Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts
"HELP ME, A-Amy."
I was astonished that even at his bemused state of mind, my neighbor could still remember the name I called out from his door.
A bead of sweat was permeating his skin, his mouth was scowling in anguish and between his closed eyes was a pucker from the pain he was suffering from; however, these circumstances were not enough to hide how striking his face was.
I was finally alerted when another groan escaped from his lips. As I took a hasty step towards him, I briefly panicked again when he passed out.
"Oh my, Mister, wake up!"
I stumbled forward towards his body that was lying on the floor. He was clutching his chest tightly, but I could still see and smell the blood gushing from his wound.
Knowing that any second I waste would be fatal for his life I immediately searched the room for a phone. Once I got a hold of it in his night-stand, I quickly dialed 9-1-1; my fingers shaking a little from what I've just witnessed.
Calm down, Amy. This man's life depends on you, I internally chanted just as the standard question from a female agent greeted me.
"9-1-1. State your emergency."
"Hi. This is Amy. I went to my neighbor’s apartment right next door from mine and found him bleeding on the floor. I think he got stabbed or something. He just passed out."
"Where are you located, Amy?"
"I'm in Manhattan, New York. My apartment's address is…"
"No…" I suddenly heard my neighbor groan. It seemed like he re-gained consciousness.
"Hold on," I told the agent, and then covered the receiver of the phone to say, "I'm just calling 9-1-1 right now. Stay conscious. I'll bring you to the hospital in no time."
Another groan escaped from my neighbor, and with a weak voice he pleaded, "No hosp-i-tal…"
"But you're bleeding! You need to go to the hospital."
I settled to put the phone into my ears again when suddenly the man, albeit difficulty, stretched his arms to try to take the phone away from me. It looked like he was using all his strength just to stop me. However, with his physical state, it was no use for he could not even reach a few inches near me.
"Mister, if you won't go to the hospital, how will I be able to help you?"
He looked me right in the eyes; his were unsteady from his state, revealing their color of shocking green.
I vehemently shook my head.
"I won't leave you. You need me. You need help."
It was apparent then that if I truly wanted to help this man, I could do nothing but to heed his request, or else he wouldn't let me.
And so, gritting my teeth in frustration, I hang up the phone, placing it back on its cradle.
"Alright. No hospitals. But you listen to me very well," I started saying in a commanding voice. His closed eyes opened a small gap to look at me.
"You wouldn't die on me, do you understand? You wouldn't die on me. You wouldn't pass out. Do something
– bite your tongue if you should – but you wouldn't pass out. I'll just get my medical kit. I'll come back."
He nodded infinitesimally before I rushed out to go back to my room.
Once there, I hurriedly searched for my medical kit from my chest drawer. When I found it, I immediately came back to his room.
The moment I re-entered his apartment, his eyes started following me.
I knew I needed to do something about his continuous bleeding. With that in mind, I grabbed his blanket – not having any other nearby piece of fabric to grab – and extricated his hold of his chest to press half of the blanket to his wound. He groaned in pain, closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.
"I need to get your bleeding under control. Once your wound stopped bleeding, we could assess how to clean your wound. Right now, do your best not to pass out on me, do you understand?"
Again, he gave a short nod; his breathing was still jagged from the pain he was suffering.
I figured then that I needed to distract him.
"What's your name?"
He didn't answer me save for a groan.
Pressing firmer on his chest, I tried again to engage my agonized patient into any form of conversation so he wouldn't pass out.
"Let me guess: Ronald?"
He shook his head a little. A small spark of relief awash me with the knowledge that he could at least understand me.
"You don't look like a Ronald either. Michael…? David…?"
He shook his head again.
It was a fleeting thought but I realized that the reason I chose the names David and Michael is because he looks a bit like Michael Angelo's statue of David situated on the convent I grew up in.
Shaking my head out of these trivial thoughts, I tried a few names again.
"Well then, Frank…? Seth…? Gerald…? Raymond…? John…?"
I listed off ten more names but nothing even seems to remotely hit the mark.
"You really have a tricky name then," I noted.
I pressed the blanket with more force on his wound; the blanket was being soaked fast by his blood.
Upon this action, he groaned again in pain, though his breathing seemed to at least even out.
"Let's see, El… Elton?"
"Is it Elton?"
He shook his head.
He nodded curtly.
"Great! I'm close then. Let's see, names with E …, Elton… Edmund… Ezekiel… Elijah… E… Ethan…" As I said the last name, he exhaled loudly again and nodded curtly.
"Ethan? Is it Ethan?" I clarified. He gave me another nod.
"Oh! Ethan! Wonderful!” I cheered, happy that I finally guessed it right.
Once I calmed down a little from my excitement, I said, "Well, Ethan, it's nice to meet you. I'm Amy. Amethyst Fay Reed."
His hazy eyes peeked a little to my face.
A minute or two passed before I decided the wound wasn't bleeding as much. The knowledge made me exhale a gust of relieved breath.
I stood up then, and immediately, Ethan re-opened his eyes to look at me.
"I'll get a basin," I explained. "I need to clean the blood to see how deep your wound is. Stay awake."
The last part was a demand as I hurried to his sink. Once there, I filled up a pitcher – the only tool he has that I could find was deep enough to fill water in – and took the nearby wash-cloth. After which I approached him right away to tend to his wound.
At first, when I was trying to lift his shirt up, he didn’t want to remove his clutch on his belly. However, after I said, "Now, Ethan, do not be a baby. Let me clean that wound," to him, using a parental tone I usually reserve for the kids I helped at the orphanage, he finally let me take care of him.
Once I lifted his shirt, I wiped the area of the wound in his tummy to remove the blood.
After the wound was clean enough, I then assessed that it was deep but at least, was small.
I took that opportunity to close my eyes and say a small prayer:
"Lord God, please help this man to stay alive. I would do all in my power to save him, but it is always Your will to give and take away life. I pray, oh Lord, that it isn't his time yet…"
"Wh-a-t are y-you d-doing…?"
I opened my eyes to Ethan's sweaty face to see him looking at me with an alarmed and questioning expression.
I noticed then that beneath the deep shades of the emeralds of his eyes, there was hardness – an edge to the way he gazes at me – which I couldn't place.
It was hardness that evokes the feeling of fear.
I resolved to answer his question instead.
"I was praying, so that you will stay alive. Have you never prayed?"
He looked up to the roof, away from my scrutiny.
"I d-don't b-believe a-anymore ..."
In that instant, I immediately understood what type of a man Ethan is. He was an anguished soul, who has lost all trust and warmth to God. His physical wound was just a scratch compared to the wound he was suffering within him. Inside, it was deeper; darker; and more frightening.
I waited for him to look back at me. Once he did, I gave him my kindest of smiles.
"I do. I believe in Him. And if you wouldn't pray for yourself, I would pray for you.
See how He gives us miracles? If I didn't come here when I heard your door opening, who knew what would have happened to you? You could have died. But I am here now, and I won't let you die." I added an extra stress to my words.
He was looking at me with a mixture of wonder and skepticism as I continued to speak.
"And now, in just a few minutes, you could already talk. That, in itself, is a miracle.
You might have chosen not to believe anymore, but I believe in Him. And because I do, I would not lose my belief in you to also accept Him, even if it would take you a long time to do so."
A few silent minutes passed as I continued to tend to his wound.
Just as I was about to stand up to change the water from his pitcher, he spoke again.
It was only a whisper, but for me it sounded like a cry; like a plea for help; like accepting defeat but hoping to escape from his hell.
It was only five words, but for me it carried out a lifetime of his torment.
"But I lost all hope."
And the utter coldness on his eyes then was unmistakable.
Hope could be both an enemy and a friend.
In times of great peril, hope is the only thing that keeps a human sane. But too much hope could crush a person if not met. Expectations… Disappointments… Helplessness… These are all by-products of hope.
And I rode with this hope in my heart for the next twelve hours since I met Ethan.
Because of his feeble state, I settled to stay with him even after his protests. He did groan some words along the lines of "get out" and "I don't need you" to me. However, since he can't move, there was nothing he could do about me staying.
The hardest part of treating his injury was when I disinfected it.
Knowing that I have nothing remotely close to what the doctors use to thoroughly clean the wound, and a chemical of some sort to assure its healing process, I have had to settle for a bottle of liquor that I found from his liquor cabinet.
The moment I gushed it to his wound, tremors shook his body from pain. I tried to stay strong for him but his cries of agony were hard to endure.
Once the worst part was over, I settled to put hydrogen peroxide on the wound before I wrapped his whole front with bandage, assisting him in the process to lift his middle part a little.
I let him sleep after.
Once or twice, Ethan woke up with seizures.
During these times, I have had to calm him down with a warm-soaked cloth on his face. And during the entire time he was asleep, I took his nearby couch to get a little rest myself, but I was easily alerted by his every movement.
I did get around to bringing my supper in his room to feed him.
At first, he wouldn't want to open his mouth, but after I warned him that if he would so much as deny my request I would call the ambulance to bring him to the hospital, he relented with poor grace.
And from twelve to one, all I did was pray the entire rosary for him, knowing that even after doing my best for him, I could not still be certain that he was safe because anytime soon, he could suffer fever from the wound's infection and could get worse. And just as I feared, at around four in the morning, he was quivering from a hundred and four Fahrenheit of fever.
I made him ingest antibiotic. I also constantly rubbed his whole body with cloth soaked from the mixture of warm water and alcohol, so that his temperature would stabilize, all the while continuously chanting a prayer in my head.
And at around eight in the morning, with both of us having little sleep, my prayers were finally answered when his temperature dropped to ninety-nine point sixty-eight Fahrenheit.
I didn’t waste any second to say a small prayer to thank
When I opened my eyes, Ethan was looking at me.
"You need to rest," I said with a smile. "Your temperature has stabilized. I'll be here the whole time so you don't have to worry about anything."
It took him a solid minute before he finally voiced out his question.
With only that one word, I instantly knew what he was truly asking me. And he was questioning why I was going out of my way to lend him my help.
Smiling my usual smile, I answered him, "Well, for one, I am a Christian, and good Christians help their neighbors, especially in times of great need. Second, I reckon anyone would do the same to me if I was the one in such a state, so in a way, I was only extending the help that I know I can also receive if I needed it."
It took him a moment to digest what I've said before he answered.
"Not all people would do that."
"I don't believe that."
He shook his head. "I won't."
I, in turn, shook my head in disagreement. "You would. I know that you would. You're just saying that now, but if you're faced with the same situation, you're response will almost be instinctual."
"What made you say that?"
I stared him right at his hard and doubtful eyes. Even in his current state, his beautiful face was not amiss to me, which, for some reason, makes me feel that his soul is just as beautiful.
My answer to him was filled with conviction.
"Because I know you're a good person.”
More doubt flooded his eyes.
He stared at me for another solid minute, with neither of us breaking each other's gaze.
Finally, after the lengthened silence, he looked up to the ceiling away from my stare.
"You don't know me," he whispered.
I couldn't say more after that, afraid that he would find me vexing if I press unto him my solid belief of him being a good person; because even as I see the hardness in his eyes, I could also see a glimpse of his soul from them, indicated by their little tenderness.
And it made me certain that he was a good person.
I yawned – my tired state finally catching up to me.
"You should go back to your room."
I shook my head in disagreement.
"I'll just be brief. I need to make us a breakfast, and then I'll come back so that we both could eat. You still need assistance."
"I don't need any more of your help."
His words made me laugh.
"Tell that to yourself. See if even you can believe that."
I stood up then, yawning again.
"I'll come back in about twenty minutes. And then, you'll never get rid of me."
For a week, that was what I did. I helped him, fed him, and stayed at his room – in his couch – to sleep. Every movement, every groan from him, alerts me to stand. He doesn't say much, and thinking that if I were also in such a state I wouldn't want any noise, I also hardly talked to him.
He never once said 'thank you', and I didn't expect him to. I didn't need it. My helping him is of my own will.
Except for one instance when he finally did:
The first time he needed to go to the toilet, he tried to sit without my help.
I was chopping some onions then in his kitchen, figuring I can always be present for him if I cook there.
I didn't notice him at first, but when he uttered an explicit curse, I was instantly on his side.
"What are you doing?" I asked in an alarmed voice.
He didn't answer me; he was keen to sit even as he struggles.
"You'll bleed if you continue to do that. Here, let me help you."
I placed his left arm around my shoulder, careful not to touch his wound. He hissed and gritted his teeth as I helped him stand.
"Where to?" I asked. He didn't answer save for another gritting of his teeth.
By then I realized he probably needs to go to the toilet, and that he was probably embarrassed because I'm a woman.
"Alright. I think I know where you want to go. You don't need to tell me anymore."
I helped him walk slowly towards the toilet room. Once there, I waited outside the door as he helped himself by leaning on the walls.
When I heard a flush, I knew then that he was already finished. However, not wanting to embarrass him further, I just waited outside, and once he was out, I assisted him back to his bed.
After that, I went back to the kitchen to continue preparing our meal.
"Amy," I heard him say in a quiet voice. As was my usual reaction, I walked with hasty steps towards him, thinking that there was something he needs me of again.
He started gritting his teeth again, seeming to find it hard to phrase whatever he wanted to say. I waited patiently, deducing that whatever it is, it's probably something he was not accustomed to saying.
"Just… t-thank…" He stopped then, breathing heavily, which was another indication of how hard it was for him to say the words.
"You don't need to thank me if you have trouble saying it. It's always the thought of you being thankful that counts."
He looked at me then, for once the hardness in his eyes was replaced with pure gratitude.
I almost told him that thanking me through his eyes was more sincere than whatever words he might say to me, but decided against it.
Instead, I said:
"You don't need to say anything that's hard for you. I won't even ask you how you got stabbed, because though it made me very curious, I know it's probably something you don't want to easily share to me who is practically a stranger to you. You don't have to do or say anything to me. Just let me take care of you."
With that said, I left him to go back to the kitchen.
Probably five or ten minutes have passed before I heard him again.
"Thank you," he said in a more quiet voice.
I stopped for a beat – my heart beating loudly and experiencing an emotion I have no name of but was close to melting – before I continued my work without any word, and this time, with a permanent smile on my face.
Ethan could at least stand and walk without my help on Sunday. Because of that, I decided to finally check on his wound. After seeing that it was on its way to healing, I breathed a sigh of relief, and said my thanks to God.
Then I told him, "Ethan, listen: tomorrow I have work. I'm working for a whole week until Saturday. I think you could be left alone for a few hours, seeing that you're healing fast. But don't forget to ingest your medicine every after-four hours, especially the pain killer, alright?
I'll be back at seven in the evening. I'll still make your breakfast and I'll leave a good amount for your lunch, so you don't have to worry about your food.
I'll also leave your medicines here," I gestured to his night stand, "and a glass of water, so you would have easy access to them. Also, I'll be gone for an hour and a half later at three because I'll attend the mass at St. John's, but I'll come right back."
The only response that I got was his nod.
However, something was amiss in the way he stared at me.
I tried to ignore the nagging feeling, but it was all I could think of while I was re-bandaging his chest.
It didn't leave me even after hours.
At around four, after the mass, I made way for my confession. Once safely covered in the confines of the confessional, and with the holed window separating me from the priest, I started with the opening, "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been a week since my confession."
"Tell me your sins," the priest retorted.
"I lied to my Mother Superior about the money they monthly send me. I told her that I would use them, but I am actually planning to save them so that when I get back to our orphanage, I could give it to them.
"I also got frustrated once with the traffic.
"Lastly, I am helping a neighbor in need even though he doesn't want me to."
"Lady," told the Father, "the only sin I can hear from you is the lying you have committed to your Mother Superior. Aside from that, the two you've mentioned were just products of you being a human. I am not trying to condone lying, but hearing your intent behind it I think makes it acceptable to God. You are forgiven of your sins."
However, what he said was still not enough to pacify me. There was still something heavy upon my shoulders, and this is one thing to which I truly wish a guidance from.
"Father, I need guidance on one thing," I said. "This man that I said I was helping, he was… I think he was stabbed.
And I'm helping him even though I don't know how he got his injury. Am I doing the right thing by not asking him how he got his wounds?"
"Lady, do you recall the parable about the good Samaritan?"
"Yes, Father. It was about a man who was stripped off his clothes by the robbers, was beaten, and was inches away from death. A priest passed by but avoided him. So did the Levite. But a Samaritan helped him, poured oil and wine on his wound, carried him on his donkey, and even let him stay at an inn."
"And which of them was a neighbor to the man?"
"The Samaritan," I answered.
"Did he question the man why he was beaten to death?"
"Well, there's your answer."
Only then did I finally felt relieved.
We said a prayer together after that, then the priest made me pray three Hail Marys, one Our Father, and one Glory Be.
When I went back to my apartment building, I felt much better and even a bit excited to see my patient. Therefore, without knocking, I directly walked towards his room, letting myself in even without his approval.
Once inside, I announced my arrival.
"Ethan, I'm here. I brought you some food from outside. I passed by this chicken store and thought a warm soup with chicken will do you good…" I began to happily say.
But upon casting my eyes at his empty bed, I instantly stopped on my tracks. Thinking he was probably just inside the toilet, I went to sit at my couch.
However, as I sat, I noticed something was on his nightstand. Upon focusing on it, I realized it was a piece of paper.
A cold feeling of dread enveloped my chest.
Quickly, I rose up to dispel the feeling, praying that I wasn't right. But upon lifting the paper, more dread filled me.
Because I was proven correct in my hunch.
Because there I read in a hasty but still elegant script:
I have to go.
Believe me when I say that I am thankful for what you've done to me.
However, you have no idea who I really am. And as a favor for saving me, I decided it would be best for me to leave you.
For your own sake, I implore you not to speak of me to anyone. Lie, if you should. This is to keep you safe.
Burn this after, and any trace that you stayed in my room. This is not a request, but a command.
Only you, out of the hundreds, have truly known my name."
And I realized why he looked at me that way when I was re-bandaging him.
It was Ethan's way of saying goodbye.
(to be continued...)