the word that Al was thinking in his fear for his loss of Kate. He pointed to the bedroom and the ambulance attendant led the way. On the bed, he found Kate Cullen. He took her pulse but there was none. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Is this your wife?”

Al’s eyes watered with tears. He nodded and wrung his hands. He gestured to Kate and pointed. The young attendant realized that the gentleman could not speak, probably as the result of a stroke. “It’s all right, sir, but your wife is gravely ill. We’ll have to take her to the hospital.” The young attendant knew that Kate Cullen was beyond help, but he could not bring himself to tell this stroke victim that his wife was dead, nor usually was that his responsibility. Instead he said, “You can come with us, sir. In the ambulance. Do you have a jacket?”

Al nodded his head and reached for a jacket he had left hanging on a bedroom chair. Another man entered and the two attendants lifted Kate’s lifeless body on to a stretcher and rolled her to the ambulance. Al followed and climbed in beside Kate. Al was not ready to believe that she was beyond help. He held her hand and said her name over and over again in his mind.

Once they reached the hospital, Al and Kate were separated. He waited in a hallway and the ambulance attendant asked him if there was anyone they could call. Al reached into his pocket and gave him a card with his son’s name, telephone number and address on it. The ambulance attendant, who had told Al that his name was Roger, called Kate and Al Cullen’s only son, Michael. As a courtesy to Michael, who was a doctor in San Diego, the young ambulance attendant was honest with him: “Your mother is dying and probably won’t make it through the night.”

Michael drove all night, hoping that he might see his mother alive one more time, but he was too late. When he arrived, Kate had been dead for hours and Al was still waiting in the hospital waiting room. Michael only had to look at his father to confirm what Al already knew but had refused to admit: Kate — his beloved Katy — was gone. And Al cried tears of sorrow, loss, and despair — for what might have been but never was, for what it was, and for what it wasn’t. Kate, Kate, Kate, his heart cried out. I need you. What will I do without you? It wasn’t suppose to be like this. I was suppose to die first. What will I do? What will I do?

Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.

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