All drawings courtesy of Small Daughter, Ms. Regan Christine Hand
(you can read part II here)
(Dedication of this essay goes to SOFREP brother Mr. Thomas Gomez)
Preface: my recent 36-day stay in the hospital began with an emergency surgery that left my entire abdomen open for a period of three days before surgeons were satisfied with the disposition of my sepsis to close my abdomen.
Following surgery, I remained unconscious for just over 17 days in intensive care. I recall those 17 days in a spotty fashion surviving in a parallel world of dreams overlapping reality and a bout of events that I will only describe as hallucinations due to their stronger-than-normal realism as they existed and executed in my subconscious.
Such was the power and realism of these hallucinations that I remember distinctly that, as they grew increasingly bizarre, I dreaded the possibility that they would overpower my sense of reality once I regained conscious back into the “real world.”
There exists a cluster of notes produced at the first opportunity beyond the unconscious realm, notes that I scrawled at the firm recommendation of my brother and author of the book: “A Tale of the Grenada Raiders Memories in the Idioms of Dreams.”
Whenever my hallucinations got too troublesome or obtrusive I could always invoke my failsafe scene of reality; that was, the view of my feet clad in thin hospital sheets at the foot of my articulating hospital bed.
Beyond my feet was a picture window that gave way to the comfort of the nurse sitting there at the duty nurse’s station, answering phone calls and ever scribbling nonsense on paper. That same nurse would jump up and race into my room to fuss me up if I tried to de-tube myself long enough to use the bathroom. “There’ll be no peeing or otherwise bodily function on my watch,” she joked at the risk of me ripping out her bifurcating bronchus while I spooned oatmeal into my pie trap.
I invoked so many instances of that scene of reality, that view of my clad feet and nurses station… so many that I should have come to dismiss it with contempt and indignant release. I might have hated that scene were it not for the paralyzing fright I felt from my hallucinogenic travels that never stopped, yet never lead; they just rambled and horrified me at every juncture. It was Scylla or Charybdus between the devil and the deep blue sea, I say with the Odyssean in mind.
The hospital, in its in-patient glut, had taken to renting rooms and wings of rooms from local hotels to answer the need for floor space. It was asinine and brilliant at the same time. I was transferred to a hotel room at a prominent tourist exit where the two Interstate highways crossed and, oh… what a tangled web the cloverleaf did weave.
Among the cluster of hotels were the usual eating establishments, one of which was famous for a ghastly phenomenon: an ape from the nearby tangle woods of the hinter that the tourist mini-metropolis was gouged from, took to posturing atop one Burger Boss restaurant to dominate the panorama, and take in the abyss of flashing lights.
As with any other feral creatures, the ape had been taken into the temptation of offerings of food from passersby, and soon arrived at a level of comfort such that it approached people and took food right from their hands, even to the degree of accosting and ravaging their food should they approve or not. Jimmy was stuck-up and refused to eat food that lay on the ground. He rose swiftly in rank to primadonna refusing haughtily to partake in chocolate that was not shaved from a properly chilled brick.
“That’s Jimmy; he’s famous here and he can do no wrong,” boasted any simple-minded traveler. “Just give Jimmy your food and be on your way,” gloated every mindless dolt behind the wheel of a mobile murder weapon. They worshiped Jimmy like a rockstar or a worthless bag of guts that somehow married a famous person and jammed the tabloids. Longboaters prided themselves, seemed, in just far up Jimmy’s rectum they could shove their noses.
Oh, how that Goddamned Jimmy ruled the roost; the cock of the block, that blocking cock, that cock-blocker, the bull of the hill, the king of the pine grove… (guess which two are Cajun sayings). Jimmy, as he grew older and more accustomed to the Burger Boss joint in particular, took to vaulting himself up on the roof daily where he stood scanning the cloverleaf and all the bustle of travel that accompanied it.
“Wouldn’t Jimmy look ever so cute dressed in clothes like a human? We have a Pekinese that we dress in a little red sweater and pantaloons—-he looks so precious you could just die!” suggested a woman from a southern gene pool that was tighter than Dick’s hatband. Her aura was accompanied by a hint of the twanging of banjo strings as she gawked at you with half-crossed eyes and teeth that didn’t touch each other.
And a crusty old veteran of Korea, wearing a ball cap that sunk hard below the level of his ears due to the number of commemorative pins he had on it, donated a pair woodland pattern camouflage trousers and a Boston Red Sox sweatshirt. There was great gnashing of primate teeth and shedding of non-Rh factored blood as Jimmy was forcibly dressed in his sumptuous garments: “He’ll be so tickled to wear these clothes when all this is over!” swore an incidental wayfarer with one eye suddenly missing.
There Jimmy stood on the roof of the Burger Boss, sporting his cammy pants and sweatshirt. He stood with his hands behind his back, not snappy like at parade rest, but like an old man in the throes of terminal observation of a blank sheet of paper. And yeah though they named him Jimmy and clad him like a king, this brachiating blockbuster would sooner masturbate in public or $hite in his hand and sling it in your face if disenchanted with you… ah, but they loved him so!
The cars raced by; Jimmy’s eyes remained fixed on a thing that wasn’t even there unless you could see it. I saw it. I hated Jimmy. Jimmy hated me. It was a mutual give-and-take hate. Jimmy. I despised Jimmy because he knew about the crud in my head. He was aware of it and would keep it alive if ever I were able to rid myself of it.
My family came to see me in the grand hotel where my hospital rented an entire wing of accommodations. I was graced with a room, a room with a window of the view outside. My view was mostly of the Burger Boss joint where Jimmy stood hour after hour, day after day, eyes glassed over, shoulders sagging lower, back arching forward, hands on his lumbar. “Doesn’t that fool ape take a break?” I pondered: “I hope he falls on his face and dies there.”
He ruined my view, Jimmy did. Anytime day or night that I ventured a clandestine peek through my window, no matter how stealthily I executed the act, Jimmy’s head would slowly rotate from the cloverleaf to my window. How we glared at each other. “Get out of my head, and out of my window view!”
“Monkey want peanut??” I yelled at him, flipping him a digital epithet with both hands.“What’s wrong?!” demanded a breathless nurse at the door; she heard that from my room there arose such a clatter, she sprang from her chair to see what was the matter.
“Nothing, I just fell asleep and had a bad dream…” and then I awoke and still had a bad dream, I thought.
It was the night of the last stay of my family. Leaving the day before I went under the knife was the backward and back-handed complimentary way my ex had arranged the visit. I was not long from being laid open like a luau pig, cut open wide from my chest all the way down to the Howard Johnson. I could muster the composure and strength to see my children and bid my X-wife an acknowledging glance on this, their last day of stay.
“I could take the kids for a drive all night long around the road that loops the entire county?” I surmised. I would time it so we arrived back at the hotel as the sun rose, and we could have a grand breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Oh, how they would love that! I would make it happen. The ex would certainly agree to it; she needed a break from them, the kids after all.
I unhooked the tube farm that sucked me off and irrigated me with apathy. I scurried about the room gathering all conducive accouterment for our night’s drive, the kids and I. I fell hard to the floor. I picked myself up with affirmation, only to fall hard again to my side. “Those didn’t count, because I didn’t give myself a moment to acclimate once I stood up,” so I justified. I continued to fall with every other step, jumping back up as if nothing had happened. I was too weak for this, but so I denied.
I continued to fall, hard, and dreaded the sound might waft to the nurses’ station, through the picture window, passed my linen clad feet. “NO! I didn’t see that scene. I can’t see that vision right now because I have my children to meet. I had a bag topped off with what we needed for our trip, our trip that will end with a grand breakfast!”
I plunged through the door, out into the hall, lending not the slightest consideration for the bag I had packed and left behind. I slipped out with simple brilliance past the jotting nurse on station. The hotel simply did not lend itself well to the druthers of a hospital security configuration. I was out under the night sky where the stars frowned at my wanton attempt.
I headed the short route to the hotel where my kids were waiting for me in the lobby. I froze as I happened a glance at the roof of the Burger Boss, where Jimmy the ape stood. He was an old cuss by now: his hair was white, his face was greasy and he rubbed it periodically with his index finger that sprang absurdly long white hair from its tip. He rubbed his face and then looked at his finger. WTF was up with him? My level of disgust with him just steadily rose.
I loathed him as he broke his hands-to-lumbar pose for the necessity of rubbing his nasty oily face with that same hairy index finger. He wore, after all these years, the same pants and sweatshirt. “I am pretty sure he will die pretty soon,” I suspected with glee. “He might not even make it through tonight,” I contemptuously calculated.
I rounded a corner that occluded my view of Jimmy on the roof. A few feet from the entrance to the motel lobby I heard a scuffle behind me and I twisted about. It was Jimmy who had knuckled his way from the roof of the Burger Boss and suddenly into my personal space. He seized me by the arm, by the ARM I tell you! The unmitigated gaul of this beast to ever even confront me, knowing how I despised him as I did.
“Get your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” I threatened. Jimmy’s greasy fallen face fell even more. He stunk like feces wrapped in weeks-old garbage, his clothes filthy, his index finger hairy– he was perfectly repulsive to me, you know. That despite his face had just fallen low a quart of oil. “Jiffy Lube is running a special–get a coupon, King Kong. Jane Goodall just called and said she is feeling lonely–get a cab, monkey!”
He released me and four-legged his way back to the Burger Boss roof where he hung from the eaves huffing and straining to get to the top. He seemed to just give up. He looked at me with a dim glimmer of a bulb that shimmered their last burst of light. There he hung by both arms; his chin on his chest, that Jimmy. Why he didn’t just let go, I’ll never know. He was so far from getting back on the roof, why didn’t he let go? Why hang on so far away from his goal?? Stinking ape!!
I struggled there for an agonizing bout of time and… “Goddamn it!!”
I bolted over to the Burger Boss where I positioned my shoulders just under his legs. I palmed the bottoms of his two feet and lifted to the extent that I could, coaxing: “Pull, Jimmy… pull yourself up, mammal!” and Jimmy made it up puffing and kicking like an epileptic whose brain just kept misfiring.
I returned to the hotel catching my breath and trying to wipe the Jimmy stench from my palms onto the legs of my trousers like it would smell any better there. Just at the corner of the hotel I paused and looked back at the stone figure in repose overwatching the grand clover and seeing… nothing. He rotated his head and paused it my way. I nodded a nod of truce and peace. James distinctly nodded in return.
It feels good to shed an enemy. It’s like stripping off a layer of clothes when the weather is balmy. It’s peace of mind, it is. It’s like jettisoning your ruck after three clicks through loam and light green. I now dreaded Jimmy’s fading health and silently wished him well. “Better late than never, right? RIGHT??” But fate was silent.
“Let’s go kids; we’re going out tonight on an adventure!” I chortled plowing thought the lounge door.
“I can’t go, dad,” my young son lamented.
“Why not; why can’t you go, buddy?? ”
“Because I have to stay here at the hospital until I get better…”
“Get better? Get better from what, son?””
And my son lifted his shirt to reveal a tremendous slice on his abdomen that extended from his chest to his groin. It was fresh and held epidermis shut with sutures, but oozing blood nonetheless. Where the… how the… when the… he was just fine so short a time ago. Had he suddenly collapsed and found himself in surgery fighting for his life? Had he been operated on for three days and unconscious for another 17?? It all seemed just so… impossible, impossible for a beautiful young boy at play–MY DEAR BOY!
I was petrified to the point that I sought and saw my feet under covers. Behind them was a picture window with a nurse on station busy with nothing. This was home. I lifted my garment and inspected my abdomen. It was smooth and clear, no incision yet, but soon, real soon. The clock ticked down the seconds and derided me: “Time’s not on your side, man!”
The pattering of some drops of rain emanated from my window. I leaned forward and peered out my of my window at low swollen clouds lit by the many lights of the travelers’ oasis. Rain came to see me off to surgery. Death was here to deliver a message: “You stated under official forum that you would volunteer for a mission with a 50% mortality rate. Your opportunity to prove that is here; embrace it with anticipation, but always with pride and confidence.” And as quick as she arrived, Death was gone.
To it, I responded: “If I die young bury me in satin, lay me down on a bed of roses, take me in the river at dawn… if I die.”
My heavenly gaze settled inevitably to the roof of the Boss. There lay Jimmy face down, hand clasped behind his back like an honor guard who, though threatened with death, refused to relinquish his sworn post. Death came to message me, and took Jimmy by the by, out of spite and convenience.
I felt the urge to go to him, but the feeling was not strong enough to de-tube and cause a ruckus with the shift nurses. Jimmy was important enough to deliver a life message of brotherhood to me, but not important enough to mourn properly in passing. That was just me, despicable me.
By God and with honor,
Photo(s) courtesy Small Daughter Regan Christine Hand; video courtesy of YouTube