HERE'S A CHUNK OF WALTER'S SAGA...
“Is everything alright in here?”
Everything is alright in here.
“Oh yes!” says Barbra. “Everything’s fine.”
“Do you want to sit up in your chair, Walter? You might prefer talking to your visitor sitting up? I can go get some help…”
“I’d like to sit up, if it’s not too much trouble. Yes, I would like that, thank you.”
Barbra looks at me and sort of sighs and smiles at the same time. I’ve never been helpless like this in the time she has known me so she’s taking it all in and trying to come to her own terms with the new reality.
“Are you going to be able to walk again, Walter? Did the doctor say…”
“…It won’t be long. The doctors say I had sixteen broken bones and my muscles have atrophied. Plus I’ve got brain damage where my brain fell out of my head.”
“I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
“Me too. But this is what my options are. I can’t change them. This is my life at the moment and I just have to keep living it.”
“Yes! Yes, yes, Walter, you do! And I’ll help you with the hard parts. Can I help you with the hard parts?”
“I could use help with the hard parts. I’ve always needed help with the hard parts.”
“Me too. Me too. And when you are better you can help me with my hard parts too?”
“If you help me I can help you. Sure. That I can do.”
“Walter, can we come in?”
The boys are poking their heads in my door.
“Please do,” I say.
“Are you ready to stand? We’ve got the chair handy.”
“Bring it in,” I say. “Bring in the handy chair!”
I hear the familiar squeak of wheels and then my familiar chair is brought in and they position it like they did before and Barbra shuffles back out of the way up against Baldeeny’s bed where he’s three quarters naked of gown and sheets but fully clothed in man-fur like a naked fat ape.
The boys act alacritous and well rehearsed and before I can slow them down they’ve got my feet over the edge of the bed and are barking orders in my ear.
“Sit your head up, Walter.”
“Feel where your feet are.”
“Get yourself ready to stand.”
“Ready? On three… One, two, three…”
I stand and it goes easy for me. Tubes and wires dangle off of me but the boys reach for those and keep the catheter tube from pulling on my crotch. I realize I am showing my naked ass to Barbra and I wonder if she recognizes it without much meat there?
“Okay, now a couple of steps…”
I take those steps. They too go easier than before and I know I am feeling stronger all the time. One day soon I’ll simply walk out that front door and go home. It won’t be long now.
“Are you ready to sit?
“Turn a little this way. That’s it.”
“Okay sit… easy does it… bend your knees… come on Walter, you got this thing.”
I sit down mostly on my own. I got this thing.
“A couple of blankets, Walter? I bet you don’t stay warm without much meat on your bones?”
“I would like a couple, yes, please.”
“You did good!” Barbra calls out from Baldeeny’s side of the room.
“I did, didn’t I? I’ll be out of here soon, just you watch me.”
The boys spread two blankets over my skeletal remains and I smile at them to thank them. They don’t waste much time chit-chatting once they’ve done their jobs- they’ve got other patients to seat and floors to mop and whatever else it is they do they need to go to do it. I take a moment to orient myself to my new position in the world. I can see the floor. I can see what’s outside my door. I can see Barbra’s foot, the one with the funny shoe?
“What happened to your foot?” I ask without thinking it through first.
“I’ve been ill too, Walter. I’m a diabetic now.”
“My own damn fault! You know how I am with food…”
“You like food.”
“I like it too much. I’ve got diabetes and they had to amputate my toes. Isn’t that just awful?”
“I’m sorry.” I truly am. Barbra never had an easy life and this just makes it all the more difficult for her. I want to ask her all about it and I don’t.
“I’ll tell you all about it sometime. Not now. Okay, Walter? I just want things to be pleasant today. I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“They took your toes?”
Barbra tries to come to me, to be very close to me, but her large size keeps the core of her far away from me. It’s like she’s padded her inner self to protect it from the cruelness of the outside world- all this fat that she wears like an insular bubble- and even if she desired closeness she can’t attain it because it is essentially- with her short arms- out of reach.
She reaches for my face with her plumped fingers and in her eyes, far away, I can see that she is miserable.
“It’s so good to see you,” I tell her.
“You too, Walter. I missed you so much.”
We’re quite a pair, Barbra and I. We were always quite a pair, but now look at us. I’m a skeleton with skin who can barely move about, and Barbra is a bloated woman who can barely move about and here we are, gazing into each other’s eyes not measuring the love for one another we hope to see there, but the pain and misery behind the facade.
“I am so sorry about your foot. That must be awful.”
“It is awful, Walter. So let’s not talk about it.”
“Did you know there are twenty six bones in the human foot, twenty eight if you include the sesamoid bones at the base of the big toe?”
“Sorry. Sometimes I don‘t know what to talk about.”
“We can catch up, Walter. I’ll just sit and we can talk. You can tell me what you were doing before they… before the accident and I’ll tell you what my life was like.”
“There’s a chair over by Baldeeny. He won’t mind if you wheel it over here.”
Barbra turns and walks like a parade float, those inflated, tethered characters with short fat fingers and a gaiety about their languid bounce that make children smile as they float by. The swollen rolls of fat beneath her armpits hold her short, plump arms outward and she’s wheezing as loud as Baldeeny, laboring to breathe under the weight of herself. The special shoe on her right foot jumps out to the mind as the cause of her rhythmic limp.
I can’t imagine anything she does is comfortable under her own skin, but that’s where Barbra is trapped, her self held captive by her own shell, a mind put away in a padded cell, peeking out through eyes that can barely open due to the fat piled up to the tops of chubby cheeks.
“What’s wrong with him?” Barbra points with a cartoon finger.
“Baldeeny? He sleeps.”
“He sleeps? Lucky guy. Why can’t he sleep at home?”
“They don’t know. I mean, that’s all he does now is sleep. He has something wrong with the sleep center in his brain.”
“I have sleep apnea real bad now. I wake up all the time scared to death I’m going to stop breathing and never start again.”
“I sleep a lot too. I’m never scared about not waking up. The being awake part is the hardest.”
Barbra wheels the lone chair up alongside my hospital bed and somehow manages to center it beneath her. When she sits she falls the last few inches and I hold my breathe but the chair holds up and now Barbra is low enough that I look down on her like the old days.
All that exertion has flushed her face and set her lungs into second gear. If I were to close my eyes, I’d swear I was hearing the panting of a St. Bernard.
“It’s good to see you, Walter.”
“How have you been, Barbra?”
“Before this happened, I suppose I was okay too. I don’t know… I was signing checks and getting along okay. I had my job. I got by.”
“I wasn’t even working. I’ve been staying at home, mostly.”
“With your parents?”
“How are they?”
“They’re getting older. Mom is on her third heart operation. Dad won’t do anything around the house but watch television.”
“They make you do all the work?”
“We have paid help that does most of the work. Look at me, Walter. I can’t do much of anything anymore.”
Barbra has indeed grown since the last time we were together. She was short and heavy then. Now she’s so big she looks like an inflated version of herself left out in the hot sun to expand some more. If I poke her with something sharp she could easily pop and fly about the room.
“You look uncomfortable,” I say sadly.
“I am, Walter. I don’t know how I did this to myself but I did and here I am.”
I have copious feelings for Barbra but I’ve already run aground conversationally, at least for now. I’ve learned over the years to just sit quiet with sadness and just let it be because I find it to be sad. I try a gentle smile and to make my eyes attentive and kind, but don’t know if I pull it off.
Barbra stares at me from her chair and the look she stares at me with- beyond the rolls of fat and the truncated foot- is from a kind and frightened little girl.
I can still imagine the essence of her. The being inside the swollen body mass that makes up the outside of her. The mind that takes in everything and reacts to everything and smiles and laughs and cries. The Barbra stripped of fat and two hundred pounds of unnecessary substance. The lean, skeletal Barbra that is so light she bounces when she walks and can jump and skip and surf and ski and dance and cartwheel and play hopscotch and jump rope and slink and sashay and taunt and tease and flirt and wrap her thin legs around me while I squirt and squirt into her. I can see that Barbra in my mind’s eye. The little Barbra doll who can get what she wants and have the life of dreams and be the girl to fulfill my passions and have her passions fulfilled by me.
“There you are,” I say out of desperation to fill the air with words.
“Here I am,” Barbra echoes back.
Barbra yawns. Inside her mouth, small white teeth glisten and align themselves perfectly along a tiny skull and jaw bone. I always loved looking at Barbra’s teeth. They were incredible teeth. I’m glad to see that in spite of all the changes Barbra’s gone through, she still has those nice ivory jewels.
“I’m so very tired, Walter. Do you mind if I just sit here with my eyes closed for a minute? I was up earlier than ever this morning just to come and see you.”
“Did you know you have 28 teeth in your mouth as an adult? Thirty two if you count the wisdom teeth that only some people have and many have removed.”
“What else, Walter?” Barbra says with her eyes closed.
“Tooth enamel is the hardest and most mineralized substance in the body.”
“It’s primary mineral is a crystalline calcium phosphate.”
Barbra just smiles and nods peacefully. My facts always put her to sleep before, like they were so factual they put her mind at ease and she could stop thinking and fretting.
“George Washington did not have teeth made out of wood, but he did have teeth made out of hippopotamus teeth…”
In the hallway I can hear the familiar click-clacking of cowboy boots growing louder, heading this way. The great messianic savior is back in town.
“You’re messing up my sermonizing!”
And that familiar voice. It’s Paul The Cowboy Preacher. He’s standing in my doorway but he hasn’t crossed over into my room.
“Hi Paul!” I call out.
“You’re telling Papa Brown there ain’t no heaven! You’re messing with my sermonizing. How’s he gonna get to heaven with you telling him despicable nonsense? That’s just cruel and unusual punishment, if you ask me.”
“How is Papa Brown?”
“That’s not the point! Splltt! The point is, if he wants to get to heaven he’s gonna have to do some things here on earth before he dies! He needs to take Jesus Christ into his heart and accept him as the only way to the promised land! That’s what the good book says and I’m sticking to what God himself wrote! Not something some miscreant like you made up from his hospital bed!”
“But that doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Of course it makes perfectly good sense! Who are you to claim you know what happens next? How the heck can you possibly know?”
I want to ask of Paul the very same question. He seems so full of certainty but he can’t possibly know that which is completely unknowable. If I can’t know then how can he know? It makes no sense to me. “It just seems very implausible,” I suggest to him, “like a very limited explanation for a very profound question. Doesn’t it sound made-up to you? Like the fantasies of fearful children?”
I await an angry answer but nothing comes. Instead, I hear Paul grumble things beneath his mighty mustache as he click-clacks down the hall in his mighty cowboy boots. I imagine he throws his mighty hat on the floor and stomps it mightily to get the almighty fire to go out of it.
There are sixty-seven percent of six point eight billion, or four point five seven billion non-Christians living on our planet who all think Paul is kind of goofy.
“You’ve made a friend,” Barbra says quietly and sarcastically, her eyes still closed and her posture that of someone coveting sleep.
“Hmm,” is all I say and I let the noises in the room settle like dust onto the floor and swirl away.
Barbra’s breathing has adjusted into resonance with the hairy chest and swollen throat of Baldeeny. Her eyes are closed but her mouth is agape. That was fast.
One minute she was present, her mind engaged with my mind, her self intermingled with my self, and the next minute she has drifted over to the other side- to the side where peace reigns above fear and ease overcomes difficulty- and I’m happy for her.
Sleep can rid oneself of many evil things.
If I close my eyes, perhaps I too can get there? That place where nothing reigns supreme? That place where everything is nothingness, and blackness is not a color but the absence of all that painfully lasers and glints and blinds us while we live?
The world now comes into my mind through the holes in the side of my head. The world without sight changes places in my brain, shifting the location where senses are processed. I think differently without my eyes feeding me images of what’s outside myself. I feel more of my skin and take in a different world altogether.
The world now hums like a refrigerator and murmurs like a mumbling old man. It hisses like wind through louvered shutters and clicks-clacks like the play of tiny children. The world without sight is a softer, kinder world void of certain acuities.
When the world is relatively quiet.
Baldeeny and Barbra become one animal while my eyes are closed. They wheeze and exhale in harmonious stereo. I breathe in and out matching the cadence of their comfort… slowly inhaling… then slowly exhaling… inhaling… exhaling…
Click-clack. Click-clack. Hum.
The lights go out for all of us.
The lights come on. Barbra is still sitting asleep in her chair whishing air between her fine teeth.
Baldeeny is dead silent and my first gasping thought is that he died in his sleep. The hairy ape snorted his last honking breath!
But he’s just not here. Whatever happened to him happened while I was gone, while my mind was switched off and I wasn’t registering anything. It would be hard to move a guy like Baldeeny around without my noticing if my brain were in the noticing mode. Maybe he woke up and found his pants? Maybe he’s trying to skip out on his bill?
Maybe he did die and they carted him off without disturbing my sleep, thinking I’d be relieved to lose the giant noise-maker and couldn’t handle the trauma of a stiffening body?
Imagine going to sleep and never waking up? I mean, going to sleep and dying- that kind of never waking up? Your life is going along just fine… you’ve got things under control… you’ve got plans for your future… you go to bed and close your eyes…
I wouldn’t mind that at all.
Going to sleep, becoming fully unconscious, and then never waking up wouldn’t bother me. I’d never know what happened to me. My brain would be in the off position permanently like a computer in a landfill. There would be no me to register why I no longer exist.
Being scared is an emotion registered by the brain to help you fight or flee something scary, to preserve your brain and your vital organs from that scary thing. Without the brain being alive, there is no registry. Nothing is scary once you have died. So it is silly to be afraid of death, though not so silly to be afraid of not being you anymore.
If you like who you are.
I think Barbra sleeps to remove herself from the being of herself. She’s depressed inside her mind about the woman she has become and sleep is a short term solution to a lifelong problem. If the you that you are isn’t liked by others, pretty soon you become like those others and despise the you that you are. Your fear of no longer being you is so large you don’t do yourself in, but your dislike for yourself is large enough that you prefer sleep to having awareness of being the kind of you that you can’t abide.
The bad thoughts of others can really, really knock a person’s being about!
Michael, my respiratory therapist, has slipped into my room and is holding out my toy for me to blow into.
“Gently but firmly,” is all he dares to say.
I cross my eyes and blow gently but firmly, watching the red ball dance in the clear plastic window.
Michael has his stethoscope out and he’s probing my chest with it. I have lungs that power me and they feel more open and less gurgly than I can remember. Michael nods while I blow and then smiles at me kindly.
I’m getting stronger very quickly, it seems to me.
I stop blowing.
“Everything sounds good on the inside.”
Everything sounds good on the inside.
Isabella essentially died in her sleep. When something inside of her burst open and blood flooded her abdominal cavity she was in bed and asleep. We don’t know if she woke up when the pain of something wrong sounded the body’s alarms, but in our family, we always maintained that she died in her sleep. It’s better that way. We want to think that when she died, she was not afraid of dying.
Being afraid of death while you face it is almost as bad as being afraid of life while you live it. At four, I don’t even know if Isabella understood what death really meant? Perhaps the concept of the end was not clear to her, and therefore she could not have been afraid of death if she died while she was awake? She would have been ignorant of the idea that her self would no longer be there in the morning. And she would not have been frightened.
I feel sad for the multitudes of people out there who are so afraid of death they invent another life to go to after this one ends. You go on to become another human being in another body? And in the new body you learn things you didn’t know in your last body? That doesn’t even make any sense.
Or you ascend up to a mythical place where everything is soft and pillowy and you get to see your long lost friends and relatives?
“Hi!” you say to them in your new pillowy home.
“Hi!” they say back to you. “What took you so long? It’s so much nicer here than it is down there. We couldn’t figure out why you waited? What are you, crazy?”
“I didn’t know.”
“We told you long ago.”
“How did you know?”
“We were told about it too.”
“Where do I sit?”
“On that white and fluffy pillow.”
It’s all so silly.
Baldeeny must be out getting tests run on his malfunctioning brain. What could he have done to have a damaged brain that makes him sleep?
He and Barbra make quite a pair.
Where is Barbra now while she sleeps there in that chair?
When Barbra dreams, who does she have sex with? Is she skinny in her dreams?
“Yazoo! Yazoo! How do you do?”
Walter erupts into the room like an unexpected Mardi Gras and startles Barbra back to now, exploding herself into herself the way that popcorn fills a pot when the oil’s hot.
Walter and Barbra confront each other’s presence in my room. Barbra fuzzily trying to figure out where she’s located and with whom? Walter trying to figure out who and how she located herself in a chair next to me.
The room shrinks with the predicament.
“And how do you do?” Walter asks Barbra in a lower octave. Barbra’s eyes roll upward to meet the happy greeter face to face, confronted with far more energy than she has exhibited herself since I’ve known her. This type of man frightens Barbra- someone who looks at you directly without shirking off, who expects you to participate in the hustle and bustle and grandness of living a life large and loudly. Here before Barbra is a man with expectations, and what frightens Barbra most is her inability to live up to those expectations.
I know because I’ve always been just like Barbra in that way.
People like Walter frighten me out in real life where I’m forced to stand on my own two feet and separate myself from everybody else and work and live and hold my own in the world.
Walter sees me as the potential and refuses to see the reality.
“I’m not like you,” I could tell him.
“Of course you’re not. You’re like you!” he’d say, then he’d expect me to be boisterous and happy and enthralled by the joyousness of everything anyway.
While people like Walter can lift your spirits up and make you feel joy bubbles that rise up and smash against the roof of your mouth, they can also make you cower and shrink and cover yourself with an inverted version of yourself, folding inward like a sea anemone when touched by a rambunctious hand.
“I’m fine,” says Barbra now with down-turned eyes and a quiver.
“Well ain’t that something! And how is our local hero, Mr. Walter‘s-gonna-get-up-and-boogie, sir?”
“I feel stronger,” I say. “And my head is a little clearer.”
“You’re off the juice and you’re feeling it! That morphine’ll make you fuzzy all over but it does the trick when you’re hurtin’. Without morphine you are now officially the you that you are gonna be! How’s it feel? Can you be you from now on?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“I suppose you could choose another you and try to be that version? I don’t see why not? Who’s your gorgeous lady friend? I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?”
“Barbra. It is a pleasure to meet you Barbra! Are you ready for the momentous event? You’re just in time to see Walter here stand up and walk around. I think it is high time he stop lazing about in that bed, don’t you?”
“He’s going to walk?”
I’m going to walk?
“Well not out the front door of the hospital, not just yet! But soon that’s what he’ll do. He’ll put on a pair of trousers, get his shoes all tied up, and walk right out the front door of this fine establishment and then head off into the sunset like the glorious hero that he is! But first we just want him to be able to walk to the toilet so he can evacuate himself without ado. Today the toilet. Tomorrow the world!”
Walter laughs in a big, maniacal bellow. He’s showing off for Barbra who just sits expanded into her chair, gripping her armrests like she’s having the ride of her life.
The thought of walking out of this hospital frightens me.
In here, I’m Walter, the skinny guy who woke from a coma.
Out there scares me. There are gale force winds out there. Winds of change. Ill and ominous buffeting winds swirling around and round and I’m a reed without a solid core.
“Shall we walk about a bit?” Walter insists.
“I don’t think I can,” I try and reason with him.
“I think you can. I bet Barbra thinks you can. But we’ll never know until we put out the effort, now will we?”
Walter is going to push me out into the world whether I’m ready to go or not. It’s his job and he’s very good at it. I bet he runs up against lots of different types of me all the time? People so banged up and beat up by life they don’t want to go on. They’d just assume stay in a hospital bed and get their food spooned to them and their asses wiped by The Ass Wipers.
The world outside can be a tough place for those not properly equipped. It is Walter’s job to see to it that those who don’t want to go back out there go back out there anyways.
“We’re gonna organize your bells and whistles now.”
Walter is sorting out my wires and catheter tube so when I stand, I have slack. He’s moving my urine bag beneath my drip and disconnecting my chest monitors entirely. I’m now free to stand and walk about if I can stand and walk about. I have my doubts but Walter is so sure of himself I’m compelled to follow him as if by magic.
“You’re set to get your legs down onto the floor. Here we go, Walter. Bring your legs out here and we’ll set them on the floor.”
I am stronger now and I can move my legs out over into space by myself. With Walter’s help they find the floor and I’m not real sure of where they stand or when they land. I’m not on firm footing and worry about my center when I rise. You need to know where you start and stop in order to navigate your self through all of the obstacles that make up the world. Being one with all might sound super delicious, but it is not easy to be one with something that will trip you up and make you fall.
Around my waste Walter wraps a wide cotton belt, giving him a handle to manipulate me with.
“Okay Mr. Hero, sir, let’s get you straight up and down, shall we? I’ll put my hand on your back and help you stand up, then we’ll just stand there for a moment to see how it all feels. Anytime you are ready.”
I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready for this. I think I’m standing!
“Get your balance, Walter. Find your balance. I got ya!”
“You got me?”
“I’m here if you need me. But you got yourself, Walter. You’re doin’ it on your own!”
I’m floating over the floor that is a part of me the way cartoon ghosts hover over their shadows on TV.
What’s me down there? I can’t really say, but whatever is me is holding me up and I am standing up and looking down on Walter who is a big man but not a tall man like I am.
I flutter some like a twig in a breeze. I tremble some like cold and frightened knees. But I am standing up.
“You’re doin’ it!”
“You’re doing it, Walter!” I hear Barbra piping in.
“I’m doing it!”
“Now you’re gonna step this way. Just one step. Right this way, sir!”
I shake my leg out in front of me and put it down. Just one step for man…
“Way to go, Walter!” Barbra sounds excited from her chair.
“Now another step. The other leg, Walter. You can’t step with the same leg twice. It doesn’t work that way.”
The other leg. I try and change my mind. The other leg. Which one is that? Not that one. The other one. That one.
“That’s the one, Walter. You got it now. Put your weight on it. You have to lean toward where you want to go.”
“You’re doing it, Walter!”
“I’m doing it!”
“Now the right one.”
“That one, the first one.”
Oh. That one. I manage to find that one in the universe and get it to slide forward.
“Excellent! The other one.”
I find the other one too and get it to slide forward. I’m walking for the first time in a long time.
“You’re walking, Mr. Hero, sir. I told you you were ready!”
I’m not ready. I won’t be ready. I’m too unsure of the future to be ready.
“Keep going, Walter!” Barbra chimes in.
I keep going.
“Out the door, Walter. Let’s get you outta this room for a minute.”
Out the door? There are people out there who can look at me.
“Hey everybody, look at Walter!”
There are a few nurses about who look at me. Where is my Caroline? O Caroline? I am walking and I cannot find my Caroline. I want to turn around now.
“That’s far enough,” I say. “Please. Let me go back.”
“We can go back. Let’s get you turned around. Nice big circle…”
“Around and round.”
I make Walter laugh. I know how to make circles. I trace out a half circle and begin my retreat back into my room. My feet are down there cooperating but I cannot be sure they won’t mutiny. They want to join the carpet and run down the hall to go find all and be one with it. I need my feet to be a part of me.
“Stay with me feet.”
“You made it back!” says Barbra still sitting in that chair.
“Walter did amazing!” says Walter.
“That was fun,” I say. I’m not sure I mean that. “I’d like to get back in bed now. Please. My legs are gone.”
“Alrighty. Back to basics it is then.”
“I need to get in bed now!”
Walter cinches up on the belt that’s around my tiny waist and man-handles me easily back to my bed.
“I got you, Walter!“
I sit with great relief and fall back with great surprise. My legs are carted back to me like the detached legs of a corpse and tossed beneath me. Walter makes me square to the bed while I stare at his bleached head of hair and smell the sweet sweat of him as his effort trickles down his cheek and drips off his chin.
“You’re as fine as cherry wine now.“
Several layers of blankets are tossed over me and I feel safe again, snug in my discomfort, happy to be back where I feel I belong.
“There now. That wasn’t such a bad start to your new life, now was it?”
My new life…
Just what will be my new life? Where will I live? Who will look after me? What if I can’t make it outside of here at all?”
“That was hard,” I confess.
“You did great, Walter.” My ex-wife is my biggest fan.
“Of course it was hard. You’re in a hospital, man. Broke up and gettin’ better. It’s gonna be hard. You don’t expect just to float on outta here and take the world by storm, do ya?”
I don’t know what I expect. Looking backwards all the time like wading through boxes in your attic- precludes any focus on the future. But with each forward step comes the future like an upcoming town. Each step I take propels me closer to there. I just need to figure out where there will be and I hope I’ll be safe and warm and happy there, wherever it is.
The future is a scary place but if you have no future, you’re dead.
And death is the only place I know of where there is absolutely nothing.
“Are you ready for some exercises in bed? You got anything left in your tank?”
“I’m out of gas,” I say to Walter.
And out of town.
“Okay then, Mr. I-just-walked-in-the-hallway, sir. Let me just hook you up to these machines and I’ll see you again later. And it was a pleasure to meet you, Barbra. I’ll leave you both to do it to it without my getting in the way.”
Walter dances out of my room with large hips a-shaking, and I notice this makes Barbra crack a genuine smile.
“He’s a very nice man,” she says to fill in the blank space left by his departure.
“Yes,” I say. “He is.”
The thing about a guy like Walter is his aftermath. He fills up a room and then leaves a silent eddy in his wake. The silence swirls around and round and serves to remind those not like Walter that they are lacking.
Barbra stares at me afraid to compete with the energy Walter leaves behind after everything he does.
I stare at her as if to say “I am sorry too.”
The silence we both generate is an intake of breath for a guy like Walter. Yet for the two of us, it is the air, it’s what we often live on for long periods of time.
Since I had the brain damage I’ve noticed I’m less silent than before. I can’t explain why but I’m different now, and this difference makes me want to blurt out something, anything, and I just do.
“Will your parents let me come stay with them? Until my parents come home?”
Barbra registers what I’ve asked of her with a couple of receding blinks and a thoughtful head-tilt on fat-inflated shoulders. Her small head lolling atop her bloated mass makes her thinking gesture doll-like and unexpectedly cartoonish. The cartoon darkens as we both realize what I’ve just requested.
I’m asking myself back into her life.
“It might be hard,” Barbra says. “My mom needs special care. We have so little room.”
“And I’m not sure where we’d put you. Where would you sleep?”
“Oh, I can sleep anywhere.”
“It was just a thought.”
“We can make it work, Walter. We’ll have to make it work. You have no place else to go. Who else will take care of you?”
“You’re all I have,” I say. Barbra is all I have that isn‘t overseas or dead.
An unfamiliar nurse walks into my room and looks all business-like, reading from a chart.
“Says here,” she says, “it’s time to remove your PICC Line.”
“Okay,” I say. “Whatever that is.”
“You’ve got a tube running up a vein in your arm. It leads to a much larger vein that gives direct access to your heart. We put those in patients who require long term drip medication. That‘s where your medicine goes.”
“You have direct access to his heart?” Barbra asks, surprising me with her sarcasm.
We grow as we live, I guess. Barbra has grown in more ways than one.
The nurse feigns a smile. Her dry lip catches on a crooked tooth giving her an evil mien.
“Hold out your arm,” she demands. “And hold as still as you can.”
I can hold pretty still. I’ve been holding still since I remember. If you find yourself surrounded by many others, holding still is one way not to be seen. If you’ve got sixteen broken bones and parietal brain damage and your muscles have atrophied, holding still is what comes naturally to you when you wake.
There is an internal tugging up my shoulder. It feels worm-like- an invasion of some kind. No. It feels more like an escape. Like whatever has been residing in me is trying to worm its way out of me through my arm. The nurse focuses on my scrawny limb and is all business.
“Tell me if you feel anything but a slight tugging in your arm.”
“I feel a slight worming in my arm.”
“There,” she says. “I need to measure this, but I believe we got it all.”
“Good,” I say. “That’s good to hear.”
“You’re just about free,” she says. “You’ll be out of here in no time.”
“That’s great news!” says Barbra.
Outta here on to what? I think without saying.
The nurse continues on with her business. I will never get to know this nurse. This is not the sparkly kind of nurse I want to wake up from a coma to.
This is the kind of nurse I want pulling foreign serpents from my arm.
My arm is swabbed and a gauze patch applied. The dingly-dangly things attached to clear hoses I’ve been living with are gone.
I’m one step closer to getting up and getting on with things. I can sense the town looming down the line a ways, and I know I’ll be a stranger there once again when I return.
“Good luck to you,” says the nurse as she tosses the coiled creature that came out of me in a garbage bin and leaves the room.
Good luck to me indeed.
“That was gross,” says Barbra, and her face wrinkles as if a Hissing Cockroach had just alit on her button-nose.
“I thought it was pretty cool.”
The silence between two people often talks. It tells two stories out of the same truth. It talks to your inner dialogue and you hear the silence in your own words in your own mind. Barbra stares at me in this silence and a story is being told. How we met… What she saw… The world that she knew with me in it…
I stare at her and see her half the size she is now. I see the softness and the sweetness of her. The fear and the unassuming nature she never lost. I see her painful shyness in a world that basically ignores her.
In the silence that talks between the two of us, I see Barbra and I think she sees me.
You signed those checks, she’s thinking.
You were the best friend I ever had.
You tickled me and I miss your tickle.
I miss you being there when my thoughts were spoken.
You look like a bag of bones strewn by buzzards.
You look like you could float on outta here toting a gondola.
I liked it when we sat together and watched TV.
I miss the way my face fit between your breasts.
“So,” says Barbra, “What should we talk about?”
“I dunno,” I answer. “Do you wanna watch TV?”
“Turn the sound up so we can hear it.”
“Look,” I say.