Lillie had all the time she wanted to read now, but it wasn’t how she wanted it. There is nothing but time to be had in the ICU waiting room. It was a good thing she’d brought her library book with her, but it wasn’t an accident. She always had a book with her. She’d even figured out how to read on her daily walks to visit James, just over 2 miles away. They lived off the main roads, so there wasn’t much traffic. It was easy to hold a book up in front of her and read while on the way. Of course, it slowed her down a little, so it took close to an hour to get there, but she didn’t mind. It was that much more time to read.
Her parents frowned on all her reading these days. They’d encouraged it when she was a child, even made a big to-do about her getting a library card of her own as soon as she could write her name. But now she was reading darker things, things they didn’t approve of. Long gone with the days of Junie B. Jones and Winnie the Pooh. Edward and Bella were more like it, or at least they were a few years ago. Aliens, zombies, conspiracy theories filled the bill these days. There was wasn’t much else for a young person to read anyway. It was either supernatural thrillers or ooey-gooey romance novels, and Lillie wouldn’t be caught dead reading one of those.
Of course, now wasn’t the best time to be reading an unusual book. Strangers shared the room with her, this strange room filled with dull grey lumpy armchairs and hard plastic tables covered with last year’s magazines. The only new magazines were medical ones, designed to make you worry about that slow healing spider bite or sell you some prescription drug you didn’t need. It didn’t take the other visitors long to run out of things to read, so they decided to make conversation. Anything was better than sitting still in silence, waiting and worrying until they were allowed back into visit their loved one, who was often too sick or too drugged up to noticed they were there.
“What you readin’?” The gruff boy asked Lillie, just loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to have to pay attention to, she decided. Perhaps she could pretend she was deaf? Just because she was sitting in the same room as someone else didn’t mean she was obliged to chat. They may think it is rude of her to be silent, but she thought it was rude of them to not be. Surely he understood? Surely he could see she was reading – he’d asked about her book. So why would she want to talk? She was already in the middle of a good conversation with the characters in her book. She wasn’t interested in starting a new one with this person – this untried, untested character. He was probably dull. That was an easy guess based on the fact he didn’t think to have a book with him. Well, that and he was wearing denim pants and a flannel shirt. How boring! Plus she didn’t want to explain her book. Too many people judge you based on the books you read. She’d taken to bringing safe books with her when she had to go to her own doctor’s appointments.
But this was different. She was here for James, not herself. He called her late at night, saying his stomach hurt. It had to be bad if he was telling anybody about it. He said his parents were on their way to pick her up so she could stay with him in the hospital if needs be. They both were too busy to take time off from work for something as inconsequential as sickness. They didn’t even take off when they were sick, so they certainly wouldn’t for their son. Lillie was ready before she’d even gotten off the phone. She always was ready. It was part practicality and part preparedness.
Sure, everybody should have a go-bag in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster. But Lillie’s life was a disaster. She never knew where she was going to have to go from day to day. Mom sometimes picked her up from school and took her home. Dad sometimes told her to walk to his girlfriend’s house. Sometimes she took the bus. Sometime she stayed after school to work on her homework rather than risk her books getting damaged at home. Sometime she slept at school, around the back, under the pine tree. Nobody seemed to notice her or keep track of where she was. It was better to have whatever she might need in her backpack at all times, just in case.
She always wore the same kind of clothes so nobody ever noticed that she didn’t go home every day. She’d been irritated when the school shifted over to a school uniform, but soon saw the advantage of it – nobody would notice her. Her parents were pleased because black wasn’t on the list of approved colors. She soon learned that she didn’t have to wear black to express how she felt. Angry and lost and frustrated could be expressed even in a khaki skirt and light-blue collared shirt. Seething wasn’t limited to black.
James was sick and the doctors didn’t know how or why or what. Not like they cared about the why, not really. All they were interested in was naming the symptoms and treating them, not the reasons for them. But his symptoms were troubling. High fever. Pain on his left side. Sensitive to light. His blood was full of antibodies, so there was some infection somewhere. The doctors told Lillie everything they learned. James’s parents had said it was okay. Sure, there probably should’ve been forms to sign for it, but this wasn’t the first time the doctors had treated him. They knew how hands-off his parents were, and how devoted Lillie was.
But since they didn’t know anything, it was time for Lillie to consult her sources. Others in her group would use runes or crystal balls, but Lillie had long ago learned something better. Those were the kinds of tools that people noticed in the wrong kind of way, or they got lost, or taken. Lillie was all about simple and easy, so she used a book. No, nothing as complicated or obvious as a book of shadows. Her book was whatever she had in her hands at the moment. The dictionary would do in a pinch. Words were good, but sentences were better.
You just held the book in front of you, one hand on top and one on the bottom, draw in your energy, focus on your question, and open the book to a random page. Whatever was there was what you needed. Then you read whatever your eyes fell upon. If you needed more insight, then repeat until clarity comes. Sure, she had to read between the lines a little sometimes. But meanwhile it just looked like you were reading a book.
The only problem right now was this book wasn’t exactly safe to have out in public. Sure it came from the library, but it still was going to raise some eyebrows here in the Bible Belt. The title was “Blood Infernal”. If the title didn’t draw attention, but the cover certainly would. Bright red, like fresh spilled blood, with a profile of a crow. Perhaps it was perching on a gravestone? Or maybe a skull? It looked like a satanic book for sure, but that was all most were likely to see. They wouldn’t take the time to learn it was about the Holy Grail, and banishing the forces of darkness back from whence they came.
Most folks who would judge a book by its cover would do the same to a person. Decide she is damned, and turn away. Little did they realize that those such people with the very ones who needed their friendship the most. Perhaps they didn’t read the part that said a doctor heals the sick, not the well. Jesus had sharp words for anyone who thought they had it all figured out. Lillie knew this, but most folks wouldn’t think she would. They’d judged her just like they were told they shouldn’t. Maybe if they spent more time reading the Good Book instead of thumping it, they’d know better.
It was time for Lillie to consult her book. First flip. Her eyes lit upon a passage about blood. Another flip, also about blood. Well that was to be expected, being the subject and all. But maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe he had an infection in his blood, maybe the blood itself was damaged somehow. But how? He’d not done anything unusual recently, hadn’t needed a transfusion. But wait! He donated blood, specifically plasma. It was a simple way to earn money when times were tight. Go to the clinic in the strip mall in Madison, fill out some forms, hang out for an hour and a half and get paid about $30 twice a week. It wasn’t enough to pay bills like a car payment or rent, but it was something, and after all, he was saving lives doing it. At least that was what all the brochures said.
Maybe something bad happened. Maybe his red blood cells got mixed up with someone else’s. Lillie dipped further and the next sentence talked about jealousy and unrequited love. Maybe the tech had a crush on him and was mad that he did not return the interest. Some people heard “I have a girlfriend” (or wife) to mean “try harder”. To them, having a partner meant you were good enough for somebody. It meant you’d passed some sort of test. Those kinds of people weren’t interested in people who were single. They figured there had to be something wrong with them. Of course, they didn’t figure on the raw truth that if you could be enticed away from who you were dating to date them, the same could happen again. Cheating was contagious.
Maybe the tech had put a hex on him? She’d have to go to the clinic to find out. She gathered up her things – water bottle, energy bar, book and journal with various pens – the standard hospital kit, checked with the nurses in the unit and hailed a cab. James wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the doctors weren’t likely to discover how to cure him where they were looking. This kind of sickness doesn’t show up on a lab test, but it affects you just the same.
Lillie knew that all too often doctors look for symptoms and not causes. They treat the infection with antibiotics but not look for the source. This was like the insanity of rebuilding your house every five years when you live in a hurricane zone. Best to avoid the problem and live somewhere else. Or perhaps it was like putting a Band-Aid on an amputated arm – it just wasn’t enough. The people live like this, unwilling or unable to notice cause-and-effect. Perhaps they thought they were being polite. Like how it is considered rude to point out the obvious. Lillie’s Dad had died that way. 20 years of smoking and he had a bad cough. The doctor gave him cough medicine, meanwhile not even discussing the need to quit smoking. It was palliative care trying to soothe, to silence. It wasn’t helpful, or healing. It wasn’t directly harmful, sure, but it was certainly neglect of due diligence.
Lillie knew that now was the best time to go to the clinic because she was going. It had taken years of prayer practice to align her actions with God’s, but once she found the spot, she knew it. No more acting too soon or too late. Now she waited patiently upon the Lord and acted in the right time and in the right way. She no longer worried about having the right supply with her or having the right training. When she was walking in Christ’s footprints, she always had and knew what she needed.
James didn’t understand this way of being, no, not at all. He trusted only what he had control over, what he could do to affect the situation. Once left in other’s hands, who knew what would happen? He was used to being lied to, either intentionally or not. People made promises and broke them all the time. In fact, this was the one thing he could count on – that he couldn’t trust others. They’d proven it to him over and over. He wondered whether they knew they were lying to him, or was it simply the case that they were lying to themselves? Self-delusion was a horrible trap. It was better to have someone intentionally be deceitful. At least that way they knew what they were doing. It was bad, sure, but it wasn’t mindless. The mindlessness of self-delusion, of not being aware of your own actions and impulses, would lead to a wasted life. Socrates was right when he said “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
Lillie loved him anyway, and prayed for him that he might awaken. This constant reacting instead of acting was going to get him stuck in a corner he couldn’t get out of within a few years. Failing to plan ahead and having to be rescued with standard operating procedure for a teenager, and somewhat acceptable for someone in their early 20s, but certainly not OK for someone who was 45, for instance. He wasn’t there yet, but if he didn’t take care he’d be there soon enough. Meanwhile, she tried to help when she could but otherwise stayed out of the way. Picking up his messes would only cause harm to both of them. If she kept rescuing him, he would never learn to plan better because he would never had to fully experience the chaos that he created for himself. Pain is an excellent teacher, after all. To clean up after people all the time cheats them of the valuable lesson of learning how to avoid making that mess in the first place.