Never/More

By Kristin Iversen

Essay

My father died last summer, and now I have his car. He didn’t leave me his car, but I have it all the same. What he left me was his music—his guitars and his stereo and his records and his tambourine that I had already taken years ago and have always kept in my bedroom. But he didn’t leave me the car. The car just kind of came to me. It’s a twenty-year-old Mercedes station wagon with an out of service car phone in a black metal holster. It looks like it ought to have a Bush/Quayle ‘92 bumper sticker on the back, but I’ve been told that a Puerto Rican flag on the dashboard would really recontextualize everything.

It was inevitable, right? It was our honeymoon. One of us had to get hit by a car. That I was the one, not Karen, does not surprise me at all. I only see this now, looking back. I’m crossing the street. I hardly look. I resemble my father, Ira, who was voted “Most Likely to Get Hit by a Car” in his high school yearbook. And my father, a tall, prominent man, has been hit by cars before, one time a school bus.

I was on my way to buy oranges. I was standing on the curb, day-dreaming (about eating an orange in bed, slice by slice, my new wife happily dozing next to me) when I sort of just stepped onto the street, and KABOOM!

“Oh no,” I screamed.

“Oh no,” as I was launched, unpleasantly, into the pavement.

“Oh no,” as my foot, which until then had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with a leather beach sandal, rolled under the wheel of a tiny red coupe.

Oh no, oh no, oh no: three times, in quick succession, each a bit more panicky than the last.

The tiny red coupe stopped. I was on the pavement, looking up, somewhat embarrassed.

I mean, what kind of guy screams, Oh no like that?

A small crowd assembled. Two women, both stunned and extremely pretty, leaped from the tiny red coupe, and pushed through the crowd.

Dios mio!” they gasped.

And the really pretty one, the driver I guess, sensed something unique about me-had she heard me scream, Oh no?-because she did not address me next in Catalan, or even Spanish (I mean we were in Barcelona and I’ve been told before, I look Spanish) but instead shrieked in English, “Are you alive?”

Which was very unsettling.

Maybe she meant, “Are you alright?”

My back hurt, and my foot and my head. But death? I couldn’t help but affirm what had seemed obvious until that point. I stood up.

“I’m alive,” I said.

The crowd dispersed. I caught the eye of a fit guy on a ten-speed bicycle; riding away, he looked disappointed. I was alone with the two women. I was alive. When my father was hit by the bus he called it The Uppercut. This was more Punch-Buggy.

“Where’s your foot?” the other one asked.

I noticed she really wasn’t pretty at all.

“Does this hurt?” the driver said, leaning down towards me, gently, touching my naked foot.

I wanted to say, “Yes, it hurts .”

I wanted to say this just to please her.

But then she said, “Let’s go to the hospital,” and I imagined my life soaring away into a foreign oblivion. It was only the second day of my honeymoon and I had not oriented myself to the city. Don’t ask me why, but here in Barcelona, the most cosmopolitan of Spanish cities, a city I had lived in in my early-twenties, I imagined a sort of military atmosphere, a large, foursquare room, uniformly uncomfortable beds, patients dying. We were staying at a friend’s flat on Sepulveda, but I didn’t know the street name at the time, and I definitely didn’t know the number. What if I had to stay at the foreign hospital? What about my new wife, who at that moment was sitting on a plaza nearby filming a flamenco street performance? She’d wonder where I was. She’d look for me. Maybe she’d find my beach sandal and freak. Maybe she’d find nothing and freak. Possibly, we’d meet up, days later.

“No,” I said.

I could’ve asked the far less pretty one to find Karen. I could’ve waited with the driver. We could’ve talked about ourselves. I could’ve voyaged to the hospital with three woman, two strangers and a wife, each one asking in her own way, “Does that hurt?” Really, though, I just wanted to see my wife.

And that’s what I said. “I want to see my wife.”

The ugly one lit a cigarette.

“Are you so sure?” she said.

“I’m sure,” I said.

Now here’s what bothers me. Next, instead of making my way to Karen, I limped across the street and staggered into the fruit market. I browsed the fruit bins, feeling immensely sorry for myself. I was, actually, dying, as I learned a few days later, and I guess I was already feeling a little spooky.  I thought of our wedding night, how I vomited in the bushes, and then we lounged, as newlyweds, in a broken hammock. I wanted to get better, but I also wanted to get worse, to keep Karen forever leaning over me, rubbing my shoulders, and whispering, “Is that better?”

I bought my oranges, re-crossed the street, and made my way back to the plaza I’d left maybe ten minutes earlier. My sleeves were shredded, my remaining sandal no longer fit right. I turned up some alley, passed a gelato shop, which smelled like coconut, limped down a narrow, secret street, under an arch leading onto a plaza, and there was Karen, the loveliest women I’d ever seen, peering through our digital camera, and I corrected my limp although it hurt.

What would I tell her?

Perhaps I’d tell her I bought the most spectacular oranges. I’d already tasted one and it was delicious. She saw me and smiled, her adorable Karen-smile, so giving, and I felt a pain in my heart. Perhaps I would tell her nothing. At last, when my thin shadow spread across the pavement where she was sitting, she looked up, frowned a bit, and said, “What took you so long?”

“I was hit by a car.”

“Shut up.”

I pointed to my one foot, deserted, trampled. She burst into tears.

“What happened?”

We sat, on the plaza, clutching each other. Karen was afraid to let me go and I was afraid to let her go. What other scary thing might happen?

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Karen asked.

Have you read Frank O’Hara’s poem about Lana Turner? “Lana Turner has collapsed!” My favorite lines in all of American poetry:

“I have been to lots of parties/ and acted perfectly disgraceful/ but I never actually collapsed.”

What kind of person gets hit by a car on their honeymoon? Sitting there, I remember thinking: this whole incident seems to prove on some level that I am incompetent. I looked at my new wife, at the slender profile of her face, the tears marking her cheeks, her lovely pecas, which is Spanish for “freckles.”

I remember little of the days after I was hit by the tiny red coupe.

I remember the streets we walked from the metro to the beach. I remember reading lunch menus on the chalkboards. I remember a guy on the beach balancing doughnuts on a plank on his head. One evening, Karen dragged me from the metro station on her back to the flat on Sepulveda. I’m dying, I remember feeling.

My courage, or stupidity, still surprises me. I refused to give it much thought. I had already done enough to ruin our honeymoon.

One morning I looked in the mirror and noticed my ribs pulsating around my abdomen. I was thirsty, unimaginably thirsty, as if a vacuum were sucking the water out of my body. Whatever was happening was undeniable.

So I asked my new wife to call the doctor. One hour later, nearly dead, I was rushed to the ER, where I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. They hooked me up to a tube of insulin the size of a bomb. It was called “La bomba.” At night, after visiting hours had ended, Karen would go home to the flat on Sepulveda alone. I can see her now, standing on the balcony, surrounded by a prolific breed of plants, looking out to the building across the courtyard, looking up to the ridiculous sky.

I stayed in the hospital for six days.

The fact that all this happened during my honeymoon depressed me for months.

To get hit by a car on your honeymoon is not good. To enter the hospital, nearly dead, on your honeymoon, is worse. I had given a vow a month before, to have Karen as my wife, to live together in marriage, to love her, to comfort her, to honor her and keep her, in sickness and health, in sorrow and joy, and to be faithful to her, as long as we both shall live. With this vow comes an unspoken promise, one that a young guy might feel obliged to ignore: to stay alive. It’s important not to die. Beyond the grandiose gestures of wedding  vows, the most human thing a couple can do together is survive.

It’s rare, I imagine, to receive that sort of lesson on a honeymoon. But I did. We did.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Karen had asked that night on the plaza.

“Of course not,” I had said.

And so we went off to a little restaurant in El Raval. It was our honeymoon, after all. I remember devouring my monkfish paella. I remember looking at my wife, how she dissected a plate of prawns in a silence she broke only to ask for more wine. I remember the wine, the tang of cheap rioja, the two bottles we swilled out of sheer joy.

Saknussemm in Guandong

I hate to big note myself (unless I’m ill-advisedly tilting at the windmill of a luscious younger woman who I think may not see through the act quickly enough)-but, as a certified paranoiac, I do occasionally have moments where I draw some grand albeit dark and discomfiting conclusions about the impact of my psychic state, perhaps just even my physical presence, on the larger scene.

For example, I can’t help but feel some twinge of that famous sinking feeling when I think of the Chinese province of Guandong.

Things can start off innocently enough-say with a tea-buying spree in Shanghai or some casual misbehavior in Hong Kong (although I do have my friend, the San Francisco writer Leland Cheuk, to thank for bailing me out of an embarrassingly large bill once at a girlie bar in Wan Chai)-but by the time I get to Guandong, things start to openly wobble.

Each visit, some catastrophe has taken place. I lie. Multiple crises have ensued, erupted-and just plain exploded. I’m left with the nagging question-am I a DISASTER MAGNET?

Guandong is China’s most populous region and the driving wheel of their economic empire. Guangzhou (Canton) is the principal city. To say it’s possibly the world’s densest manufacturing center today is no overstatement and doesn’t really begin to capture the emotional-psychological aspect. We’re talking the intensity of a termite mound during a thunderstorm.

Guandong produces a signficant percentage of China’s entire GDP, and there’s an excellent chance that right around you now are a whole lot of things made there-from clothing to electrical goods, to things inside other things-to stuff you don’t want to know about. Anything you can think of in fact, may very well be made in Guandong.

Hong Kong and Macau were historically parts of Guandong, and Cantonese remains the main language spoken there, despite the recent flood of immigration from other parts of the country because of the employment opportunities. The bulk of the men and women who built the railroads of America and Canada originated from Guandong, and that same work ethic is very much alive today.

Which isn’t to say that all is well there. Not by a long shot. Most of the wealth produced is consolidated around the Pearl River Delta. Actual wages generally are often pitiful. Sweatshops, battery farms and bizarre factory scenes from out of the 19th century sit right alongside complexes that conjure the 22nd. Unidentified clouds of smoke hang over vast sections. I worked one summer on Neville Island in Pittsburgh, back when steel and coke were manufactured there, and it doesn’t even begin to compare.

Toledo painted by Saknussemm

I first went to Guandong because of this painting (ironically titled Toledo).

A gallery in Hong Kong had taken me on and had sold it to an advertising executive visiting from Guangzhou. The gallery owner’s tip was to pay a visit there. There was talk of the Chinese government turning an immense decommissioned military base into a magical arts colony, where artists from all over China and the world would be welcome to live for free, providing they fixed up their own studio quarters. I was on a plane to Guangzhou quick smart-and that’s when the pattern began to form.

I could be sitting peacefully at a Western style breakfast…and a fiberglass factory has burst into an inferno of flames flash-frying 400 workers in an instant. Phosphates are found to be leeching into a major waterway. 300 school children suddenly lose all their hair. The principal railway line suddenly gets closed for unstated reasons and men in strange uniforms appear. The next morning an “incident” has occurred at a sulfuric acid plant. (Incidents don’t occur with sulfuric acid-more like total havoc and mayhem.) And then there are the agricultural industry outbreaks.

Meat Pig Head

We all know that chickens go supernova when the computers malfunction and too many hormones are administered. We all freaked out about Bird Flu. But what about suckling pigs with two heads? What about several baby pigs with two heads?

Yes, we’re willing to overlook a few oddball mutations. What would the traditions of the NBA, the freak show, and a good portion of next year’s admitted class to M.I.T. be without some wiggle room on this point? But it’s not a good look to be eating some Western style bacon in Guandong-overhearing that several hundred factory workers have been cooked like bacon, and only a few miles away, pigs are being born with two heads.

Now, I concede, it’s very possible-it may even be likely-that my coincidental presence has had nothing to do with these calamities. No one wishes that more than me. But I’ll tell you the thing that worries me the most. When this weird shit has been going down-and I count a total of thirteen “incidents” over the course of my visits that would’ve made front page/top of the TV bulletin news where I live-only one made it onto the radar of the world media that I’m aware of. One. (In a particularly worrisome instance, 4,000 people were exposed to toxic chemicals and I’m certain nary a whisper reached CNN or any outside news source.)

China has become much more media transparent than it was only a short while ago. The recent spree of attacks by lunatics on school children is a case in point. That news might well not have reached us once. The Olympics in Beijing helped. The influx of western businesses has helped. But in my view, we have the Chinese students and folks under thirty to thank for opening some windows that were previously sealed-and not always for reasons of some kind of political dissent. In fact, many Chinese young people are far more conservative than you might think.

The reason these younger people are conduits for news is that they’re often dislocated across great distances from their homes to study in the major cities, and like many of the population, they’re forced to occasionally seek employment at great distance from home. A lot of news that otherwise might not get out is carried in very personal ways by this mobile section of the populace.

It helps that these younger people are computer fluent, usually have cell phones, and have some degree of multilingual skills. But theirs isn’t for the most part any active attempt to subvert the official government spin on anything. The many students I’ve met are working hard just to cope with the challenges they face, and they have a great deal of pride in their cultures. Take my young friend Su, for instance.

She comes from an isolated rural village in the far north and lives in a shoebox, attending university in Shanghai. She’s the first person of her generation to go away to university, and in recognition of her achievement, her village named their most prized asset after her-a large earthmoving machine. When the government presented it to them, they had her name stenciled on the side. It sounds like a humble honor, but as everyone knows, 20 year olds don’t tear up all that easy-and she does when she shows the photograph-meekly but with reverence.

Her goal is to get educated and to help her family. She has no political radicalism. But she gets concerned when she hears from her brother, who works in Guandong, that several of his fellow employees have suddenly fallen gravely ill or that a few hundred at a plant nearby have been incinerated.

What did the plant manufacture? That’s another very big problem. It’s not just that industrial accidents occur far too frequently (whether I have anything to do with it or not), there’s a much bigger issue.

I have a friend who’s been a senior chemical engineer for DuPont (The Miracles of Science™). Their history, like Monsanto’s and others, is pretty checkered too. I don’t pretend to understand all that he does, but here’s how he puts it. “It’s very wrong to think the problem with developing giants like China and India is a matter of quality control and safety standards. That makes it sound like there are lapses in protocol that create accidents. It’s a lot truer to say that there are practices and processes at work that aren’t safe period. You don’t need a Ph.D. and twenty years of industry experience to know certain things aren’t only dubious, but highly dangerous. You can see them from the road. There are manufacturing facilities involved in multiple kinds of production that would simply not be allowed in the U.S., Japan and in all of Western Europe.”

Chinese Money

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why this is allowed to continue. It’s not a question of there being no photographic evidence, no chemical analyses, a tell-no-one conspiracy on the part of the government and its leverage over their media. We’re all engaged in the “conspiracy” because it’s right out in the open. We’re all stepping and fetching to the beat of China’s economic drum, with India’s juggernaut not far behind.

And yet, it’s a great mistake, too, to assign national blame in this regard, when multinational corporations are involved. Large portions of America have been similarly blighted in the past because of money and expedience (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and on and on). Think of the Midlands of England. Industrial devastation is nothing new-but it takes on a new meaning with both the scale of production in Guandong and what’s being produced.

Can any region, anywhere in the world sustain super-dense manufacturing across such a huge spectrum of industries, even if the highest quality work practices are in place? What if they’re obviously not?

It’s easy to think the problem is somehow “over there.” It’s easy to ignore what you hear only vaguely about, if at all. And sadly, it’s all too easy for whole nations to turn their backs on commercial negligence and malfeasance for financial reasons.

But sooner or later, a catastrophe occurs that inevitably does make the news-and like news-can travel. Look at BP’s tragic fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thank You, Good LuckI confess that I knew only generally what the situation was like in China until I physically paid a visit. There are thousands of legitimate enterprises that are being well run there-coping with a multitude of complex logistical problems. But while we may worry at large about China’s carbon footprint, I had some serious tactical concerns for my own, when I stepped through a marshy area and later felt a distinctly warm sensation. By the time I made it back to my hotel, the soles of my new Shanghai shoes were partially dissolved. Those shoes were dramatically cheaper than anything I could buy in America or Australia. But I can’t help wondering if there’s another price tag involved.

Valentine

By Brin Butler

Essay

She bought a one-way plane ticket over here around midnight. She bought it on the same week, same day, same *hour* that a couple, same age as us—who it turns out might’ve got engaged that same day— got smoked by an SUV that blew through a crosswalk.

The 18 year old drunken kid behind the wheel had stolen the SUV and brought along two younger girls in the back seat. Maybe he was trying to impress them by driving fast. I dunno. I do know that after killing that couple he ran off and tried to swim across the icy-cold inlet to the opposite shore but a police dog nabbed him before he could get away.

Yesterday I went over to where that couple died. There was a little shrine against one side of a tunnel underneath a bridge.

There were some people milling around trying to find the spot because the story had been front page in the newspapers. They were giddy and confused but also ready to be upset. It made me uneasy. There were a few crosswalks to choose from pretty close by. The actual location is a bit tucked away. I was alone for a minute and lit up a cigarette after I found a poem by Rilke taped onto the wall of the tunnel and in no time a throng of other tourists piled in.





On Hearing of A Death

We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world’s stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.

Other people poking around to find the spot saw us and came over. It was them looking for it with a combination of disorientation and slight panic that reminded me of something I’ve never written about or really talked about either. I mean, what that crosswalk and my girlfriend’s one-way plane ticket have in common I’m not too sure. A lot of it is a big emphasis on a *beginning*, a start, a first page, first-sight, taking a chance. I love beginnings and hate goodbyes.

Five years ago I took a girl to Madrid and we arrived the day after the bombing of the Atocha train station. It’s not Grand Central or the Gare du Nord, but it’s an awfully nice place to see and has its own charm. I had a reservation for us at a little pension about 4 blocks from the blast. I’d picked that pension because it was sandwiched between the train station and the Prado. I boxed in Madrid daily and had to pass through Atocha every day to get there and on the way back I’d meet up with Jackie and we’d see El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Salvador Dalí at the Prado or the Reina Sofia where little boys and girls demonstrate some of the differences between boys and girls with their approach to dealing with pigeons (girls nice, boys evil).

After the horror of the explosion, one of the most bizarre, disturbing things before the ambulances got there was the lack of silence. Hundreds of dinky melodies rang out and clashed for hours that everyone was afraid to deal with. Imagine a decked out Christmas tree except that every ornament is a cellphone: that’s how Atocha chimed from all corners as families desperately tried to see if their loved ones were unlucky.

I get spooked when somebody dies meaninglessly. Hemingway said the only difference between people is the details of how we live and how we die. Gaudi getting smashed by bus, or Nick Drake overdosing on anti-depressants, or Lennon getting wacked in front of his doorstep, or Plath sticking her head in that oven—you can’t look at their life or their art the same way. I guess that’s why I was a little comforted when more and more details came out about that pair who died at the crosswalk. They felt like supposition to sell papers but still, it was obscenely difficult not to wonder:

A friend had suggested she’d found out about the ring but kept it from him to not spoil the surprise. Did he pop the question at dinner that night? Her friends said she’d been looking through bridal magazines. What’d they talk about at dinner? Did they ever talk about how they’d want to die? Did he not leave a very good tip and she suddenly took in, FUCK, I’M GONNA MARRY A CHEAPSKATE! Maybe she even told him as a joke. Did they ever wonder about the possibility of dying at the same time at a happy moment in their lives and sorta hanging up their lives for everyone they cared about on the peg of never spending another moment apart? How violently beautiful is that? Boy, hit-and-run—who’d see that one coming? Probably nobody who knew them. Maybe those two little girls in the back seat for about a split second.

I was so happy when my girl bought a ticket over here to start a life with me I just stared at the confirmation for 20 minutes without it really sinking in. I never said so, but I felt like we had some stacked odds working against us. This long distance thing for the last year is rotten stuff. Pen pals with the odd bi-monthly conjugal visit isn’t much of a dream situation. And it’s clumsy to admit I wouldn’t have remembered the day she bought that ticket without what happened to this couple who never get any more tomorrows together in the way I hopefully will. Maybe one day some little brat will ask me about when mommy first came over here and even though I’ll lie through my teeth and talk about my seven failed Russian mail-order bride-marriages before I’m slapped by anyone within earshot (and they’ll hit hard); it was February 10th, on a *choose*day, we both slipped on some kind of banana peel taking a crack at something and I wouldn’t have known or especially cared if it weren’t for some piece of shit kid who plowed into this couple. Not fate, just someone who’ll have to do or accomplish god knows what to have anything other than this senseless act define him for the rest of his life. Some punk with a chip on his shoulder trades it in for a fucking millstone. But at the same time, here I am using his millstone as a lucky charm.

See why I sent this to you and not her?

I have no memory of “the scene.” My entire neighborhood was standing around me in a circle, apparently, and I was bleeding everywhere.

This makes me experience two decidedly conflicting emotions: massive embarrassment and pure badass.

The source of the blood was mostly my face and my feet. Of course, my brain was bleeding as well, but that was internal and likely the cause of my fogginess and confusion.

I am very excited that my brain was bleeding. This is a rite-of-passage injury. I am now bona fide.

So I don’t remember a thing, not a single thing, until one fleeting moment in an ambulance. I was being restrained, and things were being inserted into my arms and my pants were being ripped from my body and I said: “But I don’t remember buying a scooter!”

I bought a scooter. An ex-boyfriend had one, and I intended to buy one from the moment I rode on the back of his for the first time. It was fun as hell. But then, he knew how to drive one.

It’s not as much fun when you drive your scooter into a parked car at 20 miles per hour and stop yourself with your head.

Though, really, since I don’t remember it, I guess it’s safe to say that I might have enjoyed it. I do so many stupid things, it seems, that I must enjoy doing them – at least on some level.

I was in the ambulance, insisting that I did not buy a scooter and being restrained and stripped, and then the next thing I remember is being prepped for a CAT scan.

“Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” The stranger asked me.

“I fucking hope not,” I said.

“Okay, we’re going to put this lead blanket on you to protect your uterus,” he said to me, while I clawed at my neck brace.

“Fuck, go ahead and leave it off, for all I care,” I slurred.

Then the next thing I remember is being placed in another room, when a man with a computer on wheels came to terrify me by telling me I was not covered by insurance.

You see, my health insurance payment was due May 1st. This was May 2nd. I’d forgotten to pay. And at the time, I didn’t know about the grace period (thank god for the grace period) you were granted before your coverage lapsed.

I will never forget to pay my health insurance bill again. Not ever again.

So the mean man came and told me “you’re screwed!” and then a neurosurgeon came into the room and said a bunch of stuff. What I heard was “You have bleeding in your brain. You need brain surgery. You have to pay for it out of pocket because you’re stupid and you didn’t pay your insurance. Brain surgery costs somewhere around $100,000. You are very stupid, and by the way, you are a major disappointment to your mother and father.”

I started crying. I was really confused and I was bleeding everywhere and I was a disappointment.

What the neurosurgeon actually said was that I had petechial hemorrhaging and I needed to be kept overnight for observation. No brain surgery. Sounds worse than it is. But man, the headaches for the days following….

Another doctor: “I’m going to give you pain medication now.”

Me: “What? What are you giving me?”

“What do you want? Morphine?”

I refused pain medication. Three reasons:

(1) I was confused, and I didn’t want to be more confused. I didn’t know what was happening or why it was happening. I wanted to piece things together, not become more foggy.
(2) I didn’t know how much morphine costs, and I assumed it would be too expensive, especially since I thought I was now paying out of pocket for all of these expenses.
(3) If the doctor didn’t know which medication I needed and wanted my input, I didn’t want her to give me anything at all.

According to my many friends who were with me, though I wasn’t exactly aware of their presence, I had spent most of my time in the emergency room up to this point cussing and cracking jokes at the hospital staff.

This is incredible to me, because in my memory, I was very frightened. I was terrified. Imagine, you’re in the hospital and you’re bleeding and there are people doing things to you and you have no idea why you’re there or what happened. At one point, I remember wondering if I’d experienced a dissociative fugue, but head trauma seemed more likely given my surroundings.

Another doctor came in to X-ray my feet. I fought tooth and nail with him, claiming that I did not need this service, that it cost too much, that they needed to let me go home. He proceeded to X-ray my feet regardless.

My chin was stitched up. Six stitches. I squeezed my friend Lisa’s hand while they did it. Moments prior to the stitching, the doctor had confused Lisa for my mother, so she was very angry. Lisa does not look any older than I look. My theory is that she looks twenty years more mature than I look, especially given the way I am told I was behaving.

Apparently I made a few phone calls around this time. My little brother, my friend Jeremy, and possibly a few others. To my little brother, I hysterically cried. To Jeremy, I laughed and made fun of myself.

I remember wanting to call my sister, because she is a doctor and she is smart and she would tell me what to do. But in my disorientation, I came to the conclusion that I could not call her because she would be asleep and her husband and kids would be asleep and they all needed the rest.

They took me to the room I was to spend the night in. I had no pants on. I was wearing underwear and my white v-neck, which was covered in blood and iodine. I was still very bloody.

My friends, Sadie and Dach, accompanied me into my room.

A few nurses came in. They were supposed to wash out the wounds on my feet. I thought they were indentured servants.

This, I found to be very offensive, so I refused to let them wash my feet. “It’s degrading to them!” I argued.

Sadie had to wash my feet.

Then there was about ten minutes of arguing with Sadie because she wanted to help me out of my bloody shirt and into a fresh shirt she’d brought for me from home.

“No! I want to wear this one! It’s cool! I like it! It’s cool!”

The nurse told me my other friends were going to my apartment to get me some things, and asked me if I wanted anything special from home.

“Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder!”

This is the book I am reading. Luckily my friends pieced that together and explained what I was talking about to the nurse.

I also insisted my friends bring me my night cream and my It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia DVDs.

A nurse tried to give me Vicodin and some anti-anxiety medication. I refused both, because I didn’t want anything habit-forming and I didn’t want to pay for it. I stumbled through a not-so-eloquent explanation of how I worked in a clinic with many clients who struggled with addictions to painkillers and benzodiazepines and how I’d seen too many people fight that battle to start it myself.

The nurse told me that’s why she didn’t ride motorcycles.

Jason arrived. He was staying the night with me in my hospital room. I was standing, refusing to get into bed, bleeding and babbling.

The nurse asked me if I had any allergies.

“I can’t have lobster. I’m allergic to lobster. Don’t give me lobster,” I said.

I was at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. It’s a Jewish hospital. And it’s a hospital. They aren’t serving shellfish, and they’re definitely not serving lobster.

Jason was the best. He stayed up all night with me, held me and calmed me down when the doctors came in to do things that scared me. He explained what they were doing to me and why, and got me ice packs for my feet and sent the nurses away when they came to do vital checks once I had finally fallen asleep for a moment.

He didn’t seem to mind that I bled on him, or that I was even afraid when the nurses came to take my temperature, or that I looked like a corpse, or that I cried on and off all night long.

Men, pay attention. This is how all men should be.

A neurosurgeon came into my room with about six residents. He did the checks that I had gone through every half hour with a different neurosurgeon, and then said to me: “Great. Everything looks great. You’re looking great.”

“Yeah, this is the best I’ve ever looked. I’m going to the prom tomorrow,” I said.

Outside my room, there were two policemen with guns. They were guarding the room next to mine. There was a criminal in it. They wouldn’t tell me what he’d done.

In the morning, Jason had to go to work, so Dach came and switched places with him. I tried to talk to Dach for a while, but they gave me more anti-seizure medication and that stuff makes you sleepy, so I passed out. Sadie arrived while I was sleeping. Sadie made up a song about my injuries and Dach told me stories about how he’d injured himself in the past.

I was taken to have another CAT scan. An old lady was being wheeled around on her hospital bed by a black dude. She was complaining to him. “Don’t go over bumps! Be careful! Not so fast!”

He looked at me and said: “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Later he read the tattoo on my back and told me he’d heard about me, that I was making all the folks in the hospital laugh. I didn’t remember being that much of a clown, but I’m not at all surprised.

They released me in the afternoon. I went home and fell asleep.

I went to work the next day. I was still very out of it, very spotty.

To be perfectly honest, today is the first day I feel actually lucid. I think I’m back to normal again. Of course, I can’t walk well, and I have a giant stitched up wound on my chin and I have a bruise that still continues to grow on my inner thigh (I’m fascinated by this bruise) and my feet are tore the fuck up and I have a chipped tooth and I have a constant, terrible headache from the head trauma. But I feel pretty awesome.

There is something almost thrilling about having control completely ripped away from you, about being unaware of your surroundings, about not being able to account for nearly ten hours of your life, and then only have fleeting moments of understanding for the following twenty hours. It is horrifying at first. But at some point, when you start to gather yourself, it becomes fascinating, and it’s almost disappointing when you begin to pull it back together. You have to go back to being responsible for yourself. No more excuses. No more tales of what you’ve done while you were temporarily “away.” No more pleasant dissociation. In a way, I love to lose control. In that same way, I love when I learn that I’ve lost moments of time. And also in that same way, I love being injured.

It’s something new. It’s not boring. It’s a story to tell. It’s mixing up the routine.

And I finally told my parents. They were pissed I didn’t tell them sooner. Mom never wanted me to get a scooter in the first place. I promised I’d mention that.

I made it clear to my brothers that they had to wait two weeks before making fun of me. After two weeks, they are free to make fun of me for the rest of my life. But I get two weeks to heal.

I already want to get on the scooter again.

He climbs my stairs like Tigger, full of bounce and light.

I’m waiting in the kitchen drinking wine, the ceramic tile smooth and cool under my bare feet, the anticipation of him hot and prickly.

He grabs me roughly and we kiss until our lips throb. He gets a hard on, steps back for assessment purposes.

Nice, I say sincerely.

Like that? he asks.

Of course, I reply. It’s so difficult to find a guy with a big cock and a big vocabulary.

He spits out a laugh. Is that right?

One or the other is easy, I explain, pulling him by the belt buckle toward me, but not both.

Not both? he echoes, suddenly kissing me too hard and pinning my spine too tightly against the kitchen counter. I push him off to breathe.

Don’t, I protest. We have reservations.

He sighs, retreats and cracks his knuckles. Where are we going by the way?

Aldo’s. Does it matter?

Absolutely not. You look incredible.

So do you.

I can’t wait to fuck you.

Can you not say that? It makes me feel pukey.

Who says pukey?

Plenty of people, I play along, stuffing an ID, debit card and lip gloss into a clutch.

Preteen people?

We jostle each other down the stairs.

At the end of creme brulée he confesses, I’m having feelings I’m uncomfortable with.

Everything you feel I feel, I breeze, pouring a last glass of wine.

I don’t know if you do, he says doubtfully, throwing his napkin on the table and settling back into the shellacked rattan chair.

I swirl cabernet and sigh. Yes you do know, because I’m telling you. And isn’t that the best part? How mutual this is?

Satisfied with this, he smiles at me. For me.

It is.

He beckons for the bill and pays. He always pays.

I’m having a traffic jam in my mouth, he says hoarsely. I have so many things to say and they’re all piling up in there.

I gnaw the insides of my cheeks.

You’ve taken over every inch of my heart. And you keep spreading.

Genuine or not, original or not, this kind of talk has a narcotic effect. I reply by ardently initiating the baptism of my new sofa.

When the tempo becomes unmanageable he rises from the sofa, stands in front of me and holds eye contact as he finishes himself off, cups it.

Through the sliding glass door comes the cheap tinkle of my next door neighbor’s windchimes, melodic for the first time.

I detangle knots from the shower while admiring the juxtaposition of his summer tan, his freeweight hardened body, against my multicolored butterfly sheets.

A dirty sort of pride fills my little black heart.

I turn back into the bathroom, catch myself smirking in the mirror.

Every day at least twice and usually more people ask about the scar.

His flat, white, ear to ear, not aesthetically displeasing scar –

The sandwich artist, the valet parking attendant, the bartender, they all want to know what happened, how you can be walking around with a scar that says you really shouldn’t even be walking around.

It’s rowdy, that scar, impossible to disguise with a hat or bandana. It invites inquiry, almost begs for it.

Not my scar and not my story, yet one side effect of being his sometimes companion is that I am constantly irritated at humanity.

How casually we risk hurting others with our reflexive curiosity.

We are not boyfriend and girlfriend.

So kissing him goodbye or not is a constant dilemma. One generous morning I am leaning down and he stirs, pulls me back into bed.

Call in sick, he pleads, yanking the covers over us despite my work clothes.

I never call in sick.

Exactly! All the more reason.

I can’t.

Why not? We can stay in bed all day and I’ll make you scream like you were screaming last night.

That’s not going to happen. I can’t drink this early in the morning.

He smiles, half-annoyed and half-amused, and yawns. Oh, so it was the booze?

Pretty much. I’m going now.

Sucks to be you.

Thanks. Have a great day too.

At first I am impressed: he never deflects, never shrinks from the curiosity. He tells the scar story with verve, with flair, with all the hideous details. He never gets tired of the territory, never grows bored of the repetition.

But I do.

I think you actually like the attention.

Like the attention? I went through five fucking years of surgeries. I’ve earned the right to talk about it. I’m not embarrassed.

I’m not saying you should be embarrassed. I just would not enjoy telling the story twenty fucking times a day.

You know, I’ve met some amazing people because of my scar. It’s the best conversation starter ever.

I see that. But how about, just once, saying ‘I’d rather not talk about it’?

Because I do want to talk about it. It’s part of who I am.

I would just get tired of the story.

Well. That’s you then.

Yeah. That’s me.

Like most informal relationships, our affair ended quickly, irrationally and with bad feelings on either side.

And so it goes.

The scar from our parting is much smaller than the one he has to wear forever, and in all likelihood it will fade until neither one of us remembers ever having it.

Seriously.

This thing–actually, a very similar jighead which differed from this one only in coloration–hit me squarely in the right eyeball on Tuesday afternoon. At high velocity. And by high velocity I don’t mean I popped it out of a tree and it drifted down in a slow, lazy arc and bounced harmlessly off my eyelid. Nor do I mean that a largemouth leapt from the water and spit the jighead in a slow, lazy arc which terminated at my eye, and I went “Ow” and rubbed at the sore spot and everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

I mean: High. Velocity. As in, the jighead was being cast when my eyeball interrupted its flight. There was no arc, lazy or otherwise. And I can’t give a MPH figure, but I will suggest an experiment you could do at home to appoximate the sensation I experienced at the moment of impact. Because we can all use a little more empathy, right?

So give this a shot: Stand with your back against any available wall. Tape your eyelid securely open, with packing tape or the like. Next, have a friend whip a penny at your exposed eyeball from two feet away, hard as he can. And you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

At first I was pretty convinced I was going to have to be fitted for a glass eye. Okay, that’s not true. That thought came second. The first thought was something like this: “AAAAAAAAGGGGGRRRRRMOTHERFUCKWHATTHEFUCKWASTHATOHFUCKIVEGOTAFUCKINGHOOKINMYEYESHIT!”

But I did not, in fact, have a hook in my eye. I had nothing in my eye. Near as the optometrist could tell, in what turned out to be an unreasonably painful stroke of good luck the jighead itself had impacted my eyeball, then bounced out before the hook became part of the proceedings. And thank whatever god exists, because otherwise, best case scenario, instead of writing this I’m sitting on my sofa with half my head wrapped in gauze, having just had my retina surgically reattached.

But it wasn’t an immediate sense of relief, there, in the moment. Because even though the pain subsided and the boat hadn’t capsized and I managed to retrieve my rod from the water where I’d dropped it, there was still one small problem: I couldn’t see a fucking thing out of my right eye.

Again, an experiment you can try at home to get a feel for where I was at: take a normal, transparent drinking glass. Fill it with skim milk. Hold it up to your eye and try to see through it.

“Do you want to go back?” one of my companions asked.

No, I didn’t. I’d been looking forward to this for a while, and the fishing had been bad so far and I wanted to give it a chance to get better. But there was the whole problem with not being able to see. And it was getting worse. The skim had quickly thickened to 2%, and I was having a hard time keeping my balance in the bow.

The water is warmer by this time of year, but not warm enough.

So I said okay, let’s go back.

Because I’ll be honest with you, by now I was a little freaked out. I don’t like doctors, and I like giving them money even less, but the idea of just waiting it out in the woods until my eye swelled to the point where I looked like this

Quasimodo

didn’t really appeal. Plus of course I had no idea if this blindness thing was time-sensitive, if by waiting for it to correct itself I would be wasting time the doctors needed to fix things. Seemed unlikely, but this was one of only two eyes I’ve been alotted, remember. Plus I’ve done that in the past–let something go for a day or two or five, hoping it would just sort of magically fix itself, and when I finally showed up at the ER the doctors always just looked at me like, “What the fuck do you expect me to do now?”

So we brought the boat in and packed everything up and headed back to civilization. Civilization, in this case, being defined as a place where optometrists outnumber deer. And by the time we’d made an emergency appointment and got to the doctor’s office the sight in my right eye had mostly come back, and I was starting to feel like a pussy. The thing didn’t even look all that bad, except for a small dent at the point of impact. My only saving grace was when the exam revealed definite vision loss on the right. Nothing dramatic, but it was there. Other than that, though, everything was fine. Just some bruising, of both eyeball and ego, and a needlessly aborted fishing trip.

This last was the worst part, of course. Because every fisherman is a speculator, and every speculator is an inveterate optimist. Whenever the fishing is bad, you know it’s just about to get great. You’re always just about to turn the corner. If only you can stay on the water for another half hour.