Down A Darkened Path

Chapter 4

The hospital emergency waiting room was packed. The clock read 4:12. People were still arriving. Their sleepy eyes were filled with tears. Mrs. Neal was staring absentmindedly at the double doors leading to the emergency area. Claire was beside her with her arm around her waist.

“Why don’t they come out and tell us something?” Troy’s mother cried. The room grew quiet as everyone watched her get up and walk over to the elderly woman stationed at the information desk. She shook her head sadly at Mrs. Neal, indicating that there was still no news.

She grabbed the side of her face and began to tremble. Claire ran over and led her back to her seat. Gentle sobs could be heard all about them.

Mrs. Neal looked at the clock. “I’ve been here for an hour and a half and they still won’t let me know how he is.” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. “He could be dead.” She lifted her tear-stained face and looked anxiously at Claire. “I can’t live if he’s dead.” She let out a low wail and clutched Claire.

Again, loud sobbing broke out. Many were classmates of Troy’s. News travels fast in the age of cell phones. Claire called Allison, who called a classmate. Despite the early hour of the morning, half the school was probably aware that Troy had been hurt.

Claire looked up when she heard a commotion at the door. She could see several people trying to restrain someone. Suddenly, she heard someone cry out, “No!” She immediately recognized the voice. It was Will.

When he saw Claire and Troy’s mother, he broke away from those trying to comfort him, and ran across the room and fell into Mrs. Neal’s arms.

“Is he dead?” he screamed out. Mrs. Neal held him and sobbed. Claire put her arm around him and whispered softly, “We haven’t heard anything yet. Let’s pray he’s all right.”

“My uncle is a cop,” sobbed Will. “He knows I date Troy. He called Dad and told him to tell me what happened.” He began to cry loudly. “He told Dad that he didn’t think Troy would make it.” There was a gasp throughout the waiting room, followed by more sobbing. Claire caught Mrs. Neal when she reeled back. She and Will led her to the sofa and helped her sit down.

“My God,” she cried. “What is going on?” She looked toward the ceiling and screamed, “Why Troy!”

A nurse walked over to her. Will got up to let her sit beside Troy’s mother. “Are you going to be all right? I can ask an emergency room doctor to prescribe you a sedative.”

“No,” Mrs. Neal responded as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’ve got to keep alert. Troy may need me.”

The nurse took her hand and held it. “I wish I could tell you something, but he’s still in surgery. The doctor will let you know how he’s doing as soon as he’s finished.”

“So he’s still alive?” Mrs. Neal looked anxiously at the nurse. She shook her head.

“I really don’t know.” She squeezed Mrs. Neal’s hand tighter. “Let’s just pray he’ll be all right.” She paused a minute before adding, “Would you like me to have the hospital chaplain come see you when he arrives at nine?”

Mrs. Neal nodded as she looked around the room at the others sharing her grief. “That would be nice. He might be able to give us some comfort.”

“Yes,” replied the nurse as she rose to her feet. “I have to get back on duty. If I hear anything, I’ll try to let you know.” She turned and disappeared through the double door.

People continued to arrive. Claire and Will roamed around the room letting people know that there was no news of Troy’s condition. They were surprised when Mr Fallingsworth, the school principal came walking in around 6:30. After talking to a few students, he walked over and sat down beside Mrs. Neal. He took her hand and they talked for several minutes.

Will and Claire watched them for a minute. “No one’s going to be in school today,” said Will as he looked around the packed waiting room. Another room down the hall had also been readied for the overflow crowd. Several security guards were idly standing around.

Mr. Fallingsworth got up, walked over to Claire and handed her a business card. “Here’s my number. Call me at school as soon as you hear anything. I’ll make an announcement.” He looked around the room. “That is if there’s anyone in school today.” He hugged Will and Claire and left.

Claire returned to the sofa and sat beside Mrs. Neal. “Are you all right?”

She took Claire’s hand and squeezed it. “All right? No,” she replied. “But I’ve got to stay strong.”

“Where is Troy’s father?” Claire asked.

“He’s on a business trip in Chicago,” she replied. “I called him and he’s booked a flight home.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “In fact, he should be boarding right about now. He should be here in a couple of hours.”

“Good.” Claire squeezed her hand.

Mrs. Neal looked up and saw Will standing nearby talking with some students. She called him over.

“Would you be a dear and go get me a cup of coffee?” He readily agreed. She asked Claire if she wanted anything, but she said she didn’t. She gave Will some money and he left the waiting area. A directional sign on the wall indicated that the cafeteria was to the right. He knew it was probably too early for it to be open, but he hoped it contained vending machines.

As he turned the corner, he saw a black guy approaching. He remembered seeing him around school, but he couldn’t recall his name. One thing he did notice immediately, however, was his clothes were stained with dried blood.

“Excuse me,” he said shyly as he neared Will. “Do you know anything about the guy they brought in last night who was beaten?”

“You mean Troy?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I guess that’s his name.”

“We don’t know anything yet,” responded Will. “He’s still in surgery.”

The boy looked sadly at Will and then started to turn. “Thanks,” he said softly. As he began to walk away, Will grabbed his arm.

“Wait a minute.” He turned the boy around and looked at his clothing. “My uncle said something about a black kid staying with Troy until the police arrived.” He looked into the boy’s face. “Was that you?”

The boy looked down at the ground and nodded. “Yeah.” He then turned and started to walk away. Again, Will reached out and grabbed his arm.

“What’s your name?”

“Jayden Henderson”

“Do you know what happened, Jayden?” He hoped that he could give him some idea what had happened to Troy. Jayden looked down and shook his head.

Tears appeared in Will’s eyes as he asked, “How bad was he hurt? The doctors aren’t telling us anything.”

Jayden looked into Will’s eyes. He could see the concern on his face. He knew he couldn’t tell him how badly Troy had been beaten. When he held him in his arms before the ambulance arrived, it was difficult to tell that he once possessed a handsome face. Jayden wretched when he saw the battered face. His face was bloodied and swollen. His eyes had been matted shut with tears and blood. There was a deep gash on his forehead, and his upper lip was swollen. When he held Troy’s head, he could feel an enormous knot on the back of his head. Looking into Will’s face, he knew he couldn’t tell him what he had witnessed. Jayden was sure the horrendous image would haunt him for the rest of his life.

After the police and medics arrived, Jayden was interrogated. At first he was considered a suspect since he lived in the neighborhood, but he was able to convince the police that he wasn’t responsible. He told them how he had looked out his window and saw Troy stumble and fall on the street. He then told them that he had called 911 and went down and stayed with Jayden until they arrived.

One thing he did hold back, though, was that Troy had said that guys in a blue van had attacked him. He knew that his cousins, Tyrone and Anthony, were responsible for his beating. Before giving the police the information he knew, he was hoping that Troy would be able to give the police a description of his attackers; then he could avoid having to turn his own relatives into the police.

“I really should go.” Jayden turned and started to walk away again. Will grabbed his arm.

“Please?” Jayden could see the tears in Will’s eyes. He knew that he cared deeply for the boy he had helped the night before.

Jayden put his hand over Will’s. “Look. I think you should hear it from the doctor. He was hurt pretty bad. Sometimes things look worse than they are.” Tears began to roll down Will’s face.

“I have to go.” He looked sadly at Will. “I really hope your friend is all right.” He turned and hurried to the elevator. Will leaned against the wall and cried.

“It took you long enough.” Claire got up and met Will when he returned with three coffees. He looked at the clock on the wall. He had been gone over thirty minutes. After leaving Jayden, he had gone into a bathroom and sat in a stall and cried. Even though they hadn’t been dating long, they still were making plans for the future.

Troy and he had spent hours discussing what they’d do after they graduated. They had applied and had been accepted to the same college about two hundred miles away. They were in the process of filling out their housing applications. Freshmen were required to live on campus, so they had requested to share a dorm room. Since they would finally be having sex together, Will was looking forward to many sleepless nights.

After handing Mrs. Neal her coffee, he pulled Claire to a corner where they could talk privately.

“Do you know a guy named Jayden Henderson?” She shook her head.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “Is he in our class?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Black guy. About my size. Nice looking.”

Again she shook her head. Suddenly, she realized who Jayden was. “Wait a minute,” she exclaimed. “I know him. He was in my biology class last year. He sat at the same lab table as me. As I remember, he was pretty smart.” She gave Will a puzzled look. “Why do you want to know about Jayden?”

She became worried when she saw tears form in Will’s eyes. “He was there with Troy last night.”

“He’s the one who beat him up?” Will looked around as several people stared at them.

“Would you be quiet,” he whispered. “No, he’s not the one who beat him up. My uncle told me that a black guy was holding Troy in his lap when they arrived. It was Jayden. I just talked to him in the hallway.”

Claire looked toward the door. “Is he still here? I want to talk to him.”

“No,” said Will. “He left. He wouldn’t tell me much except Troy was hurt pretty bad.”

“How bad?”

“I told you,” insisted Will. “He wouldn’t say.”

Claire took Will’s hand and they returned to the sofa and sat down beside Mrs. Neal. People were constantly coming up and speaking to her, so it helped the time go quickly. Just before seven, the door opened and the nurse who had spoken to them earlier in the morning walked over to Mrs. Neal.

She smiled warmly. “Mrs. Neal, can you come with me. The doctors want to speak to you now. They didn’t want to do it out here with so many people around. I’ve arranged a conference room.”

Troy’s mother got up and grabbed Claire’s hand. The nurse turned and stopped. “Only family members can go back.” Mrs. Neal gripped Claire’s hand tighter.

“She’s my niece,” she said. The nurse gave her a skeptical look, but headed toward the door. Several people hugged them before they left.

They were led to a small conference room and the nurse asked them to have a seat. “The doctors will be in soon to speak to you.”

Mrs. Neal took out a tissue and wiped her eyes dry. She wanted to be strong, but she wasn’t sure she could, especially if the news was bad. She looked at her watch. Her husband should have landed. He had phoned ahead for a rental car, and he was coming immediately to the hospital.

Claire reached down, took her hand and squeezed it. “It’s going to be all right.” She tried to sound encouraging, but her words were filled with emotion. She was also wondering if she could face tragic news. Troy was her best friend, her confidante. The thought of losing him was incomprehensible.

They jumped when the door opened and three doctors walked in. All had stoic, unemotional faces, so it was hard to determine what they were going to say. One doctor sat down at the table across from Mrs. Neal and Claire. He was tall and thin. He appeared to be about forty. The other two leaned against the wall.

“I’m Dr. Ramey.” He extended his hand and shook Mrs. Neal’s. He gently squeezed her trembling hand. Claire reached over and put her hand on her knee. He looked up at the other doctors. “These men are Dr. Klein and Dr. Costa.”

“How’s my son?” Mrs. Neal asked urgently. Dr. Ramey squeezed her hand tighter. She pulled away and sat back. “Is he alive?” Tears burst from her eyes as she took a tissue and wiped them away.

Dr. Ramey looked somberly at her. “Yes, Mrs. Neal, he’s alive.” A sad expression appeared on his face. “Barely.” Mrs. Neal leaned over and grabbed Claire. They clutched to each other sobbing.

“Mrs. Neal.” Dr. Ramey reached out and grabbed her arm. “There are several things we must discuss.” She pulled away from Claire and nodded as she wiped her eyes dry.

“Troy was beaten badly,” he said. “His injuries are extensive. Our concern right now is a severe head injury he received. We are treating him for an edema. I won’t go into the medical terms right now, but let’s just say he has tremendous swelling in his brain. The pressure is preventing blood from entering his skull.

“Will he live?” Mrs. Neal managed to whisper.

Dr. Ramey looked over at the other doctors before answering. “I don’t know.” Mrs. Neal slumped down in her seat and began crying once again. Claire leaned over and tried to comfort her.

She started trembling violently. “I wish Roger was here,” she cried.

“Would you like to wait for your husband to get here before we proceed?” Dr. Ramey reached out and took her hand again. She shook her head.

“No, Dr. Ramey.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and leaned towards him. “I’ll be all right. I need to know what’s going on with my son.”

Dr. Ramey sat back and opened up a chart on the table. “As I said, he’s suffered a severe head injury. We’re concerned about the swelling.” He pointed to one of the doctors off to his side. “Dr. Klein is a trauma surgeon.” He nodded slightly. “We are lucky that he was on call last night. We were able to get Troy to surgery immediately. It may have saved his life.” Mrs. Neal gasped, but quickly controlled her composure. She was determined to hear what had happened to Troy without breaking down again.

Dr. Ramey pointed to the other doctor. “This is Dr. Costa.” We called him in this morning. He is our resident ophthalmologist.” He took Mrs. Neal’s hand and squeezed it. “The damage to Troy’s face was severe. It appears he may have been kicked repeatedly.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “Dr. Costa had to do an enucleation of Troy’s right eye.”

Mrs. Neal’s hands began to tremble. “What’s that mean?” She muttered softly as she looked worriedly at Claire.

“The damage was so extensive, he had to remove it.”

“Oh, God!” Claire stood and started screaming. Dr. Costa walked over, grabbed her, and held her tightly. “Why Troy?” she screamed. Troy’s mother jumped up and held her as they both sobbed loudly.

Just then the door opened, and a nurse walked in, followed by Troy’s father. “Dr. Ramey,” she whispered softly as she looked at the two women crying. “Mr. Neal is here.”

“Oh, no!” Mr. Neal shouted as his wife turned and fell into his arms.

“Oh, God, Roger!” she cried. Dr. Costa continued to hold Claire.

After several minutes, Dr. Ramey asked everyone to have a seat. “I know this is traumatic news, but it’s not helping your son. I need to finish so I can get back to him.” Mr. Neal threw his arm protectively around his wife, while she took Claire’s hand.

He looked at Troy’s father. “As I’ve explained to your wife, Troy was beaten badly. From what we’ve gathered, he was accosted by two men. It appears they took his wallet and cell phone, then knocked him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him.” He gripped his wife’s hand tighter as Dr. Ramey continued telling them of Troy’s injuries.

“There was serious trauma to the brain. We’re very concerned about swelling.” He looked over at Dr. Klein. “Dr. Klein was able to surgically reduce the swelling, but it will be several days before we know if it was successful. There is a possibility that the pressure could return,” he said as his mood saddened, “and it could be fatal.”

Mrs. Neal cried as her husband held her in his arms and rocked her. Claire buried her head in her hands and sobbed loudly. After a minute Dr. Ramey continued. “There was also irreparable damage done to Troy’s eyes.” He looked at Dr. Costa. “We had to remove his right eye. We also believe he may have lost the sight in his left eye.”

Unable to control his emotions, Mr. Neal broke into tears. His wife took his hand and attempted to console her distraught husband. Claire walked out of the room. She could be heard sobbing outside the door.

“We really need to proceed,” insisted Dr. Ramey. He looked sadly at the distraught parents sitting in front of him. “I know this is hard on you, but you must think of Troy. He’s going to need your support. He’s looking at months of rehabilitation.” Troy’s parents nodded and sat up. Claire returned to the room and sat down. Mrs. Neal grasped her hand and squeezed it.

“Can we see him?” Mr. Neal pleaded. “I need to see that he’s all right.”

“Are you sure you are prepared this?” Dr. Ramey studied their tearful faces. He looked over at his colleagues before turning back to Troy’s parents. “He’s in the intensive care unit. We took him there after his surgery so he can be closely monitored.” He stood and looked down at Mr. and Mrs. Neal.

“You may see him briefly,” he said. “Right now he’s heavily sedated. Give me a minute to go check on his progress.” He turned and left the room. The other doctors left behind him, leaving Troy’s parents and Claire alone.

Mrs. Neal grasped her husband’s and Claire’s hand. She bowed her head and spoke softly, “Let us pray.” They prayed for several minutes until the nurse opened the door and entered.

“Dr. Ramey asked me to take you to your son,” she said. She sat down and looked across the table. “I must first prepare you for what you are about to see.” She looked over at Claire. “I think you may be too young to go in.”

Claire stood and looked down at the nurse. “I’ve known Troy since we were little kids. He’s like a brother to me.” She looked down at Troy’s mother. “I need to see him. Please?” she begged.

Mrs. Neal took her hand and had her sit. “If you feel you can, Dear, then I see no reason why you can’t be with us.” She looked at the nurse who nodded her head.

“Yes, fine,” she said. “Now I need to prepare you. When you go in and see Troy, you won’t recognize him.” Mrs. Neal gasped.

“His face and head are wrapped in gauze,” she continued. “You must remember he has just returned from six hours of surgery and he’s heavily sedated. We’ve bandaged his eyes, and there may be blood present on the wrappings.” She stood and looked at them. “Are you prepared for this?”

Mr. Neal stood and took his wife’s hand and helped her up. Claire stood and nodded at him. “Yes,” he said. “I think we are ready.”

She led them down several corridors until they came to a room marked ICU. She led them to an area that had a green curtain pulled tightly. They could hear talking on the other side. The nurse looked in, and then turned to them. “Dr. Ramey is with your son.”

“Let them in,” he spoke softly. When she pulled back the curtain, Mr. Neal led the way. Soon they were standing in front of Troy’s hospital bed. Claire’s knees buckled, and the nurse managed to grab her before she fell to the floor.

Like the nurse had described, it was difficult to tell who was lying in the bed. Troy’s face was covered in gauze, and tubes were running into his body. He had a ventilator mask over his face. The only thing that was visible was a portion of his nose. It appeared red and swollen.

Mr. Neal walked over to the side of the bed and pulled back the covers until he could see Troy’s hand. He took it and squeezed it gently. He then leaned down and whispered in Troy’s ear. “Your mother and I are here, Son. We love you.” Mrs. Neal walked up and put her hand on her husband’s arm. She then leaned down and gently kissed Troy’s forehead through the wrappings.

“I love you, Troy,” she whispered softly. “You’re going to be all right.” She looked down and saw Troy’s hand move as he attempted to weakly squeeze her husband’s hand. Tears started to fall down her cheek, but she kept herself from crying out loud. She didn’t want to upset Troy in case he was aware of what was going on in the room.

Mrs. Neal held out her hand to Claire. Claire stepped up and then leaned down and kissed Troy’s cheek. “Hey you, Tevye,” she said emotionally. “I love you, Troy.” She turned and hurried from the room before she broke down in tears. Mr. and Mrs. Neal remained quietly beside their son’s bed and gently rubbed his exposed hand.

After several minutes, Dr. Ramey suggested that they should return to the waiting area. He informed them they could return in two hours when the ICU opened for visitors. He said they would only be able to stay for fifteen minutes during each visitation.

When they left, they found Claire sitting against the wall further down the corridor. She had her head buried in her hands.

“Are you all right, Claire?” Mr. Neal leaned down and lifted her to her feet.

“It’s not fair!” she cried. “Troy never hurt a fly. Why did someone have to do this to him?”

“No one has the answer to that,” remarked Mrs. Neal as she wrapped her arm around Claire’s waist. “Everything happens for a reason.”

“What?” Claire shouted. “What reason was there for this to have happened?”

“I don’t know, Dear.” She looked worriedly at her husband. “I just don’t know.”