Secret Valentine (Corey shares a revelation)

Chapter 34

Standing next to me on the front step as I unlock the door to my house, Corey asks, “How was your shift?”

I stop for a moment in the open doorway thinking about my answer.

“Well, it’s a stressful shift when I use cuss words as punctuation; silently of course, I’m a peds nurse.”

He laughs while putting his arm around my shoulders. “Understood. Let me help you relax.”

After making love, Corey rubs my feet, and then paints my toenails. I hold the camera, and photograph him while he works, using the macro function. I capture the images one after another: His hands, my feet. A bottle of red nail polish. My secret valentine.

Corey is in silent concentration, laying down each stroke of polish perfectly. Occasionally, his touch tickles me. “Don’t move,” he murmurs, “Don’t move.”

I’d stay like this forever, if it were possible.

After he’s finished, Corey sits next to me in the bed, resting on a couple pillows propped against the headboard.

“Let me see the camera, Niki.”

He points the lens towards me, and after making a few quick adjustments, he takes a photograph.

“Il mio bellissima amore,” he says.

“Did you learn that in Italian for me?” I’m a little impressed.

“Si, il mio amore.”

“Grazie.”

He hands the camera back, and carefully I set it on the bedside table.

“Niki, I love you. I don’t want to sneak around anymore. I’m going to leave Sheila.”

Unsure of my response, I try to remain neutral.

“I’m not sure what to say Corey. What does the future look like to you?”

“I’m spending it with you, Niki.”

I can’t help it. I’m happy. I lean in and kiss him. “And what are we doing in our future?”

“I’m thinking of going back to school. I’ve applied to a few NP programs; a couple are out of state. I’d like to stay local though, near my kids. I’d get an apartment. We could give our kids time to get to know ‘us’. After they’re used to the idea, we could move in together. I love you Niki. I think we should give it a real try.”

“I love you too, Corey. Of course I’ve thought about it, but I never really expected you to leave Sheila. This is really big.”

“I know. It is big. Sheila and I have been unhappy for years, but I always thought I’d stay until the kids finished school. But every shift in the ER I see patients who thought they had more time, more years, one more day. Then they smash into a semi-truck, or are shot behind the counter of a convenience store. Or cancer invades their bodies, or their heart stops suddenly, just like that. Life is fragile Niki, and no one’s promising us anything. Life is too short to waste time being unhappy. I want to be happy, Niki. And I want you to be happy too. I want to be with you.”

“Corey…” Before I can finish the sentence, we’re kissing, and making love again, smearing red nail polish all over the white sheets of my bed.

Beer for Breakfast (The night shift goes out for breakfast)

Chapter 11

Fortunately, the next two shifts are uneventful, which actually feels weird after a traumatic shift like the last one. There’s not enough time in between to process what happens to our patients, and the role nurses play.

Every so often, someone in hospital administration suggests holding “debriefing” meetings for the nurses after a particularly distressing patient death, but the meetings never develop meaningfully. In my opinion, this is because the meetings happen on day shift, which is too busy for those nurses to leave the unit to attend, and too late in the day for night shift to stay up. Besides, in units requiring ICU technology skills, many a nurse’s days off are consumed at the hospital in the form of mandatory in-services, skill competency workshops, CPR renewal, PALS re-certification, staff meetings, etc. We get paid for the time spent attending, but at a certain point, it’s a case of diminishing returns to spend more time at the hospital. So I don’t attend the few debriefings that occur. Besides, I don’t want to talk about my feelings and sing Kumbya in front of my coworkers.

What I do enjoy with coworkers is going out for breakfast after a shift, especially if I don’t work the following night. This morning, a few of us are meeting at a popular diner a few blocks from the hospital to do just that.

Besides Corey from ER, Gerald the respiratory therapist, and Liz join us in the booth. The guys order large, while Liz and I share an omelet, and order coffee. Corey and Gerald drink beer. When Liz comments on this, Corey speaks up,

“Because Liz, that’s what dudes do after work. We go out for beer.”

“If I have a beer after a twelve hour night shift, I’ll have to sleep in my car before driving home,” I laugh.

“That’s because you’re a light weight female nurse Niki,” Corey teases. “ER nurses are manly men, despite the media’s and society’s feminization of our kind.”

We laugh.

Changing the subject, I interject:

“Hey Gerald, guess what happened last night in the PICU.”

“Buh.”

“No really, Gerald. You know that mom from bed two? Well, she came over to the nurses’ desk, and told me,

‘I don’t know who to report this to, but someone working in this hospital is hitting a child on the chest and back in room seven.’

So I get up and look in room seven, and Gerald, it’s YOU, giving chest percussion to a toddler!! I almost burst out laughing trying to explain to her that you’re a respiratory therapist, and what you were doing helps the patient breathe. I told her the kiddo’s doctor prescribed it.”

“Gee thanks, Niki. I owe you one. Probably saved me from being arrested as a child abuser or something. You nurses complain about not getting recognized for your work, but when was the last time you saw a respiratory therapist character on a TV show?”

“Whatever possessed you to become a respiratory therapist anyway, Gerald? You hold nebulizers in patients’ faces, and then suction snot out of their tubes. I nearly gag just listening to someone with a wet, hacking cough. How can you stand your job?”

There’s laughter around the table.

“Well, Niki, it’s because I want to work ‘in the exciting world of doctors,’ and have my life choices questioned by bitchy nurses like you. Keep your opinions to yourself girlfriend, and kindly ask the server to bring me some coffee while I go use the head, okay?”

There’s more laughter, followed by a brief silence while the server brings our food, and Gerald’s coffee.

Corey asks, “Does your husband take your daughter to school in the mornings after your shift Niki?”

“Yeah, and brings her home. Simon’s a school teacher.”

“And what about you, Liz, do you have kids?”

“Yes, a son. His name is Nathan. He’s fifteen, and takes the bus. Next year, he’ll learn how to drive, and I won’t have to depend on other people to shuttle him to baseball, and basketball practices while I work.”

“How long have you been divorced, Liz?”

“Seven years.”

“Are you dating anyone?”

“On nightshift?”

“It’s probably hard being a single mom, but on the other hand, maybe it’s not so bad having control over your own life,” I realize I’m musing out loud.

“There’s a lot to be said for marriage, Niki, like having someone there to divide up the work. Sometimes I think people are too caught up pursuing happiness, and it gets in the way of commitment. Maybe being happy isn’t the most important thing in life,” says Liz.

“I don’t know, that’s sort of heavy,” says Corey. “Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have a partnership. I think it depends on expectations. Sometimes one spouse has more expectations than the other. It doesn’t always work. I don’t know if sticking it out for the sake of commitment is the right answer.”

“I’ve always felt that a happy marriage or partnership is a wonderful thing,” says Gerald. “But it’s better to single than married and unhappy. Nothing is lonelier than an unhappy marriage.”

“You can say that again,” I mumble while shoving a bite of omelet into my mouth.