(I do not write much in the way of fiction, but I did this one based on a true story as a Christmas letter in 2003. It is also a parable that fits in nicely with Christmas.)
She was standing at the window looking out, a cup of hot tea in her hand. Leaves were swirling on the ground and the birdbath had a skim coat of ice on it. The yard was expansive, the house expensive. There was an ever-so-faint smile on her face.
The fact was she felt she would never get used to it. The changes in her life had been so dramatic and so traumatic she didn’t even like thinking about it. The physical pain and the emotional pain were etched in her memory with acid. It could have (should have?) left her bitter. No, she was, instead, inexplicably grateful. People who knew were amazed at her attitude through it all. And she had come out of it beautifully…and beautiful. She had always been “cute” but now there was no question about it, she was beautiful. She didn’t feel any different… but she was.
Her first marriage ended abruptly. It had been short, just several years, to a man she had loved. It turned out his love was a wee bit shallow. Shortly after her accident he filed for divorce.
For some his departure appeared at least somewhat understandable.
After the accident she had been in a coma for 19 days. She had so many broken bones she looked like the proverbial cartoon character swaddled in casts, head to foot. But what was the most appalling of all was her face. It was lacerated, bruised, and crushed beyond recognition. She needed over 200 stitches just to close the wounds. All her teeth on the left side of her mouth were gone. Bones in her head were broken she didn’t know the names of (and could not have pronounced if she did). She noticed nurses would talk to her, but seldom looked at her. And when they did, she detected a slight motion of the head that seemed to indicate…what…pity?
The first time she was able to look in a mirror she was shocked—she was not sure she was looking at herself. She was still in the hospital when the divorce papers came and she did not contest the divorce. She laughed grimly to herself….”starter marriage.” Perhaps the next one, if there was one, might last, she thought.
Recovery had been slow and very painful. It was a year before she could walk, and even then it was not with the athletic fluidity she once had. The plastic surgeon, a certain Dr. Josh Davidson, was young, dedicated, and had already completed a number of surgeries that set the stage for future plastic surgery to return her face to some semblance of the size and shape it once was.
By now she had used up all of her somewhat limited resources. Bills had piled up. She was confused about what had to be paid and to whom, what was co-pay and what was not. She thought her premiums were being directly drafted from her checking account but evidently in the process of the divorce and getting a new account a cog had slipped. She was stunned when she got a letter from her insurance provider that said they were no longer covering her expenses. She got legal advice and it turned out the company was well within its rights despite her situation. And now she owed the lawyer money too.
And so it was with some reluctance on her next appointment she let Dr. Davidson know her insurance had run out and she could afford no more plastic surgery. He had been so kind, gentle, and solicitous she was not sure how to tell him or how he would take it. He listened carefully. Before saying anything, he paused, looked at the floor and then looked up. He then quietly assured her, “It does not matter. I always finish what I start, insurance or no insurance. And I am not done yet.”
It took another year. Although every surgery was painful, she looked forward to seeing the end result. Slowly her face was coming together. A dentist friend of Dr. Davidson did the maxillofacial work and she ended up with a new set of teeth on her left side. He capped the others to make them all match. Things were taking shape. It was clear that Dr. Davidson’s touch was the touch of an artist. Her admiration and appreciation for him grew.
And then he was done. She was… transformed. She was every bit as beautiful as before the accident. If you looked closely you could see a few places where there might be a scar, or a stitch, but with a little makeup even those disappeared. Her hair came in thick and luxurious, covering a myriad stitches on her scalp.
On her last visit she told the good doctor that she owed him a debt she could not possibly repay. He deflected all attempts of appreciation. And then, quite unexpectedly, he tilted his head and asked her if she would like to come work in the office. She needed the job and accepted on the spot.
And now, standing in her home at the picture window, finishing her cup of tea, her moment of reflection was interrupted by someone coming up behind her. It was the housekeeper, teapot in hand.
“Would you like another cup of tea, Mrs. Davidson?” she asked.
“No, thank you.” And then, as almost an afterthought, “Please, take the rest of the day off, OK Sophie? And Merry Christmas.”
She smiled, again, as she took her last sip of tea. It was a very merry Christmas indeed.
Steve Van Rooy