Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Going Home Today

(Mary Jo Atkins Barnett and Maggie, 1955, passport photo for going to India)

When I woke up from the RT shakiing my shoulder at 7 a.m., the Roches were singing in my head "We're going away to Ireland soon" with muted glee. It's been three weeks today since I was admitted, and I cannot account for a lot of that time. My Narrative has defiinitely been interrupted. A lot of memories wade in and out like scenes from a bad 60's "message movie".

Everytime I think about getting out of here, my chest relaxes a little and I breathe better. It will be hellishly hard on my own but no one will be opening my front door without my choice, and no more small talk, which is to conversation as WalMart is to small town main street commerce. Pajamas and keyboard, that's enough for me. (grin)

One thing that has emerged as my attention returned is that my attraction to folks who are looking for a place to tell their troubles has spread up and down the hall, apparently. I'm a better listener than I am storyteller, but at home I have a stopcock to control who dips into my well. Yesterday I earnestly told Erlinda, the tech of techs, how much everyone here admires her quick learning and leadership. She was clocking out for the day, but stayed at my bedside for half an hour to tell me what it was like raising her three abandoned nieces the past 9 years. Honestly, it's a tale I'm honored to have heard, altered my appreciation for others ever upward -- but what is it I do that inspires others to confide in me? In Erlinda's case, I wanted to hear. Otherwise, I am not even watching the daily reruns on cable of "Grey's Anatomy" -- my own body and midstream ordeal is swallowing the lion's share of my focus right now, and as Stuart Smalley would say, "That's okay."

Yesterday as I was warshing up (as one tech says it), I examined the altered corpus Maggie carefully. The blown IV sites and JP drain scab will go away entirely, I think. But the contours of my front are permanently rearranged -- large capstone bulge gone, everything listed to the right, and a wicked ruck from just below my breasts through my navel like the Hayward Fault when viewed from Mount Diablo. There'll be no problem saying "Yep, that's her" if I wind up mangled on some CSI slab.

Surgeons go directly to the source of an issue and tend not to deal with the aftereffects. This is seen as more efficient, as all versions of Henry Ford compartmentalization are now revered as most productive. I always question this ethic but especially now, as I hear the muttered resentment techs have toward nurses (who say "call a tech" for ass wiping) and the sullen obeisance nurses display toward doctors who breeze in and out far more obliviously than even the most gritty TV drama depicts. When we added making a profit to the work of caregiving -- and especially Reagan's permission to be greedy as an America ethic -- we created the monster that our government is currently too feckless to tame.

Thanks to Jill Cozzi, by the way, for reminding me of the excellent meaning of that word, feckless.

In contrast, a Quaker man, Sean Carroll, is arranging for a CarShare to get me home after my discharge today, since he doesn't own a vehicle. He's already done all the shopping I need to be safe-ish at home , except for the correct size diapers, which will arrive via FedEx tomorrow -- although at least 1/3 of all American women weigh 200 lb. or more, this hospital doesn't stock diapers that go beyond that size, nor would they research finding them for me. Thank g*d I was alert enough and able to get online to meet my own basic dignity needs.

You know, lesbian-feminism of the early 1970s is where I first encountered the concept of political correctness, and it's never been a joke to me. At bedrock, political correctness is about striving to express respect and kindness according to cultural values which may vary from the ones you were raised with. Respect, privacy, pluralism: arch enemies of the fear-based Right.

I don't know why, but for the last 24 hours a particular memory has been popping into my head, as it did just now. It's my first memory, and occurred when I was around one year age. We were living in Kolkata and I was out for the day with Nilmoni, my ayah. We were in what my mother called a rickshah, which was in fact a horse-drawn cart with a single horse. We turned into a street clogged with a mob. Nilmoni began shouting at the cart driver to get us out of there, but we were already being surrounded and horses have to be turned, there is no reverse gear. I was in her lap, held tight, and she put one hand over my face to block my vision. I tugged at her fingers ineffectually, then discovered if I opened my eyes I could see between her slightly spread fingers. I went still, watching with interest.

The crowd was all Indian, which was normal to me, I thought I was too. It was all male, and they were angry, but I wasn't worried because I was with Nilmoni. They were holding aloft, above their outstretched arms, two items: a round of bread and a man, passing them toward one side of the street. The man was struggling, wild-eyed, shirtless. It was intriguing to see an adult passed around as easily as I was.

At the side of the street was a two-story building with outside stairs to an upper landing. The stairs had no railing but the landing had a wooden frame around it. A rivulet of the mob swirled up the stairs and the flailing man was passed upward from arm to arm. Someone on the landing had a rope which was tied to the porch. As the man reached the landing, the other end of the rope was knotted around his neck. With a roaring surge, matched by Nilmoni's shrieks at our cart driver, the shirtless man was thrown over the railing in a small arc. He slammed against the side of the building and a seond later reached rope's end. He scrabbled frantically at the stucco wall with fingernails and feet to find a purchase. Before he could, our cart finally turned out of view. I tried to turn my head to watch but Nilmoni held me fast.

I didn't understand what had happened, and there is no negative emotion in this memory, only excitement about curious adult behavior. It is vivid -- the bright sun with dust in the air, hoarse shouting, Nilmoni's smell, and the look on the face of the shirtless man, his dark sweaty skin and the visible ribs on his torso. Years later, when I was six or so, I began telling my mother about the memory to ask her what it all meant; I thought of it often. She sat down heavily in her kitchen chair, her face horrified, repeating "My god, my god."

She knew the incident. Nilmoni had told her about it when we got home that day. They were both reassured by their belief I hadn't seen anything, and did not want to discuss it with me. Mama said the man was from the untouchable class, still a strong practice in 1956, and he had stolen the round of bread.

Now I have two versions of the memory, my original and the unspeakable horror of what actually occurred as Mama gently explained it to me later.

Sorting out this cacophony we call life takes up all our time. I'm going away to Ireland soon, will be home tonight, and can resume my sift in solitude. Aching, incontinent, exhausted, in a mess of a house, but with just me and Dinah to accommodate. There is peace and wonder to be found in any situation, even death, they tell us. I'll write again as soon as I can.

The Roches singing "The Troubles" in 1983

[Cross-posted at Meta Watershed.]