The value of lacking emotion
by Mark William Darus
Mack got the call from Greta about five minutes after he arrived at the Brookgate Lanes.
“Hi, Greta. How’s your mom?” he asked, sounding positive as ever.
Greta’s mom had spent the last two days in the hospital. She had had congestive heart failure. This woman of eighty years old had a history of bad hips, failing knees and a host of other debilitating ailments. He’d just seen her last weekend and she seemed herself, though now needing her walker to simply get around her house.
“Mack, she’s on a vent, “ Greta’s voice quivering with sadness, the verge of tears and in utter pain.
“You want me there?” he said with even voice.
“Do you have enough gas to get here?” Not thinking of herself and what she was going through. This woman has grown so very much in the last three years that sometimes Mack had hardly recognized her at times.
“Of course I’ll get there. Just let me hang a minute here for Sean or one of the other guys so I can give them my bowling money.”
“Thu-thank you,” Her shaky sound wobbling like a tiny acorn on a fence as winds begin to pick up to knock her down.
“You’ve always been there for me. Always. Hold tight and I will be there.”
“I love you….”
“I know you do, Greta. I’ll be with you in no time.”
Conversation ended with the dry closing of the cellphone.
Evan, Mack’s teammate arrived and he met him by his Explorer.
“Evan, I gotta go, man.” He told him about his girlfriend's mom and her failing situation.
“GO! Get out of here,” Evan said as Mack gave him his bowling money.
Climbing back into his Trailblazer, syncing his phone to his GPS to hands-free inbound calls, he fires up the engine. Setting it into gear, he drives from the bowling alley.
Calmly driving toward a hospital to aide someone in need, clearing mind of no longer important thoughts. Onward to yet another hospital never known, another ICU he‘d never visited, comforted by his ability to do what he does best.
25 minutes later, pulling into one of the many University Hospital campuses in Northeast Ohio, the delicate sound of thunder begins to pound from darkened clouds to his south. Pausing, looking at them, staring with both fascination and learned behavior, no longer needing to make himself numb. Numbness became his steadfast companion so very long ago.
Not knowing if the music he was hearing was the result of a passing car on Harvard avenue or coming from his inside his brain. “IIIIIII have become, comfortably numb…“ he sang aloud to humid air as the boomers and flashes to his south droned on.
Memory rising within him and the end stages of his mother as she reached her passing and how he’d played that song over and over during her process of dying. Louder and louder he’d played it, hammering nails soundly into a coffin that would hold any and all emotion far away from him.
Looking to the sky above him, sensing his dead parents and grand parents were watching him, knowing how he’d handle this. They’d be neither proud nor disapproving. He knew they would never pass judgment.
“What can’t be cured, must be endured,” he’d heard his mother’s mantra a thousand times in his earlier years. He chuckled at that and how it played so firmly in his life.
Walking through a huge revolving door, he is greeted by a well dressed woman who was eager to aide him needing directions.
“First we need to sign in right here.” Walking to a large reception desk of solid mahogany, he signs the book with both name and time placed in military numbers.
“Military time, very good.”
“I never served a day in my life.”
No matter how many hospitals he’d entered, regardless of all the plants and flowers they displayed, they all smelled the same.
After thanking her for directions to the ICU, he walked to the bank of elevators down the hallway to his right.
Mind totally cleared, free of garbage of things pressing, entering the pregnant dumb-waiter, he presses the button marked 4.
Exiting the up and down box of travel, going to his right, he hears his name called by Greta’s brother. Turning, he takes in the troubled, pained looks of Greta’s family. He says hello to them as some greet him while others don’t.
Standing speechless for a moment, he looks through the wall of glass to the outside world.
“Now that is a view!” he says evening with a hint of excitement, causing their heads to turn with what he believed was a needed distraction for them. As he sits on the oddest set of chairs and couches he has ever seen. The center of the couches had no back areas and were not against a wall.
Greta taps him on the shoulder and he immediately rises to grasp her with tight embrace.
Wearing the prettiest, brightest dress he has ever seen her in the over ten years he’d known her, she looked very bad. She looked utterly miserable in all aspects, eyes puffy, nasal tones as she spoke, her clutching him harder than ever before.
She is lost in the dark place, he thought. A place where those with failing parents descend as the growing knowledge there is little they can do to help the ones that gave them life and cared for them so diligently over the decades.
Helpless, as emotions course through every inch of their bodies and minds. Her family, shifting from place to place in the waiting area of the ICU, handling their unease through movement. Remembering his childhood and early adult life, he had done the same to keep from climbing out of his skin and exploding.
Greta sits next to Mack slowly and he cautions her not to lean backward. She turns to see why he’d said this, noting there is no backrest. She absently cocks her head, understanding.
“Granted, if you had fallen backward and split your head open, I can’t think of better place for that to happen,” he said with a flat dryness he knew would make her smile.
Smiling as he placed his arms around her, she said “you goof!” Giving out a tiny chuckle, he drew his arms from her.
With unsure feet, she quickly arose and said she was thirsty. He walked with her to the vending machines hidden from sight behind a wall. Fumbling through her purse, her muttering about a lack of change, he hands her enough for her to get a Lipton Green Tea.
He thinks: My god, she is so much like a child asking for a drink of water…
Mack takes her hands into his. Looking into her almost tearing eyes, she says, “ I love you…”
“I know you do, Greta!.” he says with enthusiasm as his sends his eyes attention deeper into hers. “I never doubted that about you, honey.”
They go back to the human parking lot where the worried families await to see loved ones hooked up to ‘pinging’ machines with massive multicolored read-outs.
Mere moment in time to him, probably an eternity to family, a doctor greets them.
“you can see her now, “ he speaks with a smile that matched his eyes and calming face.
At once, everyone stands. Heading toward room 435, passing the nurses station and its huge monitored arena, Mack hears them taking gulps of air as they get closer and closer to their mothers room.
As they enter, taking in the ghastly sight of their mother with a tube down her throat to keep her breathing, finding temporary stations around her. Speechless, on foreign grounds being strangers here.
Greta, not unfamiliar to lands like this through a lifetime of nursing, takes a suction tube in hand to clear the fluid that constantly fills her mothers mouth, giving her some ease. Giving comfort as she knows how, slowly taking her fragile mothers hand into hers, she speaks to her.
“we’re all here, mom…” her voice so calm and reassuring. Soft expression crossing her face, looking down at the elderly woman on the bed before her.
Mack gazes at the monitor. O2 fluctuating between 95 and a hundred. BP holding at 106 over 102, pulse at an even 61. He watches Greta’s mothers eyes open and close slowly in sporadic intervals, wondering as well as remembering his past and what they must think/feel as they cannot speak and so wish to do so. The hell of a Never-world, being unable to respond except through sedated eyes.
As Time passes and Greta’s family peal off and leave, Greta stands fast by her mothers side, periodically relieving the fluid from her mothers mouth.
A half hour further, being totally exhausted, Greta asks her mother if she’d like the TV on? She knows the comfort TV brings to her with its ‘cookwear for sale programs and reruns of shows shes seen a thousand times. Perhaps thinking about how her big screen, rear projection box of enjoyment failed her a slender few days before and how her and Mack checked the stores she’d requested for its replacement.
Eyes darting about, her mother slowly motions her head to the right and left, not wanting TV.
She asks her mother, unlike the others, if she’d like her to leave.
Once again, the frail woman looks upward with uncertain eyes. Head moving from right to left while raising her left hand as she begins to draw letters in the air.
Communication. Contact. She begins to spell words.
Deciphering letters, Greta begins to understand.
Mack looks at her on the bed, saying with to her with peaceful and positive voice, “When you bust out of here, I’m gonna make some baked beans like you’ve never had!” She so loved his beans and all the odd forms they’d taken over the years. She smiled at him as best she could with a tube set into her mouth. He’d made contact, hopefully giving her some amount of comfort.
Minutes tick away as life sustaining machines, lacking a metronome for rhythm, go on.
Rubbing her back with right hand softly placed, he tells her how exhausted her looks and needs sleep.
Greta kisses her mother gently on the forehead just before her and Mack exited room 435.
Going to the nurses station, innocently asking the lead RN if her mother would remember her leaving.
“She won’t remember anything with the meds we’re giving her, “ the slender brunette in green said.
As they walked to parking lot, she asked him for a lighter. Just a few feet from the monstrous revolving door, he suggests they wait til the get to her car.
“Wow, the humidity is gone, “ he says with the keenest of flat voice.
“You’re right. It’s gone. Huh!”
She opens to passenger side door of her Kia Soul and grabs a Bic. Flame meeting long menthol cigarette, inhaling deeply like seldom before, finally exhaling with a sigh, standing on firmer ground.
They share idle small talk most needed after such an event, Mack takes her into his arms.
He lights his L&M and gazes to the bluest of skies.
Greta’s eyes begin to leak tears, yet no sobs be heard or heavings from stomach as her overly tired frame rests on the passenger seat.
Mack, knowing tissue would be needed, pulls them from his left front pocket and wipes her cheeks and eyes. Looking down at her, feeling far too familiar with such things, he puts his right hand under her chin, lifting it ever so slowly. His eyes ready to meet hers as tears run freely.
“Greta, it’s in gods hands. God does what god does.”
“She-she’s my m-m-mother…”
“I know, honey. I know.”
“I’m so tired, Mack.”
He tells her to call him when she returns home.
“I love you!”
“I know you do, Greta. I do what I can.”
She stares at him with trashed eyes and trembling face.
He mouths the three words she so desperately wants to hear.
She looks a bit more peaceful as she drives off.
As she pulls away, he takes photographs of the hospital as the angry grey/white clouds in the background threaten the deep blue sky.
As Greta drives to her home, he travels to his dwelling.
Stopping at the Giant Eagle on Transportation blvd for needed food, he notices some volting thunderheads to the southwest. He sets his tripod up and places camera firmly in its grasp. Snapping shots in rapid succession he finally catches a bolt of lightening.
For him, this a first most welcome on an evening that takes him backward. A memory so completely set that would lead him to where he has been for decades.
He looks to a hostile sky and thanks god.
Speaking aloud: “Thank you, Jesus, for the value of lacking emotion and how it helps others in pain.”
Mark William Darus: 0906072012
A Comfortably Numb production.
Huge thanks to Ryn Cricket for editing this as she read it, correcting my errors via Facebook chat.