My Buddy Andrew - Part 4
By Joe & Andrew on AOL

I'm going to step back a bit. The "Typical Days" portion of Part 3 was written in July '98. I included it where I did because I wanted you to see up-front what it's about to stand by someone you love. "Typical Days" is just that - each day looking the same as the previous, except in shades of gray. With Joe in the hospital and in the coma, there is nothing physically for me to do. Everything I can do has to say "I'm right here, Joe". That doesn't mean I'm out playing basketball every day, riding my bike, working a full day, going out with friends to the movies or for dinner, going to Philly or Baltimore or DC for the weekend, or even going home at night to sleep. "I'm right here, Joe" means I am bodily right beside him. I hold his hand during the day and I sleep beside him in his bed at night. When I'm away, it's for 4 hours at work along with two hours of going home to change, driving to work, driving home again to change and driving back to the hospital. When I'm away it's a half hour of walking outside in fresh air, looking at the sun or the moon and stars for Joe, so I can tell him what they look like, or walking in the rain so I can tell him what it feels like. "I'm right here Joe" is 18 hours a day of Joe being a priority over me.

Much happened between the night of Joe's accident and the July ramblings. One reader asked me about anger, wondering why I didn't seem to show that I have any. He wondered if it's too destructive to show. I'm the "Mr. Rogers" of the real world. The Andrew you have met is a mellow man who is not going to die of a heart attack induced by stress at 55. I turn things inward and reason them through even if it takes days to do so. Joe and I don't just share our work and our love -- we share our thoughts and our feelings. We know what is on each other's minds all the time. We've never had a fight in the nine years we've known each other. There are no quick tempers or outbursts that blow through like a tornado. Joe says I don't know how to get angry without getting hurt, physically.

Anger 101 is about to begin - at least my style of anger. By the way, my response back to him was that I'd surely traumatize the Nifty readership if I wrote what I felt -- hold on to your hats folks; we're in for a bumpy ride.

This begins late afternoon Monday on the 30th of March, two days after the accident. Joe was having a great deal of difficulty with internal bleeding. During the late morning, while I was at work, Joe was airlifted to Philly because the hospital's trauma team was in over their heads. Joe's blood pressure fell to near non-existence. Vital signs were all over the scale. He was going to die if they did not act quickly. By helicopter, Philly was 30-40 minutes away.

I arrived at the hospital to find him gone. My heart immediately crawled its way into my throat and lodged there, choking off all sense of understanding. Margie was around the hospital but not the local area due to an emergency. She should have been home because she normally worked 11:00 to 7:00. She had decided to work a double today to help Joe. Joyce and Carrie were with other patients but I finally found Carrie as I ran frantically around looking for someone to tell me where Joe was.

"Nobody called me to tell me. My work number is at the nurse's station and you know I'm not here from 7:00 to 1:00. I want to be here for Joe and nobody's cooperating. This shouldn't be a surprise to me, dammit! I should have known this morning. I could be in Philly by now."

"Andrew, relax, you can't do anything for him."

"I can be WITH him for Christ's sake! The first thing I learned from his brother and Chris' brother was that Joe did better when he could be brought to realize that someone was with him 24 fucking hours a day. I'm away for only 6 fucking hours a day and all I want is to know that Joe's in distress and where the hell he is so I can help. I can't do a goddamn thing but hold his hand and talk to him. I feel useless because I can't possibly be doing enough, but will you at least let me do what I think is right?! I already fought once this morning and now I have to raise hell again?"

"Andrew, please stop yelling. He's gone to Philly. You couldn't have gone with him. Please go home and take care of yourself . . ."

"I don't matter here. Joe is going to get most of my attention for as long as he has to be here. I'm capable of driving into the city to meet him. I want him to know that someone he knows is with him, in some fashion, for every limiting semi-conscious moment he has. I don't know that he hears me or feels me, but I got to hope! Can't you all understand that I love him! Do you hear me? I LOVE HIM! I care for him very deeply! Nobody on Earth means more to me than he does. He's not going to die alone in this God-forsaken, cold, sterile place and he's not going to go it alone out there either."

As I raised my hand to point toward the sky, somewhere out there, I accidentally put my hand through a small glassed divider. I pulled it back to me immediately, full of cuts and small pieces of glass. Carrie stepped toward me. I pointed at her with my right hand and screamed at the top of my lungs. Some maniac had overtaken my mind and body, creating havoc.

"Back off! You don't care enough about me to help me with Joe, then you don't care enough about me period! I'll take care of myself! It's on your head now. The administrator is getting an earful when we get back here. This shit ends now!"

I choked on my words. I hate being cruel because it's not in my nature. But if I was going to be isolated from the goings on in this hospital, then they weren't going to take care of my injuries either.

By now I'd drawn a considerable crowd. I turned on my heels and ran for the lobby. I had to get into Philly. It would take me over an hour, closer to ninety minutes to drive in. I didn't even know where he was taken. But I'd find out and I'd be with him. God, please help these people let me do what I want to. They've never had a personal stake in anything like this. They're nurses and doctors and techs but not one of them knows how this is ripping out my heart. I had tears streaming down my face. My hand was throbbing and I was dripping blood. People on the way into the hospital stared openly at me as I ran like the wind.

There were constant traffic jams and minor accidents to get around. My trip would be almost three hours. I felt like I could get out of my car and run into to city faster than I could creep along on the turnpike.

I had been to Philly a million times but had driven very few of them. Train service to the city was quite good when we wanted to go to play for a day or for a long weekend. I'd been doing that since I was a child. Joe taught me to appreciate trains again. I got off at 30th Street, near the Amtrak station. I ran from block to block looking for a payphone with a yellow pages directory. I found one and thumbed to the 'hospitals' section, looked around quickly, and ripped out a handful of pages. I sat in my car long enough to get my bearings.

Traffic eventually frustrated me enough that I parked just outside of Center City and started out on foot. I was not doing much better on foot though. I couldn't seem to get my bearings. I didn't know East from West, North from South, or my ass from my elbow. I sat down and cried in frustration. I couldn't think. My brain got sucked out somewhere along the way today and I had no guidance. My hand was swollen and throbbed half way up to my elbow. The towel I had taken out of my gym bag was soaked through, no longer a bright white. My head ached and I was dizzy, with a steady ringing in my ears. Great! Joe's dying in some fucking trauma unit and I'm bleeding to death through my hand.

"Come on, Andrew. Think. How are you going to find Joe when you don't know how to take care of yourself? Think! You need an emergency room yourself. You're going to bleed out and that's not going to help him. He'll have to go it alone."

I went into a CoreStates Bank building and started calling information at the major trauma units. Bingo. I found him on the 4th call. My car was at least a couple miles away. I didn't know how to get there through the city blocks anyway. I could get close to it on the SEPTA subway system.

God, my heart was beating a million beats a minute. I put my hand inside my jacket so I wouldn't get arrested to committing some bloody crime that I had no part of. The journey was long because it took minutes, not the seconds that I wanted it to take. I watched each stop along the rapid transit line to make sure I didn't miss mine. I raced out of the train, up the endless array of stairs and out into the night. There was a confusing array of campus buildings. Had I been a student here I would know them well. I ran from one area to the next, looking for signs and maps to help me.

It was too many hours from the beginning of this journey to find my Joe. Had he survived the flight okay? What specifically was the surgery for? I was too busy yelling at Carrie to find out. It must have been his leg. His left leg had been crushed so badly and the local hospital couldn't help. Getting to the trauma center held no guarantee I would find my Joe. Indeed, it was two more hours of searching before I found anyone willing to tell me anything. In my right mind I should have been able to do all this in about two hours. I left my right mind at home today.

'Are you family, are you family, are you family ...' echoed through my head. I was sick of the question. Who the fuck cares if I'm family, I'm someone who cares for the man I'm asking for! Why isn't that good enough? Damn you stupid people. I don't need this. Just tell me what the hell is happening to my buddy so I can sit down and let someone take care of my hand before my whole fucking arm has to be amputated!

I wanted to be the President of the United States and I wanted to make it a personal crusade to stop the idiocy that happened in this country day to day. If you were asked a question and did not give a direct answer of either 'I'm sorry I can't help you' or a resolution to my problem, I would personally kick you in the ass and send you to the Idiot's Jailhouse for 24 hours. Trust me, I would make one hell of a President and the rest of the world would model their presidents and heads of state after me.

At 11:30 I was getting stitches in my fingers and hand. I got 18. The doctor doing the stitching listened to me as I told my tale of extreme frustration. He bandaged my hand and looked at me with eyes that said 'but of course I'll help you find Joe. Why wouldn't you expect someone to take pity on you and let you be with your buddy?'

Joe was still in surgery. The day's tally of surgical hours, when it was all said and done, would be 17 hours. The damage was extensive. There were great debates about whether the leg could be saved, about amputation, and about the usefulness of it if they did repair it. Seventeen hours seemed like seventeen hundred.

Inside I loathed the nurses and the doctors at the local hospital. They had kept me away from here and made me become stupid in my search for Joe. They had thought they knew better, that I would just go merrily on home and let my life go on. Well they were going to get a lesson in humanity because they were going to learn that nothing was going to keep me from doing what I thought Joe needed. I didn't know shit, but I knew that Joe should feel someone with a heart close by through his day. And I swear to God the next person who says 'Are you family?' when Joe needs me is going to get punched in the face.

I waited as close by the surgical suite as I could get without being thrown out. I inched forward, like a little boy testing his mother's patience. Giving these nurses and doctors "The Face" wasn't going to work here; that only worked on Joe. I waited.

I slept, by some miracle.

Joe was returned to our local hospital. I drove home and sat at his bedside two hours later. My heartbeat was normal. His was a bit better. Someone stood behind me as I sat in the chair, facing away from the door. She touched my cheek gently and then massaged (smiling at Lynn who says Joe and I both spell this wrong -- at least we're consistent) my shoulders. She did not speak for a few moments.

"We let you down, Andrew."

I thought about how I was going to respond. The anger had died as quickly as it had been born. I did not hold grudges. I did not go and yell at the hospital administrator and demand restitution for my own trauma. I did not say any more than I truly believed at this moment. I answered simply, but without misunderstanding.


"I'm sorry. It should not have happened this way. It won't happen this way ever again, to you or to anyone else. I promise you, Andrew, with all my heart."

"You are still an angel. And my hero. I love you for caring. Can you teach the rest of the world to be like you."

"Yes. One person at a time. With your help, my boy."

"I'll help. Count on it."

"Andrew? I love you for your heart. You must have had an awful 24 hours."

I told her everything.

"Never again, my boy. Never again will you or anyone else be subjected to such emotional torture. Come on, climb into bed beside your buddy and tell him you love him, so he knows."

I did.

Two weeks after his surgery in Philly, he had a second scheduled surgery on his leg again. He was in the operating suite for 24 1/2 hours. Joe's sister took the day off from work and spent 12 hours with me. She turns into a mother when the tension is getting to her. Their mom died in February 1991. It was a hard time on Joe because he'd been adjusting to the idea of having cancer. He loved her dearly and misses her. I have also been talking, mostly via E-mail, with Joe's brother and with Rob, who lived outside of Boston. Rob was on a business trip to Seattle this week. He's antsy and is checking for E-mail a couple dozen times a day. He's finally getting to assume that 'no news is good news' but I still try to give him encouraging news without lying.

Joe's sister and I talked about his family. We get along very well and I have become very fond of his brother and both sisters. They treat me extremely well. I get a card for my birthday every year from all three. Joe and I each get holiday cards regularly. I think that having Chris in his life just made it easier for them to accept me. Joe and I still don't open ourselves to them - we don't hold hands in public, we don't present ourselves as a couple. We still feel very private about our life. (Except to "strangers" like the readers in the Nifty Archive, as I told a reader today in E-mail).

Joe lies motionless. His heart monitor tells a story of arrhythmia, his heart trying to maintain a steady beat. It has yet to do so.

My routine is the only thing steady for now. The nurses said that I am not taking good care of myself. They said that if I am going to be with Joe, I should not deprive myself of basic needs. Sleep is the most obvious. On Sunday nights I go back to Joe's place around midnight. I get up at 7:00 and get to the office by 8:30. I work four hours and then go home to change again and then go back to the hospital. Eventually I pack my gym bag and change at the hospital instead of wasting time at home. For the rest of the week, I stay with Joe each morning until 7:00 a.m. I go home to shower and dress for work. I work 8:30 to 12:30 and get back to the hospital by 1:00.

My weight is down 14 pounds between when Joe was hurt and the end of April. I've had a long bout with bronchitis that started from a basic cold. I choke half the time I try to eat anything. I couldn't care less about eating. The nurses bring me munchies, or pack me a sandwich when they are putting up their own lunches. For Easter there was a plate from home. I sat at 3:00 when Mim and Beth came in and ate a normal meal for the first time in two weeks.

Joe should be incredibly sad, but he's not. I still have much to learn from him, because sometimes my sadness is overwhelming. It can't even compare to what Joe felt when Chris died. But I've never known anyone who died, not so tragically, not the way Joe and Chris loved anyway.

Joe has lost none of his outlook on life, even though I have. I have extreme frustration and hatred for two young men who thought that racing each other on a state highway after midnight was a great idea. Some day I will feel nothing at all for them because they will no longer be worthy of my attention. I can't hate for long because it's not me. But for now, while I can hold on to the hatred, I do. What they did to my Joe after someone did it once already breaks my heart. I have no choice but to wonder about God.

Joe's left leg was crushed. It has, so far, taken over 40 hours to repair the damage. The doctor says he will need more surgery on his leg. For a few hours, it looked like he would lose it.

His left hand and four fingers are broken, as are four ribs and his collarbone. His left arm is broken in three places. His shoulder is dislocated, as is his hip, all for a second time. He has had bouts with fevers hitting 105. No one gave high hopes that he would live more than a few days. He slips into coma and stays for months.

And what I hate most of all is that, despite an air bag, his face has deep cuts and bruises. The facial cuts will probably leave some scars. His lips are only now beginning to return from the deep purple swelling. I've had many hours when I have been near him, talking to him, holding his hand, and holding him when I could. I know I will have many more. I sit beside him because I love him with all my heart. I hold his hand, stroke it, and kiss it, drawing him to me so he has no doubt that I am here. Sometimes I sit and stare at him so hard. All I think about is him walking with me, holding my hand, and enjoying our love.

Note: I'm going to try adding color in the following section. It will be used to denote a flashback. A flashback could be an hour, day, week, months ... whatever. One reason for doing this in HTML vs. plain text is to use fonts and color to make it more pleasant to read. Please let me know if you like this (or can even see this since I don't know how it'll appear to a Macintosh) or think it's stupid. I'm inclined to use Internet Explorer on the PC for 90% of my online browsing. I also print our stories on a color HP Deskjet at home.

It's Sunday night/Monday morning, a month after the accident. I get home about 12:30 a.m. I am surprised to find my dick hard as a rock, pressing against my blue jeans. I reach inside my jeans and fondle it, just enough to appease it so it'll go away. I've jacked off only a couple times over the past month, mostly due to lack of opportunity. But the hard-on does not go away. My balls tingle. I'm on fire and it's going to take more than just a cold shower to make me satisfied.

I go into Joe's room, turn the three-way bulb on to the lowest setting, and slip my sneakers off. I pull my T-shirt off but I leave my jeans on. They are an older pair, nicely worn and therefore softened to just the right feel. I lie down on his bed. I undo the top button and slide the zipper down, opening them wide and taking my cock and my balls out. My hand slides up and down my cut shaft as I close my eyes.

"Andrew, I can't believe how good this snow is. The typical snow changing to sleet and freezing rain didn't happen this time. I wish it was always this good."

"Cross-country skiing around here is a challenge at times, not like up in New England. This is the good stuff though isn't it? I could ski all year on stuff like this."

"Hey, let's go and find a private place."

"Whaaat? Again? We just did it two hours ago."

"I can't help it. You make me hard. Look."

He turned toward me with his jeans poking out in front of him. I reached down and touched him through the denim. I kissed him as I played with him. I was about to slip my hand inside his jeans.

"No man, not yet. We'll be seen here. Come on, let's head for the trees down in the meadow."

We kept stride with each other as we went from the top of rolling farm hills near Joe's place to a stand of trees and shrubs about half a mile away. I stood and faced him, putting my skis on either side of his as I slid up against his body. I put my arms around him as he reached around me and drew him close. We kissed and I slipped my tongue between his lips. I bit his lower lip gently, tracing the outline with my tongue. We kissed with just our lips and then he moved down and kissed my throat. I dropped my head back as he licked my Adam's Apple with his lips and tongue.

"You like that, don't you?"

"How can you tell, Joe?"

"I think this gives it away, my friend. Here, it's cold out here, so put it inside my jeans."

Joe unzipped his jeans and opened the fly of his thermal longjohns. I slipped my dick into the warmth of them and pressed against him. His was hard too as it pressed against mine. It seemed that our cocks hugged while Joe and I hugged. We kissed for long moments. I reached down and cupped his butt cheeks into my hands. He slid his hands under my undershirt and tweaked my nipples. Then he reached around and stroked my back.

"Jeez Andrew, your back muscles just keep getting better. Feel that?"

Joe ran his hands over the ripples in my back. I had been working out on my upper body at the gym. Even I didn't realize that progress was so good.

"If you're going to keep touching me like that Joe, I'm going to keep working out. You know I'm not looking to bulk up, but I sure do like the way my muscles feel when you touch me.

"I think you like the way I touch you, period."

"Oh yeah. Touch my heart, Joe, and I'll love you forever."

"Andrew. You say the greatest things to my own heart. It'll listen to you every time."

Joe moved his tongue around in my mouth, doing a slow dance with my own. I broke our embrace to take my skis off.

"While you're down there ..."

"Joe, you gonna pull my trick on me?"

"Well, I was gonna just ask you to undo my bindings too, but since you offered, yeah. Suck me Andrew. Suck me and make me shoot lots of cum for you."

He pulled his cock out of his longjohns and jeans. It pointed at the sky. I pulled it down and let it go. It immediately sprang back up.

"Damn Joe, you're incredible. It wasn't this hard earlier this morning. You blaming that on me?"

"Yeah. You turn me on, bud."

I put just the head between my lips and licked it with my tongue. I ran my tongue down the shaft to his balls, which had retracted big time against the cold. I teased him that his balls had gone south for the winter while I continued to lick his dick. I swallowed his length and wagged my tongue down at the base, circling around on each side of his shaft. I didn't want to get it too wet because he'd get cold in the chill air. I kept as much of it in my mouth as I could, sliding down on it about 3/4 and running my tongue all around. Joe knew I could suck him all day. It felt good to have him in my mouth. I went back to just the head and gave it a thorough workout. As I went back down his shaft, his salty spray shot out and hit the back of my throat. I pulled out so that I could taste what was left before I lost it. I moved it around in my mouth and then swallowed. I knew I couldn't survive on his cum alone, but it was better than most anything I had for dessert. I tucked his dick back inside his thermals, putting his jeans back in order.

"You sated for now man?"

"Yeah. You make me hard, make me cum lots, and then make me feel good and relieved. I'll be good until bedtime."

"Joe! You horny bastard."


He reached into my jeans and tugged on my dick. It was fully hard in moments.

"What's your pleasure, man?" he asked me.

"Your butt, dude. I want to be inside you."

He turned around and put his hands against a large rock. He spread his legs wider. I reached around him and undid his jeans again while I kissed his neck. I nibbled on his ear lobe and moved my tongue into his ear canal, flicking lightly all around. He said I was good at doing it without making him too ticklish. His ears were really sensitive and it took me a long time to lick them softly without tickling and making him pull away until they stopped.

I found his hole and pushed deep inside of him, using my spit to lube my cock. He was so warm and still so tight. I pulled out about half way and slid back down. Then 3/4 out and back down, and then to the head and all the way back down. I fucked him while holding both arms tightly around his chest, kissing his neck the whole time. I reached under his thermal T-shirt and tweaked both his nipples while I bent back and continued to hump his butt. Man, no way was I going to last long today. He was too hot and the air was so cold. The quick temperature change on my exposed cock drove me over the edge in a few minutes. I shot my load into his tight asshole, pulling him almost upright as I let it fly. I held on to him as I bucked my hips, gasping for air. I let my cock slide out and quickly put myself back together while he pulled his jeans up.

He turned around and we kissed for a few minutes more. I tingled all through my crotch.

"Damn, Joe! You just made me want more. How can I want more when I just blew a big load up your ass?"

"Andrew! You horny bastard," he said with a wide grin.

I opened my eyes and raised my head. I came on my flat stomach, shooting out spurts of thick juice. I felt the shiver take over my whole body as I continued to stroke my dick. I hadn't been so hard or come so much in too many weeks. I ran my fingers into the gobs of cream and brought them up to my mouth. In a few minutes I had eaten my load, leaving a slight dampness on my stomach. I rolled onto my side and fell asleep, thinking about my Joe.

I arrived at the hospital Monday afternoon as usual. It had been pouring down rain when I arrived so I was soaked. I went into the bathroom down the hall from ICU and changed from my shirt and tie into my T-shirt and jeans.

The nursing staff is only now beginning to fully accept me. Margie was on my side but when she wasn't at work, there were looks from staff that I didn't understand. I've been here with Joe every day for four weeks. I've sat outside of surgery waiting for word of how he was. I went for walks when the nurses needed to attend to Joe. I stayed out of their way. How was I going to get it through to them that I was here for Joe, not to be in their way. As long as they saw me as 'in the way' all the time, I wasn't going to win any friends here. I wasn't the enemy here, Joe's injuries were.

But still there have been many fights. In my anxiety about Joe, why couldn't they understand someone who is a buddy should be with him? Hospital staff alone are not going to see him through.

A fever kept me away from Joe one night during the middle of the week. I was flushed when I got to the ICU that afternoon, so the nurse said she wanted to take my temp. Any contagious infection at this point would be deadly to Joe. She found my temp to be 101 and sent me home directly.

I went to my doctor the next day to find out what it was. It was from an ear infection, not from anything that I could pass on to Joe. I was challenged immediately when I entered the ICU. The nurse didn't say 'I hope you're better Andrew, are you okay?' She immediately told me that I couldn't be here with a fever.

"Yes I know that. I got sent home last night because of it. I have an ear infection and I can't pass it to Joe. You want to call my doctor?"

She thought about it for a moment.

"Yes, I do."

Go ahead, honey, I thought to myself. You think you're going to get me kicked out of here again, that I haven't even been to my doctor.

"Do it."

I know she called my doctor's office because I stood in the doorway and watched her. Being an employee of the hospital, she probably got more of an answer than Job Blow calling the office would have. She was on the phone just short of five minutes. I looked at her and she turned away from me. I didn't hear any more after that.

I sat beside Joe and talked to him with my right hand on his chest. I held his hand with my left hand. I shared news of the day, what was going on at work, and told him again that I loved him.

Joe's duty nurse heard me. Her name is Mim. She is partnered with Beth during the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. Stacey and Betty are Joe's nurses from 11:00 to 7:00. Mim is my second favorite. She talks to me like I'm a human.

"I wish Joyce would ease up on me. She hates me, Mim. Why? Do you know why she thinks I'm the bad guy?"

"Yes Andrew, I do know why. She thinks she should be the 'hero' and be responsible for Joe being well. It's obvious to us, though not in a negative way, that you and Joe are very special. You're beyond friends, but you're not lovers either. I'm trying to figure you out ..."

"By asking questions, Mim. By sharing. I'll talk as much as you or any of the nurses want. But you don't feel threatened by me?"

"No. And Joyce isn't rightly so either, if she thought about it. Beth is the same way, though not quite as bad. You've felt that too, I'm sure. This is a place of teamwork, like Margie says. There isn't any one thing that is going to make Joe well. We all have to dig in and give him undivided attention. I bet he feels the tension too when certain nurses are around. Margie and I, and our husbands, are good friends outside of the hospital too. We talked about you at dinner over the weekend. Margie loves you dearly. She wants me to watch out for you too, if that's okay."

"Yes, very okay. The more allies I have the better. I'm not the bad guy that some of them see. I just want my Joe back. We've been the best of buddies for eight years, Mim. We've got a lot invested in a working business partnership and in a friendship that will see us through till the end of our lives if we are blessed enough."

"You are blessed, Andrew. You are so dedicated to your Joe. I'm jealous of that, to tell you the truth, because even my husband and I are not like you and Joe. Well, weren't, but I'm working on that. I've taken him for granted as we've gotten older. We're comfortable, maybe a little too comfortable. I took this relationship that you have with Joe as a wake-up call. I love my husband and he loves me, but it's not the old romantic love we had. I think that will change. I hear you telling Joe you love him. The words don't come from your mouth and throat, or even from your brain. They come from your heart."

"And the graveyard shift nurses? I like them both and I think they like me. I don't feel tension around them, but I wonder what they think."

"Ask them. Simple as that. Beth will be okay too. I'm going to let her do things more often for Joe so that you two can talk. She hasn't heard you say 'I love you' to Joe the way I have. She's such an old fogey for being such a young woman. Give it time, young man. You'll be fine. And if you have too much trouble, tell me. We'll work it out somehow."

Mim gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. I kissed her back lightly. She smiled at me as she left.

I did as Mim suggested. I talked to Stacey and Betty when they came on for their shift. I told them straight out what was on my mind because I'm not one to dance around something that bothers me.

"Can you both come in for a few minutes?"

They had already come in to check on Joe when they got here. It was now midnight. I had given them time to do their other duties so that we could talk without interruption, hopefully, for a few minutes.

"Honest answer, please. I ask the question because of things I see, but not from everyone. Joe was in the accident six weeks ago. I'm here, but am I okay to be?"

They looked at each other, and smiled. Stacey and Betty were like daughter and mother. Stacey was in her late 20's, Betty turning 50 soon.

"Andrew," said Stacey, "You're obviously suffering from 'Joyce-Syndrome'. We see who you are, and have heard what you say to Joe. Joe's going to live because of you, not because of us. Margie, Carrie, Mim, Beth, Betty, and me -- we have all talked over the past month. We've been sizing up Joyce too. She's a good nurse, but I know it's no surprise that she doesn't like you. She doesn't accept what she thinks you are. Among the other six of us, we think you are selfless and that you hurt very deeply, in some ways as much as Joe does."

Betty spoke, after she reached out for my hand.

"You have a quality, in here, in your heart, that we've never seen here. Family and friends come and go when a patient is here in the hospital. Most feel helpless to do anything, except sit for a while. Some sit and cry constantly when they're here in ICU. I wonder what that does to the patient? You have built a routine for Joe. He knows, I'm sure of it, that you are here from 1:00 each afternoon until 7:00 the next morning. He knows you read to him, talk to him, share inside jokes, encourage him, hope for him, and tell him what's right."

Betty put her hand on my cheek. With her thumb, she wiped away a tear that had welled up and spilled over. She hugged me and kissed my cheek.

"You're aces, Andrew. You're buddy is going to be here a long while. But he's not going to be here alone. I hope you can bring him through his pain. You've set yourself up quite a challenge. When you need help, or when you feel like you're fighting the wrong battles, talk to the rest of us. You've already taught me things that I never thought about. Thank you, dear heart, for your love."

Stacey came over and held on to me. She had a tear of her own. I took a Kleenex and dabbed it away, gently.

"Don't worry about Joyce, Andrew. As far as I'm concerned, you're the reason Joe lived the first night. After we saw him, neither Betty nor I thought he'd be here to take care of, at least not very long. Margie told us what you did that first Monday in Philly. Joyce said you were a damned fool to go chasing after Joe. I think Joyce is an idiot. None of us know if what you do helps. Only you do, somehow, or else you wouldn't be doing it. I wish you continued strength."

Both were in and out throughout the early morning hours checking Joe's vitals. I got OJ at 2:00 and again at 5:30. I got a donut and a cup of tea at 6:30. I don't ask for something unless I am asked if I want it. My idea is to take care of Joe first. I have not yet made a habit of getting something to eat at home to bring with me. But my appetite is poor and the desire to eat a meal is non-existent. Joe can't eat, or run a 5K, or walk outside, or even tell me he loves me. I don't even know if he knows who I am. There's only one way to find out.

No one knows yet when he can come home. Neither of us knows, for sure, what we will do when he does. We may take time away in New Hampshire, or we may stay here and enjoy being alone, asking others to give us our privacy so that we may enjoy the others company again. Will he ever walk again? If he can walk, can he run? Can he play basketball? What happens if he has brain damage? Too damn many questions without any answers. Whatever will be, will be. I'm scared.

Joe says to live in the moment, so I am trying to live in the moment. To live in anger and hatred is not a life. Neither is living in fear of losing him. So, I no longer am afraid. Right -- and Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny will live happily ever after. (So I'm not perfect ... being afraid keeps me honest).

I wonder, a lot, if he knows I'm here. He says he 'felt' his brother and Chris' brother with him through his first coma, at least toward the end of it. Does he know I'm here every day? He can't talk. He spends his days sleeping, or he slips into coma. That scares me a lot. If he slips far enough, he'll die won't he?

He's weary from a nearly three year battle with bone cancer. He was first diagnosed in late 1990. He had it for 16 months, until March 1992. Then it came back two months later, for three months, until late July 1992. It was gone until June 1995, but it has pounded his system heavily since then. He gets so sick from the chemo and radiation. I had spent all of that time, before the accident, holding his head and just trying to ease his pain. On the days he has chemo, I take him to the hospital and take him home. I stay over with him twice a week and then all weekend. He has fallen when his leg gives way on him. He took a nasty spill on the stairs going to the lobby of his building on night. He didn't break anything, but he sprained his wrist badly, trying to catch himself. He's cried out in pain when he's played basketball, but he won't give up on it. He's let me hold him for endless hours while he sleeps. He says it's selfish of him to let me do so, without holding me back. But he does hold me, where it counts.

Joe's optimistic about the cancer. He's beaten it before and will again. Theory, and research, has shown that it's possible the trauma of the first accident caused the bone cancer. It's taken me awhile, a long while, to accept it the way he does. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments are just one more routine to deal with. His strength is overwhelming, for the things he teaches me about life are lessons that I would not normally take to so easily. But because I love him and want to be with him, I listen and accept. When I have trouble accepting, I ask questions. Sometimes the answers are not good enough and I don't accept, not wholly and with my heart. I can accept, however, because it's something Joe believes. When you love the way we do, it's not impossible to think the unthinkable.

Is he like a cat with nine lives? Or is it 'three strikes you're out'? And he's had his third - an accident, cancer, and another accident. What happens next? When I can hold him again, I'm going to hold on to him forever. I ache so much because we're so close. I've not thought twice about holding his hand. The nurses say I should learn about caring for myself even half as much as I care for Joe. They hate my not sleeping, or not eating. I eat enough to get by because the nurses are like my mother or sisters and they make me eat something each day. Some days my nerves get the better of me and I cannot keep it down. I run for the men's room to throw up. Then I get a cup of weak hot tea and some toast or crackers, or broth. I don't fight it because I know that I am not the only one around here who cares for someone.

"Don't worry about all that. It will take care of itself," Joe would say.

I've dreamt steadily about what we will do when Joe comes home. At the moment, the next chapter is pure speculation, but I want all of it to happen.

To be continued ...