When I left the ER last night it was almost nine, but there was still some light in the sky, enough for me to see what I was looking for. I stopped halfway from where I parked my truck on the street and the automatic circular revolving doors that get you in and out of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital emergency room in Camden.
I stopped and stood alone in front of a rusty cyclone fence that has three continuous swirls of barbed wire above it. With my index finger I painted over the swirls, sweeping imaginary lines of high gloss industrial grade black paint over the ugliness of barbed wire, picking off and flicking the thorns with my paint covered fingers as I went along. On the other side of the fence 300 feet in front of me I could see my dad’s tombstone. Harleigh Cemetery closes at 4:30 everyday, I haven’t seen my dad or was this close to him at this time of day in eight years. I couldn’t get any closer. A fence and of course, mortality, wouldn’t allow it.
I could hear people talking and laughing behind me. The voices of the families in the tiny row homes that neighbor the hospital, sitting on their front stoops. I stood there for a while, I had a big question and the dead may be the only people with an answer.
Setting up my personal question by way of this one “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I spoke out loud to my dad, but also to all the dead that rest around him. I included the celebrity Walt Whitman since he’s in there too. I bet he’d like my questions. I asked them “If the feelings I have in my heart are meaningful only to me, then do they actually mean anything? And if an actual feeling doesn’t mean anything, then what the fuck does?”
Once the questions were asked I said good night to the dead, smiled at the families on the other side of the street and walked to my truck. My arm was killing me. It’s unclear, but I’m being treated for Lyme disease as I have a terribly ugly round rash with a raised bulls-eye on the soft part of my arm, my upper sleeve. So now I have to take an antibiotic for three weeks, just in case it is Lyme’s. Ultimately I left without a firm answer as to what was on my arm.
So the feeling that my arm has, its pain, well this feeling has lots of meaning. I know this because the entire industry of healthcare is built around the pain my arm has. The three hours I sat waiting for my blood work to return, sat getting an IV antibiotic, sat listening to someone moan and someone else vomit, that will have cost thousands of dollars. Money made and spent equal meaning in our culture. I sat in a hospital bed, completely aware of how pathetic I’d appear for being sort of happy. Happy that so many people were paying attention to at least one of the painful feelings I’m having. I wondered how many other people around me felt the same way.
By the time I got home I was exhausted and drugged. I stripped from my clothes that felt contaminated and germ-ridden from the hospital. The least nicest hospital in the area, but the hospital where my dad and Walt Whitman lay in eternal peace only hundreds of feet away. I climbed in bed without taking my contacts out or even peeing. I hugged my pillow and fell fast asleep.
Waking up alone this morning, my arm was still aching wildly. The skin hot to the touch where the assumed bite has colonized a round pool of a rash that gets larger and more painful each day. I laughed softly thinking what I described could easily describe my heart’s pain. Since it was unclear if the pain on my arm was in fact a tick bite, I thought that maybe what it really was, was my heart on my sleeve. Demanding to be heard and seen, to force meaning and get the only kind of attention our culture permits.
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