(Writer’s Note: Something I cooked up the other night.)
By: Andrew Moran
The first snowfall of the season was about to happen when I was laying in my uncomfortable hospital bed. Unable to utter a word or move a muscle, I spent my entire time staring out the window, watching life pass me by and waiting for a visit from the grim reaper – today, tomorrow, or a decade from now. Mind you, it was all on the same hospital bed that had not been changed in weeks: sheets, blanket, mattress, the works. The best thing you could say about this bed was that I had a nice view, mostly of the trees behind the medical facility, enjoying the life and death of each leaf.
The sky was covered in heavy gray clouds, telling me to reflect on the past and where it all went wrong. This was a chore because everything that happened, I told myself, was to finally absquatulate from the agonizing trenches, so why torture myself reliving the last four decades. But the masochist in me ventured forward anyway.
Where did it all go wrong? That’s a funny a question because I always said, whenever thinking about where my life metastasized into a disaster zone, that it is usually from when I was born. Indeed, forty-four years ago next week is when all these … troubles began. Why did I bother coming to this world, if all I meant to do was live this morose, disappointing existence? Even prior to my paralysis, life did not turn out the way I envisioned in college.
Again, I’m not kidding, exaggerating, or self-deprecating when I say that my life will be looked back upon as a giant waste of time. That would be an excellent eulogy – or it would be if that nurse, who will be here shortly, delivered it. Imagine if she stood before my family and friends at my funeral and said, “Gerald Stevens’ life was a giant waste of time.” Ha! That would be the greatest thing to ever happen in my life…
Where was I? Oh, yes. I did not want to be born. My mother was in labor for fifty-six hours; the doctors had to drag me out. I refused to make my debut on this planet. People always think I’m trying to be funny or nihilistic, but I concur with Sophocles who wrote, “To never have been born may be the greatest boon of all.” He was right. Hey, he authored Oedipus and Elektra, so he had to be right.
My red-headed nurse finally entered the room. She was the only good part of my visit: a tranquil voice, beautiful hair, a lovely smell, and white-stockinged legs that accentuated her calves. She made me want to get up from this bed and take her in my pale, skinny arms. I was married for more than twenty years and confined to the bed for four years, so I had not felt alive in a long time. It was invigorating when she sauntered inside my shoebox, even to change the bedpan.
She had checked on a couple of the tubes, filled in some paperwork, and ensured everything was running smoothly. She also took a few moments to gaze out the window and admire the view.
“I’m not much of a fan of winter, but I always enjoy the first snowfall of the season. It’s magical,” she said to my frozen carcass. “Mother Nature has been teasing us for weeks. Every day it always feels like it’s going to snow, but it never does. Today’s the day! I can feel it! If I’m wrong, you’ll have to buy me dinner.”
The nurse laughed.
She gaped at my body and stroked my hair, looking at me with pity. Her hands were delicate, her fingers were long and thin. Her smell was intoxicating, her voice was coquettish.
“Poor guy.” She sighed. “I tell you what, Mr. Stevens. If you move right now, you will take me to dinner and we will walk in the snow together and go dancing. How does that sound?”
Her accent was unique, a blend of British and northeast. Perhaps her family landed on Plymouth Rock and was raised in high society – or, middle class at the very least.
I tried my best to reply, but my body and mind refused and used better judgment. If I could, I would have taken her up on the offer and enjoyed the town with her those beautiful legs. We’d eat sushi, go to the opera, have dessert, make love to Italian arias, and do a crossword together. That’s the life, not what I’ve endured all this time – here or back home.
Before she left to finish her shift, the nurse turned on the lamp and played a recording of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on a broken-down record player. Perhaps the bobbed-hair nurse could tell that I needed to think about the past. Was it just my marriage? Or, were there many other events that made me unhappy? My autobiography would probably bore you. My life made me yawn, so why make you endure the same kind of monotony?
You know what? I’ll walk down memory lane, but only as far as the day before I was admitted to the hospital four years ago.
The day was like all the rest: I woke up early, took a shower, made coffee, went to work, came back, ate, and went to bed. My wife ignored me, my kids cried, and the neighbors were sawing a trumpet in half. This might not seem like much, but I had been married for a long time and I had children since my mid-twenties. I never got to enjoy my youth. I don’t really know what happened, to be honest. Everything just fell into place.
I met my wife when I turned twenty, got married a few years later, which I never wanted to do, and then had a bunch of kids. She was content by the whole married with kids life, but I could never be happy, though I fulfilled my obligations, even with the incessant daily nagging. I was guilty for all the good I did and didn’t do – that’s a slight revision to the great Francois Voltaire quote. I compromised on my dreams, something that became as common as putting on my smoking jacket to read Proust and drink bourbon, which was an enjoyment that quickly faded because of the demands of my children. Plus, Samantha, my wife, was not happy with the smell. She was one of those Simone De Beauvoir types, you know? I always thought I was deeply attracted to those kinds of women, but as I got older, I realized I was wrong. I promised myself that I would find the most gorgeous, superficial, and stupidest woman should I outlive my wife or get divorced.
Wait, I’m prattling on, aren’t I? I said no autobiography, but I’m going on and on. Pardon me.
Anyway, the day I was admitted to the hospital was interesting because for a minute or two, the lifelong enterprise of compromise, disappointment, and inferiority had vanished. My wife always made me feel stupid because I put a cup on the wrong tray in the dishwasher or I purchased the children pear and peas puree pouches instead of pear and green beans.
I didn’t care anymore.
I sauntered into our overpriced home, saw our six kids crying and screaming, and enjoyed another verbal lashing from my wife. Mind you, I had been working fifteen straight hours, a routine for the last decade, so I was not in the best of moods.
“Oh, you’re home late again,” Samantha said, putting away the children’s bowls from lunch. “Let me guess, you used work as an excuse not to be home. I’m sick of you doing this to me. But I’m more enraged that you dried my purple blouse. You always dry the wrong things. Don’t you know better?
I stood there, silent.
“Are you not going to talk? You’re probably in one of those moods again. I’m sick of those moods. What can I expect from someone who just complains all the time? That’s all he ever does is just bitch and moan, whine and grieve. I already see the look on your face. Which is it tonight, Jerry? Are you sad or angry? Are you pitying yourself or on the verge of breaking something? That’s just what I need at this time of day! Go help with the kids.”
On the verge of obeying these commands like a robot, something out of nowhere clicked in my head. My left eye twitched and I collapsed to the floor, impossible to move any part of my body.
My wife noticed and dismissed it as playacting.
“Oh, great! Now is not the time to play, Jerry. You need to clean up the kids, get their baths ready. Or, are you just pretending you’re dead? You know, Jerry, you can die when they turn eighteen because then I won’t need you anymore. Until then, you’re with me.”
After about fifteen minutes, she realized I was not feigning whatever this was. She called an ambulance. Two of my children were hitting me and laughing in the meantime. A couple of paramedics arrived, chuckled at something on my body, and took me away. It was concerning to be at the mercy of strangers, but there I was: helpless and alone – my wife couldn’t come.
Samantha stayed behind because one of our kids needed to take his iron and another had to be in bed shortly after and the youngest had colic.
I was still conscious of everything, but I could not move my body or say anything. It was perplexing because all the tests showed I was as healthy as an ox. Perhaps it was my body coming to my defense, or my mind forcing me to take a break. It was nice of them to do that because there would have been no other way to escape my situation. The hospital stay was quiet.
About a year ago, I could feel a sensation in my body. I was gradually able to stretch an arm, step on a leg, and recite poetry by T.S. Eliot. I was ecstatic, but also frightened, like a prisoner who is about to be released from prison after serving twenty-three years in stir. I did not want to go back, even if it meant residing in a dilapidated hospital where you hear creaks at two in the morning and live in rooms without shadows.
The only reasonable solution was to really playact. I had to pretend to be paralyzed. So far, nobody had caught on, except possibly my wife. I think she believed I made the whole thing up just so I could get a break from my misery. She was partially right; though I was paralyzed for three years, the last year has been, as I have pointed out a few times already, soothing
As the sonata came to an end, my nurse returned to say goodbye.
She went up to my bed and leaned in.
“Don’t tell anybody Mr. Stevens, but I think you are really handsome. Oh, if you weren’t in this bed, you and I could run off together. Paris, Venice, Bruges – anywhere but here. Wouldn’t that be nice? We could eat sushi, go to the opera, have dessert, make love to Italian arias, and do a crossword together
She moaned, caressing my hair and rubbing her white stockinged legs on my body. My blood was beginning to boil, my best friend downstairs was waking up, and my arms started to twitch. Breaking from the chains of mind and body, I leapt out of bed and took the nurse in my arms, making love to her. It was the best minute I ever had…until my wife barged in and gave me the fourth degree.
“See! I knew you were faking it! I knew there was nothing wrong with you!”
Samantha nodded her head at the nurse. Was she a plant? Was she hired here to spy on me? Well, it was the greatest deception I ever experienced – even if she never touched me this entire time. The last forty-plus years had been worth it just for those sixty seconds.
The dream was over.
I was forced to return to my calm ocean of fidelity, my shop of horrors, my luxurious home that sentenced me to a lifetime of indentured servitude in hell.
Oh, well. At least I’ll be dead soon. Where the heck is that grim reaper anyway?