You thought you’d stared up at that sad white paint for the last time a year ago, didn’t you? You really believed the lie you scribbled on the wall, that this complex wouldn’t swallow you again, and that you had it beat. There’s no winning against this place. The hospital is a living organism and it has your number. You were smiling, laughing, the first time you left, and now you’re crying and you’re back. You’ll wear their pity like a bloody carpet.
And you’ll know it’s all your fault, that’s what’ll make it sting. Not the injury, that comes from some infected scar tissue in your abdomen, but the true pain. The true pain comes from flashbacks of Carmen, how she helped you recover emotionally, and the love you feel for her. After you almost died in a car accident, rehabilitation was daunting, but Carmen was there to help. Every week, she would come over to your house and watch House. You fell in love with her then, in those hours spent glancing at her when she chuckled.
Lovely, sweet, dusky eyes peer up at you from a smiling face, and you’re caught.
You thought you could be someone to Carmen, but she helped you, you didn’t help her. When you tried to kiss her what else was she gonna do? And you were crushed, fucking flat Stanley crying like a little bitch. And you can’t even stop thinking about her.
This is a pediatric ward, so there’s dead and dying little kids in every direction, but you’re not even sad about that. Deep down in your core you’re sad about one thing, and it is pathetic.
What, when Carmen began spinning behind your pupils, you called it love, but the bad kind? You know there’s no such thing as unrequited love; you know that’s not fair. Obsession is real, devotion and doe-eyed obedience are real, but you can’t call these things love, because it’s not fair to. How much do you even know Carmen? Yes you know her better than before the accident, and that time in the bookstore you felt like maybe she liked you, but you should’ve known that that was just pity. Pity is the most horrible thing in the world, because it is not emotion; pity is only judgement and classification.
Those that would pity you look at your life and say to themselves “There but for the grace of god go I,” and they move on, which would be fine. The problem comes when cripples like you try to hit on normal people. Everybody was just lying on the bed at Clark’s because we were all tired and high, and it wasn’t anything; but you saw Carmen lying next to you and you tried to kiss her, God.
And now she’s in love with Kirk and it doesn’t even matter, because she’s human and you’re fucking gross. You can tell yourself that hole in your throat is cool all you want, but it’s nasty and it makes people uncomfortable. It’s like you’re showing off, Mr. I’ve-Been-To-Hell-and-Back. Look at me, I’m better than you because I know what it’s like to need a wheelchair and see a hospital ceiling all day, but that’s bullshit. What could Carmen love in you? Fuck, what could Carmen like about you? Admiration though? What’s that? She admires you for what you went through, and that’s sexy? That’s attractive? That’s endearing? You know it doesn’t even matter, anyway, because she’s just not into you.
But that’s all just slings and arrows, and everybody’s got those; you’re not special, you’re fucking typical. You can lie there feeling sorry for yourself but around the bed next to you are new parents watching their infant child die. You’ll probably never know pain like that, and you think you’re hurt. Even with all that you’ve seen and been through you’ll never have to see that kind pain up close. They seem nice; a little boring maybe, but that doesn’t mean they deserve this. That baby might have been bouncing around and giggling a short time ago, and now it’s in the hospital. Or maybe it never bounced or giggled. Being in the hospital makes me consider these things..
What will you be when you go home after all this?
All you did today was watch the clock with bated breath like you were hoping for something, but you were just waiting for your parents to show up towing their sad eyes, and when they did it wasn’t any help. Your dad came and he was like “Let’s go get a board game or something.” and you said yes because you saw hope in his face. He wants so bad to see you smile; he wants to hear you joke, so joke, you say, you’ll really try to.
Last time you were in the hospital you and dad actually walked to a video store and picked up some Yes, Prime Minister, and that was so funny. You can remember sitting on the hospital bed and laughing your asses off, and Fawlty Towers too, and when dad would take you out on walks sometimes and he would jog and tilt the chair back. Going fast like that was simply fantastic, like you didn’t even know that the shadow you were rolling in was from the hospital. it was just sharp and cold and bitter and wonderful. It’s strange to think but you miss those times, when you were learning how to walk again, and when you could feel progress.
But you can’t do that now, it hurts so bad to walk. Every time you take a step you feel like nails are being pried out of your abdomen, wrenched by the tool on the back of a hammer.
So you were wheeled back to the game room with dad and what did you expect? All it was was a bunch of sad children in bandages playing stupid board games and giggling, but their giggles didn’t sound whole. In those little minds, even if their consciousnesses don’t realize it, score is kept and they’re way behind. Those little kids know that their friends aren’t in the hospital, but that’s really only the beginning; they don’t even know that this is supposed to be the time their discovering girls; they don’t know what it means to miss that, and that’s probably worse than seeing it pass by. You watched it pass by, so you at least have someone to blame. Obviously blaming yourself isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all, you guess.
God, Hannah, when was that? Fourth grade? And you’re remembering that? Thinking about how that should’ve been your first kiss, and maybe then the whole story would’ve been different? You know, if you access your reason and really think about it, you know that it wouldn’t have made any difference. If while working on building the model Navaho town hall or whatever, you know that if you’d said “fuck it” and leaned over puckering it wouldn’t have been what you’d always imagined. Face it, she’d have recoiled.
Even when it actually first happened for you that wasn’t real, not like it would’ve been if you’d created it, it was made for you and dropped in your lap because even before the accident people pitied you. Some new fellow freshman friend set you up out of the goodness of her heart, with Lin. You and Lin sat on the bench swing discussing what you each felt in your heart about the tenderness in human voices and the art in utilitarian craftsmanship or something, you can’t even remember, but it seemed important.
Lin just felt like home, and you loved talking to her. You can remember sessions of kissing and rubbing over the clothes and over the sheets of Lin’s bed, you felt like that was what it was all about. That was your mistake; you were too satisfied; you didn’t think you would have to do anything. When she said she’d prefer to stay friends, you smiled and said “that’s cool.” And when you tried to reconnect with her after your accident it was like she didn’t know you and who could blame her? But you deserved it, the way you acted when you were first getting to know Lin was shameful.
So when dad wheeled you to the game room the letters on the boxes were all laughing at you, or that’s what it felt like anyway. At first you were like “I kinda wanna go back,” but then he looked sad so you said “Okay, Connect Four.” Who knows what it would look like to have your heart in a game of Connect Four, but your heart wasn’t in that one.
You must’ve looked real pissy grunting every time you slid one of the pieces into place, because as soon as you finished like 2 games dad was like “Alright wanna go back to the room?”
“Yeah, lets go.”
And as soon as you got back in bed dad was like “Sorry, I just thought maybe we could have a little fun.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” and you raised your chin to look into dad’s eyes. You know it’s really a shame you can’t cry anymore, because that might’ve been a really good time.
And then when he saw you look at the mattress he put his hand on your shoulder, “How ya doin?” he asked like he didn’t know.
Not too fucking good dad. I’m in the hospital again, my stomach hurts like hell, and the girls, the girls hurt worst of all. “Fine. I mean, not fine, it sucks, definitely, but it’ll be over soon, so, ya know.” What the fuck? Where the fuck do you get off Mr. Tough-Guy? Everyone knows, though; everyone knows it’s just a fucking act, you’ve got no one fooled.
“All right,” the words slid out of your mouth like ash, “I’m doin alright”
Now it’s been a week and you’re still staring at the ceiling and the baby’s crying so you get up. You know what? Now, fuck this, that’s what, it’s time to walk. Grab the walker it’s not so hard, grab it with both hands. It’s right next to your bed and when you grab it it doesn’t slip away, it’s yours, and fully it is.
Okay now move the walker to the front of you. It’s a machine, it’s supposed to make a crippled bastard like you walk, so walk. Alright, for the first leg we’ll go to the window. You won’t even do any more than that, will you? Oh boo-hoo it hurts so much, that’s psychological and you know it, nothing hurts anymore, you push through that shit. And you won’t cry. Yeah you guess you can’t cry, but you wouldn’t cry if you could, because you’ve got more in the tank than they all have put together; they’re all jealous, they wish they could be given this kind of strength, but you know, they’d have to earn it. They’d have to earn it through pain and disability and rehabilitation, and then they might remember what joy is. They would know the joy of walking around and talking with Carmen on Halloween at the zoo.
That joy, whatever happened afterwards, will always be there. When you looked in her eyes she did love you back, and it had to be special for her too. You reach the window and look out; you can see the black, but there’s specks of light too, and it’s not so bad.
You can see the stars and they’re beautiful and fuck the pain, because it means nothing to nobody, so fuck it. Smile now, that’s right, show those motherfuckers who’s the boss of who—you can’t tell me what to do!—that’s right because what’s even trying to tell you? Thousands of dollars, hundreds of man hours spent just to make sure you can think and talk and walk so what are you gonna do? No, you’re not gonna lie down and throw that pillow over your head and cry; because you’re tough, that’s why, and you’re not gonna let pain tell your legs not to move you to a better place.
When you see Carmen again your head will try to fool you again, but you won’t let it will you? So what if you keep thinking about her? She’s a major figure from the past it’s only natural, the way of the world. You’re the doting skinny pale best friend of the spicy Latina, that movie came out like 7 times in 1982. Maybe you’ll find someone who excites you like you’re alive like never before and maybe not, who cares? Unoriginal people with nothing to offer anybody would care but you’re not one of them; you’re a hero and an artist, and that’s why you’re gonna turn around and do it again. You’ll walk through the pain again, while it disappears, or shows you that it never existed in the first place.
Here’s what winners call the wall. They don’t mention it’s made of nails but who cares, you said you’re the toughest son of a bitch that ever lived so fight through that shit, beat it into the ground till it coughs blood and its mother comes to save it. You’re passing your room again and your bed looks better than ever before. Maybe something good’s on TV now? Who cares so you turn left and get ready to face the pain again. TWO, say it out loud in your mind, TWO!
Fuck two, why not three? Fuck three, why not five? Fuck five, how about fucking EIGHT!?
Wait? Who’s this talking? No nurse, I’m fine. I’m just walking around the hospital I don’t need help. No I don’t need a wheelchair I’m not goin anywhere, just makin laps. Why? You know I’d never really considered it, just feels good I guess. Yeah I guess it did hurt yesterday but I’m fine now. Feels good because I’m free and I can do anything.
Almost, almost. Almost! TEN, done, you can lay down now, you beat it and it’s never coming back.
I woke up a week after the surgery and my stomach didn’t hurt anymore. It was thanksgiving, and on the way out I saw that couple from the other bed in my room walk through the doors carrying their baby, the baby was laughing.
In an instant, the earth will open below you, and you will be swallowed into the agony and horrible congestion of the reality that exists for all of us the same. In accepting this as an inevitability, which all of us must do, the appropriate thing is to gird your loins and paint your face.