For those in the know... Walter carries on behind my back, slowly growing as a novel while I sip my coffee in the wee mornings...
There is more commotion in the hallway. The camera folks are back at it, flashing their credentials and bullying their way past the kindly nurses who sit at the elongated desk outside chatting of bodily dysfunctions and boyfriends.
They’re clanging their equipment against my door while I am trying to eat.
“Are you decent, Walter? Can we come in? We’d like to have another chat with you, if you don’t mind? People out there are really responding to your story, Walter. You’re a local hero… Well hi! Are you finished feeding him? Shall we wait in the hall?”
The nurse who feeds me is not happy at all. She gives this group of TV personalities an evil stare-down and then slowly uses her eyes to point to the spoon heaped with cereal heading for my mouth.
“Outside,” she simply states. “When I come out, you can all come in. If it’s Okay with Walter, that is. I’ll ask him while you’re all out there.”
She points with her eyes to the hallway and makes it clear that she means it by drawing down her eyebrows. I like this woman and wish I had her ability to make people listen.
The TV people clang their way backwards out the room and I can hear the crunching of my cereal as I chew and chew.
“Thanf you,” I try and tell my nurse who has “Margaret” written across her nametag. “Marveret.”
She taps me on my forehead.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, young man.” Then she smiles. “And you’re welcome.”
“I had no choice”, I told the reporters. “The fireman fell and broke his leg. I saw the dog at the window on the fourth floor and the ladder leaning against the wall. I didn’t really think- I just acted. I just ran over to the ladder and moved it into the window where the dog was and I climbed.
Sure it was hot, but I wasn’t thinking about me at that moment. Just saving the dog. When I got to it, it was yapping and coughing and I reached out and scooped it up and then the fire started lapping at my feet from the window below me. I knew the dog could not survive a climb down through those flames so I pushed the ladder off the wall as hard as I could with one leg and made the ladder arch backwards in a slow motion fall.
As I was swinging backwards I realized the poor dog couldn’t handle a fall from four stories up- even in a ladder arc- so I looked for an open window in that other building and threw the dog inside as we passed.
Sure, I just had the one chance but what other choice did I have? Luckily for the dog, I made a good shot and now here you folks are interviewing me and that pretty girl over there has her dog back and all is fine.
Me? I grabbed that flagpole sticking out right over there as I went past it. Then I climbed down that drain pipe and dropped onto that awning and here I am.
“Oh no Ma’am. It was nothing. Nothing at all.”
“What was nothing, Walter?”
Margaret? I was talking to Margaret.
“Nothing. I mean…”
“Silly boy. Now open.”
Break on through to the other side…
Break on through to the other side…
Break on through… Break on through…
Break… mmm…break… mmm… break…
I wonder how Papa Brown is doing?
How much time’s he got before his lights go out?
Is he afraid?
Is he afraid of nothing?
There is nothing to be afraid of as far as I can tell. Your lights go out and then there is nothing.
Your lights are on. They go off. In my case they come back on again but if they don’t, you won’t know about it so why be afraid?
Life is far scarier if you ask me. You have shards of pain and bubbles of joy and lots of going around and round. There are all the noises that make it hard to think, and all the memories that make it hard to feel good inside. You have big, fat, hairy men who hold the back of your neck and cause you to bleed in your underwear. You have little sisters in little coffins forever guarded by their BooBoos with its never-rotting golden floppy ears and purple fuzzy nylon hair.
“Hey! What’s New In The Neighborhood?!”
Nothing, it seems to me, is far superior to something after all.
“Good Lord! Does he snore like that all the time?”
I nod my head. Yes. All the time. And I lie here living with it. In fact, I’ve almost gotten used to it. I have no choice.
“Somebody should just go over and put a sock in it!”
I like Margaret more and more.
“You think that’s funny, do ya?” She’s talking to me. I’m smiling a big banana smile.
“Well good.” She reaches toward my face and pinches one of my cheeks. “It’s nice to see you smile. It’s good medicine.“
I keep at my smile but it soon falls flat.
There’s another spoonful of cereal near my nose.
I shake my head no. I’ve chewed enough. I’m done chewing.
I release the little tension I’ve been holding in my neck and my head sinks heavy into my pillow.
“Thank you,” I mutter, as I close my eyes, waiting for my lights to go out where nothing is peaceful.
“You’re quite very welcome Walter.”
My lights won’t go out.
The lions did what lions do. They roared and pawed and roared some more. The tamers snapped their whips and thrust their wooden chairs as the concrete walls of the coliseum echoed with the deepest roar I could barely tolerate. Deep bubbles of fear and joy rose out of me as I sat unsure whether to laugh or flee, unsure whether to take in the primal sounds with courage and in the safety of my seat, or to sneak away and cover my ears, searching for a quiet spot in the concrete halls where the roar could not crash over me and consume my mind whole like a ferocious tsunami wave striking the edges of the roiling world.
This was the roar of the jungle kings. The roar of the planet earth and all it asks of you. The roar of mean-spirited men on muffler-less motorcycles echoing off freeway onramp walls…
And there was a door to a janitorial closet cracked open.
Where the roar was louder than before.
Margaret is shaking me gently and it feels nice.
“Walter? You’ve got that awful gang of reporters outside wanting to come in. Do you think you’re up to spending a minute or two with them so we can be rid of them?”
My mind feels like someone poured rice inside my ears and it filled up all the nooks and crannies in my brain. But I suppose I want to be rid of the reporters too so I roll my head toward Margaret and answer her.
“They can come in,” I say. “If they’ll do it quietly.”
I stare at the white and shiny ceiling looking for cracks to escape in.
Margaret wipes over my face with a cloth and then abruptly leaves me in that “off to the next patient“ way that nurses have. There is a moment of brief silence as Baldeeny changes positions in his bed. In a growing cloud of noise like an oncoming pack of tourists, in clang the reporters with their cameras and their lights and their pretty suits and faces.
Baldeeny- bless his ignorant heart- starts up snoring louder than ever.
“There,” says a pretty woman’s voice. “And there. God this place smells like a toilet.”
Two bright lights are turned on and bounced off the ceiling over my head. I can’t avoid them with my eyes because I am lying on my back and the brightness hurts some unseen nerves behind my eyeballs.
There is a woman with a microphone and a man with a camera, and two other folks I can’t make out who are torturing me with their lights.
“Please turn the lights off”, I mutter to them. “They’re too noisy.”
“Can someone please make him stop,” the female reporter says. “He’s loud and he’ll ride all over my intro.”
The lights make me shut my eyes tight- I can’t take the brightness of it all. Left inside my mind is the bright white remnants of that light like a tunnel that leads to my eyelids. Around that white light redness rolls in, and as I lie here squeezing tight from my brow to my cheeks, the female reporter keeps on talking as if the world is about to end if things don’t go her way. Off in the near distance, Baldeeny keeps rumbling along like a neighbor’s lawn mower going around and round.
“Is there a nurse? Can we get him moved? I can’t do this piece if he keeps that up, he’ll mash all over the audio.”
“It’ll be funny,” I say to the white light inside my head. “You’re doing a report on a guy waking up, and in the background you hear a guy still sleeping.”
“It won’t be funny!” snaps the reporter. “It’ll ruin the piece! Can’t we get a nurse in here? Is this a hospital or a fucking insane asylum?”
“YAZOO YAZOO! How do you all do?”
How can I not recognize that voice? It is Walter, coming in to rescue me!
“I need to spend some time with my main man, Walter, here, and you all are blocking my progress. What’s this all about? And get those lights outta Walter’s eyes. Can’t you see you’re blinding him?”
Walter the physical therapist fills the room like a circus fills a small town.
The lights are now out of my eyes and I can open them and look through throbbing white spots around the room.
The room is full of people all come to see me, all because I confronted a gang of mean and nasty, hairy biker dudes and got myself kicked around against a curb until I woke up in the hospital. It’s the waking up and getting up and going on with life that interests them, even my own personal hero, Walter, who wants me up more than any of them.
“How did you feel waking up? How did you feel before you woke up? What’s it like waking up and discovering you are missing about three and a half months of your life? What was there in your sleep? Where did you go for all that time?”
“I am here and you’re all here. Isn’t that enough?”
“Now who’s this guy?” says the pretty woman’s voice.
“”I’m the physio.” Walter points to his faded green scrubs with large and angry thumbs. “I work here?”
“Just give us a second,” says the woman. “We’ll get this in one. Can someone get that guy over there to stop snoring?”
“I’ll give you a second,” says Walter. “If you’ll get on with it.”
The woman begins pointing here and there while talking quietly to her light guys and pulling on her microphone cord and adjusting her jacket.
Walter sidles up near to me and stands proud and in the picture against the wall. If I turn my head and wrench my eyes, I can see that wonderful banana smile he wears reflecting the white hot camera lights.
Baldeeny rumbles on in the background as if on cue and the pretty-voiced reporter lady with her back to me begins talking very fast and I can’t really hear her or follow her so I don’t try.
“…but he stood his ground… our very own local hero… and after three and a half months… what was it like?”
The microphone is shoved into my face and I’m supposed to say something into it. Baldeeny lets loose a particularly loud snort and then rolls a bit in his bed, mumbling something about all of the unfairness in his head. The lights are bouncing off the walls and destroying my peripheral vision, giving me acute tunnel vision and all I can see is this big, menacing microphone and an agitated woman painted up pretty waving it under my nose.
“So Walter… are you going to hold out on us? Our viewers would all love to know what was being in a coma for three and a half months like for you? Any great insights into the great unknown? Can you tell us what you found?”
I have an answer I like so I say it. “Lot’s of BooBoos.” This is funny to me so I smile my own banana smile.
“Oh crap!” says the pretty woman. “Is he up for this? Can he talk? Are we dealing with brain damage here? Would somebody please get that guy to stop snoring?”
“Are you OK, Walter?” It’s Walter. He’s put his hand on me and is looking right at me.
“What’s new in the neighborhood?!” A joy-bubble lets loose from my abdomen and floats upward and out of me. I laugh out loud.
“It’s the morphine he’s on, “ says Walter. “It can make people think pretty silly things.”
“This just isn’t going to work!” The reporter lady turns to her crew of three and says some things I can’t hear.
Walter is adding some weight to his hand and rubbing my arm. “It’s OK, Walter. I’ll help you get through this… Now, what the lady wants to know is… what was it like being in a coma for three and a half months? What did you experience that you can share with the people of our community? Is there any detail you remember that people might find interesting? You know, Walter, people all over town are talking about you and all have questions for you. Even my wife was asking me just this very morning if I knew what you saw? We’re all just curious folk, my man. And you’ve really got to tell us!”
“Go in,” a voice in my head told me- it was the wrong voice to listen to.
I went in and shut the door and discovered a pale darkness and many odd items that were lime green and that glowed in the dark. The ring around a flashlight was glowing… A half a dozen exit-with-arrow signs were pointing willy-nilly... A vest with luminous vertical stripes hung on a hook and glowed like a ghostly limp flag…
This was like dreaming- the darkness inside your head that wasn’t really dark. Not the darkness of a coma, but the darkness of your brain recreating light.
Things moved, but only if I moved them by moving my head. If I spun around, the lime-green luminous things spun around too and made blurry streaks somewhere between my eyeballs and my brain. You could make the glowing flashlight ring go blurry and be a figure-eight by making your head do figure eights while staring at the ring. You could nod your head up and down and make the stripes on the safety vests look like they had caught fire.
There was enough glow in that room so that when my eyes adjusted, I could see the reasons it had become so quiet. The door was a thick steel and tightly fitted to its frame. The walls were poured concrete that thickened toward the bottom. Imprinted in them and lit in lime green were the jagged horizontal lines and reverse knot-hole impressions made by form-boards stacked up edge to edge.
I kicked around a few mop buckets in my new sneakers and stopped when I sloshed water on the floor.
“This was a safe and quiet place,” I remember thinking, “where I wasn’t supposed to be.”
“Walter called it a safe and quiet place, ladies and gentlemen. A place he was not quite ready for, someplace he wasn‘t ‘supposed to be‘. So here he is back with us, heroically working to get his muscles all going again so he can get up out of his bed and join us out in our community. We’re all looking forward to seeing you healthy again, Walter. You’re such an inspiration to us all… This is Lucinda Jamison for KTBE, and it’s a miracle.”