Shelli Cornelison ~ Not the Theme Song I Would’ve Chosen

Sometimes When we Touch” by Dan Hill drifts from the speak­ers in the wait­ing room. I have to look up the singer because I’ve for­got­ten, if I ever knew his name at all.

Tuning out the sap­pi­ness is impos­si­ble. I can’t focus on any­thing else as I wait for an update from the sur­gi­cal team, not the short sto­ry I’ve book­marked, not the lat­est polit­i­cal chaos head­lines on Twitter, not even the text from my boss express­ing his sin­cere regret for both­er­ing me at a time like this but …

The des­per­a­tion in the refrain strikes my nerves like a rub­ber mal­let against tem­pered glass, test­ing for strength. One ill-fat­ed tap in a vul­ner­a­ble spot and I will be reduced to an avalanche of shards.

A men­tal por­trait of my moth­er mate­ri­al­izes: her hands grip­ping the wheel, dri­ving me to dance class, singing along to the radio like she’s nev­er heard such beau­ti­ful words. Me, singing off-key in the back­seat, des­per­ate to be a part of her grown-up world. The lyrics come back with such clar­i­ty I could’ve writ­ten them, and I already know this god-awful song is going to be stuck in my head for days.

My phone buzzes with pleas from fam­i­ly mem­bers. Is he still in surgery? Was he able to respond to the para­medics? Has he suf­fered head trauma?

It is my under­stand­ing Joel went through the wind­shield like a human blow dart. I’ve told them all this, sans the dart ref­er­ence. Head trau­ma would seem a giv­en, no?

I am simul­ta­ne­ous­ly glad both our fam­i­lies live out of state, and sor­ry that none of Joel’s sib­lings is close enough to be here—to relieve me of my oblig­a­tion to sit trapped between the dis­turbing­ly large leaves on this wall­pa­per while being tor­ment­ed by the most sac­cha­rine bal­lad ever recorded.

My best friend, Tana, returns with Starbucks and a box of Girl Scout cook­ies, like the saint she has always been.

Dan Hill war­bles about too much honesty.

I’ve already downed three cups of stale wait­ing room cof­fee but I gulp my nitro cold brew, savor the bit­ter after­taste, fid­get as the caf­feine floods my system.

Someone named Nancy texts from the OR to let me know Joel’s vitals are hold­ing steady, and they’ve been able to stop the leak­age of cere­bral flu­id. *smi­ley face* *thumbs up*

I didn’t real­ize his brain had been leak­ing. Probably some­one had men­tioned it. They gave me a lot of infor­ma­tion when I arrived, albeit hur­ried­ly. I caught the worst of it. He’d been eject­ed. Through the wind­shield. No seat­belt. Dumbass.

But I’m still his wife, still the pri­ma­ry emer­gency con­tact in his phone.

The hospital’s ini­tial ques­tions were easy. No aller­gies to any med­ica­tions. No met­al implants. No his­to­ry of adverse reac­tions to anes­the­sia. Joel pos­es no risks to himself.

A cop kneels before me to ask ques­tions that are more dif­fi­cult. Where was Joel com­ing from? Did you know the woman who was in the truck with him? She had no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on her. If you could give us her name, it would be helpful.

Dan Hill admits he has to close his eyes and hide sometimes.

Tana nods, silent­ly urges me to answer the ques­tions with no extra­ne­ous infor­ma­tion. “No, I’m sor­ry. I don’t know where he’d been this after­noon,” I say. “And I have no idea who the woman was.”

Was. Apparently, some­times being eject­ed pro­vides the more hope­ful option.

My moth­er-in-law sends me a GIF of a pray­ing bunny.

I choke on my reply.

A brusque woman brings me anoth­er form to sign, one I’d missed down­stairs. Maybe she is agi­tat­ed because she’s had to track me down. I try not to take her bitchy demeanor per­son­al­ly, try not to feel hunt­ed by these peo­ple with their forms and questions.

The back of the met­al clip­board is cold on my leg, and the paper sheds invis­i­ble dust that coats my fin­ger­tips when I pushed it up to sign on the bot­tom line. An unseen pow­dery residue fills the crevices of my fin­ger­prints, thick­ens my skin so I can hard­ly feel the pen as I sign a name that will be for­mer in twelve days—provided Joel doesn’t con­test at the last minute. Again.

But it remains my legal iden­ti­ty. I remain legal­ly bound.

To my sur­prise, some ten­der­ness remains.

The Thin Mints are dif­fer­ent. “Did they change the recipe?” I ask. “Add wax and saw­dust?” I wash it down with my now tepid cold brew. “Or do all our favorites even­tu­al­ly pale in com­par­i­son to our mem­o­ries? Does every­thing we love become unpalat­able at some point?”

It’s too soon to be morose,” Tana says.

But you’ll let me know when it’s time? Because being morose is kind of my best thing.”

You are the queen.”

We tap the rims of our lid­ded cups togeth­er, raise them in an unspo­ken toast. I am cer­tain Tana is men­tal­ly chin-chin­ning to more forth­com­ing good news and pos­i­tive emo­jis from Nancy.

I think sláinte, but my voice is drowned in my own head by the sounds of liq­uid rush­ing from Joel’s. That’s the image my pri­vate salute con­jures: Joel lying uncon­scious under a bright light, a new­ly sprung leak, exter­nal but unno­ticed, lit­er­al­ly stream­ing into a pud­dle on the ster­ile floor beneath his skull.

A doc­tor appears before me, his pale freck­led hands fresh­ly scrubbed. “Andrea?”

That’s me, I remind myself. “Yes.”

I clutch my phone as the script­ed words leave his lips. “I am so sor­ry. We did every­thing we could …”

Another GIF arrives from Joel’s moth­er: a car­toon­ish lit­tle boy angel with pur­ple eyes, sparkles ema­nat­ing from his halo. Grotesque. Absurd. Unsettling, both the image and the timing.

I think about how the preach­er will describe Joel as a devot­ed hus­band, sur­vived by his lov­ing wife. Those words will bring com­fort to both our mothers.


Shelli Cornelison miss­es writ­ing in cof­fee shops, and eaves­drop­ping in between get­ting lost in her own words. She almost even miss­es the mon­sters that hog table space and talk on their phones. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, The Forge, and Hunger Mountain.