Haley wakes to pain. Actually, to clapping. “Happy” is this month’s ringtone. It pulls her from a fitful nap. Glowing red knives pierce the space between her ears when she moves her eyeballs.
Sunlight peeks around the edges of the shades in the dark dorm room. The windows are closed, and it’s hot. Why does Jenny always shut the windows?
From her iPhone, happiness rings.
She gropes at the top of the desk, locates the solid rectangle, squints at the screen. It’s her mother. Again. She answers the call with her thumb.
“So I just got off with the people at the health center, and we’re all agreed that this would be easier if you’d sign the release papers. They won’t talk to me and they can’t talk to your doctors at home until you do.”
Haley doesn’t answer. Her thoughts take shape in molasses. She hears her mother, she understands, but her tongue feels thick. She wades thigh--deep through something dark and sticky in search of words.
“Haley, are you there?”
“Yeah. What time is it?” she manages. She doesn’t feel like opening her eyes again to check the phone and see for herself.
“Two o’clock. Were you sleeping?”
“Trying to.” She doesn’t attempt to hide the annoyance in her voice.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know when is the right time to call. But this is important.”
“I told you I would do it, okay? It’ll happen.”
“Haley.” The patient tone. Which is not patient at all, but just short of anger. What a relief, if she’d just yell. “This is serious. Your treatment team at school can’t—”
“Treatment team.” Haley repeats the words like she’s tasting them. Trying to decide if she likes or even recognizes the flavor.
“The doctors who are monitoring you,” her mother says.
Haley mulls this over. Considers this disconnect between the image her mother must have of a state--of--the--art medical facility and the shabby reality of the MacCallum College health center. She’d managed to drag herself over there this morning: Coach’s orders. Sat in an excruciatingly bright room and answered questions from a friendly nurse who took her temperature and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her arm. Talked to a bald doc who confirmed—surprise, surprise—that she’d suffered a concussion when she and the middie from Jefferson College both went up for that header at Saturday’s game.
Stars. A glorious explosion of fireworks as her brain banged against the side of her skull. She actually remembers the impact, unlike her two previous concussions, when she’d blacked out and had to be told afterward what had happened.
On the grass, a familiar helmet of pain encasing her head, she heard whistles, calls for a knee--down. No no no. Still three weeks left of the regular season. No no no . . .
Funny how that was her first thought. Not paralysis or permanent impairment, but play time. How long she’d sit the bench.
“You know, Mom, I sort of decided sleep was more important than hauling my ass back across campus so you can know what my blood pressure is.”
“What sort of an answer is that? This isn’t about me or what I do or I don’t know! It’s about the health center having access to your medical records back home and the doctors being allowed to speak to one another. I can’t give them the go--ahead! You’re eighteen and considered an adult, and you have to sign the release of records forms.”
Her mother’s voice, an irritant on a good day, is an instrument of pure torture at this moment. Haley suspects that if she doesn’t end the call soon, her head will literally explode.
“Mom. It’s my third concussion. We know the drill.” No reading, no computers, no television. No soccer. Especially no soccer.
“Now, you see, that’s the problem. Your third concussion—says who? The emergency room doc at that Podunk hospital where your coach dragged you? Haley, these people are trained to stitch up drunks on a Saturday night. Did anyone give you an impact test?”
Oh god oh god make it end. Haley considers turning off the phone. For days. Although that would most likely prompt an actual visit from her mother.
“She said . . . No. No, they didn’t do an impact test. They didn’t need to. She said I was pretty typical. And the guy at health services just asked a few questions, then told me to go to bed.” Haley hears her mother sigh impatiently. This is not the answer she wants.
“Without an impact test, how can they possibly monitor your progress?”
Not a real question. Rhetorical. And not at all what her mother’s really thinking. How can they know when you’ll be ready to play again? Haley fills in for her.