by Jay Peterson
The phone rang. Mom answered it and got into a conversation. Some friend from church. It was just another Wednesday night. I was still suffering from a sort of malaise that I had never gone through before. It was easy to feel pathetic when you come home after college. As much as you try to tell yourself it's all well and good to go back home after college, and that you can save money and get your ducks in a row and move on to a life, a job, a real nine to five rat race, it was still hard to avoid a sense of failure. I wasn't getting any sleep and having strange anxious dreams when I did.
Mom's conversation ended. Her friend who was an ER nurse in a local hospital had a tragic story. A girl came into the ER that night. She had been hit by a Range Rover while riding on a bike. Head trauma had caused a swelling in her brain. When she entered the ER she was joking with the nurses and was coherent. Just a bump on the head, nothing too bad. Then the injury got progressively worse and they had to do emergency brain surgery. By the end of the night she was only able to breathe on a respirator and her parents were making hard choices about organ donation. It takes a lot to disturb an ER nurse. Mom and I talked about this for a while, but didn't think much of it. There was a MASH marathon on and we watched that.
Twenty-three years old and I felt crashed out. I was never one for planning ahead and it had caught up with me. The 'holy grail' of a college degree was now mine, but I had failed to think beyond that. I think it was anger about this that was tearing me up. Its just such horseshit. For one, it didn't seem like I was ready for the world that I had been thrown into even though almost every one told me "It's a great economy, get out there and just start shoveling money out of the ecomerce and internet revolution!" or some such line. Don't forget to write thank you notes to everyone who contributed a card and a bit of money and well wishes.
Three weeks later and the thank you's are still in the box.
I was a real bastard about thank you's.
My brother said that a girl that I knew in high school was sick in the hospital, her name was Emily. We even dated a little while, like a week or two. But we broke it off when we both knew that it wasn't working out. Her mom was an English teacher at my high school and directed some plays that I was in. That was how we met. My brother and I were talking about this as we were moving his stuff out of his college dorm room for the summer. A fantastic thunderstorms that hit us that day. The kind of storm that is so black that anything white like a barn or a truck on the road looks like its under a blue light in a closet. When the storm struck us it whipped the rain into a froth that overwhelmed windshield wipers and forced people to pull off the road.
A week passed. They build houses around here now all the time. Dump trucks cruse by the house at about fifty even though they know damm well it's a residential area. It's strange to see places where I used to play baseball in the summer turned into a fashionable lot with a house fit for a family of 2.5 kids and the required SUV parked in the drive way. The booming economy I guess. I wonder if they ever hear the coyotes at night that live in the valley below my house?
At the end of the week I went on a trip to Wisconsin with my dad, just for a day. We got stuck on a toll-way for two hours. You just have to get used to this kind of thing because you'll go crazy if you don't, my dad said. It was Monday when we came back. There was a message from a friend which surprised me. He lives in another state and doesn't visit unless it's Christmas. I called his house. He was at a wake, Emily's wake.
The girl that the ER nurse had worked with was Emily. I never put two and two together. How are you supposed to feel about something like that? Are you supposed to weep, go and rend clothes and gnash teeth? My friend's first response was to drive down to the wake and I couldn't bring myself to go to the funeral. I couldn't bring myself to see all that pain and anguish.
Emily played the bagpipes. Was what I thought all day. She did not play them well, but she did play them. I really barely knew her but here she was looming up in my thoughts again, a person who had a face, a person who otherwise would have been nothing more than an anecdote about the need for wearing helmets when riding a bike. But just knowing the person, it shocks you to the core and you run into death and stare it down. Life is just a flash in the pan so make it count right? All that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I couldn't even begin to empathize enough with her Mom. Death sometimes has a positive side though, can jar you out of a funk, make you appreciate what life is really about. I slept like a baby that night.