Dear Diary: April 9, 2020. It’s funny what a little time and quiet can do. I lay myself down to sleep at night and experience the most random memories. I’m a relatively sleepless person. I’ve suffered from insomnia all my life and am now medicated for it, but despite the stressors of this current situation, it seems some of my regular, recurring sleep challenges have dissipated. I don’t lie awake all night thinking about work, for example. I guess I’ve accepted that I’m doing my best to roll with whatever happens this semester and my students are doing the same, so what’s to fuss about? Instead, I’m returning to oddly specific moments in my life and almost lucidly reliving them in my waking dreams.
In the summer of 2002, I entered the hospital for what was to be a mostly routine operation. I was young and healthy, they said. I’d be back to normal in no time, they said. (Really, everyone was saying this.) I wasn’t so sure about medical professionals trying to reassure me through platitudes. Maybe they did it because I was young, or maybe it’s the human way of reaching someone. Those were empty promises, though, when what I wanted was specific information about what to expect from the days and weeks after, the recovery process. I didn’t get much of that. But they did send in a priest. What were they thinking? Is anyone honestly reassured by the presence of a priest in their hospital room? Maybe it’s because I’m not a religious person, but my god did I find that uncomfortable. “You’re going to be fine, you young, healthy dude, but just in case, here’s this person to pray over your soul because, you know, we want to cover all the bases.” Yeah, thanks. I’m super confident about all of this now!
It all went wrong, anyway. Late in the evening after my operation, I began to feel an unusual, building pressure in my abdomen. Luckily, my dad was visiting at the time and I was able to convince him that something was wrong. He was able to convince the nursing staff to take a closer look, and woosh. Just like that, nurses were on the phone with surgeons and I was being wheeled back down to the operating room. In my memory, it seems all of this happened in a matter of minutes, but of course it must have been much longer than that. They were acting urgently, but it couldn’t have been that rapidly. After all, somehow the rest of my family had time enough to get to the hospital again, as did the surgeons. What time was it, when I was wheeled down that sterile white hallway again? When I passed by my mom and sister and uncle, and wait, why did they call my uncle? Is it really that bad? And why is the artwork in this hospital so dull?
Healthy. Young. And still a three-day recovery turned into twenty-seven days. That’s quite the time to spend in a hospital room. At some point, your veins become too weak to give blood, which has to be taken multiple times a day, so they stick a big main line right in your neck. The scar is still there. So are the extra scars on my stomach from the second operation which never should have been necessary. I don’t mind the scars, though. It’s these damn memories. Why do they come to me in the middle of the night, and what is it that I haven’t resolved? Maybe it’s this: I remember who visited and who didn’t and how surprised I was by the balance of those two columns. I remember waking in the ICU, freezing because the bed I was on had some kind of temperature feature that had been turned all the way down; it was to help break a fever, of course, but I was still intubated and couldn’t tell anyone that my body was about to go into shock from the cold. I banged and banged on the bed, pleaded with my eyes. They couldn’t understand me and no one even bothered to offer a pen and paper. My dad was there again. Two for two. I grabbed his wrist, put his hand on the bed. And he hailed the nursing staff again.
I remember the parents of friends who came to sit with me, brought me comic books, told me how my pals were doing. I remember my dad bringing me books, Tom Sawyer and Interview with the Vampire, my mom bringing donuts for the nurses, and my sister taking “walks” with me, but really I was barely shuffling. I remember my best friend’s mom showing up at the same time as my grandparents and what a strange and uncomfortable overlap of social circles that was to me at the time. I remember that very friend calling me from Texas, where he and his sister were on vacation at the time, and how weird it was to talk on the phone with someone I spent most nights riding around with, raising hell. And there we were chatting quietly and seriously, both of us probably thinking about the thing we couldn’t say. I remember people from high school, who I hadn’t seen in over a year, showing up at my bedside in tears and thinking, I never knew you thought of me. How good it is to know and to have you here. But of course I didn’t say any of that, nor much of anything else.
I remember being too tired and sick in the months afterward to reach out to the people who visited to say “thank you.” And that’s what’s bothering me, now. When I was young, I was able to feel gratitude but I wasn’t too capable of expressing it. I think I’ve gotten better at the expression thing in general, but how late is too late to say something? Funny, isn’t it, what we think about when we have the time and the quiet? But some things shouldn’t be kept quiet.
Recently Read: Sula by Toni Morrison. What a wild ride that was. I’ll try to get some actual thoughts together on it and post a real “review.” By my count, though, I now have 4 books to write about, plus 2 ARCs. So, hm. How does that keep happening?
Currently Reading: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë . This is my third time reading it and I might actually be enjoying it more this time than I did the last two times. I’m such a proponent for re-reading. It’s amazing how time and our experiences can influence the way we read.
Currently Listening To: “Us” by James Bay, from his second album Electric Light (2018). “Used to be kids living just for kicks / In cinema seats, learning how to kiss / Running through streets that were painted gold / We never believed we’d grow up like this.” Are you paying attention to James Bay? He’s a stunning writer and his voice has something indefinable in it that is impossible to stop listening to. I’ve got both of his albums on vinyl, because he’s that kind of artist. He’s also been performing a lot on Instagram throughout this crisis.
Teaching Updates: It’s spring break, here, and I’ve spent most of it getting caught up on grading. It will be nice to enter these final five weeks without any pending work to return to my students. I’m prepping my summer courses, too, though I have no idea right now what the term will look like. We’re online, but will people even register for summer classes this year, with all that’s going on?
Current Status: 2,318 cases and 80 deaths. Our peak is predicted to happen sometime around April 17. I read an article today where someone argues the Las Vegas strip should stay shut down for 6-12 months. Their rationale is that the 400+ million people who travel to Las Vegas annually could mean the city is ripe for future outbreaks, perhaps more so than most other places. I appreciate that our governor acted so swiftly weeks ago to shut the state down to non-essential business. I think we’re in a much better position than we would have been other and, hopefully, this means we can begin to get back to normal sooner than later; but the idea that the Strip itself should stay closed is both logically compelling and realistically horrifying. The state economy is virtually nothing without LVS. I hope the rest of the world, the states and other places not yet taking action, start to do so now so that places like ours, and Florida, and other tourism-based locales, don’t continue to suffer longer than necessary.
Positive Thoughts: The other day, I saw a Great Blue Heron resting on someone’s rooftop. A Great Blue Heron in the desert. We’ve got snow, still, on the mountaintops, and it’s raining today. There’s greenery growing in the low hills south of the valley. The earth is breathing again.