#45, America, coronoavirus, COVID19, fiction, freedom, grief, love, pandemic, story, USA, ventilator
“I’m drunk. Really drunk. No. Not drunk. What the hell’s wrong with me. I still smell alcohol. Car accident! A piece came through my throat! Oh, God! I’m dying! No. Wait. Where the hell is everybody? This can’t be heaven. I must have gone to the other place! Why? Why? What’s that smell? Rotten eggs? I go to church every Sunday, Lord. Well, not every Sunday. What is that beeping? What is in my throat? OH MY GOD! It’s the ALIEN!”
The next time consciousness returned, she heard someone call her name. She tried to answer, but nothing came out. Where am I? What? I can’t talk! I’m in danger! I need to get out of here! Why do they call my name but no-one comes? I like my name. Kids and relatives had tried shortening it to something stupid, but she wouldn’t stand for that.
But now she was in a fog. America couldn’t think straight. She could only seem to make words in her head. They wouldn’t come out of her mouth. At least not properly. She thought, “Who are these strangers who are calling my name? One of them was talking. I should listen. Maybe there will be a clue about what happened to me.”
But she drifted off before she heard a single word.
When America awoke again, some damned foreigner was jabbering at her. Why the hell can’t these people learn proper English like everyone else? Like my daddy talks and I talk and all my friends talk? This man talks like a Chinaman. China? China flu! That’s what happened to me! I caught the stupid China flu! That’s what the President called it. It’s a hoax. Oh, crap! Roger! Roger! Oh, dear, dear Roger. (Now, she remembered). She and Roger had been cheering for the President. That was nice. Why can’t I just go back there?
At the show — the Rally — everyone was on the President’s side! They were all cheering for him. We were cheering for him. Roger was cheering for him. It was fun. We had our hats. So what if they said ‘Made in China’? That was the whole point! We let China get away with too much. The President was fixing that! And he was keeping the China flu away from us! And we didn’t need masks. Who wants to wear a mask? Not me. Not Roger. Where the hell am I? Hospital? Oh, crap, Roger, Roger, Roger. Roger died. Damn it!”
An image flashed into her mind. America and her best high school girlfriends had had cheerleading practice after school. After their practice was over, they had gotten into the habit of sitting in the bleachers and watching the boys do the second half of their football practice. Their team, the Leesville Rebels, had been having a good season. Most of the girls were head over heels in love — or at least in social envy — with the handsome All-State quarterback, Matthew Jackson. Everyone called him ‘Threw Jackson’ — he was a senior and already had scholarship offers from Michigan and MSU. He would be a catch, all right, but he was too cocky and brash for my taste America had thought. She liked Roger — more of a mountain of a man, and a sophomore like her. She didn’t think her parents would approve her dating a Senior, but Threw never asked her. Not exactly.
Nor did anyone else. Not until that fall day when the first hint of scarlet and gold adorned the maples that surrounded the south end of Rebel Field. At the end of practice, the pounding herd of football-spiked boys trotted off to the showers, but Roger veered off, zig-zagging as though he were running an overly elaborate pass pattern, tossed his arms up, faked a catch and came running over to the railing where she stood with her friends. He smiled and his mouthguard made his teeth sparkle in a funny, plastic sort of way. And then, he pointed those giant penetrating eyes right at her.
“Hey there! I’m Roger Williams. From English class. Wanna go to Homecoming with me?”
Even now, she could clearly remember that she had flushed carmine from head to foot. She had swallowed hard, bitten her lip and said, “Yes. Thanks.”
“Great! I gotta go shower now. See ya’ in class!” He had spun on his heel and sprinted off, tossing a bit of cinder behind him. At about ten yards away, he threw his right arm up, jumped in the air and shouted “Touchdown!” And, she admitted to herself for the first time that she actually had loved him from that moment on. Whenever that thought had crossed her mind before, she had dismissed it as the nonsense of a teenage girl. Now, she realized that no — it wasn’t just the fancy of a naive girl. It was literally true. Of course, it doesn’t always happen like that for everyone. She understood that, but it had happened that way for her. She had never told Roger that because it had seemed so stupid. But now — she should tell him but — could no longer. But let’s think of something more pleasant, she thought to herself.
So — indeed, they had gone to the Homecoming Dance, and she relived much of it now in her imagination where the colors splashed brighter and the music sang clearer than she had experienced in many years. And, the kiss. Her first real kiss. That had sealed the deal for the young lady.
She had never really dated anyone else. She had never really been with anyone else either. You couldn’t count…that didn’t count. That never happened! she screamed in her mind. She chanted one of her cheers from all those many years ago:
“PUSH ‘EM BACK, PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
She still remembered the moves. The girls had had all pushed their butts back and their hands forward for the first two lines and then, done a back walkover for the last cheer, ending by dropping down to a split. Those cheers had seemed hard enough. She couldn’t believe what some of the cheerleaders were doing today. Amazing stuff! But many of those teams had both boy and girl cheerleaders. She never understood that. Cheerleading was for girls. And football was for guys! Didn’t need a stable genius to see that. And, now we can say “Merry Christmas!” again.
After they had been married for decades and long after their kids had gone off on their own, sometimes, when Roger had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV, she would stare at him and wonder how he would react if she had told him that Threw had raped her all those years earlier. Things were good though. Why take a chance. They still loved each other. Why chance it?
“PUSH ‘EM BACK, PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
Then the darkness closed in and she fell asleep again.
When she awoke, someone was talking to her. A woman this time. It must be a nurse. But she’s calling herself a doctor. They do have woman doctors. I’d prefer a man, she thought to herself.
“Mrs. Williams. I’m Doctor Khoury. I’ll be your new Doctor now.”
America tried to speak, but it seemed impossible. She could only manage an inarticulate moan. Even the moan didn’t sound as though it had come from her. A small writing pad appeared before her. It was blurry. “Where are my glasses?” she wondered.
Doctor Khoury placed a pen in her hand. “Don’t try to talk. Write if you have any questions. You’re on a ventilator. It is hard to talk. And, really, there is no need. Just try to relax and we’ll take care of you. You’re at McClaren. You just relax and we’ll get you over this.”
America tried to write with the pen but her hand shook. It felt heavy. Very, very heavy. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. She looked at the shaky scrawl and shuddered. It was like an old lady’s writing. Well, she supposed that’s what she was now. An old lady. Without Roger. She kept scrawling: “Dr Wong?”
“Oh, yes. Well Dr. Wong was your doctor, but I am your doctor now. Doctor Khoury.”
Such a pain to write. But she wrote a bit more. “Quit?”
She could hear a bit of exasperation in Doctor Khoury’s sigh. “No, he didn’t quit. He can’t be your doctor any more, so I am. Your insurance is fine. Don’t worry about a thing?”
She knew the answer, but her mind was so befuddled, maybe it wasn’t really true. She wrote again, “Roger?”
“Ah, your husband, Mrs. Williams? I’m — I’m afraid — I’m afraid he didn’t make it. You — I recognize you — you were there — when your husband passed. Do you remember? You came right up to the window and put your hand on the glass. In fact, here it is Monday. If I’m not mistaken he died just a week ago. We’re going to get you through this however. You’ll see. I just wanted to intro myself. I’ve got to go. Someone will be checking on you every few minutes. Nice meeting you, Mrs. Williams.”
“So,” thought America, “it’s really true. I didn’t just imagine it. Poor Roger. I couldn’t even hold his hand. Not really. It’s not the same through glass. We always promised each other we’d be there for each other. But no sign of Andy or Marcel. Maybe they’ll come. At least Andy.
Marcel had been very angry. They had fought about the stupid virus! Marcel had believed all that malarkey that the main stream media was pumping out about … it was terrible the way everyone was piling on the President. He was doing his best. It wasn’t his fault the virus hadn’t gone away in March or April or May. He said it was okay to re-open. And, when Roger had just mentioned that they were going to a rally, Marcel had blown up.
“Are you guys crazy?! Don’t go to a rally and breathe all that infected air!”
It was too bad the liberals were using the pandemic to attack the poor President. He had done everything in his power, hadn’t he? Andy though, he sided with his mom and dad. He had voted for Trump. After all, he was going to fix things. He promised to make America great again. We sure liked his speeches. Well, Roger and I did. What did he say? Mexico! He had pointed out all the things wrong with America. All the people trying to be politically correct. Too many colored people. Too many immigrants had stolen all the American jobs. Where had they put them? China?
When it came to jobs, Roger had been lucky. But it wasn’t just luck! He had worked hard in engineering school and had gotten a damned good job at GM right down the road. But then, just like Trump said, foreigners had eventually stolen his job. And … the union … he unions had struck for higher wages so what did the company do? Of course, they moved the plant to … somewhere … Pontiac. But then, I need to sleep.
God, I need to sleep. Why does everyone hate Trump so much? Why do all these women come and accuse him of rape and groping and stuff? Just let it go. Just let it go. Don’t ruin these men’s lives. What would have happened to Threw? Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the scholarships. Well, it would have been a scandal. Mostly on me. And Roger? He wouldn’t have liked me any more. Maybe he wouldn’t have exactly blamed me, but …
“PUSH ‘EM BACK! PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
It usually worked. But this time, I’m too damned tired, she thought. How the hell am I supposed to sleep? Where was Roger anyway? Oh, that’s right. Damn him! Why did he have to die? Why? Smoking? We both tried to quit more than once. Don’t we get credit for that? Anyway, non-smokers die of this too.
Sure they do. Vice-President Pence had said there was no evidence cigarettes caused health problems. He wouldn’t lie. He’s a good Christian. He won’t even go in a room alone with a woman. Why would Trump pick him to drain the swamp if he was a liar? That made no sense. Did he say to drink bleach? He didn’t say that — not really — but I thought that’s what he meant. I thought about trying it. Imagine. Maybe it would have worked. I wish I had some now.
But all those people out to get Trump. The Deep State. Mueller. Even though he was a Republican. And the FBI and the CIA. Jeff Sessions. The military. And the NSA. They are all out to get him. And then — first there wasn’t really a pandemic. It was just a couple of cases. Trump told everybody not to take it seriously. But then the China people lied to him. And, WHO. And, the CDC. He had to fix that. And if — and Europe — and New York City. And all the liberals and homosexuals are out to get him. And the Federal prosecutors. Everyone is in this vast conspiracy. And they even make fun of him for being fat and loving his daughter. And so what if he had his dad pay someone to lie so he could get out of the army? So what? Obama didn’t serve in the military either. Nor Clinton. Nor Bush.
Everybody lies sometimes. Everybody cheats on their taxes. Or on their spouse. What’s the big deal? He can’t really have borrowed money from Russia. That would be stupid. He says he’s a genius. I know I’m not. He said he would sue any school who released his test records. He won’t release his taxes. So? Who cares? I need to sleep. I’ll make myself go to sleep. I’ll make my mind blank.
And she succeeded. For a moment or two. Then, she heard two voices whispering.
“What’s wrong, Dr. Khoury?”
“What’s wrong? Do you know why this woman, Mrs. Williams is in here? Do you know?”
“I know that! I mean why did she get it? She and her husband went to a Trump rally. No masks. No social distancing. Her husband died last week. And now…”
“She might hear you.”
“I doubt it. I don’t even care. I’m sick of these people not wearing masks. And now Dr. Wong is dead. Dead! He worked the whole damned month of May and then the whole damned month of June and now he’s dead! What the hell is wrong with this country? People don’t believe doctors. They don’t believe experts. They only believe Trump! And people are dying. Just because he says he has things under control doesn’t mean he does. He knew about this for months and did nothing and even now, in mid July, he still doesn’t have a national plan for PPE, testing, masks, or contact tracing. It’s been … oh, never mind. I’m just mad about Wong. But he’s the fourth one we’ve lost from this hospital. Who’s next? You? Me? Anyway, who’s next on our list?”
“We are due to take a look at Jonathan Edwards. 35. High BP. Obese. Baptist minister….”
America heard the voices fade away into the distance. She couldn’t even be sure she had heard those voices. They weren’t loud. Not like Trump. Is it possible, she wondered, whether soft voices might speak truth just as well as loud ones? Hadn’t she led cheers and tried to get the Leesville Rebels to scream louder and louder? Why?
She thought, “So many people out to get Trump. Add the doctors and nurses and … who was speaking now? America felt sure she had someone say ‘What if…?’ But who? What if what? Where’s Roger now? Dead. Doctor Khoury thinks we got it at the Trump rally? Why would he tell us not to bother with masks if it was dangerous? That made no sense. Everyone’s lying! Everyone.”
“Or maybe” her heart skipped a beat. “Maybe, it’s just Trump. Trump’s lying!” America felt an electric thrill in her spine. “Who said that?”
America’s eyes flew open. She thought: “That was Roger! That was Roger’s voice! Roger told me! I heard him. But he’s dead. Crap. This lying on my stomach and all these drugs. I want to talk! I want to scream! Roger? Roger? What do you mean? It could be Trump lying? What? Instead of the … instead of everyone else? Trump himself? Well. That’s a horrible thought.”
“PUSH ‘EM BACK! PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
“That would mean … that would mean … all those people he fired … all those people he hired and then fired … and all the ones … but he wouldn’t have raped a 13 year old girl. Who does that? I was fifteen. That was bad enough! It was horrible. Too horrible to happen!
But it never happened! Never! Why would Trump do that? And why would he lie about the pandemic? All that slander against him! Why would he do Putin favors? And why would Putin care who’s President of America? What possible difference would it make to Putin? He must just like Trump. Just because he was on officer in the KGB doesn’t mean he’s a bad human being. And poisoned his rivals.
Who’s out there staring at me? They’re waving! It’s Andy! Oh, God. He shouldn’t see me like this. He’ll get all worried. What’s that smell!? I can hardly breathe! Why do they have this thing stuck down my throat? It makes no sense! How can it make me breathe better! Hi Andy. I wish I could talk to you. I don’t feel good, Andy.
I never stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas!’ I never stopped saying that. It was a lie. Andy, I don’t feel good.”
That was also a lie. She didn’t just not feel good. She felt terrible. She had never in her life felt so … desperate. So dead. She had to let others know. She had to talk to Andy. Why don’t he come in? Of course, COVID. That’s why. Damn.
“Andy, Andy. I wish I could say ‘goodbye’ in person. I love you. Thanks for the grandkids. Andy, maybe Marcel was right. Maybe — just maybe — it’s Trump himself lying and not the whole rest of the world. I think … I think maybe he’s under foreign influence and killing us on purpose. Wake up, Andy. Wake up! Wake up before it’s too late!”
Andy was no doctor, but he had seen enough Hospital shows on TV to know what flat-lining was. A gang of doctors flew into his mom’s room but an orderly stayed behind to keep Andy away. He said, “YOU stay HERE! We don’t need another one here next month! Geez! What’s wrong with you, man? You don’t even have your mask on right. Look. I’m sorry about your Mom and all that, but Jesus man, what are you thinking? Don’t you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic when your own mother is lying there with it? What’s wrong with you?”
Andy turned and shouted at the thick, nearly soundproof glass: “Mom! Mom! Wake up! Come on America! Wake up!”