The morning they bring him in, after the surgery, my father has staples in his head.
Lying there, dazed, he tries to remember what day it is, asks if his brain is intact. He doesn’t see Roger in the bed just a few feet away. Doesn’t notice the nurses pull the curtain, arrange blankets around his feet, whisper, “Let’s just let him sleep.”
The next day, my father is screaming. I haven’t heard him curse in years. He’s begging for more morphine. He says his head feels like it’s shattering, over and over, bits of skull slicing down into soft brain. People he’s not sure he’s met before are sticking needles in his arms—too calmly, if you ask me—while Roger eats a sandwich in the next bed over.
On Wednesday, they meet. His pain obscured by a thick fog, my father turns and pulls the curtain aside. "I'm Dave," he says with a quick salute. I've never seen him look so small, his nearly bald head barer than usual, his body swallowed up by the thin hospital linens.
Roger puts down his newspaper. There's a long scar across Roger's head, stretching from one ear to the other. He turns his neck strangely, like it doesn't quite swivel the way it should, and says, "You kept me up last night." Roger's voice is booming and his hair wild. For a minute, he looks irritated, but when he begins chuckling, my father replies, “Just trying to keep you on your toes.” Right then, fleetingly, he's his old quick-witted self. He lets a smile open his lips for the first time in weeks.
On Friday, we’re watching the baseball game after Mom has left for the day, and we hear commotion in the hallway. My father turns the TV down to listen. Roger, who has been ordered to begin walking again, has fallen and is being shuffled in by the nurses. He’s angry, calling himself worthless, screaming at them for making him get out of bed. He swats their hands away when they try to guide his arm, spits that he’d like be left alone, please.
Later, after they’ve left, we hear him sniffle through the curtain. My father turns up the TV for the three of us.
On Sunday, they tell us it’s time for my father to be transferred to a rehab center. He’ll need to learn to use his legs again, and the ambulance will transport him there that night. When they’re loading him on the stretcher, all straps and blankets, he sees Roger for the first time from the front. He’s barely a lump under the sheet, his mouth fallen open with sleep. I can tell my father wants to say something, but he’s not sure what. His mouth opens and closes around the wrong words. Instead, he stares at Roger’s heart monitor for a moment, watching the neon line spiking dutifully, the beep-beep a lullaby for the both of them. My father smiles quietly and nods, as if satisfied with something. A minute later, he’s wheeled out the door.