“Wernicke’s area is responsible for language comprehension-obviously not Victor’s problem- and Broca’s area is responsible for producing speech and articulation, which, more and more, is beginning to sound like Victor’s problem.”
“The left side of the brain is responsible for language, math and logic while the right side is responsible for spatial abilities, face recognition, visual imagery and music. So, damage to the right side of the brain has to be affecting Victor since he can’t recognize anybody but me.” Frustrated by having to draw her own conclusions when she depended on doctors to help her and draw the conclusions for her, so she could focus on what really mattered to her-Victor-and helping him heal, helping him get his life back, Nikki wrote a note and left it beside Victor in bed before quickly walking out of his room and to the cafeteria.
“Nikki, what’s wrong?”
“Casey, what are you doing here?” Nikki asked wearily.
“I’m on a break; I was coming to check on you. What happened? Is something wrong? Did something happen with Victor?”
“No, he was sleeping when I left.”She didn’t bother looking up at her sister as Casey sat in front of her.
“So, tell me what happened? You look like you’re about to fall apart.”
“Gee, thanks, I really needed to hear that.”
“I’m sorry; I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
“I know. I just had to get out of there, that’s all. I couldn’t stand being in that damn hospital room another minute! Casey, all I can do is read the research you gave me and wait and wait and wait! I can’t do a damn thing but wait and try to draw my own conclusions about something I have absolutely no experience with and wish I never had to deal with!”
Watching as Nikki’s fists clenched and unclenched, Casey’s heart broke for her sister as she moved around the table to sit beside her and wrap her arms around her.
“Thanks, I needed that.” Nikki said through her tears as she offered a tremulous smile and took a deep breath before releasing it slowly.
“Hey, why don’t we have some lunch before you head back into the trenches?” Casey offered helpfully.
“Okay, although I still don’t have much of an appetite.”
“Nikki, I know it’s hard, probably the hardest thing you’ve ever had to deal with, but you need to be patient. The doctors will come and see you as soon as they have something definitive. You need to eat; you need to keep your strength up, for lots of reasons.”
“I know. You and I both know how good I am at waiting.” Nikki quietly replied.
“Yeah, that’s something you can’t blame on Victor either! You’ve never been good at waiting, never been patient, ever since Mom brought you home from the hospital! You’re such a prima donna!”Casey teased her lightly.
At Nikki’s strained smile, Casey quickly said, “I’m sorry, bad joke.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s not your fault. I’ve just been thinking about the pregnancy and what’s going on with my baby girl and I can’t talk to anybody about it, well, I can’t talk to Victor. There’s just so much going on I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster with some madman at the switch and I can’t even anticipate what’s coming, much less figure out how to deal with it.”
With another sigh, Nikki rose and said, “I’d better get back. Victor will wonder where I am.”
“Okay, but call me if you need me.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah right, how many times have I heard that before?”
“Not going to happen, little sister, get used to it.”
Feeling a little better, Nikki walked out of the cafeteria and headed back to Victor’s room, grateful that, because of her sister, she had found the strength to deal with whatever would come next.
On the way back, Nikki decided to make a quick stop. As she entered the chapel, Nikki couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was since nobody else was there. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she walked up to the front where candles were set on a table and lit one. As she sat in one of the pews, she thought to herself, ‘I don’t even really know what I’m doing here except trying to find some way to hold on for my family’s sake.’
Trying to ignore the chills sliding along her skin and slipping into her bones little by little, she took a moment to collect her thoughts before beginning. “Thank you for sparing Victor. You know he means the world to me. Lord, I know I ask for a lot sometimes. But, you know what’s going on with my family right now. You know how much of a mess everything is. More and more, I’m afraid I’m losing my family. The tension between Nicholas and Victoria is reaching its breaking point, the situation with Victor’s plaguing me day and night, I’m terrified I’ll lose my husband and my daughter and I can’t do a thing about either! Not to mention what the situation with Gary and Jeff is doing to me! I don’t know how much more I can take.”
In his room, Victor lay in bed, still incredibly frustrated by what he saw as a total lack of progress in his current situation. Tormented by it, he could do nothing but toss and turn as he was thrust into another nightmare. He saw himself at home at the ranch. But it was different, much different. He was paralyzed, totally dependent on others for almost everything. Not even Nikki cared for him any longer.
In the chapel, Nikki sat and searched for the answers that still eluded her, praying for the strength to get through it all. “Victor’s terrified of what may happen, of not knowing what’s going on and not being able to control the situation, let alone the outcome. I’m trying to stay strong, for his sake as well as my children’s” she stopped a moment as she considered her unborn twins. “And I know he’s trying to stay strong for mine. But I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. I don’t know how much longer I can stay strong for everyone when I feel like my world’s crumbling down around me. How do I do it? I know I should be able to do it by now, I should know exactly what to do to make sure my family pulls through this, but I don’t, I just don’t.”
Still trapped in the confusing nightmare, Victor was helpless to do anything but toss and turn and hope that it would end soon. He saw himself in the wheelchair as Nikki hurriedly walked into and out of the living room carrying luggage. The more he tried to talk to her, to try and get some answers, make some sense of what was going on, the more she ignored him; it was as if she couldn’t hear him, as if he were invisible; a ghost in his own home. He froze, speechless as his heart stopped at the sight in front of him. There before him stood a tableau he never expected to see, never wanted to see.
In the chapel, Nikki wearily turned her attention to her daughter and her strange behaviour, trying valiantly to make some sense of it, trying with everything in her to find a way to help her. Tirelessly, she sought the answers that, as much as she didn’t want to admit it, eluded her. “Victoria’s trying to stay strong for me, she’s trying so hard to take care of me and not let me see how this is affecting her, but I can see it in her eyes, I can see it in her face. I just wish I knew how to get her to open up to me. It’s obvious from our last conversation that she’s angry with Victor over something, painfully obvious. It’s more than just the situation with Jeff and Gary, but I can’t figure out what. I just wish I knew; I wish I had a clue about what was going on. Then maybe I could stop all this craziness once and for all, or at least some of it.” Nikki amended, knowing she couldn’t fix everything, at least not right away.
In Victor’s room, his mind’s eye continued to torment him with an outrageous and terrifying scene. Wordlessly, he saw her put their two youngest in car seats before turning around and walking back upstairs, then returning with more bags. Chilling helplessness settled in him as he watched her prepare their two youngest children to leave and watched his life pass him by, watched it slip through his fingers.
Nikki said nothing as she walked upstairs and returned moments later with the last of the luggage.
Unable to take in what he was seeing, Victor finally snapped. “Nikki, what the hell is going on here? What do you think you’re doing? Where do you think you’re going with my children?”
“Your children?” Nikki repeated mockingly with a cold smirk.
“Yes my children! Where the hell do you think you’re going with them?”
“Wherever I damn well please!”
“What in God’s name are you talking about? Answer me damn it!” Victor bellowed.
“I’m leaving town.” She replied shortly, not bothering to look him in the eye.
“Leaving town?” Victor asked confused and hurt.
“That’s right! I’m leaving town today!”
“But why? Why now?” he asked, his voice barely audible as he fought the excruciating pain wrenching his heart, tearing through it until he thought he’d collapse where he sat.
“You really have to ask me that?” Nikki replied incredulously.
“Yes and I damn well want an answer!”
“Fine with me, darling!”
Unable to explain it, Victor fought against the sense of foreboding and naked fear that washed over him at that moment.
“I’m sick and tired of this!” Nikki began, making it clear she had no intension of sugar coating any of what she would say, no intention of sparing him the pain she knew she’d heap on him before walking out on him for the last time and destroying his life forever.
“Sick of what?” Victor asked confused.
“Sick of this whole thing! I’m sick of this life! Damn it Victor, all I do is play nursemaid to you and I’ve had it!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Three kids, I’m raising three kids and trying to take care of you, and I don’t get a damn thing from you, nothing! I don’t even get a thank you; I’m not the one who put you in that damn chair, Victor! You did it to yourself! You did it by not taking care of yourself, so don’t you dare take it out on me! I’ve had it! Find another simpering jelly fish to use as your whipping boy, I’m out of here! It really shouldn’t be too hard, just call up one of your other ex-wives, I’m sure one’s bound to be free!”
“Nikki please—” he tried in vain to get her to calm down, to get her to listen to him, but it was clear, painfully clear, she’d already left. She’d left a long time ago.
“I’ve spent the best years of my life-no, I’ve thrown away the best years of my life-all for you, a man who just takes and takes until I have nothing left! I won’t let it go on, Victor, I won’t let it go on any more, for my children’s sake and my own, I’m leaving and I’m not coming back! Too many years I’ve stayed here playing the dutiful wife while you did what you wanted, followed your every whim, turned your every dream into reality while my dreams, my needs went unmet, while what I wanted and needed was deemed insignificant-by one person; you! Those days are long gone, darling, and they’re not coming back. Finally, finally I’m standing on my own two feet, starting a new life with a man who can give me what I need, everything I need, and does!” Although she was still too much of a lady to come right out and say it, it was painfully clear what she meant.
“How long has this been going on? How long have you been having an affair with that scum?” Victor roared.
“Did I say I was? Did I say I was doing that?” Nikki hedged hurtfully.
“Damn it Nikki! How long?”
“Whatever I have or haven’t been doing is no longer any of your concern. You lost the right-no; the privilege-of knowing what goes on in my life long ago, Victor!” Although her voice was ice-cold and detachment rang out in it, her eyes burned with a fire, a resentment and fury he’d never seen before.
“Nikki, wait!” he called after her as she turned her back on him once again and fussed with a blanket that covered their youngest son.
“No, I’ve wasted enough time-too much in fact-waiting around for you, waiting for you to say or do something, to pay some kind of attention to me, waiting for whatever meagre crumbs you’d deign to offer me, like I was some love sick puppy! As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m the one who wasted years of my life doing that, but not anymore!”
Ready to hurl insults and argue, fight for her, to fight as long as it took for her to finally see she was where she belonged, that no matter what he said or did he needed her and loved her more than anything or anyone ever could, Victor swore ripely as the doorbell rang.
Without so much as a glance at Victor, despite the heart wrenching pain etched on his face, Nikki turned her back on him and went to answer the door.
“Ready to go?”
Victor’s heart stopped, only to be squeezed in a vice like grip when he saw Bradley enter his home.
“Almost, I’ve just got a few things to finish up here and I’ll be right out.” Nikki told him as she smiled sweetly, her eyes shining with love, love she once swore was only for Victor.
Returning her smile, Brad kissed her with a passion that, once upon a time, she’d shared with him, the injustice of it, the betrayal tore at his soul, leaving it bloody and beaten. Smiling as he recognized his triumph, Brad replied, “I’ll wait in the car.” With only a smug smirk for Victor, he left.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? You are not taking my children to live with that slime ball! You are not taking my children to live with that scumbag, you hear me? Whatever you do with your life is your business, but I’ll be damned if you’ll ruin their lives too!”
“You don’t think I’m taking my children with me? Watch me!” Picking up her son and daughter, Nikki began walking out of the house.
“Nikki, get back here! Nikki!” he roared after her.
It was then that his son awoke and began to cry, for what, it wasn’t clear, didn’t matter. The sound wrenched Victor’s heart and echoed in the room long after Nikki had swept him up and slammed the door, never to return again.
Shooting awake, Victor tried to control his racing heart as his eyes darted around the room searching for Nikki, praying that wherever she was she’d be back soon.
In the chapel, Nikki was caught up in her own waking nightmare, her own personal hell. “More and more, I feel like I’m losing my daughter, I wish I could shake the feeling but I can’t. I can’t shake the feeling and it scares me to death! I already lost one child, I can’t lose another. Please Lord, I can’t lose another, don’t let me lose Victoria. Please, keep all my children safe.”
With a deep breath, Nikki turned her attention to Victor. “Then there’s Victor. As if the situation weren’t bad enough, the doctors still don’t know how what parts of Victor’s brain were damaged in the stroke or how bad the damage was. Despite all the tests they’ve done they still haven’t got a single clue so I’m left waiting, sitting on my hands and waiting for answers that they should have by now! I’ve read I don’t know how much medical research on heart attacks and strokes, I’ve lost track, and I still don’t have any answers, just more questions.”
“It’s not that I’m not grateful that Victor’s still alive, it’s just that I feel so helpless. My family’s in crisis and I don’t have a clue how to help them! Please, help me find the answers I’m searching for, help me keep my family together, please Lord, don’t take away what means the most to me!”
Despite the valiant struggle he’d fought to stay awake, Victor slipped back into a restless and fearful sleep, terrified that the haunting and heart-wrenching images that his mind’s eye had conjured up would continue to haunt him and may even become reality.
Silently, she walked back into Victor’s room to find him still sleeping and lunch waiting for her along with a note from Vicki.
I see breakfast wasn’t to your liking, hopefully lunch is. Even if it isn’t, eat it, please. You’ve got to eat something. You need to take care of yourself. If you don’t you won’t be able to do anything for Dad or anybody else.
I’ll talk to you later.
“She’s trying to take care of me,” Nikki reminded herself before sitting down to eat and continue with her research.
“Since the frontal lobe is concerned with reasoning, planning, parts of speech and movement, emotions, and problem-solving, could that have been damaged, causing the speech problems and paralysis?
Could damage to the parietal lobe be what’s causing the paralysis; it is concerned with perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, temperature and pain.
Considering the temporal lobe is concerned with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli and memory. And the hippocampus plays an important role in forming memories; could that have been damaged causing the memory problems?”
“Because the cerebellum functions for muscle coordination and maintains normal muscle tone and posture, along with coordinating balance, could it have been damaged, causing the paralysis? Or, does damage to that part of the brain only mean trouble with balance and not movement? That’s what it sounds like, it sounds like damage to that part of the brain would mean it would be easier for someone to lose their balance, but there wouldn’t necessarily be any trouble with movement.
It says that the cerebrum governs intelligence and reasoning, learning and memory, so would damage to that be what’s causing the memory loss?”Nikki wondered aloud before closing her eyes and taking a steadying breath as she reminded herself why she was doing this. “Victor can’t help himself right now, so it’s up to me. It’s up to me to find the answers he needs so he can come home.”
“The frontal lobe is in charge of three things: motor activity and integration of muscle activity; speech; and thought processes. So, something in that part of the brain might have been damaged causing Victor’s speech problems and paralysis. It’s also associated with parts of speech, emotions and problem solving.”
“Since the hypothalamus plays a role in emotions, autonomic functions and motor functions, along with controlling the body’s daily sleep wake cycle, homeostasis (making sure the body’s running smoothly), appetite, thirst, other bodily urges, maybe that part of the brain was damaged causing the paralysis? Who knows? I’m guessing here! I’m working on damn suppositions, nothing more! Damn it! Why hasn’t anybody told me anything yet? How hard can it be to look at some damn tests and tell me what’s going on with my husband?” Nikki exclaimed slamming the binder shut.
“I need to remember why I’m doing this. I need to get to the bottom of this, for Victor’s sake.” As her hand shook, she opened the binder and began to read. “Functions of the thalamus include both sensory and motor behaviors. -Could damage to that part of the brain cause the paralysis?-The thalamus, however, is a major sensory relay centre, regulating higher brain centres, and the peripheral nervous system.-Or could the paralysis have been caused by damage to the thalamus? Damn it, why can’t I figure this out? Why can’t I find any answers? The more I read this research, the more questions keep coming up, the more questions I have, but still no answers!”
As the questions that she’d been able to push to the back of her mind thrust themselves to the forefront of her thinking, Nikki thought to herself, ‘How is it that I’m still no closer to finding out what’s going on with Victor or Victoria? That conversation last night was the strangest I’ve ever had with her! Where did it all come from? She hasn’t been acting right for months and now this? This attitude of hers doesn’t make any sense! It’s like she hates her father! They’ve had some arguments, but nothing too extreme, certainly nothing that would account for her behaviour, at least not that I know of. ’ It was Victor stirring in bed beside her that brought her back to reality. “Well good morning,” she said to him cheerfully. “How are you feeling?”
Giving her a small, weak smile, Victor shrugged.
“I’ll take that to mean you’re feeling better.”
Victor nodded with another smile.
Carefully, almost hesitantly, Victoria entered her father’s hospital room closing the door silently behind her. “Mom,” she said quietly as she walked over to where her mother sat at her father’s bedside.
“Hi honey, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“If this is a bad time, I can come back later.”
“No, nonsense, come, sit down. You can spend some time with your father.”Nikki told her with a smile, not noticing the puzzled expression on Victor’s face.
Moving carefully, slowly, Victoria entered her father’s hospital room and, standing at his bedside and hesitantly asked, “Hi Dad, how…how are you feeling?”
With the same puzzled expression on his face, Victor stared at her and shrugged. ‘I know I should know her for some reason, but I don’t. What is it about her? Why is she looking at me that way and why did she call me dad? Why can’t I remember her? Something tells me I should, something about the look in her eyes tells me I should remember her but I don’t.’
“Dad, what’s wrong? Are you in some kind of pain?” Victoria asked, becoming fearful and concerned as the expression on her father’s face began to register.
Still unable to figure out who the young woman in front of him was or why he should recognize her, Victor silently shook his head and tried in vain to remember her. Frustrated and becoming angry, fearful that something else, something the doctors had yet to discover, was seriously wrong Victor searched his mind for some clue, some shred or shadow of a memory as to who the beautiful young woman who looked so much like Nikki was.
“Victor, what’s wrong? What’s going on?” Nikki asked as tiny pinpricks of apprehension slid along her skin and down her spine chilling her from the inside out. “Darling; it’s Victoria, remember?”
In a shaky voice as her chin quivered and she began to tremble, “It’s me, Dad, don’t you remember me? You do recognize me don’t you?” She couldn’t have helped the plea that rang in her voice if she’d tried.
With a furrowed brow and his jaw set, deep pain in his eyes, pain that no one would ever be able to erase, he shook his head.
“No, this isn’t happening; it can’t be happening!”Victoria all but screamed as tears welled up in; then fell from her eyes. “Dad, it’s me, Victoria, remember? I’m your daughter, remember? Please, Dad, you have to remember.” Her voice broke, as did her heart as the cold harsh reality of Victor’s condition set in. “Dad, just think, take a good look at me and think, you must remember something, you have to! You just have to!”
Tears welled in his own eyes as Victor did as she’d asked. ‘Why the hell can’t I remember her? Why the hell can’t I remember my own daughter?! What the hell is wrong with me and why can’t I do a damn thing about it?’ he thought to himself furious and, though he tried to deny it, terrified. As his heart shattered at the sight of the pain raging in his daughter’s eyes, etched on every corner of her face, he shook his head once again and let his own anguished tears fall.
“No! No, this isn’t happening; this isn’t happening!” Victoria murmured over and over as her world shattered before her as if it had all been an illusion. Slowly, wide eyed as the anguish tearing at her soul shone in her eyes, she backed away from the bedside before running from the room, tears streaming down her cheeks, heartbroken, anguished sobs tearing out of her, making it almost impossible to breathe. Blinded by them, she tore down the hall and, by some miracle, finally made it to the elevator. Furious and unable to control the anguish rising up in her, choking all else, coldly murdering what little hope she had left, Victoria she slammed her fist against the elevator panel as it traveled down to the main floor.
Heedless of the danger she was putting herself in and still blinded by bitter, terrified and hopeless tears, Victoria tore across the parking lot and toward her car. Wrenching the door open, and then slamming it behind her, she gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot, barrelling toward home.
Fighting back her own tears, Nikki dug out her cell phone and dialled Nicholas’ number.
“Hi Sharon, is Nicholas there?”
“Yes; just a minute Nikki.”
“Mom, what is it? What happened, is Dad-”
“Your father’s fine, it’s your sister I’m worried about.”
“Why? What happened?” Nick asked, trying his best to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“She was just here. Nicholas, your father doesn’t remember her; he doesn’t even recognize her at all!” Nikki told him almost frantically.
“What? Mom, that doesn’t make any sense! What do you mean Dad doesn’t remember Vick? What do you mean he doesn’t even recognize her?” Nick asked in disbelief, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach growing.
“I don’t know; I don’t know what’s going on. But I need you to do something for me.” Nikki told him willing herself to stay calm as she saw the tears streaming down her husband’s face.
“What? Anything,” he replied feeling like he was caught up in some surreal nightmare.
“Go up to the main house and wait for your sister. She was almost frantic, Nicholas, she’s terrified. I can’t be there, so I need you to be.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.” Nicholas replied before hanging up and tearing out the front door.
“Sharon, I don’t have time! Vicki just found out Dad doesn’t even recognize her, God only knows the state she’s in!”
“Oh my God, no,” Sharon murmured with her hand covering her mouth as she watched her husband drive off.
Up at the main house, it was pitch black, save one lone light left on in the living room. Vicki sat curled up on the couch clutching an old photo of her and her father. It had been taken when she was just a teenager. She remembered it like it was just yesterday. She smiled bitter sweetly as she gazed wistfully at the photo in her hands. Looking back now, it seemed like that was another lifetime ago. Both she and her father looked so young and carefree, she in her pale yellow floral dress with her chestnut hair hanging loosely past her shoulders and he with his dress-causal outfit; a white dress shirt open at the neck paired with a black sport jacket and black dress pants. “What happened to us?” she whispered as anguished tears flowed freely from her eyes and burning her already raw skin. As she gazed wistfully at the picture, her mind took her back in time and she remembered all too well how she felt when it was taken. “We were so carefree, what happened?” The pain raging within her threatened to drive her mad as she recalled just how different life had been back then. “I felt so safe there in your arms, like nothing could hurt me. Those days are gone now, they’re gone forever.”
“Vicki?” Nick called as he cautiously entered the living room. “Vicki,” he repeated as he walked up to her, carefully, gently putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Nicholas!” Victoria exclaimed, jumping out of her skin. Pasting on an extremely strained smile as she scrubbed the tears away from her eyes, she whispered, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“How are you holding up?” He asked gently, cautiously.
“How much do you know?” she asked wearily.
“Mom told me everything, how are you holding up?” Nick told her, his heart sinking at the sight of her in so much pain and the knowledge that he was powerless to do anything about it.