With Your Last Heartbeat
On the day of the operation, as promised, I was waiting outside her room. I wanted to accompany Clara throughout the operation, even if I couldn't be in there. And also, to accompany her parents, who weren't going to have a good time while they waited. In the last few minutes before she was moved, they had both gone inside to talk to Clara while I waited outside. But when they returned, to my surprise, her parents asked me to come in.
"She said she wants to talk to you... we already told her what we wanted," her mother continued.
"Okay, but... are you sure?"
"If she asked you to be the last person to talk to her, it's for a reason. Go make her happy, please," her father told me.
I was still puzzled at his request, but of course I wanted to do it.
I walked into her room, identical to the ones she was always staying in, and as I reached all the way to the back, I saw her. Since I had closed the door, I had prepared a warm smile for that girl, now in an all-white hospital gown.
"Good morning, Leo," she said to me cheerful as always, but also restless.
"Good morning, Clara, did you sleep well?"
"More or less. You know... I'm a little nervous."
"Well, it's normal..."
I sat down next to her, on the bed, being again very close to her.
"Thank you for coming over. It means a lot to me that you're supporting me," she spoke to me in a sweet tone.
"Of course I was going to come. I promised you. And I also promised you that I was going to take care of you forever."
I tried to be as affectionate as possible with her, and it seemed to be having an effect. Although it wasn't much different than what I would have said to her either, anyway.
"You're a fool, Leo."
"I know,” I said foolishly, “Besides... do you have your penguin keychain?"
"Huh? Yes, in my bag," she said as she pointed to her stuff near the wall to my right.
"Good...then I'll be right here with you. Even if I'm not in the room."
Clara let out a small giggle, as she looked down dumbly.
She then glanced at me again, entertained, wanting to say again something deep.
"You know, I've never been able to properly apologize for the accident."
"Huh? No, no, I told you it was both of our faults," I replied quizzical about a subject we had already discussed so many times.
"I don't think so. That morning...”
Clara began to recall a scene in her head.
"An artificial heart?" my mother asked into the phone.
"Yes. Corskie-Braun has just proposed that solution. It's never been tried before, and they want her to be the first to receive it."
"But... isn't that crazy, Doctor," asked my father.
I, who was supposed to be sleeping, listened to this conversation from inside my room. In the living room, Eduardo's telephone response was heard over the loudspeaker.
"It's possibly the only solution we have. I'll tell her when he comes in the morning."
I remembered how I was shocked in terror, and tried to quiet my crying with my hands. I cried for several hours, alone... just the way I used to feel so many times. And, after a long while, something crossed my mind.
"Stop it... I don't want this anymore!"
I put on my incognito jacket, which was hidden in between the rest of my clothes, and ran out. My parents were no longer in the house because of work, so I didn't have to worry about that. I grabbed my pink bike from the parking lot, and sped off down the street.
"I don't want this, I don't want this anymore!"
I just wanted to run away from everything, but I still had to go at a slow pace if I didn't want any more of my heart complications. So, I rode the few blocks to the park, and started to believe I could go a little faster. And then a little more. And then some more.
"Haha, this is fun," I said smiling, a little relieved, "I want to keep going-"
"Ah! Watch out!"
I felt the hard impact and fell to the floor before I could even react. I was banged up, and worse of all, was starting to feel something again...
"Stop it..." I said in a somewhat breathless voice.
Boom. Boom... Boom.
"Stop it, please. I don't want to live like this anymore. Stop it..."
I felt anger, fury, dismay... I felt that I didn't want to exist anymore. And in the midst of this tide of feelings...
"Hey... are you-"
"Do you understand now? I knew it was my fault, but I was just very angry then. That's why I reacted like that. But then talking to you...” her eyes were starting to glow as she remembered what happened next, “… I started to feel good again. I was able to calm down, and I felt so much peace. And while I heard every nice thing you said... I saw a beautiful sparkle in your eyes. I'm so sorry, it was my fault."
A feeling of anguish had built up in my chest because of what Clara had told me. But this was not the time for that. I decided to express the happiness I received from hearing that, instead.
"I accept your apology, but I was also coming distracted. Besides... if I hadn't bumped into you, I would never have met the person I want to be with for the rest of my life. I'm sorry... and thank you."
Clara blushed her face at that quick response. Amused, she took my left hand between hers, laughing.
"You fool. My life won't be enough to repay you for everything you did for me. And I'm not just talking about the money”
Clara had always been a really grateful person, as she always was thanking every detail someone had with her. But… she meant something much more important this time. Her blue, now bright eyes were showing so.
“Really, I can't thank you enough. Thank you for making me not afraid anymore. Thank you for making me enjoy life a little bit more. I love you. I'm going to love you forever, even in my last second, with my last heartbeat."
They were very profound words. When I thought I understood what was happening to her, again I couldn't imagine all the pain Clara went through for her to say something like that. It made me so happy that she would say that to me... and at the same time sad. And that last sentence sounded so horrible. I didn't want to think about it.
‘With my last heartbeat’. No offense to her, but that sounded horrible. It sounded like she would die, although the metaphor was actually true. But if that was to be true… if she would have a last heartbeat… then…
"Okay, but... only if you love me too with your first heartbeat. Okay?"
… then there had to be a first one. The first of the new stage of her life. After listening to this, Clara quickly smiled, letting go of the worry.
It was at that moment that I heard the door open. Talos had entered the room.
"This... I'm sorry, but we have to prepare for the transfer," he told me.
"It's okay," I said before looking at Clara one last time, "Well... I guess that's it. I'll see you later, okay?"
"Okay. See you."
"See you. And... I love you, Clara."
I felt her grip tighten a little at hearing that. None of us did actually want to let go.
"Me too, Leo."
I stood up and started to walk out of the room. Talos opened the door for me, and before I left, I slowed down.
"Please hold this during the operation," I said.
In my hand I held that keychain I had gotten at the aquarium when I was with Clara. That penguin with the white ribbon on its fin was my way of standing next to her in the operating room.
"Alright," Talos said as he put it in the pocket of his gown.
"Thank you. And... I know you're going to do great, Eduardo," I said before walking out the door.
Talos looked at me in surprise as I left. As if sensing his nerves disappearing, he perked up.
"Thank you, Leo... thank you for everything," he said before closing...
...now let me take care of her," I finished telling Leo.
We prepared everything we needed to make the transfer, and when she was ready, I went to her side.
"Are you ready," I asked Clarita.
"Yes. Let's go," she said very calmly, as bright as the sun.
I escorted her out of the room and into the operating room. When we got there, there was still no one inside.
"Alright. Undress, lie down on the gurney and cover yourself with this," I said reaching for the drapes that were later to be used in the operation.
I let Clara take off her clothes and lay down on the gurney, while I looked away. It wouldn't have been weird at all to see her like that, since I had known her since she was little and did it regularly anyway, but it's always better to give people privacy. Even if I was about to see all of her body, anyways. Meanwhile, I felt someone banging on the metal doors. I quickly opened them.
"Oh, come in, please."
Clara had already covered herself with the fields when about ten people entered. They were doctors, half of whom were colleagues of mine and half complete strangers.
"Clara, these are the doctors who are going to operate on you. These five are from the hospital, you probably know them. And the five of them are sent by the lab from abroad. I'm going to be conducting the operation alongside them."
They all gave a little bow, as if they were introducing themselves silently.
"Nice to meet you, and thank you for coming. I'm counting on you," she told them sweetly, being typically grateful.
It was at that point that everyone began to set up the room, and a few minutes later, everything was ready. The doctors had changed clothes and were in position to begin.
"Okay, Clara. I'm going to put you under anesthesia, okay?"
I could tell Clara was looking a little disoriented as some doctors brought in a cooling unit on a gurney. There it was, the device that could change her life. However, she looked frightened.
"Clara?", I asked her to come to her senses. She looked at me quickly.
"Yes. That's fine," she said smiling all the same.
I gently placed the mask that would supply the gas on her, and as I finished, I felt her grab my arm, with her hand shaking a little.
"Edu... thank you for taking such good care of me all these years. I'm glad to know I had you by my side for so long," Clarita was telling me with her eyes shining through the mask.
"Hey, hey. You're going to have to tell me that when you wake up, okay?"
I wanted to transmit to her that exact message: that she was going to wake up.
"Okay. Rest up, Clara."
I moved the valve on the tank and the gas started coming in through the mask. Throughout this process, Clara kept looking at me, still smiling. Many things were reflected in those little eyes at that moment. All the times we had cried together, all the times we had laughed together... also the joys and difficulties we had had. I remembered all the times we had been in that same room, to always return to the same place. But today would be the last. It had to be. I could see that hope in Clara's eyes, which were closing more and more, until she became unconscious.
"Anesthesia applied," I said, "We can begin."
The doctors got ready, and I took the opportunity to look inside the cooling unit. There was the heart, which on the outside looked as human as mine, but inside it was artificial. That... was what could save so many lives now and in the future.
"Please... work correctly for her," I said before closing the lid.
The operation was supposed to take about five hours, which I was going to patiently wait with Clara's parents. From the beginning, that hallway remained completely silent. Every now and then, her parents would say something or other, but nothing more. I drank my mate, which I had brought to wait outside, while I shared it with both of them. It was a few hours later, already in the afternoon, that Sofia, Hikaru and Jairo came to keep us company, taking the day off from the cafeteria. They brought cards, so we played a round, while noticing that Armando and Matilde were very tense.
"Do you want to play," I asked them.
They agreed, and we played for a while among the six of us. Sometimes truco, sometimes blackjack, sometimes something else, always while sipping mate and telling some jokes. We all felt relieved and distracted, while laughing a little, despite being deeply worried. Worry that was to increase when we realized that it had already been seven hours since the operation had started.
"It's been two hours more already, hasn't it," Sofia asked, leaning back in her seat wearily.
"Yes. What's going on," Hikaru said quietly.
Another hour passed, and Clara's parents were beginning to worry even more. No one had any news, and the iron gate seemed impenetrable. Meanwhile, we were lost in our own thoughts.
"Do you think... something could have happened," Matilde was saying, almost in tears.
"It's all right... don't worry," Armando, her husband, tried to comfort her.
"Clarichi... you can't give up now... please," said Sofia looking at the door expectantly.
"Clara... you can do it, Clara," said Hikaru.
"Clari... you promised I was going to see you again. Please... come back to us," I said to myself.
It may have been a few minutes, or possibly it was a whole hour after that. I wasn't concentrating on anything but thinking about her, so I don't know how much longer it was before the metal doors opened.
We all looked quickly to the front. Many doctors, especially foreigners, started to come out, while looking at us very seriously, as if they were robots. The hospital doctors also did the same. As we watched them pass by, we couldn't understand anything. Finally, last, Eduardo came out, and we all rushed towards him.
"What happened to Clara," Armando asked sharply.
We didn't realize it, but our hands formed a perfect bridge between us all. Matilde with Armando. Armando with me. Me with Sofia. Sofia with Hikaru. Hikaru with Jairo. We were all united, waiting for the best or worst news of our lives. However, Talos was expressionless, out of surprise for our reaction. Probably because he tried to stay calm, which would have been for the best. It was an eternity what seemed to be going on, until Talos decided to speak.