What's Left Behind
Dr. David Lee didn't expect to be at a bar in downtown Pittsburgh. And he hadn't expected to see a familiar figure sitting by the bar with three empty bottles of beer beside him. Andy, David thought sadly. The tall physician didn't seem to notice that his younger colleague was only a few feet away. He seemed oblivious to everything, including himself. His dark blue eyes were glassy. David sighed. He had heard that Scott Becker, one of Andy's patients, had died. Those two had formed a fast friendship despite breaking protocol and their vast age differences. David had asked the attending about that one time, why he had such complete faith in a former alcoholic and drug addict. Andy had replied, "He reminds me of someone I used to know." David hadn't asked him what he had meant, but now, watching Andy drown in sorrow, he wished he had.
Watching Andy nurse another beer, David remembered how Pam had shook her head when he and Miranda had asked about how Andy was doing. The two younger physicians had been satisfied with their day's work. David had managed to save a woman's life and solve an attempted murder mystery; Miranda had completed her daisy chain, which even Andy had disapproved of. David had asked how Pam's day was, and his smile stopped when he saw the look of sorrow on her face. Her eyes were bright, and her entire body seemed tense. She had later explained – halting at times – that Scott had died from a failed heart transplant. Miranda and David had been silent as Pam told them how devastated Scott's parents were when Andy told them that their only son had died. "He didn't say anything. He just looked at them…and they knew." When Miranda asked how Andy was taking the death, Pam had simply shaken her head. She had whispered, "I don't know where he is." It was David who found him an hour later.
David sat beside his colleague, not saying a word as he eased himself to the chair. Andy's face was obscured by shadow. Four empty beer bottles were littered in front of him. David heard him whisper something unintelligible. "Andy?" David said. There was no response. "Andy?" David called again, gentler this time. Slowly, the older physician turned his head toward him. Andy's once clear dark blue eyes were red and almost bloodshot. However, the man wasn't drunk enough to not recognize a familiar face. The smile that he gave David was lopsided.
"David…" he mumbled. "What are doing here?" It took a couple of moments for David to realize that Andy's words were slurred.
"I've come to take you home," David replied calmly. His heart was racing. He had never seen Andy in such a state before. Miranda had joked one time that Andy was more like a monk than any gluttonous, sex-obsessed, and drunkard physicians she knew. David had been a new resident then. Andy still didn't respond. "To Three Rivers," he added, hoping to get a response.
"That's…not my…home." There was an unusual surge of anger in Andy's voice. "My home…" Then he quieted.
David took a chance to touch Andy's hand gently. "I know about Scott," he said. Andy looked at him at the mention of his patient's name, grief eteched in his pale face. "I'm sorry," David added, "but you have other responsibilities other than to mourn his death. His time came and –" David didn't get the chance to finish his sentence.
"You…don't understand." Andy pulled his hand away from David's smaller one. His eyes were gleaming, and not with anger. "You've never…suffered. How dare you say that his time came!" There were tears in his eyes when he shouted at David.
David found his sympathy withering away from Andy's words. He bit his cheek to force himself to not say the wrong thing. His parents had been poor when he was born, which is why they hadn't had another child. Food stamps and welfare benefits were common when he was young. He had gone to bed hungry more than once during his miserable childhood. His parents hadn't heeded his cries when his classmates – no, the entire first grade, had called him "gook face." David focused on the present now with his anger blazing anew. I know what it means to suffer.
"And how haven't I suffered?" David asked with cold calmness.
"My mother and father…needn't have died." Andy's voice was hoarse, and his eyes were brimming with tears again. "Lily…" he mumbled, choking back sobs, "Scott…" As Andy let go of his emotions and cried drunkenly, David's anger melted into confusion. The man's sobs echoed in the bar, causing others to cap their hands over their ears. What is he talking about? "I should have died, not them. It was I who should've…stayed with my little sister. Lily…" Andy echoed dully. "No one should have died." David saw the darkening rings around Andy's eyes, and remembered the only time he had seen his colleague so tired. It was November 19, 2007. "Today was the day my family died," Andy had told the younger David. It was known that family was a touchy subject for him. And so, when Ryan came to be a part of the team, David had given him a stern warning about to not complain about difficulties with family around Andy. He had lost them at a young age, David had explained. Ryan had nodded, his speech forgotten.
"It was November 19, 1989. I was…twelve years old. My grandparents… my mother and father…were dead from the poison that seeped into our house." Andy's tear-streaked face was the only thing David could see. The only thing David could hear was the pain, the raw agony seeping from the formerly good-natured surgeon's voice. "I…" Andy's voice was almost unintelligible now. "I was over at a friend's house when…they passed. My little sister was curled into my bed…she felt so cold." Tears were now streaming down Andy's face. His voice trembled now and a whimper escaped from him. "I was supposed to be there with them. I was…supposed to die…with my sister. She shouldn't have died alone." Now Andy's unfocused eyes met David's dry ones. "I didn't die…I lived, David." He spat the word out like it was obscene. "Unlike Scott...and unlike my Lily…my little sister who was only six years old…" Suddenly Andy broke his gaze with the younger man, and was silent for a minute. "It wasn't their time, David…just like with Scott…and I couldn't save them."
David was silent as he stared at his colleague – no, his friend. This was the man who had accepted as he was, and didn't look at him differently because of his Asian descent. He saw him as a man with respect and trust, not a man who was bilingual and had Korean parents. He had been silent as Andy told him his story. Of how his parents, grandparents, and younger sister had died from carbon monoxide poisoning when he was young. "You've never…suffered." Andy was right… David thought. I have never suffered…not in that way. He slipped his slim arm under Andy's shoulder, supporting him. The taller man almost stumbled, but then he gained whatever balance he had left. "Let's go home, Andy."
"My home…is 1521 Alleghany Rd…Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…" David knew that this was not Andy's home address, the home that he had with his estranged wife, Rena. He let his friend say the words all the same. After leaving Andy asleep in his bed in the hotel room, David pondered the revelation that he had come across. Andy's family had died in their own home when the physician was only twelve years old. He wanted to save them and believed that it wasn't their time…even years later. Perhaps that was why Andy was married to his work, knowing that every second counted, and to stop the ever-ticking clock…to prevent people like him from suffering the same fate. People who die, David thought along the hallway, are the lucky ones. The ones who survived…the ones who are left behind...alone...are never the same.