“Your flight leaves at four thirty so you’ll need to hurry,” Warren said before Joel had even taken his suitcase out of the trunk of his Mustang. Both of Winnie’s brothers and her mother stood in the driveway along with her dad.
Without wasting pleasantries, Joel transferred the suitcase from his trunk to Warren’s. Another suitcase was already in the trunk and Joel’s heart sank. No doubt her mom wanted to come. Of course she did. Teri was probably distraught that her daughter was in the hospital. Still, Joel didn’t want her to come. Winnie needed to heal, not be encouraged in her quest to lose more weight. Joel took a deep breath and steeled himself to face her family.
Winnie’s older brother, Marshall stood beside the car and Joel tossed him the keys to his Mustang. Marshall looked down at the keys in confusion.
“Will you take care of my Mustang for me?” Joel asked, frustrated to leave his prized car behind. “Maybe you could drive her to New York for me in a few days and have an excuse to come see your sister.”
Marshall tossed the keys to his younger brother, Gage and smiled softly at Joel. “I’ll see my sister this evening at the hospital. I’m flying to the city with you.”
“You are?” Joel glanced at the suitcase in the trunk, thankful he’d been wrong about Teri. Without considering his actions before doing so, Joel pulled Marshall into his arms in an emotional hug, fighting tears. “Thank you, my brother.”
“Let’s not get all sappy, now,” Marshall said, patting Joel on the back. “She’s been my sister a lot longer than she’s been your wife.”
They pulled away from each other and Joel quickly went around to give hugs to Teri, Warren, and finally twenty-one-year-old Gage. With a playfully stern voice, he told his youngest brother-in-law, “No drinking and driving, and bring my baby to me in one piece.”
“You have my word,” Gage said, then pulled Joel in for another hug. “And please, take care of my sister.”
“I promise,” Joel said.
“Alright, boys, let’s go,” Warren said through husky emotions, striding over to the driver’s side of his Lincoln. “You have a flight to catch.”
Joel climbed into the front seat of the Lincoln, and Marshall sat behind him.
“Travel safely,” Teri called to them, waving with a smile on her face.
With a slack jaw, Joel waved lightly back. Travel safely? Was the woman heartless? They weren’t leaving on a vacation. They were hurrying to Winnie’s bedside, hoping she didn’t slip into a coma or cardiac arrest or something. Travel safely?
“My mom’s clueless,” Marshall said from the back seat, as if reading Joel’s mind.
“She means well, son.” Warren’s voice was still heavy with emotion as he chastised Marshall. “She’s from a different generation and social class.”
“She’s part of the problem,” Joel blurted out without thinking, turning to his father-in-law. “She’s constantly criticizing Winnie’s eating and encouraging her to be thin.”
“I know that,” Warren said. “I’ve tried to talk to her, but she’s stuck in her ways.”
“Well, she needs to get unstuck or stay away from my wife,” Joel grumbled.
They were mostly quiet during the half hour drive from Farmington Hills to the Detroit Metro airport. Joel and Marshall made their way through security and barely made their flight in time. They settled into their airplane seats and both sighed at the same time.
The flight would only take an hour and a half which didn’t provide enough time for a nap, so Joel didn’t know what to do with himself once they’d risen above the clouds and there was nothing else to see out the window.
“I did some research this afternoon,” Marshall said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “I wanted to know what to say and not to say to someone who has an eating disorder.”
“What did you learn?” Joel asked, suddenly alert and attentive.
“Most important is that we don’t try to fix her,” Marshall said. “We should offer love and support, but only she can fix herself.”
“What if she doesn’t want to be fixed?” Joel voiced the concern he’d had for a while. “She doesn’t seem to think she has a problem.”
“Well, it’s not up to us to tell her she has a problem,” Marshall said.
“Waking up in the hospital might provide her with a clue.” Joel sighed.
“You need to be her husband, not her caregiver,” Marshall continued. “You’re her advocate, but ultimately the decisions are hers for now.”
“What do you mean ‘for now’?” Joel asked.
“There is such a thing as involuntary admission to a psych ward if a person is a danger to themselves or others.”
“She would hate us for admitting her without her consent.” Joel shook his head, hoping it didn’t come to that. “She’s stubborn and tends to get what she wants.”
“That’s another thing,” Marshall said. “A large part of an eating disorder is trying to feel in control. If people are trying to strip away even more of that control, she could push herself further into her illness. She won’t want to feel attacked or backed into a corner.”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
“A person with an eating disorder can become very sensitive and on edge and just the tone of your voice could set her off.”
“So, zero sarcasm, is that what you’re saying?” Joel asked.
“Exactly. You especially need to be her safe person. Let the medical professionals do the medical stuff. You need to help her transition back into regular life.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen for a long time,” Joel said, suspecting this would be a marathon and not a sprint.
“Try really hard not to sound judgmental or show her that you’re uncomfortable with what she’s talking about that. She shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or ashamed in any way,” Marshall said. “Don’t push her but let her know you’re ready to listen as soon as she’s ready to talk. She may not want to talk at all, or she might want someone who will listen to her thoughts and feelings. Allow her to get some things off her chest and put aside the secrecy.”
“Good thing I got some practice being sappy earlier when I gave you a hug,” he joked, feeling helpless. “What am I allowed to do?”
“Let her know you’re there for her and that you have her back. Offer support and love but not a bandage. And remember that you’re her advocate. There may come a time when you have to make the call.”
“What do you mean by that?” Joel’s heart plummeted but he wasn’t sure if the reason was because of turbulence or foreboding.
“You may have to intervene and physically take her to be admitted,” Marshall said.
As Joel mulled that around in his head, he decided that the reason for his discomfort had nothing to do with turbulence. As the plane descended toward LaGuardia International Airport Joel grew more and more anxious to get to Winnie’s side. He shuffled in the aisle of the cabin wishing he could push the other passengers out of the way.
“Calm down, buddy,” Marshall said. “We’re almost there.”
They hurried through the airport, waited an insufferable amount of time at the baggage claim and then hailed a taxi. Rush hour traffic caused the taxi ride to the hospital seem never-ending, then they hurried to the information desk to locate her room number, and hopped on the elevator dragging their suitcases with them.
What Joel saw in that big hospital bed was a skeleton with skin. He whispered, “Edwina,” in a pained voice and left his suitcase by the door, hurrying over to take her hand in his. “Sweetheart, I’m here. I love you. Please come back to me.”
“Sir, you can’t be in here,” a nurse said from the doorway before pushing past Marshall, who still stood with his jaw gaping.
“I’m Edwina’s husband,” Joel told her. “Has she awakened yet?”
“No, not yet.” The woman pursed her lips with disapproval at the men who had barged into her patient’s hospital room. She held Winnie’s wrist between her fingers to test her pulse, turned on the mechanical blood pressure cuff, and glanced at the bag of fluid hanging on a pole with wheels. “She comes in and out of consciousness but makes little sense when she mumbles. Maybe you can get her to wake up. She’ll recognize your voice.”
“Winnie?” Joel leaned close to his wife, so his mouth was near to her ear. “Can you wake up, my love? Will you come back to me? I’m here now.”
The speed of her breath increased and the muscles in her face twitched. She seemed to be trying to open her eyes.
“Winnie, it’s Joel,” he said. “I’m here. Can you wake up?”
She moaned quietly and mumbled something that sounded like, “Izit Wenzday already?”
“No, sweetheart. It’s still Monday.” Joel chuckled. “I flew here as soon as I heard you were in the hospital.”
“You have fast wings,” she said with a soft smile. She still hadn’t opened her eyes.
“Only when I’m flying to come to you.” Joel kissed her lips lightly.
“Y'ull miss class,” she slurred.
“I’m not leaving your side, my love.”
“Mmm… kay.” Her breathing evened out and she fell asleep with a smile on her lips.