How to Save a Life

1. Unlock the door. Try to open the bathroom. Push harder.

2. Ask stupid questions, like should you leave a house full of smoke, should you call his parents.

3. Lay him on the porch. Stand back and look.

4. Become very concerned about what you will do with your house key. Repeatedly ask a fireman to lock up and leave it in the mailbox.

5. Tell the ambulance which hospital to go to. It seems unimportant, but you will wonder about this decision.

6. Sleep in the hospital bed. Wait for him to wake up. Wait for a doctor that never comes.

7. In that moment, hate his mother, with her earnest, Midwestern, Christian desire for everything to make sense, as if it were a Special K bar made of Crisco and corn syrup.

8. Call your mom and ask her to come. She advises him to claim chest pains.

9. Before they shackle him, he will ask you to write him a note. This will be the most meaningful thing you ever write, and you will not remember what it says. Mean it.

10. Drive 68 miles. Walk behind him in the parking lot as he is admitted. Miss the visitation hour for that day.

11. Be powerless in the face of an abusive system. Have no recourse for broken laws. Understand why people get married.

12. Promise to call every hour.

13. Open the windows. Spray every fabric surface in the house. Buy odor absorbers.

14. Walk through the electronics section of Walmart while you’re on the phone with his best friend, who understands it all exactly and intimately but would prefer to talk about sports. Print 15 pictures. Write 15 notes. Deliver them with his letter.

15. Go to a job interview—it is only a formality, but wear a blazer. Drive carelessly as you read through government presentations and legal help website and non-profit pages, as if absorbing information will speed time.

16. Rent a cheap hotel room and watch infomercials until you can fall asleep.

17. Wait by the phone. Wait until you feel you physically cannot. Then call.

18. Decide to name your daughter after the nurse who recognizes humanity.

19. Be surprised by the mundane physical reminders, none of them yours. The note you wrote will live in his wallet, Lilla’s on his desk. He will still wear the shorts that no longer have drawstrings.