The Wolves Howl at Night, part 2

October 22, 2013

Just Write.

 

Only three events in the commons are crowd-worthy: smoke break, dispensing of the meds and mealtime. My first two days at the hospital, meals came to my room and remained uneaten. I slept right through them, etherized. But today the one of the nurses announces that we have an infestation of crickets and earwigs–whatever earwigs are–so now all meals need to be eaten in the cafeteria. No more in-room service.

I join Clive and Marius (does Marius ever sleep? He is everywhere, silent…) at the back of the lunch queue and we walk to the cafeteria. Why is the light always so garish and wrong in hospitals? Everyone’s skin turns a shade of something inhuman–both ashy and florescent at the same time. The fuzzy yellow socks the nurses issued me become a combative shade of chartreuse.  Turquoise granny smith apples wink on the sideboard as we gather our trays.

Suddenly, I’m hit with the smell of bbq beef and creamed corn and I know I can’t stay here. I can’t stand in line and hear the slosh of sticky beef as it hits stale roll. I can’t nod my thanks. I cannot agree to creamed corn. I can’t sit and watch the others chew and attempt to cut stale bread without a plastic knife. I have to get out of here.

I have to get out of here before it comes and it’s coming because my throat closes and my head is a wasp’s nest that’s too full. No room at the inn, folks. This thing’s gonna blow.

I abandon my tray and flee the line, heading for the double doors, but a nurse calls my name.

I stop in my tracks.

“What are you doing?” she barks, clipboard in hand, already making some notation on paper.

“I can’t stay here,” I say, cotton-mouthed. “It’s too much here and the smell is just…I can’t stand it, and too many people are crushed together in line and I can’t breathe.” I look at her, hoping for a flicker of understanding.

Instead, she takes one step back from me, studying my body language. “You’re going to have to calm down. The doors have already been locked. You can’t leave. You don’t have to eat, but you have to stay here until everyone else finishes. I can let you out in 20 minutes.”

… “What if I have to go to the bathroom?”

“Then I’ll escort you and wait outside, but you don’t have to go to the bathroom, do you?”

She pulls out a white plastic chair. “Sit down. Put your head between your legs. I’ll get you some ice water. It’s only twenty minutes.”

I will myself to throw up all over the opalescent expanse of cafeteria flooring, but of course I don’t.

I breathe shallowly out of my mouth because I can’t risk nasal assault. I visualize that I am inhaling red air and breathing out cool blue, like they told us to do in group. Cool blue, calm blue, free blue air of the sky.

It’sonlytwentyminutesit’sonlytwentyminutesit’sonlytwentyminutes.

Clive shambles by, tray laden with macaroni and cheese and some glutinous, milky dessert. Even upside down, I can tell it’s him by his green socks. He stops in front of me. Marius–gray socks–hovers in the background.

“You okay?” Clive asks.

I try to nod my head between my knees. “Just a little lightheaded,” I say.

“You want food? I can get you some–”

“No! No. It’s ok. I’ll just stay here for a bit. Thanks.”

“You sure?”

Awkward nod. I watch the socks retreat and I breathe blue.

When the nurse clicks open the locks, I try very hard not to run. I walk fast as a fox, but I will not let them see me run.

I grab an apple in the commons room–we are allowed apples, granola bars, popcorn, peanut butter, and pudding in the commons–and curl fetal-style into a chair. I bite into the tart flesh with ferocious, clean snaps. A small disposable tablespoon-sized cup drops into my lap. Peanut butter.

“You need to have some protein,” the nurse says.

I nod and attempt to spread peanut butter on my apple with a plastic fork, since knives aren’t allowed. It’s awkward business, but it does the job.  For many days, apples and peanut butter sustain me, because I refuse to enter the cafeteria again. The staff talks in low voices, makes phone calls to higher-ups, eyes me warily, but in the end, they let me eat my humble repast in the commons from then on. It is my small victory.

It also earns me the the nickname “Apple Girl,” which I’m not keen on but I imagine it beats “Fuck You Linda,” who still remains elusive.

After group, I return to my room. I’ve been given a roommate, a small hispanic woman with a long thick braid down her back. The braid is interwoven with gray and white strands, and she has dark circles under her eyes. Her name is Natalie.* Apparently, Natalie makes my panic attacks look like a twitch of an eyelid. She sleeps with a huge oxygen tank that makes a pronounced burbling noise with each breath. As she hooks the plastic prongs into her nose, she says softly, “if it bothers you–the noise–they’ll move me somewhere else. Just let them know.”

“It’s fine,” I say and for some reason she tears up, nestles into the covers and turns her head to the wall. “I’m glad you are my roommate.”

The drone of the oxygen tank is constant and annoying and I bite the inside of my cheek, willing myself to sleep. I hate that tank as it burbles through the night, but later on, it’s a blessing. It helps keep the howling out of my corners.

“Yo! Up!Breakfast in ten!” A hard bark and a knock announce the day.

Natalie doesn’t move, oxygen machine grinding steadily. I feel sticky–covered in something dewy and foul–so I tiptoe to the shower and scrub everywhere, even between my toes. It’s shitty soap but I don’t care and I wipe the steam off the mirror, almost afraid to look.

But there I am, same uneven freckles dotting my nose and eyes too big for my face. The only thing different is that my lips have become so chapped that they’re cracking open into fissures, threatening to bleed. They’re crimson, bloated, and now that I see them, I realize they hurt like Hell. How did I not notice all this time? I dress quickly, shivering in the dim light, and wrap myself in the utilitarian blanket on my bed. So what if I look like a mad monk? All of us are mad, separated by degrees.

Marius, as always, is in the commons, along with a smattering of people–breakfast is always poorly attended. I wave a small good morning and select an unbruised apple. I look up at the dry erase board behind the nurses station and see that we’ve gained two more residents overnight.

“Got some action in here last night,” a blond girl named Britton says over my shoulder, eyeing the board. She’s gorgeous in that edgy, punk way that I’d never pull off in a million years. Little crimson streaks line the tips of her shortly cropped bangs. “Glad I’m going home today. It’s getting overcrowded.”

I nibble my apple and shiver in my mad monk getup. “You’re getting out?”

“Hell to the yeah,” she drawls and sticks her palm out for a slap. “Holy crap,” she says, grabbing both my hands. She removes her lavender fleece coat and hands it to me. “Put this on. I have a sweater in my room.” My fingers fumble with the zipper. She heads toward her room for the sweater, but stops to grab and huck a container of peanut butter my way. “Protein!” she says sternly, wagging her finger.

The PTSD boys arrive just as the doors open.

“Sure you don’t want anything, Apples?” Clive calls. I wag my half-eaten Granny Smith at him, shaking my head. A shy girl named Paula sits down next to me. “I’ve been here two days longer than you and I just learned that you don’t have to go into that dumb cafeteria,” she says, opening a granola bar. “Thanks.”

Heading down the hallway–quite swiftly for a woman walking with a cane–is a red-headed, stout woman intent on making it into the cafeteria before the doors close. She blocks the slam of the double doors with a heavy orthodic shoe and bellows, “Assistance! Some people need some help around here! Like old women with walkers!” She’s wearing bright green sweatpants and her backside is so plump that it defies gravity.

Paula studies the granola bar in her hand and smiles softly.

“That is one bustin-big booty,” I say, watching the expanse of green disappear. Paula chokes a little on a raisin. I give her back a few slaps until she swallows. Her eyes are watery and she leans into me a little, tilting her head until it barely touches mine. We sit, that way, apple and granola, until the others return for morning group.

Morning group is well attended because smoking privileges depend on it. Miss morning group–any group, for that matter–and no smoking breaks in the day.

“Fascist bullshit,” Clive declares.

Technically, since I am the lone non-smoker, I don’t have to attend morning meeting but I do. Morning meeting is run by Charlie, my favorite instructor. He’s pushing 80, skeletally thin and has PTSD, eleven DUI’s and four marriages tucked under his belt. “Too dumb to stay out of trouble and too mean to die,” he says.

Morning meeting is “check in.”  “Check in” = a bunch a of pissed off cuckoos clucking about every bodily ache, fart and inconvenience.  Natalie doesn’t see why they confiscated her cross necklace. “Potential sharp object or choking hazard,” Charlie says.

“I’m not going to do anything wrong with it!” she insists. “That’s Jesus!”

“And your Jesus just happens to be sharp,”  Charlie retorts. “So sorry, no. We have Bibles on request if you’d like one.”

“As if that’s any fucking help,” the red-haired woman mutters.

Danica swears there’s no cushioning in her cot or her pillow. “Like sleeping on a rock tablet,” she says. “Like the bed in the Flintstones. It’s wrenched my back out of line and I can barely move my left shoulder. It’s killin’ me.”

The red-headed woman pipes in again. “I know honey…they’re not going to care, though. I wrenched my hip something fierce yesterday and they only gave me two ibuprofen for it, that’s all!” She rolls her eyes at the affront.

“Gee, Linda, maybe because you’re addicted to Valium, perchance?” Clive says tartly.

“Fuck off, Clive,” she says. “I hope you break your skinny little dick in here and see what kind of treatment you get. Just you see.”

With that, Charlie lets out a hoot of mirth. “Good morning to you, too Linda. And everyone else. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

Clive turns and winks his pirate eye at me.

“Sheesh, Linda,” a mustached man named Glenn says. “You could gnaw your own leg off and they wouldn’t give you Valium.”

She raises her cane in the air and gives it a menacing wave. “Shut up.”

“Can it!” Charlie barks. “Is there anything else someone wants to share?”

Natalie starts sobbing. “This is my third time here. Third time loser. Neither of my kids will speak to me no more. I sold everything, I got nothing, I’m weak and so tired but I can’t say no when the boys come. I’m all alone in this house and when they come by I let them in–I know I shouldn’t but I’m so lonely–and they use and I can’t help it. I can’t quit letting them in–”

“Ha, sister,” Linda says. “I got you beat. I’ve been in here four times, and–”

“Shut up!” a harsh voice explodes from the other side of the room. Marius leans across the table and bores his dense black eyes into Linda’s, fists balled in carefully contained fury.

I look Clive right in his pirate eye, mouth agape. The man can speak.

 

*to be continued*

*again, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison October 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

Way to leave a girl hanging!

Reply

Contemporary Troubadour October 22, 2013 at 11:07 am

I’m with Alison!

And I’ve never been able to agree to creamed corn either :P

Reply

TKW October 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

CT,

Creamed corn is 7 kinds of wrong!

Reply

SuziCate October 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I’m with the first two about leaving us hanging. At least, we know you’re ok since you’re writing this. Action packed, something going on every minute.

Reply

Jamie October 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Love the part about looking up at the nurse and hoping for a flicker of understanding…fuck her for not giving it to you! Can’t wait to hear more…

PS I love green apples, too. Did we just become best friends?

Reply

TKW October 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Jamie,

Honeycrisp are my favorite but Grannies are a close second! Friends 4eva!

Reply

S in A October 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I love the way you bring people to life with your words and I love that you made Paula laugh.

Reply

erin margolin October 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

will you be my writing mentor?
i’m dead fucking serious.
teach me how to do this.

this is fucking FANTASTIC.

also? I love you.

Reply

TKW October 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Erin,
1. Go completely anxiety-attack nutballs
2. Write about it.

I love you too.

Reply

Velva October 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Wow, wow, and wow again.

Love you my friend.

Reply

Lisa @ The Meaning of Me October 24, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Read both parts of this more than once and still can’t figure out the right words. Maybe there are none. I do hope that you are OK. Anxiety sucks a lot. Never really had a problem until after the Hub lost his job and I had to go to work at the same place that did it to him every day. But this is not the same. And here’s where the uncomfortable rambling starts because I can’t figure out what the right thing to say is. So I’ll shut up now. Think of you often.

Reply

Anonymous October 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Hi Kitch Dana,

I have read both parts of your story. It makes me sad, but your writing always makes me smile.

Hugs, Robin

Reply

Rob October 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I must have forgotten to fill in the “who I am” information before I posted.

Reply

Jennifer October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am

I love how you show the love and tenderness in a place where you think that wouldn’t exist. The thank you from Natalie, the leaning into you, Marius and Clive taking up for, well, everyone… That’s a lot of good stuff in a place where you’d think there was only bad.

Reply

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