By Powell Berger
Human touch, calloused hands, lips. I wonder if I’ll ever know it again, if I can ever trust it again. Sometimes I think maybe, yeah, I can do it. I can know human intimacy again. Then other times, I heave and shudder and pull the covers over my head. Sometimes I do both at the same time.
My cell phone rings. His smiling face, captured on his birthday at his favorite Broadway show in happier times, lights up my screen. The marriage ends, but life continues, and there are things like soccer schedules and divorce filings. It’s all pretty amicable and friendly, considering. I try not to talk about the lies and the abuse, and he doesn’t bring up my many failings. We’re good that way.
“Figure I should tell you I spent last night in the emergency room,” he tells me after we sort out the weekend soccer comings and goings.
“What happened?” I know his drama and don’t want to over-react or get sucked in. But I know he’s had some minor health issues lately, and I was/am married to him and have kids with him. I still care.
“I collapsed. Passed out. They called an ambulance and the EMTs took me to the hospital. Apparently just exhaustion. And low blood pressure and dehydration. I was at Pinky’s.”
Pinky’s. The neighborhood bar where he hangs out now, sucking back beers with a crowd I don’t know. And yesterday, apparently, where he passed out. At twenty, passing out at the bar gets you dumped in the back seat and taken home. At almost sixty, they call an ambulance.
“Did you hit your head?” I picture him sitting at the bar, collapsing off the stool onto the floor. He drops his beer, there’s a mess, and people scatter. Some stranger hollers and the bartender calls 911. The clip plays out on my mental reel, and in it, he might’ve hit his head.
“No. I didn’t hit my head. They say I slumped in my chair and my eyes rolled back and I went all limp.”
Someone did what people do when it looks like someone might die right there at the table. Someone called an ambulance. Someone at the table because he was sitting in a chair; he wasn’t at the bar.
I listen but I don’t breathe. My kids’ dad and my soon-to-be ex-husband collapsed less than a mile from my house and I didn’t know about it. And he could’ve hit his head.
The mental reel spinning, I think of him in the ambulance alone, at the hospital alone. This man who had his first IV when he had out-patient knee surgery in his early fifties, who’s yet to spend a night in a hospital bed, who gets queasy at the sight of blood and needles. He’s alone and scared and on a gurney, then in an ambulance, and finally, a hospital.
“Was someone there to help you, to talk with the doctors?”
He pauses. A painful, long silence. And I feel stupid.
He was at a table, not at the bar. Tables are more intimate, more private.
“Yeah, my lady friend was with me. I’m seeing someone now and she was once a …” He says something about what she once was but I don’t hear it. A nurse, maybe? A doctor? A candy striper or a stripper or an astronaut?
The mental reel spins again, but this time, on a different track. Some woman I don’t know rushes in with him, her face contorted with concern, holding his hand and demanding attention stat. He’s scared, but he’s comforted by her presence. She takes charge, takes care of him. Her. Not me.
He’s not in the hospital now; he’s on the phone with me, calling from his office. That means he’s okay and didn’t likely spend the night at the hospital. No one checks out of the hospital and goes straight to work. So he went home, late, after they released him. But patients who collapse are advised not to be alone.
The mental reel stops. The scene freezes in that awkward spot, like when you hit pause on the DVR.
I think I’m going to throw up.
He says something about the doctors taking him off the blood pressure medications or changing the dosage. I say something about the stuff they sell at Pinky’s not doing much for hydration.
We move on. Apparently, he already has.
POWELL BERGER is a freelance writer living in Kailua, Hawaii. She’s editor-in-chief of Travelati, an iPad magazine once described as “This American Life in the travel context.” Her writings have appeared in Travelati, Inside Out Hawaii, and various other online and print publications. Her travel adventures with her two teens are chronicled on her blog, www.familyvagabonding.com, and her writing world is housed at www.powellberger.com.