Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Coming up from Under Water (A Poem)

Five days in the hospital means a month of blunted memories to me,
and I'm not even the one who was treated,
except that I was treated like an interloper for insisting on better treatment
for someone I loved who wasn't speaking but whose eyes constantly screamed.

Still, while I was in the sideline, lying in a recliner,
being moved like furniture by personnel.
The hospital smell was all my memory needed to bring up old fears,
seeds of something I witnessed that was like something that happened.

In an emergency room in 2003, standing vigil over this same face,
waiting for tranquilizers to reduce the shakes
but knowing that they can't quite stop her brain from complaining in waves that bunch muscles
and do work like Catholic inquisitions, causing nothing but destruction and contortion.

It was an attending and his intern that did this, asking me to be the muscle
just because the department was busy and they "needed" to keep testing.
I'd already told them her history. Still, the intern needed to see whether this was meningitis
or what I'd already claimed it to be (as corroborated by five other doctors and her medical history).

So it was that I came to be holding my lover's body while doctors stuck needles in her spine
in a procedure that didn't need to be, just to see if her seizures were still caused by their cause
or if a secondary infection led to the new episode. The first three tries flashed blood,
contaminating the attempt and forcing me to watch their needlework again.

It was just like water when it happened the right way, and that was why I broke my shattered face.
Despair is not seeing the most horrible thing, it's the most horrible thing becoming commonplace.
The purity of her fluid and the screaming that succeeded it as her voice came back
to protest through the Ativan stirred formative terrors and an old pain I still can't place.

I can still find the place where they placed the needle when I was two years old.
I don't remember the incident, but I have frequently felt the site reopen, and twice it's been infected,
and I always have migraines when I have pain in the base of my spine,
but I had to be told that what I witnessed my lover go through was an experience of mine.

In that moment, I was unknowing, and cold terror descended upon me. I went,
at the age of twenty-one, from an unperturbed viewer of the Faces of Death
to being a face that turned away from the movie screen at the sight of needles and plastic tubing,
and I have never been the same after sitting my eyeball six inches from a shunt and witnessing.

Witnessing. That is what I have been doing. Not writing. Cataloging the ways that professionals
well trained in tender ways to extract pain justify deconstructing a body to its constituent fluids
and ignoring the emergent event that happens across consciousness as a side effect,
not bothering to remember that the side effect is the person, and that the person should consent.

I haven't been the same since then, and when I have to step in and be the adult because
for some reason someone who's been drugged but who still remembers the exact citation
information for studies on her condition is not presumed to be competent.
Maybe the doctors make me do this because they're convinced I'm a man.

Maybe they do it just because they can. Either way, when I have to be her voice and speak
the plans she constructs for these contingencies, I go back to being that screaming toddler,
making noises to make the doctors do my bidding, but not paying attention to what they happen to be.
It's all I can do not to stop breathing, and when it's over, I need a break from being me.

Feeling the feeling receding after chemically blunting intrusive memories is like coming up for breath
after managing to spend eight minutes in the depths of a lukewarm pool. Only a fool
would assume you could just go back to normal. Everyone else knows that even controlled choking
causes one to need rest and a chance to breathe.

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