It was Thursday, June 21st. The day began like any other, which is to say with me lying on the floor, drenched from shoulder to upper thigh, clenching a cellphone that had awakened me from my slumber with its shrill screams and incessant buzzing. (It reminded me of woman I once knew, in that she was also shrill and incessant.) Per usual, my memory of the activities leading to the condition in which I found myself was hazy. As anyone who needed to quickly piece together the events of the previous evening would do, I checked the footage from the hidden cameras I had set up around the house in the event of an alien abduction or the Rapture. Other than confirmation that I do indeed look good in lavender, will probably never get the hang of Song 6 on “Dance Dance Revolution”, and shouldn’t eat so much spray cheese at 3:00 am, there was nothing to be gleaned. “Typical Wednesday night,” I thought to myself.
The mystery, as it were, would have to remain a mystery for I had a busy day ahead of me. Late Wednesday, I had found out that a friend of mine had been admitted to the hospital for kidney failure. The plan was to drive down to North Carolina after my two o’clock meeting, check on my friend, rest at my parents’ house, and head back up to Richmond to work the next day. In the event of something happening that called for me to stay over the weekend (or a wardrobe malfunction) I packed a suitcase.
I took a long, hot shower to get my mind right for the day ahead and went to the closet to pick out an outfit. But what to wear? Since I hadn’t seen my friend in several months and she was suffering, I wanted to look good. Though I looked good in black, and I had yet to do my annual tribute to Johnny Cash, I find it in poor taste to go to a hospital dressed as though you’re going to funeral…or about to perform a mob hit --a lot of which, based on television cop dramas, occur in hospitals…and the occasional Amish farm. (Editor’s Note: “Witness” starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. Came out a year before “Top Gun”, which, if you’re only going to see one Kelly McGillis flick is the one I’d recommend.) I picked out an ensemble (pronounced “ahn-sahm-bluh”) that consisted of a slim-fit, spread-collared shirt, dress slacks, slip-ons, cufflinks, a tie, and a sport coat. I added visiting another friend to the itinerary, and she tended to get cold, hence, the sport coat. Though we were scheduled to hang out Saturday, she was amenable to changing plans on short notice. (Yes, “amenable”. My parents spent a lot on my education, and every time I use a fancy word, it knocks a dollar off what I owe them. With my limited vocabulary, coupled with the interest rate they’re charging me, I should be debt free sometime during my third lifetime. ) This was yet another character trait that drew me to her, because, as ya know, I likes my ladies like I likes my combustion, which is to say “spontaneous”.
While at work, I struggled to make it through my morning meetings. I put on a good face, but my coworkers, and the attendees of my early-morning Bible Study and Relationship Counseling class, could tell something was a bit off: my morning greetings weren’t as bubbly as normal, my smile wasn’t as bright, and my freshly-baked muffins, though light, weren’t as fluffy. “Damion, are you okay? These muffins seem to be lacking that not-so-subtle hint of ‘love’ that can usually be found within your freshly-baked goods. That hint of Love that makes my tongue feel as though it’s getting a gentle hug,” more than one person said to me during the day. As luck would have it, my afternoon meetings were cancelled; allowing me to exchange the wide-eyed optimism of interpersonal collaboration for the steely gaze of a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Kni—(I’ll stop there less I run afoul of certain copyrighted material.)
Since the more-productive members of society were still being…well…productive, I made good time. For any law enforcement professionals who may be reading this, I made good time, not because I was speeding, but rather, because I was not stuck -- at a distance in line with the recommendations of both the Department of Motor Vehicles and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – behind people travelling at lower-than-posted speeds. I stopped off at the CVS in South Hill to purchase some soda, pocket tissues, breath mints, and a nail file. Unfortunately for my manhood, the nail file was not to break someone out of prison. Given my rushed schedule, I didn’t have time to do my nails up proper. (Editor’s Note: There’s no shame in a man employing cuticlear grooming techniques. Besides, massages given with imperfect nails can be painful to the recipient…and get me punched in the face.) I also threw away some old receipts that were cluttering my door pocket and stopped off at Bojangle’s. Bojangle’s…Eat up!
A southern fried chicken biscuit, order of picnic-size Cajun fries, and a large sweet tea (a.k.a. liquid sugar cube) later, I got back on the road. While navigating the mind-numbing drive that is I-85, something caught my eye, or should I say the lack of something caught my eye? (It the notes not played that you notice; the space between the lines; the absence of evidence, which, I have been told, does not equate to the evidence of absence.) What didn’t catch my eye? My stamps. Not my “tramp stamp”, which I had laser-removed (actually Laser Zeppelin-removed) several years back, but my Forever stamps. Stamps which are self-adhesive; inflation-proof. Stamps whose value literally lasts forever…and, as Prince taught us at the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy”, that’s a mighty long time.
When I finally made it to the hospital, I steeled my nerves for what I might find inside. Unfortunately, I didn’t prepare myself for incompetence. I didn’t know in what room my friend was being treated, so I, like any normal person, went to the Information Desk.
“May I help you, Sir?” the receptionist asked.
“No problem. I can get you that information. What is the name?”
I provided the name including the spelling.
“She isn’t here.”
“What do you mean she isn’t here?!?! Are you telling me she’s dead?!?! Did you lose her?!? She’s Puerto Rican; she doesn’t have insurance. I know how the system works. I’m onto you…”
“Are you sure you have the right name? The right hospital?”
“I confirmed the hospital with her, and, yes, I’m pretty sure I know her name.”
“Sir, I’ve checked several times with the name you’ve given me, and I can’t find her.”
“Are you telling me you can’t find any record of her being admitted to this hospital? Can you check to see if she was admitted to the Cary campus? Cause let me tell you something, if you’re planning to harvest her organs for sale on the black market, you are in for disappointment. She may not look it, but her diet consists mainly of vodka and chicken fingers. So, her organs are not as viable as—“
“There. I found her. I was typing her name in wrong…Here’s the room number.” The fact that she never checked my ID nor asked me to sign-in gave me pause about the level of security. I chalked it up to the fact that I wasn’t wearing a black suit.
I made my way to the room with the assistance of one of the hospital’s Guest Accompaneers. (I forget what they actually call them, but they essentially accompany guests to their destination.) I tapped, nay gently rapped, rapped upon her chamber door.
“Who is that tapping?” she asked awakened from her napping.
“’Tis a visitor…and nothing more.”
“Damion,” she said while giving me a hug. She didn’t say it with the exuberance to which I have grown accustomed, but, given her weakened state, she could be excused.
“You know, there are easier ways than kidney failure to get me to come down to see you. How are you feeling.”
“Better…but I haven’t taken a shower or done my hair in about a week. I don’t feel pretty.”
“Haven’t showered in a week? Seems like that is something you could’ve told me pre-hug.”
“Nothing. It’s just that I have plans later, and while my body is naturally anti-microbial, my clothes are not. Guess I can wash my shirt at the ‘rents. Good thing it’s not Dry Clean only…It is tumble dry low, however, which could stretch out the time. You know what? I-I’ll manage.”
“Are you finished?”
“Yes, thanks for asking. So, what happened?”
“Started throwing up Saturday…kept throwing up…turned pale by Monday / Tuesday…went to walk-in clinic…they rushed me here…ICU…dehydration…kidney failure…yadda-yadda.”
“Wow…ummm…I’m no doctor, but I look like (and share a birthday with) a guy who played a doctor on tv, left that show, and came back several years later as a doctor on a different show. So, I feel as though I’m qualified to make the following statement: ‘When a Puerto Rican, or any ‘Person of Color’, is so sick that they turn pale; may be a sign that ya needs ta go to the doctor…immediately (pronounced ah-mee-jut-lee)’. Just a thought.”
“’Person of Color’ huh? Didn’t know you were so PC.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve always been extremely PC.”
“You do realize that ‘PC’ doesn’t stand for ‘Pimp Conscious’?”
“Please. Of course, I do. It stands for –“
“Of course, it’s correct.”
“No, the word is ‘Correct’ as in ‘Politically Correct’. What the hell is ‘Politically Courageous’???”
“Honest mistake. Let’s get back to you. So, any hot nurses?”
“Not really. There were a couple in the Emergency Room, though.”
“That seems about right. The hotness keeps your mind off of the fact that you’re milling around in a cesspool of bacteria and disease. Also, attractive women make the transition to the other side much easier.”
At that moment, there was a knock at the door. The person was invited in. What appeared at the door was no mere person, but a goddess draped in white with sensible, yet sexy, shoes, and auburn hair blowing gently in the breeze as she whipped her hair back and forth…whipped her hair back and forth. When her hair finally settled gently upon her shoulders, she looked in my direction, raised one eyebrow, and –
“That is so NOT what happened.”
“I’m sorry, are you interrupting my narration?”
“My nurse was no goddess. She was rather plain.”
“First off, this is my story. I shall take liberties in the manner with which I feel like taking liberties. Secondly, it’s called ‘re-casting’. It worked on ‘Bewitched’, ‘Roseanne’ though it was later undone, and not as successfully in ‘The Dark Knight’. I happen to prefer Katie Holmes to Maggie Gylenhall…They killed her off, so it kinda worked out…but they did have her picture in a frame in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. To summate: my story; my nurse.”
“So, all of your nurses are auburn-haired goddesses?”
“Of course not…They are mostly brunettes, as that is my preference, but it’s usually darker. Also, sometimes, they’re twins…and their shoes aren’t always sensible. May I continue?”
“Have at it. Can’t wait to see how it ends? Do I die?”
“Keep it up.”
Where was I? Oh yes, auburn hair…shoulders…raised eyebrow. She noticed that my friend had not been eating. She checked her blood pressure and other vitals, asked several probing questions regarding appetite, temperature of the room, etc., and asked if there was anything more she needed. She then turned her attention to yours truly.
“Are you done staring?” she inquired.
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever. My man Keats said that.”
“You read Keats?”
“No, but I have seen ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ like 60 times…Kadeem Hardison’s performance in that movie was so underappreciated.”
“Don’t you have someone to massage later tonight?” my friend interjected. “I mean, you didn’t wear that outfit for me. The sport coat and shirt maybe, but the cufflinks and tie; that’s for another.” The nurse took the food tray and departed.
“Really? Just couldn’t give me a moment could you? I do have to leave. I have a shirt to launder. Do you want me to stop by Shoney’s and get you something more palatable to eat?”
“What is a Shoney’s?”
“It’s like IHOP without the sense of entitlement…Like Denny’s without the spectre of racism?”
“Is that the place that sells chicken and waffles and teaches karate in the back room?”
“No, that’s Sho’nuff’s.” (“The Last Dragon”, everybody…”The Last Dragon”.)
“No thanks. My roomie is coming back soon. She’s bringing stuff from home so I can take a shower and shave my legs.”
“You may wanna tell her to stop by The Home Depot.”
“Lady Bic ain’t cuttin’ through that jungle…”
“I’ll kick your arse.”
“Not while you’re attached to all those tubes you won’t.”
I left while her mobility was limited. She was scheduled to be released Saturday morning. Unfortunately, she took a turn for the worse and was not allowed to leave. I drove back down Saturday night in response to her request for someone to come play Monopoly with her. When I arrived, we discovered that her roommate had taken the game with her when she left. So, instead, we watched several hours of “House Hunters” and “House Hunters International”. (I file my nails, have subscriptions to “Architectural Digest”, “Veranda”, “GQ”, and, for reasons that still escape me, “Lucky”. Is the fact that I watch HGTV that much of a leap?) I left around midnight and headed back up to Richmond.I kept close tabs on her condition while I was in Virginia. I kept a packed bag in the trunk of my car in the event I needed to head down at a moment’s notice. (That’s right, ladies. I’m always prepared; like a Boy Scout…or undomesticated cheetah.) Though her release date kept being moved back, she was ultimately released without any permanent damage to her kidneys. She was better. Hopefully, wiser.