When I was a little boy of 3, I had a habit of throwing a fit when anything happened I didn’t like. Most of the time it was because I wanted to do something myself and a grownup did it and didn’t let me. So I’d throw my hands up and start crying loud as I could and I’d run down the hall and find a corner somewhere to go and cry.
So this one time I was running flat out down the hall, and my grandma stepped out of her room and scooped me up in her arms. My arms and legs kept running in the air, and grandma just held onto me tight. She didn’t let me wiggle away. The whole time she kept saying “You’re okay, you’re okay.”
Pretty soon I stopped screaming and kicking and thrashing around. She held onto me and it turned into a hug. And then she said it again, and it was good news, and it was true.
Tonight I auditioned to read Trudy Howell in a staged reading of “Let Me Down Easy.”
The first time I read the monologue, I thought this character is so hard-hearted and matter-of-fact about this enormous heart-breaking tragedy. It seemed outside of my range and not very sympathetic. I wondered if I wanted to read an unsympathetic character, even if I could.
The second time I read it, a few moments later, I had already become curious about this woman. I was stretching. Or so I thought for a while.
The third time I read it in the audition. The audience was moved. I had found all this emotional depth in the monologue.
I didn’t get the part.
As luck would have it, there is a NYC reporter in the play, and as usual I’m the only NYC accent around. So that’s the part I got.
On the way home, I made some connections. I’m a retired corrections manager. I was a parole and probation officer, a trainer, a hearing officer, a grievance coordinator, a prison supervisor. I did many many jobs during my career. Always I carried a badge. I arrested people when they were an immediate threat to themselves or someone else, and I was often perceived as a “hardass.”
So it wasn’t all that much of a stretch for me after all.
It was an honor to read for the part.
The nausea was relentless. Truly I wanted to die because death would be an end of it. Two weeks of heaving and my gut muscles screamed like they were shredding. Okay maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But in my mind they registered as raw, and I was the only one who could hear them screaming. It was me moaning that other people could hear.
Let’s face it, you know you’re sick when you call out, “Please help me” to everybody who gets near enough. Richard was mortified. Not me. I had no pride, false or otherwise.
This is the extremity. Next comes flailing your arms and throwing yourself against the wall. I know. I had several times stumbled around semi-lucid in a repeating little drama that began with me savoring a chip of crushed ice or a sip of sports drink, loudly proclaiming my delight, and more and more likely to guzzle and gulp in my dehydrated condition, knowing what must follow and not able to control myself. To hell with the inevitable hurling – I WAS SO THIRSTY after two weeks of this crap.
I remembered a bit of history gleaned from Sherry’s novels about the Arab world at that time. Suddenly I can relate to dying of dysentery on the beach where they landed with those crazy Christian Crusaders.
And today, this very day right now people, mostly children, are dying that way in that same part of the world, dying for lack of clean water.
Rich wouldn’t let me get too out of hand in the Emergency Room waiting area, and just as soon as I started heaving, the staff in charge loudly commanded the others to “Find someplace to put her!”
I spent the next two hours tucked away in a back corner, a closet with a short examining table, where they did an EKG and left me squirming and writhing with nothing but a heart monitor giving any indication anybody knew I was back there.
Even when you hold a bowl under your chin continuously, there will be mishaps. My biggest problem, though, wasn’t the vomiting. My attention was fixed and foremost on my breathing. I knew from painful experience what would occur if I let myself go even for a minute.
I had started hyper-ventilating hours before, at home. My hands were buzzing with that half numb sensation that quickly escalates to muscle spasms … and if you’ve never experienced these, you are among the blessed.
Deep slow breaths. Almost as hard to do as it was to suck on one ice chip and not swallow any of it. So there I was guzzling, retching and hyper-ventilating. It was a minimum two-hour wait to be seen by a doctor.
Honestly, with what little clarity I had left, I began to doubt I would make it. I thought I might really make this much harder for myself, if such can be imagined, were I to act out or even get into a confrontation with hospital staff … of which I am quite capable. You might even say it’s my nature.
I had continually to resist the urge to run around with arms flailing, demanding someone help me. When it almost overtook my self-control, Richard held me tight until I could once more turn my attention and efforts to my breathing.
When at last it was my turn to be seen, the doctor came in flanked by two nurses who knew what she was going to say before she said it. One of the nurses had three syringes, loaded and ready to go. She held them in her right hand, each between two fingers, all points up, ready for the command. When the doctor said, “Let’s get some …” that nurse was already pumping me full of Zofran, Ativan and Dilaudid.
Dilaudid, just two milligrams. A flower bud opened itself in my middle, radiating great overlapping loops of warmth and well-being that slowly spread to my nearly-numb finger tips and finally my breathing settled in and I wrapped myself into it and let go.
They admitted me and I lay thankfully in their angelic care for five more days. We figured out a sinus infection had spread to my digestive system and got it squared away.
And what do I wish I could do again? Don’t you know it!
I hear a Chickadee whistling from somewhere in the Sycamore tree.
just two notes: Db and Bb. Just ever so slightly off-key.
Memory takes me back to childish fooling around on the piano, playing only black keys.
The Chickadees visit our backyard sanctuary every Summer.
I recall thinking we would never live long enough to see our coffee cup tree sprouts grow to mature full height above us. I didn’t think I would get to see this yard chittering and chattering around me. But here it is.
Unfortunately I feel old right now. My low back is in a major breakdown and it has started to really incapacitate me.
I just want to stay right here in my anti-gravity chair on the deck Rickard built for us. Surrounded by the trees we brought home in coffee cups.
We picked the new sprouts who were growing in the roadway or in the middle of a foot or animal trail.
Now the Cypress are taller than the house and the Tamaracks and Aspens reach a good 40′ up. We’re on a little flat hilltop, so our trees tower above the rest.
But enough gloating. How to reconcile the breakdown of my back with the joy that buoys me up? I am definitely upset. I can feel it in my body.
Mentally I am struggling with knowing when I really do need to head to the ER.
There is a bit of partial numbness on top of my left foot and toes. The nurse at my doctor’s office advised me to head to the ER to be evaluated.
Back up the truck! Maybe tomorrow.